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Koe No Katachi (A Silent Voice): Movie Review and Full Recommendation

“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” —Tennessee Williams

As an elementary student, Shōya Ishida and his classmates relentlessly bullied Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who had transferred into his class. When she transferred out of their school shortly after, his friends made him a scapegoat, leading to his isolation throughout middle school and high school. By this point, Shōya has learned sign language and seeks to make amends, seeking to return her notebook that he’d retained, but when it falls into the river and Shōya jumps in to retrieve it, he is suspended from school following Shōko’s sister, Yuzuru’s posting it online. His heart set on rectifying his past transgressions, Shōya helps Shōko reconnect with Sahara and brings everyone back together for a day at the amusement park, but Miki later reveals Shōya’s past, prompting him to come forwards with how he’d felt about the whole situation. Shōko grows distressed, feeling she is personally responsible for what had happened to Shōya and attempts to commit suicide by jumping off her apartment’s balcony, but Shōya saves her, falling from the balcony and lapsing into a coma. During this time, Shōya and Shōko’s mothers reconcile, and when Shōya reawakens, he finds Shōko, explaining to her that the consequences of his actions during elementary are his responsibility to bear. When their school’s cultural festival begins, Shōya attends with his friends, feeling he’s finally found redemption and solace. At least, this is the simple summary of Koe no Katachi‘s film adaptation of the manga of the same name. Released in September 2016 with a runtime of 130 minutes, this film’s home release came out ahead of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name back during May, and having watched it, this is a movie with an exceptionally strong story, following the ins and outs surrounding Shōya’s path to absolution from his transgressions.

Being at the heart of Koe no Katachi, Shōya’s redemption is the single theme in the movie: Koe no Katachi is meant to illustrate that past mistakes are not so easily forgiven or forgotten, but through Shōya, also demonstrate that individuals are not static entities. Clearly remorseful of his cruelty to Shōko, Shōya persists in setting things right even as circumstances continue to transpire against him, setting him back. This stands in stark contrast with his persistence in bullying Shōko during his childhood; as a child, Shōya is evidently a highly unpleasant individual, but his own suffering drives him in a different direction, bringing about a profound change. These changes are presented through his actions, rather than his appearance, and his determination to right wrongs with Shōko is particularly encouraging to watch, showing how even the most hideous of actions can be forgiven with sufficient persistence towards what is right. By the film’s end, he manages to overcome a long-standing challenge in addressing other people, and the changes in his character are noted by some of his peers, who can once again count him as a friend. Shōya’s change is further accentuated by his juxtaposition with Naoka Ueno; in their childhood, they bullied Shōko together primarily because Naoka held feelings for Shōya, longing to earn his attention. While Shōya’s definitely seen the error of his ways and have changed, enduring and doing his utmost to make amends even as his classmates and adults attempt to tear him down, Naoka continues to resent Shōko, going to the lengths of insulting her, refusing to understand her situation and even beating her down physically following Shōya’s hospitalisation. If Shōya is meant to epitomise understanding and change, then Naoka represents a stubborn refusal to improve: she’s intended to evoke hostility in audiences to further emphasise just how far Shōya has come. The sum of his actions in the present and understanding of his actions as a child culminate to form an individual who’s plainly a better person, allowing Koe no Katachi to craft a direct and brilliant tale of redemption.

Following Koe no Katachi‘s release, Makoto Shinkai himself remarked that this film is “fantastic piece of work” and a “polished and grand production” that possessed finess surpassing his own films. While perhaps speaking to Shinkai’s humility and ever-present drive to improve, his remarks also mirror the element that allows Koe no Katachi to be such an effective film: Koe no Katachi is polished precisely because it focused on a single element in Shōya’s redemption. This allows the film to explore in an in-depth fashion the intricate emotions that arise when an individual sets out on such a journey. All of the characters in Koe no Katachi feel authentic, reacting to situations with the same fluidity and naturalness as humans to create a world whose characters come to life. From the tears that are shed to smiles shared, emotions in Koe no Katachi are finely crafted to showcase the spectrum of feelings that Shōya, Shōko, their parents and their classmates come about as a consequence of Shōya’s choices. Shinkai, when speaking of this polish, is referring to this strength of execution in Koe no Katachi: the movie’s greatest strength is being able to follow Shōya in such detail and granularity to really present emotions as we know them. Consequently, if Your Name‘s strength was the scale of the narrative, then Koe no Katachi is equally as impressive for being able to bring so many elements from its story to life owing to its concentration on a single, yet powerful idea.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I have a bit of a confession to make: one of the reasons why this review was so long in the making was primarily because I had a bit of a writer’s block in trying to come up with things to discuss for the figure captions, despite there being a paltry thirty – thirty screenshots is the standard for movie reviews, but the unique nature of Koe no Katachi meant it was quite difficult to decide what I would say for the moments that are included in this discussion. It makes sense, though, to introduce Shōko, in the foreground, and Shōya. Their given names are remarkably similar, meant to emphasise their connection in the context of Koe no Katachi.

  • In Koe no Katachi‘s opening flashback, Shōya relentlessly bullies Shōko. His character’s design and appearance, coupled with the actions, immediately paint him as a troublemaker, someone unfavourable and unlikeable. He’s sitting beside Naoka Ueno, a classmate with a minor crush on him and so, participates in the bullying. Despite looking like Hibike Euphonium‘s Reina Kōsaka  and even K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, Naoka is definitely not a sympathetic character and in fact, can be seen as the catalyst for Shōya’s actions, egging him on. The bullying reaches a climax when Shōya forcibly removes Shōko’s hearing aids, causing her to bleed from the ears.

  • The incident eventually leads Shōko to transfer away, and Shōya is made scapegoat for the incident. A despicable character by all counts, Shōya’s character as a child brings to mind my bullies of old, who would pull similar tricks. The bullying would dissipate with time, as I became more social from a growing command of English: I suspect that my weak English skills, in making it difficult to communicate with others, resulting in misunderstandings not unlike Shōya’s frustration at being unable to communicate with Shōko properly. This realisation comes out of the blue, and I think that I can forgive my old bullies now, having determined what the likely cause was.

  • After her hearing aids are damaged, Shōya’s mother steps up to compensate Shōko’s mother. The two are polar opposites despite their similar backgrounds; Shōya’s mother is loving and caring, supporting Shōya even when the world turns him away, while Shōko’s mother is cold and bitter, a result of her marriage failing when her husband’s family influenced him into leaving.

  • Raw emotions are at the forefront of all things in Koe no Katachi: the movie is open and honest in how the characters feel about one another, as well as themselves. In this manner, Koe no Katachi, who presented Shōya in a very unfavourable light, sets itself up to show audiences just how much he’s changed and persuades viewers to give him a chance. His subsequent actions stand in stark contrast with his appearance, and in time, audiences will come to empathise with Shōya, rooting for him as he tries to right things with Shōko.

  • In the present, resolute on setting things right, Shōya attempts to befriend Shōko and make an honest attempt to understand her, even learning sign language in the process. One of the unique aspects about Koe no Katachi from a visual perspective is that the movie makes extensive use of depth-of-field and chromatic aberration effects in an image’s peripheries to give the sense that it is being captured from an older camera. The visuals bestow upon Koe no Katachi a very distinct feeling that is overt in some places, and subtle in others, mirroring Shōya’s perspective on the world.

  • After saving Tomohiro Nagatsuka’s bike from would-be thieves, Shōya finds in Tomohiro an admiring companion willing to come to his aid despite knowing very little about him; in a manner of speaking, Tomohiro is similar to Shrek‘s Donkey in that both respect the protagonist for having done them a good deed and following them around after. In my books, the definition of friendship is a relationship between two individuals built around unconditional trust and support: friends are there for the people they care for in tough times and share in their happiness during good times.

  • Initially masqurading as Shōko’s boyfriend, Yuzuru is revealed to be Shōko’s younger sister, fiercely protective of her sister and doing her utmost to will Shōko to keep living in her own manner, even despite a lack of care from their mother. With a deep-seated hatred of those who bullied Shōko, Yuzuru and Shōya initially do not get along well despite Shōya’s efforts, but over time, she comes to accept Shōya. Watching all of the relationships change over time in Koe no Katachi was remarkably rewarding; the changes are a sign that in some cases, even the most rockiest of starts and wretched of people can reconcile and cooperate once they understand one another.

  • The turning tide in Yuzuru and Shōya’s interactions follows after she captures an image of him jumping into the river to retrieve Shōko’s journal, which leads to his suspension from school. In spite of this action, Yuzuru is surprised that he is not even mad about the turn of events. He reveals that he does not feel himself to have suffered in full for his past actions against Shōko, and learning of his sincerity, Yuzuru begins to regard Shōya with reduced hostility. One of the pastimes that Shōko has is feeding birds, and Shōya, longing to befriend Shōko, takes this activity up as well; he occasionally buys bread and visits Shōko.

  • Yuzuru plays with Maria, daughter of Shōya’s older sister and a Brazilian fellow. The cast of Koe no Katachi‘s manga is quite large, and the plot is more intricate, with a movie being at its core, but the animated film of Koe no Katachi is much more concise, dropping the film narrative entirely and focusing on Shōya’s changing relationship with Shōko. Despite these omissions, the film is a powerhouse whose main strength is being able to so thoroughly explore a youth’s journey towards reconciliation and redemption. Such stories typically are more epic in nature, but in Koe no Katachi, the journey is set in the realm of reality – the dæmons that Shōya face are ultimately his own.

  • With all of the efforts that Shōya has made towards befriending Shōko, Shōko attempts kokuhaku, but because of her speech impendiment, Shōya believes she is talking about the moon (suki vs tsuki). People who are deaf can acquire spoken language to varying extents depending on their education and when their deafness occurred. Voiced by Saori Hayami (Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita, and Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa), Shōko speaks in broken Japanese, struggling with pronunciations; her command linguistics are consistent with being born deaf, yet another indication of the sort of effort that went into creating Koe no Katachi.

  • In her teens, Naoka’s resemblance to Reina is reinforced ever more strongly. As Koe no Katachi was helmed by Kyoto Animation, the film’s characters derive traits from Hibike Euphonium. However, Naoka, despite her similarities in appearance, is quite unlike Reina: the former is a stern, hard-working trumpeter who expresses concern for her friends in her own manner, while Naoka is a self-centred and conceited individual, refusing to understand Shōko. Of all of the people that Shōya reconnects with, she is the only person to continue bullying Shōko even after all this time, wondering why Shōko never fights back against her bullies.

  • When Shōya and the others visit an amusement park, he realises that it is a joy to be doing things that friends are normally able to do before things start going south once Naoka meets up with Shōko. I remark here that I’ve been referring to every character by their given name, even though in the film, everyone refers to one another by their family names. As much of a disconnect as there is in writing my reviews, I am following North American conventions for naming people in a casual setting and as my reviews are more casual in nature, I will use given names even though I’d gone through the film hearing everyone’s family names instead.

  • Naoka’s actions cause Shōya to begin ignoring her; throughout Koe no Katachi, blue x’s are used to illustrate the fact that Shōya cannot look others in the eye and ignores them. Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of these x’s are artistically done, as the pulsate and move around slightly to give them a hand-drawn feel. Popping out from the scenes, they do much to convey to audiences how Shōya feels about those around him, giving viewers a very clear sense of who Shōya is able to make eye contact with throughout the film. It is later revealed that Naoka continues to physically and verbally abuse Shōko.

  • When Miki Kawai exposes Shōya’s past to the others, it creates a rift amongst the friends that Shōya had gained while trying to help Shōko. The class representative back when they were elementary students, Miki is solely driven by her own aspirations and does not hesitate to throw people under the bus for her own gain, believing in her superiority over others. She as feelings for Satoshi Mashiba, a fellow classmate who is generally kind to Shōya but grows disapproving upon learning of Shōya’s action in the past, having been bullied himself.

  • Shōya eventually confronts the others about their actions and how no one present is really guilt-free for what happened to Shōko during their elementary school days, acknowledging that he too shoulders the burdens of his past actions. His words hit the others hard, although Koe no Katachi shows that words alone don’t really mean much against actions. By this point in the movie, the changes beginning to manifest in Shōya are becoming apparent, although Naoka herself remains quite unchanged from her past self. Immensely unlikable and unpleasant despite her appearance, Naoka is intended to represent individuals who remain trapped in the past, and while it is true that people can change over time, there are others who persistently cling to their memories.

  • As Koe no Katachi progresses, Shōya spends an increasing amount of time with Shōko, travelling to the countryside and exploring together. He is able to help Shōko experience a quantum of happiness during this time, although his actions also drive Shōko to become, ironically, unhappy – she blames herself for everything that’s happened to Shōya and his friends.

  • Because of his actions previously, Shōko’s mother despises Shōya, but consents to allow him to stay when he helps Shōko bake a cake on her birthday. One of the joys about Kyoto Animation’s strongest works has always been how they can make audiences to empathise with cold and unfriendly characters – by presenting their changes over time in response to the different events around them, it shows the characters as being willing to learn, giving them a human sense. Of course, not every Kyoto Animation anime does this: characters remain quite flat in things like Lucky Star and K-On!, but other of their works, such as CLANNAD and Hibike! Euphonium, excel at creating characters audiences come to care for.

  • Koe no Katachi‘s rising action comes full throttle at a summer festival; while deeply enjoying the moment and the fact she’s able to spend time with her family after everything that’s occurred, it is here that Shōko is overwhelmed by her guilt. Under the pretense of returning home to retrieve something while a fireworks display is in progress, it is here that Shōko decides to commit suicide, drawing parallels with Shōya, who considered suicide but ultimately backed down. Unlike Shōya, Shōko had every intention of following through.

  • It is only through Shōya’s timely intervention that Shōko is saved, and in this moment, Shōko realises that people do care for her, promising to do better for Shōya’s sake. However, the cost of this effort in saving Shōko is that Shōya himself falls into the river: unlike Bruce Wayne, who managed to save Raʾs al-Ġūl (masquerading as Henry Ducard), Shōya’s in a bit more of a difficult position and only just manages to pull Shōko up from the balcony.

  • The fall Shōya sustains causes him to lapse into a coma. Naoka later reveals that Kazuki Shimada and Keisuke Hirose, Shōya’s former best friends, were the ones who pulled him from the river, despite their presently less-than-cordial relationship. I remark here that Koe no Katachi is a film whose review could have easily been the same size as that of my Your Name review, as there is so much to discuss regarding the rationale behind each character’s actions, and whether or not some actions can be justified.

  • In the aftermath of Shōya’s admission to a hospital for his injuries, Shōko’s mother and Yuzuru express their apologies at what’s happened out of guilt despite reassurances from Shōya’s mother that things will be alright. The part of the movie that does not sit well with me, attesting again to excellence in the movie’s execution, is the fist fight that breaks out between Shōko’s mother and Naoka. Even at this point in time, Naoka continues to be, for the lack of a better phrase, an irredeemable piece of shit. In the manga, she later takes on a modelling job with Miyoko Sahara, a tall girl. Nothing befalls Naoka in either the film or the manga, and while this leaves loose ends, it’s also a part of reality: the number of instances where assholes can get away with atrocious behaviour is mind-boggling.

  • When Shōya finally reawakens, the first person he encounters is Shōko. Openly apologising to her for his actions in their childhood, Shōya reminds Shōko that he bears responsibility for his own suffering, and that Shōko had nothing to do with his isolation after she transferred out. He also expresses that he understands her situation, hence his longing to be with her, helping Shōko to live normally. In finally doing what he had set out to do, this moment between Shōya and Shōko marks the film’s climax.

  • Shōya returns to school in time for the cultural festival. Koe no Katachi and Your Name, two powerhouse films from summer 2016, have been compared against one another to a nontrivial extent on the ‘net owing to both films’ superb execution, moving story and exceptional artwork. From a purely box office gross perspective, Your Name comes out on top, but when one delves into the narrative, there are enough differences for me to say that both films have their own merits, and from my own subjective perspective, both films are worth watching for their own strengths.

  • If and when I’m asked, I would say that Koe no Katachi and Your Name share the relationship between Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Interstellar. While this initially comes across as being a very unusual comparison, the reasoning for this is mainly because, like Koe no Katachi and Your Name, both of Dunkirk and Interstellar have unique points that make them enjoyable. In particular, like DunkirkKoe no Katachi is focused on a very specific idea (the former deals with three unique perspectives during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, while the latter is entirely about Shōya’s journey of redemption). Both movies excel in their use of emotions and cues in the environment to convey how the characters are feeling to audiences, from the visceral fear and uncertainty in Dunkirk to the regret and determination of Koe no Katachi.

  • Shōko finally lets loose an insult directed at Naoka, doing so with a smile on her face, before they part ways. With the comparison done for Dunkirk and Koe no Katachi, the parallels between Interstellar and Your Name are easier to draw: for one, I’ve already remarked on the similarities of one of the thematic elements in both films earlier. Both films are set on a large scale, covering a variety of topics during their narrative, and are unparalleled in terms of their visual fidelity: Your Name is immediately recognisable for its distinct rendition of Comet Tiamat, as well as Makoto Shinkai’s masterful artwork. Similarly, the super-massive black hole, Gargantia, in Interstellar remains one of the film’s most iconic components. Much like how Your Name attempts to strike a balance between the science and the body-switching phenomenon, Interstellar was written within terms outlined by Kip Thorne: the realm of physical laws must not be departed from.

  • Ultimately, I cannot say that I enjoyed Interstellar or Dunkirk over the other, so in that vein, I did not enjoy Koe no Katachi over Your Name and vice versa: both films are exceptional to watch and highly entertaining with powerful merits backing each. My end recommendation is to watch both. Of course, these are merely my own thoughts: many folks enjoyed Your Name for its riveting performance and vivid colours, while others still find Koe no Katachi to be more touching for its strong focus on characterisation.

  • The dénouement in Koe no Katachi is bright and cheerful: Shōya finally comes to feel that he has found redemption, and the x’s peel away from the people surrounding him en masse, bringing the film to a close. The manga continues in illustrating the dramatic changes: his and Shōko’s mother become friends, accepting Shōya and expressing her thanks that he and Shōko have become friends.

  • After high school, Shōya has become more sociable, and when they visit their elementary reunion, is shown hand-in-hand with Shōko, implying that he’s come to understand how she feels about him. The events of the manga are more protracted and intricate, but in film form, Koe no Katachi has done a fantastic job of capturing the theme of redemption with its visuals. Taken together with the manga, Koe no Katachi shows just how dramatic this change can be: Shōya’s rough start with Shōko transition into an awkward friendship from which love blossoms.

  • As it turns out, while it was quite tough to get the Koe no Katachi review rolling, once I actually started, things began to become a little easier as I warmed up. It helps that I’ve seen Dunkirk, which provided a bit of inspiration for diving into the themes and execution when I began considering Christopher Nolan’s two most recent feature-length films. I finished Koe no Katachi early in July, and a bit more than a month after I drafted out the review, this post is finally finished. As a bit of amusement for readers: compare and contrast my description of Naoka in the figure captions against those of the actual paragraphs. Thanks for reading!

Koe no Katachi is something that merits a strong recommendation for anime fans and folks unfamiliar with anime alike. The powerful story, in covering a full spectrum of emotions, is well worthwhile simply because it shows that people can and will change, and that this effort is met with reward. In conjunction with Kyoto Animation’s typical mastery of visual and aural elements, the film is a remarkable experience for the senses. Granted, as an adaptation of the manga, liberties were taken with the narrative (the film omits Shōya’s attempts to make a film, and also the aftermath of Shōya’s redemption, when he becomes more sociable and counts Shōko as a dear friend), but Koe no Katachi nonetheless manages to smoothly craft a succinct film from the manga. With director Naoko Yamada at the film’s helm, Koe no Katachi showcases the sort of mastery that can be borne out of a film whose narrative is concise but well-executed: movies need not always feature dramatic moments, complex narratives and obscure symbols to provoke discussion amongst viewers. Even the simplest of things in life, the seemingly unassuming journey of a high school student, can be immensely intricate and merit exploration; at this, Koe no Katachi simply excels, weaving superior artwork, sound and narrative together into an entity that keeps its audiences engaged for the film’s entire duration.

Sakura Quest: Impressions and Review at the ¾ Mark

“They will break upon Warayiba like water on rock. Manoyama’s leaders will cut infrastructure and bureaucratise processes, we’ve seen it before. Bus routes can be reestablished. Traditions archived. Within these walls, we will outlast them.” –Théoden King, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

In the aftermath of the Founding Festival, Yoshino learns that their efforts have yielded very little by ways of generating interest in Manoyama, and despairing, she returns home for a vacation, meeting up with her family and friends. While attending the local festival, she realises that home is a place to return to, and revitalised, she returns to Manoyama with renewed spirit. Meanwhile, Sanae and Ririko have been working on a programme to bolster tourism numbers by turning unused residences into Bed and Breakfasts, enticing Spanish cryptid hunters to visit. Manoyama also begins draining Sakura pond to manage bass populations, attracting visitors. Ushimatsu grows troubled by the event and very nearly drowns after jumping in upon spotting something. He is hospitalised, and it turns out that five decades earlier, he, Chitose and Doku were friends in a band planning to go to Tokyo for post-secondary, but on the day of Manoyama’s Mizuchi festival, his actions led to the event being cancelled and eventually forgotten. Yoshino, recalling the effect of her hometown’s festival, feels that restoring the Mizuchi festival is a step in bringing people back to Manoyama, being a place they can return to. In order to formally do so, she and the tourism board must recover three sacred treasures. Consulting with a local anthropology professor living in Warayiba, Yoshino learns that at least one of the artefacts is in a warehouse. When it is revealed that the bus route will stop servicing the area, Sanae decides to teach the elderly how to use tablets and the internet, with the aim of connecting them and reduce their reliance on the bus routes, while simultaneously crowd-sourcing their efforts to find the treasure. Armed with their new-found knowledge of the internet, the elderly people of Warayiba cede from Manoyama in order to raise awareness of their challenges. Yoshino learns that the professor also took advantage of the situation to help digitise the way of life in Warayiba, preserving it, while Sanae helps develop a website for helping make shuttle bus reservations, helping the locals travel about more easily. Moved by the changes, the professor gives Yoshino the location of one of the treasures before passing away.

By this point in Sakura Quest, the development of the narrative has exceeded all expectations; from Yoshino’s understanding of what makes a place worth returning to, to the efforts that she and the others commit towards solving regional problems while in pursuit of a larger goal, Sakura Quest seamlessly weaves all of the events together in an insightful manner that provides a glimpse into the challenges that Japan faces with its aging rural population. Moreover, while the bigger picture is always in the back of the Yoshino and the others’ minds, they nonetheless demonstrate exemplary commitment in putting an effort into making a positive difference for people living in both Manoyama and Warayiba. This attention to detail without losing sight of the grand scheme is mirrored in Sakura Quest, which strikes a fine balance in illustrating subtleties and illuminating the story’s eventual goal. From the unique adaptations Warayiba’s folks have taken to survive in the mountains, to the consequences of anonymity on the internet, Sakura Quest portrays elements with an exceptional degree of realism to the extent that the anime is more than immersive – it is instructive, reminding audiences that people everywhere have developed very unique adaptations in their lifestyles that allow them to survive in a range of climates and geographies. Simply, Sakura Quest is a wonderful example of anthropology in a fictional setting that reminds audiences of how much culture and values stand to be forgotten if an honest effort is not made to respect these traditions and long-standing ideas, especially in a country such as Japan, where the countryside continues to depopulate as youth move into the cities in search of new opportunity.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • No words will be minced in this post – I have not been this impressed with an anime since CLANNAD: After Story. Thus, at the half-way point between the half-way point and the ending, I return to provide some additional thoughts on what I feel about Sakura Quest. Discussion opens with a view from Yoshino’s bedroom window, overlooking her hometown. The harbour is visible, overlooking the endless expanse of ocean underneath a morning sky and it is a fantastic view, capturing flawlessly the image in my mind’s eye of a beautiful Japanese summer.

  • Because there is so much to discuss, I will feature thirty images in this post and provide thirty corresponding figure captions, opening with some scenery around Yoshino’s home. After a terrifying nightmare where she finds herself being tied to a pole and effectively “stoned” by manjū for her failures, Yoshino reawakens at home. The change of scenery, and opportunity to catch up with old friends provides Yoshino with a newfound perspective on things after she feels her efforts have amounted to nothing in bringing Manoyama back.

  • That Yoshino feels this way about Manoyama demonstrates that she has grown to care for the town, extending beyond her initial obligations to help out as a part of her original contract. It’s quite touching to see her developing a connection to a small town of the sort she was trying to escape while in Tokyo, and during times such as these, taking a step back is a reasonable course of action. She wheels her bike down a slope here, with the local scenery in her hometown visible.

  • Yesterday and today have conveyed a sense of déjà vu; just like the last time I wrote about Sakura Quest, I stepped out for dinner at a Hong Kong-style bistro nearby tonight, as well. This time, I ordered the “American style mixed grill”, which features grilled chicken, pork chop, beef and ham in addition to corn on the cob and fries with a side of fried rice: these sizzling steaks are cooked on a hot metal plate and gain their name from the sizzle resulting from pouring a sauce, usually black pepper, onto the meats. They are popular in Hong Kong, and are absolutely delicious: to have an authentic taste of this at home is such a treat.

  • Ririko and Sanae count Manoyama as home: while everyone else has departed for their vacations, they stay behind to continue brainstorming on how they can elevate interest in Manoyama. With her experiences following the torching of an abandoned residence, Sanae proposes converting other unoccupied buildings in Manoyama into Bed and Breakfast establishments. While viable, there are regulations and guidelines that must be followed: the process is an investment, as older buildings will need renovations and updates to ensure they fall within regulations. In my province, for instance, all potential Bed and Breakfast owners must apply for a business license and conform to the terms established in this document.

  • Sanae meets up with her friends in Tokyo over drinks and dinner at a ritzy restaurant – they note that since moving to Manoyama, she’s become much more confident and decisive during discussions of the challenges they each face at work. Of all the characters working with the tourism board, I relate most closely with Sanae, who similarly has a technology background and works in a highly-paced environment. Her other assets include possessing attributes that make her the butt of some jokes. I’ve previously mentioned that all of the characters are likeable and relatable in their own manner: this is one of the great strengths of Sakura Quest.

  • Moe and Maki spend time with one another at a local pub with beers and grilled foods in hand. Moe believes that Maki is a capable actress and, after inviting her to a play she’s performing in, suggests that Maki attend a workshop hosted by a famous director with the hope of re-lighting her passion in acting. Difficulties in a profession can lead individuals to outwardly lose their love for it, and as Moe understands, it sometimes just takes a little encouragement for people to re-discover a passion.

  • There aren’t any festivals in my area quite with the same atmosphere as a Japanese-style summer festival, but the closest we have is the Calgary Stampede. However, even with the Stampede over, there’s still GlobalFest Calgary, a cultural festival characterised by its fireworks. There’s no shortage of summer-y things to do – just yesterday, I decided to make the most of the summer weather and bought a slush at a nearby convenience store. Summer is the time for enjoying frozen desserts, and it was refreshing to savour a slush while running around in Battlefield 1‘s conquest, kicking ads and taking names. 

  • It turns out that Yoshino has a younger sister, Nagisa, who is in high school. Her parents share a story about how her father managed to convince her mother to stay in their home town, while Nagisa’s presence mirrors the carefree time that being a student entails, standing in contrast with Yoshino, who is working and therefore, subject to the attendent stresses. These conversations with the people closest to her have a considerable impact on her outlook, and emboldened by the prospect of her family visiting Manoyama, Yoshino regains her sense of determination to Make Manoyama Great Again℠.

  • The composition of this view overlooking their town, with the gentle orange light of the lanterns in the foreground and Yoshino preparing to try some Japanese-style grilled squid, is quite magical. This is why I’ve had quite a bit to say about the fourteenth episode alone; it marks the turning point in Sakura Quest where Yoshino has a solid motivation to improve Manoyama beyond satisfying her own ego. Of course, it’s not all fun and games when she returns: in the time that she’s been gone, a Mexican…armada shows up, with shirts made with in…incorrect kanji.

  • I may have lapsed into a bit of a Rick and Morty moment there, but I was not lying about the Spanish tourists who show up in Manoyama: cryptid hunters interested in the Chupacabra pay the town a visit, and despite the language barrier, they settle in quickly, befriending the locals and enjoying the atmosphere in the area. Ririko and one of the female travellers exchange contract information owing to their shared interests in cryptids, promising to meet again and perhaps even travel the world together.

  • Rural sunsets in anime are always depicted in stunning detail; for all of is more uncommon content, Yosuga no Sora is one such instance, making use of golds and oranges to create a sense of longing characters face by covering the landscape in a warm light. By summer, the longer-wavelength lights usually appear later in the day, leading to golden sunsets, but in winter, the lower elevation means that even afternoon light has an evening-like quality to it.

  • As Sakura Pond is being drained, Ushimatsu begins to behave contrary to his usual self, staring into the slowly-draining Sakura Pond with Doku, one of his long-time friends. I imagine that this is the locale that gives Sakura Quest its name. A question that is often posed is what separates a pond from a lake, and the answer is the depth: a lake is sufficiently deep so that sunlight does not reach all the way to the bottom, and also has distinct layers separated by temperature. Ponds are shallower; sunlight can reach the bottom and they lack the temperature stratification, so in some places, ponds can freeze solid.

  • By nightfall, something prompts Ushuimatsu to swim out into the pond, although he’s unable to swim effectively and ultimately, Sandal jumps into the water to rescue him. A transient character with an air of mystery about him, his combination of enigmatic words and somewhat broken Japanese makes him an entertaining character to have around, although there are also occasions where he lends his wisdom to Yoshino and the others.

  • After succumbing to fever, Ushimatsu is hospitalised, and the draining of Sakura Pond continues. It turns out that Chitose and Ushimatsu were close friends during high school. Disgusted with the lack of opportunity in Manoyama even fifty years previously, Chitose, Doku and Ushimatsu planned to leave Manoyama and pursue a career in Tokyo. However, at the last moment, Ushimatsu backed out, deciding that he would stay behind to try and make a difference. He ended up toppling a float that was a integral part of the Mizuchi Festival, leading to its cancellation, and the float ends up being a source of shame for Ushimatsu, explaining his actions.

  • During her youth, Chitose looks like a more energetic, outgoing Ririko. The smile on her face as she considers the prospect of ditching Manoyama is a world apart from her current scowl; she’s quite a different person as a result of the events that have happened in her life since, and Ushimatsu’s actions presumably led their friendship to decay, explaining why she and Ushimatsu do not get along so well.

  • My days as a student have not faded entirely into oblivion yet, and so, I vividly remember the sort of personality the anthropology professor brings to the table when Yoshino and the others visit to ask about one of the Sacred Treasure’s whereabouts, giving them a challenge in the process of figuring out how to find it and also asking of them what their definition of home is, explaining that while he did not intend to live in Manoyama, circumstances have led him to develop an interest and reason to stay despite the area’s declining population and services, such as the proposed cancellation of a bus route out to Warayiba.

  • The challenge of finding the treasure prompts Sanae to bring her own skills to bear: she sets the seniors up tablets and introduces them to the internet such that they can remain in touch with one another more easily. As the seniors learn this technology, some aspects of the internet, such as anonymity bringing out hostilities amongst individuals, are accurately captured. Fortunately, these misunderstandings are quickly reconciled. However, Yoshino and Sanae appear a bit embarrassed at what the seniors do, as they live stream seemingly mundane or trivial everyday components of their lives.

  • Takamizawa and Erika trade verbal blows when the latter suggests that self-driving vehicles could render bus drivers obsolete in a very short period of time. The incorporation of advances in technology and their effects on society are a major focus of Sakura Quest‘s seventeenth and eighteenth episode. Advancement of technology, automation and machine learning are inevitable, and ultimately, it’s up to people to keep in touch with the progress or risk being left behind: even though I’m a part of the group that grew up with advancing technology, things are moving so rapidly that even someone like myself feels it to be a bewilderingly fast progression.

  • My own quest to capture as many of Yoshino’s funny faces continues, although by this point in Sakura Quest, it is becoming apparent that such moments are both uncommon relative to the number of funny faces seen from Aoi Miyamori of Shirobako, and nowhere near as exaggerated as those seen in Shirobako. Here, Yoshino reacts to the prospect of being a hostage for the professor and Warayiba’s elderly, but she ends up helping them, feeling compelled to assist in their goals after Warayiba’s residents announce their intention to break off from the Manoyama jurisdiction. The page quote, then, is inspired by their actions, walling up and making a bit of a ruckus to draw attention from the world.

  • The seniors ultimately capitalise on their newfound knowledge of streaming and capture technologies to digitally archive subtleties about their learnings in Warayiba, whether it be preparing a particular dish or their work. Here, Yoshio, Shiori and Ririko follow some elderly ladies during a hunt for mushrooms: while they can’t tell poisonous mushrooms from edible ones, the seniors can, reflecting on how a lifetime of living in the area has imparted on them knowledge that best suits their survival.

  • Using the mechanised exoskeletons that Doku’s constructed, Warayiba residents prepare sidings to help deflect snow and prevent it from amassing on walls. It is such a nice touch that Doku’s exoskeletons are still being used at this point in the game; it’s a strong reminder that Sakura Quest pays attention to the details without losing sight of the bigger context. While Manoyama’s precise location is never disclosed, being similar to the location of Springfield of The Simpsons or where Calvin and Hobbes occurs, the mention of snow narrows down the locations by a small margin, as does knowledge of how long it’d take to get to Tokyo.

  • Inspection of annual snowfall maps narrows Manoyama’s location to Toyama, Nagano, Niigata, Yamagata and Akita. If memory serves, it takes around three hours to get to Tokyo by train from Manoyama, so Toyama or Niigata seem to be likely candidates for Manoyama’s setting. Of course, I imagine that once Sakura Quest finishes airing, supplementary materials will detail which parts of Japan inspired Manoyama; it will be interesting to see how close or how far off I was in my predictions.

  • One of the details that I really enjoyed in Sakura Quest‘s eighteenth episode was the explanation for the lanterns that Warayiba’s residence place in front of their homes by evening. A lit lantern indicates the occupant is safe, showing neighbours that things are normal at a particular household. It’s a sign that people of this area, then, are very closely knit: harsh climates and terrain typically motivate a region’s occupants to work together and survive, hence the strong sense of community.

  • Sanae’s conversations with the professor eventually lead her to devise a solution for the bus route challenge: she builds a web app that allows users to book shuttle rides that pick them up right at their doorstep and drops them off at their destination. Takamizawa agrees this pilot project, remarking that the web has made it feasible to do a direct-to-door service, since the web server handles the role of a receptionist. Without another employee on the payroll, such a program becomes more feasible from a financial perspective, finally allowing it to come to fruition.

  • Although insecure and worried about this prospect sufficiently to pick a fight with a child, Takamizawa eventually does as reasonably expected and embraces technology, resolving to do his best until his time has come. Yoshino is quite excited about the prospects of a such a program, feeling that it’s the solution that the professor was seeking from the folks in Manoyama. It’s a pleasant outcome for the professor and area residents; the former admits that he had no intention of actually following through and intended the exercise to raise awareness of the challenges Warayiba faces.

  • Yoshino and the others, then, have exceeded expectations through their actions in helping out, showing that the Tourism Board’s efforts to help Manoyama have not been in vain. With this incredible surge of momentum, audiences exit the eighteenth episode feeling fantastic: it’s the ending that Yoshino and the others deserve, having worked so hard towards making reality the solutions that can beginning addressing some of Warayiba’s difficulties.

  • However, the professor passes away from old age as the episode draws to a close. Unexpected, and a bit saddening, it puts a bit of a dampener on the episode. Nonetheless, in his passing, the professor departs with the knowledge that he was able to learn enough and make a difference, raising awareness of the lifestyles and tribulations faced by residents living in rural areas.  His final act is fulfilling his promise: he lets Yoshino know of one of the Treasures’ locations, and after paying their respects, the Tourism Board make use of the new shuttle programme to bring this immense artefact back into Manoyama.

  • Yoshino wilts when she sees the first Treasure, a large spear. Sakura Quest is enjoyable for a different set of reasons than Shirobako, having an incredible diversity in artwork and also being a little more unconventional compared to the down-to-earth aspects of Shirobako. My earlier remarks on these work/drama productions on P.A. Works being their most enjoyable continues to stand as the eighteenth episode draws to a close, and I will be returning at the penultimate episode to offer some remarks on where Sakura Quest is in the future. For now, the next major posts on the horizon will deal with Łupków Pass of Battlefield 1, and the upcoming Brave Witches OVA.

As a consequence of the directions Sakura Quest has taken as of late, Sakura Quest has proven to be something that continues to exceed expectations each passing episodes. While seemingly about Yoshino’s experiences in Manoyama, Sakura Quest has developed into something far greater than any one individual. Eighteen episodes into Sakura Quest, it becomes clear that Yoshino and the others are banking on restoration of the Mizuchi Festival to help Manoyama stand out on the map. The journey towards accomplishing this goal will certainly take Yoshino and the Tourism Board on further adventures (and misadventures) in the manner that P.A. Works has become so adept at wielding: the masterful combination of the comedic and dramatic come together to really bring Manoyama and its residents to life. I find myself asking how Sakura Quest manages to impress, and I answer myself that the sum of its elements in conjunction create a highly complex world, bringing together the detail-oriented facets of Shirobako and the premise of revitalising a small town premise from Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita. Not quite as ordinary as Shirobako or light-hearted as Locodol, Sakura Quest incorporates the strongest elements of both to yield an anime that’s offered no shortage of entertainment and material for discussion. With all of these aspects in mind, I am greatly interested in seeing what journey awaits Yoshino and the Tourism Board as they strive to bring back the Mizuchi Festival and make a tangible difference for a small town.

Hinako Note: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” —Claire Danes

Crippled with anxiety whenever speaking with folks she’s unfamiliar with, fifteen-year-old Hinako Sakuragi moves to Tokyo and resolves to join a theatre club with the aim of overcoming her shyness. When her high school’s theature club is found to be inactive, she forms a theatre troupe with the other tenants of the Hitotose Bookstore and gradually develops more confidence as she learns more about the theatres. After the school’s theatre club is reinstated, Kuina, Mayuki and Chiaki do their best to help Hinako, who earns the ire of Yua. Despite her doubts, Hinako’s resolute effort in improving catches the eye of advisor Ruriko, who makes her the lead in the school’s play. Hinako’s determination in improving earns her Yua’s respect and friendship, and the play is a success. Later, the Hitotose troupe put in separate plays for Hinako’s mother and for Christmas, before visiting the Suzuran venue to watch a play there. Simultaneously unremarkable and heartwarming, Hinako Note is the latest anime I’ve seen that serves little purpose beyond warming the heart with its character dynamics: at its core is a girl who freezes out of anxiety when faced with social interaction, on a journey to rectify this. While lacking the same magic and coherent themes as GochiUsa and Urara Meirocho, which featured exceptionally detailed worlds awaiting exploration, Hinako Note nonetheless holds a certain charm for its brand of comedy: the unusual situations characters find themselves are amusing and adorable.

The events and presentation of Hinako Note correspond with a subset of the slice-of-life genre – anime and manga of this sub-genre share several commonalities. Anime of this category feature an all-female cast with a very limited number or total absence of male characters, and are completely devoid of any semblance of a narrative. In its place is a loving, detailed depiction of all of the most ordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life. Such anime are designed with a very specific purpose in mind: it is pure escapism for viewers whose realities are stressful, offering a respite from a difficult day, and some interpretations go further, stating that an all-female cast is appealing for viewers whose fortunes in courtship are sub-optimal. Such anime are informally known as Kirara-kei (Kirara-style) after Manga Time Kirara, a manga publisher, and while usually referring to the style of manga published in this magazine, the term can be generalised outwards: Hinako Note is published by Kadokawa but features all of the elements described in the Kirara-kei genre. It’s the first one I’ve seen outside of a Kirara adaptation, and despite not being quite as compelling as the best works from Manga Time Kirara, it’s certainly not the worst, either (I never did manage to finish Sansha Sanyou, Anne Happy and Stella no Mahou, for instance). Kirara-kei anime and manga are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, especially for individuals who long for tasteful, thought-provoking entertainment, but it is well-suited for acting as a means of stress relief and escapism.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Initially, I did not have plans to watch Hinako Note, as the core concept sounded unremarkable, and the idea of Kuina eating books was a bit of an off-putting element. A friend recommended Hinako Note to me on the merit of the catchy opening song, so I relented and gave it the three-episode rule. Once it became clear that Kuina’s book eating was not a substantial focus (she enjoys food in general, as well), and I became more drawn to Hinako’s story, I decided that I would continue with Hinako Note.

  • The flashbacks to Hinako’s childhood in the inaka act as the magic moment that motivated me to check Hinako Note out, presenting her past and how her tendency to adopt a scarecrow-like stance whenever frightened. Her neighbours use this to their advantage: she becomes a human scarecrow that helps the farmers fend off animals and bolster agricultural production, and in thanks, she receives fresh vegetables. Longing to thank them, her timid nature prevents this from happening.

  • At the Hitotose Coffee Shop (which has nothing to do with Tamayura), Hinako finds friends in Mayuki, Chiaki and Kuina, whom she can speak with normally. Their friendship is what helps Hinako slowly progress throughout Hinako Note, and even though her progress is slow, it’s also naturally depicted: for some, the pacing counts against Hinako Note, and in my case, I did not find there to be a standout message in Hinako Note beyond the importance of friendship in imparting change amongst individuals, a familiar, well-worn theme in anime of this class.

  • Anime of the Kirara-kei category vary with respect to how brazen their attempts to excite the audiences are, from Kiniro Mosaic and GochiUsa‘s non-existent or subtle instances to the more visible depictions in New Game! or Urara MeirochoHinako Note goes the whole nine yards in its portrayal, with wide-angle shots of the different characters in more revealing clothing and focus on their figures being presented much more prominently.

  • Yua is a girl in Hinako’s class who greatly admires Chiaki and competes with Hinako every chance she gets. Serious-minded and unpleasant, she warms up to Hinako later, but is shown here with obvious envy at Hinako’s figure. With her personality, Hinako reminds me greatly of GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto: both are kind-hearted and friendly, unable to tell when someone is treating them coldly and generally willing to look past this.

  • During a rehearsal, Miyuki appears and performs a dance, but reveals that she’s never been fond of being the centre of attention. It is also revealed that Hinako is a fantastic singer, hence Ruriko’s decision to make her the play’s lead. She’s visible in this image here: the theatre club’s advisor, Ruriko is a child actress of prodigious talent, although certain facets of her character fall into the realm of implausible.

  • Despite the typical hiccoughs, involving Hinako forgetting her lines the day before the play and Yua failing to bring a mission-critical prop, the theatre club’s first play is a success. While ostensibly about theatre, Hinako Note takes after K-On! in that there is very little in the way of technical elements, focussing on the characters bouncing off one another to an even greater extent than K-On!.

  • By the first play’s conclusion, Yua’s become a regular part of the Hitotose troupe, and she’s mellowed out somewhat towards Hinako. Of all the characters, she and Hinako see the most development over the course of Hinako Note – Hinako gradually gains more confidence in performing and interacting with strangers, while Yua is more respectful of Hinako. Watching characters change over the course of time is the most rewarding part of slice-of-life anime, but it is usually the case where only a small number of characters change, with other characters remaining static.

  • The landlady of the Hitotose tenements, Chiaki is a soft-spoken sixteen-year-old with experience in acting. Despite outwardly resembling Maho Nishizumi, while their physiques might be similar, Maho and Chiaki’s personalities are a world apart – she’s gentle and friendly to those around her, drawing Mayuki and Yua’s feelings. Chiaki is voiced by Hisako Tōjō, a voice actress whose roles are not those I’m familiar with. Here, she discusses the additional applications of her swimsuit beyond being suitable attire for the beach with the others.

  • While it would have been quite appropriate to have Ayane Sakura provide Hinako’s voice, the casting decision to have Mao Ichimichi play Hinako is a wiser one – to have Ayane in the role would reinforce the notion that Hinako is merely a more visually stimulating but shyer version of Cocoa. I know Mao best as And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?‘s Kyō Goshoin. I rolled through that one earlier this year, finding it to be a fun critique of online gaming and for excelling in providing a plausible depiction of the hazards associated with being online for both freshmen and seasoned gamers.

  • Hinako’s ability to draw animals to her is absolutely adorable, and when such moments arise, Hinako Note reverts to a chibi-style artwork, something that was absent in GochiUsa and Kiniro Mosaic. By this point in time, I decided to continue watching Hinako Note for moments such as these – while lacking the same strength of world-building and character growth as something like GochiUsaHinako Note nonetheless presents enough heart-warming moments that make it a solid means of kicking back and relaxing.

  • The crux of the beach episode’s narrative revolves around Mayuki getting lost, with Hinako very nearly becoming lost herself to find Miyuki. Sensitive about the fact that she’s continually regarded as a primary school student, Mayuki is older than Hinako. After running into Ruriko, Mayuki and Hinako reunite tearfully. Having the chibis on-screen is meant to clearly express to viewers what they should be feeling; while no doubt effective, well-written Kirara-kei anime can elicit a similar response even without any changes in the artwork, counting on visual and audio cues to convey the moment.

  • Kuina, Hinako, Mayuki, Chiaki and Yua’s day at the beach turns out to be a blast, and they return home by evening utterly exhausted. Hinako Note is an anime that offers very little in the way of discussion, and correspondingly, it’s been quite tricky to find any discussion elsewhere for the anime; most folks are content to react to various moments in the anime and leave the talk there. If and when they are asked, they will remark that the anime’s been enjoyable – it is sometimes the case where audiences can enjoy something even if it is not the most intellectually-stimulating or thought-provoking work around, and this is perfectly fine.

  • After the beach episode, depictions of Hinako Note‘s characters in more interesting situations increases in frequency, and I’ve done my best to ensure that not more than twenty percent of the screenshots in this post is of such moments. It ended up being a bit trickier than expected: 23.3 percent of the screenshots wound up being thus. Here, Hinako’s collapsed from exhaustion as a result of a fever manifesting while serving a customer.

  • Common knowledge states that bed rest and plenty of fluids are usually sufficient for besting a cold. Chiaki does her best to make sure Hinako is not disturbed, but after everyone expresses concern and remain by Hinako’s side, everyone winds up contracting her cold. This stands in contrast with Frame Arms Girl, where the FA Girls only end up making Ao more sick with their methods. I’ve not reviewed Frame Arms Girl this season because, as fun as it was (it’s essentially a combination of Toy StoryGundam Build Fighters and Sky Girls), there’s not much in the way of discussion. The two-and-a-half hours I save by not writing about Frame Arms Girl will go towards Far Cry 4 and enjoying the summer weather.

  • Hinako proposes a play hosted at the Hitotose Café during a stamp rally event here. While their conversation is happening topside, the camera momentarily relocates itself conveniently beneath the table, providing audiences with an unexpected and unnecessary glimpse of Chiaki’s pantsu as she crosses her legs. Even though I’ve long become accustomed to moments such as these in slice-of-life anime, there are occasions where it feels a little out of place, especially in Kirara-kei anime.

  • The training camp that the girls wind up organising draws Ruriko’s interest and they prepare for a night at the school. Here, they discuss what they’ve bought to spend the night, and Yua remarks that all they really need are the basics, standing in contrast with the others, who’ve brought quite a bit of extra gear. This brings to mind my one-night stay in Kelowna during the UBC Giant Walkthrough Brain performance early in 2016, where I boarded the aircraft with a gym bag and backpack worth of equipment and clothing. Unlike Yua and the others, in that case, I had a legitimate reason for additional gear: my laptop was required to assist with the presentation.

  • Even though Hinako Note might not have the most revolutionary artwork or visuals in the world, Kuina’s love for food means that food is brought to the forefront of discussion on more than one occasion. Here, she scarfs down curry rice while Mayuki prepares another plate for her. Curry rice is something that I’m fond of, with the exception that I add beef or chicken to mine. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that I watch anime for the scenery and skies; I also watch it for its depiction of food, although I’ve yet to see any anime show off a home-made crab soup yi mein with large prawns and char siu, a dish of a custom origin that I’m sure will never be seen in any show.

  • Like Chiaki’s pantsu moment, there seems to be very little merit in including moments such as these in Hinako Note beyond drawing the viewer’s attention, and that, it completely does well. Having said this, it did come as a bit of a surprise to find out that Hinako Note is something that is better watched with a wall to one’s back for fear of being spotted: details in the play of light on Hinako and Chiaki’s bodies are gives the moment a more three dimensional feeling, and one cannot help but wonder whether or not any kind of play involving such outfits is suitable for human eyes.

  • The point of having a variety of costumes seems to be limited towards pulling in the audience’s attention, and characters often mention that this is why they are forcing another character into an immodest outfit. Hinako herself seems to be immune to the sort of embarrassment that typically accompanies wearing such outfits, and has no trouble walking around in a bunny girl costume.

  • Hinako’s mother pays her a visit, riding into town on a motorised unicycle. A doting parent, Hinako’s mother cares deeply for Hinako and is thrilled to learn that Hinako’s taken up acting. She departs here to explore town, asking Hinako to look after her belongings, and Hinako finds herself nervous as to whether or not she’ll put on a good performance.

  • Despite a rough start, some assistance from Mayuki puts their play on the right path, leading to yet another successful performance. While initially slow, Hinako’s persistence becomes increasingly apparent as Hinako Note progresses, even if viewers do not get to see the plays performed in full (likely a budgetary constraint). Overall, the animation and artwork in Hinako Note is of a reasonably good standard, while the soundtrack remains quite ordinary. While some find the opening song catchy, I enjoy the ending slightly more.

  • The innocent-seeming artwork of Hinako Note has not stopped the anime’s artists from rendering Chiaki and Hinako’s papilla mammaria visible through their clothing. Here, Chiaki has donned a costume that Yua has lent her, finding it ill-fitting in some spots. Such depictions are usually reserved for anime of the sort that I am unlikely to review or watch, so it was a bit unexpected to see that sort of thing in Hinako Note.

  • By Christmas, Hinako performs in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol despite challenges in drawing in an audience earlier on. While she and Mayuki are scared stiff by the large number of people walking by, the presence of a live reindeer manages to entice audience members into coming, and the play itself is quite successful.

  • While trying to figure out how to best strike up conversation with Chiaki, Hinako is asked to help out as a Shrine Maiden, and here, runs into a jealous Yua. Typical of most anime of the Kirara-kei genre, time flies in Hinako Note, and episodes cover things at a high rate: I’ve now lost track of how many shows I’ve seen during the summer that deal with Christmas.

  • After encountering Mayuki concocting something during the middle of the night, Hinako learns that she’d been preparing Valentine’s Day chocolate for Chiaki, whose popularity means that she receives a considerable amount of chocolate every year. Here, Hinako and the others welcome Yua into the Hitotose Café as they are handing out chocolates for the customers.

  • If and when I’m asked, I do not mind the special emphasis that is placed on Chiaki or Hinako — by this point in Hinako Note, I’ve become accustomed to such shots of Chiaki, and they can be quite pleasant to behold. I believe the phrase for moments such as these is “a vision of loveliness”; while Chiaki remains a static character without much development, her subtle encouragement of Hinako and the effects it has on Yua’s interactions with Hinako drive the latter’s change as a character.

  • When Chiaki reveals that she’d bought tickets for everyone to spend an afternoon at a play, Mayuki throws a minor temper tantrum by means of sulking in the corner: her desire to spend some time alone with Chiaki have been discarded. It’s utterly adorable to watch Chiaki try and coax Mayuki out of this state, bringing to mind what would happen when we’d accidentally bothered a relative’s rabbit, who would refuse to be petted for a while afterwards. Allowing her to cool off and giving her some space meant that a while later, the rabbit would be open to benig petted again.

  • Hinako Note‘s finale did not feel like a finale, so languid is the anime’s pacing. After watching their play at a well-known venue, Hinako and the others manage to run into Yua and Ruriko, after which they decide to return to Hitotose Café for dinner. Despite the absence of a clear narrative and an inordinate level of anatomy presented for everyone to check out, Hinako Note wound up being fairly entertaining to watch for me, although not everyone will share this perspective.

  • Overall, I would count Hinako Note as a B-. I’ve heard from readers that a B- is a relatively high score, and in this final figure caption, I will explain my scoring system: it is based off the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ grading, where B- is the lowest grade one can have before they go on probation. Similarly, I will not take time to write about an anime that scores a C+ or lower. With the Hinako Note post in the books, the next big discussion on my horizon will deal with the third and final part of Washio Sumi Chapter, set for release this weekend and presumed to become available for discussion in the near future.

Unlike the works of Manga Time Kirara, which emphasise adorable elements over everything else, the one aspect of Hinako Note that sets it apart is the liberal and brazen presence of anatomy. Such elements would be seen as blasphemous in something like GochiUsa, but here in Hinako Note, they seem to offset the more endearing moments in the anime. The unusual contrast between the heartwarming and less-than-modest moments is conveyed through the artwork: characters are rendered normally whenever anatomy comes to the forefront, but when the situation is intended to draw out fuzziness in audiences, chibi designs are used instead. These pieces come together to form an anime that is quite unusual, similar to the concept of a bacon cheesecake, in which the sweet and savoury elements are thrown into sharp contrast with one another. Neither fully sweet like a cheesecake (e.g. GochiUsa) or savoury as with a bacon cheese burger (e.g. Strike Witches), the end result will not likely resonate with everyone, although there are invariably people who might be either comfortable with the results, or are open-minded to see what things are about. My end verdict on Hinako Note is that I enjoyed watching it, similar to how I do not shy away from unconventional desserts, but I would not likely recommend it to other viewers unless they share a similar perspective on life as I do.

Sakura Quest: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“Today, I’m going to outline a plan for Manoyama’s economic revival – it is a bold, ambitious, forward-looking plan to massively increase jobs, wages, incomes and opportunities for the people of our country. If we lower our taxes, remove destructive regulations, unleash the vast treasure of Manoyama’s energy, and negotiate trade deals that put Manoyama First, then there is no limit to the number of jobs we can create and the amount of prosperity we can unleash. Manoyama will truly be the greatest place in the world to invest, hire, grow and to create new jobs, new technologies, and entire new industries. Instead of driving jobs and wealth away, Manoyama will become the world’s great magnet for innovation and job creation.” –Excerpt from a speech delivered at the Manoyama Tourism Board

Resolved to improve Manoyama in whatever way she can in her role as the town’s “Queen”, Yoshino begins exploring the region’s specialities, including wood carving and sōmen. Her endeavours and visions are bold – even though the tourist board cannot fund Yoshino’s ideas, they begin making progress slowly: traditional wood carvings from native artisans are installed at the train station, impressing visitors, and a local cooking festival ends successfully. A film crew also scouts out Manoyama as a viable filming location, recruiting the tourism board and locals to assist. Their plans to burn down an abandoned home are met with resistance from Shiori, who reveals that the home is special to her, and the shoot also reveals that Maki had lost her passion in acting. Later, the tourism boards hosts a romance tour of Manoyama for the Community Club, taking them around Manoyama. Ruriko finds herself envious of Yoshino’s resolve and spirit. While Ruriko is embarrassed to participate in the Manoyama dance, Yoshino has taken the courage to learn it. Ruriko later falls ill, and comes across an alternative interpretation of Manoyama’s legend of the dragon while resting away from her duties. When she learns that Manoyama was originally about being open to outsiders, she performs her the dragon song on the final day of the tour. Though it all, Yoshino herself still resents normalcy, as well as her own role in things: when a reality show is filmed in Manoyama, Yoshino finds herself questioning her goals. Even so, she continues to do her utmost in making the tourism board’s initiatives successful, helping the television studio organise a major concert.

Sakura Quest has covered a substantial amount of territory at the halfway point. With twenty-five episodes, there remains another half to go – insofar, Sakura Quest has done a phenomenal job of bringing Manoyama and its characters to life. Whether it be the struggles and doubts each of the characters face, or the realities surrounding social trends in rural Japan, details are elaborated upon to give the town and its people dimensionality. Challenges surrounding Maki’s past with acting, Saenai’s doubts about whether or not Manoyama was her running away from her problems, or Ruriko’s isolation with the community are vividly detailed: flawed and very much human, each of the characters’ attributes come into play and slowly shift through Yoshino’s influence. Despite being an outsider herself, Yoshino also begins feeling more connected to the town of Manoyama, despite having only visited briefly during her childhood – being in this quiet and close-knit community brings about a change in her perspectives that is quite noticeable from her outlooks at Sakura Quest‘s onset, and by the halfway point, it becomes apparent that the synergy between Yoshino and the others have indeed had an impact on Manoyama. With the characters established, Sakura Quest is set to continue with detailing the tourism board’s quest to Make Manoyama Great Again℠, and I look forwards to seeing what Yoshino has in mind for the future.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sakura Quest covers a considerable amount of turf during its first half: story arcs are typically contained within the span of two episodes, depicting a combination of both the main cast’s internal struggles as well as the tourism board’s difficulties in engaging the town. One of the first challenges Yoshino faces in her role as Queen is to figure out how to raise awareness for Manoyama’s wood carving sector. While innovative, the town’s more conservative Board of Merchants and wood carvers immediately take a disliking to Yoshino’s ideas, feeling them disrespectful towards tradition.

  • Feeling that she’s been running away from problem after problem, Sanae no longer feels motivated to help Yoshino, distancing herself from their duties. However, Yoshino manages to motivate her: even if people can be replaced, individuals each apply their own unique touch to a challenge to create their solutions, so efforts are not for naught. Consequently, Sanae’s interest in Manoyama is re-kindled, and she suggests a scaled-back version of Yoshino’s plan to elevate the visibility of Manoyama’s artisans, decorating the train station with work that impresses visitors.

  • Now that we are fifty percent into Sakura Quest, it is quite apparent that Yoshino does not have anywhere nearly as many funny face moments as her opposite number in Shirobako: Aoi Miyamori is a character I remember well for her exaggerated facial expressions. By comparison, Yoshino is more dialled back, and while highly enthusiastic about her duties, is less prone to overexcitement or stress than Aoi, even if her goals put her directly in conflict with the Board of Merchants, the folks who coordinate the businesses in the area.

  • The inaka are beautifully portrayed in Sakura Quest: intricate and remarkably well-done, Sakura Quest captures the countryside. While the cities (Tokyo especially) are a hotbed for economic activity and opportunity, the countryside of Japan has fallen by the wayside, seeing a general decline in population as youth migrate to the cities for better education and employment prospects. However, during my travels to Japan, I found the inaka to be much more enjoyable than the cities, feeling a lot more expressive of Japanese culture than the cities. In some translations, the inaka is represented as “the sticks”, a British expression for rural in reference to living amongst the trees (i.e. sticks).

  • After Sanae’s doubts are resolved, it’s Maki’s turn to have her background explored. A former actress capable of handling a variety of tasks, she refuses to play the role of a stand-in, feeling that she lacks the proper determination to be a proper actress. She rebuffs Yoshino’s request, leaving her with more work, but after a conversation with Sanae and helping coach Ririko with a role, slowly begins to rediscover her passion. When she stumbles across an old class video her father took of her class play, she rediscovers her love for acting.

  • After the director decides to use an abandoned house for filming, Shiori puts up a surprising amount of resistance, concealing the fact that she’d acquired permission from the house’s owners to torch it. It turns out that the house has sentimental value for Shiori, who’d spent a great deal of time there during her childhood. It is also explained that abandonments, haikyo, result from the cost of demolitions making removal of older buildings unviable. Often, buildings are left to decay where they are, creating these modern ruins. When Yoshino steps up to the plate and confronts Shiori about the situation, Shiori comes to understand that the decision is not for her to make.

  • Sakura Quest is the first P.A. Works anime I’ve given a review to since Shirobako – while I’ve watched both Charlotte and Kuromukuro, and found enjoyment in both to some extent, they did not prove to be shows that I could easily write about: thematic elements were tricky to determine, and the plot progression for both anime were inconsistent, making it difficult for me to ascertain what the anime’s main messages were. Comedy and slice-of-life dramas are P.A. Works’ specialities: their down-to-earth stories about everyday people are usually much more compelling than their science fiction or fantasy offerings (Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara are the exceptions).

  • By the episode’s final moments, Maki’s love of acting is reignited, and she agrees to stand in for Moe. Here, she prepares for a scene where she will dive into the burning remains of the home, and the entire event proceeds without a hitch. Later, one of the film staff thanks Shiori, who’s come to understand that allowing the house to be destroyed does not mean that her memories of it will be lost forever; instead, in its final moments, this derelict house allows Shiori to gain yet another treasured moment.

  • Just because Yoshino might not make funny faces does not mean that other characters do not – Maki tries to tug a beer from Yoshino, only to find that Yoshino’s maintaining a death grip on said beer despite having fallen a sleep. One of the things that I found a bit unusual in Japan (and Hong Kong) is the fact that alcohol is sold in the open at supermarkets, right beside conventional drinks. Back home, we have liquor depots and dedicated stores for selling alcohol.

  • Food is lovingly illustrated in Sakura Quest to the point where other viewers have suggested that some episodes should be watched on a full stomach, lest one desire food mid-episode. Today marks the start of the last weekend in June: this month’s disappeared, and it’s now been more than a month since I returned from Japan. Things have been incredibly busy with work, especially with our project migration to a new framework that’s taken longer than I anticipated, so I’m immensely happy that it’s the weekend. While I spent a bit of today helping with adding some features ahead of Monday, things were also relaxing enough so that I could play enough Battlefield 1 to unlock the Lebel Model 1886 and go out to the Café 100 for dinner, where I ordered the Hong Kong-style chicken steak. Delicious and cooked just like they do in Hong Kong, it’s always nice to be able to experience a taste of Hong Kong right here at home.

  • While I’ll respond that Shiori is my favourite of the characters in Sakura Quest, with Yoshino coming in a close second, all of the main characters are likeable. Presenting realistic characters simply means giving them a range of traits, both positive and negative, and allowing these interactions to drive things – these elements mean the characters are believable, and consequently, audiences tend to care more for them, developing an interest to see what events will await them. By comparison, dull, jejune characters are blatantly overpowered, have little difficulty in accomplishing their objectives and constantly struggle from their own internal sense of inadequacy without any well-defined reason (this is the main reason I’m not particularly fond of Sword Art Online‘s Kazuto Kirigaya).

  • Celebrating Sayuri’s moving out to become a nurse, Shiori and her family encounter Kumano, an old friend of Sayuri’s from high school who trained in France as a chef and intends to inherit the family restaurant. He has long held feelings for Shiori’s older sister, Sayuri, but owing to a miscommunication, neither was able to make their feelings open to one another. In spite of this, his dedication is commendable: his original intent to study French cuisine was because Sayuri greatly enjoyed French toast.

  • Shiori’s response to Kumano’s French Toast speaks volumes as to its quality. Sakura Quest states that French Toast is not French in origin – P.A. Works has plainly done their homework, and the combination of soaking bread in egg before frying it with milk has been around since the fifth century, being of Roman origin. The French take on this dish is called pain perdue (lit. “lost bread”), after the idea of making tough or stale bread more palatable by frying it in egg, and both England and Germany have their own variations on this dish. The modern incarnation of French toast is actually a bit of a misnomer: similar to French Fries, they are a food item popularised by arrival of French immigrants in North America, hence the nomenclature.

  • While the Tourism board’s plan to host a cooking special event conflicted with the Merchant Board’s event, Shiori takes control of the situation and strikes a compromise that allows both events to proceed: the cooking competition will be to make the best sōmen dish, which is a Manoyama special. It typifies Shiori’s resourcefulness when the situation demands it, and she’s the first person that Yoshino turns to whenever questions about Manoyama and its background arise.

  • While Shiori works out the details to ensure the event’s success, Yoshino works behind the scenes to get a special display ready: a mechanised nagashi-sõmen game where the goal is to catch and eat noodles as quickly as possible to maximise score. It’s a little messy, as Yoshino finds out, but the exhibition turns out to be a success, drawing the children’s interest. Yoshino is open to making use of new technologies into reviving Manoyama traditions, and while this initially puts her at odds with the townspeople, this new perspective also offers Manoyama something new.

  • Shiori and Sayuri are both rather clumsy at times: when their mother remarks that Shiori’s fear over the festival date is a trait her sister shares, Shiori realises that Sayuri must’ve missed Kumano for the same reason. She sets in motion the events that allow Sayuri and Kumano to meet again at the Chubacabra Palace, bringing their story to a solid conclusion and also allowing the two to make their feelings open to one another. One wishes reality would allow for such neat resolution, but more often that not, this is not the case.

  • With the festivals over, Yoshino makes Shiori a “Minister of Mediation” for her role in talking things through to ensure that all parties are reasonably satisfied with arrangements.

  • The Manoyama romantic tour programme turns out to be yet another story arc filled with a fine balance of comedy and mystery: comedy arises with the community club’s members putting the moves on to impress the ladies who arrive for the tour, and despite their reduced numbers, Yoshino and the others do their best to ensure the events are successful. It is here that the Manoyama dance and its origins are revealed: like the Legend of the Fire Maidens in Sora no Woto, there are two different versions of the story behind Manoyama’s dragon.

  • The men and women participating in the tour are in their middle ages: travelling around to meet people is a rather interesting concept. One observation thrown around amongst folks of my generation, the millennials, is that it is more difficult to find meaningful courtship relative to previous generations – commitment and trust is weaker than it has been for numerous reasons, but I personally think that it’s a lack of maturity for the most part. Once folks become a bit older, they will have a more well-defined notion of what they want, and by extension, more realistic expectations of what a relationship entails.

  • The Manoyama dance is an area tradition that all Manoyama girls learn. Ririko’s shyness precludes her from participating, and as a child, she’s withdrawn, spending very little time with her peers during school. Her interests are in the occult and supernatural: things like extraterrestrials, spirits and cryptids are right up her alley. Despite this, she slowly opens up as she spends more time with Yoshino and the others. By comparison, Yoshino is very much willing to learn and experience new things, picking up the Manoyama dance well enough to perform it for their guests.

  • Noticably absent from the proceedings is Ririko: similar to how Sanae, Maki and Shiori have seen exploration with the wood carving, film-making and cuisine arcs, respectively, the romantic tour arc places emphasis on Ririko. Reserved, shy and stoic, she lives with her grandmother after her father left for work overseas following divorce with Ririko’s mother, an outsider. This explains her grandmother’s mistrust for Yoshino and also explains why she’s cold towards the Tourism Board’s activities. Walking home alone under a thunderstorm, she catches a cold and is resting for much of the subsequent episode.

  • Alexandre Cena Davis Celibidache, known by his metonymy as “Mr. Sandal”, is a wanderer with blonde hair and who speaks with a very laid-back manner, dropping by to offer deep and mysterious insights whenever Yoshino or the others are wondering what their next move is. Voiced by Vinay Murthy, Alexandre’s Japanese is slower, more broken and accented, hinting at his foreign background: he also speaks English quite well. His story is that his grandparents were Manoyama natives, and despite his wandering nature, he is a skillful artist familiar with Manoyama’s history.

  • The climbing wall and tower overlooking Manoyama offers a fantastic view of the area. This moment in Sakura Quest offers yet another reason why I continue to watch anime after all this time: the attraction of skies of deepest blue and vast landscapes of mountains, plains and forests have long held my attention. I have not seen any cartoons of Western animation that go to quite the same lengths to render these landscapes: in FuturamaRick and Morty and Adventure Time, skies are usually a solid blue colour on clear days.

  • Yoshino finds Ririko at a local temple after the latter sneaks out to the library while she’s supposed to be recovering from her cold. It is here that Yoshino learns the alternative interpretation of the myth, and in an emotional moment, Ririko and Yoshino shed tears as they open up to one another. This brings about a change in Ririko: while her grandmother is long-weary of Yoshino and the others for their perceived tendency to disturb the peace, Yoshino sees this as a chance to show that the Tourism Board is not selfishly absorbed in their own machinations. Thus, she invites Ririko’s grandmother to the finale of the romance tour.

  • The surprise is that Ririko performs the Dragon song; while she whiles away her days on the internet and is not employed owing to her withdrawn nature, Yoshino manages to bring out the best in her, allowing her to take the first step towards changing. Ririko is voiced by Chiemi Tanaka, a newcomer in voice acting whose only previous role was as Sansha Sanyou‘s Sasame Tsuji, but Sakura Quest shows that Tanaka has a beautiful singing voice. Her rendition of the Dragon song is incredibly moving, to the point where it would be an insult should it not be included in the soundtrack or one of the character albums. The anime’s opening and ending albums have been available since June 7.

  • I take a brief detour to note that in its current form, the slogan “Make Manoyama Great Again℠”, is attributable to a design that I alone have created. It’s an uncommon enough slogan so that a cursory search for it will not yield too many results – one may find other usages before my first post on Sakura Quest, but since that post, folks on image-boards have taken to using the slogan more widely. The page quote is an adaptation of the current POTUS’ economic speech at the New York Economy Club back during September 2016, modified to work with what is in effect, what the Tourism board is trying to do with Manoyama.

  • The pressure of a reality film crew filming the Tourism Board’s daily routine causes Yoshino and Shiori to speak strangely, with Yoshino finally cracking up under the pressure. It takes a certain degree of control to ignore the camera and proceed normally, and while I’ve done several appearances on local television for news segments featuring my old research lab, as well as being comfortable in speaking in front of audiences, I’m not entirely sure I am cut out for live-streaming my Battlefield 1 and other gaming endeavours on Twitch.

  • Yoshino’s personal peeve of being “normal” is mirrored in her appearance – she’s the only character to have a distinct hair colour, and her uncommon way of thinking is what’s precipitated all of the events in Sakura Quest insofar, to the point where even Ushimatsu praises her. The definition of “normal” is the point of contention in Christopher Boorse’ definition of health, which states that “health is the absence of disease defined by a statistical normality”. My classmates still repress a shudder when the name Boorse is brought up despite the six years that have elapsed since we read the original 1977 paper: we argue that health is an incredibly complex topic and extends well beyond the state of being free of disease. Further to this, health as a human construct is intrinsically value-laden: by Boorse’s definition, if a large portion of humanity were to be afflicted by a condition such as blindness, then being blind would still constitute as “healthy”, since it is typical that most folks cannot see in this hypothetical population. Conversely, a value-laden approach would tell us that this population has an endemic condition impairing their quality of life.

  • I’m not here to continue discussing the definition of health: I exited the course with a decent mark and we’ll leave it to the medical specialists to discuss what health is. Returning things to Sakura Quest, the reality show is compounded by the appearance of a famous band, which promises to bring in a large number of visitors into the Manoyama region. While exciting, the logistics prove to be a rogue element, since the producers continue to assure Yoshino and the others that everything is under control. The outcome of this will be left for the upcoming episode.

  • Yoshino, Maki and Sanae are surprised at the unexpectedly large turnout for their concert. The twelfth episode comes to an end here, and looking ahead, I imagine that Sakura Quest is building up towards Yoshino’s inevitable departure once her year-long contract expires. Regardless of what the outcome will be, Yoshino will have gained a considerable amount of experience working in Manoyama by this point: staying in Manoyama and calling it home, or else returning to Tokyo with a competitive set of skills are both possibilities, and I look forwards to seeing the journey that Yoshino will have in reaching this milestone in Sakura Quest‘s second half.

It should not be surprising that I am enjoying Sakura Quest the most out of any of the anime this season. With its character development, stunning artwork and a highly relatable narrative, Sakura Quest represents a triumphant return of P.A. Works – with the exception of Angel Beats! and Nagi no Asukara, I’ve long felt their work and slice-of-life anime to be the strongest. Incorporating genuine social issues into the narrative is also a fantastic touch that elevates the anime’s authenticity: whether it be the community dynamics of a smaller town overarching in the anime or something as simple as why haikyo come about, Sakura Quest is faithful towards occurrences in the real world. This is something that Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha excelled in depicting. Sakura Quest is following its predecessors in execution, and it’s difficult to find any strikes against this anime – even the more critical of viewers are enjoying Sakura Quest. Each episode has been enjoyable to watch thus far, and having passed the halfway point, Sakura Quest appears on track in its the quest to continue captivating its viewers. With its honest but colourful depiction, it might be more appropriate to consider not whether or not Yoshino and her colleagues can Make Manoyama Great Again℠, but rather, the route that they take to get there and what changes Yoshino’s time in Manoyama will have on her, those around her and the town as a whole.

Feast: The Fortress at War- Sora no Woto OVA 1 Review and Reflection

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” —Ernest Hemingway

On a hot summer’s day, the 1121st prepare for an afternoon barbecue. When Kanata and Yumina’s suspicions about the Clocktower Fortress’ source of income threatens to expose their calvados operation, Filicia decides that a contest is in order to determine whether the truth should be disclosed. She covertly spikes everyone’s tea with their in-house alcohol, and the stakes are that, if Kanata and her team should prevail during a mock combat exercise with water pistols, she will explain what is going on. The buzz from the alcohol causes everyone to develop higher spirits, and when Noël unveils a powerful water Gatling-gun, the battle shifts to Kanata’s favour. She manages to corner Rio inside the distillery and defeats her. Later, Kanata agrees to keep the distillery a secret and spends the night with an increasingly drunk 1121st, who take an uncommon interest in Kureha. By the next morning, in the throes of a vicious hangover, Filicia, Rio, Noël and Kanata struggle in the aftermath of their indulgence, while Kureha tearfully records the events of the previous evening and laments her inability to forget what’s occurred. Included with the fourth home release volume, the first of the Sora no Woto OVAs is set between the seventh and eighth episode: in the interim between the sixth and eighth episode, Kanata has enigmatically come into the knowledge of the 1121st’s secret distillery. While the natural progression is not particularly tricky to work out, fans nonetheless counted this as being worth speculating about. The first OVA thus brings some light to this, answering the question of what occurred and also showcasing some good-natured misadventures resulting from the girls enjoying too much alcohol.

Released quite separately from the televised release, OVAs are able to be a bit more overt and brazen with their depictions of events in an anime. While raising some thought-provoking questions, as well as striking a balance between drama and comedy, Sora no Woto‘s televised run remained quite focused on thematic elements owing to the fact that there were only twelve episodes to adequately explore the unique world Sora no Woto was set in. The characters remain quite consistent in manner and personality even if they do mature over the anime’s run, and so, in this Sora no Woto OVA, it was quite surprising, not to mention hilarious, to see the different characters under the influence of alcohol. A world apart from their usual selves, the alcohol leads the characters to act in over-the-top, melodramatic ways quite unlike that of their usual selves. The OVA ends up being a non-stop comedic ride; while simple in premise and contributing little towards the world-building that Sora no Woto is known for, it nonetheless offers the characters yet another dimension to their personality. From its open depiction of underage alcohol consumption to the implications that Kureha was desecrated by the others, Sora no Woto plainly capitalised on the OVA format to present an episode that offers another perspective on the characters which would not have likely been approved for broadcast on television. In the freedoms offered by the OVA format, however, viewers are treated to some nice laughs.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I had done a discussion of the first Sora no Woto OVA some five-and-a-half years previously, and in my Sora no Woto discussions earlier this year, I wondered if it would be worthwhile to go back and do another talk on the OVAs, since I’d already covered them. Looking back, I will be covering the OVA both for completeness’ sake, as well as because the insights I have on the different OVAs have changed somewhat since my initial posts. To ensure that these posts remain fresh and avoid venturing into dank territory, I’ve gone with a completely different set of screenshots; none of the images I have here are duplicates from the original post.

  • While it’s only for the briefest of moments, and not shown anywhere else on the ‘net, the “feast” component of this OVA refers to the pile of steaks that the Clocktower Maidens are grilling for lunch, bringing to mind the Chinese-style dinner buffet I attended last Saturday to help out at. Besides the usual suspects at Chinese buffets (sweet and sour pork, ginger beef, lemon chicken, fried chicken, fried shrimp, fried noodles, basa in garlic sauce, roast potatoes, a variety of vegetables and the like), this particular place has a different spin on the carving station: prime rib is grilled on demand, and tastes quite nice.

  • In my original post, I had a picture of Noël pressing a plate against Shuko, who’s taken an interest in the steaks being grilled. This is that same moment from another perspective, where Yumina reacts negatively to Kureha’s use of Calvados as a cooking wine. She begins to wonder where the 1121st get their alcohol from, and it takes Kureha some effort to deny that they are participating in anything illegal.

  • Elsewhere, a curious Kanata begins wondering what could be on Rio’s mind when she fetches Rio for lunch. This moment features several funny faces from Rio, none of which I’ve featured here. Rio’s behaviours here is most telling that she is unnerved, even though Kanata has made no mention of wondering what’s behind the door she’s watching to any capacity. Instead, her curiosity is piqued by Rio’s insistence that there’s nothing here worth looking at.

  • Befitting of the OVA’s light-hearted mood, the weather remains sunny and warm, befitting of a lazy day well into the summer season. Because weather has played such a substantial role in Sora no Woto, it is possible to very quickly ascertain what moods the characters will experience based on the sky conditions and lighting. This is one of the greatest strengths in Sora no Woto, and the lessons derived from the anime have been applied elsewhere to great effect.

  • Tea is commonly drunk with Chinese and Japanese meals: some kinds of tea can help with digestion, and so, after the steaks have been enjoyed and their plates cleared, Filicia brings out some tea. Immediately upon trying it, the girls become enamored with it: Filicia only mentions that it’s a “special” brew. With Calvados in it, I imagine that the tea would have a bit of a sweet, apple-y taste to it. It certainly would not go well with my preferred tea, Tieguanyin (鐵觀音): with its leafy taste, this oolong tea is something I ask for whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant and is well-suited for aiding digestion. During my trip to Hong Kong, family members there seem to prefer pu’er tea (普洱茶).

  • The alcohol’s effects begin kicking in, and Filicia’s suggestion to have a mock training exercise is initiated, with the victors’ terms being met. In this case, Rio agrees to disclose the truth about what’s happening with the Calvados. The teams are Rio, Kureha and Filicia on one side, working to keep thing secret, and in Kanata’s corner are Yumina and Noël, who aim to win and find out what’s going on. Playing elimination, a team wins when all of its members are taken out, by means of dyed water to make it immediately apparent who’s been hit.

  • Thus begins the elimination match, bringing to mind some of my misadventures in Battlefield 1. During the last weekend, I played several poor matches of domination and was utterly defeated, but the next day, I returned to play my usual conquest; I favoured the medic this time, making use of my syringe and health kits to heal teammates. Although I did not focus on kills as much as playing my intended role, I nonetheless made MVP with a paltry thirteen kills. During that same match, I also unlocked the second tier of the Royal Order of the Stag medal.

  • I subsequently grinded TDM modes until I secured a pair of victories, allowing me to earn my first-ever medal of Battlefield 1. It’s about time, too, having been some eight months since I bought the game. Back in Sora no Woto, Noël’s broken off from the others to retrieve a special surprise to aid their team’s victory. During their time together, Yumina and Kanata share a conversation, with Yumina mentioning that she’s from a far removed part of the country where things were quiet.

  • While the terrain in and around Seize is filled with sandstone cliffs, Yumina is from a part of Helvetia with more mountains and hills. The landscapes of Sora no Woto are beautiful and contributed greatly to my decision of picking up and following the anime – even if some may consider it a superficial way of determining whether or not a particular show is worth watching, a part of what influences the list of shows I watch in a given in a season is where the story is set. Alternative worlds such as that seen in Sora no Woto or Break Blade have long captured my interests.

  • Despite technically being superior marksmen, having trained for longer, Filicia and Rio run into Noël’s ambush and very nearly allows her to score an Ace (killing all enemies on the opposing team on your own). Kureha is at a bit of a disadvantage here, fulfilling the role of a support class while Rio and Filicia play assault. While they manage to evade, Noël and the others go after them, utilising their superior firepower to press the initiative. Noël’s look of anticipation is priceless, and it is one of the few times in the series audiences get to see her genuinely excited about something, even if it is under the influence.

  • Under heavy fire, Filicia is eliminated from the match shortly after Rio resolves that they will fight. The siege vehicle Noël devised requires three operators: one to carry the water and one to act as a source of propulsion. In exchange for its firepower, it is slow and cumbersome. Inspection of the dyed water shows that the girls are using similar water to the kind that is present at Seize’s Water Festival.

  • In retaliation, Rio returns fire and manages to eliminate both Noël and Yumina after their siege vehicle runs out of water. Kanata subsequently pursues them, leaving the others to on the ground under a pleasant summer sun. Lacking a weapon herself, Kureha can only watch the match progress. Sora no Woto‘s first OVA is set entirely on the Clocktower Fortress grounds: despite the lack of other locales, the episode remains quite exciting and even showcases some parts of the fortress previously unseen. It typifies the slice-of-life genre to have a relatively small number of settings in exchange for additional emphasis on character development.

  • Cornered in the bowels of the Clocktower Fortress’ secret distillery, Rio and Kanata find themselves in a standoff. Rio explains the truth to Kanata about the purpose of their project, that it is to enrich their own pocketbooks and has allowed them to live more comfortably than otherwise possible. After additional exchanges of dialogue, Kanata and Rio open fire on one another, with Kanata winning the duel.

  • Later, the 1121st take a trip to their on-site onsen to bathe off the aftereffects of their drinking. While partaking in alcohol and bathing in an onsen have been shown in a non-trivial number of anime, it is actually not advisable to take hot baths while under the effects of alcohol, since the combination of impaired judgement and increased circulation in conjunction with increased heat can make one lose quite a bit of water through perspiration.

  • Ever since a particularly memorable Christmas party during my final undergraduate year with the Health Sciences programme, I’ve not been able to partake quite as much as folks of a similar build and constitution to myself, so for the most part, I do not drink alcohol. Kureha is seemingly immune to the effects of alcohol and does not suffer from hangovers or the loss of memory. This is purely a genetic trait: I tend to get headaches, while other folks get stomach aches, although like Kureha, I tend to remember what happens even when I’m a bit fuzzy.

  • Not much is left to the imagination as to what Filicia, Kanata and even Yumina do to Kureha, although it appears that by the next morning, everyone save Kanata has forgotten everything, bearing only hangovers as the single indicator that they’d had such a wild evening previously. While done for laugh’s sake in Sora no Woto, such actions during war were certainly much more brutal and sobering  in nature, bringing to mind Timothy Findley’s depiction of rape in The Wars, illustrating that war takes away from people totally, including privacy and all that is sacred.

  • The next morning, Filicia, Kanata and Rio see Yumina off. Having forgotten the events of the previous evening, Kanata and Filicia are in fine spirits, seemingly over their hangovers, while Rio is still a bit worn from the previous evening. The same dilation of blood vessels is responsible for the headaches, and can cause stomach irritation, as well. I’m actually not too sure what the biological utility of drinking is, owing to all of the adverse effects it has on the body. While social science may suggest a social function, I sometimes wonder if wings and Irish potato nachos are equally as effective at bringing people together.

  • Noël, on the other hand, is reeling from a debilitating headache. This is the hangover I experienced after the Christmas party and a mere three drinks: I woke up with my head feeling as though a drum was beating against my cranium. I staggered awake, drank several glasses of water and tried to ignore the headache by playing Halo: Combat Evolved. Fortunately, the headache had abated by the afternoon, and since then, I’ve been more cautious with drinking — my last drink in Cancùn, a lemon daiquiri, while not giving me a headache, did make me immensely sleepy.

  • Whatever sort of defiling that Kanata, Yumina and Filicia did to Kureha was apparently so traumatic that she breaks out in tears when forced to recall it. If I were to surmise what happened to any level of detail, this blog would likely be reported for family-unfriendly content. So, I leave it up to the readers to imagine the fire (and in a rare exception to my usually-lax commenting rules, I will excise any comments that go too far). With the first of the OVAs in the books, I will return to write about the second OVA in September to coincide with its release date seven years ago.

At the time of its release seven years ago, I was quite unaware of Sora no Woto and was engaged in summer research at the university, working on a model of blood flow and oxygenation within the lab’s in-house game engine. I had returned from a day trip with the lab out to the mountains, and my project had been progressing smoothly, and I was gearing up to go on vacation to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hanzgzhou and Suzhou). I’m not quite sure how I came across Sora no Woto, but it is likely that I found the anime while looking for recommendations of shows similar to K-On!: a year later, I came across Sora no Woto and found myself blown away with the overall quality and enjoyment factor the anime provided. I’ve an older review of the episode here that dates back to January 2012, a few months after I finished Sora no Woto. In the five-and-a-half years that has elapsed since then, my blog and writing style have both undergone a dramatic change in style. However, looking through the older post, it’s quite clear that my enjoyment of Sora no Woto‘s first OVA has not changed. The second of the OVAs would not be released for another three months at that point, and while it seemed a long wait for contemporary reviewers, my coming across Sora no Woto after it finished airing allowed me to continue watching the OVAs uninterrupted.