The Infinite Zenith

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1st Season: Spring – Yama no Susume: Next Summit First Episode Review and Reflections

“Remembering is painful, it’s difficult, but it can be inspiring and it can give wisdom.” –Paul Greengrass

After Aoi Yukimura graduated from middle school, she looked forward to a quiet life as a secondary student. However, her dreams are dashed when she reunites with her childhood friend, Hinata Kuraue, who’s determined to bring Aoi with her on her mountain-climbing adventures. Although Aoi is initially reluctant, after accompanying Hinata to the nearby Mount Tenran, she gradually comes to enjoy the hobby and, along the way, meets fellow climbers Kaede Saitō and Kokona Aoba. Besides exploring additional mountains in the Hanno area, Hinata and Aoi also enjoy a day with Kaede and Kokona at Hanno River. Aoi decides to continue climbing mountains after learning from Kaede that the night skies are even more stunning from the mountaintop. Yama no Susume‘s original run began in 2013, and episodes were merely three minutes in length. Despite its short runtime, Yama no Susume rapidly became well-received amongst viewers, who praised its positive portrayal of open-mindedness and encouraging people to venture into the great outdoors. Yama no Susume subsequently received a second and third season, seeing Aoi continue on with her experiences with Hinata: by 2018, a third season had aired, following Aoi’s becoming closer to Honoka and Hinata becoming jealous in the process. While portraying mountain-climbing and hiking faithfully, Yama no Susume also explores themes of friendship, showing how life has both its ups and downs, and how even best of friends can fail to get along, as well as how important it is to communicate and be open about one’s problems. Yama no Susume was an immensely satisfying series, showing a very natural progression in Hinata and Aoi’s friendship, but one lingering aspect the series had left open was the fact that, after Aoi’s failed attempt to scale Mount Fuji during the second season, Yama no Susume had not revisited Mount Fuji. Here in Yama no Susume: Next Summit, there is now an opportunity to conquer the last frontier and demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that Aoi has matured as a result of her willingness to share in adventures with Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka.

Upon returning to Yama no Susume, Next Summit‘s first episode opens with a reintroduction to the series, providing viewers with a refresher on where things began. However, in this revisit, Next Summit also subtly hints at where it’s intending to go. The opening shows Aoi shouting out at dawn to Mount Fuji while wearing a look of utmost determination on her face, and in a later sequence, Aoi, Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka scale Mount Fuji together. When Aoi and Hinata scale Mount Tenran for the first time, Mount Fuji is faintly visible, and after Aoi and Hinata scale Mount Takao, Mount Fuji seems a little closer, signifying how Aoi’s taken her first steps towards embracing her new hobby, towards a tangible and visceral representation of personal growth. As Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji represents the apex of achievement, and in the second season, Aoi had found herself developing altitude sickness. As a result, she was unable to reach Mount Fuji’s summit. Subsequently losing her motivation to enjoy the outdoors, it would take Aoi some time to rediscover her footing, and while Yama no Susume has done a fantastic job of restoring Aoi’s love of mountain climbing, as well as showing her increased confidence in befriending Honoka, Mount Fuji became an unanswered question. There is no stronger show of maturity and growth than to have Aoi properly conquer Mount Fuji under her own power, and here in Next Summit, the imagery shown insofar does seem to suggest that Aoi has her sights set on a rematch with Japan’s most iconic mountain. Aoi is someone who doesn’t like to lose, and coupled with the thematic elements in Yama no Susume, I am hopeful that Next Summit will build up towards Aoi and her friends taking on Mount Fuji anew: being able to complete a climb that she couldn’t previously would be immensely satisfying and definitively illustrate that Aoi’s journey has been a meaningful one. The Aoi that started out Yama no Susume had been concerned with a hike to Mount Tenran, and so showing her successfully complete Mount Fuji would demonstrate to viewers that every journey has a beginning, and that it is a combination of experience and support that allows one to accomplish the remarkable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right out of the gates, I will state that I have plans to do episodic reviews for Next Summit – Yama no Susume has previously offered a great deal to discuss, and even the recap episodes are valuable in providing further context for the events that had taken place in the previous three seasons. In most posts, I tend to look at scenes in greater depth, but having as I’ve covered the first season in whole previously, I will be taking a looser approach with my discussions for the four recap episodes and return to my usual style once Next Summit begins its new content.

  • Next Summit offers more context to Aoi’s story – as a middle school student, she was known for preferring solo activities, similarly to Yuru Camp△‘s Rin Shima, and she developed acrophobia after falling from a jungle gym and injuring herself in the process. Aoi’s acrophobia is an important piece of Yama no Susume; it keeps her from climbing large mountains and riding gondolas, but with support from her friends, Aoi manages to pull through. As a result of her experiences, Aoi initially had imagined her high school life to be a peaceful experience, consisting solely of doing solo activities.

  • This setup was mirrored in 2020’s Houkago Teibou Nisshi – protagonist Hina Tsurugi is a splitting image of Aoi, and similarly, Natsumi Hodaka fills Hinata’s role. The premise of such anime leave little to the imagination; it is a foregone conclusion that the protagonists will be participating in the activity the show’s advertised. The joys of watching such shows, then, come from seeing the journey that follows. With this in mind, no two shows are alike despite their initial similarities, and variations among the shows ultimately modify their final message.

  • I had been sitting on Yama no Susume for some years, and finally got around to watching it three years ago. According to my blog archives, the last time I wrote about Yama no Susume was back on New Year’s Eve in 2019. In the three years that has passed, my world’s changed considerably, but I still vividly remember that, shortly after I caught up to Yama no Susume‘s third season, I stated that I would climb Ha Ling Peak before the fourth season came out. This, unfortunately, has not come to fruition: between the global health crisis and the fact that the Ha Ling Peak trail is undergoing maintenance.

  • That Next Summit came out before I could fulfil this particular promise is of no consequence – once the maintenance is completed, I can schedule a hike here. Unlike Hinata and Aoi, who have an expert in Kaede to guide them, I am a novice hiker and mountain climber – the only mountain I’ve climbed is Lake Louise’s Big Beehive, and on the typical hike, I don’t see an elevation gain of greater than 600 metres. In spite of this, the hikes I’ve gone on have been exhilarating and enjoyable: the last hike I did was Grotto Canyon, but prior to the global health crisis, I hiked the Windtower trail and even saw a Grizzly Bear along the way.

  • As I made my way through Yama no Susume‘s first three seasons, I subsequently became hooked, and last September, I ended up ordering Yama no Susume Official Setting Materials, the official guidebook, for 8600 Yen (about 80 CAD today, including shipping). Featuring concept art, detailed drawings of the locations visited in the series and even interior drawings of the characters’ homes and important locations, Yama no Susume Official Setting Materials offers unparalleled insight into the series. It is the essential companion for Yama no Susume fans, and through this compendium, I was able to really appreciate the design that went into the Kuraue residence.

  • The Kuraue residence is a cabin-like home, standing in stark contrast with the Yukimura residence’s modern, clean designs. The contrasts were meant to accentuate the differences between Aoi and Hinata’s starting mindsets (Aoi is more domestic, while Hinata is more outdoorsy), but as Yama no Susume wears on, the shifts in Aoi’s interests means that the architecture tells a new story: regardless of one’s disposition, outdoor activities like mountain climbing are accessible to everyone, and that such activities are such that there is always something that is appropriate for one’s skill level.

  • At the onset of their journey, Aoi’s desire to hike and climb mountains is nil, but after recalling that she and Hinata had ascending Mount Tanigawa as children, she decides to give things another go because it had been a promise that they’d made. This sets in motion the events of Yama no Susume, and for the remainder of the first season, Aoi’s first experiences are shown in conjunction with moments like meeting Kaede and Kokona. Yama no Susume‘s first season had episodes lasting three minutes apiece, and that means it is possible to go through this season in one sitting.

  • Indeed, when Next Summit‘s first episode aired, almost the whole of season one was fit into the episode’s twenty-four minute runtime. A few moments, such as Aoi having a cook-off with Hinata, and her eventually picking up a new backpack for her second hike, are skipped over – the first season is still the more comprehensive experience, but overall, Next Summit‘s first episode did a fantastic job of condensing the most important moments of the first season into a story that brings viewers up to speed with how things began. The return to Yama no Susume coincided with my first trip to Banff National Park in three years – in past years, I stopped going with my family because of the lengthy traffic jams that would arise whenever we returned to the city,

  • The last time I visited Banff was with my second start-up, during a company retreat we had after I brought the app across the finish line. In the past three years, Banff has changed considerably; Banff Avenue is now pedestrian only during the spring and summer months, and there’s a large parking lot by the train station. To ensure we landed a spot, I suggested that we arrive by no later than 0900. The drive in had been quite foggy, but beyond this, the weather was perfect, with blue skies and mirror-smooth waters. After securing a parking spot, we decided to walk over to an iconic attraction, the Cave and Basin historic site using a route we’d never taken before. After walking the Discovery Trail and the Marsh Loop boardwalk, we returned to the downtown and stopped for photos at the Banff National Park Administration building, which offers a picturesque view of Banff Avenue and Cascade Mountain.

  • The day was rounded off with a drive back to Calgary, where we stopped for dinner at Café 100% YYC, a Hong Kong style bistro. I ended up having their evening special (on Saturday, it’s a Korean-style kalbi short-rib with fresh Pacific Scallops on a bed of spaghetti). Being my first time returning to Banff in three years, I had an incredible time, and this marks the last time I’ll be using the iPhone Xʀ for photographs: earlier today, I received an email from Apple indicating they needed updated payment information for me. After I supplied this information, my iPhone 14 Pro preorder immediately went into “Preparing to Ship”.

  • The status has since been updated to “Shipped”, and my iPhone 14 Pro is projected to arrive next Tuesday. I had been eying the iPhone 14 because I didn’t think I would need the more powerful phone, but after speaking with a friend and fellow iOS developer, I was convinced that the extra features and performance would be helpful to me. This moment parallels Aoi’s suggestion to Kaede: the latter had been eying a more expensive, but lighter sleeping bag for her mountain-climbing travels, and Aoi reasons that it’s better to go with the more expensive option now and enjoy what it has to offer, versus regretting going for the more inexpensive route and wishing one had spent a little more. I immediately related to this scene, and now, I’m doubly glad to have selected the iPhone 14 Pro.

  • Yama no Susume‘s second major excursion saw Aoi and Hinata visit Mount Takao after Kaede suggests to Aoi that this would be a good hike for beginners. Along the way, Aoi and Hinata meet Kokona, a middle-school student who loves nature hikes and animal spotting. After Kokona is introduced, Yama no Susume‘s main cast is present, and while no more large hikes follow, the anime focuses on getting the characters to know one another better. At first glance, being a series of shorts, Yama no Susume doesn’t offer much to talk about.

  • However, looking more closely at things, Yama no Susume is incredibly detailed and meaningful. This is a recurring trend I find in slice-of-life anime – a lot of folks are content to write reaction posts that ultimately amounts to commenting on how adorable the characters are, but I find that such posts can misrepresent a given work, and the slice-of-life genre as a whole, especially if they form the majority of discussion on such anime. Such posts typically don’t yield much in the way of discussion, and if everyone writes about slice-of-life on these terms, one can get the impression that slice-of-life anime are superficial series that lack substance.

  • The reality is that slice-of-life anime often speak to different facets of life and its lessons, as well as accentuating the merits of putting an effort into learning something and appreciation of the ordinary. I’ve found that, while it is true that writing about slice-of-life anime can be tricky, if I have previous knowledge in the topic a given slice-of-life anime covers, or if I can relate to that topic through an equivalent experience, it becomes significantly easier to speak to why a work is successful. In Yama no Susume, for instance, I’ve been hiking since 2016 and have my own stories to tell, so I can relate to Hinata and Aoi to some level. In doing so, I can compare and contrast my own experiences with what’s seen in Yama no Susume, as well as see what messages the anime sought to convey.

  • Without this experience or an equivalent, Yama no Susume would be much trickier to write about – there is only so much one can share about interpersonal dynamics and the importance of friendship without a topic to solidify these experience and provide a tangible backdrop for how these things come together to positively impact and enrich one’s life. This is why I hope that more people would have a chance to read my thoughts on shows like Yama no Susume: while I’m not going to be experienced in everything anime of this genre cover (I’ve never fished before, for instance), I have enough experience in similar areas so that I can delve into the nitty-gritty details behind why such anime are deeper than they appear and therefore, are worth giving a chance.

  • As Aoi, Kaede and Hinata marvel at the deserts that Kokona’s made, I reflect on the Sunday dinner from this past weekend: my relatives had managed to snag a massive cut of prime rib and decided to have us over. Besides the Prime Rib au jus, the meal also consisted of Bacon Brussel Sprouts, Baby Potatoes and Garlic Prawns. Pumpkin bread and warm butter, plus two kinds of cake and chrysanthemum tea accompanied the after-dinner conversation. Like Aoi, I am especially fond of these conversations because they are immensely relaxing – in Yama no Susume, moments like these brought Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona together even before everyone does their first hike together, showing how whether it be on the trails or over a meal, there’s many ways of connecting with people.

  • With this first episode of Next Summit in the books, this series is off to a strong start – there’s three more episodes before we start Next Summit proper, but I will continue to share my thoughts on these recap episodes: because three years have passed since I first watched Yama no Susume, it is worthwhile exercise for me to see how my thoughts surrounding this series may have changed over time. This season is going to be a busy one: besides Next Summit, I’m also going to write about Kantai Collection: Itsuka no Umi de. Further to this, I am actively watching Spy × Family 2, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From MercuryBocchi the Rock!, and Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! 2. At this point in time, I’m not sure which series I’ll be writing about, or what format I’ll take, but what is known is that we have a fantastic autumn season ahead for anime.

While Mount Fuji remains a lofty goal, Next Summit stands apart from its predecessors in that episodes are full-length now. Previously, Yama no Susume‘s short episodes allowed the series to convey especially memorable moments for Aoi. By showing only the most pivotal moments in Aoi’s life, Yama no Susume was able to present a very concise and focused story. However, here in Next Summit, full-length episodes have two benefits for Yama no Susume: if the series decides to portray other moments, it would be a reminder to viewers that seemingly-inconsequential moments may still have merit. Alternatively, Next Summit may instead continue on in the style of its predecessors and utilise its runtime to show more. The extended runtime would allow this season to show more moments in Aoi and Hinata’s lives as they continue to explore and appreciate the great outdoors. Regardless of which approach Next Summit takes, it should be clear that this long-awaited fourth season, which was announced back three Septembers ago, stands to cover a great deal of new ground and extend an already-excellent series further. Next Summit begins with four recap episodes, which serve to catch new viewers up with the story so far, and to jog the memories of veterans (even I don’t remember every last detail of Yama no Susume despite my counting the series as a masterpiece), and while recaps are typically reviled, Yama no Susume has done an excellent job of using the extended runtime to provide more context behind Aoi’s journey and decisions. By the time the fourth episode has concluded, viewers (old and new alike) will be fully caught up with the story, allowing Aoi and Hinata’s journey to continue on forward: of note is one Koharu Senjuin, the president of the Mountaineering Club at Aoi and Hinata’s secondary school. Although Hinata and Aoi have done their own adventures insofar, formally joining a club has, historically, given characters a chance to learn more about their hobby and some of the accompanying best practises. Having additional knowledge would provide Aoi with one more asset in her conquest of Mount Fuji.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Kanojo, Okarishimasu Season Two, Or, I’m Going To Need a Beer To Put These Flames Out

“You told me not to think!” –Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Top Gun: Maverick

After Chizuru is unsuccessful in an audition, Kazuya vows to do everything he can to support her dreams and promptly arranges for another rental date. He learns from Chizuru’s grandmother that beneath her tough exterior is someone who’s trying to do everything on her own and despite her appearances, needs someone to lean on. Ruka ends up swinging by and cooks for Kazuya, but when a typhoon sweeps into their region and shuts down all mass transit, Ruka happily stays the night. She tries to seduce Kazuya and fails, but despite this, cheerfully announces they’d spent the night together the next morning. While Chizuru seems unperturbed, but Kazuya remains bothered and decides to rent out Sumi to see if he can gain some insight into what might make a suitable birthday gift – he ends up gifting to her some pickled plums. When Kazuya and Chizuru inadvertently end up being invited to the same drinking party, he ends up overdoing things to help Chizuru out. She and Kazuya end up going on another rental date, where Chizuru reveals she’s auditioning for another role. When Kazuya’s grandmother learns Chizuru’s birthday party has already passed, she decides to host a combined party. Ruka ends up accompanying Kazuya, and while she does her best to make a positive impression, after Chizuru arrives, she’s frustrated at being bested so quickly. She ends up ambushing Kazuya and kisses him passionately, saying she doesn’t want to have any regrets. However, Chizuru’s grandmother’s condition worsens, cutting the party short, and Chizuru decides it’ll be easier to leave their false relationship where it is so her grandmother won’t die with the knowledge that Chizuru has no one in her life. Later, Sumi has a request for Kazuya; she’s been wanting to try taking the lead in a rental date so she can be more effective in her role and to this end, has planned out an itinerary for Kazuya. In the process, Kazuya becomes inspired as to what he should do for Chizuru. Chizuru learns that her latest audition was unsuccessful and recalls why she’d gone into acting: she wanted to fulfil her late grandfather’s dream after he died in a vehicular accident when she was still in high school. When it feels as though despair is total, Kazuya knocks on her door with an ambitious goal in mind – he wants to crowd fund an independent film she’ll star in and complete it for Chizuru’s grandmother. This is Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season, continuing on from the story the first season had begun. In its execution, Kanojo, Okarishimasu has become a very busy anime – it simultaneously seeks to be a drama and comedy, only revealing the background for Chizuru’s singular drive for success in the second season’s finale. However, once this reason becomes established, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s thematic elements become significantly clearer.

While Chizuru’s attitude towards Kazuya suggests otherwise, and Kazuya’s lingering weak sense of self-esteem continues to be a constraint, Chizuru’s flashback ends up providing answers to the questions surrounding Kanojo, Okarishimasu. Kazuya continues to lack any sort of confidence in his decisions and keeps second-guessing himself. He is indecisive, fickle and short-sighted. However, in being optimistic to a fault, Kazuya actually conveys the same sort of dogged persistence and support that Chizuru’s grandfather had when she announced her desire to be an actress. Chizuru’s grandfather had provided a constant source of encouragement and praise, expressing his desire to one day see her on the silver screen. There are numerous parallels with Kazuya’s single-minded wish to see Chizuru achieve her goals, and seeing this may yield a modicum of insight into why Chizuru is so distant with Kazuya, insisting that they remain at arm’s length – Chizuru has been stated to be quite observant and astute, so it follows that she sees a bit of her grandfather in Kazuya. Despite his clumsy attempts to help her, Kazuya’s motivations are sincere (even if he does display some lust where Chizuru is concerned), and after losing her grandfather, it is probably the case that Chizuru wanted to avoid a repeat of things. However, towards the end of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Kazuya takes a hitherto unexpected step for Chizuru’s sake in suggesting a crowd-funded movie, and, moved to tears by the offer, decides to accept Kazuya’s help so that she can fulfil her dreams. In doing so, Chizuru has begun to do what her grandmother had wished for – having tried to do everything on her own until now, seeing Kazuya’s dogged persistence leads her to, however reluctantly, accept help from someone else. In this way, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season indicates that, despite all of the detours taken until now, Chizuru is the real star of the show. By opening up, acknowledging her vulnerability and realising that a little help from others can go a long way, Chizuru’s proven to be the most dynamic character of Kanojo, Okarishimasu. This aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is the series’ strongest, and although it firmly establishes the series direction, my main gripe is that this thematic piece is sufficiently well-written such that the other aspects, such as the love tesseract Kazuya’s entangled in, feels quite unnecessary – from a thematic standpoint, because Kazuya’s desire to support Chizuru is, in effect, a continuation of what her grandfather had done, despite objections from Chizuru, it follows that Kazuya and Chizuru remain the best match in Kanojo, Okarishimasu.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the site archives, the last time I wrote about Kanojo, Okarishimasu was back in May of last year because I had struggled to coherently discuss the series. Right after the first season had ended, the second season was announced, and here at the second season’s conclusion, a third season was immediately announced. Using the existing timeframe as precedence, I would estimate that season three will come out in July 2024. The first season began airing in July 2020, and there is a two-year gap between the two seasons, hence, two years from now appears to be a fair guess.

  • Typically, anime receive continuations based on sales, so Kanojo, Okarishimasu comes across as a bit of a surprise for me: while from a storytelling perspective, the anime is quite inconsistent and does some things better than others, I have heard that in Japan, this work is wildly popular, enough so that merchandise sales and other sources of revenue offset the poor BD sales. I am not one to deny that this series must be successful, since Kanojo, Okarishimasu ended up receiving a live-action drama adaptation, which is no mean feat, considering that Yuru Camp△ also received a live-action adaptation on account of how the overwhelmingly positive reaction for its anime counterpart.

  • The main reason why Kanojo, Okarishimasu was so tricky for me to write about is that the story is wildly inconsistent. One moment, viewers see Kazuya trying to persuade Chizuru to persist and fight on in a moment of emotional build-up, only for something to interrupt said moment. Kanojo, Okarishimasu swings constantly between comedy and drama, which takes away from both aspects; had the series been written to focus on either one, things would’ve ended up stronger for it. For instance, if Kanojo, Okarishimasu purely showed Kazuya’s ineptitude in romance through comedy, then the fun would come from seeing how misfortune slowly helps to improve his game.

  • Conversely, if Kanojo, Okarishimasu had been intended to be about a drama from the start, it would be able to accentuate Chizuru’s story and indicate how her perspectives of Kazuya change over time as she sees bits of her old family in him. This facet was easily the best part of the second season, and I felt that had the story been allowed to focus on this, it would be able to both show Chizuru’s growth as she learns that it’s okay to rely on others, as well as Kazuya’s growth by showing how relationships are more than just the physical piece, and the shared emotional journey with Chizuru would give him fulfilment in ways that his old relationship with Mami could not.

  • With this being said, it is not quite so easy to discard the other characters; Mami had set Kazuya on a course to meeting Chizuru by dumping him, and Ruka is able to help Kazuya see aspects of a relationship that are both good and bad. Sumi, on the other hand, is someone whose shyness requires Kazuya to take the lead. Everyone does help push Kazuya forward in their own way, although things happen at a glacial pace. Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a series that demands patience from the viewers to watch: the second season’s strongest moments and aims are only shown in the finale.

  • I imagine that this design choice was deliberate, meant to establish the dynamics amongst the characters and giving them a chance to bounce off one another before the series really hits its stride. However, this meant that many of the intermediate moments leading up to the finale lacked a good context and as a result, could be infuriating to watch. My favourite example of this in Kanojo, Okarishimasu is how Ruka’s role was portrayed. She’s head-over-heels for Kazuya and goes the extra mile to impress him, but these attempts are always doomed to failure because Kazuya has his heart set on being with Chizuru.

  • Without knowing Chizuru’s story and why she’s so cold towards Kazuya, the logical route would be to turn around and play things pragmatically: rather than pursue Chizuru, it would outwardly seem the better decision for Kazuya to focus on Ruka instead and allow things to progress. Romance and love can come unexpectedly, and while some stories give the impression that doggedly sticking to one’s guns is a measure of heroic resolve, in reality, things don’t always work out so neatly. Having said this, even in the knowledge of Chizuru’s story, I myself are more of a Ruka fan.

  • The reasoning behind why Ruka is my favourite among the main cast is because I empathise with her the most: because of how Kanojo, Okarishimasu is written, and what outcomes must occur in order to convey the story’s main themes, Ruka is predestined to lose Kazuya. Kanojo, Okarishimasu has already shown that she’s madly in love with him and was heartbroken during the first season after it was shown that Kazuya didn’t return her feelings. A sort of status quo is reached after Chizuru asks him to go out with Ruka, feeling that this experience may help him to get over Mami and also stop pining for Chizuru, as she doesn’t return his feelings.

  • While Ruka is my favourite character, in reality, I’m not sure how well I’d get along with someone like Ruka. On one hand, I’m fiercely loyal and commit to wholly to whatever I do, but Ruka also has a bit of a jealous streak about her, as well. Dealing with this might be tricky, but over time, a bit of communication and trust could sort that out, and from what’s shown in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Ruka’s someone I prefer: she’s quite forward about how she feels and despite being of a smaller stature, has a figure that rivals Chizuru’s. In any other story, anyone who decided to accept what’s in front of them and pick Ruka would not be “settling” by any stretch.

  • On the other hand, Sumi is a bundle of joy, and despite her shy disposition, has no qualms about Kazuya: Chizuru had introduced the two so Kazuya could act as a practise date for her of sorts. While Sumi is shy and struggles to speak at times, her intent with taking up a rental girlfriend position was to gain the confidence she needed to become an idol. At first glance, Sumi and Ruka are secondary to Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s main story, but looking more closely, their presence serves to drive Kazuya forward by giving him experiences in communicating with women.

  • One trap that Kanojo, Okarishimasu avoids is the indecisive protagonist: back when Infinite Stratos was running, viewers were livid about how Ichika always danced around the question of which of Houki, Cecilia, Charlotte, Lingyin, Laura or Tatenashi caught his fancy, and this created enough dissatisfaction amongst those who watched Infinite Stratos such that the series became quite reviled. Infinite Stratos is said to have become entangled in additional controversy after Izuru Yumizuru got into trouble with Media Factory, resulting in the light novels being expunged from all listings: if the rumours are to be believed, Yumizuru engaged in flame wars with Japanese readers on Twitter who’d been critiquing the series, and Media Factory decided to cut ties with him.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu doesn’t have quite as controversial of a story (at least, for the time being), and moreover, Kazuya has made it clear that he only has eyes for Chizuru, eliminating the problem of ambiguity. Kazuya’s tendency to second-guess himself is his largest shortcoming: although kind-hearted and acting in good faith, Kazuya always overthinks things. Being with Ruka and Sumi has dailed this back somewhat by Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season, and with the second season in the books, Kazuya’s single-minded determination in helping Chizuru to achieve her dreams leads Chiruzu to wonder why men are so fixated on doing what’s impossible.

  • Curiously enough, I do have an answer for this. There is an evolutionary piece at work here, to show a prospective partner of one’s qualities and traits, and this is why folks go to extraordinary lengths to impress the people they’re interested in. One of my favourite fictional examples is Top Gun‘s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who is a brilliant fighter pilot, but also cocky, immature and a non-team player. Mitchell outwardly is the opposite of Kazuya, being self-assured and smooth, but this actually is a façade: Mitchell flies as recklessly as he does because he lost his father in the Vietnam War, and when Mitchell’s wingman, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, is accidentally killed during a training exercise, Mitchell loses his confidence to fly for a stretch before regaining his game during a combat situation.

  • Despite their personalities being polar opposites, Kazuya and Mitchell both demonstrate what happens when one tries too hard to impress those around them, but both also have the requisite stubbornness and perseverance to do what they think is best to achieve their goals. Much as how Mitchell would demonstrate to his students in Top Gun: Maverick that it was possible to perform the mission within the tight parameters he’d specified, Kazuya’s grit opens Chizuru’s eyes to the fact that, even though her latest audition failed, and her grandmother’s time is short, they’re not out of options yet. Attitude issues notwithstanding, Mitchell and Kazuya both demonstrate that they are capable of showing, rather than being limited to telling.

  • Unbeknownst to Kazuya, this is why Ruka and Sumi both develop feelings for him. He might be clumsy and inept, but his actions show what’s in his heart. Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season ends up leaving Mami in the dust: a relic of a bygone era, Mami had dated Kazuya briefly before dumping him. The light novels indicate that Mami’s story is a bit of a tragic one, leading her to willfully manipulate those around her in a diabolical sort of game: she doesn’t get along with her family, who had arranged her marriage and forced her to break up with her first partner.

  • While Mami’s actions in Kanojo, Okarishimasu are unjustifiable, knowing her story helps one to understand why she’s keen on manipulating people and taking a wrecking ball to their relationships. These details aren’t shown in the anime, and instead, come later in the light novel. Because the light novel has a lot of moving parts in it, when adapted into the anime format, things do seem to drag on for viewers. I do find it amusing whenever Mami’s eyes dull and she takes on the traits of a yandere, although I also cannot help but wonder what sort of effort and process would be involved in helping people to heal from their past.

  • Between having the whole of Kanojo, Okarishimasu in the books and reading supplementary materials, I do feel as though I’ve got a better measure of what this series is trying to accomplish now. I had been quite ready to send this series an F grade and admit that those who hate Kanojo, Okarishimasu with every fibre of their being might have a point, but it is bad form to throw in the towel early and acquiesce to the opinions that more popular anime reviewers hold without making one’s own call on things. Had Kanojo, Okarishimasu actually failed in my books, I would not be writing about it.

  • I’ve been called out before for only writing positively of the things I experience, and there’s two simple reasons for this. Firstly, I’m not a professional anime critic and have no obligation to sit through series I dislike: if I drop something, I will do so without fanfare, and I won’t write about it. Secondly, at least according to readers, I’ve developed something of a reputation for finding positives even in series that ruffle my feathers. This is where the “Terrible Anime Challenge” series comes in, and in the case of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, while it was the case that I spent eleven episodes of the series in a state of either bemusement or annoyance, the finale suddenly led me to add two and two.

  • While the journey was a tumultuous one, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season did end in a manner I found satisfactory, and tied together all of the loose ends that had been bothering me. Scenes that prima facie appeared without purpose were now with meaning, and this meant that my irritation vanished on the spot. However, one aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season that didn’t sit so well with me was the prevalence of scenes like these, where a large amount of text is present on screen to denote asides the characters are having. I appreciate that these are here to give voice to the character’s thoughts, but they also create visual clutter and come across as being overly sarcastic. These were absent during the first season, which allowed the viewer’s attention to focus on the characters’ interactions and movements, but in the second season, they’re distractions.

  • Luckily, during the most pivotal moments of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, these asides are absent. For instance, there’s no text to distract from the scene where Ruka kisses Kazuya. The entire scene conveyed a sense of desperation and resignation in Ruka: she says so as much, and similarly to how Yui broke into tears during the events of Oregairu‘s third season, it is communicated to viewers here that Ruka doesn’t really stand any sort of chance. One must admire Ruka for how direct she is about how she feels about things, and this entire evening could not have been easy for her.

  • Kazuya’s grandmother is thoroughly convinced that she will be welcoming Chizuru into the family and gifts her a family heirloom as a result. Throughout Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Kazuya had entertained the idea of telling her grandmother and parents the truth about Chizuru, that they’re a phony couple, but over time, the lie endured because it became increasingly difficult to come forward, especially in the knowledge both Chizuru and Kazuya’s grandmothers were thrilled that their grandchildren would be family.

  • In the end, it’s Chizuru, who makes the call to perpetuate the lie for a little longer; her grandmother is dying, and she feels that it would be unfair to spring this news on her. At this point in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, glimpses of the series’ real story began appearing, and I found myself wishing that this is the direction the series had taken from the start. I understand the comedic detours are meant to humanise the characters, but because Kanojo, Okarishimasu is limited to twelve episodes per season, the series simply doesn’t have the luxury of slowly fleshing things out. Love stories take time to explore, and this is why more time is almost always needed to tell a compelling, convincing tale.

  • As Kazuya agonises over things during a make-up date with Ruka, Ruka takes a photograph of her gourmet pancake before digging in. Smartphone technology has come quite a long way: although Japan had been a front-runner in feature phones, the industry was disrupted in far-reaching ways when Apple introduced their iPhone back in 2007. Fifteen years after its introduction, the iPhone line has advanced into an industry-leading standard, and I am excited to receive my iPhone 14 Pro because it’s going to be a substantial upgrade over my current iPhone Xʀ. The iPhone Xʀ already takes excellent food photographs, so I’m curious to see how five years’ worth of advancement impacts my food photography, which has become something of a hobby for me.

  • After Kazuya’s birthday passes, Sumi decides to create a customised date based on his interests. Knowing that Kazuya is a big fan of marine life and aquariums, she takes him to the local marine park on an eventful and fun day. Sumi is outfitted in a school uniform, thinking that Kazuya was into that sort of thing after spotting him and Chizuru on a date in their school uniforms earlier. As the day draws to a close, Sumi brings Kazuya to a beautiful lookout providing a view of the city skyline, and to Kazuya’s surprise, happy couples can be seen everywhere.

  • Kazuya’s imagination goes into overdrive, and while it does appear as though Sumi is struggling with a kokuhaku, it turns out she’d been working up the courage to give Kazuya his birthday gift. Subsequently, Kazuya tries his hand at explaining his situation with Chizuru to her (in an indirect manner), and the pair share tears before Sumi does her best to reassure him. The pair part ways on a good note, and in this moment, Kazuya determines what his next move regarding Chizuru is.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season ends the way it began by covering Chizuru’s latest ambitions to a career as an actress, and she’s unsuccessful in her most recent audition. Flashing back to her time as a middle school student and her decision to become an actress after watching a film starring her grandmother, the specifics behind Chizuru are finally shown to viewers. These moments are the most critical parts of Kanojo, Okarishimasu because they give Chizuru proper exposition, and once her story is known, every part of her character, and her general attitudes towards Kazuya, become logical.

  • With this story in the open, I felt that the reason why Chizuru has been keeping Kazuya at a distance was simply because his determination and optimistic spirit has similarities with her grandfather’s: he was always one to believe that anything is possible, and that specifics can be worked out later. Since her grandfather’s death, Chizuru felt compelled to succeed on her own merits, without any assistance, which leads her to turn down Kazuya’s help. Ordinarily, dusting oneself off and trying again is what’s required, but Chizuru’s on one hell of a deadline because her grandmother’s health is rapidly declining, and she feels duty-bound to succeed to show her grandparents that their wishes for her were also fulfilled. Because of the timelines involved in auditions, Chizuru begins to feel that it might not be possible.

  • This is where Kazuya comes in: typically, his timing and lack of tact earns him admonishment from Chizuru, but because things had reached this point, Chizuru realises that it’s either she cling to her pride and attempt to do things the old-fashioned way, which would certainly mean her grandmother will never see her act, or she accept Kazuya’s help. Chizuru is initially surprised and wonders if it’s even possible for him to pull things off, but Kazuya reminds her that he’s in business administration, and therefore possesses the skills needed to run such a project. Kanojo, Okarishimasu may have presented Kazuya as a loser of sorts up until now, but the series has never once mentioned that his pursuit of Chizuru’s heart (and the collateral damage that tends to accumulate) ever had an impact on his studies.

  • It therefore stands to reason that, where relationships and romance aren’t concerned, Kazuya can hold his own, but since Chizuru was so absorbed in her own world, she never saw this side of Kazuya. In fact, now that I’ve entertained the thought, it does feel as though Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s portrayal of Kazuya is entirely consistent with how Chizuru sees him, and in this way, it is fair to say that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is every bit as much Chizuru’s story, as it is Kazuya’s. For the first time, Chizuru is flustered, and one hopes that, as Kazuya puts his best forward for her, Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya will improve, as well.

  • In the event I weren’t being clear, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season proved a pleasant surprise. I had remained unimpressed with the series during its run, and was quite ready to mark it as a write-off, a series not worth saying anything about, but the finale tied up enough of the loose ends so that all of the lead-up to the finale now had a reasonable context. With Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s directions now clear, I can say that this series is therefore better than I had anticipated. It does have its moments, and I am glad to have had the patience to sit things through to completion. To be sure, Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a B- (2.7 of 4.0): this series isn’t going to displace any of my favourites, and it doesn’t alter how I see the world, but things cannot be considered to be waste of time, either. While the anime still leaves much to be desired in pacing, the story does appear to be hitting its stride now, enough for me to retain a modicum of interest in where things land. This is a win in my books.

I had been an episode away from pulling the plug on Kanojo, Okarishimasu: until the finale, the series had meandered, unnecessarily creating conflict by returning Mami into the fray even as Ruka tried to pry Kazuya’s eyes from Chizuru. However, in the eleventh hour, Kanojo, Okarishimasu suddenly turned around – this anime adaptation exemplifies why I tend to stick around until the very end, because anything can happen. In the absence of Chizuru’s background, her motivations remain unknown, and Kazuya’s determination to help her appears little more than an unwarranted and unhealthy fixation. Similarly, without knowing why Chizuru wanted to become an actress, Kazuya has no reason in trying to court Chizuru beyond maintaining a promise with his grandmother, and Chizuru’s grandmother. With this additional revelation, additional weight is given to both Chizuru and Kazuya’s reasons for being. The second season had certainly taken its time to reach this point, but now that this is known, it becomes clear that Ruka has no chance at all. This aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is written in stone, necessary for the story to progress, but one cannot help but feel poorly for her. Ruka’s feelings are legitimate, and while she’s clingy, her take-charge personality does seem to be a suitable fit, at least for the present, for Kazuya. His biggest weakness is indecision, and spending time with Ruka has also given Kazuya a glimpse as to what a relationship entails, both in good and bad. While seemingly relegated to heartbreak, Ruka’s role in Kanojo, Okarishimasu is an unfortunate, but necessary one – it provides Kazuya with the stepping stone he needs to press on ahead and show Chizuru that he’s committed to her. This appears to be something that could be covered in the upcoming third season as Kazuya strives to make the crowd-funding project a success for Chizuru. Overall, while Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season had not impressed during most of its run, seeing its conclusion provides a decisive answer as to why things are happening the way they did. This remains a difficult anime to recommend because seeing things unfold at such a pace is frustrating, but for folks with patience to weather this storm, the series does set the stage for what could be a touching story yet. Ultimately, I would probably suggest that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is still a series that should be watched once it’s hit completion – individually, episodes can be painfully slow and drag out longer than they should, but the overarching story winds up being touching enough in spite of the series’ shortcomings. Occurrences such as these are why I am reluctant to drop anime: much as how hockey teams can manage to tie a game after pulling the goaltender with only seconds left in third period and subsequently win in overtime, anime can sometimes find ways to surprise viewers. Similarly, I do hope readers have gone all the way through this post, rather than reading just the title and immediately drawing conclusions on what I made of things – for Kanojo, Okarishimasu, my beer can stay right where it belongs, since this series is not, in the terms  of internet reviewers more popular (but less eloquent and, if I may, more vulgar than myself), a “dumpster fire”.

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

“Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose.” –G.K. Neilson

The days in Neo Venezia begin to develop a distinct chill as winter arrives. While out practising one day, Ai, Azusa and Anya encounter Akira wandering the streets of Neo Venezia alone and decide to tail her, but they are quickly spotted, and Akira invites them to the Undine Museum, meeting Himeya Company’s legendary Asuka, who now curates the museum. As it turns out, Himeya’s last remaining gondola from its founding is undergoing maintenance, and moreover, Aika appears to be refusing to inherit it for her use. Growing concerned that Aika might be losing her confidence, Azusa confronts her with the hopes of getting her to take up the gondola, but is unsuccessful. She later learns from Akira that in her youth, Aika had grown resentful of the pressures that had come with being an heir to the Himeya Company and felt that she had to find her own path. Akira ended up chasing an irate Aika through the canals of Neo Venezia, before Aika settled down, and subsequently took her on a lengthy gondola ride. The reason she’d done this was because she had made a promise to Aika’s mother, who is the current head of Himeya Company. In the morning, Aika reveals that she’d wanted to become an Undine after meeting Alicia, and Akira promises to mentor her, stating that Undines without talent can still make it by putting in the effort. In the present, Azusa, Anya and Ai approach Akari for help, and together, they schedule a gondola ride with Aika as their guide. They stop by the workshop where the Himeya gondola is being repaired, and Akira continues with the story of how Aika came to become a Prima. By the time of her exam, Aika’s become more confident, but feels that she wants to differentiate herself from Akira and make her own place in the sun. To this end, Aika had requested a tougher exam from Akira worthy of Himeya’s heir. After hearing Aika out, Akira agrees and stipulates they will resume the exam at the stroke of midnight. When Aika arrives, she learns that the exam is to see if Aika has the determination and grit of an Undine who is worthy despite lacking talent: the aim is to retrieve a rose from Akira without leaving her gondola, before dawn. Although it seems that Akira has an overwhelming advantage, Aika puts all of her learnings and experiences to use, capitalising on shortcuts and unexpected routes to close the gap between herself and Akira. As dawn approaches, Aika manages to take the rose, and becomes a Prima Undine. In the aftermath, Aika and Akira both cry their eyes out; Akira feels a sense of overwhelming relief at having brought Himeya’s wayward heir back. Aika reveals that she wasn’t a fan of the old gondola because it represented the past, and having undergone so many restorations, none of the old parts remain, so she felt more comfortable in retiring it. Together with all of her peers and friends, Aika prepares to retire Himeya’s last remaining original gondola and, as Christmas draws closer, she focuses on introducing a new item to the Rose Garden, Himeya’s Café, ahead of the coldest days of the year to create new tradition for future customers to enjoy. With this, ARIA the Benedizione, the last of the Blue Curtain Call series, draws to a close, and with it, after nearly two decades of history, ARIA draws to a warm and decisive conclusion.

Through its focus on Aika, Benedizione reiterates to viewers that success is not determined by talent alone. When Akira joined Himeya and passed her exam, Aika’s mother had complimented her on possessing uncommon talent, and moreover, had worked hard to put that talent to use. Akira’s response is telling: she doesn’t believe herself to be intrinsically talented, certainly not like Alicia or Alice, and that everything she’s accomplished and gained was a consequence of putting in the hours, learning and accepting challenges. This put Akira in a unique position to be Aika’s mentor. When the prospect of becoming an Undine hit Aika, Aika suddenly realised that, growing up the daughter of Himeya Company’s owner meant that whatever achievements she made feel unearned. Akira is able to persuade Aika to just work hard and focus on making her own way without worrying about the family legacy, and over time, imbibes Aika with the same sort of resolve that she carried. As such, when Akira pits Aika against an unconventional test, although the success parameters seem impossible, Akira had set this task to her precisely because she was confident that Aika would simply apply honest effort and, in conjunction with her skills, find a way to achieve what she’d set out to do. This is precisely what happens, and Benedizione thus reminds viewers that “talent” and “luck” are ultimately just secondary. Having a natural grasp of something won’t be enough to overcome certain barriers because some problems require persistence and resolve to solve. Falling back on hard work simply means accepting that effort must be directed towards exhausting all possibilities and learning something until one is confident with all of that discipline’s aspects. This is why Akira chooses to subject Aika to an exam of endurance and frustration: while Aika has plainly become skilled as an Undine, she had sold the idea that while unremarkable otherwise, her hard work is her best attribute. However, Aika must prove this to Akira, and this is why the assignment becomes a game of endurance, of Aika coming frustratingly close on numerous occasions, failing, and finding the raw drive to pick herself up and try again. I relate to this aspect in Benedizione especially strongly because as a developer, I am untalented. I do not have an eye for elegant algorithms or clever solutions. However, what I do have is a desire to develop clean, maintainable systems, and the patience to see this through. I work hard at making code readable and well-structured, and in this way, I find that, while I am nowhere as talented as Google or Apple’s brightest engineers, I can still hold my own. This is something I learnt to accept over time, and in Benedizione, it is plain that both Akira and Aika also embrace this ethos, reminding viewers that with rare exceptions (such as athletics and the performing arts), hard work can take individuals very far.

While it was known that Aika would pass her Prima exam, Benedizione makes a special effort to show how significant this milestone was for Aika, who has now fully committed to the path she’s chosen: she will accept the role of taking over Himeya, on the condition that she be allowed to apply her own learnings and newer methods into running the company to strike a balance between old and new. In Aika’s case, the fac that she’s reconciled the challenge of maintaining a respect for traditions and origins, and capitalising on innovation, shows that unlike the reluctant Undine Double who started her journey a sullen and moody trainee, the Aika of the present has gained enough experience to value the things that Himeya Company has made effective over the years, and at the same time, she’s remained true to her own beliefs by suggesting that there’s always room to try new things out and in this way, leave her legacy on Himeya Company in a manner different to her mother’s. Much as how she had once requested a unique exam to become a Prima, Aika’s mindset is that she wants to do things in her own way and achieve excellence on her own terms, versus pursuing approval based on existing standards. Aika’s journey to becoming an Undine, and the path she took to earn her Prima title is therefore an excellent send-off for viewers: until now, Aika’s exam had never been shown, but now that we’ve had a chance to explore things, it becomes clear that Aika’s reconciling the past, present and future becomes a fitting way to wrap up ARIA as a whole. The animated adaptation had begun almost twenty years earlier and told of Akari’s story. Over the years, Akari would graduate from a Single to Prima along with her friends, and each of Aria Company, Himeya Company and Orange Planet would acquire new trainees. However, at each stage of the journey, the dynamics and challenges are shared. Much as how Akari, Alice and Aika were juniors learning under their mentors, by the end of Origination, Akari, Alice and Aika are all full-fledged Undine, now looking after their own students in Ai, Anya and Azusa. Everyone brings their own learnings, a combination of time-tested tradition and new approaches brought on by their own experiences, towards passing on knowledge, and in this way, much as how an Undine’s skills subtly shift over time to reflect on this combination, ARIA itself has also subtly changed over the years: it remains faithful to Kozue Amano’s original vision, and each iteration sees a familiar cast reprising their roles (save Athena, where Rina Satō takes over from Tomoko Kawakami) but with different studios producing the anime, ARIA itself has been modernised, providing viewers with contemporary, vivid and detailed visuals while at the same time, conveying the same aesthetic and learnings that the 2005 series had sought to convey. Benedizione thus celebrates the integration of old and new in its run, reminding viewers of this through Aika: each of Hal Film Maker, TYO Animations, and JC Staff have left their own indelible and lasting mark on an iconic series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When ARIA last graced this blog a year ago, I had just finished Crepuscolo and found myself greatly looking forward to Benedizione. At the time, I had just begun the house hunt, and if memory serves, I had just finished touring a unit that hadn’t been quite to my liking. A week after I published my thoughts on Crepuscolo, I would end up doing a walk-through of the unit that would become my current home. Time passes relentlessly, and here in the present, I’m writing about Benedizione on a powerful new desktop, at a desk with a gorgeous view of the night lights below.

  • It is worth reiterating that both Benedizione and Crepuscolo, being produced by J.C. Works, has similar character designs as Amanchu!. These traits are most noticeable in the shape of the characters’ eyes and the pronounced eyelashes, and while subtle, they are still quite different from the art style seen in Avvenire, and the earlier seasons. Because I’d dropped into ARIA through Avvenire, I do not have any issue with the character designs from Avvenire. In fact, all of the different art styles in ARIA are secondary to the experiences the characters themselves undergo, and this is what makes all of the ARIA adaptations meaningful in their own right.

  • “Benedizione” is Italian for “blessing”, in keeping with tradition; this film’s focus is all about how fortunes become good as a result of persistence and grit, but also through fateful encounters. Whereas Crepuscolo had focused on Athena, Alice and Anya, Benedizione is all about Akira, Aika and Azusa. Alicia, Akari and Ai’s stories had already been covered in full by the events of Origination, where Akari had passed her Undine exam to become a Prima, and this in turn allowed Alicia to retire and pursue a career as a member of the Gondola Association. Since Aika’s story has never been explored in depth, was logical that the last of Akari’s generation of Undines would be given some shine time.

  • Azusa, Ai and Anya are this generation’s Aika, Akari and Alice, respectively: their adventures on Aqua and Neo Venezia are every bit as memorable as those their predecessors experienced, but since 2015’s Avvenire, I have noticed that the emphasis on the supernatural aspects of Aqua have been set aside as ARIA sets its focus on personal growth, reminiscence and using lessons from the past to drive the future. Here, Azusa, Ai and Anya are out practising in the tranquil canals of Neo Venezia, and they spot Akira out and about. Curiosity soon overtakes the three, and they decide to tail her.

  • Anime always have a tendency to portray characters as being completely unlearned in fieldcraft, setting the stage for comedy when they inevitably get burned. Akira catches on very quickly, and as it turns out, nothing funny is happening: she’d been out rowing during the morning to regroup from something bothering her, and had been making her way to Neo Venezia’s Undine Museum. As a point of curiosity, the Undine museum isn’t actually based off any museums in Venice: instead, it is modelled after the Kitaichi Venezia Museum in Otaru, Hokkaido. The museum’s architectural style is inconsistent with the buildings in Venice, so I decided to use a little computer vision to help things out.

  • The meat buns that President Aria are so fond of end up being enjoyed throughout Benedizione, acting as the perfect accompaniment for brisk days that signal the arrival of winter. Yesterday, with the arrival of September, I stepped out to enjoy a fantastic sushi and fried chicken feast for dinner. I ended up ordering a combo featuring salmon, tuna, red snapper, smoked salmon, octopus, prawn, tamago and scallop, plus the Signature Roll (smoked salmon and shrimp tempura with tobiko) and the Dynamite Rolls I’ve become fond of. Since this was dinner, I decided to add a karaage donburi and the house fried chicken to my order. Dinner was absolutely delicious and proved very hearty, proving to be a pleasant way of spending a quiet evening to the first of September.

  • At the museum, Ai, Azusa and Anya run into Asuka, an elderly lady who had once been a legendary Undine. As it turns out, Akira had a reason for visiting the Undine museum: she’d been here to check in on the last of Himeya Company’s remaining gondolas that have been in operation since its founding. As the story goes, the heir of Himeya Company will inherit this gondola as a part of the tradition, and for her own reasons, Aika has refused to accept this gondola despite its illustrious history. This revelation unsettles Azusa, who feels that Aika has always been confident, headstrong and capable of inheriting Himeya Company.

  • Akari takes some customers on a tour of Neo Venezia, and they pass by a workshop that builds and maintains gondolas. The customers had been wishing they could’ve been treated to a tour from Akira and wonder why she’d been unavailable for the day. Akari finds it unusual, since Akira would ordinarily have no qualms about using another gondola. The scenery of Neo Venezia in JC Staff’s adaptation is unparalleled, looking far sharper than anything in Avvenire – even details like water reflections are rendered in full, really bringing Neo Venezia to life.

  • It is mentioned that the last remaining gondola has undergone so much restoration that none of the original parts actually remain. This is a callback to the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment which poses the question of whether or not a ship that’s had all of its components replaced is still the same ship as the original. Philosophers have debated this question for centuries and pose complex answers because attempts to walk through it may break down. For instance, one might argue that because the history, memories and reputation associated with the ship remains, it is functionally the same ship even if all the parts are swapped out. However, if I were to take the entire contents of a hard drive from one of my computers, including the OS, and copied that over to a different computer, while that computer technically could be used just like my previous machine, it is, strictly speaking, a different machine despite handling identically.

  • I could be here all day trying to work out something to the Ship of Theseus, and such a question is above my pay grade – I specialise in solving problems in the realm of software, so I’ll return the talk back to Benedizione. Azusa, like her seniors, is very forward, and she decides to confront Aika directly about why she’s refusing to inherit the Himeya Company’s heirloom gondola and become a top-tier Undine as Akira had done. While Aika simply indicates the gondola is cursed, it becomes clear that something’s keeping her from simply rising above all adversity and staring down the challenge with her typical spunk. Knowing ARIA, it was not inconceivable that there is some supernatural piece, and in this moment, viewers become as curious as Azusa to know of what’s really going on.

  • ARIA‘s Neo Venezia never ceases to amaze, and like Crepuscolo, Benedizione makes certain to remind viewers that Aqua is a planet of tranquility and wonder. Here, floating islands and airships can be seen: they’re the only sign that Neo Venezia is not actually Venice, and in-universe, it was explained that an array of technologies make these sights possible. Because Aqua is Mars after terraforming was done, I’d been fond of joking that ARIA is the result of the Doom Slayer’s efforts in DOOM: the use of something like Argent Energy could be enough to introduce such changes. However, after the events of DOOM Eternal, it is clear that this is no longer the case, since in the Doom Slayer uses the BFG 10000 to blast a hole on Mars, one which reaches the planet’s core. For the present, I’ll contend myself with enjoying the beautiful scenery seen in ARIA.

  • When Azusa recounts the previous night’s conversation to Akira, her timing is such that Anya and Ai show up. Spotting them, Akira decides that it’s time to recount a story to the three. ARIA is very fond of employing flashbacks as a storytelling device, and Benedizione is no exception; much of the film shares moments that hadn’t been shown in earlier ARIA works. They’re used to suggest that one’s memories become important, as drawing on lessons from the past help to inform one’s decisions in the present. To accentuate this, Benedizione uses recursive flashbacks, having Akira reminisce within her memories.

  • If improperly done, recursive flashbacks could create confusion, but here in Benedizione, it works perfectly because flashbacks are already an integral part of the story, and it’s clear when one has transitioned into one. Through Akira’s recollections, viewers learn that as a middle school student, Aika had been very standoffish and hostile. Uncertain of how to best guide her, Aika’s mother would task Himeya Company’s most promising Undine with helping Aika out. Aika had always wanted to be an Undine, but after becoming a middle school student, began to feel distant from her dreams.

  • What makes the familiar dynamic between Akira and Aika so endearing, then, is seeing how awkward things had been initially. Although ARIA‘s first season had presented the two as respecting one another, despite the pair occasionally trading barbs, Benedizione shows that in the very beginning, there’d been a considerable distance between the two. Aika herself cannot understand why Akira is so determined to close this distance. Moments like these show that early in the game, the pair hadn’t been close at all, and in fact, Aika even regards Akira as a nuisance.

  • I would imagine that for Akira, Aika becomes a fun challenge, just another problem with a solution that has yet to be found. Since Akira is shown as having a indefatigable spirit, this flashback shows how for Aika and Akira, it would become a matter of whose will was stronger, and because ARIA shows that Aika and Akira strongly respect one another despite occasionally butting heads, it is clear that Akira’s resolve was greater. This is unsurprising, since I imagine that despite her misgivings, Aika had wanted to become a worthy Undine.

  • The turning point in the pair’s relationship occurs one evening, when Akira spots Aika walking off in a huff after spotting her. Deciding to adopt a hands-off approach, Akira lets Aika be this evening rather than going after her. She ends up picking up a paddle and practises her rowing under the quiet of the night, but becomes wrapped up in her thoughts: as it turns out, Aika’s attitude stems from feeling like she wasn’t ever going to be a worthy successor to Himeya Company because she’d earned none of it on her own merits.

  • This mindset is a familiar one and is formally referred to as Imposter Syndrome, which manifests when one believes that their accomplishments are undeserved. I myself am guilty of this: during my undergraduate years, I’d felt that every passing grade I earned in a computer science course, or the projects I’d completed during summer research, was the consequence of being lucky. I’ve never revealed this to my peers, family or friends: this is why I intended to pursue a career in medicine, because unlike computer science, I had felt a shade more comfortable with biology. Having a wonderful graduate supervisor eventually convinced me that I did have a modicum of skill as a developer, looking back, his asking me to lead the development of the Giant Walkthrough Brain may have been an exercise to remind me of this.

  • This project allowed me to both learn Unity and help look after my peers’ work, and once I embraced the fact that there was always something new to discover, and that it was okay not to know something, I began feeling more at home with software development. Of course, there are moments now where I view my successes as the consequence of luck (i.e. the right information was available when I needed it), but I similarly recognise that the combination of experience and support yielded those results. Back in Benedizione, it was endearing to see Aika melt for a moment after Akira finds her and gives her a blanket after she’d nodded off.

  • For Aika, her challenge was that, because she came from a distinguished pedigree, she felt especially driven to stand out and make her own way despite having no notable talents (at least, not in her eyes). This created a sense of pressure in her to excel, and while years of training alongside Akira, as well as experiencing life-changing events with Akari and Alice have helped Aika to accept herself, some things still linger. This comes across as a shock to Azusa, who’d always seen Aika as being a solidly-dependable and capable individual, paralleling how Aika would come to see Akira as a model Undine.

  • Unsatisfied with how little progress she’s made, Azusa decides to talk to Akari, who’s known Aika since their days as Doubles. They thus swing by Aria Company with some questions for her, and arrive right before she returns from her work. Akari remarks that Aika’s always been the sort of person who would put on a brave face when things got tough, even if she was inwardly unsure of herself, and in this moment, it is shown that the tough front Aika’s adopted regarding the Himeya Company gondola is a result of her being uncertain about Himeya’s future, despite having become a Prima herself.

  • Although Anya and Ai wonder how to best approach the problem, Akari comes up with something that appeals to Azusa, Anya and Ai. Having grown accustomed to Akari being a Single throughout most of ARIA, it did feel a little unusual to see Akari be the reliable senior that Alicia had been for her, and this speaks volumes to Akari’s growth. With a gentle and kind nature, Akari was my favourite of the characters in ARIA, being the sort of person I would probably spend the future with, but as far as I can tell, I’m most similar to Aika in terms of personality.

  • The next day, Azusa and the others put their plan into action: they’ve even managed to recruit Asuka for help, and she’s agreed to book a Twilight tour with her. Although Aika is surprised to see everyone, she takes everyone out onto Neo Venezia’s canals, but becomes suspicious of what Azusa and the others have planned for them. Her doubts appear assuaged by Ai’s suggestion this is to simply learn. Everyone becomes distracted when President Aria spots a pork bun vendor and grows excited. When Asuka buys some for everyone, Anya suddenly is seized with the impulse to poke President Aria. This elicits a laugh from Aika, and Asuka reminisces on how for a time, Aika had been all scowls.

  • Even as a Single, Akira was very confident in her abilities, citing that hard work is what creates talent, and Asuka explains that this is why Akira was assigned to mentor Aika. While to an external observer, both Akira and Aika are superbly skilled as Undine, what makes them standout is precisely the willingness to work hard. Hard work is a given, and while articles out there speak vocally to how hard work alone isn’t enough, it is a prerequisite. Many articles suggest that success is found by playing to one’s strengths, recognising one’s weaknesses and learning to support and be supported by others, and ARIA mirrors this by showing how the characters succeed because of their friendships. It was precisely because of this mindset that Aika’s mother believed that Akira would be perfect for mentoring Aika.

  • Aika likely already had similar beliefs, and someone like Akira, who’d been confident in her ability, would be perfect in bringing this side of Aika out into the open. It is true that our mentors have a nontrivial impact on how we do things. For instance, my middle school computer instructor’s love for all things Apple actually made me more biased towards Mac OS, whereas in secondary school, I had an inspiring biology instructor who inspired my current learning style. In university, my supervisor had a mindset similar to that of Richard Feynman, being a big believer of the idea that there is always value in conveying complex concepts simply. Coupled with his willingness to explore new approaches, I was inspired by how our lab was always ready to experiment with new technologies, and this was how I learnt the basics of game engines and VR development.

  • In the present day, my approach for doing things is an amalgamation of how my instructors and mentors taught me. Aika is the same: while she’s warm and friendly, she’s also surprisingly strict at times. The reminiscence leads Aika to acknowledge that this side of Akira is what led to her growth, giving her the encouragement she needed to push herself despite her lack of talent. Upon hearing Aika say this, Ai and the others wonder if they’ll ever stack up to the likes of Aika, Akari and Alice, and to this, Aika replies that when she, Akari and Alice were singles, they themselves had wondered if they’d ever hold a candle to Akira, Alicia and Athena.

  • This too is a familiar feeling: when I gained admittance to graduate school, I wondered if the work I did would compared to that of my predecessors, the graduate students who had mentored me. In the end, I would come to draw inspiration from their projects and build something I would be proud of. Aika doesn’t offer an answer on how she overcame this, suggesting it’s something she still occasionally thinks about, and when Azusa tries to press Aika about the gondola, Aika falls silent. However, Asuka fills the void and provides an answer; Himeya’s gondola will become an exhibit at the museum, and moreover, since Aika’s plainly become Azusa’s role model, she’s also come far as an Undine.

  • While Ai and Anya had tried to say that their day was purely motivated by training, this was strictly untrue, and the tour ends at the gondola workshop, where the Himeya gondola has finished undergoing restoration and is now awaiting Aika’s decision. As it turns out, Asuza, Asuka and Akari had also invited Akira to things, to Aika’s surprise. Moments like these speak to ARIA‘s not-so-subtle suggestion that, when faced with problems, it is preferable to bring everyone together had have everyone’s thoughts on things, versus attempting to tough things out on one’s own.

  • Gathering all of the characters reinforces ARIA‘s themes, and this is something that the series has been fond of doing: Crepuscolo and Avvenire had done the same. Bringing the group together allows for Benedizione to enter its endgame: bits and pieces of Aika’s story had been told, and by this point in Benedizione, I’d been most curious to see the remainder of how Aika would come to be the Undine she is in the present. Anime are often direct in their outcomes, but for me, the value has always been in the journey.

  • After Akira had given her a blanket, Aika had run off into the night in embarrassment, only for Akira to show up on a gondola. Aika’s thoughts are finally revealed to the viewer, and Akira decides to take her on a night ride through Neo Venezia’s canals. With a gentle Spanish guitar accompanying the moment, Aika’s internal conflict is barely perceptible: the musical accompaniment in ARIA had always created a sense of relaxation and yearning. While this may initially appear to create dissonance, the music actually serves to maintain a consistently tranquil aesthetic throughout ARIA.

  • In the end, Akira ends up rowing for Aika through the whole night, and this moment is what wins her over: while Akira might not have any innate talent, that she’s gone to these lengths to convince Aika impresses her. During the ride, Aika had finally opened up to Akira and explains her original wish for becoming an Undine: as a child, she had a chance encounter with an Undine and, seeing the magic in the career, decided to follow in these footsteps with the aim of meeting this Undine again. However, having seen what the world of Undines was like, Aika felt that someone like her shouldn’t be in the occupation.

  • Akira ends up reassuring Aika that effort can make up for a lack of talent, and, upon spotting how Aika’s likely cold, she decides to take her to the nearest place of warmth despite her own reservations. This is none other than Aria Company, where Alicia works. To Aika’s great surprise, it was Alicia who had been the Undine she’d met as a child, and she’s quite embarrassed to be here. There is nothing wrong with Aria Company: Alicia immediately fixes Aika up with a blanket, and President Aria prepares a cocoa for her. The moment comes as a bit of a shock to Aika: she hadn’t expected to meet the person who’d inspired her again, and in her excitement, Aika is reduced to a squeaky mess.

  • In the aftermath, Aika positively gushes about meeting Alicia, although with this particular achievement now in the books, Aika does feel as though she needs to be more motivated and become an Undine on her own terms. The iconic chibi visuals of ARIA make a return in Benedizione, and having now been familiar with ARIA for some six years, I’ve found them an endearing part of the show. Akira reflects on how she’s so intent on shaping Aika into a proper Undine: she sees Aika in herself, and believes that there is value seeing someone as unremarkable and ordinary make their way in the world.

  • Akari, Alice and Aika’s chibi faces never fail to put a smile on my face and warm my heart. Aika is surprised that the pair are here, and as the evening progresses, as more of Aika’s story is told, more people show up. Once the initial shock of Akari and Alice’s appearance wears off, Benedizione resumes its flashback; under Akira’s tutelage, and through her shared experiences with Akari and Alice, Aika begins changing, developing a greater confidence in her abilities, as well as her own distinct identity as an Undine: she presently runs a branch of Himeya, and although she wonders if she’ll be able to grow it more successfully, she has moments where she remains doubtful of herself.

  • Aika’s bold and brash manner is best seen during her Prima exam. When Akira begins reminiscing about her old exam, Aika suddenly realises that she doesn’t want to pass some standardised exam that all Undine go through, and instead, demands a challenge worthy of Akira and herself. Although any other invigilator would’ve probably asked Aika to kindly continue, Akira understands how Aika feels and consents to doing a custom segment of the exam: Aika clearly has the skill, knowledge and experience to pass, but there are other areas where she could truly be tested.

  • The modified exam is thus set for the stroke of midnight, and Aika’s goal is to remove a rose from Akira’s hair, in a setup that mirrors the night Akira had spent chasing Aika around. The rules are simple enough: Aika has about six to seven hours to complete her assignment and must do so on a gondola. The reason why Akira sets up the exam in this manner is because this was a matter of persistence and determination. In order for Aika to succeed, she must not only fall on her own knowledge of Neo Venezia’s canals and the skill to navigate them, but also show uncommon grit. Since Akira basically chased Aika around for a whole night before giving her a ride for the remainder, Akira reasons that if Aika can now do the same, then she’s demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that she’s committed to being an Undine.

  • Seeing this exam suddenly brings to mind my own graduate defense. I had been talking to my mentor as peers, as we normally did, in the moments leading right to the exam, but the instant things began, an intensity filled the air – I was the student, and he was the examiner. However, like the exam that Aika would receive, there had also been a feeling of trust, and faith throughout. Akira and my supervisor never pulled any punches, and similar to Aika, I was swinging with all my might, answering every question about my project to the best of my ability.

  • Although students tend to view exams as a battle with a foe, advice from one of the doctorate students in my lab contributed to how I approached it: he suggested that I approach the graduate defense like a friendly conversation, where questions were asked to get to know my work and its implications better. In Benedizione, it’s clear that, despite the difficulty of the task that Akira sets Aika, the pair are having fun despite themselves. Akira has the upper hand throughout most of the exam, but Aika comes close several times, using her familiarity of Neo Venezia’s canals to pull off unorthodox manoeuvres that bring her ever-closer to her goal.

  • Light slowly begins creeping into the sky, and it seems that Aika’s running out of time. However, she’s not out of the fight yet, and decides to try and corral Akira to a spot where she would have the advantage. Akira soon arrives and wonders if the task she set was too tricky, but when she spots the flowers growing on a wall, she is immediately reminded of her own Prima exam and wonders if Aika had known of its significance. She pauses, and this gives Aika all the time she needs to finish the fight. Right after she plucks the rose from Akira’s ear, the sun breaks over the horizon and fills the screen with light.

  • For the briefest of moments, I had the feeling that I was watching Hikari and Matoin Amanchu!. Although the Amanchu!-like designs in Crepuscolo had thrown me off, by the time of Benedizione, I’ve grown accustomed to the new character designs and admit that the Amanchu!-style characters here in ARIA do work in the series’ favour, giving everyone a modernised look that is consistent with Amano’s designs in Amanchu!. Although this moment is supposed to be of triumph, and joy, I suddenly found myself tearing up: I had finished my graduate thesis and MCAT exhausted, too tired to feel a sense of accomplishment at what had just happened.

  • However, Benedizione captures in full just what it feels like to be successful in one’s goals. As the land becomes filled with light, Akira’s surprise turns to joy, and she opens by commenting on how, from here on out, what happens is purely up to Aika. She’s passed the exam in full, having shown a level of determination and resolve that is worthy of the Prima Undine of Himeya title. However, with this accomplishment, and the accompanying freedom to be a full Undine, comes the attendant responsibilities. The Aika of this time is a far cry from her old self, and she promises to commit to her goals of becoming a great Undine and preparing herself to one day run Himeya in full.

  • This scene was especially poignant, and in completing her exam, Aika shows Akira that she’s come to find her place as an Undine on her own terms. To Akira, this means that she has now fulfilled her promise to Aika’s mother in full. The spot where Akira had become a Prima now takes on a newfound significance, in becoming the same spot where she saw her own student go from being a sullen Double to a full-fledged Undine with her own distinct strengths. Fateful encounters are a big deal in anime, and while I find that people often take these for granted in reality, anime has a wonderful tendency of reminding people to be mindful and appreciative of the meetings they’ve had in their lives.

  • The final stage of passing a Prima exam is the removal of the remaining glove, to signify a fully-qualified Undine. The moment is a bittersweet one, much as it’d been for Alice and Athena, and Akari and Alicia. I imagine that for my supervisor, watching me finish and turning my sights towards the future must’ve been a similar moment: shortly after I finished my defense and learned that I was to pass with minor revisions (where said revisions were a few grammatical fixes and improving a definition of what an Agent is), he also asked me if I would consider pursuing a PhD and expand out the VR/AR projects I’d started.

  • In the years subsequent, my supervisor became the department head, and new undergraduate students and graduate students have come in to achieve great things of their own. People may feel that their forerunners are giants in the field, but the reality is that every generation brings something new to the table. On the topic of new generation stuff, a few days earlier, I caught wind of something I didn’t think would happen in the time that it did. It turns out that my neighbourhood computer hardware store received a shipment of MSI RTX 3060 Ti LHR GPUs, and what’s more, were running a flash sale at 620 CAD (470 USD) per card. Since the RTX 3060 Ti’s MSRP is 400 USD (about 526 CAD with current exchange rates), and the MSI GPU is an after-market card with a custom cooler and RGB lighting, I felt that the price was right for me to make the purchase. I have previously stated I was going to wait for the RTX 4060, but it’s coming in somewhere 2023, and both availability and prices are unknown.

  • Conversely, an RTX 3060 Ti going for close to MSRP is known in the moment, and the card is no slouch, even if the 4060 hypothetically trades with the 3080. I thus bought the card, which is a work of art with its steel backplate and RGB lighting, and installed it yesterday: although I’d been anticipating a tough installation, after I put the power cables into my machine back in March, it turns out I had all of the right pins in place, so it was a simple matter of pulling out my GTX 1060 and putting the larger 3060 Ti into the PCI slot. I’ve since tested the game on DOOM Eternal and was blown away by how I was getting a smooth 80 FPS with ray-tracing enabled on ultra settings, and in spite of this, the GPU usage was barely breaking 40 percent. Back in Benedizione, a stylised version of the kanji 姫 (Hepburn hime, literally “princess”) can be seen in Himeya’s logo while Akira and Aika share a heartfelt post-exam conversation. After looking around, I learnt that in Chinese, it’s an archaic way of saying “woman”, but it’s also a surname.

  • Both Akira and Aika subsequently cry their eyes out at the prospect of no longer being mentor and student, before regaining their composure, and as chibis, Akira resembles Mato. As memory serves, in Origination, Alicia had put off Akari’s Prima exam for the same reason; she’d come to greatly enjoy Akari’s company and wanted to spend more time with her. However, Alicia eventually takes the plunge and encourages Akari to take the exam. After Akari becomes a Prima, she takes over operations at Aria Company, while Alicia becomes a member of the Gondola Association. Despite their jobs taking them separate ways, Akari and Alicia can always meet, and similarly, even after Aika became a Prima, she’s still able to hang out with Akira with some frequency. Knowing this allows everyone to seize their futures without becoming distant.

  • With this, Aika’s journey towards becoming a Prima Undine of Himeya Company is now finished, and having now seen the whole of Aika’s story, it makes her path even more meaningful. ARIANatural and Origination had largely focused on Akari’s experiences as an Undine; some episodes were given towards the other characters to enrich Neo Venezia, but ultimately, the main story had been about how Akari’s open mind allows her to make the most of everything on Aqua and show that she has the characteristics of becoming an excellent Undine. However, this had left Alice and Aika’s stories untold: Crepuscolo and Benedizione rectify this to close off ARIA‘s story.

  • By this point in the evening, Athena and Alicia have both joined the others. The two end up hearing the last segments of Aika’s story, and with the whole crew assembled, the evening’s main event can continue. While both Crepuscolo and Benedizione don’t have anything quite as grand as the magical events of Natural or Origination, the emphasis on the characters and their stories proves to be the real magic here. The lack of supernatural in the later ARIA instalments was probably by design: the mystery surrounding Aqua and Neo Venezia ultimately is a matter of perspective, and the characters’ own encounters and experiences forms the excitement in their memories.

  • The time has finally come to retire the Himeya Company gondola. Earlier, Akari had explained to Ai that traditionally, retired gondolas are burned at a bonfire in a large ceremony. However, what was noticeable was how Akira chooses to handle the retirement of Himeya Company’s most iconic gondola: rather than setting it on fire as tradition stipulates, she places candles on it, and intends to donate it to the Undine Museum instead once the retirement ceremony is over.

  • Al ends up joining the others, stating that he would’ve liked to have been here for something that means a great deal to Aika. It was great to see characters from ARIA making a return in Crepuscolo and Benedizione: Al and Akatsuki were largely absent from Avvenire despite playing a role in ARIA, and while their presence is not as substantial here in the movies, it was pleasant seeing them nonetheless. In Benedizione, however, Akatsuki only makes two appearances, sneezing once when Akari mentions his name. His thoughts immediately stray to her after sneezing, and I found it touching that this was the case.

  • In the end, Aika commits to her decision of not inheriting the gondola. This had been something that would’ve doubtlessly lingered on both Azusa and the viewer’s mind throughout Benedizione: Aika’s choice is a reflection of who she is, and in choosing not to inherit the gondola, she indicates beyond any doubt that she absolutely intends on forging her on path ahead. However, the manner in which the retirement ceremony is conducted also speaks volumes to the fact that Aika is determined to allow both tradition and innovation to co-exist. Rather than burning Himeya’s last original gondola to retire it, the choice to donate it means future Undine can still look upon a gondola with a great deal of history behind it.

  • I believe that with BenedizioneARIA draws to a complete conclusion. When I wrote about Crepuscolo, I had been under the impression that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would have three parts, and as such, imagined that after Benedizione, there would be one final act to focus on Akari. However, as it turns out, Benedizione was in fact the last act, and Avvenire‘s three episodes was the first instalment. While I am a shade disappointed that there won’t be more ARIA or a dedicated film for Akari, this makes sense, since Akari’s story had already been covered in full during the three seasons: as a part of her open mind, Akari is one of the few people in Neo Venezia to have been personally guided by the Cait Sith himself.

  • Thanks to the Cait Sith, Akari has seen each of the Endless Waterway Hall, the Carnival Casanova, the Mirage Coffee Shop, the Galactic Train, the Lady of San Michele Island, the Stone of Misfortune and even the Cait Sith. This showed Akari’s attunement to, and appreciation of, the world around her. Having three full seasons to chronicle this meant that Akari’s own growth is already well-established, culminating with her Prima exam at the end of Origination. As such, it follows that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would be a sequel, set to show Ai, Azusa and Anya’s own development as they strive towards the goal of becoming Prima Undine themselves.

  • After the candles are lit and placed on the gondola, along with some roses, everyone thanks the gondola for having provided service for as long as it did. Seeing how Aika conducted herself, both as a prospective Prima and here, as a Prima, helped Akira to improve as an Undine, as well: there are cases where the student can influence and impress a mentor. Having been in both positions, I can attest to this fact, and I’ve always been of the mind that someone younger may yet surprise me in positive ways. I was ultimately glad that Himeya’s gondola was not torched, as it still remains a tangible piece of Himeya Company’s history.

  • As winter sets in, I believe that this marks the first time in the Blue Curtain Call trilogy where we’ve seen Neo Venezia with overcast skies. In spite of the gloomier weather, things are as peaceful and serene as they’ve always been. Akira prepares to head out on her day’s work, greeting Aika’s mother along the way. Aika’s mother had given Aika the choice of deciding whether or not she would one day take up her current post, and Akira had helped Aika to understand her decision. In the present, I imagine that Aika’s mother would be very proud to see Aika embracing both her family’s past and pursue innovation in her own manner.

  • Meanwhile, at Himeya Company’s branch, Aika’s firing up her staff with a new menu item, and Azusa, pleased to see Aika back to her old self, makes a tongue-in-cheek remark that causes Aika to reprimand her. It would seem that Azusa’s similarly inherited Aika’s tendency to make witty retorts. While this is likely the last viewers will see of Azusa, Anya and Ai, knowing how ARIA unfolds means their own futures are never in doubt: they each have good personalities about them, are willing to work hard, but also stop and smell the roses when appropriate, and each of Ai, Azusa and Anya have excellent mentors with them.

  • Benedizione closes with snapshots into the other characters day as a gentle snowfall arrives over Neo Venezia. At Orange Planet, Anya passes Alice a thermos full of honey tea so she’ll stay hydrated and warm during her work, commenting on how similar Alice is to Athena in the process. It’s a touching moment, and Alice replies that she’s still not worthy of being Anya’s senior just yet, much as how Athena lamented that she hadn’t been ready to mentor someone like Alice.

  • Meanwhile, at Aria Company, Ai, Akari and President Aria prepare for another day of work. Akari’s monologue, that things will continue on after the current generations have passed on, but how their feelings linger, act as a send-off for both Benedizione and ARIA as a whole. ARIA‘s original successes stemmed from the fact that the world-building had been solid, and the stories surrounding each of the characters were both seamlessly woven into Neo Venezia and Aqua, but at the same time, were immediately relatable. Together with its emphasis on an appreciation of the ordinary, ARIA became the forerunner for the anime today that strive be relaxing experiences.

  • Overall, ARIA the Benedizione and ARIA the Crepuscolo together earn an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or a perfect ten of ten): for longtime fans of the series, it is a suitable sendoff that gives Alice and Aika some shine time on top of bringing back all of the memories behind the characters and the considerable growth they’ve experienced throughout the series. While ARIA had been very forward with its messages and themes, the series never once comes across as being too overt with things: masterful use of the setting to tell a story means that the life lessons ARIA sought to convey are done so in a tactful manner.

  • One year ago, I finished Crepuscolo and had been staring down one life event that looked like it would change my life dramatically. Like the feelings each of Alicia, Athena and Akira faced when Akari, Alice and Aika were preparing to become Prima Undine, the prospect of moving felt quite intimidating. However, a year later, Benedizione is in the books, and I’ve now spent a half-year at the new place. While some parts of my life are quite different, others remain comfortingly familiar, allowing me to take stock and appreciate the parts that are different without overwhelming me.

  • These elements are what ARIA speaks most strongly to, and by Benedizione‘s conclusion, it is reasonable to suggest that, while change is inevitable, so is everyone’s ability to adapt and appreciate what life may bring to them. Benedizione concludes with the end-card, “Towards tomorrow, with the one you love”. It’s a fitting close to the series, and there’s a sort of finality about such a statement: so long as one is with those they care about, there isn’t any challenge that can’t be overcome. I imagine that this is the last time I’ll be writing about ARIA (unless I decide to return and revisit each of ARIANatural and Origination in the future); with this in mind, I hope that readers have enjoyed accompanying me on this journey through one of the most iconic iyashikei around.

When ARIA first began airing, I was learning about one-variable linear equations and trying to make sense of Lord of the Flies as a middle school student. I did not become familiar with anime until secondary school, and it wasn’t until I finished university that I began watching ARIA. After checking out ARIA The Avvenire as my graduate programme drew to a close, I would return and watch each of ARIA, ARIA The Natural and ARIA The Origination. In this series, I found an infinitely peaceful world that was superbly explored and developed, and moreover, I found a series whose characters were exceptionally written. Everyone’s experiences fit seamlessly into the unique world of Neo Venezia that Amano had built out, but the lessons that each of Akari, Aika and Alice found remained highly relevant. With a touch of supernatural, speaking to the idea that the world is vast, and some things remain unknowable despite our best efforts to study them, ARIA became a cornerstone series in the iyashikei genre. Having developed a reputation as an iyashikei connoisseur, I determined that it was worth checking out, and while the visuals in the original three seasons are dated, it became clear that ARIA lives up to the praise the series has garnered. What makes ARIA distinct is the fact that it is set in such a unique world, but in spite of this, thought and care had been placed to ensuring that this is a world whose mechanics are logical and consistent. With viewers confident that the world Amano had built withstands scrutiny, this allows ARIA to focus on its characters, and this combination gave ARIA its charm. The series had ended on a high note in Origination, with Akari earning Prima status and taking on Ai as her apprentice, but subsequently, returned to grace viewers with expansions to Anya, Alice, Athena, Azusa, Aika and Akira’s stories, as well. Having finished ARIA in full by the time Crepuscolo and Benedizione released, I was therefore able to see this series off on a very high note. The story within Benedizione, with its highly relatable and relevant themes, in conjunction with the fact that Benedizione is a swan song for ARIA, made the final film an emotional powerhouse. Benedizione thus becomes an essential experience for all fans of ARIA, one which offers a definitive close to the series by showing that each of Akari, Aika and Alice are going to be fine, and that the new Singles, Ai, Azusa and Anya, are in excellent hands as they strive to pursue a future as Undines, together on the idyllic planet of Aqua.

Kase-san and Morning Glories: OVA Review and Reflection Upon A Tale of Romance Amidst the Flowers

“Following all the rules leaves a completed checklist, following your heart achieves a completed you.” –Ray Davis

Yui Yamada is a member of her school’s Gardening Club, and when she entered high school, she’d been quite reserved and shy. She develops feelings for Tomoka Kase, a popular athlete who competes on the school’s track and field team. While Yui becomes worried about being unable to spend as much time with Tomoka as she’d like because Tomoka is so involved, Tomoka reassures her that the feelings between them haven’t changed. It turns out that, while eating lunch on the school rooftop one day, Tomoka had spotted Yui tending to the school’s flower gardens and became entranced by the dedication Yui had exhibited. Over time, Tomoka would look forwards to seeing Yui, and on one occasion, Yui finally turns around and looks at Tomoka. The pair eventually begin going out with one another. In the present, Yui invites Tomoka to her place on an evening where her parents are out, and in the moment, Tomoka asks if Yui would be okay with taking things to the next level. Before anything can happen, Yui’s mother calls her, and Tomoka laughs, promising there’ll be another time. Later, during a class trip to Okinawa, Yui becomes worried about Tomoka seeing her naked and declines to join her in the hot springs. Although Tomoka worries that Yui wants to end the relationship, a heart-to-heart conversation between the pair on a secluded beach clears things up. With the end of high school fast approaching, Yui applies to a local university, but is saddened to learn that Tomoka’s received a recommendation to an atheletic university in Tokyo. Although she struggles with the prospect of separating from Tomoka, she still wishes her well. In the end, Yui decides to follow her heart and applies for a post-secondary in Tokyo, such that she can continue to be by Tomoka’s side. An adaptation of Hiromi Takashima’s manga Kase-san, Kase-san and Morning Glories is a love story set towards the end of high school, when paths begin diverging as people follow their own ambitions for the future. The manga originally ran between 2010 and 2017, and in 2018, an OVA adaptation première in Japanese cinema, bringing the story’s first act to life in an hour-long journey that follows the beginnings of Yui and Tomoka’s romance in a touching and heartwarming journey in which Yui decides to trust in her feelings and pursue a future where she can be with Tomoka, rather than forgoing the opportunity.

Kase-san and Morning Glories is a story that employs the age-old literary device of “following one’s heart”, in which characters will act on their emotions and feelings in the heat of a moment such that they do not have any future regrets. The fact that this theme is so prevalent in fiction speaks to the fact that this is something that people yearn for: all too often, people fail to act, whether it be a consequence of aversion to failure and the unknown, or because of constraints making it impractical to do so. In the realm of fiction, then, being able to follow one’s heart, and tangibly benefit from a personal growth perspective, is to serve as a message of encouragement and suggest that sometimes, one should take the plunge and go for it, if only to give things a go and see what becomes of one’s efforts. The applicability of this particular lesson varies depending on the context, and in the case of Kase-san and Morning Glories, it is a trickier place to apply the message. On one hand, it is commendable that Yui is so committed to her relationship with Tomoka that she’s willing to give up a slot at her local university for a post-secondary in Tokyo that she might not gain admittance to. However, the risk here is that if Yui’s gamble had not succeeded, she’d be separated from Tomoka anyways. Because this is a story, things work out nicely for Yui: she does end up attending a Tokyo post-secondary and majors in horticulture, simultaneously pursuing a field she’s genuinely interested in while at the same time, being close to the person she loves. However, this isn’t something that is always applicable to reality; sometimes, one must make the difficult decision and pick one choice among two owing to certain limitations in their circumstances. In this case, the suggestion that having it all comes across as being ludicrious: making difficult choices is a part of maturing, and a large part of being an adult is owning the consequences of one’s decisions. As a result, I find myself disagreeing with the messages that sometimes are sent with the “following one’s heart” theme on some occasions. Here in Kase-san and Morning Glories, Yui’s decision is admirable, but not always viable in every situation: at the very least, Kase-san and Morning Glories would have benefitted from additional portrayal of Yui reasoning out her decision to change her post-secondary applications at the last minute.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kase-san and Morning Glories is a departure from the topics I typically write about – it is a yuri anime through and through, and normally, in the moé series I watch, yuri is a tangential element, being secondary to other aspects of said show. However, here in Kase-san and Morning Glories, romance is lies at the heart of things, and therefore is something that will be discussed. I have previously received flak for this approach; some readers hold that all romantic subtext is relevant, and expect that other viewers share their views even when it is plain a work has no intention of going down such a route.

  • I focus on romance when it is evident that romance has a nontrivial role in the story. This is why I hold that in something like Amanchu! or The Aquatope on White Sand, there is no need for me to speculate on things. Conversely, to do something like that in Kase-san and Morning Glories would be inappropriate; within moments of the OVA’s opening, it is plain that romance is vital here. The sorts of things that Yui and Tomoka experience is typical of a romance starting out, and initially, even something as simple as a phone call is a cause for awkwardness, although this gives way to warmth and joy once things settle down.

  • Kase-san and Morning Glories is very gentle and light-hearted in its presentation. Besides use of an unsaturated palette and clean backgrounds, this series makes use of facial expressions that are right at home in a comedy. The message this sends to viewers is that while things might get serious, the film will never unnecessarily foist drama onto viewers; use of facial expressions to convey shock, surprise or outrage is associated with a more laid-back atmosphere.

  • Yui resembles Rifle is Beautiful‘s Hikari and This Art Club Has a Problem‘s Kaori in appearance, but her shy disposition and choice of activity means that from a personality standpoint, she’s more similar to Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina, or perhaps Yama no Susume‘s Aoi. By this point in time, I’ve seen enough anime to notice commonalities amongst characters, but familiar characters and archetypes do nothing to diminish my enjoyment of a given work – in fact, such characters help provide me with grounding.

  • Yui’s love interest, Tomoka, reminds me of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform‘s Kei in appearance, but has an athletic background and a sunny disposition; in this way, she’s like Harukana Receive‘s Haruka. Immensely popular amongst the female students, Tomoka is still remarkably kind and returns Yui’s feelings, although her commitments initially make it difficult for her to spend any time with Yui whilst at school. Unlike Tomoka, who exudes a confident air, Yui is a ways more reserved and initially wonders if Tomoka returns her feelings.

  • A heart-to-heart talk on the school rooftop removes all ambiguity: this aspect of Kase-san and Morning Glories is one I greatly respect. In some romances, half the series is spent with the characters spinning their wheels, wondering if they should put their feelings into the open or be content to admire their crush from afar. However, while nerves may make this a realistic outcome, indecision is frustrating from a storytelling perspective. Putting everything onto the table means Kase-san and Morning Glories is able to advance its story past this initial stage.

  • This is especially important, since Kase-san and Morning Glories only has a runtime of fifty-eight minutes. The OVA is a little jumbled at times, switching constantly between the present day and flash backs, but this also works to the OVA’s advantage in conveying the tumultuous feelings associated with being in love. Unlike the numerous other things I’ve done, where preparedness and adaptivity allows one to plan out next steps and devise backups, romance is very much a touch-and-go pursuit, taken one step at a time.

  • After their initial meetings, Tomoko and Yui begin going out shortly after,  and one evening, even share a kiss under the sunset whilst waiting at the bus stop. Use of the warm, golden colours of a day’s end creates a timeless quality that speaks to how memorable the moment is. While it might be the end of a day, Yui and Tomoko seem locked in this moment for a tender eternity, blissfully wrapped in their own world. It’s a turning point in their relationship, where the awkwardness transitions into something that becomes more tangible.

  • The visuals in Kase-san and Morning Glories are nowhere near the levels seen in Kyoto Animation, Studio Ghibli or Makoto Shinkai’s works, but nonetheless work extremely well given the story Kase-san and Morning Glories seeks to tell. Such moments are referred to as sakuga (作画), when the artwork and animation is particularly outstanding from a visual perspective. From a literary standpoint, especially significant moments correspond to especially beautiful artwork and animation. However, the term has since broadened to refer to good animation and artwork in general, but this definition comes with a caveat: if one is not looking for moments that are standout in the context of a show, then some story-specific elements may be missed.

  • This is why when it comes to sakuga, I care about its application in a given work, rather than counting it as a work with above-average visual quality. Back in Kase-san and Morning Glories, things between Yui and Tomoko stablise enough such that Yui becomes confident enough to invite Tomoko over to visit. It marks a first for the pair and shows that spending time with Tomoko has made her a little more confident than she’d been before, enough to take the initiative and have Tomoko over.

  • Although Tomoko is presented as being cool, confident and composed, it turns that even she can feel embarrassment. Here, after she lets slip that she was counting on a maps app, she suddenly blushes and falls silent – doubtlessly, Tomoko had been trying to contain her excitement for the moment and appear dependable to Yui. This moment brings to mind the age-old stereotype that men never ask for directions or rely on maps, and as it turns out, this has nothing to do with visual-spatial coordination and is more of a matter of pride for some folks.

  • Yui had been quite nervous about Tomoka visiting her, and spends a bit of time cleaning her room up so it looks spotless. This effort impresses Tomoka so thoroughly that her heart flutters. The pair enjoy the cakes that Tomoka’s brought – she yields her strawberry to Yui, who, like K-On!‘s Yui, believes that the strawberry is the heart and soul of a cake. The symbolism here is simple enough; Tomoka loves Yui enough to give her the strawberry as a sign of the extent of her feelings.

  • Once the cakes are cleared away, Kase-san and Morning Glories‘ most heart-pounding moment occurs; Tomoka desires to take her relationship with Yui to the next level, and while Yui isn’t sure of what Tomoka means by this, she decides to go forwards. Had things gone all the way through, Kase-san and Morning Glories wouldn’t be family-friendly, although by this point in time, longtime readers will probably have guessed that I would talk about things anyways. Before anything can happen, the phone rings, defusing all of the tension in the moment and releasing it via comedy.

  • The next segment of Kase-san and Morning Glories is set on the girls’ class trip to Okinawa. The class trip is a classic part of anime, either taking students to the historical streets of Kyoto or the tropical beaches of Okinawa. The choice seems entirely based on what an anime seeks to convey, and Okinawa appears to provide a very carefree locale for everyone. By comparison, the amount of history in Kyoto makes for a much more introspective experience.

  • Yui’s best friend, Mikawa, had initially opposed Yui’s relationship with Tomoka, but over time, came to be quite accepting of things – by the Okinawa trip, she’s more than happy to photograph the happy couple, and accompany them as they shop for souvenirs. Because Kase-san and Morning Glories is an adaptation of the manga, some elements seen the manga are simplified or omitted. Some of these would’ve been helpful in providing viewers with more of a background as to how things between Tomoka and Yui unfolded, but on the whole, I felt that Kase-san and Morning Glories did a satisfactory job of how the pair’s relationship progressed.

  • I completely relate to Mikawa here: one of my favourite things about being on vacation is the fact that hotel beds are always so comfortable; having an entire queen-sized bed to oneself is incredible, and it feels as though I’m on a cloud when I sleep. Ever since the move, I’ve been enjoying this particular luxury, and although I tend to sleep on the side of the bed closer to the alarm clock, being able to spread out makes for an especially relaxing sleep. Similarly, while we’ve now had nearly two consecutive weeks’ worth of heat warnings, the presence of air conditioning has been a blessing: home feels like a hotel.

  • One subtle cue is that whenever Yui becomes embarrassed, flustered or otherwise excited, a small leaf appears on her head. Here, she enters the baths, but instantly changes her mind after seeing Tomoka’s smoking hot body; Yui is a little uncomfortable with her own physique and decides against taking the bath. The tension this creates worries Tomoka, who becomes uneasy and wants to level with Yui to ascertain what’s happened. Body acceptance is something I’ve not seen in too many anime, although in reality, it is a major concern for both women and men alike.

  • Body acceptance isn’t something I normally talk about: I’ve generally been okay with my physique, and if and when I’m asked, I have no qualms wearing a swimsuit. While I’ve not a model’s physique, I am at peace with my appearance, knowing that as long as I continue to keep up a decent exercise routine, I’ll continue to feel like I’m in good shape. Having said this, social standards have no bearing on how I perceive myself; how comfortable I am in my own skin is largely dictated by how I physically feel, rather than how I look. If I wake up and I feel lively enough to hit the day running, I’m confident I’ll have a good day. On days where I feel sluggish, I will myself out of bed and hit the gym anyways.

  • In the end, once Tomoka and Yui hash things out on a beach together, the issue becomes sorted out, and the pair end up frolicking in the warm Okinawan waters. The trip ends on a high note, and the moment shows how Yui and Tomoka’s problems are those that need to be talked out. This segues into the film’s final act; as graduation approaches, and Tomoka’s path begins diverging from Yui’s the strength of their ability to communicate is put to the test. This is where the bulk of Kase-san and Morning Glories‘ conflict and themes come from.

  • Yui initially tries to take things in stride and wishes that Tomoka would succeed in her aims; Yui’s own aspirations are a little more humble, and she has decided to apply for a local post-secondary to pursue her interests. However, a side of Yui feels conflicted, unable to imagine life without Tomoka. I have mentioned that this conflict is not one I relate to readily; when I was making the transition away from secondary into post-secondary, my decision was made purely based on what I thought would be best for my career.

  • I’ve never been a believer of choosing one’s post-secondary or faculty based on what my friends were doing, simply because university lasts four years, but a career lasts a lifetime, and the costs of returning to education and picking a different career path is a costly one. Even though I wound up being the only person from my secondary school’s graduating year to be admitted into health sciences, I was far from lonely: I made friends with half the people in my graduating class in the first year alone, and still hung out with my old friends during breaks.

  • For Yui and Tomoka, however, the pair are in a romantic relationship, and the decision becomes more difficult. Their situation is dramatically different than mine, and so, while I hold my own thoughts on how to choose one’s path, I will not say that my approach is necessarily the correct one. Everyone will have different backgrounds, and what worked for me won’t work for everyone. Spotting this is an essential reason behind why I was able to enjoy Kase-san and Morning Glories even though the stated outcome is so different than what I experienced.

  • As such, when Tomoka and Yui struggle to be true to themselves and appear consigned to their chosen paths, even though it means separating, as a viewer, I nonetheless felt compelled to root for Tomoka and Yui, hoping that the pair would find a solution that would work for both of them. This particular aspect of being an anime fan comes as the result of over a decade of watching anime and writing about it to with some level of critical thinking; just because I don’t agree with a message doesn’t mean that a message doesn’t have value.

  • Similarly, if something didn’t work for me for this reason, someone who’s lived a completely different set of experiences may, perchance, relate immediately to what’s happening in Kase-san and Morning Glories. Their experiences are no less valid than mine, and in this scenario, my first inclination is to hear them out. This is something I’ve found that some anime critics are lacking: when a work is inconsistent with their own experience, they are swift to deem said work as “mediocre” or “trite”, making no attempt to understand that there are some folks out there who may happen to relate to something. This is why I’m always more cautious when I deal with folks who claim to write from an “objective” perspective.

  • Conversely, people who make it clear their perspectives are based on their experiences are always worth hearing out. Back in Kase-san and Morning Glories, the day has finally come for Tomoka to head off for Tokyo. It appears that this is the end, and that Yui has resigned herself to the path she’d previously chosen. Here, I note that Yui is voiced by Minami Takahashi. Takahashi is best known as Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s El Condor Pasa, Machikado Mazoku‘s Lilith and Lucoa of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Conversely, Tomoka’s voice actress is someone that needs no introduction: she’s voiced by the legendary Ayane Sakura (Cocoa of GochiUsa and countless other roles).

  • The colours of this sunset, as Tomoka heads off, are much more saturated than they’d been when she’d shared that first kiss with Yui. Previously, I’ve felt that rich colours during a sunset serve to emphasise to viewers the finality of a moment, and from a certain point of view, this sunset marks a sort of turning point in Kase-san and Morning Glories. The old status quo is gone, and Tomoka is fully committed to pursing her career.

  • However, it just wouldn’t be a story without a bit of an epiphany: in this moment, Yui decides that her feelings for Tomoka outweigh her wish to attend a local university. The sunset’s vivid colours also could be seen as symbolising that for Yui, she’s also seen the sunset of one part of her life. No longer doubting what she wants with her future, she decides to pursue Tomoka with all her heart. I personally would’ve liked this decision to be spaced out over a few more scenes, showing Yui making the necessary changes and committing to her choice; this is ultimately what I felt to be the biggest omission from Kase-san and Morning Glories.

  • Had Kase-san and Morning Glories included this as a part of the story, Yui’s decision would’ve appeared more reasoned, and less impulsive. Small details like these can indeed bridge the gap between scenes and give the characters’ decisions a more rational basis. Because of how I approach things, I have no objections to reading between the lines and interpolating what needs to happen in order to realise a story’s outcome, but in general, I feel that works are more successful at conveying their intended message if they leave fewer elements ambiguous.

  • These aspects of Kase-san and Morning Glories notwithstanding, I had a good time watching this film and seeing its portrayals of how love can prevail, and that all it takes from an individual is a little courage to pursue the unknown. From what I gather, Kase-san and Morning Glories represents the beginning of the journey, so folks interested in checking out what happens next, or perhaps to gain a better feel of what happened in the manga’s portrayal of the beginning, would benefit from giving the manga a whirl.

  • I am not one to deny characters of a happy ending, and here at Kase-san and Morning Glories conclusion, I am glad that Yui found the courage to do what she feels is right. Overall, Kase-san and Morning Glories earns a B+ in my books; it represents a very optimistic story of how following one’s heart leaves one with no regrets. It would’ve been nice to show in the film that for her decision, Yui manages to find a future route that works for her; this would eliminate any ambiguity as to whether or not Yui scarified her own future for Tomoka’s sake (as a bit of a spoiler, she doesn’t) and yield a more satisfying, definitive ending.

While I do not wholly agree with the message that Kase-san and Morning Glories sends, I nonetheless found this OVA to be enjoyable, as it shows the awkward and uneven progress that often accompanies a relationship where both partners are getting a feel for things. Miscommunications are sorted out without incident after a little bit of rumination, both partners are unsure of how quickly (or slowly) to take things, but the feelings are very much real. For this reason, Kase-san and Morning Glories remains a fantastic film for its portrayal of how a first relationship might unfold. The dichotomy between my response to Kase-san and Morning Glories‘ themes and its execution may prima facie appear contradictory, but in reality, there isn’t anything so unusual about this outcome: I can enjoy something even if the message isn’t one I agree with, as it represents a chance to see how another mind (i.e. the author’s) might approach a problem. Through Kase-san and Morning Glories, Takashima suggests that it’s okay to throw caution to the wind and trust in one’s feelings. In my own experiences, I’ve always weighed my decisions and make them based on what I think to maximise my benefits in the long term. Although I’ve ended up with a few regrets as a result of my choices, on the whole, I tend to make more decisions that leave me satisfied with their outcomes, and moreover, the decisions I’ve come to regret, I’ve also accepted responsibility for. The gap between what I’ve seen and what Takashima indicates through Kase-san and Morning Glories might be at odds, but considering how vast the world is, there are almost certainly situations where, were one to be in Yui’s shoes, her choice would be counted as correct; just because something didn’t work for me does not mean it is universally inapplicable in every situation. This is why I’m able to watch series without disliking them: I understand that an author’s experiences will be dramatically different than my own, and that through their work, I am able to gain a little more insight into a mode of thinking that I otherwise would not consider. The ability to reflect on one’s own biases in the context of an anime is something that I’ve found to make for a good discussion, and this is something I try to apply to other things in my life, as well. This has worked reasonably well for me, allowing me to broaden my horizons; from an anime perspective, this means trying new shows out and being pleasantly surprised by them, and in reality, it means being open to new experiences that enrich my own life and knowledge.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! and Finding A Path Amidst Adversity Through Family

“Grit is that ‘extra something’ that separates the most successful people from the rest. It’s the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality.” –Travis Bradberry

After an air accident results in his sister and her husband’s deaths, university student Yūta Segawa decides to take in his sister’s children, Sora, Miu and Hina, and raise them himself to keep them from being separated. Although the journey is a desperately tricky one, thanks in no small part to Yūta’s small apartment and limited budget. Despite his struggles, Yūta is determined to keep Sora, Miu and Hina happy – he takes on several jobs to help make ends meet, allows the girls to modify the apartment so they can have a modicum of privacy, and accompanies the girls to pick up some of their belongings back home. Summer vacation soon draws to a close, and Yūta’s friends, the statuesque Raika Oda, smooth but caring Kōichi Nimura, and the uncouth Shuntarō Sato also begin helping out in their own way. Although Yūta’s relatives are disapproving of the arrangement, after Yūta manages to convince them of his commitment to Sora, Miu and Hina’s well-being, they approve of his decisions and, to help him along, transfer his sister and her husband’s old house to his name, allowing everyone to continue living together. This is 2012’s Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! (Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai!, and from here on out, PapaKiki! for brevity), an anime that had caught my eye for its premise – despite its approach raising some eyebrows, I was met with an anime that proved unexpectedly heartwarming. However, for the past decade, I had trouble writing about this series; the themes here had been simple enough, and PapaKiki! had shown how raw determination in the face of adversity was sufficient to overcome all obstacles. This message is most evident in the sheer effort Yūta directs towards looking after each of Sora, Miu and Hina, but at the same time, it also speaks to the lingering feelings that Sora has for Yūta. Determination and grit alone do not cut it – where individual effort fails, the classic message of accepting help from others comes into play. Raika helps Sora on several occasions, teaching her how to cook and encouraging her to do her best, leading her to continue with her club activities, and Hina quickly captures the hearts of the community. Kōchi manages to help Miu rediscover her spirits after she becomes depressed when classmates begin pitying her situation. In spite of how clear the themes are, aspects of PapaKiki! lingered on my mind, and in conjunction with an impending MCAT, I ended up putting off a discussion of this series.

Upon revisiting PapaKiki!, it turns out that there had been a subtle, but constant sense of melancholy throughout the anime. Although Sora, Miu and Hina find joy in their everyday lives, and Yūta is happiest when everyone is living their lives fully, the question of handling Yuri and her husband’s death hangs over every moment. It isn’t until the series nears its conclusion that this point becomes addressed – Sora breaks the news to Hina, and while Hina is visibly saddened, she resolves to continue smiling for those around her. At her age, children like Hina do not have a full concept of what death is, and instead, may instead hold themselves accountable for things. To see Hina swiftly turn things around and promise to not cry, and instead, smile, was therefore heartwarming in that it shows just how important Yūta and her sisters are to her. Despite the loss of her parents, Yūta, Sora, Miu and the entire neighbourhood have her back, and Hina appears to be aware of the fact that being respectful to her parents simply means being kind to those around her and making sure everyone around her continues to smile. In this way, PapaKiki! becomes more than a mere story about Yūta’s efforts to look after a family despite being in a tough spot, his love for his sister’s children is strong enough to help them remain strong and in the end, accept that while their parents aren’t returning, they can still live their own lives fully and honour their parents’ wishes for them. Together with help from Raika and Kōchi, as well as voice actress and neighbour Kurumi Atarashi, and practically the whole neighbourhood, Hina thus is able to make a new family and shows to Yūta’s aunt and uncle that, beyond any doubt, everything he’s done for Sora, Miu and Hina has been genuine and effective. Looking past the superficial elements, such as the camera’s focus on Raika’s assets, Shuntarō’s perverse traits or the fact that Yūta has ill timing whenever Sora is concerned, PapaKiki! succeeds in dealing with a challenging topic in a mature and thoughtful way. This is where PapaKiki! excels, and in conjunction with a touching story about Yūta’s determination, as well as Sora’s efforts to get Yūta to notice her as more than just a child, PapaKiki! ends up being superbly enjoyable, covering a considerable amount of territory over a short run.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • PapaKiki!‘s first two episodes betrayed nothing about what the remainder of the series would deal with, and this contributed to the surprise of what happens after Yuri and her husband take off for a longer trip. I still vividly recall starting my journey to PapaKiki! in the university’s library block on a quiet summer’s morning while awaiting the start of my MCAT course. Back then, I’d picked up an iPad, and was able to watch anime with a much greater freedom than before. During summers, campus is far quieter than it typically is, and I practically had the entire floor to myself.

  • That’s about the extent of what I remember; looking back, I have no idea how I was able to finish the whole of PapaKiki! while studying for the MCAT. However, I do remember thinking to myself that I would have liked to write about the whole series once I did wrap up. The journey in PapaKiki! was quite gripping; what had begun as a run-of-the-mill comedy suddenly took a turn for the serious after the aircraft Yuri and her husband on crash with no survivors. Yūta is suddenly thrown into the deep end, and while he’s able to get along with Sora, Miu and Hina well enough, what happens next does push things to the limit.

  • What made PapaKiki! difficult to write for was the fact that, a decade earlier, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why things felt a little “off”. In the present, I’ve experienced enough to conclude that this feeling is a consequence of the fact that Yūta, Sora and Miu are trying to put on a brave front for Hina. While it is clear everyone’s devastated by their loss, Hina’s innocence and happiness means that the others do their best for her. To the me of ten years ago, it did feel as though they were trying to push the issue under a rug, but now, it’s quite plain that this choice was meant to keep Hina happy: Yūta, Sora and Miu find it difficult to figure out how to best convey news of their parents’ death to Hina.

  • Yūta’s apartment is a far cry from the Takanashi residence, and while he’s done a good enough job of keeping the place clean, the close quarters means that Yūta runs into trouble with Sora and Miu’s requirements for space. However, problems invite solutions, and over time, Yūta works out how to go about his routine without accidentally walking in on Sora or Miu. Of the two, Sora is more bashful and quick to anger, while Miu is more patient and, while still exasperated by Yūta’s seeming lack of knowledge about young women, does her best to walk him through things.

  • While revisiting PapaKiki!, it suddenly dawned on me that the character designs felt familiar. Sora looks a great deal like Da Capo‘s Nemu Asakura, and Miu reminds me of Sakura Yoshino. As it turns out, Feel produced PapaKiki!, and some seven years earlier, they were responsible for Da Capo: Second Season. I watched Da Capo and Da Capo: Second Season in 2016 as I worked on my graduate thesis, and while the series had been quite enjoyable, I similarly encountered considerable difficulty in writing about it because it was, in effect, an anime adaptation of a visual novel that hadn’t offered me anything especially novel to discuss.

  • However, the visual similarities between Da Capo and PapaKiki! are superficial: both series are dramatically different in their premise and themes. One aspect that became increasingly visible as PapaKiki! went on was how, through Hina, Yūta, Sora and Miu also become more connected with their community. Although Hina is only three, she brings with her a seemingly indefatigable sense of joy and innocence that wins over the hearts of everyone around her. Here, after neighbour and voice actress Kurumi Atarashi learns of Yūta’s arrangements, she becomes quick friends with Hina, who’s a big fan of the show that Kurumi works in.

  • Throughout PapaKiki!, a recurring element was Sora’s unrequited feelings for Yūta. It turns out that, after Yūta had provided reassurance and comfort to Sora when they’d first met, she’s since seen him as a reliable and dependable fellow, even if he occasionally comes upon her while she’s changing. For Yūta, Sora goes the extra mile, hoping that he’ll come around and notice her feelings. When Yūta leaves his phone at home after taking off for work, she offers to bring the phone to him and dresses especially nicely for the run. Miu is fond of teasing Sora about things, and PapaKiki!‘s original run left things quite ambiguous.

  • As the deep summer sets in, Yūta takes Sora, Miu and Hina back to their old house, which has sat unused since the incident that claimed Yuri and her husband’s lives. It would appear that Yūta’s relatives must be looking after the property, since the utilities and insurance are still being paid for: when everyone arrives, the power is still on, and while the girls pick up their belongings, Yūta dozes before setting about cooking dinner. Being home creates a precipitous situation where Hina begins wondering about when her mother will come back, but tact from Yūta and the others’ part alleviates things for the time being.

  • As a result of Shuntarō’s demands, Yūta ends up having Kōichi and Raika over for dinner. Times are good, although I’ve long felt that Shuntarō is a character PapaKiki! could’ve done without. It’s not often that I say that an anime can do without a character, but his exaggerated traits and mannerisms contribute nothing to the series; in the occasional moment where he pulls through and helps out, the same could be done by Kōichi. The odd laugh may result from Raika striking him with a paper fan when his behaviour crosses the line, but beyond this, Shuntarō does not play a meaningful role in the series.

  • Conversely, Raika’s affection for Hina, Miu and Sora comes across as being motherly; Raika might be blunt and stoic, but her actions speak far more loudly than her words do. She agrees to teach Yūta how to improve his cooking, and after meeting Hina, Miu and Sora, is more than happy to spend time with Yūta because it also means being able to see the three. Raika is voiced by Yui Horie, a famous voice actress with iconic roles like Love Hina!‘s Naru Narusegawa, Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya, KonoSuba‘s Wiz and Kotori Shirakawa of Da Capo.

  • The moé aesthetic has changed considerably over the years: PapaKiki! inherits elements from the Da Capo era, as characters have sharper facial features and more angular eyes. Nowadays, characters are rendered with softer lines and rounder facial traits, and at least for me, the Da Capo era designs create a sense of melancholy that is indescribable. This is compounded by the fact that musicians like CooRie create music that, while sounding happy overall, is also permeated by a sense of longing. In the present, music to moé is far more energetic and spirited, lacking the same yearning older songs convey.

  • When Yūta’s work schedule means he’s unable to stick around, Sora decides to pick up the slack and learns to cook in his stead. Although Sora starts out a terrible cook and burns most everything, over time, she becomes increasingly competent with cooking. This ends up being a wonderful metaphor for Sora: she lacks confidence in herself, and initially views Raika as a rival that she stands no chance against. However, as Raika rightly states, no one gets it right in the beginning, and that it is with practise that one becomes a deft hand in their craft. For viewers, this can be interpreted as being a metaphor for how Sora is still young, and therefore, has time to cultivate her skills, as well as do what she can to convince Yūta to see her in a different light.

  • I had originally picked up PapaKiki! because I had been curious to see more of Raika and how things between her and Yūta would unfold. At the beginning, when Sora, Miu and Hina still have their parents, PapaKiki! felt like the conventional romance-comedy, but once the plane crash occurs, things turned around completely. With the benefit of hindsight, while Yūta has a bit of a crush on Raika, and the pair do get along quite well, there doesn’t appear to be any romantic tension. Yūta occasionally becomes flustered by Raika’s blaise attitude about things, but in more ordinary moments, the two regard one another more as friends. As it was, once PapaKiki! hit its stride, the series became worth watching for seeing how Yūta handles the surprises that he encounters as a result of his choices.

  • While PapaKiki! strives to convey positivity, numerous hurdles continue to throw Yūta in for a ride. His landlady, sore about Yūta violating the terms of his lease, decides to evict him, and this sends Yūta into a desperate search for a new place. Although his friends pull through and manage to find several candidate properties to rent based on Yūta’s requirements for price and space, they all come with their own caveats, from being located inconveniently for Hina, Sora and Miu, to one property that is allegedly cursed.

  • In the end, it turns out the landlady is the older lady Hina runs into, and the younger woman, Sawako, is the landlady’s daughter. Talking things through, Sawako decides to allow Yūta to keep living here on the condition that he update his lease agreement, and also that he allow Hina to visit her from time to time. Anime may seem overly idealistic about how opening up and listening is the key to resolving difficult problems, but I have found that all too often, people jump to conclusions and assume the worst of others, creating conflict unnecessarily. Although people will criticise my approach as being unfeasible for larger scale differences such as those that entail foreign affairs, I maintain that at an interpersonal level, these things matter.

  • Sora and Miu’s respective resemblances to Da Capo‘s Nemu and Sakura is especially pronounced here, as the pair rush off for their respective schools. PapaKiki! had begun during the summer, when Yūta had all the time he needed to work part time jobs and earn enough to keep up with living expenses now that he’s got three more people with him. This was already quite taxing, so when term begins again, Yūta would presumably run into more trouble as he attempts to keep up with his studies on top of making enough money to keep everyone together. This stress, while Yūta had never meant for it to do so otherwise, would transfer over to Sora and Miu – both are old enough to be aware of what Yūta is going through and do their best to help.

  • Despite Mui retaining a cheerful demeanour around her classmates, said classmates take pity on Miu. This bothers her greatly – she’s used to being kind around everyone, and this change is quite jarring. Fortunately, Kōichi is around to help out, and he offers to take her on a date of sorts. Although Kōichi is a womaniser who’s fond of dating women for kicks, he is legitimately kind, doing everything he can to help those around him. After spending a day with Miu, Kōichi takes her to a shop to get her shoe repaired, and the day ends at an observation deck. Here, Miu is able to realise that she should continue to be herself, and she’s glad that Yūta allowed her to take some down time.

  • PapaKiki! shows the importance of being able to gain some perspective on things, and once classes resume, the series begins to place a greater emphasis on problems the girls are facing now that they’re back in school – during the summer, they spent their days at home and around the neighbourhood, being able to look after Hina and tend to housework with increasing efficiency. Although a work of fiction, PapaKiki! absolutely gets right just how busy life is once housework becomes a part of one’s routine, and how demanding a student’s schedule is.

  • When Sora’s singing takes a hit, she decides to resign from the choral club so she can devote her time to helping Yūta keep up with everything, even though she’d loved to sing. While feeling this was for the best, Sora herself is guilt-ridden at the decision, and moreover, both she and Miu’s grades have suffered as a result of how busy they are. One’s studies and extracurricular activities are indeed full-time activities, and looking back, I am immensely appreciative of the fact that my parents allowed me to pour all of my effort into my schooling and related activities when I was a student. During the route to the MCAT, I was able to study without worrying about housework, although I still helped out around the house as a means of taking it easy.

  • In the present day, doing the housework becomes my means of unwinding after a solid eight hours of software development, and looking back, I feel that life as a full-fledged member of society is, in some ways, more straightforward than it had been as a student. This is because I have full agency to make my own decisions (and with it, the requirement that I own any mistakes I make), whereas as a student, decisions were often made for me and I would be held accountable for the consequences. This is why, while Kurumi is going through difficulties of her own, I felt that she would be able to find her way again – her old contract had expired, and she’s having trouble finding work. However, once she has a chance to think about things, and with a swift kick to the rear from Sora, Kurumi is able to find her footing anew.

  • Sora herself needs a kick in the rear, but unlike her blunt approach to Kurumi, support from Raika and Yūa is more reassuring – like Yūta, Sora feels that their problems are theirs to bear alone. However, over the course of PapaKikI!, Yūta experiences how assistance from Raika, Kōichi and even Shuntarō has taken some of the pressure off him. In this way, Yūta is able to impart the same wisdom on Sora, and after giving things some thought, Sora decides she’s not quite ready to call it quits just yet. Like numerous other series I’ve watched, PapaKiki! makes extensive use of lighting to capture the emotional tenour of a moment. Harsher colour contrasts mirror stress, and gentler gradients convey comfort. The series has long summer days to communicate the feeling of a tranquil life together, and storms to similarly remind viewer of challenges the characters must overcome.

  • In the end, Sora needn’t have worried – the choral club’s president had faith in her, and hung onto Sora’s resignation letter, but never actioned it. It typifies PapaKiki!‘s ability to present challenges that characters face, and while the problems Miu and Sora encounter are dealt with promptly, one can imagine how being in their situation, things would still be quite difficult. Sora may have resolved one issue with the choral club, but her grades continue to suffer, and there’s no real way to fix this unless she were afforded the time to study.

  • As luck would have it, Kurumi manages to land another voice acting role, and Sora is overjoyed to hear this. However, the lingering problem of trying to keep up with her schoolwork and extracurricular activities, while at the same time, helping Yūta out, has proven quite taxing. Yūta’s relatives do eventually step in and offer a recourse – his uncle is looking at taking Sora, Miu and Hina in so the three can remain together, looking after the sisters in Yuri and her husband’s stead. This would allow the three to live a more structured and organised life, while at the same time, giving Yūta a chance to finish his studies.

  • In any other setting, this should have been the first course of action that was taken, and there would have no discussion as to whether or not Yūta would be able to take Sora, Miu and Hina in. However, this would completely wipe the story out, and PapaKiki!‘s purpose is to show what might unfold if things had been allowed to progress the way they did. This is the whole point of fiction, and if one can accept that standing beside a first-aid kit can heal bullet wounds, then allowing for a universe where Yūta is given a chance isn’t that much of a stretch.

  • Entering PapaKiki!‘s final act, both Sora and Miu’s problems are sufficiently resolved so that things can turn towards Yūta’s relatives finally stepping forward and asking him to consider allowing Sora, Miu and Hina to live with them, promising that they’ll keep the three together. From a practical sense, this was the most feasible route to take, and external observers (i.e. the viewers) would likely conclude that were they in Yūta’s position, this would be the best possible option. From a storytelling standpoint, however, what makes Yūta admirable is his refusal to give up. This helps to drive PapaKiki!‘s themes, even though in reality, such a course of action would be deleterious in the long term. Reconciling this gap and acknowledging that some things need to be fudged is one of the reasons behind how I enjoy anime whose premises are engaging, even if they aren’t the most sound.

  • The lingering question of when Hina would find out about her parents is finally answered when Sora breaks the news to her. This happens right on the edge of Hina’s preschool putting on a singing performance, and I was a little surprised to see how quickly Hina recovers from things. Dramatic revelations are a common storytelling element, utilised to increase tension and accelerate a given story towards the climax, and initially, it appears that Hina loses her usual vigour and spirits. However, she recovers very quickly: Miu overhears Hina talking to her stuffed rabbit, promising to smile and do her best no matter where her parents are. This speaks to Hina’s uncommon maturity; despite only being three, I imagine her experiences have led her to grow more quickly and become mindful of those around her.

  • While paying resects for Yuri and her husband, Yūta and Sora run into Yūta’s aunt and uncle, who admit that their initial reluctance to take in Sora, Miu and Hina was the consequence of their regret at having not done more when Yūta and Yuri had lost their parents. This led Yuri to do precisely what Yūta has done in PapaKiki!: she was successful in looking after Yūta despite the odds being stacked against her, and now, Yūta intends to do the same because he is motivated by his own experiences. Putting two and two together, it becomes clear as to why Yūta is pressing on with his goal of taking care of Sora, Miu and Hina: he wants to return the favour to Yuri as an expression of gratitude. As such, even when presented with an option that would help his own situation, Yūta declines.

  • The preschool play has Yūta attending alongside Raika, Kōichi, Sora, Miu and practically the whole neighbourhood. Throughout PapaKiki!, Hina’s adorable manner has won over everyone around her, and this is one of the reasons why Hina is able to recover so quickly; although saddened by her parents’ passing, Hina also knows that she can make people smile, and in this way, gains a much larger family by becoming a vital part of the community. This was the missing piece of PapaKiki! that made it a little trickier to write for, but at present, with a little more life experience, I was able to coherently write out what made this anime work for me.

  • I originally concluded that PapaKiki! is an excellent series, one that lives up to expectations and would earn a recommendation from me. In Terrible Anime Challenge terms, “PapaKiki! is as good as the community had made it out to be. Having gone through with a revisit, I’ve found that my thoughts about PapaKiki! have not changed dramatically, and so, a full decade after I wrote about the first episode, I return to offer a more detailed set of thoughts surrounding what I felt this series to excel in doing. However, this time around, there is no MCAT on the horizon to deal with.

  • As such, ten years after I first picked up PapaKiki!, my verdict has not changed, and I still would recommend this series on its merits. Since PapaKiki! is done in full, and since I’ve watched the series front-to-back, including the OVAs, at present, I do not believe I’ll be returning to write about this again, unless there is visible interest in my thoughts on the OVAs. With this post in the books, I’ll be returning soon to write another revisit about one of K-On!!‘s lesser-known, but nonetheless important surprises, as well as my thoughts on Luminous Witches once we pass the third episode.

When I had finished PapaKiki! for the first time, I had wondered if the story would have succeeded in conveying its messages had Yūta been a salaryman rather than a university student. Finances and housing were two of the biggest problems he had to deal with; buying enough food and essentials for four, on top of making a small apartment work, cannot have been easy on his part time jobs, forcing him to take on more work to ensure there was enough money to keep the lights on. This results in Yūta spending less time with Sora, Miu and Hina, to the point where his relatives do begin worrying about whether or not he can maintain his studies on top of his duties as a guardian. Towards the end of PapaKiki!, Yūta’s aunt and uncle arrange for him to take possession of his sister and her husband’s old home – while Yūta would still need to deal with property tax, utilities and insurance, having a place to decisively call his own would doubtlessly be a game-changer. Sora, Miu and Hina return to a familiar home, and Yūta no longer needs to worry about rent or a mortgage, freeing up his finances for other things. In PapaKiki!, Yūta’s struggles with funds contribute to a part of the story; taking this problem away would likely have diminished the story, and so, in retrospect, it was appropriate to have Yūta be a university student. A series where Yūta was already a salaryman with some financial stability would take away from the effort, and while there’d still be the matter of handling his sister’s death and communicating this to Hina, much of the conflicts in the series would be lessened. Yūta’s uncle and aunt would be less hesitant to let him keep acting as Sora, Miu and Hina’s guardians, and Yūta himself would actually spend more time with everyone, avoiding some of the misadventures that arose in PapaKiki!. Altogether, while the setup in PapaKikI! cannot be said to be realistic, the story was set in such a way so that the deck is stacked against Yūta, giving viewers more reason to root for him, and the series’ outcomes become more satisfying as a result. In this way, PapaKiki! shows how works of fiction may need to use contrived and unrealistic scenarios to convey their message – series that are more realistic may come at the expense of impact, and for this reason, I hold that realism isn’t always an important metric on which works of fiction should be judged against.