The Infinite Zenith

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

Tag Archives: Anime

86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection After Three

“I hate prejudice, discrimination, and snobbishness of any kind – it always reflects on the person judging and not the person being judged. Everyone should be treated equally.” –Gordon Brown

When war erupts between the Republic of San Magnolia and the Empire of Giad, San Magnolia begins folding under the Empire’s automated machines. San Magnolian engineers claim to have developed their own autonomous machines, leading the public to believe that this war is purely fought between automaton, but in reality, San Magnolia has the Colorata people, an ethnic minority in San Magnolia, pilot these machines, Juggernauts, while the Alba majority live their lives idly. Major Vladilena Mirizé is an Alba with the military, and at the age of sixteen, is a handler for Colorata squadrons. Unlike her compatriots, she treats her units kindly and possesses a fierce desire to end the discrimination the Colorata, informally, the 86, have received. She accepts an assignment to lead the Spearhead unit, which is infamous for having driven previous handlers insane. Vladilena quickly realises that Spearhead is worthy of their reputation, and desires to learn more about them, including unit leader Shinei. The Colorata soldiers, on the other hand, find Vladilena curious at best and untrustworthy at worst: a handful of Spearhead begin to speak more freely with Vladilena, Kaie among them, but Kurena refuses to open up because the Alba had executed her parents. WiShineig to help Spearhead improve their combat efficiency, Vladilena finds a new map with engineer and researcher, Henrietta Penrose, to better improve her awareness of the terrain, but during an operation, Kaie’s Juggernaut gets bogged down in a marsh, and she’s killed in action. Theoto, one of the surviving pilots, accuses Vladilena of putting on a front about caring for those she commands into combat, and claims that Vladilena hadn’t even bothered to learn everyone’s actual names. After three episodes, 86 EIGHTY-SIX has proven to be an intriguing anime, covering a range of intriguing topics through its world building: while there are moments that lighten the mood up considerably, 86 EIGHTY-SIX on the whole

Out of the gates, the dystopian world is rife with relevant social issues of segregation and discrimination, and the protagonists represent dramatically different viewpoints on the war. The treatment of the Colorata, the 86, as non-humans, is despicable, and 86 EIGHTY SIX makes this discrimination clear out of the gates with an Alba handler verbally abusing the Colorata soldiers as they enter combat. After Vladilena is introduced, she enters a military office filled with inebriated officers who seem completely disinterested in their duties. It becomes clear that the Alba are no saints, and that their world is a fabrication. Vladilena, however, is different: she regards the Colorata as humans to the bemusement to those around her, and while other Alba lecture her for her seemingly naïve perspectives, Vladilena’s beliefs make her easily sympathetic to the audience. What appears as electronic signals on her screen, are, after all, people, and 86 EIGHTY-SIX subsequently switches the perspectives out to show the Colorata as they fight in combat against an unfeeling enemy, as well as their lives outside of battle. The Colorata are human, experiencing joy, sorrow, mirth and melancholy as acutely as any Alba (if not more so). Meals are enjoyed together, jokes are shared, amongst the Spearhead soldiers, and Vladilena plainly understands this, even if she’s not on the battlefield herself. Hoping to lead her soldiers to survival and eventual return to San Magnolia, Vladilena immediately becomes a likeable character: three episodes in, viewers have reason to support Vladilena and hope that her sincerity reaches those who fight under her guidance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve always been fond of anime with an interesting world and mecha: 86 EIGHTY-SIX looks like an amalgamation of Sora no Woto and Warlords of Sigrdrifa at first glance, with Vladilena benig 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s counterpart to Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s Claudia. Both are devoted to their duties as soldiers, but have a more friendly side to them, as well. Upon reaching the military headquarters, Vladilena is disgusted to see her fellow officers lazing around after what must’ve been a wild party. In this moment, it became apparent that in San Magnolia, very few care about doing their duties properly.

  • Consequently, I developed an immediate sense of respect for Vladilena. Vladilena’s battle station is a dark room with large displays and an uplink to real-time data that allows her to spot enemies and direct her units to proper points on a map. While it makes sense that even automated systems have human controllers, that Vladilena is speaking with the machines hints at the fact that the Juggernauts aren’t, in fact, autonomous. Fighting from behind the safety of a screen, and the comfort of a good chair, Vladilena nonetheless feels connected to the names on a screen, whereas other mission controllers, dubbed Handlers, view their units as disposable.

  • When Vladilena is given command of an elite squad, she immediately accepts. Vladilena is an idealist, speaking to things like equality, fairness and nondiscrimination: these topics have never been more relevant, with current events constantly highlighting the mistreatment of minorities and need to contain racial discrimination. As a visible minority myself, I’ve experienced discrimination, but it also speaks to a bit of luck where I’ve opportunity to overcome whatever barriers this presents on virtue of effort and merit alone. In 86 EIGHTY-SIX, however, the Alba’s systemic discrimination against the Colorata is such that the Colorata don’t even have this chance. Vladilena therefore becomes a character viewers will rally behind, as she’s completely opposed to San Magnolia’s treatment of the Colorata, and does what she can to raise awareness of this issue.

  • I suppose that it is a hallmark of this decade’s anime, where cutesy mannerisms and facial expressions find their way even into anime with a more serious premise: Vladilena melts when Henrietta convinces the former to stick around for tea, as she’s made cream puffs and cakes with real eggs and cheese. The implication is that there’s a food crisis going on, and while San Magnolia’s citizens seem to be living in reasonable comfort, their world also seems artificially clean, manufactured. This stands in stark contrast with the Colorata, the 86’s, world, which is rundown, gritty, but also possessing a human touch to it.

  • Unlike the Alba, which all have silver hair and blue eyes, the Colorata are a very diverse group of individuals, sporting a range of complexions, hair and eye colours. Having grown up in a multi-cultural nation, I’m accustomed to seeing people of all sorts, and I fully embrace the idea that different cultures share one thing in common: everyone has noteworthy customs, traditions and above all, food. Despite their poor treatment at the hands of the Alba, Spearhead squad is a spirited and energetic group: ironically, they feel more human than the Alba do, even though the Alba claim that the Colorata are non-human.

  • Between the devastated world outside of the San Magnolia walls, military emphasis, spider-tanks and general aesthetic, 86 EIGHTY-SIX distinctly feels like Sora no Woto. It’s been ten years since I first watched Sora no Woto, and admittedly, since then, I’ve had a fondness for the sort of world-building that Sora no Woto presented. Here in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it is no small compliment when I say that this series is comparable to Sora no Woto as far as creating intrigue and excitement to see what happens next. However, unlike Sora no Woto, which I watched after its airing (and therefore, could watch the episodes at my own pace), watching 86 EIGHTY-SIX as it’s airing means that I’ll have to wait a week should any episode end on a cliffhanger.

  • Whereas the Alba eat artificial foods, with actual food being hard to come by, Spearhead appear to have access to fresh peaches and cherries, as well as real eggs and flour. Even though their lives are far tougher, and death is always a real threat, one could make the case that the Colorata are living more fully than their Alba counterparts. Here in this screenshot, I’ve just got Shinei, the male protagonist of 86 EIGHTY-SIX. Brutally efficient and skilled, Shinei is a taciturn, stoic individual, and in fact, reminds me greatly of Gundam 00‘s Setsuna F. Seiei.

  • Assuming this to be the case, I feel that 86 EIGHTY-SIX will likely have Shinei become more expressive and honest with his feelings as he gets to know Vladilena better. Shinei is voiced by Shōya Chiba (B Cell from Cells at Work! and Yuito Aoi of Iroduku: The World in Colours). Shinei is notable because of his devotion to duty and attendant combat efficiency. When one of his squad-mates is injured in combat and asks Shinei to put him out of his misery, Shinei does so without hesitation: in most situations, one would at least stop and hesitate a little, so such an action speaks volumes about Shinei’s mindset.

  • Despite not expressing his emotions often, Shinei is often seen reading books when off-duty. I read primarily to lose myself in other worlds, and I therefore imagine that books are probably Shinei’s way of coping with the things he’s seen and done on the battlefield. Further to this, while Shinei isn’t particularly vocal, I imagine that there could come a point in 86 EIGHTY-SIX where Shinei loses his cool: in Gundam 00, flashbacks to his past, brought on by Ali Al-Saachez and a return to the Krugis republic, causes Setsuna to fight with a wild abandon.

  • Spearhead and the other Colorata soldiers use the M1A4 Juggernaut, a manned spider tank armed with a single 57 mm smoothbore cannon and depending on the configuration, either a pair of oscillating cutters or 50-calibre machine guns. Juggernaut pilots are called Processors to create the illusion that the Juggernauts are autonomous, unmanned machines, whereas in practise, the Juggernauts resemble Star Wars‘ TIE Fighters, which were built to overwhelm enemies with numbers and lack any notable safety features.

  • By the second episode, viewers have a chance to see what sort of enemies San Magnolia are fighting, and it’s explained that Spearhead and other Colorata pilots are engaged in a battle with the Empire’s Legion, fully autonomous machines that overwhelm enemies with their numbers and ability to sustain casualties without concern. It is briefly mentioned that the Empire might not be in full control of their machines, which attack based on some failed algorithm, and as a result, San Magnolia’s war with the Empire is set to conclude in two year’s time, when Legion machines reach their operational limits and shut down.

  • With this in mind, the Colorata become human sacrifices, fighting to keep the Legion busy while the Alba wait things out. I’ve heard that this already precipitous setup will be further disrupted in the future as more of the world becomes presented to viewers, although having very little familiarity with the source material, I think I’ll stick to an anime-only perspective of 86 EIGHTY-SIX so that any new revelations can have a greater impact. While I’ve long been neutral or tolerant of spoilers, of late, I’ve had an increased inclination to avoid spoilers as to have a more thorough and complete experience.

  • Vladilena’s convictions become reinforced to viewers when she’s invited as a guest speaker for a lecture and promptly goes on to say that the Colorata, the 86, are fully human, and that it is only with San Magnolia’s mistreatment and misclassification of them that allow the country to claim a zero-casualty war against the Empire’s Legion. Ordinarily, characters with a predisposition towards supporting a cause can come across as being quite irritating because of indecisive writing, so it speaks volumes about Vladilena’s character that hearing her bring awareness to the Colorata’s situation serves to increase my respect for her: the series is able to get viewers to rally behind Vladilena because the other perspective (i.e. those of the Colorata’s) is clearly presented, leaving no ambiguity that with few exceptions, the Alba are being unreasonable.

  • To communicate with Spearhead, Vladilena uses what’s called a PARA-RAID, a VoIP system that Henrietta had a hand in developing. Spearhead finds her calls unusual, since most mission controllers regard the Processors as expendable. While initially reluctant to open up, a few of Spearhead do eventually warm up to Vladilena, who goes by the call-sign Handler One. Here, she asks Shinei to produce better combat reports so that she may better support them: while Processor teams are ostensibly supposed to write reports for this exact reason, unofficially, most mission controllers have no regard for the Processor’s well-being and thus, never read them, so Spearhead’s taken to submitting the same one every time to save effort.

  • There’s actually quite a bit of terminology in 86 EIGHTY-SIX that takes some getting used to, but fortunately, after three episodes, I believe I’m a little clearer now. A Handler is a mission controller, an Alba who sits behind a screen to direct the Processor, human pilots running the M1A4 Juggernaut spider tanks. To ensure a line of communications, the PARA-RAID system is used. The Legion refer to the autonomous war machines the Empire has created, and I think that’s everything.

  • Here, in between operations, the women of the team decide to frolik in a nearby stream, and after hunting a boar, some of the guys figure it’s a good idea to cop a look. They get busted almost immediately, and in the chaos, Kurena accidentally lets slip that she has feelings for Shinei, which leads to all sorts of good natured teasing subsequently, causing Kurena to puff up her cheeks in indignation. The use of visual elements such as puffed-up cheeks is unusual for a series of this premise, and I recall that Warlords of Sigrdrifa did something similar, with exaggerated facial expressions. I come from a time where serious anime had serious, consistent facial artwork, so seeing these elements always suggest to me that a given series, whether it’s 86 EIGHTY-SIX or Warlords of Sigrdrifa, is reminding viewers not to take things so seriously all the time.

  • Of everyone in Spearhead squad, I immediate took a liking towards Kaie: friendly and outgoing, she’s very forward and direct, as well as possessing a greater understanding of the Alba and Colorata’s history. As with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Kyon, I’ve long had a thing for ponytails, and despite 86 EIGHTY-SIX being a new anime, I felt that Kaei looks very familiar, even though can’t quite put my finger on which anime character. Kaie is voiced by Haruka Shiraishi, whom I know as Himouto! Umaru-chan‘s Kirie Motoba, Ruri Hibarigaoka from Anne Happy! and Hanawa Ushiku from Anima Yell!.

  • By evening, Vladilena uses the PARA-RAID to contact Spearhead. One aspect I particularly liked about 86 EIGHTY-SIX was the fact that the same moments would be portrayed from Vladilena and Spearhead’s perspective as the two converse, which really accentuates the idea that there’s two sides to the coin here. Although the only thing connecting them is voice comms right now, 86 EIGHTY-SIX will almost certainly go down a route where Vladilena’s conviction in equal rights and fair treatment of the Colorata will have her show up on the frontlines, which would show Kurena and the others that Vladilena means business.

  • After retrieving a map from the archives with Henrietta’s help, Vladilena is confident that she’ll be of greater help to Spearhead. However, things quickly go pear-shaped when Spearhead is ambushed by the Legion, and in the chaos, Kaie’s Juggernaut becomes stuck in a marsh that the maps did not denote. She becomes a sitting duck for the Legion’s guns and is subsequently destroyed. Theoto subsequently lashes out at Vladilena, and while his words come from the heat of the moment, there’s truth in them. Vladilena doesn’t know the horrors of the battlefield. As accusation after accusation comes in, Vladelina loses composure.

  • Three episodes into 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and I’m sold on the premise; there’s a lot of moving parts in this anime, and correspondingly, much to consider. I could be here all day discussing various ideas, as 86 EIGHTY-SIX offers food for thought on many fronts. However, I also appreciate that there will be a smaller set of themes this series will likely wish to focus on as it progresses. To give 86 EIGHTY-SIX a fair chance to explore the themes its author had intended the work to convey, I’ll close things off here and note that with this post, I’ve now established all of the anime I’m actively watching and writing about this season. I’ll take a look at Yakunara Mug Cup mo in another week: because the series is broken up into an animated and live-action component, there’s only the equivalent of a half episode each week, so I figured I’d best wait to see more of the series before sitting down to write about it. In the meantime, it’s time to catch up with the fourth episode: I’d deliberately held off on watching it so this after-three talk was not impacted by knowledge of future events.

Beyond social matters, 86 EIGHTY-SIX also speaks to the disconnect between the Alba handlers and Colorata soldiers. Theoto’s grief-filled rant carries this message plainly; while Vladilena may care for those around her, all she sees on the screen is a series of pixels representing a soldier. She’s not present to know how losing a comrade feels, or see the battlefield painted with allied blood with each and every death. 86 EIGHTY-SIX thus indicates that there exists a gap between leadership and the foot soldiers in general: leaders often have sight of the bigger picture, but are blind to the experiences (and sufferings) of those with boots on the ground, and short of visiting the frontlines themselves, will have very little idea of what individual soldiers see and feel. At the opposite end of the spectrum, foot soldiers have their concentration focused on getting the next objective done, and without a connection to leadership, can find it easy to lose sight of what they’re fighting for. When one loses their best friend, or a squad mate, the overarching objectives of a war become secondary: someone dear to them is gone, and achieving victory won’t bring them back. As Vladilena and Shinei get to know one another better through both conflict and whenever Vladilena contacts the Spearhead, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is clearly set on reconciling these two differences, both closing the gap between leaders and soldiers, and also set in motion the events that will see the Colorata receive equal rights, and perhaps reconciliation to demonstrate that irrespective of one’s appearance, ethnicity, beliefs or creed, everyone is human, with rights to life and security. 86 EIGHTY-SIX has covered a considerable amount of territory thus far, and this series could prove to be immensely enjoyable if all of these elements are brought together to accentuate the idea that at the end of the day, even seemingly-disparate people are more similar than unlike.

Houkago Tea Time’s Real Life Visit to London, England: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of K-On! The Movie

“In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in.” –Paddington Bear.

Whereas I’ve kept my virtual location hunts limited to Japan thus far, in this post, I will take readers to the heart of London, England, home of Houkago Tea Time’s impromptu but memorable graduation trip. In K-On! The Movie, a plan to make a graduating gift worthy of Azusa transmutes into a graduation trip when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi do their utmost to conceal it from Azusa. London differs from any location I’ve previously written about: for one, everything’s in English, making it much easier to plan a trip and get around. In conjunction with the fact that there are undoubtedly K-On! fans in London, and that the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook identifies key areas that Houkago Tea Time visit meant that, within a few months of the film’s première, fans were already purchasing train or plane tickets bound for London, ready to retrace the same steps that Yui and her friends tread during their lightning trip in Britain’s capital, home of some of the world’s most famous music locations. Abbey Road crossing, The Troubadour and Camden Town are iconic spots, associated with the development of rock music around the world, and speaking to Mio’s love for music, wind up being places that the girls visit during their haphazard but exciting travels. During the course of their travels, Yui and her friends both visit famous spots, as well as perform their own unique music for London’s citizens in a trip that helps the senior students to remember that their greatest gift to Azusa would take the form of the music that had inspired her to join their light music club in the first place. While folks have travelled London and done their location hunts previously, the combination of circumstance and curiosity led me to turn the Oculus Quest towards London for the internet’s first-ever virtual tour of K-On!‘s locations. Despite nearly ten years having elapsed since K-On! The Movie premièred (and with it, the inevitable fact that London’s cityscape has changed considerably since Naoko Yamada visited to research locations for the movie), the power conferred by the Oculus Quest and Google Maps’ ability to seamlessly display historical map data has meant that it remains quite possible to have an authentic virtual tour of London à la Houkago Tea Time, utilising the Oculus Quest’s unmatched ability for immersion.

  • Having already done a post about Toyosato Elementary School some nine years earlier, I’ve chosen to skip ahead to London proper. While I’m armed with an Oculus Quest and the best that technology has to offer, folks looking to reproduce Houkago Tea Time’s trip back in 2012 were not left at a disadvantage: K-On! fans who lived in London shared locations with prospective visitors, and the official movie guide also points out where the different stills are from. Coupled with a bit of path finding and use of Google Maps (already decently sophisticated in 2012), finding the locations for the film proved quite straightforward.

  • The taxi from Heathrow International Airport to the girls’ first destination, Hotel Ibis London City, takes them past Famous 3 Kings, an iconic pub serving classic fare like burgers, wings and pizza that is known for their excellent drinks, food and ambience. While Yui and the others never swing by a pub for dinner (presumably, only Mio’s English is sufficient to navigate the menu), were I to visit London for myself, a pub would be on my list of places to check out, along with a place for a proper plate of bangers and mash, fish and chips, Sunday roast and a full English Breakfast. I concede that a lot of pubs back home have a very British or Irish feel to them, but nothing beats checking out the real deal.

  • Because Ritsu imagines that there’s only one Ibis in London, she supposes that they’ve booked the one in London City. Their first stop thus ends up being the Ibis at London City, rather than Earl’s Court. The Ibis at London City is located in an excellent spot – it is within walking distance of iconic London landmarks like the Big Ben and Tower of London. The decision to not have Houkago Tea Time lodge here was likely because the point of this trip wasn’t about London itself, but rather, their shared experiences – the Ibis at Earl’s Court isn’t near any London icons, but instead, offers Yui and the others a chance to check out a side of London known to the locals.

  • While the London cityscape has changed considerably in the past nine years since K-On! The Movie premièred, as evidenced by the different storefronts here on Commercial Street, the buildings themselves are still recognisable. The traffic in the Google Street View versions, however, is considerably denser, and one of the long-standing limitations of a virtual reality approach – the Google Street View car takes images at specific intervals, and this means that I’m not always to get the exact same angles as seen in an anime.

  • Because of how the London Underground is set up, Mio and the others have a chance to swing by Camden Town, whose location made it a transport hub in London. As the district became the nexus for rail lines and canals, warehouses were constructed here to store goods. However, the area was redeveloped, and today, is better known as an entertainment district with a highly unique aesthetic. K-On! The Movie captures this particularly well, showing it as a colourful district with a myriad of storefronts.

  • Yui and the others travel from Aldgate Station to Camden Town Station: after Yui notices Azusa having trouble walking, the girls take a detour in search of new shoes for Azusa on Mio’s suggestion. After leaving the station, the girls immediately comment on the atmosphere in Camden town, and at an outdoor market, they end up picking out something that works for Azusa. The kaiten sushi place that Yui and the others perform at is no longer around: it’s the former Proud Music Venue, which opened in 2001 and closed in 2018.

  • After a lengthy day, Yui and the others finally make it to the Ibis at Earl’s Court, and since the check-in isn’t shown, it stands to reason that the process was very seamless. Unlike Ibis London City, Ibis Earl’s Court is located further from central London attractions: the hotel has its own conference facilities and brings to mind the likes of the hotels in the eastern part of my city. Ibis Earl’s Court is noted for its clean facilities and friendly staff, although the hotel’s age is showing. The prices here are slightly lower than those of Ibis London City, making it suited for a group of high school students whose graduation trip came out of the blue.

  • While the locations in London initially seem intimidating, Naoko Yamada and her staff fortunately drew their stills from nearby locations, and a brief walk down Lillie Road allows for everything to be located with relative ease. The scene of London’s iconic double-decker buses was taken at the intersection between Lillie Road and North End Road looking west: the spot is only 210 metres away from Ibis Earl’s Court.

  • Ritsu and the others pass by West Brompton Station on their second day en route to breakfast. Located on the London Underground District Line, one can easily reach Aldgate Station from here: had Yui and the others chosen not to go to Camden Town per Mio’s request, reaching the Ibis Earl’s Court from Ibis London City would’ve been fairly straightforward, and indeed, thanks to the District Line, the Ibis at Earl’s Court is an excellent alternative for folks looking for slightly less pricy accommodations while at the same time, still be somewhere close to a line back to central London.

  • This intersection is located at Old Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road, and the angle seen in K-On! is from Earl’s Court Road, looking south. K-On! The Movie has Yui and the others looking left per the signage on the road surface to check for vehicles before crossing, which I found a little strange, since Japan also has left hand traffic. Conversely, left hand traffic is foreign to me: whenever I visit Hong Kong, the fact that everything is the opposite of what I’m used to always requires a bit of adjusting to.

  • After crossing the intersection and backtracking a little, Yui’s curiosity about The Troubadour leads the others to stop for breakfast here. The Troubadour is a coffeehouse that dates back to 1954 that has played host to music icons, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. The location was chosen precisely owing to its connection to music history, although for Yui, I imagine she picks it owing to its distinct appearance. A glance at The Troubadour’s brunch menu shows that Yui had the Eggs Benedict, which goes for 9.5£ (16.27 CAD): brunch is served from opening until 1430, and this does feel a bit pricy, but on the flipside, their dinner menu is much more reasonably priced, with their iconic braised Rosemary and Garlic Lamb shoulder going for 24£ (41.11 CAD). The Troubadour is definitely a restaurant I’d be happy to swing by should I ever decide to visit London.

  • Upon finishing K-On! The Movie, a few locations did elude me, such as the Chelsea Ballet School and the apartments along Oakley Street. The K-On! Movie Official Guidebook was instrumental in helping me to sort out where everything was located: the guidebook had indicated that Yui and the others had travelled along King’s Road, and this is what led me to Oakley Street. There’s nothing innately special about the Chelsea Ballet School: it offers youth instruction in ballet, and according to the notes, substituted David Bowie’s house, which the team couldn’t find during the time in London.

  • With the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook to go off of, I first found Oakley Street first, and then did a bit of backtracking to find the Chelsea Ballet School. While this row of apartments seems quite unremarkable, the spot is actually close to the Bob Marley Blue Plaque, which is across the street from the spot Mio and the others pass by en route to World’s End. Since the moment happens so quickly, it stands to reason that Mio did not end up stopping the others for a quick photo, which speaks to K-On! The Movie‘s themes: even in London, home of music legends, Houkago Tea Time are more wrapped up in their own adventures, doing things at their own pace.

  • With Azusa’s planning, the group next swing by the backwards clock at World’s End: this store sells what is advertised as timeless music fashion, and I imagine that the clock is supposed to be indicative of this. Having now taken a closer look at the range of locations Houkago Tea Time visit in London, it is clear that Yamada and her team researched the locations thoroughly for their connection to music, and even if Mio and the others never actually stop at the iconic locations she’d wish to check out, through serendipity, the girls do end up passing by some of the most famous music spots of London anyways.

  • Just a stone’s throw from World’s End is this apartment block and a set of benches that Yui et al. catch their breath at. The apartment can actually be seen from World’s End, making this a relatively easy location to find. I believe that in Britain, apartments are referred to as flats in casual speech, although realtors call them apartments. The gap between British and North American English is noticeable, especially with regard to pronunciation and vocabulary, but aside from these differences, English is English: were I to visit London for myself, I’d have a much easier time of it for the simple fact that, besides my Canadian inflection, my command of English is sufficient for me to get by over in England.

  • Abbey Road Crossing is probably the single most famous crosswalk in the world: Apple Records’ John Kosh had designed the album on the idea that The Beatles were so famous that they could get away without the album or band name. The actual photograph was taken in 1969, and since then, The Beatles’ famous crossing has been imitated endlessly. When Azusa, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Ritsu cross, their minds aren’t even on the fact that they’ve tread on hallowed grounds: Azusa is busy trying to figure out what other spots the group can visit next.

  • While K-On! The Movie is generally faithful to the placement of locations, the biggest one that would’ve thrown location hunters off was Harpers Café at the intersection Southwark Street and Borough High Street: it is located south of the River Thames, and is nowhere near Hyde Park or the British Museum. Serving a range of sandwiches, Harper’s was replaced by a Costa Coffee at some point after the film released: location hunters today would have no chance of checking out Harpers Café, which featured in the movie because their neon coffee sign drew Yui’s attention for its resemblance to the Houkago Tea Time logo.

  • It is not lost on me that numerous Blogspot blogs have come up over the years portraying their owners’ trips to London in search of K-On! The Movie‘s locations. During an exercise I conducted some years ago, a hypothetical trip to London, England would cost no less than 3500 CAD in total. However, this trip was conducted using estimates of the price, and today, using something like Expedia, I was able to put together a flight and accommodations package for a total of 788 CAD. I appreciate that the current global health crisis has resulted in travel prices plummeting, but even assuming that the actual price is twenty percent greater (946 CAD), this is still considerably less pricey than my original estimates.

  • Of course, if I were to do a trip to London, I would allocate about a week to fully explore and take in everything; K-On! had condensed the trip down to five days and three nights for the sake of the story, but to really take in everything, I would prefer to do things at a slower pace. Big Ben and Palace of Westminster can be seen while crossing Westminster Bridge here: Big Ben was originally built in 1859 to act as a highly accurate clocktower, and the Palace of Westminster adjacent to it was finished in 1876 after some 36 years of construction: the site had been home to an older palace that hosted the British parliament, but a fire in 1834 decimated the original building.

  • At the time of K-On! The Movie‘s première, the London Eye Ferris wheel was the highest viewpoint until The Shard opened two years later. Even now, it still offers a breathtaking view of the London Skyline. Tickets cost £31 per adult (52 CAD) if one were to order them on the day of, as Yui and the other have done during their trip. Visiting the London Eye offers them a spectacular alternative that, while unexpected, was nonetheless enjoyable. Even Mio, who’d developed a fear of rotating things during the trip, casts her worries aside once she sees the London cityscape.

  • After returning to the Ibis Earl’s Court for their second night, a still from the intersection at Old Brompton Road and Warwick Road looking north is shown. There’s a unique charm about London, and K-On! The Movie manages to capture a feeling that looks like it came straight out of SkyfallSkyfall really captured the moody, brooding aesthetic of London in a way that previous Bond films had not, and K-On! The Movie replicates the Cold War-like feeling of the nighttime London streets. What’s impressive is that had come out before Skyfall, speaking to how much effort went into the film.

  • The next morning, while out and about, Yui wanders past the Brompton Cemetery. She passes by the stone arches and gates on its northern end while noting that she’s having trouble with the song for Azusa, and looking around the area, the recycling bins have since been removed. I imagine that Yui’s just wandered here while contemplating what Azusa’s song should sound like: moments later, Azusa calls out to her, saying it’s time to head off for that morning’s adventures.

  • Because Yui and the others are set to perform on their final full day in London, they swing by Denmark Street near Tottenham Court Road to check out instruments. The large buildings at the end of the street are office blocks, and Google CGS, as well as Central Saint Giles have their offices here, too. This was about the last of the spots I could easily check out using the Oculus Quest: in this post, numerous locations, such as the Waitrose & Partners Gloucester Road supermarket, Borough Market, Tower Bridge, Jubilee Park and Tower of London have been omitted because limitations in Street View precluded their inclusion.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with the London Bridge Experience, a tourist attraction claiming to be the United Kingdom’s spookiest. As a callout to this fact, K-On! The Movie has Mio running away from a staff dressed up in horror garb in abject terror. While my post is by no means the first ever location hunt for K-On! The Movie, nor is it the most comprehensive, it does demonstrate the level of effort that went into making the film memorable, and having life-like locations definitely helped to make Yui and Azusa’s London trip special.

Revisiting the locations Houkago Tea Time visit during the course of K-On! The Movie was a trip down memory lane: when the film became available overseas, I was well into my MCAT review, and exam anxiety had gripped me. To be able to watch Yui and the others explore London in a carefree, spirited fashion conferred catharsis that allowed me to regroup, and over the years, my fondness of K-On! The Movie has only increased. The film’s messages of appreciation and living in the moment, of going with the flow are timeless and universal, and while the film is cheerful throughout its run, a hint of melancholy permeates every scene; viewers know that with K-On! The Movie, K-On!‘s animated adaptation would be drawing to a close. The film’s decision to visit London, birthplace of rock as we know it, and whose musical icons doubtlessly inspired the way Houkago Tea Time play, acts as a swan song for the series. After watching the film, I ended up purchasing the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook, the first time I’d ever bought an artbook, and a few pages in, I’d noticed that the locations seen in the film were catalogued. For the longest time, I’d been meaning to do a location hunt for the movie, but eventually, such a project fell from my mind. However, with the recent resurgence brought on by the Oculus Quest’s capabilities, I decided the time was ripe to go visit London. The technology has its limitations: there are a few points in London where Google Street View does not offer coverage, so I was not able to visit all of the spots that Houkago Tea Time had, but beyond this, it was a fairly comprehensive experience. While Yui and her friends only stay in London for three days, it becomes clear that even this short trip was filled to the brim with new discoveries. With this in mind, given how much London has changed over the past nine years, visitors looking to see things precisely as Yui and the others do might prove disappointed: some shops have been replaced, and new buildings are found in London’s skyline (including the Shard, which was under construction back in 2011), so the scenery isn’t going to be entirely what Houkago Tea Time saw. In spite of this, many spots still remain as they once did: the Hotel Ibis at Earl’s Court, and Troubadour are still around, as is the British Museum and Chelsea ballet school. Camden still retains its unique aesthetic, and the view of Big Ben from Westminster Bridge remains quite unchanged from nine years earlier. In short, London is still worth visiting, and I imagine that such a trip would be life-changing, well worth it: I certainly would be interested in purchasing a flight across the Atlantic and booking accommodations at Ibis Earls’ Court.

Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou.: Review and Reflections After Three

“You come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” –Sam Keen

After his kokuhaku is shot down by supervisor and coworker Airi Gotō, Yoshida wanders off into the night after downing a few too many drinks, and encounters a high school girl under a lamp post. She introduces herself as Sayu Ogiwara and makes him a proposal: in exchange for letting her crash at his place, she’ll boff him. Shocked, Yoshida immediately declines, but allows her to stay anyways. The next morning, he learns that Sayu has made him miso soup, claiming that he’d been talking in his sleep. With the effects of the alcohol gone, Yoshida wonders what to do next, since Sayu is a runaway from Hokkaido who’d been going from place to place, trading her body for a place to stay. Worried about Sayu, he reluctantly lets her stay with him until she can go back home, on the condition that she help him with household tasks and not make any advances on him. Yoshida’s coworker, Hashimoto, hears about this situation and promises to keep quiet about it. At work, junior Yuzuha Mishima’s inexperience causes a project to go off schedule, and Yoshida sticks around to help her rectify her mistakes. She repeats a rumour floating around Yoshida, wonder if he’s got a girlfriend now that he’s looking well-kept. As a result of working overtime, Yoshida decides to pick up a mobile phone for Sayu, and explains that it’s to help them keep in touch should anything arise. Later, after spotting Yoshida with Yuzuha, Sayu becomes jealous and runs off. She coincidentally runs into Yuzuha, who offers her some advice before Yoshida arrives to bring her home. Sayu tries to seduce Yoshida again, wondering why he’s been so kind to her, and he explains that ever since she’s arrived, his life’s become more colourful, making him look forwards to coming home each day. Hige o Soru. Soshite Joshi Kōsei o Hirou., or Higehiro for brevity, has been a very curious series insofar: its premise was certainly attention-grabbing, and as Yoshida is quick to comment, opens the floor for disaster if not handled properly.

While Higehiro appears to be walking a tightrope with its content, the series immediately sets about conveying a story of emotional closeness over physicality: Yoshida immediately spots this about Sayu, and openly states that he’s into older, well-endowed women. He rebuffs Sayu for even considering seducing him, and constantly warns her not to do so. At the same time, he treats Sayu kindly as a result of his own nature; at work, Yoshida always picks up after the messes his coworkers leave behind in addition to getting his own work done. Yoshida is someone who wants what’s best for those around him, even if there’s a cost to him, and as a result, his actions for Sayu are strictly that of a friend’s. Indeed, Yoshida is an admirable character, although his manner means that, similar to myself, he’s not attuned to what’s around him. Yoshida is someone who knows what he wants and is confident in stepping up to the challenge, but when things blindside him, he’s unable to regroup. This makes his character immediately relatable, and while he certainly doesn’t see Sayu as a love interest, he does come to greatly value the warmth and companionship that Sayu brings into his life. In this area, Higehiro excels; Sayu seems to represent what most anime would do given such a premise, and then in the opposite corner, Yoshida represents what any reasonable person would go when placed in such a scenario. Where the two opposing approaches clash is something that Higehiro presents as a part of the journey, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes poignant, and sometimes humourous. I am therefore pleased with how the series has chosen to handle a most unlikely meeting and its consequences, as the story is moving in a direction that creates a very pleasant sense amongst viewers: Sayu is in a better place and can take the first step towards her recovery, while Yoshida now has something in his life to look forwards to beyond his work, and as a result of Sayu entering his life, Yoshida will undergo change that will help him to move on from his failed kokuhaku.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Higehiro‘s opening begins in a manner I’ve bore witness to: Yoshida is a hardworking and successful individual, but lacks luck in his love live. After working up the courage to make a kokuhaku to his senior and supervisor, Airi, he is shot down in a most painful manner. Unlike Yoshida, however, I tend to drown my sorrows in a good book or game – my acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes are less effective than that of the average person’s, and since I glow in the dark after drinking a few, I choose not to drink at all if I can help it. I joke to my peers that my weak enzymes mean that my sorrows have learned to swim. Further to this, unlike Yoshida, who runs into Sayu after getting wasted, I’d previously slept things off and woke up the next day with the resolve of bettering myself.

  • If Yoshida’s life had run the same way as mine, however, there’d be no Higehiro, and as such, we’ll allow highly improbable events to run their course to accommodate the story. Almost immediately after Yoshida and Sayu return to his apartment, Sayu attempts to get the party started, only for Yoshida to fall asleep immediately and groggily mumble that he’d totally be down for some miso soup. The next morning, Yoshida is shocked to find a high school girl in his apartment: he’d been so drunk he’d had no recollection of anything, and Sayu takes the time to explain what had happened the previous night.

  • Things thus get to an awkward start, since Yoshida is at a loss for what to do next after hearing Sayu’s story. However, her miso soup proves to be excellent, and despite entering Higehiro with no a priori knowledge, that Yoshida takes a liking to Sayu’s soup foreshadows what will happen next. It sounds like despite his physical attraction to Airi, Yoshida had also desired a deeper connection to her. Thus, when Sayu whips up the same miso soup he’d expect Airi to make, Higehiro suggests that despite a rough start, Sayu and Yoshida will develop the sort of emotional connection that the latter had most wanted from a relationship. This is what I seek from a relationship – I wish most to be depended on, reliable and there for someone at all times.

  • In the absence of a partner, I work hard for those around me so I can pursue my one great love, of giving back. While Higehiro is very much about the emotional aspects of a relationship, Sayu has very little understanding of this and initially, believes that her only way of repaying Yoshida’s kindness is with her body. She comments that she’s got very nice figure for someone of her age and would have no objections to Yoshida seeing if she’s comparable to Airi. Naturally, Yoshida declines to comment and settles on a solution – as long as she doesn’t try anything funny with him, he’ll allow her to stay while they determine what Sayu’s next steps are.

  • At the office, Yoshida seeks counsel from Hashimoto, his coworker and friend: unlike the serious Yoshida, Hashimoto has a more laid-back personality, although he is every bit as competent and efficient as Yoshida is. Yoshida trusts Hashimoto a great deal – he’s the first person Yoshida gripes to after losing Airi, and he confides in Hashimoto about the whole Sayu situation. Hashimoto suggests keeping quiet for now and seeing what he can do to get Sayu back home to Hokkaido. Unfortunately for Yoshida, Sayu’s mere presence induces a slight change in him: he begins shaving regularly, and his female coworkers notice that his shirts are now ironed. They suggest that Yoshida must’ve found a girlfriend of sorts, which could become problematic if the truth got out.

  • For me, I shave every morning, even on weekends, mainly because I hate the feeling of facial hair, and I iron my own shirts and pants. In Yoshida’s position, I imagine even the most eagle-eyed individual wouldn’t be able to notice the difference, since I tend to have a pretty good poker face about such things. After noticing that Sayu’s posture has worsened, he decides to get her a futon. Sayu is perplexed by Yoshida’s kindness: previously, to keep the men who’d taken her in happy, she put on a fake smile and offered her body as payment for lodging, but with Yoshida, she cannot see why he’s doing this for her without expecting something in return. Sayu’s reaction to Yoshida’s looking out for her is actually a saddening one, suggesting that despite her friendly personality and dazzling smile, she’s got a bit of emotional baggage coming in.

  • Consequently, Higehiro would do well to show how kindness and openness is a powerful tool on the path to healing. The ten-year gap between Sayu and Yoshida means that Yoshida sees Sayu as a child. He treats her as a teacher might a troublesome student, going the extra mile to keep an eye on her and as often as he can spare them so she can get back on her feet. He picks up moisturiser for her here and contemplates getting her a phone so he can reach her in event of emergencies, but she declines the phone, feeling it to be a burden and also fearing it will put her in further debt with Yoshida.

  • Because of Sayu’s beliefs about repaying debts and the fact that Yoshida can see through her fake smiles, I expect that Higehiro will eventually cover how Yoshida will begin helping Sayu to understand that debts incurred between individuals can and should be dealt with by way of returning favours, rather than through sex. This really speaks volumes to how rough Sayu’s had it, and even without her explaining what had led her to run away from home, it’s clear that she’s made a series of poor decisions. Yoshida, however, indicates that running away shows that she’s probably spoiled – someone with the resilience and faculties to deal with situations when things don’t go as one would hope wouldn’t run away, but seek to solve their problems. However, given what Sayu’s gone through, being with Yoshida is something I imagine will kick start her recovery: despite all she’s done and gone through, Sayu’s still kind at heart.

  • Yoshida’s junior, Yuzuna, is the typical ditz who barely manages to get by, but despite her comparatively poor work ethic, she respects Yoshida and is competent enough when the moment calls for it. After Yuzuna submits a build riddled with bugs before a release, Yoshida makes her stay after hours to iron out the issues. In exchange, he buys her dinner from a nearby convenience store. While Yoshida works for an IT company, and he and Yuzuna are seen working with an IDE, it’s hard to pin down whether they’re in IT or software – any software company using Agile will likely have a CD/CI system and QA teams, so that things are pushed and tested thoroughly before reaching customer hands. Fortunately, how software companies work do not figure in Higehiro, and I’ll accept that their work is similar enough to mine, but inconsistencies will not impact overall thematic elements for me.

  • After returning home late from work, Yoshida finds that Sayu’s prepared dinner for him. While Sayu feigns anger at his coming home late, she reveals that she’s not actually mad at him, and finds his reactions amusing. He promises to eat in the morning, and here, I note that Yoshida’s on the money when he notes that Sayu is more like a child than a peer, naïve in the ways of the world, and also cute in her own right.

  • Initially, I thought this moment, of Airi and Yoshida having dinner together, was a flashback, but it turns out that Airi is curious to know how Yoshida turned around so quickly. The truth would violate several laws, and Yoshida notes that nothing interesting had happened. In exchange for having answered her questions, Airi allows Yoshida to ask her any one question, and Yoshida immediately asks what Airi’s bust size is. Airi consents to answer, revealing that in this area, Sayu’s completely beat.

  • After Yoshida gives Sayu a phone, the two exchange contact information. For Sayu, this is a symbolic moment, indicating a fresh start and a chance to learn things anew (such as how to properly express gratitude). While Sayu can come across as a spoiled brat who is ignorant in the way of the world at times, Higehiro has done an excellent job with the characters insofar, and I find everyone likeable, respectable enough for me to hope that they make those critical discoveries that will help them along.

  • Sayu begins feeling uneasy with the arrangement she has with Yoshida: whereas previously, men had immediately jumped on the “benefits” piece of such an arrangement, Yoshida’s done nothing of the sort, and instead, simply has her keep busy around the house while he’s at work. Her insecurities kick in here, and she wonders if Yoshida will soon see her hit the bricks if nothing should happen. This is, of course, contrary to the sort of person Yoshida is, but it also says a great deal about how much Sayu’s gone through. At the third episode’s beginning, there’s a flashback (or perhaps a dream) in which an unknown individual is getting it on with Sayu, but Sayu’s eyes are completely lifeless.

  • While Yoshida’s other coworkers have no qualms about the unexpected changes in his style, Yuzuha is taking exception to all of the rumours, and it’s clear that she’s smitten with him. Of course, Yoshida sees Yuzuha as an unreliable but well-meaning junior who needs more supervision, seemingly oblivious to her feelings. Of course, this infuriates Yuzuha, who kicks Yoshida in frustration. Yuzuha is voiced by Kaori Ishihara, whom I know best as Rinne no Lagrange‘s Madoka Kyono and The World in Colours‘ Hitomi Tsukishiro.

  • As thanks for having bailed her out again, Yuzuha invites Yoshida out for a movie. However, while out and about, Sayu spots Yoshida with Yuzuha. Consumed with jealousy, she runs off – while Sayu had initially thought that Yoshida was at most, an acquaintance and therefore wouldn’t be attached to him, as she had with the previous men she’d stayed with before they’d evicted her, the sight of Yoshida with Yuzuha elicits a different response.

  • Yuzuha meeting Sayu is pure coincidence, and her words to Sayu suggest that she should step her game up. Yoshida catches up soon after, and it was a bit of a tense moment, as I wondered whether or not things could get out of hand here. However, I imagine that Yuzuha sees the relationship between Sayu and Yoshida as that of family: she doesn’t ask questions at all or even suspects anything, so I conclude that at least, for the time being, nothing crazy will happen. It is conceivable that the truth could get out towards the end of the season, but whether or not that happens will be a bridge to cross once we actually get there.

  • Sayu’s actions can therefore be thought of as a manifestation of her own lack of confidence and insecurities. She’s desperate to know why Yoshida seems resilient to her advances, but eventually stands down and explains that this is how she came to scratch a living after running away from home. There’s a desperation in her voice, and in this moment, Yoshida understands where Sayu’s coming from.

  • Yoshida’s hugging Sayu is more an act of compassion more than anything: with this embrace, he’s saying that he gets where Sayu is coming from. With this being said, he’s not in love with her, and that certain acts are reserved only for people he’s genuinely in love with. With this in mind, assuming that Higehiro will go with a route that resembles reality, I would think that the best possible end goal for this season would be to eventually see Sayu return home and make amends, then get her life in order. Once this is resolved, I’d be okay with whatever ending the author goes with, as emotional closure would’ve been achieved.

  • Because Yoshida is resolute and strong-willed, the same traits that allow him to succeed at his job allows him to convince Sayu that her advances are probably not coming from the right place. She subsequently realises that Yoshida is as truthful as can be about what he thinks of her: Yoshida’s life has become much more pleasant, as he’s able to look forwards to something beyond work. Yoshida’s remarks speak to the idea of appreciating the ordinary, and that in a world that is as hectic as we know it, knowing that one can come home to a quiet conversation and meal is very reassuring indeed.

  • Realising that she can be true to herself, Sayu notes that while she and Yoshida might be lonely and pathetic, they’re now lonely and pathetic together. Even in spite of himself, Yoshida concedes that Sayu’s real smiles are cute. With this, my talk on Higehiro after three draws to a close. Ever since I’d read about the premise, I’d been curious to see how this one turned out, and thus far, I am not disappointed. With this post in the books, I intend to write about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo at the halfway point and may do the same with 86 EIGHTY-SIX. In the meantime, it’s time to go file my taxes, hang out with some mates via ZOOM (or whichever tool of their choice is), and then kick off my Modern Warfare 2: Remastered experience.

As I am a complete novice where Higehiro is concerned, I have no idea as to what will happen next. However, what Higehiro has done in its first three episodes is establish that this is going to be a story about understanding one another, the idea that togetherness is more about the mental aspects than the physical, and that unexpected events in life oftentimes help people to contemplate their past stumbles and come out stronger for it. Together with an immensely likeable cast, Higehiro has proven to be remarkably entertaining and encouraging. Rather than go down a slippery slope, Higehiro instead chooses to explore the human side of relationships, of things like trust, conflict resolution and honesty: having established that Yoshida has integrity, viewers can be reasonably assured that Higehiro will not likely devolve into crude jokes, and instead, draw humour from the interactions between a man and high school girl as they strive to make their current arrangement work. In doing so, both Yoshida and Sayu are expected to learn more about one another, as well as themselves: this is about all I can say with reasonable confidence with what I’ve seen insofar, and I’ve got no idea of where Higehiro actually ends up going beyond my own guesses. With this being said, as long as Higehiro stays true to the route it’s already established, this could prove to be an entertaining series with interesting insight as to what romance and relationships entail, well beyond the physical components. As such, I’m looking forwards to what happens next in Higehiro; this setup is as every bit as outlandish as what was seen in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, but three episodes in, Yoshida has proven to be a much more reliable and relatable male lead than Kazuya Kinoshita, whose indecisiveness and weak will was to that series’ detriment. Of course, my thoughts on Kanojo, Okarishimasu will be a story for another time.

Super Cub: Review and Reflection After Three

“You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, any kind of motorcycle.” –Dan Aykroyd

Koguma is a high school girl with no family, money or hobbies. Her life is a monotonous routine consisting of going to school and returning home. One day, having grown wearisome of struggling up the hill on her way to school, Koguma swings by a motorcycle shop and learns that the owner is selling a green Super Cub for a mere 10000 Yen. Despite the Super Cub’s checkered past, Koguma purchases the bike and secures her operator’s license. Eager to go for a ride, Koguma ends up stuck at the convenience store and learns that her bike’s run out of gas. She switches over to the reserve tank after consulting the manual and resolves to always keep an eye on her fuel levels. As Koguma begins riding more frequently, she encounters classmate Reiko, who rides a modified CT110. As Koguma gets to know Reiko better, she begins looking forwards to sharing lunch with her together, and learns that while Reiko is a model student and admired by all, Reiko’s yearning is to be out on the open road. One day, while discussing potential plans to tour the countryside on their bikes, Reiko realises that Koguma’s got no trunk-top case, and offers to help her get one, free of change. Koguma also learns that safety goggles from the local hardware store will do the trick for keeping the wind away from her eyes while riding. This is Super Cub, the season’s cathartic series that portrays a journey of discovery and exploration. Unsurprisingly, the premise of motorcycles and biking offers a chance to present the series’ themes in a highly visual manner: new horizons open up for Koguma when she purchases a Super Cub. Super Cub itself wastes no time making the change in her life felt. When viewers first meet Koguma, colours are washed out, and her world is as dead as a doorknob. The moment she boards the Super Cub, starts the engine and makes her way home for the first time, Hokuto, Yamanashi, suddenly takes on a newfound life, and the world comes to life.

Standing in stark contrast with most slice-of-life series I write about, which are characterised by rambunctious characters and humour at every turn, Super Cub is a very subdued, slow-paced anime. Koguma speaks infrequently, and her dialogue is characterised by a quiet, hesitant inflection. Indeed, Super Cub feels a great deal like Sketchbook, in which silence and distance are both utilised to encourage viewers to reflect on a moment. From lingering shots of the Super Cub’s engine and chassis, to Koguma’s smiles, Super Cub intends for viewers to really take in a moment and appreciate what’s going on. Further to this, the soundtrack is very minimal, and for the most part, Koguma’s world is quite faded when it comes to colour. The atmosphere is therefore perfect for introspection, and it becomes evident that after buying the Super Cub, Koguma’s world changes entirely. While she still lacks a family and money, the prospect of being able to come and go as she pleases opens her heart up, and she befriends a classmate who’s got a passion for bikes, extending her horizons even further. However, this journey will not be one of unbridled energy, of being pulled out of one’s comfort zone to push new boundaries. Instead, through its quiet aesthetic, Super Cub shows how people can, and will step past their boundaries at their own pace as they are comfortable. It therefore goes without saying that I am enjoying this series immensely, as it represents a departure from the noisier approach that other series take towards portraying tales of learning and living in the moment.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Koguma is Super Cub‘s protagonist, and in her own words, has nothing. Her life is remarkably austere, consisting of going to school and stopping by the grocery store for provisions. While her world is very drab, evidenced by the washed out colours, there is little to indicate that Koguma is necessarily unhappy: Koguma initially rides a bike to school, and she smiles along the way, showing that she enjoys things.

  • However, heading up the incline leading to her school always renders her exhausted, and one day, after one difficult uphill trip too many, Koguma decides it’s time to change things up. One of the biggest questions surrounding how things work for Koguma is finances: she leads a very frugal lifestyle and says that she has no money, but in spite of this, is able to consider buying a motorbike, which is shown to cost anywhere from 1800 to 12000 CAD at the local dealer. There is, fortunately, a simple answer: until official materials indicate otherwise, my guess is that Koguma lives apart from her other family, but they’ve agreed to give her a small stipend for necessities.

  • Because Koguma herself lives minimally, as seen with her choice of meals (rice with instant curry for lunch, and rice with egg for dinner), it is not inconceivable that she’s saved up quite a bit. As such, when the dealer offers her a Super Cub for 10000 Yen (about 115 CAD), she’s able to jump on the decision. The fact that this particular Super Cub seems cursed (having led its previous owners to fatal accidents) doesn’t dissuade Koguma in the least. The community was immediately up in arms over this, suggesting that Super Cub was going down a route inconsistent with its presentation.

  • I’ve opted not to enter the fray for myself: internet wars are always troublesome, and I’m a little too old to be dealing with that sort of thing. I will simply note that Koguma accepting the Super Cub anyways despite its checkered past shows that she’s ready to get into something new. She subsequently picks up her operator’s license and returns to the dealer ready to make her purchase. Koguma is shown as getting her license very quickly, but I am reminded of how quick it was to pick up the Class VII operator’s license back home: we only need to take a simple written exam and pass a basic vision screening.

  • Of course, owing to the way things work, we must wait for the provincial services to mail us our license card, and until then, use an interim license to operate a vehicle. Since takes no more than two weeks, but the intrim license, being a sheet of paper, is a pain to carry around. Koguma doesn’t appear to have that problem: after securing her license, she’s back at the shop, and ready to roll. The quiet nature of Super Cub and Koguma’s own personality always gave the impression that something unpleasant might befall her.

  • It ultimately took the full length of the first episode to dispel this sense in me. When Koguma ignites the Super Cub’s engine for the first time, her world is thrown into colour. That Koguma’s world was merely subdued, rather than monochrome, indicates that while she was never melancholy or depressed per se, her world was very monotonous, with little to look forwards to. The immediate splash of colour that livens up the scene speaks volumes to the idea of possibility, as Koguma’s world suddenly opens up to her. Haunted bike or not, this marks a turning point in her life, and suddenly, the girl who has nothing now has a Super Cub.

  • As though to reiterate and emphasise the idea that Koguma isn’t depressed in any way, she smiles often and warmly throughout Super Cub: whenever a moment catches her fancy, Koguma breaks out into a smile that is charming and infectious. I’ve come to greatly appreciate these moments, as they show that despite Koguma’s biting words about her situation, she’s still able to spot the joy in a moment, and has taken the very first step of finding happiness anew.

  • It should go without saying that the Honda Super Cub should not be confused with the Piper PA-18 Super Cub, a twin-seat, single-engine monoplane with forty years of history. Had Koguma picked up a Piper Super Cub instead of a Honda Super Cub, this anime would’ve likely been about a flying circus. For that, I still need to finish watching The Magnificent KotobukiSuper Cub is about bikes and open roads, so I imagine that this series is going to place an increased emphasis on the riding aspects of Rin’s adventures in Yuru Camp△.

  • The same night after she buys her Super Cub, Koguma is seized with a desire to suddenly go for a night ride, and decides to swing by the convenience store to explore her newfound freedom. However, she’s gripped with a terrifying situation when her Cub refuses to start. A customer leaving the store drops his change, and this reminds Koguma of the operator’s manual the dealer had placed in a box on her Super Cub. Upon consulting it, she learns that her Cub’s out of fuel, but has a reserve tank for such situations. Moments later, Koguma is back on the road, en route to the nearest gas station.

  • With a full tank, Koguma breathes a sigh of relief. I learned to fill a vehicle up long before I learnt to drive, and I recall that back then, fuel was less than a dollar a litre. Today, thanks to the federal carbon tax, it’s about 1.21 CAD/litre, and on average, I go through about 40 to 50 litres every two weeks. The carbon tax is one of the most maligned aspects of our current government, although I feel that a large part of it stems from poor communication about what the tax is intended to do. In practise, I’m largely neutral towards it – it’s had the effect of increasing the cost of gas, but on the flipside, the government issues all Canadians with a rebate. The idea is that those who use more carbon-emitting resources will pay for it, but those who are under a certain quota will get money back. Of course, I would prefer research be done on alternate energy sources on conjunction with policy, as policy alone doesn’t always address underlying causes of problems.

  • While Koguma’s world has expanded with her acquisition, things are about to become even more interesting. After arriving at school on her Super Cub for the first time, she contemplates announcing to the class that she’s got a bike. Koguma is voiced by Yuki Yomichi, a YouTuber and voice actress hailing from Hokkaido. With no other titles in her resume besides Super Cub, she’s completely new to the realm of voice acting, but as Koguma, she plays this shy, quiet character exceptionally well, capturing all of Koguma’s thoughts and feelings in a compelling manner.

  • During home economics class, Koguma begins working on a bag for her helmet and gloves. Quiet and reserved, Koguma’s classmates regard her as a bit unusual, and their words about her aren’t exactly kind, even if they’re not outright insults. Koguma typically ignores her classmates and pay them no mind, so their remarks don’t exactly bother her, but it did show what Koguma’s life at school is like. Her days of being alone, however, come to a close when her home economics project catches the attention of fellow classmate Reiko, who takes a keen interest in Koguma after learning that Koguma is a fellow biker.

  • Reiko is voiced by Ayaka Nanase, whom I know best as Sakura Quest‘s Yoshino Koharu and Hibike! Euphonium: Oath’s Finale‘s Mirei Suzuki. Reiko brings to mind Hibike! Euphonium‘s Asuka in manner and grace: both are vociferous and energetic. Studious, athletic and beautiful, Reiko comes from a well-off family. She’s the antithesis of Koguma in every way, being outgoing, friendly and cheerful, but despite the vast disparities in their personality, Koguma feels a connection to Reiko because of their shared interest in biking, rather similarly to how Rin and Nadeshiko came to be friends in spite of their opposite personalities.

  • Reiko rocks a modified CT110: the base motorcycle has a 105 cc engine, semi-automatic four-speed transmission and a 2:1 gear ratio, giving it impressive performance. However, since Reiko’s extensively modified her bike, its performance exceeds that of the stock model. As a dual-sport motorcycle, the CT110 is robust, being suitable for both urban and off-road usage. Besides an improved engine, Reiko’s also added a large metal box for carrying cargo to her bike, allowing her to bring gear for extended trips.

  • For Reiko, even just sitting on her bike gives her a sense of liberation, that the world is hers to explore, and this is why she begins to haul Koguma out to the bike shelter during lunch breaks; until now, Koguma had heated up her lunch and eaten in the classroom. Koguma’s choice of food mirrors her austere lifestyle, although I will note that I am similar to her in that most days, I have sandwiches and tea for lunch. I choose the sandwich for its ease of consumption, and the fact that I can have the major food groups in a convenient package without needing to microwave it. By comparison, Reiko’s eating a loaded ‘dog from the school’s canteen: I would hazard a guess that the colourful sandwich speaks to Reiko’s own outlook on life, being neatly packaged but full of excitement.

  • The events of Super Cub are set in Hokuto, Yamanashi: this town of forty-seven thousand was formed in 2004 from the merger of Hakushū, Nagasaka, Sutama, Takane and Mukawa. Mukawa is where Koguma lives and attends school: like Yuru Camp△, I imagine that a little bit of elbow grease with the Oculus Quest in the Mukawa area would allow me to find every spot seen in Super Cub with ease. With that being said, the locations seen now are quite unremarkable, and I imagine that as Super Cub progresses, there could be more exciting destinations to check out – for the time being, I have no plans to do location hunts for Super Cub just yet.

  • Since Super Cub makes it a point to portray Koguma preparing her meals, placing an emphasis on how aside from cooking the rice, her meals are usually heat-and-serve, I imagine that as Koguma presses on with her journey, she’ll also begin eating better, as well. One’s diet is often tied with their well-being, and folks who eat well (loosely defined as consuming the right variety, quality and quantity of foods) report better mental health on top of feeling better physically. Koguma’s meals give her just enough nutrients to get by, but I imagine that she’s not getting the most out of her food. Meeting Reiko likely will change this – while Reiko wonders if Koguma is actively enjoying her meals, the latter initially has no response.

  • I imagine that the choice of setting in Yamanashi was deliberate: the combination of decently-sized urban areas and remote mountain creates a sense of quiet that sets the tone for introspection. Here, Reiko stops at a viewpoint from which Mount Fuji is visible: the sight of Mount Fuji is what compelled Nadeshiko to bike all the way to Lake Motosu from Nambucho, and I imagine that this spot is probably Wada Mountain Path Miharashi Viewpoint, with Kofu being the town below. Assuming this to be true, Fuefuki Fruit Park is a mere nine kilometres to the east.

  • While there’s a homeliness about Koguma, her smiles are warm and sincere. Watching her light up like a Christmas tree was a large part of the appeal in Super Cub: small victories in her day serve to make an otherwise unremarkable day extraordinary, and it shows that, bit by bit, Koguma’s world is changing. What makes her journey especially noteworthy is that Koguma took the initiative to start something new herself – in most anime, it is usually at a friend’s urging or witnessing something special that the protagonist kicks off a new adventure. Meeting Rin leads Nadeshiko to camp, and watching the light music club play convinces Yui to join the light music club. However, there is no such catalyst here in Super Cub.

  • Because of this, Koguma is able to start her journey on her own terms, at her own pace. Everything that happens subsequently results from her taking these modest first steps forward, and as such, all of the learnings she makes will be the consequence of her own motivation. It’s a pleasant thought, to know that one can have such profound experiences whether they’re solo or with a group, and in Super Cub, Koguma’s becoming friends with Reiko is seen as the result of her willingly taking those first steps. When Reiko mentions the benefit of having a trunk-top case for her bike, she realises that she could probably get in touch with a contact who has a spare box lying around.

  • Before going to grab the trunk-top case, Reiko asks that they swing by the grocery store first and pick up some sweets: by habit, Koguma’s inclined to go without the bag, but Reiko steps in and states that Koguma will be taking the bag, too. I initially felt that this could introduce a bit of a challenge for Koguma, who doesn’t spend more than she has to, as well as suggesting that Reiko could be a bit pushy when the moment calls for it. Such a combination could be the setup for conflict, but I am quite happy to report that on this count, I was wrong.

  • As it turns out, the candies are a gift for the fellow who’s trying to get rid of an old bike, and as thanks for allowing them to take the trunk-top case, Koguma gifts him the candies. The moral of this is that judgement shouldn’t be passed on a character’s actions until after there is sufficient context. While I aim to write my blog posts with this in mind, when I’m watching a series for the first time, I am still susceptible to reacting to things in the moment. This is why I never live-Tweet my reactions to things – a reaction to a moment may prove inappropriate moments later, once the context is given, and the advantage of having a blog means being able to fairly assess everything that I see, without being unfair to the writers and characters.

  • There’s a certain satisfaction from doing things for oneself, and here, Reiko walks Koguma through removing the truck-top case from an old bike that’s being sold for scrap. Reiko contemplates salvaging the windshield, but this windshield has clearly seen better days; it’s become brittle from exposure and cracks when touched. However, the trunk-top case is in excellent condition, and in no time at all, Koguma manages to unscrew the screws holding it in. She and Reiko thank the fellow, return to school and installs the case on Koguma’s Super Cub.

  • As it turns out, one of the teachers had caught wind of the fact that Koguma had a Super Cub, and he happened to have a spare front basket for her. Koguma thus leaves school in possession of two new storage additions – Reiko notes that things can have a habit of just turning up in the moment and help people when they least expect it, and she’d personally had experiences where, tired of looking for a part, ended up buying it, only for someone to appear and say that they’ve got a lead or the part in hand. This speaks to life’s unpredictability and is Reiko’s way of suggesting that Koguma keep an open mind.

  • While riding home, Koguma decides to push her Cub up to an exhilarating 30 km/h (the speed for most playground zones), only to find that things become a lot colder. She discovers that her own helmet has mounts for a face shield after finding a QA inspection slip, and the next day, she asks Reiko about helmets. Reiko’s helmet is a more sophisticated one, and when Koguma inquires about the price, Reiko states that the price of a helmet is whatever price one places on their own safety. With this in mind, the fact that Koguma’s helmet passed QA is meant to be reassuring to viewers, that Koguma’s going to be fine, and is simply looking for a solution to keep the wind from her face.

  • Reiko decides to help Koguma look for face shields she can mount onto her existing helmet, but gets a little carried away in looking at various other helmets, which are outside of Koguma’s price range. Serendipitously, a contractor working on the library is wearing a pair of safety goggles, and when Koguma asks him whether or not those are rated for riding a motorcycle, the man replies that he’s seen people do so all the time. A good pair of bike goggles goes for anywhere from 40-80 CAD in my area, but with a bit of ingenuity and open-mindedness, Koguma works out an alternate solution that works for her price range.

  • She thus sets off for the local hardware store and picks up safety googles for a comparatively inexpensive 12 CAD, along with a bike chain to assure her bike’s safety while unattended. With this, Koguma is able to now visit a wider range of places without worrying about the wind getting in her eyes, or her bike being stolen. The stage is therefore set for adventure, which I imagine that Super Cub will focus on in the coming episodes. I have plans to write about this series: since I’m now back to a regular work schedule, I can’t guarantee I’ll be anywhere as efficient as I had been with Yuru Camp△ last season, but I will try to be consistent and see about offering unique insights.

  • With the goggles, 30 km/h suddenly doesn’t seem too fast anymore, and this moment signifies how Koguma’s slowly learning to run after mastering the art of walking. Able to travel faster now, Koguma hits the accelerator with a grin on her face. Being able to travel faster changes everything, and although Koguma still isn’t hitting the same speeds as a car, she’ll at least be able to keep up on a longer road trip with those she travel with.

  • The third episode concludes with Reiko giving Koguma her phone number, allowing the two to stay in touch more easily. This single act sets Koguma thinking, that in this moment, she’s made more than just a friend; she’s now become closer to someone who shares her interests and has a contact in her, someone she can ask for help from and share concerns with. This is a watershed moment in Super Cub, as Koguma now has someone to really share in her hobby with. Her path is no longer one of loneliness, and the stage is set for increasingly exciting experiences now.

  • With the first three episodes in the books, I’m definitely enjoying Super Cub – I’ve made it a point to, each and every anime season, watch at least one series that is a slice-of-life about self-discovery and open-mindedness. This season, I’ve also got Yakunara Mug Cup mo on my plate as well, although because this series has half-length episodes, I’ve opted to go with a similar setup as I did with World Witches: Take Off! – one talk at the halfway point, and the one more talk when the series is done. I’m also watching Higehiro and 86 EIGHTY SIX for this season, and on the manga front, my copies of Harukana Receive‘s sixth and seventh volumes have arrived, so I will be starting that party shortly. Finally, on account of an unprecedented sale, I decided to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Modern Warfare 2: Remastered. Both games have been on my radar for some time, and I rather look forwards to starting those, as well. With the latter, it means I’ll finally have played all three of the original Modern Warfare titles.

Three episodes in, Koguma’s journey begins slowly but steadily; Super Cub‘s made clear its objectives, and as the series continues, viewers will see what lies ahead for Koguma as she reaches further as a result of a fateful choice to take a step forward and do something different. Unlike most series, where fateful encounters spur characters out of their routine, Super Cub is unique in that Koguma takes the lead in trying a new activity, and for it, opens up her world of her own accord. This is a valuable and legitimate message, since there certainly are folks who are self-starters and end up instigating their own journeys. Regardless of whether one’s own curiosity sets them down this path, or if others catalyse this, the outcomes are inevitably the same: an open mind for hitherto untried experiences is how meaningful memories are created. The gentle pacing and style in Super Cub precludes any sort of conflict or drama, so I anticipate that the anime will incrementally build up Koguma’s riding skill, the knowledge she has surrounding bikes, and the scope of her adventures. Koguma’s experiences do remind me of when I’d first learnt to drive a decade earlier. Back then, 40 km/h was too fast for me, and I’d be exhausted just from covering the distance between home and campus. Today, driving is as intuitive and natural as whipping up a ham and cheese omelette or setting up a single-view iOS app from scratch. It therefore stands to reason that as Koguma learns more about her Super Cub and becomes more confident, her world will continue to become increasingly colourful, joyful and meaningful.

Gundam SEED: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point

“What the can you hope to protect when your feelings are the only weapons you’ve got?” –Kira Yamato

The creation of genetically enhanced humans, Coordinators, results in a rift that eventually erupts into open hostilities, prompting the Coordinators to settle in space in colonies called PLANTS. When an attack on the PLANT, Junius-7, is destroyed by nuclear weapons, the Earth Alliance and PLANTs go to war. With their superior technology, the PLANTS develop mobile suits, weapons that give them a massive advantage. To counteract this, the Earth Alliance strike an agreement with the neutral Orb Union to develop G-weapons at Heliopolis – when ZAFT catches wind of this programme, they mount an operation to steal these new mobile suits. Coordinator Kira Yamato ends up piloting the remaining G-weapon, the GAT-X105 Strike to fend off the mobile suits, and with his friends, boards the new model carrier, the Archangel, for a trip to the Earth Alliance’ base in Alaska. However, this journey is fraught with challenges – ZAFT’s Commander Rau Le Creuset is intent on destroying the Archangel, and Kira Yamato’s longtime friend, Athrun Zala, has become a ZAFT pilot. The Archangel manages to elude Creuset’s team on several occasions, and after an ill-fated stop at the Artemis station, stops to retrieve frozen water from the remains of Janius-7. Here, the Archangel captures Lacus Clyne, daughter of PLANT chairman Siegel Clyne. Resupplied, the Archangel manages to reach Earth’s defensive fleet. During the battle, Flay Allster’s father is killed by enemy fire, and Lacus manages to encourage him. In turn Kira chooses to return her to the ZAFT forces against orders. Kira’s friends end up enlisting to protect those around them, but after approaching Earth, Athrun and his team manage to destroy the entire fleet that had shown up. Kira and the Strike manage to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere with the Archangel, landing in Northern Africa. They meet a resistance force after fending off Earth-based ZAFT forces and their commander, Andrew Waltfeld. Kira also encounters Cagalli, who is with the resistance. Both are captured by Waltfeld, but Waltfeld chooses to spare them. Later, when members of the Creuset team join them, Waltfeld launches an attack on the Archangel, but is seemingly killed after Kira defeats his custom mobile armour. The Archangel subsequently heads for Orb Union, but in an engagement, Cagalli is shot down and encounters Athrun for the first time, but is later rescued. Upon arriving in Orb Union, Kira is asked to share his expertise on mobile suit operating systems to aid in their own programmes. With the Archangel’s arrival in Orb Union, I’ve reached the halfway point of Gundam SEED, a Gundam series dating back to 2002. With an intimidating fifty episodes, Gundam SEED had been a series I had difficulty approaching, but with encouragement from my friends, I’ve now opened my journey into one of the most recognisable and iconic Gundam series of the 2000s.

Out of the gates, Gundam SEED wastes no time in establishing its themes: with Kira and Athrun on opposite sides of the war, their simultaneous reluctance to fight one another and desire to do right by those around them creates an internal conflict that must be reconciled. For Kira, he fights to keep his friends safe, and constantly wonders what the point of war is. At the same time, as Kira becomes accustomed to the Strike’s capabilities, he also reluctantly accepts that there are things that only he can do, although in doing so, Kira also feels an increasing disconnect from his parents. At the opposite end is Athrun, a ZAFT pilot who seeks to end the war between the Coordinators and Naturals through force: after losing his mother in the Janius-7 incident, he resolves to beat down the Earth Alliance and help to bring about peace. Gundam SEED goes to great lengths to show the human side of warfare in its first half: behind every gun sight is a human being, and one’s enemies on the battlefield might get along fine as friends outside of war. Nowhere is this more apparent than Andrew Waltfeld, a devoted soldier but honourable man: while he and Kira might be on opposite sides of the conflict, Waltfeld is genuinely interested in Kira’s potential and greatly respects him. Similarly, having now spoken with Waltfeld, Kira hesitates to strike a killing blow in combat. As it stands, Gundam SEED suggests that in a given war, politicians and calculating officiers are the true enemy, seeking conflict as a means of achieving their own ends. Both the PLANT’s councillors and Earth Force brass seem quite unconcerned with the cost of war, and similarly, the calm, calculating but unstable Rau Le Creuset suggest that beyond Kira and Athrun’s genuine desire to protect those around them and end the war, more sinister forces are at work for both ZAFT and the Earth Alliance. These forces account for why the Orb Union has been developing their own mobile suits, as a means of defense against an increasingly unstable world.

No discussion about Gundam SEED would be complete without mention of the G-weapons, and in particular, the GAT-X015 Strike. Despite being a powerful prototype mobile suit equipped with a sophisticated OS and Phase Shift armour, which negates all physical attacks, the Strike (and its brethren, the Aegis, Duel, Blitz and Buster) is limited by its use of a battery. Owing to the constraints that Neutron Jammers introduce (it’s suggested they block neutron movement, suppressing fission reactions), mobile suits are forced to rely on batteries as their power supply, and as a result, despite offering firepower equivalent to that of a battle ship, mobile suits remain constrained by their operational time. This forces pilots to act in an efficient manner to achieve their goals, and initially, Kira pushes the Strike to its limits during combat, to the point where the Phase Shift armour powers down as a result. Limitations in the Strike’s capabilities forces Kira to grow as a pilot: from not being baited by enemy forces to placing his shots more carefully, Kira improves with each operation, assisted by his innate abilities as a Coordinator. While Kira’s prowess as a pilot has been the subject of no small discussion for the past two decades, Gundam SEED demonstrates that even Kira Yamato began as a novice, and it is over time that he ends up becoming the pilot that he is. Gundam SEED thus opens in a very strong manner, and being a re-telling of the Universal Century’s story, ends up with many parallels. In fact, having now seen Gundam Unicorn, it is fair to say that Gundam SEED‘s first half inspired Unicorn‘s progression: both Banagher and Kira are reluctant pilots who only get into the cockpit to protect those important to them, suffer a catastrophic loss while fighting an enemy combatant during re-entry, land in the desert and rediscover their will to fight in the process. However, unlike Gundam Unicorn, Gundam SEED takes its time in presenting its story, and in this area, Gundam SEED fully utilises its run time to flesh things out; in conjunction with a phenomenal soundtrack, Gundam SEED excels in conveying the emotions each of the characters feel as they navigate the horrors and desolation of warfare.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While character dynamics are just as integral to Gundam, the mobile suits are the centrepiece of any given Gundam series, so I’ll open the post with Kira destroying a GINN using the Strike’s anti-ship sword. Gundam SEED is no different: the first three episodes deal with ZAFT’s operation at Heliopolis and Kira boarding the Strike. I believe this marks the first time I’ve ever written about a 50-episode anime, which means that there’s enough going on such that I won’t be able to cover every conceivable detail, and even the collection of screenshots I’ve amassed only cover a very small faction of the series.

  • The Strike was very much an interesting lead machine for me: until now, every Gundam I’ve seen features a lead machine that was nigh-unstoppable, without limitations. The Exia had no equal in melee combat in Gundam 00, and its successors improved on the basic concepts further. while the Unicorn was leagues above its predecessors in performance. Amuro Ray’s RX-93 was similarly a highly powerful machine utilising unexplored technology. While these machines have their drawbacks, their base operations are solid compared to other mobile suits. Conversely, while the Strike is powerful, it is primarily limited by its battery’s operational time, forcing Kira and the Archangel to fight strategically with it.

  • Gundam SEED‘s Sai, Tolle, Miriallia and Flay are ordinary youth at the series’ beginning, thrust into extraordinary circumstances as a result of warfare. For a novice like myself, they’re equivalent to Gundam Unicorn‘s Micott and Takuya, Banagher’s friends from Industrial Seven who are brought on board the Nahel Argama. Unlike Sai, Tolle and Miraiallia, who become bridge crew, Takuya and Micott end up helping the engineers instead, and it is said that Takuya’s mechanical skill led to the conception of the Full Armour Unicorn. Similarly, Sai, Tolle and Miriallia end up contributing to the Archangel’s combat operations.

  • At the opposite end of the conflict are Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty pilots, Dearka, Yzak and Nicol fight alongside Athrun and the enigmatic Rau Le Creuset. Their operations at Heliopolis begins this conflict, and while Yzak is utterly devoted to ZAFT, the other pilots in Athrun’s group are more sympathetic individuals. In particular, I’m rather fond of Nicol: his moderate characterisation and preference for music over warfare serves to remind viewers that while Athrun and Kira might be on opposite sides, both Athrun and Kira have things they want to protect.

  • In the Universal Century, I have an inclination to side with the EFSF, and in Anno Domini, the Earth Federation and their A-LAWS made them the antagonists. The Cosmic Era suggests that things are more complicated: the higher ups in ZAFT are split between annihilating the Naturals and stopping their war, and similarly, while the Earth Alliance clearly despise Coordinators, there are some among them with a more moderate and tolerant outlook. Upon arrival at the Artemis space station, the Earth Alliance’ treatment of the Archangel’s crew gave the impression that the Earth Alliance military are conceited, more interested in themselves than the bigger picture.

  • Yzak’s Duel is a general purpose mobile suit for a variety of combat situations, while the Dearka’s Buster is an artillery-oriented suit intended for bombardment. Nicol pilots the Blitz, which uses the Mirage Colloid active camouflage system for stealth operations. Meanwhile, Athrun’s Aegis is the most advanced of the group, being capable of transforming into a mobile armour during combat. The stolen mobile suits offer the ZAFT forces an overwhelming advantage in combat, and it is only owing to Kira’s growing skill with the Strike, as well as the sophistication of the Archangel, that allows Kira and the others to escape the Le Creuset team’s clutches.

  • Gundam SEED‘s politics are on par with the Universal Century and Anno Domini’s in terms of sophistication, but as with the other universes, Gundam SEED also takes the time to properly flesh things out and make it clear on where each character and faction stands. This becomes important: my introduction to the Cosmic Era had actually been through Gundam SEED Destiny, whose execution left me confused for the episodes that I did end up watching. Gundam SEED Destiny became a lesson in why one should always start at the beginning, and while I had some apprehension entering Gundam SEED, it turns out that Gundam SEED is very focused and clear, making it very easy to keep up with.

  • Lacus Clyne is a Gundam icon: she’s voiced by the legendary Rie Tanaka, a voice actress of great talent and fame (her roles include Azumanga Daioh‘s Koyomi Miuhara, Chobits‘ Chii, Minna Dietlinde-Wilcke from Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer‘s Maho Nishizumi). Initially, Lacus is Athrun’s fiancé, and is presented as being a very happy-go-lucky, air-headed princess with an unparalleled talent for singing. While on a memorial visit, she happens upon the Archangel and is brought on board. The idea of a lead ship capturing a princess is similarly a Gundam staple: Minerva Lao Zabi similarly boarded the Nahel Argama and was used as a bargaining chip by the Federation Forces.

  • One aspect of Gundam SEED that was noticeably strong was the soundtrack: Sahashi Toshihiko’s music for the series is excellent, both for combat sequences and for melancholy surrounding warfare. Because Gundam SEED proceeds more slowly than Gundam 00, the selection of incidental music is much wider, and the series also has a chance to really allow the characters time in between combat to reflect on what’s happening. The longer runtime of Gundam SEED speaks to a time when anime series had the timeframes and budget for longer stories, really allowing things to be fleshed out.

  • After leaving Heliopolis, Marrue Ramius, Mu La Flaga and Natarle Badgiruel are the highest-ranking officers on board the Archangel, and in each battle, do their best to ensure everyone’s survival. Marrue was the one responsible for pressing Kira and the others into service, and decides to look after everyone until they can reach Earth Alliance authorities in order to determine how to best handle everything. Having now seen Gundam SEED up to the halfway point, the similarities between Sumeragi and Marrue are apparent, as they are between Natarle and Kati Mannequin. Here, the Archangel’s highest ranked officers speak with Lacus about her origins and objectives, determining her to be of potential strategic value similarly to how the ECOAS team attempted to use Mineva as a bargaining chip against Full Frontal in Gundam Unicorn.

  • The topic of racism is implicitly covered with the gap between Coordinators and Naturals: the former look down on the latter for their lesser abilities, while the former resent the latter for possessing what they do not. In particular, Flay’s dislike of the Coordinators is apparent, and while Kira is the exception, she displays open hostility towards Lacus when they first meet. Flay’s friends wonders if she is sympathetic to the Blue Cosmos, an extremist group that is politically involved with the Earth Alliance. The Blue Cosmos do not figure heavily in Gundam SEED‘s first half, but I imagine they’ll have a much larger role to play at some point, if they’re being mentioned now.

  • Having Kira’s friends around as assistant staff on board the Archangel really helped to create the sense that Kira was never really alone in his struggles. Gundam pilots have always been conflicted about doing what they feel is right, and initially, Kira is forced to accept that it might be necessary to take lives in order to defend those around him. However, even if Sai, Tolle and Miriallia don’t fully understand Kira’s situation, their presence helps him to regroup.

  • While appearing to be purely for show, the different beam colours in Gundam SEED were chosen to make it easier to identify what was being fired: standard particle beams are green, while physical projectiles are orange. Rail gun rounds have a yellow discharge, and plasma rounds leave a distinct blue-red trail. The plasma rounds are unsurprisingly the most powerful, and weapons that fire them have the highest energy consumption. The differences bring to mind the Universal Century, where mega-beam launchers are used in a similar capacity.

  • After the first half of Gundam SEED, Rau Le Creuset remains an enigmatic individual: possessing Char Aznable’s penchent for wearing a mask at all times, an air of confidence and calm assuredness, Rau is also seen to be consuming pills and appears to be in great pain at times when off duty. This does lead to questions of what Rau Le Creuset is about, but owing to the pacing in Gundam SEED, it does mean that viewers will have to be patient. With this in mind, Gundam SEED never once gives the impression that things are dragging on.

  • Kira finds himself face-to-face with the Le Creuset team on several occasions, and while he initially only just escapes thanks to the Strike’s capabilities, with time, Kira’s improvement as a pilot allows him to fight on even footing with Yzak and the others. This eventually culminates in Athrun and Kira resolving to take the other down if necessary, a sign of their resolve. Here, Kira’s equipped the Strike’s Aile equipment, which enhances the Strike’s mobility. During combat, Kira’s latent potential awakens: dubbed SEED (Superior Evolutionary Element Destined-factor), it greatly enhances a Coordinator’s focus and reflexes, giving them superior control and awareness in combat.

  • SEED mode is what gives Gundam SEED its name, and upon entering it for the first time, Kira disables Yzak’s Duel. SEED mode is something that, in-universe, is not fully understood, but what is known is that particularly advanced Coordinators can enter it at will. Initially, however, SEED mode can only be entered when one develops a resolve to fulfill their objectives during a situation of high stress. There is an analogue in reality: flow, the state of being so immersed in something that one’s perceptions are altered. Like SEED mode, circumstances can push people into a state of flow, but especially disciplined people can enter this state at will. For me, it always takes me a bit of warm-up to get into this state, but I can consistently do so.

  • This is why when it comes to different tasks, I always start out weaker and only hit my stride after warming up. For instance, whenever I play online multiplayer, I fare poorly for the first five minutes or so, but subsequently, I perform significantly better. Despite a rocky start, Marrue comes to respect Kira for both his skill, commitment to his duties and his drive to do what’s right; she acts as a big sister figure for Kira, looking out for him and offers him advice where needed.

  • While rendezvousing with Earth Alliance forces, Flay’s father accompanies the escort team, but they’re shot down. In the aftermath, Flay falls into a depression and becomes consumed with thoughts of revenge. However, lacking the technical skills of the others, and the ability to pilot a mobile suit on her own, Flay can only push Kira to fight and leave none standing, counting on Kira’s own emotional weakness and sense of loneliness to further her own aims.

  • Voiced by Sōichirō Hoshi (Higurashi‘s very own Keiichi Maebara), Kira Yamato is intended to represent a Japanese perspective of warfare. Because Kira is peaceful and frequently doubts the use of force, director Mitsuo Fukuda suggests that conflict is something that finds resolution when people reluctantly take up a weapon to defend what’s around them, but never otherwise participate in warfare for the sake of aggression. Time and time again, Kira steps up to protect his friends, and comes to see the bigger picture around him, much as how Amuro Ray had done in Gundam, and how Banagher Links would in Gundam Unicorn.

  • Realising that Kira’s power is key to getting revenge against the other Coordinators, Flay begins a relationship with Kira and encourages him to fight with greater aggression. Flay is probably one of the most reviled characters in the whole of Gundam, although with the benefit of hindsight, I can clarify that anime fans of the early 00s were likely lacking in the big picture: Flay enters Gundam SEED as the daughter of an Earth Alliance politician who is accustomed to being the centre of attention, but was otherwise unfamiliar with warfare.

  • As such, I count the hate against Flay the consequence of incomplete knowledge: while what she does with Kira is morally dubious, her actions were the result of her coping with what was happening given her background. Fellow blogger and peer Dewbond has written extensively on the subject, and I imagine there will come a point in the near future where we will be doing a collaborative series on Gundam SEED. Dewbond’s insights into the characters stands in stark contrast with that of my best friend’s intrigue in the hardware and politics: when I speak with my best friend, our conversations are largely on how the machines and leadership (or lack thereof) impact the way wars are fought in Gundam.

  • By comparison, Dewbond’s focus on the characters and their response to extraordinary circumstances serve to paint a more compelling picture of why characters act the way they do. As such, I foresee that when it comes to discussion, my goal will be to reconcile the hardware with the characters, and individual motivations with the conflict at scale. Gundam has always excelled at covering things at both ends of the spectrum, and Gundam SEED is no exception, so a collaboration would offer a chance to see how all of the elements come together to create a Gundam series that’s definitely deserves the acclaim it has received over the years.

  • This single scene probably created more controversy for Gundam SEED than any other: the implications were that Flay slept with Kira, and the idea of underage activity can be a bit of a minefield to write about. In Japan, viewers wrote to television studios to complain, noting that Gundam SEED had been broadcast at a time when youth would be watching. For me, the viewers’ concerns were legitimate, but I also imagine that this was originally written to show how warfare impacts people’s judgments, especially when all norms are thrown out the window, and also serves to illustrate the lengths Flay would go to have her revenge on the Coordinators.

  • While Gundam SEED is technically lighter on fanservice than Gundam 00, the latter of which took the pains of showing how hot Sumeragi was on several occasions during the first season, Marrue oscillates more than strictly necessary whenever the Archangel takes any impact from enemy fire. Gundam 00, on the other hand, only had one such moment during the second season, when the Ptolemiaos II is impacted by torpedoes. I’ve typically never found such moments to add any notable value to Gundam, but they are infrequent enough as to not be distracting from what I showed up for.

  • After Kira fails to protect a shuttle carrying civilians during re-entry, he becomes despondent, and Flay further saw this as a chance to fuel his desire for striking down his enemies. Gundam Unicorn would later present a similar scene, where during re-entry, the protagonists bear witness to horrors unmatched as they are captured by the Earth’s gravity well. Re-entry is considered one of the trickiest parts of space travel, and its presentation in Gundam is to suggest a sense of helplessness. Much as how Banagher accidentally kills Gilboa with a shot meant for Full Frontal, Kira is powerless to stop Yzak from destroying a shuttle carrying civilians.

  • Upon landing on Earth, the Archangel finds themselves in the Sahara desert, far removed from their original landing point. Amidst the desert sands, the Archangel crew learn that the resistance group, Desert Dawn, are fighting a war against ZAFT’s Andrew Waltfeld with the goal of trying to take back their homeland. Kira also runs into Cagalli, who is a member of the resistance. While the Archangel’s crew find the Desert Dawn’s aims to feel somewhat futile, seeing the extent the desert’s inhabitants are willing to go to defend their home leads Marrue to help out.

  • On Earth, ZAFT’s mainstay mobile suits are the TMF/A-802 BuCUEs. These panther-like quadrupedal mobile suits are designed for ground combat: their lower centre of gravity makes them more stable and capable of navigating rough terrain. For armaments, BuCUEs come with a pair of rail guns and missile pods. Against the Desert Dawn, who are only armed with RPGs, the BuCUE is a formidable machine.

  • When Kira fights BuCUEs for the first time, he quickly finds that the Strike’s inertial compensators have not been set to deal with the soft desert sands. After readjusting the configurations, Kira fares much better and decimates the BuCUEs attacking the Archangel. Gundam SEED‘s dialogue and materials indicate that Kira is actively re-writing the Strike’s OS to accommodate to different situations, and being a developer, I appreciate that writing an OS is probably the single most challenging and tedious task available. Without any core libraries or SDKs, one must build their own kernel, and write two programs: a loader, written in assembly, and then the OS itself. The way Gundam SEED presents things, there are two alternatives: either Coordinators are so far above ordinary humans that modifying OSes on the fly is trivial for them, or the writers mixed up their terminology, and Kira is simply writing subroutines and configurations to make piloting the Strike easier.

  • I personally am inclined to think it’s the latter, given that once the operating system is defined, it’s the routines and software above that communicate with the hardware. As such, it is not inconceivable that Earth Alliance developers have already defined a decent set of services for allowing software to interact with the mobile suit itself, but the intermediate software (such as balance algorithms, routines for movement, etc.) simply aren’t of the same standard. Thus, when Kira’s typing away, he’s working on improving functions and reorganising the high-level software that maps controller inputs to movement. Back in Gundam SEED, the Archangel’s crew finds that their provisions are running out, and must secure some from local inhabitants, who are all too happy to inflate their costs. However, without any options, the higher costs must be paid out.

  • While visiting the town market with Cagalli, Kira meets Andrew Waltfeld for the first time. Despite being a dedicated and serious soldier, Waltfeld has a likeable personality and outside of combat, enjoys a good cup of coffee. He argues with Cagalli about whether donair kebab goes better with hot sauce or yogurt. A scuffle breaks out, and in the aftermath, Kira finds the combination to be delicious. This isn’t terribly surprising, since the heat is diminished by the yogurt, which adds a creamy taste that also lets the hot sauce’s flavours be felt. Midway through their meal, Blue Cosmos extremists appear, and Kira manages to fend them off, saving Waltfeld’s life in the process.

  • Waltfeld is not ungrateful about this turn of events, deciding to bring Kira and Cagalli back to speak with them. Had they met under any other circumstance, Waltfeld would’ve probably let them off the hook, but because it’s warfare, Waltfelt notes that he’s within his bounds to kill enemy combatants – the moment a soldier sees his opponents as human and hesitates is the moment they could themselves be killed, and this is one of the grim aspects of war that Gundam SEED aims to convey to viewers. In spite of this, Waltfeld’s friendly and amicable personality, coupled with a sense of honour that Rau Le Creuset lacks, gives him a different vibe than other ZAFT commanders and suggests to the viewer that irrespective of sides in a war, there are fair and foul folks alike.

  • An entire episode is devoted to Athrun and ZAFT – as the ZAFT higher-ups discuss the execution of Operation Spitbreak, Athrun and Nicol are given shore leave. Nicol returns home to visit his parents, while Athrun catches up with Lacus and discuss Kira. It’s a change in pace that gives viewers a chance to watch the characters regroup; ever since the Archangel landed on Earth, it’s been nonstop pursuit and combat as the Archangel attempts to aid the Desert Dawn in resisting Waltfeld’s forces.

  • Indeed, true to his word, Waltfeld and his co-pilot, Aisha, take to the battlefield in a custom BuCue known as the LaGOWE, an upgraded mobile suit equipped with beam cannons and a double-bladed beam sabre that was derived from the G-project’s data. Although Waltfeld puts up an impressive fight, in desperation, Kira impales the LaGOWE with his daggers, defeating Waltfeld and Aisha. True to Waltfeld’s words, humanising an opponent made it much difficult to fight them, and I am reminded of a similar scene in Gundam Unicorn when Marida berates Banagher for thinking of her as a fellow human being when she’s fighting the Unicorn.

  • Amphibious mobile suits figure more prominently in the Cosmic Era and Universal Century than they did in Anno Domini. Gundam 00 only had a handful of mobile armours, like the Trilobyte, for underwater combat, although the Gundams themselves could operate underwater without trouble. Here, Kira fights a UMF-4A GOOhN, which looks like it was modelled after the Universal Century’s MSM-07 Z’Gok. Despite fighting a foe optimised for underwater combat during their flight over the Red Sea, Kira does manage to defeat a number of ZAFT mobile suits, attesting to his increased combat performance.

  • When a support mission goes awry, Cagalli and Athrun encounter one another on a desert island. Cagalli attempts to fight Athrun and is bested, but the two do share a conversation about their thoughts on war. While Cagalli had seen conflict as a matter of sides, her conversation with Athrun, a ZAFT soldier, does open her eyes to the idea that the enemy might not be wholly evil, and that warfare isn’t as simple as a matter of black and white. The two subsequently are rescued and returned to their respective allies, although given the episode title, this meeting should be is a fateful one that affects both Cagalli and Athrun greatly.

  • Having seen the Strike in combat now, it’s become a mobile suit that I greatly respect, balancing new technologies and combat advantages with operational limits to create a platform that is powerful, but not overpowered. If and when I’m asked, the Master Grade Aile Strike Ver. RM would be something I would’ve considered buying had I watched Gundam SEED earlier run: the Gundam itself looks powerful and has design elements resembling the classic RX-78 II. Of course, the Perfect Strike would allow me to run with any Strike setup, but as a P-Bandai exclusive, it’s not available in my area.

  • Upon approaching the Orb Nation’s territorial waters, the ZAFT forces are forced to retreat. Cagalli reveals that she’s the daughter of Orb’s leader, and Colonel Ledonir Kisaka vouches for her identity. The Orb fleet consent to not shoot them down on the spot and take them in. Although Orb is a neutral nation, their technological sophistication is impressive: the use of geothermal energy and a lack of discrimination against Coordinators has allowed Orb to develop weapons that gives their small military comparable power to a larger force, and it appears that Orb was founded by Japanese immigrants.

  • With their quarry lost, Athrun supposes that an infiltration mission might be needed to ascertain as to whether or not the Archangel are still present at Orb. As the first half draws to a close, Athrun’s team can be seen inserting into Orb’s islands and pick up phony identifications intended to get them past some security checkpoints. I had been curious to see what kind of operation this entails

  • Once the situation is cleared up, Orb Union’s command decide that they’ll repair and resupply the Archangel, as well as the Strike, on the condition that Kira assists their engineers with configuring their mobile suits. Cagalli is shocked to learn that Orb is developing mobile suits of their own, the MBF-M1 M1 Astray, a mass production model intended for use in defending Orb from foreign powers. However, while impressive from a hardware standpoint, their configurations are incomplete, and the Astrays can barely move.

  • The Astray series would end up getting their own spin-offs in Gundam SEED Astray, which follows the development of these mobile suits. With this halfway point post now finished, I’ll be pushing onwards with Gundam SEED, and given the average pacing, I’d estimate that it’ll be August by the time I wrap this series up. I am excited to keep going: with the characters, factions and objectives established, it’s clear that things will continue to intensify as the Archangel continues with its original mission. I will do my best to make this objective: at the time of writing, I’m actively following Yakunara Mug Cup MoSuper Cub, 86 EIGHTY-SIX, and Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. The first two, I intend to write about periodically, and the latter two is a bit of a wait-and-see type deal. Since I only need to catch up with Kamisama ni natta hi, I imagine that keeping up with Gundam SEED shouldn’t be too challenging.

Indeed, the long runtime of Gundam SEED was the main reason why I’d not gotten into the series until now. Having begun my journey, however, it turns out that Gundam SEED‘s pacing works to its ability: while perhaps slow by contemporary standards, Gundam SEED is able to fully portray emotions Kira and the others experience because of the extended time frame. From the transformation of doubt to conviction through Kira’s friends, or Flay Allster’s manipulative behaviours towards Kira, Gundam SEED is able to really show how different people are impacted by warfare. Some folks rise to the occasion to defend what matters to them, while for others, warfare exposes the worst traits in an individual. Here at Gundam SEED‘s halfway point, I am thoroughly impressed: the animation might not stand up to what was seen in Gundam 00 or later, but a captivating narrative, compelling cast of characters and solid music all come together to tell a strong story thus far. Moreover, Gundam SEED never overwhelms viewers: one long-standing concern I had with the Cosmic Era had been the idea that there were too many mobile suits and factions to keep track of, but because Gundam SEED is the Cosmic Era’s beginning, viewers are introduced to things at a proper pace. Kira only fights GINNs (ZAFT’s mainstay mobile suit, Cosmic Era’s equivalent of the Zaku II) in the beginning, and encounters BuCUEs in the desert. With its pacing, Gundam SEED never feels rushed, introducing new things to viewers at the appropriate time and allowing them to piece together what’s happening in a detailed world where resentment and past grievances between Coordinators and Naturals are every bit as strong as they are between the EFSF and Zeon. I’m definitely excited to continue on in my Gundam SEED journey, and given that I started watching back in January, I imagine that it’ll be closer to August by the time I wrap this one up. This suits me just fine: the slower pacing in Gundam SEED works to my advantage, and I look forwards to seeing what awaits Kira and the Archangel next.