The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tag Archives: Anime

Survival Camp!, or Surviorman’s Pacific Island meets Yuru Camp△: An OVA Review and Reflection

“No one wants to find themselves in a survival situation; you just want to go home, but sometimes, the ordeal becomes long-term survival, longer than seven days. Whether in a life raft, on a mountain, in a desert, or on a tropical island, long-term survival is always about maintaining the will to live, and then becoming familiar with the surroundings.” —Les Stroud, South Pacific, Survivorman

En route to Australia for some winter camping, Nadeshiko and her friends find themselves bailing out of their private jet when the pilot reports that the controls have become unresponsive. They land on an uninhabited tropical island, and after getting themselves oriented, set about trying to find food. They are unsuccessful, and morale plummets, although the girls do their best to remain positive. The next morning, Chiaki is able to find a large number of bananas, and Rin succeeds in catching a large fish that the girls cook later that evening. As they explore other options for cooking their food, they girls also enjoy the tropical weather, but when Nadeshiko begins recanting phrases and terms that remind them of home during a game of Shiritori, Chiaki and the others realise that they need to be rescued. Sprinting to an outcrop, the girls desperately shout out for rescue while Ena sleeps on. Running for half the length of a conventional episode, Survival Camp is a fun addition to Yuru Camp△ that sees Nadeshiko and the others stranded on a beautiful island, reminiscent of Survivorman‘s second season, where Les Stroud survives on a week on an island. I’ve long drawn comparisons between Survivorman and Yuru Camp△, a complement to Yuru Camp△‘s attention to detail and providing practical information on top of a highly relaxing adventure for audiences. While this comparison is not unique to me, the other, perhaps unintended, consequence of comparing Yuru Camp△ to Survivorman is that this blog is prominently featured any search whenever keywords pertaining to Yuru Camp△ and Survivorman are used in conjunction with one another. As a result, upon viewing the contents of the latest Yuru Camp△ OVA, I cannot help but wonder if C-Station’s staff have seen discussions on the ‘net, especially from here, about Yuru Camp△ and decided to take a look at Survivorman, then realised a tropical setting, akin to Les Stroud’s time on a Pacific island, would provide a suitable opportunity to portray a novel story within the latest of the OVAs.

Yuru Camp△‘s original run was an impressive showing, but the Survival Camp OVA takes survival to the next level, drawing numerous parallels with real-world presentations of survival; despite featuring high school girls in place of an experienced outdoorsman, Yuru Camp△ never strays far from reality, and as a result, the Survival Camp OVA is all the more enjoyable for it. After a bailing out of a plane and landing on a tropical island, the girls immediately take stock of their surroundings, and build a shelter. In every episode of Survivorman, Les Stroud runs through the tools and materials he has available to him, before constructing a shelter. Because the island Stroud landed in had a sizeable rat population, he builds a shelter from a derelict boat to keep him off the ground and also, away from the blistering tropical sun. He subsequently creates a rain trap for water, and explores the island in search for food. In Yuru Camp△, after they handle shelter and gain a better idea of their situation, the girls are faced with the struggle of finding food and the attendant decrease in morale: Stroud notes constantly that in a survival situation that a lack of food is one of the biggest struggles he faces, as the reduced energy can impede judgement. Nadeshiko and Chiaki are particularly hard-hit by the initial lack of food, but immediately after Chiaki’s discovery of bananas on the island, and Rin’s success in fishing, the mood turns around immediately. In the South Pacific episode, Les Stroud is in a rare situation where food is not a major concern: he finds coconuts and birds on the island, as well as clams and palm shoots. Once the matter of food and shelter are dealt with, both Stroud and the girls of Yuru Camp△ have the energy to further their situation. This is where Yuru Camp△ deviates somewhat from the Survivorman approach: Nadeshiko and the others take it easy, nearly forgetting that they still need to be rescued, while Stroud will either set about creating a signal for escape or craft transportation to facilitate an exit out of the area. In spite of this, the methods that are seen in Yuru Camp△ is largely consistent with the basics that Stroud recommends in Survivorman. It is important to note that while assessment, shelter-building and finding food is common sense in a survival situation, the aspects that Yuru Camp△ excels in depicting are the subtleties: from notions of morale, to the incredible rush of finding food, Yuru Camp△ captures highly realistic responses amongst the characters, which really gives the sense that Yuru Camp△ could be seen as another take on Survivorman.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I open with an apology: my last post on Harukana Receive was a bit of a tirade about people acting like they know more than they actually do. So, to make up for that, this post will deal with none of that. Featuring thirty screenshots, I will delve into the latest Yuru Camp△ OVA and bring some fun to the table. Ena outwardly does not seem to be wealthy, and the only indicator otherwise was that her father bought her a four hundred dollar sleeping bag so she could camp with her friends in Yuru Camp△ proper, but this OVA seems to suggest otherwise: the girls are on a private jet here en route to Australia. However, when the plane suffers from an unknown problem, Chiaki immediately bails out, prompting the others to follow.

  • The pilot is a rather comical fellow, speaking English, but the girls’ reactions to the plane’s malfunctions are even more over-the-top. Evidently, none of Chiaki, Rin, Nadeshiko, Aoi or Ena have read Patrick Smith’s Cockpit Confidential, an excellent book that explains all of the withertos and why-fors of air travel (specifically, that some “big deals” for passengers are routine for pilots). With his wit and approachable manner, Smith’s book provides insight into why air travel is the way it is and is a reassuring companion for anyone who dislikes air travel.

  • Shortly after their landing, Aoi discovers that she has no cellular signal, and Chiaki concludes that they are on a remote, uninhabited island. This is the proper depiction of a desert island: comical portrays show such islands as being only a few metres across, with a single palm tree and just enough room for two people. This particular visual gag originated in the 1930s and became quite popular in the late 1950s, a consequence of trying to fit an entire island into a comic panel. The image has since endured. However, such islands physically cannot exist: islands in the Pacific are part of atolls and belong to chains of islands.

  • While the others managed to make it to the ground, Rin finds herself stuck in a tree. When Nadeshiko and the others find her, they are immensely relieved. The process of getting Rin down is never shown, although from the height seen in this image, it should be clear that extricating Rin is probably not an easy feat. Nadeshiko’s crying is absolutely adorable, and one of Yuru Camp△‘s most distinct features is being able to capture the almost child-like innocence of youth while simultaneously providing a solid series on camping.

  • The first order of business is setting up shelter to provide cover from the elements. In Survivorman, Les Stroud mentions that tropical islands may have a large rodent or insect population, standing in contrast of the paradise image that such islands typically conjure, and so, having ground coverings or something to elevate one above the ground becomes important in a shelter. For Yuru Camp△, we can suppose that such hazards are not present, allowing the girls to put a simple lean-to shelter together to cover them from the tropical sun.

  • Both Nadeshiko and Chiako become a little loopy from the lack of food. On some of his more difficult survival challenges, Stroud has minimal food, and the impact on his psyche is immense, equaling the physical fatigue. The act of finding food is an energy expenditure, and is very frustrating to come up empty-handed. In some episodes, a lack of food also impacts Stroud’s ability to clearly communicate to audiences what he’s doing: during one survival challenge in the Colorado Rockies, Stroud begins swearing after messing up his sentences, before saying that his goal now is simply to get some food energy before continuing.

  • In almost all episodes of Survivorman, Stroud emphasises the importance of having a good fishing tackle in one’s kit. Having the right equipment allows one to catch fish for survival, and in many of his experiences, from his time in the Colorado Rockies, to the South Pacific and Baffin Island, having fishing lines has proven critical to helping Stroud survive. In Baffin Island, for instance, a narwhal corralled Arctic Char closer to the shore, allowing Stroud to catch four fish back-to-back.

  • While Rin focuses on fishing and is initially unsuccessful, Chiaki and Nadeshiko make to gather wild edibles. Ena and Aoi gather firewood. Unlike Stroud, who does many of his Survivorman episodes alone or with one other companion, Rin and the others are together, which makes possible the division of labour. Yuru Camp△ also removes the necessity of having to haul sixty pounds of camera gear around, allowing the girls to focus entirely on survival.

  • When Chiaki and Nadeshiko recover some of their provisions, it turns out that there was a single cup of instant noodles (and perhaps, a bottle of water, since they are able to cook the instant noodles) that the girls provision. By the time the cup reaches Chiaki, it’s nearly empty. She attempts to open a coconut and only gets a limited amount of juice out of it. One of the aspects that Survival Camp did not depict is the acquisition of fresh water; surrounded by ocean, desert islands do not always have a readily-available supply of fresh water for use. However, some islands have a freshwater lens that can be reached by digging a well, and other islands may be large enough to have flowing water, so it stands to reason that there’s freshwater somewhere on the island that the girls are on.

  • As food stores are depleted, the girls wonder about their odds of survival and become gloomy in disposition. Stroud notes that one of the biggest make-or-break factor in survival is the will to live, and as morale fades, so does the desire to continue living. Contributing to this is boredom, which is why in some episodes of Survivorman, where Stroud has a few free moments, he spends it making makeshift items, such as oil lamps or fishing floats that can help him out. Besides occupying his time and giving him focus, crafting things also gives him additional tools for survival.

  • Because Nadeshiko and the others are in a group, however, this confers on the girls an advantage: they can support one another and boost one another’s morale. Watching Ena sleeping peacefully also gives everyone a sense of normalcy: that Ena can rest easily reassures the girls, as well. Aoi mentions that their situation is no different than camping, albeit with less gear and in a place they are not familiar with, giving everyone a second wind and taking their minds off hunger for a moment.

  • The next morning, Rin awakens bright and early to fish. Meanwhile, Chiaki’s found a massive store of bananas somewhere on the island. A member of the musa genus, Bananas are native to tropical Indomalaya and Australia, and are thought to have first been domesticated in Papua New Guinea. Rich in starch, bananas become sweeter as they ripen, and are good sources of potassium. It is my go-to fruit when I’m in a hurry.

  • One of my biggest questions is how Chiaki is able to go bananas finding seedless bananas: in commercially-available bananas, the seeds are tiny, but in natural bananas, there are large, tough seeds that would prevent the bananas from being eaten as we normally would. This inconsistency is a minor detail I am willing to overlook, since this is a Yuru Camp△ post and not a post on the history of banana cultivation in human civilisation: the fact is that Chiaki has found bananas and this gives the girls renewed energy.

  • Rin, meanwhile, succeeds in catching a very large fish, enough to adequately make a delicious dinner. Different fishes have different flavours and textures, and similarly, different fishes have different nutritional contents, as well. However, in a survival situation, most fishes are an excellent food source, being rich in protein and fat, and survival guides also note that fishing is less energy intensive than setting up traps or going hunting for small game or birds with makeshift weapons. Les Stroud would say that one should always be mindful of their surroundings and do whatever is necessary: proactive survival is how one gets through difficult situations, and just because one has fish does not mean they can’t continue finding alternative food sources, as well.

  • With Rin’s catch, the finding of suitable coconuts and a steady supply of bananas on the island means that food’s been taken care of. The process of cleaning out the fish is likewise skipped over in Yuru Camp△ because it’s a bit of a bloody operation, and Survivorman has a disclaimer saying that gutting a fish might not be suitable for all audiences. In a survival situation, almost all parts of the fish can be eaten, including the heart and liver. The intestines, on the other hand, should be discarded or recycled as bait.

  • Because Chiaki received the short end of the stick earlier, I’d figured that I’d have a screenshot of her taking a bite of fish and savouring the moment. Nadeshiko suggests using the banana leaves to cook the fish in, and it’s shown that the girls managed to find some coconuts with more edible components than they previously had. At different stages, coconuts may provide oil and meat that both can be consumed. Rich in carbohydrates, fats and proteins, coconut meat is also high in manganese, zinc and iron.

  • The last time I saw people eating fish by night on a beach in a survival situation was in the Costa Rica, where Stroud survives on a coastal beach. Here, he uses a deliberately broken ballpoint pen and fashions a makeshift spear that he uses to catch a fish. Cooking it and enjoying it under moonlight, Stroud remarks that one of the hazards he faces while preparing fresh meat and fish for consumption is that the smell of blood can attract predators to his location. Yuru Camp△ again abstracts out this element, allowing the girls to enjoy their dinner in peace without imminent threat from sharks.

  • After their fish dinner, the girls decide to cook some bananas over the fire, and end up with a melt-in-your-mouth dessert that is delicious beyond words. Chiaki is elated that her bananas are delicious and fashions herself a Pacific-style dress, dancing about joyfully. While grass skirts are long associated with Hawaiian culture, they originate from the Gilbert Islands and Samoa, being brought to Hawaii by immigrants. The banana crown and staff are a bit excessive, and are likely present in Yuru Camp△ to indicate the girls’ carefree approach to all things.

  • Nadeshiko is seen here holding a frisbee made from banana leaves, attesting to their versatility. Besides their applications in cooking (banana leaves leave food with a slightly sweet flavour), their resilient, flexible, waterproof structure means they can be fashioned into a variety of things, including roofing materials and plates. Natural materials are often well-suited for human constructs; being able to use the environment so well (and communicating what works to future generations) is what allowed people to inhabit every part of the world.

  • Early trailers for the Yuru Camp△ OVA portrayed Chiaki, Aoi, Rin, Nadeshiko and Ena running around in swimwear on a tropical island, leading folks to wonder if fanservice was going to be a major component of the OVA. However, with the OVA in the books, it’s quite clear that Yuru Camp△ has no intent of going down that route. Consider that the well-endowed Aoi is wearing a shirt, and so, despite the opportunity for animators to draw in viewers, their choice not to signifies that Yuru Camp△ is very much about camping, not unnecessary fanservice.

  • In Yuru Camp△, the fanservice is largely confined to the variety that viewers find enjoyable; besides a high attention to detail, Yuru Camp△ also presents various environments beautifully. Here, Nadeshiko swims underwater adjacent to corals, with reef fishes visible in both the foreground and background. Although I cannot readily identify the fish in the foreground, it is clear that these are coral reef fishes; these fish are characterised by a flat body, which is evolved for maneuverability and sharp turns among corals.

  • The imagery seen in Survival Camp’s latter half is what most people think of whenever tropical islands are mentioned, being warm paradises fitting to live on. However, as Les Stroud constantly mentions, beautiful settings often hide danger underneath. Tropical islands may be surrounded by shark-infested waters, or else lack a good water source. Intense sunlight can quickly lead to a heat stroke, and food may be scarce.

  • Of course, strict adherence to realism makes for a much less interesting work of fiction. This fiction presents sound in space, fireball explosions and uncommonly distinct gunfire noises. Similarly, had Yuru Camp△ elected to go with a completely realistic approach, the series would not have the same appeal that it did: Yuru Camp△ is realistic to a reasonable extent, but is completely authentic. In fiction, authenticity refers to how faithfully things create (or recreate) an environment, design or feel for something, while realism is how faithfully behaviours, conditions and situations are. Works can be authentic without being realistic, and for the most part, an authentic and unrealistic work would typically be very enjoyable.

  • Yuru Camp△ is a series that is very authentic and largely realistic, which contributes to its entertainment value. The OVA is a lot less realistic, but being an OVA offers writers some creative freedoms that end up giving viewers twelve minutes of fun. Here, Chiaki displays a hitherto unknown skill in surfing, riding a wave on a piece of driftwood as a makeshift board.

  • Enough time has passed for the girls to craft comfortable beach chairs for themselves. Here, they begin playing Shiritori, a word game where players form the next word using the previous word’s kana. It’s frequently seen in anime and requires at least two players. Players can only use nouns, and using ん or repeating a word results in an instant loss. More sophisticated versions of the game involve using specific subsets of words or kana patterns, and the most similar equivalent in English is called “word chain”. Variations of this game also exist, and it’s typically used as a teaching tool.

  • Amidst the warm tropical weather, Ena’s fallen asleep again. What was a survival situation has turned into a very laid-back camping trip for the girls, and it is perhaps this reason that high school girls are more able to create a highly relaxing atmosphere in an anime version of SurvivormanSurvivorman episodes can be a bit stressful to watch, especially when Les Stroud finds himself in difficult situations brought on by weather conditions, wildlife or bad luck.

  • As tempting as a tropical paradise would be for a vacation spot, and as much as I enjoyed Cancún’s unparalleled weather and waters, I find that my ideal vacation spot would be the West Coast Rainforests and Inside Passage of British Columbia, coastal Alaska, or the Fjords of Norway. There’s a charm about coastal mountains, and having visited Alaska some fifteen years previously, I would love for an opportunity to go back.

  • When the girls realise that they’ve been stuck on the desert island for some time, they immediately make to get help, leading to the scene seen in the episode’s beginning where Nadeshiko, Aoi, Rin and Chiaki are running through the forest, seemingly in a panic, for some unknown destination. The ending of the OVA makes it clear that the girls are trying to be rescued, and so, after sprinting to the island’s outcrop, where Rin had been fishing earlier, they shout out in an adorable manner for help.

  • The incidental music is intended to remind audiences, who remain unconvinced otherwise, that they are supposed to find this moment funny and pitiful, as well. The English seen in Survival Camp is passable, and while I know that folks may criticise Engrish (a phenomenon where a lack of familiarity causes a speaker or writer to butcher English, often in hilarious ways), the fact is that people should be commended for trying to use a language they aren’t familiar with. For instance, I have great respect when people try to speak Cantonese when they are learning it.

  • The episode closes by zooming out and revealing that Nadeshiko and the others are located quite close to Mount Fuji, suggesting the island is located in the Sagami-nada Sea. Given the proximity of the coast, and the shape of the island, I would guess that the desert island of Yuru Camp△ is modelled after Hatsushima, which is located six kilometers off the coast of Japan and in real life, is home to around 215 people, a resort and no volcanic mountain. From the air, at around the same angle the island of Yuru Camp△ is shown in, Mount Fuji is indeed visible. This brings my talk on Yuru Camp△’s third OVA to a close, and not a moment too soon: it would turn out there’s another closed alpha for Battlefield V starting later today.

Survival Camp’s runtime, at twelve minutes, might be shorter than that of a standard episode, but nonetheless manages to fully occupy its runtime with the high-energy, adorable antics and adventures that Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena find themselves in while on a tropical island. The premise of ditching a plane and landing on an tropical island within visual sight of Mount Fuji is a little whacky, and the OVA’s place in Yuru Camp△ proper is difficult to pinpoint, but none of these elements seem so relevant when audiences see the girls doing their best to survive in their own way, all the while making the most of the moment to have a good time. Yuru Camp△ has long been counted as one of the strongest anime of the Winter 2018 season, and while we’ve had two modestly enjoyable OVAs following a solid finish to the first season, the Survival Camp OVA demonstrates that Yuru Camp△ is a series whose characters and set up are versatile enough such that they can be applied to a variety of situations and settings. That Nadeshiko and the others’ time on the tropical island progresses with equal measure hilarity and adherence to what is realistic shows that the sky is the limit for what OVAs in Yuru Camp△ can be about. Of course, I do not anticipate that C-Station would have the rights to remake Survivorman and switch out Les Stroud for the likes of Nadeshiko, Rin, Chiako, Aoi and Ena, but the fact remains is that clever writing and resourceful use of camping as a premise has allowed for Yuru Camp△ to remain highly engaging. I greatly enjoyed the OVA, and strongly recommend it for everyone who has seen Yuru Camp△ and found it agreeable: given the strong sales of this series, and the fact that the manga is ongoing, a continuation seems very likely, but until then, OVAs such as Survival Camp will be a fine way of extending the fun from watching this series.

I Won’t Break: Harukana Receive Impressions and Review At The Halfway Point

“I’m really gonna wipe you now.”
“Bring it on, bro!”

Finn and Jake, Adventure Time

Emily discerns that Kanata’s game plan with pokies must have another goal, and back on the court, Kanata is able to send the ball across the court. Mai is exhausted in trying to keep up, slipping on the sand and slowing in her ability to receive the ball. Harukana thus catches up on the scoreboard. They reach the match point, and Haruka realises that she can use a drop shot after Ai spikes the ball: this unexpected action allows Harukana to win over Aimai. In the aftermath, Haruka and Kanata are overjoyed to have won their first game as a pair and embrace, while Ai and Mai resolve to continue playing beach volleyball as a pair, with both confiding in the other that they were worried about letting the other down. The junior tournament winds down with Claire and Emily victorious; Haruka and Kanata were defeated in their second round. Undeterred, Haruka remarks that she’s greatly enjoying the experience, and when Claire announces that there are two slots for the Valkyrie Cup, a national-level competition, the girls resolve to train hard and meet one another at the national tournament. Kanata begins drilling Haruka on hand signals, and in the post-credits scene, Akari asks Kanata if she’s a member of their high school’s beach volleyball club. We thus reach the halfway point for Harukana Receive, and with six episodes in the books, Harukana Receive has remained very consistent with expectations as to what sort of messages it intends audiences to take away from the series: sportsmanship, self-discovery and improvement are core to Harukana Receive, and nowhere is this more apparent than with novice Haruka, whose spirits seem imperturbable. Instead on dwelling on loss and failure, Haruka is always intent on pursuing the next challenge, and this drive is beginning to move the needle for Kanata, as well.

Interpersonal growth is evidently the core of Harukana Receive: beach volleyball merely acts as the vessel for driving the narrative, providing something concrete and tangible that the characters can work towards. Had Harukana Receive done something similar with ping-pong or tennis, the messages would still hold true as they do now. It is clear that both Haruka and Kanata are learning: Kanata strives to teach Haruka more of the technical elements, while Haruka’s energy continues to inspire and motivate Kanata. However, I am perhaps unique in thinking about the series in this manner: discussions elsewhere have fixated on technical elements surrounding Kanata’s strategies, and purport that the approach Kanata took towards besting Aimai will not be viable against any skilled pair. While it is the case that Haruka and Kanata lose their next round, Harukana Receive chooses deliberately to not show this round; this indicates that the details underlying beach volleyball matter less than interpersonal and intrapersonal growth. Matches are shown when they contribute to a pair’s development, and from the looks of things, omitted when specific details are not immediately relevant to the thematic aspects. As a result, I hold that looking up the fundamentals of beach volleyball and then trying to apply them to discredit Kanata is to miss the point of what Harukana Receive is about. The series is not the novice’s introduction to beach volleyball, it is about how it sometimes takes a bit of disruption for people to change their status quo and the sorts of learnings one picks up after this disruption occurs.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the past week, it’s been non-stop discussions about why Kanata’s repeated use of pokies are unwise and the like. I will say this outright: anyone who’s acting like they know beach volleyball when their only exposure to it was through Harukana Receive should take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves what they’ve made of their lives. The phenomenon is colloquially referred to as “Engineer’s syndrome”, but applies to all disciplines involving expertise. The short of it is that folks who are highly skilled in one area imagine that their abilities may also extend outside of their field.

  • To act like one knows more than they do only results up in humiliation when anyone learned in the matter (beach volleyball, in this case) actually enters the discussion. As a result, I’ve not placed too much focus on the technical aspects of the sport because I do not feel that I can adequately cover it, although even if an anime does deal with my areas of expertise (biology and software development), I will not bother with technical details more than is necessary because it is not my intent or duty to provide an undergraduate’s introduction to those areas.

  • I further wonder why Manga Time Kirara shows are especially susceptible to discussions where people present themselves as being more knowledgeable than they are on various topics. I would speculate the presence of attractive female characters subconsciously inspires a desire to impress among some individuals; if the reason isn’t actually thus and is something else, I’d love to hear about it. We finally return to Harukana Receive proper, where exhaustion is driving Mai to make increasingly poor plays.

  • While discussions raged about on whether or not Kanata’s tactics were efficacious, I already was convinced that with Kanata’s experience, she picked her approach for a reason. However, messing with an opponent isn’t always the most viable of tactics and only really works if one is going against folks who are weaker than oneself: consider the example of Battlefield, where I sometimes roll with unusual loadouts (such as repair tool or Kolibri-only) for an assignment or amusement. Against poor players, it can be amusing, but against skilled players who are playing for keeps, frustration results.

  • Just so search engines do not get the wrong idea, there is no imminent threat to Mai here: she’s merely drenched from having exerted herself to the extent that she did. Admittedly, without any context, people’s imaginations may run a little wild imaging the sort of beating that Aimai is on the receiving end of, or even the sorts of things that shall never be mentioned here. This turn of events is what motivates the page quote, which is sourced from Adventure Time‘s “Who Would Win” episode, when Jake and Finn are fighting one another. After falling down a canyon, Jake and Finn’s fight gets desperate, devolving into a variety of dirty moves.

  • The pacing of the match’s second half is a bit more dynamic, although slow motion stills are still very much the norm in Harukana Receive. I would tend to think that this is also deliberate, to give viewers a much better idea of what the players themselves are thinking at various stages of a match. Close-ups allows this story to be told, and since facial expressions can convey feelings quite effectively, it further stands to reason that the human aspects of beach volleyball are rather more relevant than the technical.

  • At the halfway point, Haruka remains my favourite character, although Claire’s a very close second, as well. As this match progresses, Haruka is still in the process of learning, and while she may have raw talent, her skill level is not quite there yet: she lacks precision. However, with her own innate talent and suggestions from those around her, Haruka picks things up very quickly. The choice to have Haruka as being a natural athlete means that her advances in skill are not so jarring, in turn allowing for the story to progress without being constrained by Haruka’s ability to play beach volleyball.

  • As the match between Harukana and Aimai progresses, things become a bit more tense as the scores draw even. Insofar, pacing in Harukana Receive is much less even in that some episodes cover a considerable amount of ground with respect to character development, and others focus on beach volleyball in a blow-by-blow capacity. This could make the series’ objectives unclear, inducing a sense not dissimilar to sea-sickness. However, much like how looking at the horizon can help alleviate sea-sickness, the pacing in Harukana Receive is less of a bother if one watches it from a higher-level perspective.

  • The inconsistencies in Harukana Receive means that some episodes will invariably have a great deal of content to cover, and in others, things will be slower, forcing me to get creative with my writing. However, the one thing in Harukana Receive that’s keeping me around, even ahead of Haruka’s aesthetically-pleasing figure, is the fact that every episode (so far) is set under a brilliantly blue summer sky. The forest fires a province over have returned, meaning that in my area, the skies are smoky and hazy now, saturated with ash and dulling the sun. By comparison, Harukana Receive provides consistently beautiful weather.

  • Yesterday was said to be the hottest day in Calgary’s history: the termometer reached 36.8ºC, eclipsing the previous record of 36.1ºC (which was reached on July 15, 1919, and July 25, 1933). After arriving at the airport, I was hit with a wall of heat when walking through the jet bridge. Things have thankfully cooled off for the weekend, and after a full day of smoke yesterday, a thunderstorm rolled in when I was sitting down to dinner. Back in Harukana Receive, one of the things that the show does excel at, through the use of slow-motion moments, is to building suspense and anticipation for the outcome of a particular rally.

  • After Harukana manage to even the scores up, Claire attempts to signal to Haruka, who is at a complete loss as to what Claire’s message is. The Thomas sisters appear to be very serious and no-nonsense on first glance, and while Emily remains quite quiet, Claire is rather boisterous under most circumstances. This dichotomy is one of the reasons that I’m so fond of Eclaire.

  • I’ve heard arguments that people take Harukana Receive seriously because the show takes itself seriously. However, because of how comedy figures in Harukana Receive, such as Haruka’s total confusion at what Claire is trying to say to her, it stands to reason that Harukana Receive cannot be approached with this mindset. The balance of serious and humourous means that while good discussion can be had, people should not be tearing characters down when they act in a manner that may seem contrary to common sense. I liken watching Harukana Receive to watching an MCU film: there’s definitely meaningful topics being explored, although the humour also reminds audiences to also enjoy the show.

  • I doubt I’ll get tired of featuring Haruka screenshots: I’ve heard complaints about fanservice in Harukana Receive, and to exacerbate things further, here’s a random bit of trivia. Haruka’s given name is Ōzora, 大空. But, in Cantonese, 空 (jyutping hung1, “sky”) is phoenetically identical to 胸 (jyutping hung1, “chest”). So, all I hear is “大胸 Haruka”, which lends itself to some hilarity for Cantonese speakers (I’m not going to bother explaining the joke, as sticking this into any machine translator will quickly show why I won’t go into more details). With this being said, I don’t think Haruka’s the most stacked of anyone in the cast, and further remark that this joke does not work in Mandarin Chinese (空 is kōng and 胸 is xiōng).

  • Kanata later aims a serve deliberately out of bounds to score a point by surprising Aimai. Compensating for wind is another aspect of beach volleyball that Kanata’s using to her advantage, and this point sets the stage for Haruka’s drop shot, which ends up winning the game. When I played badminton as a student, the one move I was ill-equipped to deal with were drop shots. Haruka’s realisation that this can be a powerful tool comes in a timely manner, and with this, Harukana’s first game is over.

  • Without further context, this image could also get me turfed from search engines, so I will explain what’s going on here. After Haruka scores the game-winning point, Kanata is overjoyed and makes to hug Haruka, knocking her over in the process. There’s nothing dicy going on whatsoever, despite the use of this style of imagery in other series to imply thus: I would prefer that viewers think of this as what happens when players score goals in ice hockey and embrace one another after each goal.

  • At the end of the day, sportsmanship and other interpersonal skills matters more than technical aspects of beach volleyball. Harukana and Aimai thank one another for a good match before parting ways. On my end, I definitely have embraced the idea that soft skills are more important than technical skills in an individual now – technical skill can be taught and learned to a reasonable extent, but it is much harder to cultivate good people skills. As a result, I tend to respect folks with good soft skills even if their technical skills are slightly weaker, and on that note, I will not automatically give respect to people with strong technical skills if they are lacking people skills.

  • Par the course for a Manga Time Kirara series, defeat does not mark the end of the road. After Mai and Ai tearfully make their feelings and intents clear to one another, they decide to stick it out and continue playing beach volleyball, having found that their time together has, more than anything, created a powerful friendship between the two that made their journey together in beach volleyball worth it.

  • Haruka and Kanata are defeated by their next opponent – considering that Harukana Receive does not show how this occurs, it further gives credibility to the fact that specific details to beach volleyball aren’t as relevant. In spite of this loss, Haruka is elated to have been able to complete and test their capabilities. The series is advancing a bit more quickly than I thought it would: the junior tournament is already over, and the girls set their sights on the national-level Valkyrie Cup.

  • The stakes are rapidly increasing at the halfway point, although Haruka’s happy-go-lucky disposition and Claire’s antics prevent Harukana Receive from being full-on serious. I anticipate that the lessons that Haruka and Kanata learn along their journey will remain at the forefront of the narrative. It is meaningless to break down individual plays as TSN or Sportsnet do – understanding specifics behind how Harukana play their game is insignificant next to seeing the journey of growth and self-discovery that each of Haruka and Kanata experience, and if one wanted serious beach volleyball discussions, they would do better to watch the sport for real, rather than an anime about it.

  • When Kanata drills Haruka on hand signals, her turtle manages to give correct answers before Haruka does, leading to another amusing moment. Post-credits, Akari speaks with Kanata for the first time: she’s apparently a first year student, which means that previous speculations of her being a coach are incorrect. Her role in the upcoming episodes will be of interest, and with this, I cross the finish line for the halfway point talk. I will be able to write about episode seven on time, and I anticipate that the talk for episode eight will have similar scheduling to this post.

Moving into Harukana Receive‘s second half, I am excited to see how Harukana improve their performance: it seems that Claire’s called in a favour from their mother, and once the skill gap becomes a lesser concern, I expect that Harukana Receive will be able to continue dealing with character growth and convey this message to audiences. Focusing on the specifics behind beach volleyball techniques and ignoring the bigger picture will invariably diminish enjoyment of this series; Harukana Receive is not about providing specific instruction on how to play beach volleyball, but rather, focuses on how disruption can be a positive force of change for individuals. I’m excited to see how far Haruka and Kanata will go, and in the upcoming episodes, it would appear that Akari will formally be introduced to the cast. As well, Haruka and Kanata may receive some special training from Claire and Emily’s mother, which will give the two increased performance. As the girls improve their technique, their judgement will improve with it, allowing the pair to make better decisions and play in a match. All the while, audiences will doubtlessly be treated to a visually appealing show that has plenty of compelling reasons to hold one’s attention well beyond the slow-motion frames (and the associated opportunities to stare at Haruka’s body) that have come to dominate Harukana Receive‘s beach volleyball sequences.

Shikioriori (Flavours of Youth): A Review and Full Recommendation, and Insights into Chinese Culture

浪奔 浪流 萬里滔滔江水永不休
淘盡了 世間事 混作滔滔一片潮流
是喜 是愁 浪裡分不清歡笑悲憂
成功 失敗 浪裡看不出有未有

—上海灘 (The Bund, opening song, 1980)

Flavours of Youth is an animated anthology that is directed by Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing and Yoshitaka Takeuchi and produced by Noritaka Kawaguchi. Releasing internationally on August 4, Flavours of Youth (spelt Flavors of Youth in The United States, known in Japan as Shikioriori (詩季織々) and Si shi qing chun (肆式青春) in China) follows the stories of three youth in China. The first act, Sunny Breakfast, follows Beijing salaryman Xiao Ming (小明, jyutping siu2 ming4), who recalls fond memories of enjoying noodles with his grandmother. As he grows older, and the world changes around him, the things he liked greatly become more distant. One day, after eating the noodles in a Beijing eatery and missing those of his youth, Xiao Ming receives a call from his parents, prompting him to return home, where his grandmother passes away. Devastated, Xiao Ming nonetheless feels that time will heal the hurt, and that his memories of his grandmother will endure because some things never change. The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou. As the story starts, model Yi Lin (依琳, jyutping ji1 lam4) misses celebrating her birthday with her younger sister, Lulu (璐璐, jyutping lou6 lou6). She explains that she wants to both be a good sister and a successful model. However, in order to retain her physical appearance, Yi Lin exercises regularly and maintains a watchful eye over her diet. The stresses of her work, and fear of being replaced by a younger, more attractive model leads her to succumb to an eating disorder: while working on a modelling event, she collapses. She reawakens in the hospital with Lulu by her side, and contemplates quitting modelling. After a fight with Lulu, her manager, Steve(史蒂夫, jyutping si2 dai3 fu1), convinces her to give modelling one more go, and she is surprised to learn that she will model the clothes that Lulu designed. Finding that balance between work and family, Yi Lin continues modelling, with Lulu designing many of the clothes that she wears. The final act is set in Shanghai and appropriately titled Love in Shanghai. It opens with architect Limo (李墨, jyutping lei5 mak6) moving into a new apartment to focus on his career with help from Pan, his friend. He finds an old cassettes from Xia Xiao Yu (夏小雨, jyutping haa6 siu2 jyu5) and rushes off to his grandparents’ home located nearby, which is scheduled for demolition. Listening to the cassette, he relives his friendship with Xiao Yu, a studious girl who had plans to attend a prodigious high school. Determined to follow her, Limo puts his full efforts into studying for the entrance exam for the same school. Although he is accepted, Xiao Yu is not. Over time, their paths separate, but upon hearing the cassettes’ content, he is encouraged to follow his dream of running an inn. Some years later, he encounters Xiao Yu while running his inn, when she checks in as a guest. In the post-credits scene, Xiao Ming, Yi Lin, Lulu, Limo, Xiao Yu and Pan cross paths at an airport, separately setting off for their next great adventures.

Similar to Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres per Second, Flavours of Youth is a three-part anthology animated by Comix Wave, and as such, shares the incredible visual fidelity with Makoto Shinkai’s movies. However, this is where the similarities end. Set in China, Flavours of Youth deals with a completely different set of thematic elements: love and distance are fleeting elements, overshadowed by themes of change. Whether it be the fading and rediscovery of memories through the taste of homemade noodles, changes in one’s career that also reinforces family bonds or how a changing cityscape sees people separated and reunited, Flavours of Youth illustrates, through each of its three acts, the transience and fleetingness of life itself. Things change, become replaced, forgotten, and occasionally, are found again: nothing in life is absolute, and each of Xiao Ming, Yi Lin and Limo live their lives out, making new discoveries and learnings with each passing day. While their experiences are steered by circumstances around them, all of the characters have agency – they learn to take ownership of their decisions and own the moment with their experiences. In doing so, Xiao Ming comes to terms with his grandmother’s death, Yi Lin finds new life in her family and career, and Limo ends up following a dream he’d lost sight of. These seemingly disparate stories ultimately act as dramatically different representations of dealing with change in one’s life, and in China, a country known for its radical change (in the past five decades, China has gone from a backwater nation to a regional power), the pace at which things advance can be quite dizzying. Through Flavours of Youth, it is shown that people embrace change in their own way, being focused in their own livelihoods. As such, the changes to Chinese society and China as a whole, do not seem so overwhelming to individuals who are simply working their hardest to better their own situations.

On Chinese Culture

While Flavours of Youth may sport the same visual style as a Makoto Shinkai film, its cultural aspects are completely different, and admittedly, it is a bit surprising to see Chinese people display the occasional mannerism typically seen in anime. However, this is a very minor element in Flavours of Youth, and I am more impressed with the cultural elements that the film does portray. I can say this with authority because I am of Chinese heritage (specifically, Cantonese Canadian): it was quite striking to see the things I see every day (and occasionally, take for granted) in an anime film that is a collaboration between Japanese and Chinese people. There are three separate cultural elements, one for each act. Sunny Breakfast is an ode to the San Xian noodles (三鮮麵, jyutping saam1 sin1 min6): noodles are as widespread as rice in China, and the importance of food in Chinese culture is such that asking if one’s eaten (“你食咗飯未呀?”, jyutping “nei5 sik6 zo2 faan6 mei6 aa1”) is a common salutation amongst Cantonese speakers. Far beyond a means of sustenance, the preparation and sharing of meals is a core part of our culture, with eating together being a big deal for the Chinese. It is not uncommon to spend hours for people to spend time at the dinner table, partaking in food and conversation, so while it may seem excessive for Xiao Ming to describe San Xian noodles in such detail, the truth of the matter is that the Chinese greatly value food, the inventiveness of making use of anything available to cook, and sharing time together as a result of meals. In A Small Fashion Show, family is core: traditionally, families figured prominently in Chinese culture, with youth raising their families and looking after their parents. However, with the rapid industrialisation of China, and with more people seeking higher education and stable careers, traditional values are upheld with less frequency as people focus on their work and a good income. Yi Lin is a model trying to hold onto both – a part of Chinese culture is that there are more expectations placed on the older siblings, and Yi Lin initially struggles to be the responsible older sister for Lulu, but the competitiveness of her occupation makes it difficult to keep up. In the end, it is a creative and inventive solution that Lulu helps Yi Lin see, that allows her to strike a balance between making it as a model and also being a good older sister for Lulu, showing that a merger of traditional and new ways is the norm as the Chinese continue to advance.

Finally, Love in Shanghai deals with notions of parental expectations and collectivism versus individualism. Seemingly a story about separation and reunion, the “love” in Love in Shanghai also refers to love for a career path and a dream. While longing to run his own inn, looking after the small details and the happiness of those around him, Limo follows a more traditional path, studying hard to gain admittance into good schools in preparation for a corporate job that he’s unable to fit into. The Chinese are rather (and perhaps unfortunately) well known for its focus on high grades and higher education – parents, having seen the power of education and the potential career stability it may bring, push their children to excel in school. This creates a culture where rote memorisation and test taking is valued above creative thinking and ingenuity. Successful individuals may not be happy, and it is the case where this drive to be the best places extreme stress on students. Limo is able to succeed with his education but works in a career at odds with his own interests. His first love, to run an inn, is rediscovered, and Limo is able to do something that seems quite easy for North Americans: he ends up following his dreams with the right spark. I mentioned earlier that I am Cantonese Chinese, but my parents ended up imbibing Canadian values into my upbringing – at a young age, my parents emphasised that effort and the determination to do well matters more than the result itself. So as long as I gave an honest effort into what I did, the results would follow if it were something I enjoyed doing. As such, I never had the pressure of needing to score perfect on everything I did and was free to discover what I enjoyed doing. At the same time, my parents stressed finding something that I could make a career out of while at once doing it – when my aspirations for going into medicine shifted, they accepted my decision for going into software so as long as I could make it work. Finding the middle of the road between traditional and contemporary approaches in education and careers is something that the older generation still struggle with; in a world that is ever-changing, I feel that, again, striking a balance between the old and new will be essential in raising a generation of forward-thinkers ready to handle whatever the world throws at them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Reception towards Flavours of Youth have been polar opposites – either viewers will like this film, or they will not. Right from the start, I will note that Flavours of Youth is not the place for a cohesive, life-changing narrative about anything in particular. It is a series of snapshots, momentary glimpses into a world that audiences rarely see, and as such, one should not enter the film with the expectations that they will see a Makoto Shinkai-style love story.

  • For this post, I’ve gone above the usual standard number of screenshots, and feature a grand total of sixty images from the movie. Further to this, I’ve included the jyutping pronunciations for everything in this post to give readers an idea of how to read everything in Cantonese. Like Makoto Shinkai’s films, there are a large number of highly spectacular moments in Flavours of Youth, whether they be landscapes, such as the rice paddies of Hunan province here, or closeups of common everyday items, such as the richly depicted bowl of San Xian noodles above: every detail, from the fried egg, to the pork, seaweed and shiitake (冬菇, jyutping dung1 gu1), is shown vividly.

  • Xiao Ming is the central character of the first act. The story is told from his perspective: he is precise and detail-oriented, poetically describing his favourite noodles and memories in his youth. For anyone who studied Chinese, they will immediately be familiar with the name Xiao Ming, which is akin to “John Doe” in English with respect to usage. Before diving any further into Flavours of Youth, I remark that Netflix spells “flavours” with the American spelling, Flavors of Youth, but I retain the Canadian spelling by muscle memory. In order to make this post visible to search engines, which I am guessing will be aggregating the film by American spelling, I make it a deliberate point to mention the original American spelling.

  • The Chinese countryside is not a setting that is often depicted in fiction outside of Chinese dramas and epic films: smaller villages remain as they have since the Qing or even Ming Dynasty, and here, snow falls over Xiao Ming’s home village. Because of its humid, subtropical climate, it is generally quite warm in Hunan, although there are four distinct seasons, and winters are surprisingly cold: snow is not uncommon, so seeing snow fall in Xiao Ming’s village is not implausible.

  • Hunan province is so-called for being literally south of Lake Dongting. Being the seventh-most populated province in China, and tenth largest, Hunan is strategically located on the Yangtze River and its warm climate is conducive towards agriculture – Hunan’s grain production was historically high, and this is why wheat noodles are such a staple of the area. Despite a few peasant uprisings in its history, Hunan remained relatively peaceful until the Qing dynasty collapsed.

  • One aspect of life that Xiao Ming notices changing around him are the noodles: as he grows older, and spends more time away from home, he feels that the craftsmanship that goes into each bowl of noodles is lessened. This is a consequence of the fact that Xiao Ming fondly remembers the time spent with his grandmother. Rather than the food itself, the taste of the food reminds him of specific, happy moments in his childhood, and this is why things seem to be diminishing with time, as Xiao Ming becomes busier. The operative word here is “seem” – in his monologues, Xiao Ming mentions that the noodles themselves aren’t necessarily bad, just different.

  • Love stories are subtly present in each act of Flavours of Youth, although they are so fleeting that they might better be characterised as a tertiary aspect: each protagonist deals with their feelings of love slightly differently, but it never becomes so persuasive as to define their narrative. Xiao Ming develops a bit of a crush on a girl with short, brown hair that passes by the noodle shop he frequents every morning, although neither make an effort to talk to one another. Many potential romances come and go in life: it’s possible to develop a bit of a crush on someone without ever feeling compelled to act on these feelings.

  • I note that while I enjoyed Flavours of Youth, there are many who find the film quite unwatchable. The reason why this is the case is simply because Flavours of Youth takes a highly unstructured, fragmented approach to its stories. It is trying to capture instances in the lives of three individuals, and as such, moments are disjointed, disorganised. While not particularly conducive for a moving narrative as Five Centimeters per Second, which took three milestones and presented them in a structured manner, the approach taken in Flavours of Youth is meant to suggest the idea that life’s moments can be fleeting and unorganised. It is contrary to what makes stories rewarding to watch, since one cannot empathise readily with the protagonist by seeing the situations they find themselves in.

  • Because Hunan is the birthplace of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in September 1976, Hunan openly supported his policies and the Cultural Revolution. I consider the Cultural Revolution one of the worst calamities China has faced in its history, surpassing even the tragedies of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Mao’s lack of understanding in disciplines from industry to agriculture, meant that under his rule, China suffered: more people died in the famines resulting from the Great Leap Forwards and the Cultural Revolution than were killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and it was not until Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms that China really began to recover.

  • In the present day, Xiao Ming eats a bowl of noodles at a chain shop. Food eaten hastily alone is unmemorable: this is the consequence of living a high-paced life, and the comparison Xiao Ming strikes is meant to say that shifting values in China means that living in the moment and savouring something is slowly being lost. I get being in a hurry: when I’m in the need of something to keep me from keeling over, I won’t give much thought as to what I eat. However, when the moment allows it, I will savour what I eat, whether I’m eating on my own or with others.

  • Grievances about the film’s ability to capture Chinese culture, on the other hand, is not so easily justified – I count myself as being quite connected to Chinese culture despite my upbringing in Canada, and I find that many Chinese Canadians are quite disconnected from subtleties of their Chinese heritage. As such, when someone attempts to pass the film off as “forced drama, emotional manipulation, mindnumbing[sic] boredom, and…cheap shock factor”, I am inclined to think that such individuals lack any real understanding of what Flavours of Youth aims to convey, have no interest in Chinese culture as a whole and are instead, spewing negativity for the sake of sounding more relevant than they are. One thing should be for apparent: Flavours of Youth is most certainly not a waste of time as some purport.

  • We’ve seen the inaka, the Japanese countryside, countless times in anime, so to see the Chinese countryside in the quality of a Makoto Shinkai film was quite enjoyable. The Chinese countryside is truly vast, and has a distinctly different feel than that of the inaka as seen in anime. Here, after Xiao Ming receives word that his grandmother’s health is failing, he rushes back to his home town to see her. Flights between Beijing and Hunan take roughly two-and-a-half hours, similarly to the flight time between Calgary and Denver.

  • Xiao Ming arrives home to find it more or less as it always had been. While the urban centres of China have dramatically changed in the past two decades and matching the West in sophistication, the countryside appears to have been left behind by the times. Electricity and running water are not universal, and villages may look as they did during the Qing Dynasty. The vast size of China has made modernisation difficult, although in recent years, the government has invested in agriculture and rural infrastructure with the aim of improving opportunity in rural China.

  • I find it disingenuous to pass off the comings and goings of life as “forced drama” – it pre-supposes that only some stories are worth telling, and disregards the fact that everyone will experience challenges and successes in their life. For Xiao Ming, his challenge comes when his grandmother dies in old age. Death is a natural part of life, and I do not see Sunny Breakfast as using death for drama: instead, it is presented as an occurrence, an instrument of change, in Xiao Ming’s life.

  • As it stands, the interpretation here is more appropriate for Flavours of Youth – Xiao Ming mentins that time will heal the wounds, and he finds renewed happiness in eating a bowl of San Xian noodles while eyeing another girl in the area. Things invariably change, but other things remain the same, and with this, the first act to Flavours of Youth comes to an end.

  • The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou, which has a population of 14.5 million people as of 2017. Located in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Guangzhou is, together with Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan and Zhongshan, part of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, which has a total of 44 million people. Located just north of Hong Kong, the ultra-modern, sleek and vast Guangzhou has played a major role in modern Chinese history, being the site of foreign trade. The majority of Guangzhou’s residents are Cantonese Chinese, although their reduced contact with the Western world compared to the likes of Hong Kong means that their Cantonese is noticeably different than the Hong Kong variety.

  • I watched Flavours of Youth in Mandarin – since I could catch some of it, I concluded that it was probably Taiwanese Mandarin, which I have the least trouble understanding of all the different varieties of Mandarin. Having said this, if I were to watch Flavours of Youth in a completely authentic environment, then Sunny Breakfast would have everyone speaking Mainland Chinese (Putonghua), Love in Shanghai would see Limo and Xiao Yu speaking Shanghaiese, and Yi Lin and Lulu of A Small Fashion Show would speak Cantonese. Of all the acts, then, A Small Fashion Show would be the one where I would not need any subtitles at all to understand: despite minor differences in colloquial Cantonese with respect to slang and the like, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Cantonese are the same (similar to differences between American and British English).

  • Tall, slender and beautiful, Yi Lin is a model working in Guangzhou. With much sharper facial features than other characters, there’s no doubt that Yi Lin is supposed to be a model. One challenge in anime is the portrayal of above-average looking characters: since a lot of imperfections seen in real people are eliminated, all characters tend to look quite similar. As such, animated characters must count on exposition and interactions with other characters to convey beauty (or the lack thereof), when the visuals themselves alone cannot fully convey this.

  • Yi Lin celebrates her birthday with her coworkers: she’s presented as having a sharp tongue and is quite mindful of those around her, but is never seen as being arrogant or conceited. With this being said, Yi Lin is very much into her career, and so, when she celebrates here, the scene shifts momentarily to back home, where Lulu, her younger sister, is waiting for her with a home-made cake. Yi Lin suddenly remembers her promise to be with Lulu, whose patience has run out.

  • When a man that Yi Lin appears to hold feelings for introduces her to a younger model and remarks that this new, younger model might just be what the market is looking for, Yi Lin’s confidence takes a hit. Modelling is a highly difficult, arduous career: requiring not only a very particular set of skills, but also exceptional attention paid to one’s appearance. There are some aspects of one’s appearance that simply cannot be overcome, such as aging, and so, one might no longer be suited for modelling even if their skills remain intact. This is a very sobering thought, and acts as a constant reminder that each and every occupation has its own enjoyable aspects and drawbacks. When Yi Lin is faced with this prospect, she grows frustrated and downs an entire glass of red wine.

  • Returning home hammered, Yi Lin shares dinner with Lulu and her manager, Steve. Yi Lin is a lot more casual at home, and Steve remarks that this is an unexpected side of her he’d previously not seen. Lulu is still a student and has a profound interest in fashion design. It is clear that the two sisters are very close – Lulu is quite understanding of the difficulties that Yi Lin faces, being very patient of Yi Lin’s more unruly, lazy side and doing her best to support her nonetheless. The next morning, the linger effects of a hangover results in Yi Lin very nearly being late for work.

  • Yi Lin explains to audiences that she wants to both be successful in her career and simultaneously be a reliable, respectable older sister for Lulu. This want for everything places a tremendous amount of pressure on her, but it also shows that Yi Lin is very ambitious and committed to the things that drive her. As a consequence, I do not feel that greedy, at least in English, is the most appropriate term to describe Yi Lin.

  • Here, Steve and Li Yin share a conversation after Yi Lin fails an audition. Steve decides to slot Yi Lin into another show, and also relays a message from Lulu. Remarking that Lulu’s asking him because she doesn’t answer, the moment also reveals that Yi Lin’s bothered by her job to a nontrivial extent. With thoughts of growing too old to model on her mind, Yi Lin’s eating habits begin to shift, as well, foreshadowing the agent of change in Yi Lin’s life.

  • I remarked earlier that I was abroad for software development work, which is why this week’s Harukana Receive post is a little delayed. I’m a little surprised at how quickly this week’s passed by, and while it’s been very busy, I’m also forcing myself to slow back down outside of work hours to regroup. Besides exercising and gaming, one of my favourite ways of unwinding is to enjoy my meals: I haven’t lifted or opened an FPS all week, but I did have a chance to try the food of Denver. My first evening, I sat down to a crunchy and tasty tonkatsu with rice, tempura and California rolls. On evening two, I had a three course meal, with crab-stuffed swordfish and blackened prawns as the entrée. I’ve not had swordfish in quite some time; it’s got a sweet and slightly oily flavour to it that proved enjoyable.

  • Finally, on my final evening, I had a Mexican-style steak with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and rice. This was absolutely delicious, being an explosion of flavours. I suppose that with all three of my dinners having rice in it, I must be subconsciously missing home. Having a good meal is a major morale booster for me, and having something to look forwards to allows me to focus and regroup to face the tasks of what the next day entails. On more ordinary evenings back home, I usually game or watch movies, but I will note that unlike Li Yin, who seems to find horror amusing, I never watch horror movies if I can help it.

  • I relate to each of the Flavours of Youth stories in a unique way, in part because of my heritage and in part because I empathise with the shows that I watch. I get the importance of food as seen in Sunny Breakfast, appreciate the work-life balance shown in A Small Fashion Show, and later, in Love in Shanghai, I vividly recall my own experiences as a student, pushing to both realise a future, work towards a dream and pursue romance where I could. Of course, my own stories here can only be “how not to do it” – there are no happy endings so far.

  • When Yi Lin finds that a fellow she seemed interested in is going out with the younger model, her world shatters. Romance can end, or never reach the starting point without anything being said, and whether it be through seeing it happen in real life or from behind a screen, no words can describe how much such moments hurt. It would seem strange, even contrived that I can draw so many parallels between my own experiences and what is seen in Flavours of Youth, one may feel. However, my experiences predate Flavours of Youth, and I should note that this is a consequence of living, being mindful of one’s surroundings and being appreciative of the small things in life.

  • I’ve never visited Guangzhou before, but I’ve been to Hong Kong frequently, and every time I visit, it’s like a completely different city. With this being said, I would love to visit Guangzhou at some point: it is even busier and glitzier than Hong Kong, although because Cantonese is the de facto main language, I expect that I should not have too much trouble getting around (minus the fact that my slang might be a little difficult to get). I’ve long felt Hong Kong to be a second home, feeling very familiar even though it is a world apart from the wide open spaces and laid-back feeling that is Calgary, Alberta.

  • The desire to remain competitive forces Yi Lin to extreme measures to keep her figure within a certain standard, and Flavours of Youth implicitly shows that Yi Lin may have a mild eating disorder: she is seen forgoing meals and during a fashion event, collapses on the catwalk after exiting a bathroom visibly weakened. Refusing to yield to the younger model, Yi Lin stubbornly decides to go forward and the sum of her stress, exhaustion and inadequate nutrition catch up to her.

  • Every occupation has its own unique hazards; while those living a sheltered existence and have limited exposure to the real world might call it “forced drama”, I counter that Flavours of Youth‘s second act also is meant to show the effects of overworking and overexertion in a highly visceral manner. Yi Lin’s collapse and admission to hospital forces her to re-evaluate her priorities, and she begins wondering whether or not modelling is a career she can continue to do.

  • I’m certain that many people out there have wondered at some point in their careers, as to whether or not what they were doing was right for them. I’m still considered young by all counts, and I absolutely love software development and engineering, but even I have the odd moment or two where I wonder if this is a career I can continue to do for the decades upcoming. Just this week, I was sent out to Denver for work. The end goal is to deploy a project, which is something I am comfortable with, and while the week was very productive, there were a few points in the past week where I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “what did I get myself into?”.

  • When Yi Lin considers doing what Lulu is doing for a career, Lulu responds negatively, feeling that Yi Lin is giving up her own career on whim and at the same time, is diminishing her own aspirations. All siblings fight from time to time, and after Lulu storms out, Yi Lin comes across one of Lulu’s sketches of a dress. She realises here that Lulu is very serious about being a fashion designer. The next day, she talks to Steve about the fight, and Steve is relieved, saying that Li Yin’s at least recovered, if she can summon the energy to have a fight with Lulu.

  • As far as careers go, having a good team and mentor in one’s corner goes a very long way. Having people to confide in, or even gripe to, sometimes is all it takes for one to put things in perspective, and often, I will voice doubts out loud simply to get them out in the open. For instance, I am very unfamiliar with implementing user interfaces, much less in an environment I’ve never used before, but after outlining this in my reports, I feel as though, provided I can finish other goals and put in an honest effort to learn to do the basics, things might not be so bad. Similarly, Yi Lin is convinced to see if modelling is something she will continue with when Steve asks her to meet him at a warehouse later.

  • It turns out that Lulu’s crafted the dresses that Yi Lin remembers from their youth: their parents are implied to have passed away by this point, explaining why Yi Lin pushes herself so hard for Lulu’s sake. The reason why “forced drama” is not a valid criticism for Flavours of Youth is because real life encompasses so much, and that people have a wide spectrum of experiences, that the events seen in Flavours of Youth can hardly be said to be implausible. Instead, what I see in A Small Fashion Show is a journey of rediscovery, one that gives Yi Lin a newfound perspective on her life and career. Sometimes, it takes extreme examples for people to see problems differently, and what Yi Lin goes through is not particularly outrageous.

  • By the end of A Small Love Story, Yi Lin and Lulu have found their new equilibrium: with Lulu designing clothes and Yi Lin modelling them, the siblings have discovered the balance that allows them to enjoy one another’s company and concentrate on their careers. It’s a satisfying ending that shows that even in the high-paced world that is Guangzhou, a middle way can indeed be found, if individuals are willing to compromise and keep their eyes open.

  • We now enter the final act of Flavours of Youth, which sees Limo moving out of his parents’ apartment to an apartment of his own, overlooking an old district in Shanghai. In a flashback, Limo is performing poorly at work, with his concepts rejected as being too unsuited for the current market. The stresses of work negatively impacts his temperament, and he snaps during a conversation with his parents. I am guilty of this on occasion, too, and one of my personal goals is to always find a way to relieve my stress without making someone else’s day a bad day. To this end, I usually aim to leave work at work, and crack bad jokes often to lighten up.

  • Limo runs through the streets of Shanghai towards the old town, where his grandparents lived, after discovering an old tape containing messages from an old friend and love interest. On the day that I went through Flavours of Youth to gather screenshots, I was also packing to go on this excursion, and was listening to the song, 上海灘 (jyutping soeng5 hoi2 taan1, literally “Shanghai Beach” and translated to “The Bund”), in the process. The song expresses that everything is transient, and that things troubling people, like success, failure, love and hatred, are all temporal, being washed away with the waves of time. It is a very famous song, and back in 2010, while visiting Shanghai, I heard the song being blasted on loudspeakers while I was eating 小籠包 (jyutping siu2 lung4 baau1, steamed buns famous in Shanghai) on a shop located in The Bund.

  • Of the three acts in Flavours of Youth, Love in Shanghai has the greatest emphasis on romance. In his youth, Limo had a crush on Xiao Yu, who reciprocated his feelings. Together with Pan, the three friends spend their days peacefully together. In this scene, the subtleties of using cassette players are shown: tapes are notorious for unravelling like this, and it takes patience to wind them back together. Xiao Yu (literally “Little Rain”) resembles Makoto Shinkai’s earlier female protagonists, being very pure of heart and kind in disposition, while Pan reminds me of Tessie from Your Name.

  • Bikes are everywhere in China, and their presence in China dates back to the 1890s. An inexpensive means of getting around quickly, their popularity took off, and the use of bikes soared when factories began manufacturing bikes as a result of the Communist Government’s degree that bikes were to become the choice of transport for the masses. The mode of transportation is effective in most places in China, but back home, the cold weather and car-centric cities means that cyclists often have a tough time getting around: between icy conditions for over half the year and roads ill-suited for bikes, I simultaneously feel bad for cyclists and wish that they would stop occupying the roads that I am driving on.

  • While Limo is familiar with every crack and protruding brick in the sidewalk surrounding his home, Xiao Yu is less versed and hurts herself, prompting Limo to carry her. As the third act progresses, it becomes clear that of the three friends, Xiao Yu is the most studious, although Limo himself is no slouch, either. By comparison, Pan is a bit more carefree in nature. However, Xiao Yu also has a more playful side to her character: unlike Akari of Five Centimeters per Second, who exuded an ethereal presence, Xiao Yu is shown to be more multi-dimensional.

  • Calendars with 福 (jyutping fuk1, “blessing” or “good luck”) written at the top are very commonplace in China, and I say with confidence that many Chinese families will have at least one of these calendars in their homes. Here, Xiao Yu studies as the evening light fades; watching Love in Shanghai brings back many memories for me, and although it’s been quite some time since I’ve actually sat down and studied for an exam properly, the process remains quite fresh in my mind.

  • Of all the exams I’ve done, the most difficult remains the MCAT: I gave up an entire summer to study for it, with the aim of getting into medicine, and considering that I ended up choosing software development over medicine, I occasionally wonder if the MCAT was little more than a waste of money. With this being said, taking the MCAT did impart on me a unique approach in test-taking, and in the years following, I studied for written exams much more effectively. In addition, having scored what would be today’s 517, which isn’t terrible, I do suppose that it’s one more conversation topic that I may bring up for fun.

  • The troubles that affect Limo and Xiao Yu seem a world away now that I am the age that I am. Looking back, I have no regrets about all of the various experiences and accomplishments to my name during my time as a student save one: that I did not attempt to pursue a relationship with the same intensity and focus that I have everything else that I’d done. I typically manage fine on my own, preferring to solve my own problems and divulging little about the things that trouble me to others, but at the same time, I wonder what it would be like to have someone to lean onto, and someone who can rely on me, as well.

  • Limo’s parents are rather strict, wondering if it’s plausible for him to get into the same high school as Xiao Yu. Limo thus resolves to study his best with the aim of following her, although when asked, he flatly states that he wants to push his limits and see what is possible. This is how I’ve long lived my life: I wonder what the furthest that an honest effort can take me is, and this is why I always strive to give it my all, regardless of how challenging some things are. The outcomes of this way of living are reasonably straightforwards – either I fail and learn something in the process, or I succeed and pleasantly surprise myself.

  • For her efforts, Xiao Yu ends up failing her entrance exam and earns herself a beating. While audiences are left to wonder what really happened, it is implied that, not knowing the path that Limo was taking, Xiao Yu deliberately fell short so that she could remain with him. Romance stories always present this as admirable, but in reality, I consider it nothing short of folly to give up one’s own dreams and aspirations to pursue a romance that may or may not work out. It boils down to a simple matter of probability: if one works hard for their future, they will likely end up finding what they sought. If they pursue romance in its place, they may end up losing their partner and then be left worse for wear afterwards. Naturally, there are cases where people may succeed, but for me, lacking any finesse in the realm of romance, I am predisposed pursue my own future, first.

  • Flavours of Youth depicts the Oriental Pearl Tower during the fireworks heralding the start of a new millenium. This TV tower is a distinct part of the Pudong skyline adjacent to The Bund, and it was completed in 1994, remaining as the tallest building in Pudong until 2007, when the Shanghai World Financial Center Tower was completed. The Pudong New Area was formally established in 1993, and intended to be a financial hub. As a result, Pudong has since become the home of Shanghai’s most recognisable skyscrapers.

  • Watching Limo study for his entrance exams amidst the New Year’s Eve Celebrations brings to mind my own studying for the MCAT. I still remember that one evening where I had opted to stay home and do a practise verbal reasoning section while the Stampede 100th Anniversary Fireworks were going in full force. I’m told that I missed the fireworks show of the century, and considering that the sum of my efforts was getting a 10 in verbal reasoning, I’m not too sure if it was worth missing the best fireworks that Calgary will likely see until the point where Canada turns 200.

  • As time wears on, a distance grows between Xiao Yu and Limo; Xiao Yu’s path in life is depicted as being less clear than that of Limo’s, as a deliberate decision to show that Limo’s decided to focus on his future in full. A part of this transformation is seen when Xiao Yu remarks on Limo’s shiny new CD player: lacking the same romance as do cassettes, CDs are largely read-only media that can hold higher-quality sound files in an easier-to-access format, signifying his own intents to push towards the future.

  • Xiao Yu and Limo see one another off after Xiao Yu visits, and this conversation was marked by a marked change in tone: whereas the two had been very close previously, there is a distinct distance and a sense of formality between the two at present. Shortly after, Xiao Yu leaves to study abroad, and a traffic jam means that Limo and Pan miss her departure.

  • Construction on Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge finished in 1991: with an overall length of some eight kilometers and a main span of 846 metres, Nanpu bridge is the fourth largest cable-stayed bridge in the world (it is eclipsed by Hong Kong’s Stonecutters Bridge, which holds the title of second-largest cable-stayed bridge in the world). The most distinct feature about Nanpu bridge is a large spiral: owing to the surroundings, it was necessary to compact the approach road leading up to the bridge, and here, bumper-to-bumper traffic is depicted on the bridge in both directions.

  • When Limo has a chance to listen to Xiao Yu’s final message, it turns out that Xiao Yu wanted to grow and stand out like a sunflower. In his mind’s eye, Limo pictures Xiao Yu, in a dress of purest white, standing amongst a field of sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. As youth, it is important to have dreams and an intent to follow them – this much was missing from Limo’s life after his entry into high school, and ultimately, listening to Xiao Yu’s voice served to remind him of his original dream, to create a three-story house where he, Xiao Yu and Pan could spend their days together. In the time following, Limo had attempted to pursue his dream in a much more conventional manner, and so, experienced pushback because his dreams do not necessarily align with market forces.

  • Both Xiao Yu and Limo find themselves in a world where their own dreams and aspirations do not align with the expectations of those around them. Limo realises this at the act’s climax, because Xiao Yu had expressed her feelings years earlier. Had Limo listened to Xiao Yu’s message earlier, he might’ve found his happiness a bit earlier, but an important message Flavours of Youth conveys is that it is never really too late to begin making one’s dreams a reality.

  • Some time after his epithany, Limo has become the owner of an inn, the well-kept and beautiful three-story building of his original vision. Outside, a pot of sunflowers is seen, showing that he has not forgotten Xiao Yu’s words to him. I admit that sixty screenshots is far too few a space to adequately discuss every noteworthy moment in Flavours of Youth, but for brevity’s sake, I’ve cut out many moments to ensure that I could get this post out: blogging immediately after getting off a plane is not an easy task, so I’ve decided to keep this post relatively short.

  • One day, after showing guests to their rooms, Limo comes face to face with Xiao Yu, who is in the area. From the looks of it, Limo’s inn is built in the same area that he once lived in, and although the area has changed, Limo has evidently adapted, making the most of the new while remembering the old. His inn is a sure sign of this, featuring traditional design elements and modern features, as well. Xiao Yu’s appearance at the end of the final act shows that because Limo acknowledges Xiao Yu’s contributions in helping him realise his dream, his gratitude is returned to him in a most pleasant manner. It’s a far cry from the messages of Five Centimeters per Second and is likely intended to show that “好心得好報” (jyutping hou2 sam1 dak1 hou2 bou3, literally “good heart results in good returns”, closely resembling the English phrase “what goes around comes around” in that kindness returns to the originator).

  • Flavours of Youth‘s final act shows The Bund and Pudong under a double rainbow, with sunshine breaking through the clouds after a rainfall to show a new start for Limo and Xiao Yu. The skyline shown here is likely the Shanghai of 2007-2008: the Shanghai Tower, currently the tallest building in Pudong (with a height of 632 meters and began construction in November 2008), is not visible in this image. This is one of my favourite stills from Flavours of Youth, and on the whole, the cityscapes of Flavours of Youth are absolutely stunning. One wishes that the studio would do an authentic coming-of-age story set in Hong Kong.

  • Flavours of Youth might be seen as being equivalent to a game made in the Frostbite Engine that isn’t part of the Battlefield franchise: while it has the same stunning visuals of a Comix Wave film, the narrative approach and themes are completely different. In the post-credits sequence, all of the central characters from each act are seen at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (known for its distinct interior), setting out on their own unique journeys.

  • Each of the characters have found their happiness by this point in time and are gearing up to travel for an unknown destination. The precise nature of their destination is not known, nor is it important: no one knows what the future will bring, but for the present, what is important is that each of the characters have seized the moment and are seeking to make the most of the future, as well.

  • It is actually quite amusing that I wrote out sections of this review while at the Denver International Airport – having cleared US Customs and eaten a light dinner, I was sitting at the gates, waiting to board my flight back home. I admit that I am not very fond of flying, but I do not take it for granted: it is still very much a luxury for its price (yes, even for economy-class tickets!) and so, it is an infrequent experience for me. Moreover, ever since I bought Patrick Smith’s Cockpit Confidential, my respect for all of the staff involved in making air travel possible, from the pilots themselves to the baggage handlers, increased ten-fold.

  • With Flavours of Youth in the books, I will be returning to my regularly-scheduled programming soon, and write about Harukana Receive‘s sixth episode on short order, with the aim of publishing it by no later than Sunday. With my first week in Denver over, and my initial assessment of my assignment largely complete, my schedule is slowly falling into place: there will be periods upcoming where I simply won’t be able to get Harukana Receive posts out on the same day anymore. On top of the remaining Road to Battlefield V events and another Battlefield V closed alpha, August is outright insane, so blogging will have to happen when it does.

  • For the present, however, it’s been one heck of a week, and my first priority, now that I’m back home, is to get some sleep. I think that, despite my delays in getting this discussion out, this particular Flavours of Youth talk remains the first on the ‘net to feature a sizeable collection of screenshots and moreover, a fair assessment of the film. Releasing on August 4, Flavours of Youth coincides with my favourite day of the year, and I watched it late in the day. It is my intent that with this discussion, I have covered some of the more subtle and out-of-the-way aspects about Flavours of Youth in my own way. Of course, these are merely my thoughts, and I’d love to hear what others thought of the film.

Broken up, disjointed and inconsistent are words that very much describe Flavours of Youth – there is no denying that the lack of a single, cohesive narrative in Flavours of Youth make it quite unconventional as a film. However, this tumultuous set of stories also is a reminder of reality – although we prefer our stories to be structured, with a distinct exposition, rising action, climax and denouement, the truth is that our lives our chaotic, uncertain and mutable. The strength of Flavours of Youth, then, is its ability to capture out and distill some moments in the lives of three different individuals, slow it down and encourage audiences to appreciate the small details and moments in our lives that can have dramatic impacts on what one does or becomes later. In short, it is a rather artistic film that resembles Momordica charantia, commonly known as the bitter melon. I helped my parents cook this unusual squash for the first time a few weeks ago, and they immediately told me that the bitter melon was a fantastic analogy for life: behind the melon’s bitter flavour, lay a slightly sweet and rewarding flavour. Life is very much like this: the challenges that we face sometimes hide a silver lining, and once we notice, it changes the way we look at things. Flavours of Youth can similarly be a bitter film to watch, being quite unconventional in its presentation, but once one takes a bit of time to think about what Flavours of Youth wants its audience to take away, and also takes a bit of time to consider Chinese culture, this sixty-minute long anthology suddenly takes on a new meaning. With all of this in mind, I strongly recommend watching Flavours of Youth for all viewers; there is great worth in looking at this film and its glimpse into the merger of old and new in Chinese culture, as well as how change figures in a nation that has come a considerable ways in the past fifty years.

Surely, Someday You Will Understand “Love”: Violet Evergarden OVA Review and Reflection

“Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it.” –Lou Rawls

Violet is asked to help opera singer Irma Fliech write a love letter following a performance. What initially looked to be a simple assignment proves to be much more difficult than Violet had imagined, when Irma rejects every letter that she writes. Looking through books for inspiration and even asking her friends, Violet finds herself at a dead end, despite realising that Irma is looking for lyrics to a song. However, after speaking with Irma’s assistant, Ardo, Violet learns that Irma is working on a modern play, hoping to push people into the future. While sharing with Irma her background as a soldier, Violet also discovers that Irma’s boyfriend, Hugo, had perished in the war. She later runs into Roland, who shows her love letters; realising that love is a feeling to be conveyed, Violet pours her heart out into her next composition. When she shows her work to Irma, Irma is moved to tears and accepts the lyrics for her song. Violet and her friends watch Irma’s latest opera at the theatre, and when the performance concludes, Violet applauds with the audience, feeling that she’s come one step closer to understanding the meaning of aishiteru. Set between episodes four and five, the Violet Evergarden OVA illustrates one more step in Violet’s journey towards learning Gilbert’s final words to her, using music as the medium to help convey what love is to Violet. Long considered to be the form of expression transcending linguistics and cultural barriers, music is a powerful means of conveying emotion, and its use in Violet Evergarden suggests that by being involved in writing lyrics, Violet also comes to really appreciate the power that letters and words can carry: we recall that Violet really began embracing her role as a Auto Memory Doll after helping coworker Iris with her own troubles, and this OVA presents a compelling story as to why.

Through giving Violet a particularly difficult assignment, the Violet Evergarden OVA showcases Violet’s dedication and resourcefulness in completing her assignments. At this point, Violet is still very much a novice Auto Memory Doll, without the experience in capturing and expressing the clients’ emotions as quickly as would someone like Cattleya. When faced with Irma’s request, she begins by falling back on a concise, terse approach that she’d become familiar with in the military. Failing this, she consults various resources, in books and existing texts, to try and gain a better understanding of how to craft Irma’s letters. This is unsuccessful, so she accepts help from her coworkers, and gains a modicum of inspiration when learning Irma’s letter is really meant to be a song. This pragmatic approach, coupled with Violet’s eventual learning of Irma’s background and how the war had affected her, ultimately help to shape her ability to create a final product that meets Irma’s specifications. When she reads through the old letters with Roland, the sum of her experiences up until now give her the eureka moment, where she is able to finally understand how to best express Irma’s feelings in words. It was not any individual event, but the sum of the events, that allow Violet to succeed in her assignment. The same holds true in reality: while people may often think that success comes on a moment’s notice, through a stroke of inspiration, the truth is that behind the magic moment was hard work, commitment and dedication. Thus, when such a magic moment does materialise, one is able to recognise the pattern and then make the breakthrough. This is the theme that the Violet Evergarden OVA aims to convey – that eureka moments are the consequence of a substantial, honest effort.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been a while since I last wrote about Violet Evergarden, and one thing I noticed upon coming back into this series is the incredible detail in the visuals: from the clothing to interior shots, everything in this series is ornate, rich and above all, purposeful: while there may be a lot of stuff in a scene, none of it comes across as being clutter. Here, Violet meets with the opera singer and playwright Irma Fliech.

  • For this OVA post, I will be running with the standard of twenty screenshots. Violet’s task initially seems simple enough: write a letter that conveys feelings of love to a distant individual. While Violet has slowly become more proficient in conveying emotions for others, her letter for Irma is much more challenging because Irma herself seems uncertain of what she’s looking for in the letter, only knowing that it’ll work when she sees it, and as such, Violet initially stumbles in her task.

  • At the end of the day, however, it is the product for the customer, not the producer, that matters, and so, the mark of a good company is one which goes to great lengths in order to ensure that their customers are happy. Violet’s efforts and struggles show that she understands this; all too often, employees of some companies leave their customers in the dust and create PR disasters that tarnish a brand.

  • I’m certain that many in the audience will be familiar with the feeling of a request or assignment that is insurmountable. Whether it be an assignment that seems to involve material beyond what was covered in a course, or the struggles of scope creep, challenges can often be overwhelming. However, the same is true of anything worth doing: I turn again to the classic example of the Apollo program and its aim of putting man on the moon. It would have been frustrating to watch as the Soviets made strides in their space program while American rockets failed, but over time, perseverance (and a serious commitment of funds) resulted in the world’s first successful moon landing.

  • A natural reaction to adversity is the want to sink into the walls and disappear entirely. A part of the joy in Violet Evergarden was seeing such human reactions in the characters: Kyoto Animation is known for many things, but top in my books is their ability to capture human postures in a very fluid, life-like manner surpassing those of other studios. Even without words, Violet’s dejection is evident here, when she slumps against the bookshelf after coming up unsuccessful in finding inspiration.

  • While Violet may have gotten off to a rough start with her coworkers with her terse, blunt mannerisms, her time with them leads to an increased degree of cordiality amongst one another, to the extent that Iris and Erica become concerned for Violet when she struggles with this task. Here, I remark that the Violet Evergarden OVA came out precisely a month ago, being bundled with the fourth BD volume. However, other commitments meant that I’ve not had a chance to watch the OVA until now. Even with this delay, I believe that this post remains the only comprehensive discussion on the Violet Evergarden OVA at this point in time.

  • The first real bit of assistance comes when Violet encounters Ardo, Irma’s assistant, who shows her the format behind Irma’s request. It turns out that Irma intended for Violet to write the lyrics to a song, rather than a standard letter, and with this bit of information, Violet changes her approach. However, composing music is no easy feat; because music is such a powerful means of communication, getting everything right so it can convey a particular emotion or idea requires skill and a modicum of talent.

  • Even with her coworkers assisting, writing lyrics for Irma’s song is quite difficult. The fact that music can transcend linguistic and cultural barriers is one of the reasons I enjoy listening to music of all languages: I have a large collection of Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese songs that I frequently listen to. Even in the case of Cantonese music, my weak command of more poetic, formal Cantonese means that the meaning of most songs are lost on me: the only artist whose songs I understand without effort are those of Sam Hui’s. His music gained popularity precisely because common folk could understand the lyrics. By comparison, I have a very difficult time in discerning what is being said in the songs of other famous Cantopop artists (e.g. Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung, Danny Chan, Paula Tsui and Sally Yeh), although to be sure, I love 80s Cantopop.

  • After Ardo explains Irma’s motivation for creating a contemporary play to tell a relatable and moving story to spur audiences to find a world beyond the war, Violet insistently follows Irma with the aim of trying to learn more about her. This simple action is both endearing and telling – the best way to understand what someone is seeking is to understand that individual, to empathise with them, and Violet’s persistence results in Irma yielding; she tells Violet of her own connection to the war after Violet explains that she was once a soldier who’d lost a loved one of her own during the conflict.

  • As it turns out, Irma’s partner had been enlisted into the armed forces and despite his promise to come back to Irma, never did. The war’s consequences are very far-reaching, and a recurring theme in anime is that outside of politics, there are no winners when total wars are fought. This became the case when World War One was fought: advances in technology meant that slaughtering fellow humans could be done to the same scale as mass producing consumer goods. Much as how society has become increasingly sophisticated in our ways of communication, we have also devised increasingly lethal and devastating weapons to harm one another with.

  • The whole of the OVA really is about the path Violet takes on a challenging assignment, and it shows that the way to a solution, seemingly straightforwards in hindsight, can sometimes be long and convoluted. Cracking a particularly difficult function can be like this: one can spend hours and days wondering why a call is not behaving as it should, and then encounter a solution out of the blue either when another pair of eyes is brought in or stroke of inspiration is found. More so than any of the episodes, which come together to tell a story about discovering the meaning of love anew, the Violet Evergarden OVA is more about one of the snapshots in Violet’s journey towards becoming a capable Auto Memory Doll.

  • I’ve heard that there are substantial differences between the light novel and the anime adaptation, with stronger human aspects in the anime, and a more prevalent military component in the light novels. Given how Violet Evergarden‘s anime turned out, I am glad that the focus in the anime was about love and moving on without forgetting: the broader narrative of the light novels were distilled into a single cohesive message for the anime’s thirteen episode run. Looking back, I would tend to think that if there were more episodes, then additional stories from the light novels could have been adapted.

  • While I am very happy with how Violet Evergarden turned out, it would have been interesting to see Violet wield Stormbreaker Witchcraft, a custom battleaxe that grown men cannot lift. With this being said, now that the war is over, there would not have been much of a context to incorporate it, so unless there is another conflict brewing, I do not think it is strictly necessary to show the weapon. Having said this, there is a Violet Evergarden movie in the works, and while its precise contents are not known, it could give audiences a chance to see a side of the light novels not seen in the TV series.

  • The true turning point in Violet’s assignment is when Roland brings her to a warehouse where they find letters that never made it to their intended recipient. See all of the motions carried within the words in each letter, coupled with listening to Irma recount how her own boyfriend never returned from the war, gives Violet the inspiration to really write her song. I got a very similar feeling from watching this scene as I did when the anthropologists found the bag of letters in Letters from Iwo Jima, and upon pouring the letters out, the voices of the soldiers resounded. Letters are meant to capture and convey emotions and experiences; in a sense, it’s transferring one’s feelings onto paper, and this romanticism is lost with modern technologies, such as email and instant messaging.

  • Violet’s final submission unsurprisingly passes Irma’s requirements, and is powerful enough to move Irma to tears. Far more than any series I’ve seen, Violet Evergarden is able to evoke strong feelings in audiences. One of my criticisms in Violet Evergarden‘s original run was that most of Violet’s best moments stem from learning to understand sorrow, but looking back, Violet does undertake several assignments that see her grow in different ways, too.

  • Completing difficult assignments are all the more rewarding, and despite (or because of) my upbringing, I’ve always longed to take on the things that are difficult precisely because they are difficult. However, for the most part, the rest of the world never sees the journey, only the outcome. As a result, I am very satisfied with the path that the Violet Evergarden OVA ended up taking.

  • I’ve long been fond of OVAs that are set in-between the events of the main series, as they add a sense of depth to the characters beyond what we’ve seen in the main series proper. Traditionally, OVAs are usually bundled with home releases, but a new trend is that some of the longer OVAs are screened theatrically, akin to a smaller-scale movie: OVAs have always been a bit more difficult to watch, as they are not simulcasted on popular steaming platforms; like movies, some OVAs can take a considerable amount of time to become purchasable.

  • The song that Irma performs is LETTER, which is included in the Violet Evergarden vocal album, “Song Letters”. I’ve never been to an opera performance before, although in my time as a student, I’ve attended my share of live performances before. There’s a certain degree of magic and fun to watching a play compared to a movie: the performers on stage use all of their acting skills, the set and environment to convince their audience of an unreal reality. Lacking the editing trickery and special effects of films, the effectiveness of a stage play boils down entirely to the actors.

  • I believe that with this OVA in the books, Violet Evergarden really draws to a conclusion for now, at least until the film comes out in 2020. For the present, however, there is plenty of other anime films and OVAs on the table that merit a look: I definitely have plans to write about Flavours of Youth (Shikioriori), which came out earlier today, and Non Non Biyori Vacation will première later this month, along with I want to eat your placenta (no joke, that’s the real title) and Penguin HighwaySayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms), a PA Works film that released earlier this year, will be getting a BD release in less than three months, as well. There is no shortage of things to do in the interim, and one of the challenge I stare down will simply be to find time to enjoy all of these films and write about them on top of the other things that I do.

The Violet Evergarden OVA is a very powerful and well-written addition to the series – despite being a standalone story with a clear message, it fits in very well with the anime’s main narrative, showing one of the moments that allows Violet to grow and discover. Because Violet’s prowess as an Auto Memory Doll grows quite quickly in the anime, seeing her stumble, and get back up in the face of a difficult task shows that her improvement comes not from her existing skills alone, but also from her own determination and attitude. Seeing this OVA thus gives audience a chance to see an instance where Violet uses a variety of means to complete her task: she naturally grows into her role as an Auto Memory Doll over time. This accentuates the human elements of Violet Evergarden, which were finely presented during the televised run back in the winter season. At this point in time, the series has reached a conclusion, but there is word of a film that will release in 2020. Its precise contents are unknown, and speculation remains quite open because the anime ended on a very definitive note – what the movie entails is anyone’s guess, but the one commonality is the hope that the upcoming Violet Evergarden movie will not be a compilation film.

Until You Break: Harukana Receive Episode Five Impressions and Review

“I must break you.” —Ivan Drago, Rocky IV

Haruka and Kanata participate in the junior volleyball tournament, where they find that their first match is to be against Mai and Ai, who Haruka had run into earlier while shopping for their swimsuits. The first set begins with Mai making mistakes that Haruka and Kanata take advantage of: between this and Kanata’s tactics, Haruka and Kanata take an early lead and win the first set. However, upon realising Kanata’s intents, Mai and Ai strike back in the second set, taking the lead. Kanata asks Haruka to put her faith in her as they fall further behind in this set. Meanwhile, after defeating their opponents, Claire and Emily decide to watch Haruka and Kanata’s first match, where Emily wonders why Kanata’s pokies have such a poor form. Harukana Receive‘s fifth episode marks a return to beach volleyball, with the narrative moving to the point where Haruka and Kanata have practised sufficiently to the point where they feel confident in participating in the junior tournament: quite some time has advanced, and while things may have progressed very quickly during the previous episode, this episode’s focus on beach volleyball means that progression slows down as details behind a match are shown. Harukana Receive makes exclusive use of slow motion and close up shots, forgoing more dynamic camera angles from a distance to show the intensity of matches. Slow motion and close shots are generally used for emphasis, so when all of the angles are done in this manner, the weight of individual plays are diminished, and the pacing of the sport is lost: this would have been understandable with early practise matches, when Haruka and Kanata were getting into the swing of things, but to slow down a tournament match means that advances in Haruka and Kanata’s skill cannot easily be seen. This advancement is central to Harukana Receive, so the anime’s decision to predominantly use slow motion diminishes its ability to visually express the progress that Haruka and Kanata have made.

The focus of episode five is Mai and Ai, two indoors players who have a different background and reason for participating in a tournament. As it turns out, Ai invited Mai to play volleyball previously, stating that it was a sport where shorter people could still prove their great worth. However, during a competition, her school’s team was eliminated, leaving Mai heartbroken and Ai determined to show that Mai could do well in volleyball despite her height. In offering backstory for Mai and Ai, their motivations for playing beach volleyball are also shown, emphasising to viewers that every team in the competition have their own reasons for being here; consequently, each match will be an uphill battle demanding each team’s best. This approach is a staple of anime, intending to create an emotional connection so audiences can see what drives everyone. For Harukana Receive, past defeats and failures become things that lead individuals to want to redeem themselves; Ai is fighting to prove that volleyball can be for everyone, and Mai similarly wants to win with the aim of proving that she can do so. Having said this, anime with high school aged characters tend to end up dramatising the characters’ raison d’être to really convey this message, although with a liberal application of more light-hearted moments, Harukana Receive does not come across as a series that takes things too seriously. Striking this balance allows Harukana Receive to tell an engaging story without the characters coming across as being stiff or unrealistic: the humour aspects, such as the shocked expressions following Mai’s failed spike, or the rivalry between Haruka and Mai, add dimensionality to the characters.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If one were to book a flight to Okinawa, and walk the beaches of Nishikawa Kirakira beach, they would find that Harukana Receive does indeed faithfully reproduce the landscape around the area: in Google Maps, beach volleyball nets are set up by the beach resort building, just as audiences see in Harukana Receive. This beach is located some forty minutes south of where Haruka and Kanata live.

  • The rivalry brewing between Haruka and Mai is a hilarious one: Haruka has not yet gotten over Mai buying the swimsuit she’d been eyeing, and Mai is salty about how tall Haruka is. Upon meeting, Mai pokes her finger into Haruka’s side, resulting in a hilarious moment that my screenshots won’t be able to capture: one needs sound to fully enjoy Haruka’s reaction. There’s a bit of a firework that goes off in this moment, and I leave it to readers to make of that what they will.

  • Ai is more mature and more of a sportsman, asking Mai to settle things on the court. Ai and Kanata shake hands, intending to have a good match, but the more immature Mai and Haruka glare daggers at one another. From this screenshot, Ai is slightly taller than Haruka is, and with the two playing a more substantial role in Harukana Receive, it’s a good as a time as any to note that Mai is voiced by Riko Koike, while Ai is voiced by Akari Kitō, two voice actresses I am not familiar with.

  • Every beach volleyball pair in Harukana is referred to by their portmanteau name. The series takes its name from Haruka and Kanata’s names, while Ayasa and Narumi are known as Naruaya. Emily and Claire become éclair, while Ai and Mai are Aimai. At this point in Harukana Receive, there are enough teams so that it makes sense to refer to them by their team name, rather than typing out both members’ names every time. I will begin using this convention from this point on for brevity.

  • The beach resort building is visible here: with the match between Harukana and Aimai under way, the first bit is characterised by a bit of friendly fire: in her haste to school Haruka, Mai sends the ball directly into the net, and with several mistakes, Harukana take an early lead. However, it’s little consolation for Haruka, who is reeling from the near-miss of having the ball smoke her in the face.

  • Kanata explains to Haruka that Aimai are indoors players; we briefly recall that outside, players must also compensate for wind, so Kanata feels that they might be able to capitalise on Aimai’s reduced exposure to outdoors beach volleyball and play to their strengths. However, by targeting Mai, Kanata’s own doubts remain with her. This particular limitation is something that Kanata will journey towards rectifying, and for now, its effects do have an impact on how Harukana plays.

  • Because they are still a novice team overall, Harukana plays a very unique brand of beach volleyball that throws off Aimai’s rhythm. This phenomenon, more commonly known as “Beginner’s Luck”, manifests because new players have not discovered their own tactics or approaches yet. By being open towards trying anything, they might employ strategies or methods that seem contrary to expectation, surprising experts. Beginner’s Luck is definitely a thing in things like Battlefield or board games: players unfamiliar with something with likely look for local optima in their choices that seem illogical to experienced players, and do things that are unexpected.

  • The mental aspects of beach volleyball come into play in the fifth episode. Having fallen into a bit of a hole, Aimai are unperturbed and regroup, doing their best to continue keeping up with the early successes that Harukana enjoys. Over time, Mai begins picking up on Kanata’s strategy, which she claims is obvious, and once the first set draws to a close, Harukana are pleased to be performing moderately well.

  • I’ve seen discussions elsewhere on Harukana Receive, and they differ radically from my own, covering a variety of different topics and areas. Athletes and sports fans tend to talk about the sport aspects of the anime, while others deal predominantly with the interactions amongst the characters, and here, I deal with random, various topics for fun. For the technical details surrounding beach volleyball, I am not particularly familiar with the sport to decide for myself as to whether or not Harukana is making the right play on the court: ice hockey with NHL rules is the sport I am the most comfortable talking about, although I highly doubt we’ll have an anime about the NHL any time soon.

  • It would seem that enough time has passed between episodes four and five so that Emily and Claire have both found a swimsuit that they can agree with. When their match begins, it is played with such intensity and control that team Éclair draw a sizeable audience watching them. Their experience and skill are so that their opponents are obliterated very quickly, and Kanata later reveals that Éclair placed second nationally, presumably losing out the top spot to Naruaya. Personally, a duel between titans is always fun to watch, although given where Harukana Receive is going, I do not imagine audiences will have a chance to see the ultimate match between the best.

  • Mai is quick to warn Harukana that her objective is nothing short of breaking them completely, prompting the page quote, which is sourced from Rocky IV. This line is very famous: Mai is almost certainly using it to mean that she and Ai will utterly defeat Harukana to the point of making them quit, while Drago is making it clear to Rocky that he has no intention of losing and will win even if it means destroying Rocky. Because he speaks so rarely in Rocky IV, every syllable that Drago says is meant to carry great weight; all nine of Drago’s spoken lines in Rocky IV have become well-known in their own regard.

  • My personal favourite Drago line is “If he dies, he dies”. I doubt there will be a chance to use that in Harukana Receive, and back in the episode, during a break between sets, Haruka wishes that her timing would be more on point, but Kanata reassures her that her performance is improving. Kanata is evidently familiar with beach volleyball, and beyond her concerns about being short, retains a considerable amount of skill and coaching capacity: she knows how to encourage and pick up others, as well as regrouping in the face of setbacks and demonstrating sportsmanship.

  • It turns out that the reason why Mai and Ai are set on winning is to right their losses from earlier. Ai had recruited Mai to play volleyball on the promise that skill, rather than height, made a difference, and after they’d lost to a team of taller players, Mai was devastated. Ai feels responsible for this loss, having convinced Mai to try anyways. This raison d’être comes across as being a bit superficial, but the strength of their conviction also seems to suggest that Aimai’s loss happened recently.

  • While slow motion shots cannot capture the pacing of beach volleyball as effectively as real-time shots do, one advantage is that there is reduced motion blur, which in turn makes it much easier to watch the beach volleyball sequences and capture screenshots for them. One challenge of writing for Harukana Receive is that there are many screenshots that I could potentially include in a post, but to keep things from becoming longer than necessary, I force myself to stick with twenty screenshots per post.

  • By set two, Kanata’s returning balls with nothing but pokies, befuddling Aimai. Harukana takes a hit on the scoreboard for it, but with Mai angrily declaring that she’ll stop Harukana at every turn, there might be more reason to why Kanata has adopted this play-style. We recall that reading an opponent is a part of beach volleyball, like in any other sport; because Mai is so easily flustered, Kanata might be goading her in some way, setting up for a stronger finish in the final set.

  • If this is to hold true, then Kanata is also doing a pretty good job of concealing her aims: lending credence to this supposition is that she asks Haruka to trust her. As the episode draws to a close, it’s true that Harukana are trailing to Aimai, but the set does not appear to be over yet. This marks the first time we’ve seen a clear indicator of a continuation in Harukana Receive, showing that things are getting knocked up a notch.

  • After their match, Claire and Emily shake hands with their opponents and head off to watch Haruka and Kanata with their game. A handshake and a smile is the strongest way to lose gracefully, and I generally count myself a good sport, being able to win and lose gracefully. One must always be ready to work hard for a win, but the fact is that winning all of the time is simply not possible. As such, losses, with their attendant lessons, can make us stronger and wiser.

  • Akari Ōshiro is seen making several appearances in Harukana Receive‘s fifth episode. Her precise role in Harukana Receive has not been shown in the anime, but with art depicting her as being without a partner, one would reasonably surmise that she is a coach of sorts. Akari carries herself differently than the other characters, and while she looks quite young, no older than the girls playing beach volleyball, I imagine her to be a ways older than Haruka and the others. This is not so unrealistic: I was mistaken to be a participant at a science fair when I was judging a year ago, which suggests that I look ten years younger than I am.

  • Emily finds Kanata’s pokies to be of an unusually poor form, and various shots show Mai as slowly being worn down from trying to block everything Kanata’s throwing at her. Because Emily’s known Kanata for quite some time, this suggests that something is off, and what this is will likely be seen next week. I suppose that now is as good of a time as any to mention that I will not be around next week to do a timely review of the series at the halfway point: I am going to be travelling for my work, and simply won’t have the time or energy to write about Harukana Receive when I get back next Friday. To this end, I am going to delay the post by up to two days and write about it for Sunday at the latest. The remainder of August is similarly dicey, as I am not too sure how often I’ll be flying around.

  • The fifth episode of Harukana Receive is now in the books, and knowing that things are going to get very interesting very quickly once the long weekend is over, I have decided to wrap up two posts that have been on the horizon for quite some time: I will be talking about what I’d like to see in Battlefield V and also my thoughts of the Violet Evergarden OVA. Once those posts are done, and this month progresses, my blogging frequency will fluctuate greatly. Once I know a little more, I can keep you, the readers, informed; it should come as no surprise that real life takes priority over recreation without question, but you will know if there are any dramatic changes to my blogging patterns.

With the fifth episode ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, the next episode will certainly deal with the outcome of this match. Because Harukana Receive has already shifted to the junior tournament, my expectation is that Haruka and Kanata will narrowly win this first match. In subsequent games, Haruka will still be learning as she goes, while Kanata guides her and in turn, receives encouragement from Haruka as they progress further in the tournament. The basis for this is that having Haruka and Kanata defeated so quickly would extinguish the narrative; I do not anticipate them winning the tournament, given that Kanata openly expresses the skill level that other players demonstrate. Claire and Emily’s match are an indicator of this: they have no trouble vanquishing the team they play against, and as such, it would be implausible for a novice pair to pull off a victory against a highly skilled pair, such as Narumi and Ayasa. However, for series such as Harukana Receive, victory is not the end-all: the journey and experience have traditionally held much more weight than the destination in Manga Time Kirara series, and even if Harukana Receive is a part of Manga Time Kirara Forward, which is where more serious works are published, the entire line of manga remain focused on the subtleties and process, rather than the endpoints. The halfway point of Harukana Receive nears, and with it, I am of the opinion that this anime is proving to be quite enjoyable for what it does get right: the things that Harukana Receive does well outweighs my dissatisfaction with the animation of beach volleyball sequences.