The Infinite Zenith

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Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai (I Want to Deliver Your Voice): A Review and Reflection

“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.” –Lawrence G. Lovasik

Nagisa Yukiai is a girl who has long believed that words hold spirits (kotodama) that impart on them a powerful impact. As she nears her final year of high school, she struggles to determine her future career path. While evading an unexpected rainfall one day, Nagisa takes shelter in a derelict shop called Aquamarine. She discovers a vast collection of records here and broadcasting equipment. Activating the station and playing radio host, Nagisa’s words reach Shion Yazawa, whose mother, Akane, fell into a coma after an accident twelve years previously. Shion asks that Nagisa not return to Aquamarine, but Nagisa’s curiosity soon gets the better of her, and she encounters Shion at the shop, using the radio equipment to send a message to her mother with the hope that she would one day wake up. Moved, Nagisa decides to help Shion broadcast these messages. They are joined by Nagisa’s friends, Kaede Tatsunokuchi and Shizuku Dobashi. The group’s activities soon draw Ayame Nakahara’s interest – an amateur radio enthusiast, Ayame lends her background towards helping Nagisa and her friends’ making a more legitimate radio program. She recruits Otoha Biwakouji to help compose music, and as the summer wears on, the girls’ broadcast reaches a growing audience in town. Through their broadcasts, the girls grow closer to one another and also learn to express themselves more directly. With no progress made towards getting their message to Akane, the girls face two challenges – Yuu’s grandfather has scheduled Aquamarine for redevelopment, and Akane is being transferred to a different hospital. On the day of the transfer, Nagisa and her friends set up a live broadcast at the local shrine. With the help of the townspeople, their song reaches Akane, who reawakens. Shion is reunited with her mother, and deeply moved by her experiences, Nagisa decides to become a radio show host.

Released last year in late August and only meandering into the home release realm last month, Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai (I Want to Deliver Your Voice, known in short Kimi Koe, or Your Voice) is a Madhouse production. In its ninety-minute runtime, Your Voice‘s focus is an ode to the radio. The film hammers home that our voice, carrying emotional tenour and intent, can have an impact on others, as well as ourselves. In a world where communications have become increasingly textual, we’ve forgotten how much power our voice can hold: subtle differences in tone, pronunciation and articulation convey different intent, from love, to disgust. Because of the intent behind our voice, the radio is thus presented as a powerful amplification of the emotions and feelings our voices carry. Nagisa, who had spent her life believing in kotodama and hesitates to speak ill of others, finds radio to be a platform where she can channel positive energy. It is the magic of this moment that leads her to continue broadcasting, and as she continues, her audience expands. Her words reach more people, and move more people: this is the magic of the radio. By pouring her sincerity and energy into a voice that others her, Nagisa draws in her friends, who in turn help her draw in an entire town’s interest, much as Akane had done years before. By Your Voice‘s end, having reached so many people, Nagisa is able to funnel the town’s support for Akane through their voices: the strength of everyone’s feelings allow Akane to wake up after twelve years. Having seen the impact of what voices can do, Nagisa subsequently finds her calling in life and becomes a radio show host. While highly fantastical in its depiction of feelings, and reiterating the spirits of a voice to the point of ad nauseam, Your Voice‘s message is a simple and direct one that is also quite moving in spite of its derivative outcome.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The cast of Your Voice is voiced by people who had successfully auditioned for roles in the film, rather than professional voice actors. Mina Katahira provides Nagisa’s voice, and the story begins following a lacrosse game that sees her team lose. Nagisa immediately recounts her story with the kotodama, which manifest as luminescent orbs. Ever since her grandmother related the story to her, Nagisa’s long held the belief that words carry very powerful impacts and negative effects can come back to bite one, so for her part, she refrains from speaking her mind except when visiting a local shrine, where she shouts her concerns underneath a bell. Here, she watches a rainfall stop after discovering the abandoned coffeehouse, Aquamarine.

  • I admit that, when I saw the first of the key art for Your Voice, I was initially dissuaded by the character designs, but seeing more finalised artwork and A Place Further Than The Universe assuaged these doubts. In appearances and manner, Nagisa takes characteristics from A Place Further Than The Universe‘s Mari and Yuzuki. Optimistic and a bit of a naïf, Nagisa is the quintessential protagonist for films of this sort. Descriptions for Your Voice put Nagisa as a bit impatient in finding her future, and so, the film can be seen as a coming-of-age story, providing a snapshot into the events that help Nagisa find herself, all the while helping others out.

  • Nagisa receives a message after her first-ever broadcast from a listener, and although it amounts to a cease-and-desist, Nagisa’s curiosity gets the better of her: she’s intrigued by Aquamarine, and learns that its owner was a well-known local radio show host, broadcasting out of her coffeehouse. However, after an accident that left her comatose twelve years previously, the shop was boarded up and left derelict. Nagisa learns the name of this individual is Akane Yazawa, and that she’s at a hospital nearby. While visiting, Nagisa hears on the radio an active broadcast in session: putting two and two together, she hastens back to Aquamarine.

  • Set in the Enoshima area, it was interesting to see Madhouse’s portrayal of the region, which had prominently featured in P.A. Works’ 2012 series, Tari Tari. The Madhouse version of Enoshima features fewer complex lighting effects (e.g. rain water on the ground does not create visible reflections as they do in Tari Tari) and warmer lighting, creating a sense of summer. The use of summer in anime is less of a thematic element by this point in time and more of a trope: long days and endless skies in anime convey possibility, and so, it is unsurprising that summers are portrayed as a time of discovery in anime. Your Voice is no different, as it’s ultimately a story about a journey.

  • While Shion’s mail to Nagisa might have been a little hostile, Nagisa seems to pay no mind and meets her face-to-face for the first time at Aquamarine. It is here that the two strike up a friendship, and while Shion is initially reluctant, Nagisa’s cheerful manner convinces Shion to give things a whirl for at least a little while. Nagisa is very tearful here, and while crying, she definitely resembles Mari of A Place Further Than The Universe. The same white outlines are present there as well as in Your Voice, although minor facial features in Your Voice are a little rougher than in the better-polished A Place Further Than The Universe. This should not be surprising, as the latter represents the result of applying the learnings from Your Voice.

  • Shion explains to Nagisa that she’s staying for the summer and in person, she’s much more soft-spoken than her initial message to Nagisa suggests. In spite of getting off on the wrong foot, Nagisa’s earnest personality and genuine concern for Shion eventually leads Shion to consent having Nagisa help her out. Nagisa’s persistent belief in the kotodama initially seems a little childish and misplaced, but their presence in the film strongly suggest that their role is not a trivial one.

  • Initially, Shion is hesitant to deliver a more spirited broadcast as Nagisa is wont to doing, and rushes off, embarrassed. It does take a certain degree of confidence to be able to honestly express oneself on the radio, and the power of a good radio program can be non-trivial. When I work, I listen to the local Cantonese radio programs; my favourite shows are Vancouver’s “摩登狄寶娜” (Modern Deborah, featuring Deborah Moore), which deals with various travel and lifestyle topics. 一家人 (One Family) is broadcast after, and similarly deals with the daily comings and goings closer to home. Although their hosts do not know it, their programs certainly do brighten up my day. Nagisa has a very extroverted personality, and upon hearing Shion’s wavering resolve, decides to become friends with her and spur her on.

  • Athletic, competitive and headstrong, Kaede is one of Nagisa’s friends and also works as a waitress at a local family restaurant. Her longstanding rivalry with Yuu comes from their past: envious of Yuu, she’s resolved to compete with her and prevail, although finds herself failing. When Yuu is made captain of a rival lacrosse team and also schools Kaede’s team at the film’s start, Kaede has naught but ill-will towards Yuu. Of the characters in Your Voice, Kaede is the only individual with the angular tsurime: everyone else sports tareme, and consequently, she does look a little out of place compared to the other characters.

  • The girls’ radio programme receives more feedback from another listener who challenges the show, stating that it’s unprofessional. Later in the day, Nagisa finds a pair of eyes on her, and after a few tense moments, comes face to face with one Ayume Nakahara, another student who feels that the girls are ineffective with their radio program. Similarly to Shion, Ayame’s messages come across as a bit confrontational, but in person, their tone changes quite a bit. When it comes to feedback around these parts, I will assume good faith, especially where alternative perspectives and corrections are made. However, as I’m always interested in hearing more from readers, I’ve also decided that it’s worth inviting the folks offering corrections to discuss things further. Being right means less to me than seeing what readers think of things.

  • From left to right, we’ve got Shizuku Dobashi (Momone Iwabuchi), Ayame Nakahara (Mitsuho Kambe), Kaede Tatsunokuchi (Yuki Tanaka), Shion Yazawa (Suzuko Mimori), and Otoha Biwakouji (Hitomi Suzuki). Kaede and Shizuki are friends with Nagisa, resolving to help Shion out with her desire to broadcast messages to her mother. Ayame and Otoha later join their rank: Ayame is proficient with broadcast-related details, such as delivery of effective programs and legality of broadcasting music, while Otoha is highly talented in composing music. When the girls learn that they can only use royalty-free music, Ayame brings Otoha in to create custom music they can freely use.

  •  Your Voice that more prominent reviewers have criticised is that there are more characters than is necessary, but I will stand up and challenge them right here: for films with a large number of characters, one must be willing to set aside individual growth and development in favour of focusing more on the collective goal. Rogue One had a large number of characters, each with limited development, but the film succeeded because each character was a part of a whole: the sum of their contributions allowed Jyn and her rag-tag band of misfits to secure the Death Star plans. Similarly, in Your Voice, while each character (save Shizuku) faces their own struggles, everyone also puts these aside to help Shion out. The real world is about how we interact with others, not about ourselves, so to dismiss shared goals in fiction in favour of individual growth is to be unfaithful to the fact that humans are a social animal.

  • Their radio program gains momentum over time, so the girls begin expanding their broadcast capabilities and advertise their show around town. Here, they enjoy katsu cutlets outside of a shop while on break from their activities. I do seem to have a particular talent for enjoying things that people are critical of: a case in point is my recent viewing of Solo: A Star Wars Movie. After sitting down to a hot and tasty chicken-fried steak with sautéed zucchini and hash browns for dinner (it’s been a while since I’ve had a good chicken fried steak, with the last time being when Battlefield 1‘s open beta was in full swing), I headed over to a nearby theatre and watched Solo with a longtime friend. We found the movie enjoyable, certainly not meritorious the vitriol that supposed “expert” critics have leveled against the film, and after Solo ended, I stepped back outside to see a double rainbow gracing the skies.

  • Granted, the film’s depiction of Corellia is inconsistent with that of the expanded universe, Darth Maul’s appearance was illogical, and I prefer the extended universe’s version of how Han met Chewbacca, but overall, the film was coherent in presenting Han’s origins. Thus, claims that “tropes and twists of shamelessly recycled clichés are presented throughout with an absurd earnestness” is a load of horse dung. Back in Your Voice, the broadcasts that the girls deliver become smoother and more varied over time. With Ayame’s expertise, Otoha’s music and the others’ spirit, the girls resurrect what was once an old classic in town.

  • At the end of the day, I fail to see how Your Voice is “torn between two different narrative goals and can’t quite manage to achieve either of them”, as our anime journalist voices. There is a single goal, which is Nagisa and her friends working with Shion to bring their voices and feelings to Akane, and as they continued, they developed a more sophisticated operation. In the process, Nagisa has a profound experience with voices and finds a career path she is passionate about. Occam’s Razor definitely applies to anime, and overthinking something simple is what creates befuddlement amongst critics, many of whom I feel should be more genuine in their approach rather than be critical for the sole purpose of being critical.

  • Then again, I personally feel that the role of a professional critic is (and should be) diminished now: larger sites like Anime News Network can have ineffectual, ill-argued reviews that do not properly represent films like Your Voice, and obscure blogs may have very thoughtful critiques and discussions that the giants have not even considered. This is the topic of no small discussion on Twitter, where many of my peers are struggling to find motivation to write when readership and traffic is not increasing with time and improved content. I understand this feeling: it is unlikely that I will be able to convince the folks out there that I cannot reach, that they should take even Anime News Network reviews with a grain of salt. Having said this, beating down folks with perspectives contrary to mine is not my goal: this blog exists because it’s fun to write.

  • Shizuku’s role in the radio program is quite limited, but with her talents for baking cookies and sweets for the others, Shizuku is raising morale at Aquamarine while the others help with the radio program directly. Shizuku is a static character in Your Voice, undergoing very little development as an individual, and is intended to provide a reference point for the changes that will impact Nagisa, and to a lesser extent, Kaede.

  • As each of Nagisa, Kaede, Shion, Shizuku, Ayame and Otoha become closer through their shared interest in radio and using this as a tool to reach Shion’s mother, they spend more time together outside of Aquamarine. Shion has longed to be with friends, having spent most of her life transferring schools before she could become close to anyone, and Nagisa’s actions allow Shion to experience friendship. Here, the girls visit a summer festival together: the festival features the bamboo lights seen in Tamayura‘s Path of Longing festival.

  • After Kaede learns that Yuu’s been stripped of her captaincy, she decides to broadcast onto the airwaves and invites Yuu to visit Aquamarine to hang with the others. Kaede remarks that Yuu is the sort of person she isn’t, someone who is simultarnously proper and also somewhat dependent on others. During the course of Your Voice‘s run, there are five inset songs performed by the voice actors from the movie. Their inclusion gives Your Voice a very sentimental feeling that is befitting of its themes about voices and their impacts.

  • When Kaede drops by and runs into long-time rival Yuu, they have a terse exchange before Nagisa arrives. The two have been rivals since childhood, with Kaede striving to outperform Yuu and failing at every turn. Her patience exhausted, Nagisa decks Kaede, and Yuu runs off. Reviews elsewhere found this rivalry unrealistic and unnecessary, but its presence in Your Voice is to remind audiences that in a narrative, while our focus largely remains on the protagonists, the other characters can also be complex in their own right, with unique stories and challenges that simply are not the focus of the story at hand.

  • Similarly, the rivalry is in no way unrealistic: high school students can be very competitive with one another, and what is obvious to more mature individual may not be evident to high school students. This serves to increase Your Voice‘s credibility rather than detracting from it: stubborn characters caught up in the trivialities of the world may seem unreasonable to us viewers, who are seeing things from an external perspective. While we might be able to see the bigger picture, it is not so difficult to imagine ourselves as being entangled in the moment, during which solutions are not so straightforwards.

  • I therefore contend that a degree of empathy is required to enjoy media where drama is involved. It can be easy to dismiss the characters’ problems as trivial, but I imagine that many have been in difficult spots before, during which a solution seems out of reach. As a software developer, I am acutely aware that sometimes, it does take another person to help out: the bugs that I miss in my code, from having the wrong Boolean, to a flipped comparison operator, has sent me on bug hunts lasting hours, only to be solved when one of my coworkers steps through and points out the error. When Yuu runs off, it is Nagisa who goes after her. After listening to Yuu explain why her grandfather has such a role in her life, Nagisa contends that it is possible for her to make up with Kaede.

  • As evening sets in, Yuu and Nagisa begin yet another broadcast, with the aim of reaching Kaede. Nagisa points out on the show that everything Yuu’s done is a consequence of an honest effort, that Kaede’s enmity towards Yuu is unjustified. Yuu adds that she welcomes the challenge, and Kaede, listening in while at work, decides that the time has come to step her game up. This wraps the secondary narrative up, and with this, Your Voice enters its final act.

  • I’ve noticed that all discussions of Your Voice date back to shortly after the film’s première last August, and since then, discussions on Your Voice have otherwise been non-existent. With the film now out now, then, it is a bit surprising that Your Voice has not generated more conversations elsewhere, so it looks like for at least a while longer, this will remain the only passable collection of screenshots from Your Voice. In the time that has passed since last August, A Place Further Than The Universe aired. Inheriting many of the same features and development patterns, I feel that Your Voice can be seen as a warm up act for A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • Yuu eventually manages to convince her grandfather to leave Aquamarine until at least the end of summer vacation, but Shion reveals that the additional time won’t be of any use: their efforts insofar had not been of any consequence, and her mother is set for transfer to another health facility well. Perhaps also realising the weight of what’s been occurring, Nagisa runs out into the pouring rain and cries her eyes out. However, this is not the end: Nagisa’s the sort of person to get right back up after getting knocked down, after all.

  • The time between the première in August of last year and the home release is staggering: nine months, or 50 percent longer than the previous average of six months. It’s been a recent trend for anime films to release their BDs and DVDs much later than the première, and I’ve heard that it’s to do with sales figures; since home release sales are not as sure as they once were, companies simply keep their movies running in the theatres for longer. While I’m not adverse to waiting for anime films to come out, it does mean that if trends continue, the gap between première date and home release dates will continue to increase as time wears on.

  • While en route to the new health facility, Shion sees a kotodama floating outside. Realising that Nagisa’s claims were true after all, she feels that Nagisa might also be doing something with Aquamarine and asks her father to turn the radio on. The kotodama‘s existence in Your Voice are ambiguous until this moment, whereupon it becomes clear that they are more than something Nagisa believes. This is the single supernatural aspect of Your Voice, which is otherwise very grounded in reality, and was likely intended to drive home the message about the power of words, were it not already clear.

  • As it turns out, Nagisa and her fellow radio show hosts had relocated to the shrine, where a large group of listeners have aggregated to support Nagisa’, her team, Shion and her mother. Hearing Nagisa’s determination prompts Shion to ask their driver to return into the broadcast area when the signal cuts out, and the scene crescendos into the climax when the girls begin singing. Your Voice does a great deal over its 90-minute run, and there’s a great deal going on, mirroring the chaotic nature of life itself. However, everything converges on the singular goal of helping Akane reawaken, with the other positives that come of this endeavour serve to reiterate that when judiciously applied, voices can have a meaningful impact on listeners.

  • The sheer intensity of emotions in the moment create numerous kotodama that precipitates Akane’s reawakening. I absolutely loved the message of Your Voice: while I ardently believe that actions hold a much greater weight than words alone, it is true that the right words at the right time can make all the difference. The resultant ending to Your Voice is one that was unsurprising but well-deserved: while the plot’s progression holds no twists and ends in the manner that one might expect it to, the journey is nonetheless one that is heart-warming to watch. Heart is something that Your Voice has plenty of, and we can’t reasonably ask for more than a little heart in these troubled times.

  • In the epilogue, Shion spends time with her mother, and here, I would recommend this film. If and when I am asked about a more concrete score, I find that Your Voice earns an A- (3.7 on a four-point scale, or 8.5 of ten). More time would’ve been nice to deliver parts of the story, especially the Nagisa’s restoration of the radio program with her friends, and a greater resolution for Yuu and Kaede beyond what was seen in the film, but beyond this, Your Voice is very clear about what it aimed to leave audiences with after everything was said and done. I do note here that these are my opinions alone – I am a bit of a sucker for sentimental stories, and individuals different than myself may experience Your Voice in different manner. Further to this, I am similar to TheRadBrad in that I tend to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, which is why I usually enjoy most what I decide to write about.

  • The events of this fateful summer gives Nagisa a concrete path to follow, and she becomes a radio show host in Tokyo, showing that she has found her way. This brings my talk on Your Voice to a close, and with a fair review of the film in the books, I turn my eyes towards what’s next. We’ve passed the halfway point of June now, which means that Amanchu! AdvanceComic Girls and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online‘s finales are nearing. In addition, summer is only three days out, so I’ve got a pair of special topics posts lined up, as well. The Road to Battlefield V‘s final phase is beginning this week, and once over, I imagine the final patch for Battlefield 1 will be released. Finally, the Steam Summer Sale is also expected to begin this week.

While perhaps more rudimentary in its goals, and hampered by its shorter runtime, which precludes exploration of other narratives that ended up being solved quickly, Your Voice is nonetheless a solid film whose execution is of a high standard. Your Voice is set in Enoshima, a location previously seen in Tari Tari, and while perhaps not quite as vivid or faithful as Tari Tari‘s Enoshima, Your Voice nonetheless makes use of the area to create a compelling setting for notions of the self-discovery warranted by the nearly-endless summer days. Coupled with a musical score that outlines the gentle hope in Your Voice, the film itself is an enjoyable watch overall: I would recommend this film, especially for individuals looking for a film to ease into the upcoming summer with. Easy to follow and direct, Your Voice might not be a powerhouse blockbuster or revolutionise how I see the world, but it is effective as a feel-good movie. Your Voice has one additional contribution that cannot be ignored – it sets the precedence for the well-received and excellent A Place Further Than The Universe. With a similar atmosphere and art style, it is quite clear that A Place Further Than The Universe had taken the learnings from Your Voice to produce an anime that ended up positively impacting many viewers. With this in mind, it was instructive to see the progression of the rather unique art style that Madhouse utilised in Your Voice and how it became smoother by the time A Place Further Than The Universe was aired. I previously remarked that the rather unique art style of A Place Further Than The Universe was capitalised upon to create expressiveness in characters to augment the idea that voices can tell a surer story of than images alone, and the origins in Your Voice are quite apparent: Nagisa is as expressive as Shirase and Mari, giving her character life and giving audience cause to empathise with her as she discovers what her calling in life is.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Koufuku Graffiti and How Diagnosing Fictional Characters Diminishes a Series’ Meaning

“There is no right way to go on an edible journey. You can never tell what is going to be great, so you have to try everything.” –Adam Richman

After her grandmother’s death, Ryou Machiko struggled to cook dishes that tasted well until meeting her cousin, Kirin Morino. Learning that the joy of cooking comes from being able to make things for others, Ryou redevelops her affinity in creating various dishes for Karin. The two also befriend Shiina, one of Ryou’s friends, and together, share various meals with one another, their families and peers. In its run, Koufuku Graffiti‘s main theme is a simple and familiar one: activities have more meaning to them when done with peers. However, unlike Yuru Camp△, whose story depicted individual and group activities as both having their merits, Koufuku Graffiti singularly suggests that cooking with others and cooking for others is where the magic comes from. This message is driven home very early in the game, and after this became established, Koufuku Graffiti maintains this status quo: there’s very little in the way of narrative beyond Ryou rediscovering her love of cooking once episode one has elapsed, and Koufuku Graffiti offers very little in the way of substance beyond uncommonly high detail depictions of the preparation and consumption of said foodstuffs. While I concur with the near-universal perspective that food superbly represented in Koufuku Graffiti, I find myself at odds with the sentiments that Koufuku Graffiti has a more substantial message beyond this – beyond its presentation of food and the positive impacts it has, the series is unremarkable from a thematic and execution perspective. There are some long-standing perspectives on Koufuku Graffiti that do not hold up on further inspection, and in this Terrible Anime Challenge, I will take a look at the egregious misconceptions that have developed around Ryou’s mental health prior to cooking for Kirin.

The most severe and misleading misinterpretation about Koufuku Graffiti is that Ryou is suffering from major depressive disorder following her grandmother’s death. The folks making this claim do so on the basis that Ryou has lost touch with her cooking at the very beginning of Koufuku Graffiti, finding her results tasteless and uninspired. Further to this, Ryou’s parents are largely absent, and because strong social connections are a key aspect in mental well-being, it would initially appear that Ryou’s situation could lead to problems in mental health. Similarly, studies have found that different moods can indeed affect one’s sense of taste, and a diminished sense of taste is a possible indicator of depression. However, even in the first episode, Ryou does not exhibit the symptoms indicative of major depressive disorder, which is characterised by a loss of interest in activities, fatigue, impaired decision making and weight change. Ryou continues to cook, and continues to look after herself: her life, while quite colourless, is not consistent with symptoms of major depressive disorder. No inner monologues make this obvious, and while major depression can be asymptomatic, Koufuku Graffiti does not explicitly illustrate that Ryou is affected. She warmly welcomes Kirin upon meeting her, and cooks in her usual manner for Kirin. Koufuku Graffiti depicts Ryou as immediately regaining her sense of taste, which metaphorically corresponds with her near-immediate change in perspective. Recovery from major depression is not something that occurs in an instant: this is a process that takes time, and one does not simply regain their sense of taste at that speed. These are some indicators that Ryou’s condition is more consistent with situational depression, as she’s largely functional and encounter sadness on some occasions. Further reading finds that situational depression and major depression require different treatments: the former can be dealt with by being with friends and family, routine exercise and eating well, while major depressive disorders may involve clinical interventions. The absence of obvious signs, in conjunction with the fact that Ryou recovers very quickly once Kirin and Shiina comes into her life might be indicative that she’s experiencing situational depression following from her grandmother’s death, although I note that as I’ve not the qualifications to decisively say so, this is only a very broad interpetation. However, what is clear is that, once Ryou begins cooking for others, she sees a marked improvement in her well-being in very short order. So, as the MythBusters might say, that Ryou has major depressive disorder is busted.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like Anne Happy before, this Terrible Anime Challenge post will have the standard of twenty screenshots, and the figure captions will only be tangentially relevant to the screenshots at hand: the goal of this discussion is to soundly disprove any of the misconceptions and misleading perspectives that have appeared about Koufuku Graffiti. I note that for the most part, audiences have been very good about keeping focused on the aspects of the series that the authors wanted audiences to focus on. This is, of course, the food; SHAFT series or not, psychological elements are the cause, not effect, of Koufuku Graffiti. However, for this post, food is not going to be at the forefront of discussion.

  • When I first watched Koufuku Graffiti, it was a month after it had finished airing, and I was in the middle of converting my thesis project from Unity to Unreal. At the time, my focus was on playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, and getting started with The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki. Having spent most of the winter semester keeping up with being a graduate student, I was barely managing to keep the blog updated and so, did not have time to spare towards watching Koufuku Graffiti, much less dispelling some of the various untruths about the series that had arisen.

  • Ryou Machiko is Koufuku Graffiti‘s central protagonist. Voiced by Rina Satō (Gundula Rall of Brave Witches), Ryou is a second-year middle school student, aspires to enroll in a high school with a strong art programme and is highly skilful at cooking. When Kirin, her cousin, arrives, Ryou begins to cook for her and in the process, rediscovers what cooking is about. Kirin is voiced by Asuka Ōgame, whose only role I know is that of Vividred Operation‘s Momo Isshiki. Overall, I found this a touching message, but from here on out, Koufuku Graffiti has Ryou and her friends explore different dishes to cook.

  • To help jog the reader’s memories, Terrible Anime Challenge posts have three possible outcomes. They either exceeded expectations, did not meet the expectations set by existing reception for it or else was as poor as existing reception described. Koufuku Graffiti falls squarely into the second category: while I’m not fond of throwing the word around, Koufuku Graffiti is a rare instance of a show that I consider overrated. It’s a good show in that it has some entertainment value, but I fail to see what makes this title a cut above the host of other slice-of-life anime I’ve seen.

  • Shiina is one of Ryou’s longtime friends and is portrayed as being elegant but also enigmatic. She’s voiced by Mikako Komatsu (Ayame Kagurazaka of Eromanga Sensei, Sanae Kōzuki from Sakura QuestAldnoah.Zero’s Amifumi Inko, Saki Maruyama of Girls und Panzer, Tari Tari‘s Jan and Nagi no Asakura‘s Miune Miuna Shiodome). As fragile as Kirin is fit, Shiina seems to fall ill from random various causes. I never did understand why anime required their characters to have these sorts of attributes, as they detract from the immersion that more ordinary characters confer.

  • Shiina, Ryou and Kirin’s cooking results in dishes that Adam Richman would have no trouble describing as heavenly in the multitude of colourful praises that he articulates whenever he tries a particularly creative and tasty new dish. In Koufuku Graffiti, various dishes, including omuricesomen, broiled eel, oden and pizza are among the dishes featured. Its preparation and consumption are rendered in vivid detail, although I am in the minority in that I find the highly detailed lips a little off-putting.

  • Ryou is presented as being very mature for her age; she is able to live alone and manages her day-to-day life without supervision. In spite of this, she’s still a second year of middle school, which puts her as being either thirteen or fourteen. A quick glance at this here screenshot and its subject will find the latter is probably the case. Unlike Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Mimori, who shares a similar figure with Ryou, Koufuku Graffiti is remarkably disciplined in its presentation of Ryou: she’s presented with rigid-body physics in a foot race. I suppose it’s only natural, given the theme in Koufuku Graffiti.

  • The artwork of Koufuku Graffiti is solid, with generally high quality in animation and artwork, but the high-fidelity eating moments, which some viewers will find to be true fanservice moments of the series.

  • I argue that the undue focus on mental health in some discussions is highly detrimental to the overall enjoyment of Koufuku Graffiti, and the main reason for this is because of the way the series is structured. Had Koufuku Graffiti been about Ryou’s mental health, her backstory would have been presented in a much more structured fashion, and her recovery would have been presented over a longer period of time. This is evidently not the case: once Ryou discovers her raison d’être for cooking, her spirits improve considerably, and she spends her time explaining to Shina and Kirin how her recipes work. This is typical of a series that is intended to be about food.

  • The individual in question making the diagnosis (or more accurately, a misdiagnosis) is the same individual who has plagued previous discussions of the Manga Time Kirara adaptations I have watched. From assessing Rin Shima’s personality with Jungian archetypes, to deconstructing Eagle Jump’s industry practises, I’ve encountered this individual’s load of bollocks time and time again since I got into Manga Time Kirara adaptations. If they are to be believed, this individual is a polymath, an expert in fields as diverse as psychology, software engineering, statistics, economics and literary analysis.

  • Despite Ryou being well-developed for her age from what we’ve seen of her, Koufuku Graffiti has no episodes set in the hot springs or the beach as most anime of its genre are wont to doing to give the series a wanton and unnecessary justification of showing off her figure. As such, her enjoying a milk popsicle with Kirin here is about as close as it gets. The practise of drinking milk after taking a dip in the onsen is a well-known one, being both refreshing and important for rehydration. When I exited the onsen last I was in Japan, I only had water on hand, but it was refreshing all the same.

  • I’m not the only person out there who finds mild irritation with these approaches towards anime: apparently, this individual had run afoul of folks in other anime communities, and these folks stopped by here a ways back to share their grievances. In doing so, I learned that the individual in question is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a doctorate in genetics and has a bit of a checkered past. I don’t condone the practise of publishing personal information, so this is as much as I am willing to share, but I do note that this information is consistent with the behaviours I’ve seen from this individual within the anime community. I also remark that I’ve read through his thesis paper and found the research uninspired for the PhD level: my colleagues have worked on projects of similar complexity during our time as undergraduates in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme.

  • As icing on the cake, when it came to Ryou, this individual has asserted that he “[doesn’t] make disgnoses [sic] lightly, but [he] clearly [has] a hunch for it”. Having missed a diagnosis completely in their hubris, I think that this individual takes themselves too seriously, and it’s clear that they aren’t qualified to make such a call: after all, their background is in genetics, not mental health. The reason why I take exception to attempts to psychoanalyse fictional characters is that diagnosing characters with various conditions implies the intent to disregard the author’s intended reasons for writing a character in the manner that they do. “Death of the author” is a very self-centred and conceited approach towards looking at a work, since a work is written in a particular manner precisely because the author had something to say about the world they know. Thus, to disregard this is to ignore elements that resulted in a work being the way that it is and impose one’s own world-view on a work

  • The end result of this attitude is akin to playing with fire, as Karin finds out here when the girls are roasting saury over an open fire. Trying to play armchair physician does not meaningfully contribute to discussions about a story, and even if one had gotten the diagnosis for Ryou correct, this is ultimately irrelevant to the journey that they go on through the story and their subsequent development. In Koufuku Graffiti, the death of Ryou’s grandmother is the disruption that leads her to take up cooking for Kirin with the goal of rediscovering her love for cooking, but the specifics are not important in affecting how her journey unfolds.

  • Consequently, while I am of the mindset that there is no wrong way of enjoying media, seeing the misleading and outright fallacious claims have led me to make a single exception: the wrong way to enjoy fiction is to analyse it and hold the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic”. Back in Koufuku Graffiti, from a certain point of view, Ryou is reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Mocha: both characters have a warm and mature personality, enjoy looking after those around them.

  • Koufuku Graffiti‘s manga is written by Makoto Kawai, not to be confused with the neurophysiologist from Stanford of the same name. The manga concluded in November 2016, and and given the focus on cooking, I find it very difficult to believe that the manga was intended to be about mental health. It is quite convenient, then, that it is equally difficult to find any information on the author’s background, allowing folks to assert that “saying Makoto Kawai hasn’t experienced loneliness and grief is like saying Sakurasou’s Hajime Kamoshida hasn’t studied a word about autism” without additional sources to back these claims up.

  • My grievances about folks who parade their so-called intelligence in places like Tango-Victor-Tango are long-standing, and I’ve always held that in fiction, it is acceptable to break from reality when realism stands in the way of a coherent theme. This is why it is a fallacy to immediately assume that everything in fiction ought to be realistic and then use real-world observations to make a conclusion about a series.

  • I finished Koufuku Graffiti in late May three years ago, and upon finishing, I did not feel that I could write a standard post for the series without sleeping on it for a few days. Days turned to weeks, months and years; Koufuku Graffiti was modestly fun to watch, but I never got out of it the same experience that most of the viewers did. I make it a point to not write about series that I do not decisively enjoy, and I remained on the fence about this one. However, after watching Matimi0’s Terrible Weapon Challenge series, I felt that I could write about Koufuku Graffiti in a manner of speaking: I honestly feel the anime to be overrated, and the Terrible Anime Challenge would be suited for this approach.

  • This is probably my most controversial Terrible Anime Challenge to date, and I do not expect my readers to agree with me on my final verdict for Koufuku Graffiti, but that’s fine. Everyone experiences anime differently, and maybe I have a few screws loose or something, but I was not moved by this series half as much as most viewers were. I did mention that most of my figure captions would not be related to Koufuku Graffiti or food, but here, I will share with readers my favourite food item: char-broiled lobster tail with a healthy side of butter. Coming in a close second is Montréal Smoked Meat poutine and har gow. Having said this, I enjoy most everything; like Nadeshiko of Yuru Camp△, I’m a big fan of food in general.

  • Overall, I would give Koufuku Graffiti a C+ grade (2.4 on the four point scale, corresponding with a 6.5 of ten). The series is not poor by any stretch, and its presentations of food are top-tier, but there is not a substantial component on mental health, and assertions otherwise are downright wrong. With this being said, I feel that the series would’ve done better to make Shiina and Kirin more ordinary – their eccentricities make them a bit unrelatable compared to the down-to-earth Ryou and ended up being quite distracting. Having slightly older characters would have also been more logical, as well. While I do not expect my assessment to be an opinion that everyone shares, I am curious to know what about Koufuku Graffiti did work for those that did enjoy it, and similarly, if I have tread on a few toes with my arguments, I’d be quite happy to hear why I should think more clinically about anime.

Consequently, I am immensely grateful that the individual in question is not my mental health specialist – their argument amounts to a misdiagnosis, and being given antidepressants when one does not need them both would lead to some unpleasant side effects. In the realm of mental health, insistently treating all cases as though they require a clinical intervention has long proven to be ineffective. It typified some in the community to fancy themselves as professionals in a discipline that is evidently beyond their qualifications, and for my part, as a member of the audience, I feel that it is not our duty to diagnose fictional characters even if one did have the proper qualifications. The series only lightly touches on mental health – the presence of comedy means that this aspect was not meant to be a central part of the anime. Most praises around Koufuku Graffiti rightly lie with its rendition of various dishes that Ryou and her friends make. As such, if we step back from attempts to shoehorn a serious discussion of mental health into Koufuku Graffiti and return to a plane of discussion that is relevant, then Koufuku Graffiti is an average anime. The characters are bog-standard, quiet likeable and otherwise befitting of a relaxed setting. They mature and develop naturally, but in a very predicable fashion. The artwork varies from average to beautiful depending on what is being presented to audiences; in its intended purpose of showing off food, Koufuku Graffiti is successful. The only other television show I have watched where food is presented as being more than sustenance for us is Adam Richman’s Man v. Food: on his quest across the United States to find delicious pig-out spots, the preparation of various dishes are shown in loving detail and can elicit feelings of hunger among those watching, similar to how Koufuku Graffiti has managed to do the same for some viewers. As such, Koufuku Graffiti ends up being an anime that, while having a serviceable message, was also a show that was unremarkable: not the serious discourse on mental health some make it out to be, Koufuku Graffiti offers a run-of-the-mill slice-of-life with satisfactory character growth and food scenes very nearly worthy of Adam Richman.

Amanchu! Advance: Review and Reflection at the ¾ Mark, On Living In The Moment

“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” –Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Preparations for the culture festival are in full swing. Futaba, Hikari, Ai and Makoto remain at school late into the night hours in order to finish their class exhibits. While Futaba and Hikari go around collecting juice boxes for use with their mural, Ai is creating tropical plants for her class. After Futaba and Hikari drop by with some gourd juice, Ai decides to buy another drink, and steps out to find a vending machine located at the top of a stairwell leading to the roof. She wistfully wishes that she could live in the moment forever, and encounters an enigmatic boy who goes by the name of Peter. He takes Ai on a dream-like journey through the school and mentions that she could stay in the moment forever should she chooses, but Mato intervenes, stating that Peter is a mischievous spirit. As the evening wears on, Ai becomes increasingly tired and dreams about Peter, where she runs into a much younger Mato and learns of Peter’s origins as an infant left behind at a shrine. Longing for companionship, Peter thus fabricated a dream-like world to be with others. Mato and Ai eventually board a large ship in the sky, and the younger Mato expresses a want to be with Peter forever before the dream ends. Shaken, Ai asks Futaba and Hikari to help her return into the dream, where she confronts Peter, declares that she’s in love with him, and subsequently helps him break free of his perceptual isolation in the dream world. Before the two part ways, Ai promises that she will remember Peter, and reawakens. She runs into Mato and explains that Peter’s spirit has left the school. They spot a cat that looks very similar to the cat seen in Ai’s dream, and following it to the local shrine, finds Mamoru Towano there. He explains that the infant was not left behind, and meeting Mato helped him to remember his dreams of old: Mamoru reveals that he is Peter, and it was thanks to Ai that he was able to recall everything. Ai leaves Mato and Mamoru to catch up, dissolving into tears. When she returns to the school with Makoto, she sees the mural that Futaba’s class had been working on, depicting Peter Pan and praises their work.

While the presence of the supernatural in Advance had remained quite ambiguous previously, by the Peter arc, it would seem that such elements have returned in full force: there is a limit to what neural science can account for in the turn of events that lead Ai to encounter the extraordinary. One could suppose that the drowsiness induced by working so late at school, coupled with the magical, uncommon atmosphere of being at school by night, and the amplification of the unknown results in unusual dreams: being in a school, one might say that Ai’s subconsciousness was able to piece together a story about Mato and Mamoru. However, this explanation fails to include how Mamoru knows about Peter and connects Ai’s involvement in his dreams through time and space, and similarly, does not include how Futaba and Hikari can appear with full control over their surroundings to assist Ai. The precise mechanism of how this works is not so easily fitted into accepted knowledge about memories and dreams, so one might simply be forced to accept that at least three of the Infinity Stones would be needed to make things possible and leave it at that. Instead, the focus of this arc, besides giving Ai a bit more time to shine in Advance, also deals predominantly with the dangers of living in the moment. In particular, after Ai wishes that the magical atmosphere of the night prior to the cultural festival would last forever, she is whisked away into a dream world where time has stood still, and one where feelings and emotions remain fixed in an unchanging status quo. The end result is an eternally wistful world where one can only wish for a future; Ai realises that the way to break this cycle is to accept that no moment can last forever, and that it is necessary to take the initiative of taking that step towards the future. In freeing Peter from his dream world, Ai also accepts that one must be mindful of the future. She is thus able to bring Mamoru and Mato together: throughout Advance, Mamoru’s growing feelings for Mato have subtly been hinted at, and it takes a push from Ai, although at her own expense, to advance things. Consequently, Ai’s arc marks the point in Advance where the narrative begins shifting towards moving forwards.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Culture festivals and staying overnight to prepare for them in the Japanese high school setting are a familiar aspect of anime: by nightfall, school grounds take on a completely different feel. Despite the lateness of the hour, everyone is hard at work, bringing life to a place that is otherwise quite deserted by the later hours of a day. In this Advance post, I’ve gone with the typical thirty images, although as a first for my Amanchu! posts, this post will not feature any screenshots that are underwater.

  • Futaba and Hikari have a reduced presence in the third quarter. Here, they are attempting to sell gourd juice; better known as lauki juice, this particular beverage has some health effects, but everyone in Amanchu! seems adverse to its taste. While said to be refreshing, bitter lauki juice has a high conceptration of cucurbitacin compounds. In moderation, these compounds can help with inflammation and cardiovascular problems, but in excess, can be result in gastrointestinal issues.

  • During my time as a middle school student, I helped with the computer science instructor’s school expos. There is indeed a bit of a magic to the school at night; a friend and I joked that we were demoing HyperCard projects, Flash Animations and HTML web pages…at night. I was very fond of helping explain to parents of newcoming students what the joys of the school’s computer courses were, and while I did not do anything of the sort for high school, in University, for my undergraduate and graduate programmes, I ended up helping my supervisor giving evening demonstrations of our lab’s work, and my last-ever full on evening presentation was a formal event celebrating my campus’ fiftieth anniversary.

  • I understand that operating at night can result in unusual phenomenon occurring. When we’re sleep deprived and exhausted, hallucinations can take place because the body begins reducing effort in processing information from external stimuli. Sensory deprivation then causes the mind to fill in the gaps with different images and sounds. Initially, when we entered this arc, I believed that science could be utilised to explain what Ai was experiencing. However, when it becomes clear that this is a shared experience (i.e. Mato is aware of what Ai sees), the scientific approach suddenly became ineffectual.

  • The manifestation known as “Peter” initially brings about questions of whether or not Ai is genuinely interested in remaining at this particular point in time forever. While we’ve seen Futaba and Hikari be challenged with a desire to let the good times roll for as long as possible, Ai had hitherto been given very little characterisation. In Amanchu!, Ai is depicted as hot-blooded, brash and occasionally violet, but also very caring and sensitive whenever romance is concerned. Through the Peter arc, one can then surmise that while Futaba and Hikari are focused on diving, Ai is dealing with her own challenges in romance.

  • Peter takes Ai on a very surreal trip through the school; jarring and quite surreal, the execution brings to mind the likes of the surreal spaces seen in ARIA. While one could enjoy Amanchu!‘s first season without having watched ARIA beforehand, Advance references numerous aspects of ARIA that make them difficult to discount. I would therefore contend that folks wondering about the supernatural, surrealist components of Advance would be well-served well to watch at least the first two seasons of ARIA and become familiarised with the lore here.

  • Mato counts Peter as a ghost, a malevolent force whose existence is to ensnare students. Peter’s supernatural nature becomes more apparent as time wears on: he seemingly phases through a wall at the top of the stairwell. The unusual composition and the merging of the supernatural with reality ties back in with Futaba’s belief that dreams and reality become more difficult to discern in youth; logical from a thematic perspective, I nonetheless found that conventional reasoning is inadequate to explain how things unfold for this story. This is nominally a deal-breaker for some viewers, but I’ve seen my share of stories requiring a willful suspension of disbelief.

  • As such, I will chalk up the experiences in Advance here to be a product of the Living Force and be done with it (hence the page quote). Of course, some individuals have tried to mask their incomprehension of the events in Advance by resorting to pseudoacademic means. One Verso Sciolto believes that the whole point of Ai’s experiences is to put “spirituality in a different perspective”. I’ve had my disagreements with this individual before, and despite their choice of name (“Verso Sciolto” is Italian for “extremely civil and pleasant, unthreatening and welcoming”), I’ve found that this individual is none of these things, being confrontational, vague and aloof. I’m not the only one who believes this is the case: they’ve been banned from a community that I frequent for arguing semantics with others. Such folk are best ignored: very little is to be gained by sparring with folk that believe themselves college professors lecturing first-year students.

  • I was tempted to count exhaustion as being the primary reason for why she begins seeing physical manifestations of Peter on the school grounds by the bonfire pyre, but from a narrative perspective, this also foreshadows Peter’s identity: Mamoru was last seen by the pyre, ensuring it was ready for the events ahead. Here, I note that this is why I don’t always write about the shows I watch immediately after I watch them; being able to reflect on what I’ve seen allows me to notice things I might’ve missed going from first impressions alone.

  • Watching Futaba and Hikari trying to distribute the juice boxes to their classmates so they may use them for an art project reminds me of an episode of the PBS series Arthur, where Binky attempts to make a Popsicle stick bridge by eating Popsicle. He’s informed that the sticks can be brought en mass at crafts stores and wonders if he wasted his time eating all of the Popsicles. In Advance, I do not believe such a shortcut exists for juice boxes, but I do note that going around and giving out juices boxes is clever: students can be refreshed, provided they do not pick up the gourd juice, and then the boxes are repurposed later.

  • While running in the halls, Ai trips and falls: Mamoru makes to catch her but fails. While these mishaps will come to serve a more important purposes later, they also have a more comedic purpose, revealing that Ai and Mio Akiyama of K-On! are not so different. This is the second time that Ai falls, and in retrospect, foreshadows Peter’s identity. While Advance has been more forward with its fanservice, nothing’s actually seen from our perspective, and this is the way I prefer it: ARIA is not known for unnecessary exposure, and it would seem out of place in Amanchu!, as well.

  • Ai later falls asleep again and enters a world that’s very nearly identical to that of her own, with the exception that older buildings are still standing, and that there’s a clear half-foot of water everywhere. This surreal environment is most familiar to ARIA veterans as the acqua alta events that Akari occasionally encounters on Aqua. These are modelled after Venice’s acqua alta (lit. “high water”), caused by the combination of high tides and strong winds. The phenomenon is never explored in ARIA, and in Advance, this is even more unusual.

  • While wandering the deserted, flooded streets, Ai runs into a much younger Mato, who’s also carrying a cat resembling President Hime M. Granzchesta of Himeya Company. Mato provides a bit of background into the phenomenon that viewers and Ai are seeing, clearing up some of the questions that might arise from a story that has become increasingly surreal with time. Advance‘s references to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan have become very overt at this point in time: while it might have been ambiguous when Peter wondered if Ai was interested in living in the moment for all eternity, entering a dream world with Mato and encountering a vast ship in the sky removed any doubts about the allusion.

  • As a child, I was minimally familiar with the story of Peter Pan and Neverland, having read it as a part of my early primary school curriculum. However, it’s been quite some time since I’ve actually read them, and the Disney interpretation is missing thematic elements, so I did some reading to familiarise myself with the original, which is considered a very well-known and famous story in the West. Dealing primarily with themes of innocence and conflicting responsibility.

  • Peter Pan is, in a way, meant to be viewed as a tragedy: to be stuck as a child forever is a curse, as it deprives one of the responsibilities and privileges of growing up. These particular aspects go hand-in-hand: with adulthood comes the increasing duty of contributing to society and family, as well as the freedom to pursue the things one wishes for, as well. Children, while free from many responsibilities, also lack agency.

  • Ai is minimally familiar with Futaba’s profound ability to have lucid dreams. For my part, I have full agency when I dream, although perhaps attesting to my character, I don’t do anything in my dreams that I wouldn’t do in reality. Most of my dreams are set in a largely-believable world not dissimilar to reality, but with minor differences, although there have been cases where I’ve had some incredible experiences through my dreams. With this being said, I wake up, and push the dreams out of my head because I need my mind firmly focused on what’s upcoming. This is why I don’t share my dreams with the world.

  • After reaching the airborne pirate ship, Mato and Ai breach into the ship’s interior, a portal to a Shrine on a hill. A large statue of the Cait Sith can be seen holding a bassinet where an infant sleeps, with tears from his eyes. The water the pours from the ship into the world below is therefore from the infant, who is full of sorrow for having been left behind. In his melancholy, the infant create an entire dream world with the hope of meeting others and tempering the incredible loneliness that he experiences. The sum of these meetings manifests as the young man that we see as Peter.

  • Mato’s strong choice of words to Ai about Peter in the present contradicts her actions within her dreams, where she interacts with Peter as one might treat a lover. Seeing these interactions also leads Ai to understand her own feelings. Peter represents the yearning to live in the present, so Ai seems to be drawn to her world and its people.

  • Ai reacts strongly to being unceremoniously thrown out of her dream, feeling that Peter’s fate is too sad to be left alone. She’s become very invested in what happens with Peter and Mato, but at this point, is still unaware of what it entails. Once all of the pieces come together, this arc might be seen as a bit of a love story for Ai: we recall her propensity for embarrassment where romance is concerned and also note that this love story is about falling in love with the abstract, rather than an individual.

  • Unable to let things slide, Ai recruits Futaba’s help in helping her return. It is technically possible to return to a dream and actively shape its outcomes: it requires a very strong imagination and will to execute. Thus, with Makoto watching over everyone, Futaba and Hikari help Ai out. They fall asleep with her and enter her dream world, being acutely aware that they are in a dream space.

  • Spawning brooms back in, Futaba, Ai and Hikari fly up to the airborne ship, where they keep the doors open long enough for Ai to step through the portal back to the shrine once again. After this point, Futaba and Hikari depart from the dream, leaving Ai to face Peter on her own. Futaba and Hikari return to their classmates and are not seen again until the episode’s ending.

  • While it comes out of the blue, it is no surprise that Ai openly declares that she’s love in Peter. However, rather than promising to stay with him, Ai asks him to take a step forward, waking up and crying out. Breaking this cycle of eternal longing would bring Peter what he desires, Ai reasons; her thoughts here show that Ai, while enjoying the present, is also aware that very little is to be gained by being stuck in one time period. Wanting what she feels is best for Peter is what prompts her to give this suggestion.

  • I do not believe I’ve included a screenshot of the vast airborne ship in whole. This ship is gargantuan and features elements common to pirate ships seen in fiction. I’ve never really been a big fan of pirates of the skull-and-crossbones, peg-leg variety: stories about pirates that interest me are much more modern in nature. The film Captain Phillips is an excellent instance of what I prefer my pirate stories to be, rather than things like Pirates of the Caribbean.

  • Ai’s persistence pays off, and Peter agrees to wake up and see what his future entails. In their final moments together, Ai promises to never forget about Peter. The dream world dissolves, and unlike Mitsuha and Taki in Your Name, Ai’s immediately reminded of Peter by seeing visual cues in her environment. She finds Mato and informs her that Peter’s spirit is unlikely to walk the halls of the school again. While it felt very much a dream, Mato and Ai soon spot a cat looking very much like the cat seen in Ai’s dreams. They follow him to the local shrine.

  • When they reach the shrine, Mato and Ai are disappointed to find Mamoru there. However, he reveals that he is well aware of his experiences within the dreams, recalling vividly his conversations with Mato and Ai. For him, he immediately connects the dots about Ai thanks to a very clear visual cue, and in the process, confirms that he had known Mato through his dreams, as well. From a logical perspective, one might surmise that Ai has developed a crush on Mamoru and the stressors of working late, while forgetting that Futaba and the others were doing something related to Peter Pan, resulted in her dreams, but Mamoru’s recollections immediately causes this bit of speculation to be incorrect.

  • Mamoru fills in the remaining story for Ai and Mato: the baby was recovered, having only been left there for a moment, and subsequently, grew up as everyone else did. I conclude that the supernatural is at play here, taking the form of either an anomaly of the Force or some clever use of Infinity Stones, and leave it at that. A trace of Peter’s smile is visible in Mamoru: Ai is embarrassed beyond all measure that he’d seen her pantsu, but later relents and understanding what is about to happen, excuses herself, allowing Mato and Mamoru to catch up.

  • Mamoru himself had been uncertain that Mato was really the same Mato he’d seen while dreaming, and Mato had long wondered when she closed her mind to miracles and the extraordinary. Mamoru’s long held feelings for Mato, and I’m curious to see if anything will occur now that Mato knows about Mamoru being the same Peter she’d dreamed about. What goes on in the minds of infants is presently not well characterised: babies sleep a great deal to build neural connections and learn to adapt to the different sensory inputs they have while in the world, so Advance‘s take on this might be to say that this is one possibility as to what’s happening in the minds of infants who’ve not yet learnt to communicate through a spoken language yet.

  • Makoto comforts the embarrassed and heartbroken Ai, reminding her that the school festival is a time of happiness and smiles. Having been there previously, I know that heartbreak is no joke, although as Makoto says, Ai’s best bet is to for now, be in the moment and appreciate all of the effort that she and her classmates have put into making the school’s culture festival a success. Of course, this is merely my interpretation of things, and I could be completely off-base here. If there’s another account for Ai’s reactions, I would love to hear it, since quite honestly, I’m a little unsure as to what’s happening.

  • This is the first time I’ve written about Amanchu! where diving is not featured to any capacity. However, I feel that despite the absence of descending into the ocean with specialised gear, this arc represents diving into the mind and the feelings that normally don’t come into the foreground. With the themes in Advance, I would not be surprised if the series ended up hinting at the idea that diving into the ocean is no different than dreaming: immensely magical and sometimes perplexing.

  • Here is the culmination of Futaba, Hikari and the remainder of their class’ efforts: a spectacular Peter Pan mural marking the school’s sixty first culture festival. The next I return to write about Amanchu! Advance will be the season finale in roughly three weeks, unless something occurs in Advance that merits additional posts. Upcoming posts will deal with The Division‘s Urban MDR, The Road To Battlefield V and some special posts ahead of this year’s summer solstice, so until next time, have a good one, and take it easy!

Given what we’ve seen, it is then reasonable to say that the learnings Ai has accrued will apply to Futaba and Hikari. This will in turn form the basis for the main message of Amanchu! Advance; it is likely that as the sequel gears up towards its finale, we will have the introduction of Kotori, who still has yet to formally appear in Advance, as well as Futaba going for her advanced certification and diving with Hikari by night for the first time. The anime has been headed in this direction for quite some time, and in its latest episodes, suggests that there are some phenomenon in this world that cannot be so readily justified by science and logic. In choosing this approach, Amanchu! suggests that the vastness of the world means that some things will be those that we cannot understand. This ties back in with the constant allusions to the idea that it can become difficult to separate dreams and reality, and although this can seemingly immobilise an individual, compelling the to live in the present, advancing and moving ahead become essential so one may explore the unknown and realise possibilities that otherwise remain a dream. This is what Amanchu! Advance has conveyed nine episodes into its run, and with three episodes remaining, it would appear that Advance must return to a more grounded world in order to fully convey messages of moving forwards and embracing the future. It will be interesting to see just how Advance does this, although depending on the direction that Advance chooses, I can also imagine that some members among the audience may not find the journey or outcome agreeable; with this being said, I’m definitely excited to see where things go, and will return to write about whether or not the remaining quarter did a satisfactory job with its execution.

Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? ~Dear My Sister~ OVA: A Review and Full Recommendation

“YES! That’s how it feels! I’m just a huge fan of the sport.” —Loki, Thor Ragnarok

Cocoa leaves town to visit her family for a week and worries about being separated from the others. She settles in back home readily, and back at Rabbit House, Chino finds it difficult to adjust to life in Cocoa’s absence, making a large number of iced cocoas. When Megu and Maya come to visit, Rize decides to put Chino, Maya and Megu to work cleaning Rabbit House up. Chino recalls how she first met Rize: although she was initially intimidated by Rize’s disciplined, serious demeanour, Chino eventually warmed up to Rize as a reliable employee and friend. Back in the present, the girls finish cleaning up Rabbit House, and Rize gives them schedules to keep busy. After shopping, Chiya and Sharo run into Rize, who is feeling a little down about being too hard on Maya and Megu. The next day, things become lively for Chino once again when Maya, Megu, Chiya and Sharo drop by to visit; when Chino tells the story of how Rize hand-made her stuffed rabbit, the others ask Rize for their own, and embarrassed, Rize expresses that she wants Cocoa back. Chino later asks the others if they’re interested in visiting the local summer festival to watch the fireworks with her, and gets an overwhelmingly positive response. Back home, Cocoa helps Mocha and their mother out with the day-to-day operations of a bakery. With things going smoothly, Mocha and Cocoa set off to make a delivery in town. Mocha reveals that she has a moped license, upstaging Cocoa, and the two head into town together. The two sisters take time to catch up with one another, and it turns out that Cocoa’s having difficulty picking a career out. After teasing Cocoa, Mocha finds Cocoa giving her the cold shoulder, but this does not last long: the breakfast rush has begun. When their mother takes off for a local clinic get her wrist checked out, Mocha and Cocoa manage to keep things in check. That evening, the family look over the photos that Cocoa’s sent. At Rabbit House, Chiya reveals that she’s brought yukata for everyone ahead of the summer festival, and it turns out that Rize ended up making stuffed rabbits for everyone. A week passes in no time at all, and on the day she’s set to head back, she nearly oversleeps. On her way back to the bus station, Cocoa declares her intention to work in a career that lets her bring happiness to others. Cocoa arrives back in town by evening, reading one of Aoyama’s books. Chino and the others change into their yukata and head to the festival, where they partake in the various games and food stalls. Maya wonders how they’ll see the fireworks, and Chiya remarks that she knows a place. Cocoa makes it just as the fireworks begin, surprising everyone, and the girls enjoy the performance together. Cocoa is glad that she was able to make it in time and after she takes a photograph of everyone, Chino welcomes Cocoa back. In the post-credits scene, Chino gives Cocoa her very own hand-made stuffed rabbit that Rize had made.

This is the gist of what happens in Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? ~Dear My Sister~ (Dear My Sister for brevity from here on out), an OVA that screened in Japanese cinema a shade more than a half-year ago. A continuation of GochiUsa‘s second season, Dear My Sister adapts three chapters from the fifth volume into an hour-long movie that wastes absolutely no time at all in dropping audiences back into the party with Cocoa, Chino, Rize, Chiya, Sharo, Maya, Megu and Mocha. GochiUsa‘s first season eased viewers into the world that Cocoa moved into, being a gentle romp through life, and the second season showed that Cocoa had matured in the company of new friends and experiences. The events of Dear My Sister presents things from the flip-side – Cocoa’s also had a nontrivial impact on her friends, as well. With her happy-go-lucky, optimistic and open-minded personality, the joy and energy that Cocoa brings with her is infectious. Thus, when she leaves for a week to spend time with family, her absence is immediately noticeable. Chino reverts to making iced cocoas, and Chiya buys a large number of cocoa bars. The cast feel that their world has become quieter, having grown accustomed to Cocoa’s presence, and it falls upon Rize to try and liven things up in Cocoa’s steed. Applying her own approach to keeping the others busy, Rize learns that fulfilling the role that Cocoa had is no cake walk – it’s exhausting to constantly be on the lookout for fun things. Dear My Sister aims to and succeeds in conveying the idea that extroverted, high-energy folks who can get along with most anyone can have an immense positive impact on their surroundings and moreover, this particular skill is not something that everyone can cultivate. Cocoa herself seems aware of this and so, when Mocha inquires about her future career choice, Cocoa replies that while she’s unsure of the specifics, she’s interested in jobs that let her make others happy: despite her air-headed appearances, Cocoa can be focused and determined as the situation requires. She’s evidently matured, and is someone that can be depended upon, even if she outwardly looks to be the sort of individual one is compelled to look after.

Besides providing a welcoming story that articulates the thematic aspects of GochiUsa‘s predecessors, Dear My Sister also represents a audio-visual treat for audiences. The first season had been handled by White Fox, and the second season saw a collaboration between Kinema Citrus and White Fox. Dear My Sister is produced by production doA, a newcomer on the block whose only other title is the psychological horror Magical Girl Site (which, readers will have to convince me to watch if they desire me to write about it); despite their lack of a track record, production doA has done a phenomenal job with Dear My Sister. The characters retain their physical characteristics from White Fox and Kinema Citrus’ adaptation, being as expressive and fluidly animated as they were before. Sweeping shots of the landscapes in Dear My Sister give more insight into the world that Cocoa and the others live in: the setting had been the single best aspect about the anime adaptations of both Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? seasons, creating a compelling, immersive world that might be thought of as a separate character. In Dear My Sister, overhead shots of the town that Rabbit House is located in show that it is not too far removed from the coast. When Cocoa travels home, she disembarks from a bus stop on a hillside that offers a view of a sea in the distance. Despite Cocoa describing her home as being located deep in the mountains, it also seems that the Hot Bakery is close to a seaside town, as well. Cocoa and Mocha travel to this town to deliver bread, and, reflecting on the differences in climate, the close-ups of the town show that some parts have Germanic buildings, while districts closer to the coast have Mediterranean-Spanish influence in its architecture, different than the timber-framed buildings previously seen in GochiUsa. This is an incredibly nice touch that illustrates the series’ dedication to creating spaces that serve to accentuate the immersion in GochiUsa.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The first several minutes of Dear My Sister is watching Cocoa cry while the remainder of her friends and the train station’s patrons look on, so if you have no strength to stomach this, then you should leave…right now. Similarly, this is your last chance to duck out if you’re not a fan of the various Marvel Cinematic Universe callbacks I will be making this post. Cocoa receives some herbal cookies from Sharo; this simple gesture is a subtle hint that despite her typically regarding Cocoa as somewhat of a nuisance, Sharo’s come around by the time of Dear My Sister. The trains of GochiUsa are the LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard, a British steam train that holds the distinction of being the world’s fastest with its top speed of 203 km/h.

  • Before we delve any further into this post, I remark that GochiUsa is an anime I enjoyed immensely; there is quite a bit to talk about, and after going through this OVA, I ended up a total of a hundred and twenty-five images. I’ve pared this gargantuan collection of screenshots down to a more “manageable” sixty for this post. Because this OVA runs for sixty minutes, three times the size of a standard episode, I have three times as many screenshots. Unlike Girls und Panzer: Das Finale, I am going to treat Dear My Sister like a movie and correspondingly, each of the screenshots can be expanded and viewed in 1080p glory: I say with full confidence that I have the internet’s first comprehensive review and collection of screenshots for this long-awaited OVA, and I imagine that this review will hold that position for a long, long time.

  • As Cocoa’s train leaves the station, the camera pans upwards, revealing the outskirts of town and in the distance, a large body of water. While the town in GochiUsa might be modelled after Colmar, FranceDear My Sister suggests that the setting of GochiUsa might not be on the same world or timeline as our own (in turn making a crossover with Kiniro Mosaic implausible, if not outright unfeasible). As the beautiful summer’s day unfolds, “Happiness Encore”, a warm and welcoming song that acts as Dear My Sister‘s opening, begins playing. Dear My Sister was advertised to have a very substantial singing component when it was first announced, although it is apparent that this isn’t the case: there are certainly a large number of songs around Dear My Sister, but this OVA only presents the opening song and ending songs.

  • It took me a while to warm up to GochiUsa‘s second season opening, “No Poi”, and by now, I find the song as enjoyable as I did the opening for season one (“Daydream Café”). “Happiness Encore” is very well-written, and I’ve immediately taken a liking to it. The soundtrack in Dear My Sister recycles incidental music from the TV series, but there are also fourteen new pieces of background music on the bonus disk included with the BD, twelve of which are used in Dear My Sister. Two tracks are instrumental variations of the opening and ending songs.

  • On the train, Cocoa runs into Aoyama, who is going to great lengths to evade her editor. Despite her efforts, Aoyama is eventually caught and hauled away, all the while attempting to drown out here editor’s remarks about impending deadlines. This exact same stunt was pulled in GochiUsa‘s second season, but it is no less funny for it: the inclusion of jokes for veterans to enjoy brings to mind the Marvel Cinematic Universe approach to things, and is the reason why I’ve opted to go with a quote from Thor Ragnarok. After the Hulk gives Thor a beatdown of the same variety that he’d given Loki in The Avengers during a ring fight, Loki reacts in jubilance. Viewers who’ve seen The Avengers will recall Loki getting knocked down a few pegs after the Hulk smashes him about, explaining his reluctance to remain when seeing the Hulk again. In my case, I found the line suited for describing the sense of loneliness and the transition from such the girls experience after Cocoa takes off, as well as aptly describing how it feels to finally be able to watch Dear My Sister.

  • Aoyama’s evasion efforts are impressive, but her editor’s ability to hunt down Aoyama are doubly so: she’s about as determined as John Clark in finding her target, following Aoyama onto the train. Her name is Rin Mate (真手 凛), and she is voiced by Juri Kimura. Rin is completely dedicated to her job of making sure that Aoyama meets her deadlines. While strict and unyielding when there’s work to be done, Rin relaxes after deadlines have passed. She’s said to be named after Mandheling Coffee, which has a complex and rich taste.

  • Back at Rabbit House, Chino is quieter than usual, and this is not unnoticed. With its runtime of an hour, Dear My Sister handles very much like a movie despite being classified as an OVA. In spite of this, some folks deemed it prudent to fly to Japan with the singular purpose of watching the movie, and one individual even pre-ordered their tickets to ensure a seat. I never did understand the rationale behind these actions, as the endeavour essentially drives the price of the screening ticket up to the cost of flights, accommodations and other travel expenses, but with that being said, Dear My Sister is sufficiently well-done so that it would have been worthwhile to pre-order tickets.

  • I found myself beyond impressed with the visual fidelity of Dear My Sister: the area surrounding Cocoa’s hometown overlooking what I believe to be the Mediterranean Sea. At these resolutions, the houses below can be seen in great detail – the buildings have a stucco siding and lack the timber-framing that previously dominated the architecture in GochiUsa: they have a distinctly Germanic style to them as seen in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

  • Dear My Sister excels in all areas from a visual standpoint; as Cocoa travels across a footbridge to reach her home, the crystal-clear water flowing below is so well-rendered that it is comparable to water effects in the Frostbite Engine or CryEngine. Volumetric lighting produces shafts of light through the forest, suggesting a shaded region with light rays passing through openings in the forest canopy. It is typical for anime to improve their visuals, and like Girls und Panzer: Das FinaleGochiUsa‘s solid artwork continued to improve over time. Subtle details like these, while often missed, help immerse viewers, and here, one gets the sense that Cocoa hails from somewhere very warm.

  • The warmth of a summer’s day can be felt even with a screen separating viewers from the events of Dear My Sister. I’ve noticed that there’s only one other review of the movie out there at present, although I happen to disagree with the claim that Dear My Sister is “nothing more but a bunch of only semi-related scenes that felt like one déjà vu after another”. The scenes are all related, transitioning from Cocoa’s return to life back home to Chino’s quiet days at Rabbit House. The OVA aimed to convey that Cocoa’s positive energy comes from her family, and that while she might not be as capable as Mocha, she has her own unique set of skills that brighten the others’ days.

  • Dear My Sister released on November 11 last year, during which I was still making my way through Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. By December, it had earned a total of 320 million Yen (3.8 million CAD) at the box office, with a box office total of 102 million Yen (1.2 million CAD) after its first weekend, considerably higher than Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days‘ 26 million Yen (around three hundred and eight thousand CAD) on its first weekend. The numbers suggest that GochiUsa is more favoured than Kiniro Moasic, and from a personal perspective, the setting is what gives GochiUsa a much more interesting feel compared to Kiniro Mosaic, which feels rather more conventional in its design.

  • When Cocoa gets home, she fancies herself surprising her mother and Mocha, but ends up being on the receiving end of a surprise, where Mocha and her mother dress up in Rabbit House-style uniforms and Tippy-shaped hats in an attempt to recreate the home that she’s grown accustomed to. It’s a tearful reunion, and without the burden of having to maintain an older-sister image, Cocoa immediately settles in and allows her mother and older sister to spoil her. It’s clear that mother and daughters are very much fond of surprising others, although because Cocoa is a rank novice by comparison, she usually finds herself being surprised.

  • The Hot Bakery is so remote that cellular service is nonexistent, and so, Mocha invites Cocoa to an old standby: the land line telephone. Because of our increasing movement towards mobile phones, I personally see very little incentive to buy a land line package, but there are some advantages that remain to the old ways. Land line phones have superior sound quality and because of their setup, allow emergency operators to immediately pinpoint one’s address should the need arise. However, as cellular connectivity services improve, I imagine it will only be a matter of time before the disparities in security and sound quality is closed.

  • Cocoa attempts to call Chino, but finds the line tied up. She’s using a cradle-style telephone here, whose design dates back to the 1890s. While the model in Dear My Sister is merely in the style of an older phone, the original cradle phones worked by means of connecting with an operator, who manipulated switches to connect calls together: phones with the ability to dial specific numbers did not come about until 1905. The combination of old-style designs with modern technology is very apparent in GochiUsa: things like feature phones exist alongside old-style homes and steam engines (most contemporary trains are electrically powered), creating a very unique world.

  • Chino begins absent-mindedly making a large number of iced cocoas, mirroring an incident during GochiUsa where Cocoa was out studying with Chiya and Sharo. Missing Cocoa causes Chino to make milk cocoas, and she relapses again. There are several modes of preparations for iced cocoas: the more common recipes recommend preparing a standard cocoa and then chilling the drink, adding ice cubes to create a cold drink. This ensures that the cocoa powder dissolves evenly. While this is going down, Megu and Maya speak of going on another Ciste Hunt, alluding to the one they did with Cocoa back in the second season.

  • To defeat the idleness and quiet that has gripped Rabbit House, Rize breaks out her inner drill sergeant and orders the girls to clean up Rabbit House. Rize’s militaristic spirits leads Chino to have a flashback about how she’d first met Rize: identical to Cocoa, who encounters Rize in naught but her underwear, Chino first encountered Rize while she was changing and found herself face-to-face with Rize’s model Glock. She recounts how Rize could be a bit intimidating, but was also quite friendly.

  • In most anime, when one walks in on a girl who’s changing, they can reasonably expect some furious blushing, shouts of 出て来 (romaji deteki, “get out!”) and possibly, the throwing of various objects to expedite said process. GochiUsa has Rize breaking the convention: she draws her model Glock 17 at all who see her while she’s changing. It’s a marked departure from other shows, but in its intended role of eliciting some laughs, Rize’s reactions work all the same.

  • The events of Dear My Sister show that despite her tough exterior, Rize is completely unequipped to deal with Megu and Maya. While this behaviour is not unexpected from Maya, who is the more energetic and mischievous of Chino’s friends, it was a bit surprising to see Megu participate, as well. This suggests that Megu’s become a little less shy, as well. It brings to mind the more rambunctious students that I’ve taught as an assistant teacher and while volunteering to teach children at my dōjō.

  • After spending a better part of two hours cleaning up Rabbit House, the café shows a newfound glitz and sparkle. Keeping busy has helped the girls take their mind off Cocoa’s absence. With their task finished, Rize has one more surprise for everyone; Maya and Megu are shocked that Rize’s gone to the lengths of creating schedules for them to follow. When Chino mentions that Rize has more stuffed rabbits similar to the one she gave Chino, Megu and Maya, also wanting one, ask Rize where it’s from.

  • As evening sets in, Rize wonders if she should’ve pushed Chino and the others so hard. While the most disciplined of the girls, Cocoa’s nonetheless had an impact on her: Rize is much more open about herself in Cocoa’s influence. With Cocoa gone, Rize returns to her old, tough-as-nails personality. I feel that Cocoa’s carefree nature and willingness to accept everyone encouraged Rize to be more true to herself in front of others; Rize’s love for the military and survival is very real, but she also uses it to hide the other side of her personality.

  • Different areas of town are shown in Dear My Sister. I bought the artbooks for both seasons (Memorial Blend and Miracle Blend) a few years ago; these provide unparalleled insights into how the world of GochiUsa was constructed, and at 2500 Yen apiece (nearly 30 CAD today, with the exchange rates), they’re not too unreasonable a purchase. I’ve amassed a small collection of artbooks to the shows that struck a chord with me, and having an official resource confers access to insights that one cannot get simply by watching a series.

  • While looking at her stuffed rabbit more closely, Chino notices that the stitching does not look machined, and there’s a lack of a manufacturer’s tag. In conjunction with Rize’s reaction when she’d given her the doll, and other subtle hints, Chino deduces that the rabbit was handmade. That Rize is learned in making stuffed animals by hand is yet another surprise that Dear My Sister introduces. This is the joy of slice-of-life anime: given enough time, the multi-dimensionality of the characters become apparent, making them more life-like.

  • Despite their innocence, Maya and Megu can be mischievous in their own manner: they frustrate Rize on occasion (to the maximum extent that such dynamics can occur in GochiUsa), and this is another noticeable difference between Rize and Cocoa. Rize is more strict, playing the bad cop to Cocoa’s good cop: Cocoa rolls with whatever Megu and Maya do. Rize consequently tires out more quickly when dealing with them because of a very similar principle to those seen in martial arts: rather than rigidity, martial arts emphasises fluidity.

  • After Chino reveals that her stuffed rabbit is handmade, Rize is completely shocked, and the revelation leads each of Maya, Megu, Sharo and Chiya to request their own. Embarrassed, and then flattered, we see a side of Rize that’s quite rare. The mixed emotions within her prove exhausting, and Rize soon longs for Cocoa to come back. Everyone expresses their missing Cocoa in different ways: Chiya buys a large number of Cocoa ingredients, Chino makes nothing but iced cocoas, and Rize seems to retreat back into her tough-as-nails shell. The differences that Cocoa introduce illustrates the impact she’s had on the others.

  • As the week progresses, the girls become increasingly lively and energetic; in a lull, Chino asks the others if they’re interested in attending a summer festival with her. She is met with enthusiastic affirmatives, setting in motion the events that Dear My Sister‘s trailers presented. Summer festivals are an international phenomenon, but vary greatly depending on the region. In North America, they take the form of music festivals, country fairs and fireworks performances: the long, warm days are very conducive towards outdoors activities. One of my favourite aspects about The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™ is actually the variety of insanely delicious but unhealthy midway food, and while said Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™ also has good fireworks, GlobalFest actually boasts the city’s best fireworks performance.

  • At home, Cocoa returns to her old life of baking bread for the family bakery. While Cocoa is noted for her baking skills (the others have remarked that it’s the one thing Cocoa can consistently and reliably do well), she’s still got a ways to go; Mocha’s bread is regarded as even better than Cocoa’s. The sisters help out the family bakery with great enthusiasm, and in a short period of time, bake enough bread to begin for the day’s customers. The Hot Bakery uses a brick oven, which allows for high temperatures to be reached because bricks can retain heat well. The end result is bread that bakes very quickly, which is perfect for a bakery with a high customer volume.

  • When a request for a delivery comes through, Cocoa and Mocha set out to fulfill it. Mocha surprises Cocoa with the revelation that she now has an operator’s license for a moped. Mopeds are surprisingly common in anime, and where I’m from, the basic learner’s license will allow one to operate them. While these vehicles are no doubt great during the summer as a convenient form of transportation, mopeds are rather limited and do nothing to keep one insulated from the elements, so they’re not too commonplace.

  • Mocha’s not particularly skilful with mechanical devices, but in time, she’s learned to master the art of riding a moped, even popping wheelies and totally shocking Cocoa, who comes away from her ride exhausted. I would like to think that my driving is not particularly deadly, although my home province is legendary in Canada for hosting the worst drivers. As far as road behaviours go, I’m a defensive driver, actively keeping an eye on my surroundings so I can anticipate the actions of other drivers. I don’t mind being cut off half as much I mind tailgaters, and I minimally tolerate tailgaters. My buttons are pressed when I encounter drivers who sound their horn because I’m waiting for a pedestrian to cross or vehicles with right of way to pass while making a right turn.

  • After Cocoa and Mocha deliver bread for a customer, they stop at a viewpoint overlooking the sea below, with a Spanish style building adjacent. Steam trains and cradle phones existing alongside cellular phones and modern rifles, small towns with old-style architecture and a world that’s quite pastoral, featuring many small towns, leads me to wonder if GochiUsa is the logical evolution of the world depicted in Sora no Woto. Takahiro and Rize’s father mention fighting together in a war of some sort: with the distinct mish-mash of Japanese and European cultures, anachronism in technology and a world with few major urban centres, there is merit to the idea that world of GochiUsa can be the result of social and technological advancement after the events of Sora no Woto, in which humanity manages to begin recovering again. This is a very optimistic outlook of things, and a view that not everyone may share – for one, such speculation would likely break down with some scrutiny.

  • Conversation between the sisters turn to catching up: Cocoa and Mocha’s father is a professor at a university, one of the brothers is a scientist of unknown discipline (likely in chemistry or biology), and the other is a lawyer. All three of them work in the city, which is why we’ve not seen them so far. Because of the diverse array of talents and interests in the family, Cocoa grew up seeing a plethora of options available. At her age, I was similar to Cocoa in this regard, being interested by a wide range of disciplines. As high school ended, I narrowed it down to health and computing, eventually being accepted by the university’s Bachelor of Health Sciences programme for an honours degree in bioinformatics.

  • Cocoa cannot settle on a career, feeling that she could be a barista, lawyer and novelist at the same time. Strictly speaking, this is not impossible – there are many incredibly talented people out there, so the probability of someone who’s done all three occupations, sometimes simultaneously, in their lives, is non-zero. Cocoa is also quite talented with numbers despite her appearances. While trying to work out a career, Cocoa remarks that she’s happy as long as she’s viewed as an older sister of sorts.

  • Watching Cocoa be taken in by Mocha’s prank was particularly adorable: Mocha recalls back when they were children, Cocoa had aspirations in becoming a master of the mystic arts magician, but after Mocha deceived Cocoa by pretending to have turned into a rabbit, Cocoa was shocked enough to drop these goals. Unlike the other flashbacks seen in Dear My Sister, this moment is rendered in a non-traditional perspective, implying that the memory itself is a bit fuzzier (other flashbacks are merely less saturated) as a result of its distance from the present.

  • It’s an embarrassing memory for Cocoa, who puffs up her cheeks and pouts after being reminded. With this being said, there are some traces of the supernatural in GochiUsa, and the first season suggests that Cocoa might have been involved in why Chino’s grandfather had his consciousness transferred into Tippy’s body. Barring the presence of a Reality Stone, the precise mechanism for how this happened remains unknown, and besides Chino and Takahiro, the other characters remain unaware that this has occurred.

  • Cocoa and Mocha’s mother is voiced by Yuko Minaguchi (Kōko Yoshino née Ibuki of CLANNAD, and Akiko Minase of Kanon). She made a brief appearance in the finale of GochiUsa‘s second season, having a more substantial role in Dear My Sister. After Cocoa and Mocha get home, Cocoa’s in a sour mood – it turns out that even Cocoa can have a few moments where her happy-go-lucky disposition disappears, and Mocha is one of the few people who can make this happen. This is hardly surprising, since siblings know one another best, and also serves to augment the authenticity of Cocoa’s character.

  • There’s hardly any time to sulk around, since the breakfast crowd soon shows up, filling the small bakery with patrons. With their mother out for the count, Mocha’s exceptional efficiency comes into play here – she single-handedly manages everything, moving at three times the speed of the others to serve customers, manage transactions and even has time to speak with a little girl. When the crowds thin, Cocoa feels as though she’d just done a month’s worth of work: Rabbit House seems to be quiet as a coffeehouse, and the fact that it’s still in business suggests that its bar is doing well enough to keep the balance book in the black.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that it’s been four years since GochiUsa‘s first season aired. When I picked up GochiUsa, I was right in the middle of working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain project for my supervisor and Jay Ingram: in 2014, my most predominantly used language was C# and I worked largely with the Unity 4 engine. By the time GochiUsa‘s second season rolled around, I transitioned over to the Unreal Engine and wrote most of my code in C++. Time makes fools of us all: I now largely work with Swift 4.1 and iOS frameworks, although I occasionally dabble in Python and Java, as well as some SQL. Of course, if I were to blog about optionals, delegates and completion handlers, I would not begrudge the reader to find another place to read about anime. If you’re looking to learn about Swift and get into iOS programming, while yes, I could be of some assistance, there are more useful resources out there, like Ray Wenderlich, that would be more useful.

  • I still vividly recall the warm summer afternoons spent watching GochiUsa while on lunch break, and the splendid Thanksgiving morning that I took to review the first episode of the second season, before spending more or less the entire day playing the Star Wars Battlefront open beta. When I wrapped up GochiUsa‘s second season, I had nothing but good things to say about it. The first season is a solid A, a 9.0 of 10, and the second season is a 9.5 of 10 for an A+. I subsequently did a second reflection on the first season, which in retrospect, contributed to how I built the Giant Walkthrough Brain and then in the preview post for Dear My Sister, joked that one would probably need an ARIA-level miracle, such as the Time Stone, to watch this any earlier than the BD release date.

  • Cocoa channels her inner Nanako Usami here, recoiling in surprise and then pouting again when her mother reveals her arm was fine, and she’d been merely making a reason to get the two sisters together. While it might’ve been two-and-a-half years ago, I still recall mentioning that GochiUsa was a series that some could find it difficult to write for – giants like Random Curiosity did not feel they could find something to talk about in each episode, and episodic posts that did exist were quite underwhelming, being limited to reactions to the events seen on screen. My unusual take on things, on the other hand, allowed me to find something to discuss in each episode, and so, for its second season, I managed to do episodic reviews of a satisfactory standard.

  • While Chiya prepares yukata for everyone to wear for the festival, Rize’s hard at work making stuffed rabbits for everyone. By this point in time, Rabbit House has become very lively and joyous even in Cocoa’s absence: in doing their best to keep busy while Cocoa’s away, the girls learn to find joy in the ordinary, something that Cocoa excels at. I should mention here that, if one were to describe what watching Dear My Sister is like, I would liken the experience to hugging a large stuffed animal for an hour straight.

  • While Dear My Sister focuses on all of GochiUsa‘s characters the same way Pretty Days focused on Kiniro Mosaic‘s cast, both OVAs put their resident twin-tailed tsundere at the forefront of things. Besides sharing similarities in their appearance, Rize and Aya’s voices are both provided by Risa Taneda. Much like how Pretty Days gave Aya a bit of a chance to shine, Dear My Sister also gives viewers new insights into Rize’s character.

  • Mahou Shoujo Chino is a concept born from an April Fool’s joke that was very well-received, and eventually, Inori Minase performed a song about Magical Girl Chino. Dear My Sister takes things one step further, actually incorporating Magical Girl Chino into a dream that Cocoa has while staying with her family. This was a pleasant Easter Egg that the most diehard GochiUsa fans will find enjoyable, bringing to life what was intended to be a simple joke, and more casual viewers unfamiliar with the April Fool’s joke will still find this an adorable sequence.

  • Ever the doting elder sibling, Mocha is concerned when Cocoa wakes up with her head still in the clouds. While I’d like to say that my internal clock is infallible, there was an instance in recent memory where I overslept by forty minutes on a workday. I somehow managed to get my rear in gear and did my usual morning routine, making it to the office just in time for work. Days like these are (and will hopefully remain) the exception: most days, I awaken around ten minutes before my alarm is set to go off.

  • After oversleeping, Cocoa manages to get ready, and Mocha drives her to the bus station. Cocoa reveals that while she’s still undecided on a career, she wants to do something that makes others smile. Cocoa subsequently heads back to Rabbit House by train, and on her journey back, she reads one of Aoyama’s novels. Titled “Bakery Queen- Beloved Sisters’ Moving Story”, one must wonder how Aoyama manages to get her story ideas. It’s shown that she’s a capable writer and has numerous talents despite her propensity to ignore deadlines, so one can imagine her pulling some John Clark-level stunts to gain inspiration for her stories. This book is her latest work, and at the end, Cocoa sees a request from her mother and Mocha – get the book autographed.

  • With the month of June now in full swing, some hiking trails in nearby Kananaskis Provincial park are now open, and after a week of cool, misty and grey weather, the skies gave way to a warm day of sunshine today. The combination of good weather and open trails meant that I could take some time to really unwind in the mountains: I ascended the West Wind Pass trail, easily one of the more difficult hikes I’ve done, if only for the fact that the trail is adjacent to a deep ravine and despite this, is quite poorly marked. The path takes hikers to points where they need to hug a cliff sheer to pass, and also branches off in different directions without indication of whether or not it was a part of the trail, but despite these challenges, it was very invigorating and fun to climb up. Reaching the West Wind Pass itself, I was greeted by a vast, wind-swept clearing and a stunning view of the Spray Lakes reservoir some 390 metres below. The view was beautiful, but up here, the cold meant that we couldn’t stay for long, only stopping long enough to take some photographs, before turning around.

  • There are some deviations in Dear My Sister from the original manga: aside from some obvious additions, such as the inclusion of Mahou Shoujo Chino and Chino working out the courage to invite everyone to the fireworks festivals, there have also been some omissions, as well. Cocoa does not return to Rabbit House ahead of the festival to finish her assignments, and Aoyama does not run into the misfortunate of wrecking her manuscript. These differences are relatively minor and did not break the flow of events in Dear My Sister in any way.

  • The use of violets and pinks in the town by evening casts its buildings in hues that were previously unseen, creating a festive and ethereal, timeless sense quite similar to the choice of colours seen in Fireworks: Should We See Them From The Side or Bottom?. While poet T.S. Elliot uses the phrase “violet hour” in his famous poem, “The Waste Land”, repetition of this phrase is meant to suggest the melancholy of the end of a day and sunset. However, sunrise always follows, and so, Elliot is lamenting that relationships cycle endlessly between a joyful start and a sadness-filled closing. This is relevant to Fireworks, where Norimichi’s final attempt to be with Nazuna saw him share a conversation while the skies took on a pink-purple hue. In the case of Dear My Sister, the lighting is probably meant to indicate a sort of melancholy that Cocoa is not around.

  • Despite the violet hour’s implications, Dear My Sister presents the summer festival as a happy moment. While walking about, the girls take in the sights, sounds and smells, and Sharo demonstrates another aspect of her character. Spending time with the others have improved her confidence: when Rize asks if there’s anything she’d like as a prize after being drawn by a shooting game, Sharo recalls her own talents with blowdarts and so, challenges Rize to a showdown that the latter accepts.

  • At the festival, Megu demonstrates a hitherto unknown talent for winning at ring toss. These games, like casinos, are slightly rigged so that they favour the vendor’s gain, but for folks familiar with how they work, they are certainly winnable. Megu consistently wins in a ring toss game and earns a small collection of prizes here that she feels is a good set of souvenirs for Cocoa: we recall that Megu’s got a talent for spinning (which, by the way, is a good trick), and giving the rings a slight, level spin can help boost their accuracy: she applies the technique here to land consistent hits on the prizes.

  • A quick glance at the various folk in the background show that only Chiya, Megu, Chino, Maya, Sharo and Rize are wearing yukata, with everyone else wearing more conventional clothing. It stands to reason that elements of Japanese culture are uncommon where GochiUsa is set. The girls thus stand out quite a bit, about as much as one would stand out while wearing cowboy hat and boots to a Japanese festival, but the colours of the yukata and festival work very nicely together to create a scene that has not been seen in GochiUsa until now. Despite the predominantly French-German cultural aspects in GochiUsa, the inclusion of Japanese elements into a festival for Dear My Sister is integrated very smoothly without breaking immersion.

  • Sharo becomes the life of the party after eating coffee-flavoured shaved ice, speaking in a joyful and somewhat slurred manner while waving a small firework. It’s actually quite fun to see Sharo in this manner, and I do not believe I’ve mentioned this thus far: Sharo is voiced by Maaya Uchida, whom I know as Yuru Yuri‘s Mari, Rei Kuroki of Vividred Operation and Slow Start‘s very own Hiroe Hannen. Hard-working, frugal and practical, she’s also a character who deserves a bit more screen-time in GochiUsa.

  • The five kilometre hike to and from West Wind Pass took around two-and-three-quarters of an hour in total. Once the hike concluded, we returned to 514 Poutine, Canmore’s premiere poutine spot (previously known as La Belle Patate). Here, I ordered their deluxe poutine: it’s a blend of succulent chunks of Montréal Smoked Meat, bacon, sauteéd onions and mushrooms on top of their poutine. Every time I’ve visited, I am impressed with how flavourful and generous the helpings of the Montréal smoked meat is. Coupled with the smokiness of bacon, the sweetness of the onion and the plain fact that I love mushrooms, it’s the perfect poutine that quickly restored my energy. Their Spruce Beer Soda is also a fantastic accompaniment for lunch: with a distinct pine and slightly sweet flavour, it is superbly refreshing and perfect for after savouring a hearty poutine.

  • It was a bit of a later lunch: we finished at two-thirty, and with more than half the day passed, we decided to do a simpler walk around the Quarry Lake area of Canmore. With negligible elevation gain, this walk was very relaxing and also allowed us to loosen off from the morning hike: Quarry Lake itself is only five minutes from the parking lot, and surrounding the area are a series of well-marked trails that line the grass fields beneath the mountains. Back in Dear My Sister, as the evening grows later, the girls begin making their way up to a secret spot for viewing the fireworks that Aoyama’s informed them of. An overhead view of the town by night can be seen from here, and while the town is quite large, it’s definitely not Colmar, France: inspection of maps show that no river runs through the actual city, whereas a river dividing the town in two is clearly seen here.

  • Despite being noticeably absent from the proceedings, Cocoa manages to meet up with Chino and the others right as the first firework flies into the night sky. While the others initially look to be reacting to the fireworks, prompting Cocoa to wonder if they’ve even noticed her, it soon becomes clear that everyone is in fact aware of Cocoa’s arrival, and warmly greet her. Rize and the others are somewhat surprised that Cocoa managed to find them, but it would seem that Cocoa returned to Rabbit House, spoke with Aoyama and then changed into her yukata before heading off to reunite with the others.

  • Many moons ago, when Mocha was shown downing milk in a beer mug, one individual wondered why GochiUsa would “censor” alcoholic beverages, but never received a satisfactory answer. While the fireworks progress, Aoyama and her editor share some beers, decisively showing that GochiUsa has no aversions to showing alcoholic drinks on screen. The alcoholic offerings from Takahiro’s bar is also quite visible, and he is shown preparing alcoholic drinks, as well. Quite simply, there is no censorship. I’ve previously remarked that Mocha took milk as a comfort drink for her personality and preferences – just because someone can legally drink does not mean that they will.

  • After Sharo sets off the lone firework, Cocoa determines that with the obscure location, that’s where everyone else must’ve been. There’s been a surprisingly limited amount of buzz out there for an OVA that’s been so long overdue: the original release was supposed to be May of last year, and this got pushed back to November. Normally, there’s a six-month gap between the theatrical opening date and BD releases, but the BDs were released eight months later this time around. It is a bit disappointing to see that so few are aware of this OVA, and while it is a bit of an achievement to hold what is the internet’s only Dear My Sister review, having this title also means that very few GochiUsa fans have had the chance to enjoy the OVA.

  • Dear My Sister marks the third series that I’ve written about of late that features fireworks: Fireworks and Amanchu! Advance also featured some stellar fireworks shows. Once reunited with the others, Megu gives Cocoa a rabbit mask that eerily resembles the rabbit mask seen in GochiUsa‘s second season, and subsequently spars with Rize about older sisters in a friendly manner. With the fireworks in full swing, the girls watch the fireworks performance. Throughout the scene, the fireworks are actually out of focus or otherwise not the subject of focus, reminding audiences that for Cocoa and the others, their friendships and bonds come first.

  • After struggling to express herself, Chino manages to overcome this and welcomes Cocoa back, as well. The ending song, “The World Has Become a Café”, is a fantastic ending song performed by all eight of the characters: both Petit Rabbits’ and Chimame-tai come together to form the unit Petit Rabbits’ With Beans, and the lyrics are joyful, spirited and upbeat, signalling the joy of having everyone together once again. It’s a happy ending to Dear My Sister, and at this point, one cannot begrudge me for including one more MCU-style reference to the table – there’s a post-credits sequence that, like those of MCU films, serve an important purpose.

  • We’re very nearly at the end of this post, and as this talk on Dear My Sister is likely to be my largest single post of the year, I figure it could be a fun way to wrap things up with some statistics about this post. With a total word count of some 8300 words, it’s definitely no slouch, but writing for the OVA was very enjoyable, as well. It turns out that Rize had also made a stuffed rabbit for Cocoa, as well. This brings my long-awaited, long-overdue talk on Dear My Sister to a conclusion, and for my final score, Dear My Sister has earned a 9.5 of 10, an A+; highly entertaining, Dear My Sister brings back everything that made the earlier seasons so enjoyable and introduces new character dynamics among a familiar group, while at once providing spectacular artwork, animation and music.

  • In short, I enjoyed Dear My Sister the same way I enjoyed Infinity War. With Dear My Sister decisively in the books, the immediate other post on the horizon will be for Amanchu! Advance now that we’ve hit the three-quarters mark. We’ve also entered the month of June now, so the spring anime series will be concluding quite soon. I will be writing for Amanchu! AdvanceComic Girls and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online as their respective series close off. Finally, Battlefield 1 is running a “Road To Battlefield V” event, and I’ve yet to tell the story about how I got an Urban MDR in The Division – I will naturally be writing about both.

The long-awaited OVA to GochiUsa is finally in the books, and my final verdict is a strong recommendation. Dear My Sister brings back all of the aspects that made the originals so enjoyable to watch, capitalises on the summer weather to introduce a distinctly Japanese style of festival that suggests a highly multicultural area that Cocoa and her friends live in, explored another dimension of friendship that shows how interpersonal interactions go both ways, and upped the quality of artwork and animation in a series that already was technically superb. The masterful combination of all aspects result in an OVA that was worth the wait, and so, Dear My Sister is something that anyone who enjoyed GochiUsa will not want to miss. For folks who’ve yet to watch GochiUsa, I would count Dear My Sister as being similar to Avengers: Infinity War. Much like how various jokes and event references in Infinity War require some familiarity of previous movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (e.g. Loki echoing that they have a Hulk and Captain America’s “I am Steve Rogers” to Groot’s “I am Groot”, to name a few), Dear My Sister adapts chapters from volume five of the manga, and there are events and specific jokes that occurred in the seasons that require a bit more context to have the maximum impact (such as Aoyama being hauled off by her editor, or Chino’s unconscious making of iced cocoas). Both share the commonality of being quite enjoyable standalone, but are also clearly intended for audiences who’ve seen earlier instalments. With all this being said, Dear My Sister is an excellent adaptation of the chapters following the Ciste Hunt, and as the manga is ongoing, another season could be on the horizon. Having tested their mettle with Dear My Sister, I feel that if production doA were to be given the responsibility of creating a third season of GochiUsa, they would do a spectacular job. There certainly is enough material, and the series has had a strong reception. As such, I would imagine that a third season is a matter of when, rather than if, and this is an encouraging thought.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Hanayamata and Why We Fall

“Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” ―Tony Stark, The Avengers

A chance encounter with Hana Fountainstand introduces the average Naru Sekiya to the world of Yosakoi. Despite her clumsiness and lack of coordination, Naru is determined to commit to Yosakoi and decides to join Hana on her quest to found a Yosakoi club for their middle school. Their club struggles to gain members, but soon, Tami Nishimikado joins their number after Naru encourages her to be truthful about what she longs for. When Yaya Sasame, Naru’s best friend, suffers a setback after her band disbands, she also accompanies Naru. The club pushes towards their performance, takes on Sari Tokiwa as an advisor and while stumbling along the way, also picks up Machi Tokiwa as a member. Together, the girls pursue a common dream of performing Yosakoi together despite their disparate backgrounds: seeing Naru’s commitment to things encourages and inspires each of Hana, Yaya, Machi and Tami to do their best, as well. When the Hanairo Festival draws near, Hana leaves for America. Seeing her friends’ focus inspires Hana to convince her parents to turn around and grant her the wish of dancing with Naru, Yaya, Tami and Machi, culminating in a successful performance at Hanairo. Hanayamata dates back to the summer of 2014, and for this Terrible Anime Challenge, I find myself watching a show that, while with evident limitations, one that nonetheless managed to exceed expectations. Hanayamata is a visual treat and stands out with its beautifully-rendered settings: the colourful world creates a sense of wonder that is meant to accentuate the joys that Naru and the others feel while dancing, and enrich the emotional tenour of each fall, discovery and experience. Solid from a technical perspective, Hanayamata shines with its thematic elements; ostensibly an anime with little purpose beyond watching a group gather and work towards a shared goal as per the progression of many anime adapted from Manga Time Kirara manga have done, Hanayamata surprises with the message that it leaves viewers with.

Despite its propensity for comedy and funny faces, Hanayamata consciously chooses to give each of Naru, Hana, Yaya, Tami and Machi a unique set of challenges. Naru has never found something to do that defines her, being ever worried about failing after an incident in elementary school. Hana struggles to enthuse others as she pursues something to make the most of her time in Japan. Yaya becomes jealous of Naru’s friendship with Hana and loses a bit of her identity when her bandmates decide to call it quits. Tami has longed to find something meaningful for herself, having lived her entire life trying to earn her father’s praise, and Machi is determinedly trying to prove her sister wrong through hard work, disapproving of the Yosakoi club’s carefree nature. Each of the girls, in a sense, has fallen; it is through Yosakoi, a dancing style characterised by use of instruments known as Naruko but otherwise can be performed in various manners, with different music, props and numbers of people. Hana chooses Yosakoi because of the freedom that it offers, and it is this freedom that draws each of the girls in. Naru wants to be free of failure and find something where she can have fun in the moment. Yaya wants the freedom of setting aside a past commitment and finding a new place to belong. Tami wants the freedom to pursue her own interests, and Machi wants the freedom of making her own path, distinct from that of her sister’s. Regardless of what their initial reasons are, and their initial distance from one another, everyone converges on wanting to do something memorable for one another. In the process of dancing and working together, Naru, Hana, Yaya, Tami and Machi become closer to one another than they’d been previously, with the liberty in Yosakoi acting as the catalyst that inspires each of the Yosakoi club’s members to shine.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Naru Sekiya is Hanayamata‘s protagonist: voiced by Reina Ueda (Hane Sakura of Bakuon!!, which I’d written about in my previous Terrible Anime Challenge, and Infinite Stratos‘ Shizune Takatsuki), Naru reminds me a great deal of Brave Witches‘ Hikari Karibuchi in appearance. Initially, Naru’s one great love is fairy tales, of the sort that would be popular amongst grade schoolers, and she also does Iaidō, the art of sword control, but is otherwise quite unremarkable. Her world irrevocably changes when she meets one Hana Fountainstand at during her town’s Festival.

  • The rich colours of Hanayamata and the loving depictions of landscapes is actually why this Terrible Anime Challenge post has thirty screenshots rather than twenty. The high saturation means that from a visual perspective, Hanayamata leaves a very strong impact that compels viewers to continue watching. The animation in Hanayamata was handled by Madhouse, of A Place Further Than The UniverseChobits and Death Note fame – the visuals are a few years ahead of their time. Hanayamata is directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, who also would go on to work on A Place Futher Than The Universe. The inclusion of this title in her repertoire quickly puts to bed the claim that the use of light is a recurring theme in any of Ishizuka’s work.

  • An American, Hana’s surname “Fountainstand” is a bit unusual; I’ve never heard of that as a family name before, and Google-fu finds that this is perhaps unique to Hanayamata. Hana herself is an American interpretation of Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo, being energetic, friendly and optimistic. Her lack of understanding of some Japanese customs is why she’s so persistent about getting Naru to partake in Yosakoi with her, and while Naru is initially reluctant, she finds herself drawn to Hana’s positive spirit. This is a setup I’ve seen countless times in other shows, and Hanayamata begins very slowly.

  • However, once the party gets started, things really pick up. Here, Hana hauls Yaya to the school rooftop to show her the effort Naru’s been putting in to learning the basics of Yosakoi. A capable student, Yaya also is a member of the band “Need Cool Quality”. In contrast with the “smart and serious” archetype, I found it difficult to empathise with Yaya initially; her clinginess to Naru is a bit reminiscent of Megumi and Mari’s relationship in A Place Futher Than The Universe. One of the great strengths of Hanayamata, then, is being given exposition to Yaya’s story and watching how this influences her decision to take up Yosakoi.

  • Student council president Machi is quick to shoot down Hana and Naru’s plans to bring Yosakoi to their high school. She’s seen as a bit of a stubborn figure opposed to Yosakoi, being a highly rigid, structured individual, and like Yaya, is initially not particularly likeable. Once her story is known, viewers will similarly empathise with her and accept her as a part of the Yosakoi club as Naru and the others do. I note that at some point in Hanayamata, a list of clubs is seen that includes a tank club and a romance club: these are references to Girls und Panzer and Love Lab, respectively, although the reason why this remains little more than a curiosity is because their inclusion is of little relevance to the main theme.

  • Tami is more enthusiastic about joining the Yosakoi club, but has her own challenges to deal with in that she’s denied herself of fun things to become a proper Japanese woman for her father’s sake, having grown to long for his approval. Parental expectations form a minor sub-theme in Hanayamata, which is an especially relevant topic in contemporary society. I understand Tami’s drive to make her father proud, although in conversations with my parents, I was always told to pursue the path that best suits me with an honest effort. This approach removes pressure from the children to do well and allows them to focus on being the best they can be.

  • In the end, it takes a bit of a speech from Naru to convince Tami to stick to her guns. Hanayamata suggests that individualism is important in one’s growth, and it is important to remember the context delivering this message. While in North America, individualism is at the forefront of all things, Japan expects conformity. This approach has placed a great deal of strain on youth, who struggle to express themselves: Hanayamata is therefore suggesting that some individualism and creativity is needed to build well-rounded individuals equipped to handle an ever-changing world. Of course, in North America, nearly unrestricted freedom has resulted in the phenomenon of “special snowflake syndrome”, and the best cure for this is an increased emphasis on teamwork and team play in the curriculum. By making one feel their best while part of a team, people can learn to appreciate that while everyone brings something unique to the table, progress can only be made when all of these things come together.

  • While this post on Hanayamata has thirty images, I did not have a chance to include Masaru Ofuna, the owner of a Yosakoi supply shop. While resembling a yakuza, Masaru is actually friendly and inviting, helping the girls pick out their gear. He eventually develops a bit of a crush on Sari after meeting her at a Yosakoi performance, and occasionally will go out of his way to help the Yosakoi Club along whenever she asks. Sari doesn’t seem to mind him, and while the anime ended where it ended, I am curious to see if anything interesting happens between the two: the manga is still ongoing, after all.

  • Looking back, Hanayamata is something that I would have enjoyed watching as it aired back in 2014: it ran during the height of the development work for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, during which I was fine-tuning some of the most sophisticated spline tools the Unity app needed for the performance. I think my reasons for not watching Hanayamata at the time was a lack of familiarity with Manga Time Kirara works; I’ve known about K-On! for a while, but remained quite unaware of the magazine it ran in. Anime of K-On!‘s style are up my alley because of their inherent simplicity and usually meaningful messages on the simpler things in life.

  • In a manner of speaking, Sari is similar to K-On!‘s Sawako Yamanaka, enjoying the positive influence she has on her students and also can be lazy at times. However, when the chips are down, she’s motivated, caring and determined. Here, she outfits the others with animal ears and tails while trying to work out a Yosakoi costume for the club, leaving Tami and Naru with X-shaped mouths. This particular characteristic is reminiscent of Miffy, a Dutch series of picture books that first appeared in 1955. Because of Miffy’s similarity to Hello Kitty, it is a common misconception that Miffy is also Japanese in origin. The X-shaped mouths seem to represent befuddlement in Hanayamata.

  • Once Tami becomes a full-fledged member of the Yosakoi club, focus turns to Yaya. After the band she’s a part of fails an audition and dissociates, Yaya falls into a depression, turning away Naru and the others. I’m not too sure what the progression in the manga was, but throughout Hanayamata‘s run, Yaya continued to invest time into her friends’ band, and so, with this coming to an abrupt end, Yaya is stuck trying to find a new place in the sun. Jealous of Naru and her belonging, Yaya lashes out at her. Yaya’s long viewed Naru as someone to look after, and so, she becomes insecure when Naru begins trying to make her own way about.

  • Hanayamata has its characters cry to a nontrivial extent, and here, Naru reacts to Yaya’s tongue-lashing. Naru and Hana later reciprocate and kick Yaya’s ass in a metaphoric sense. Recalling that Naru and Hana have been trying to recruit her into Yosakoi, Yaya realises that she’s always had a place with Naru and the others. From this moment on, Yaya becomes a more dedicated member of the Yosakoi club and contributes to composing its music. The piano piece that she creates acts as a starting point for the song that the girls sing together, and for me, this was the magic moment of Hanayamata.

  • I’ve heard some folks say that Hanayamata is Shakespearean in nature, and while it’s been quite some time since I’ve read any Shakespeare, I do not believe that this story can fully be considered a Shakespearean comedy. Hanayamata does deal with youth struggling (often against the problems their elders create), has elements of separation and reunification, a resolution of family problems by the end and there’s a clever servant (Masaru). However, the plot is by no means complex, there’s no frequent puns or romantic love story, nor is disguise an integral part of the plot. In spite of this, I’ve decided to go with a bit of a light-hearted quote from The Avengers to remind audiences of the fact that, despite the dramatic in Hanayamata, the series is ultimately a comedy at the end of the day, and because the Yosakoi costumes do seem to fit Tony Stark’s remarks nicely.

  • After one practise, Sari comments on Naru and Tami’s thighs, leading the two to try and lose weight. Sari shares in common with some other instructors an uncommon (and perhaps, unhealthy) interest in students of that age range, and this is primarily intended for comedic purposes. The girls continue to push towards their first performance, and while Sari was initially opposed to it, seeing everyone’s determination causes her to have a change of heart: she even waives Hana’s unsatisfactory test scores. I’m not sure if I’m watching the same anime as some folk, who’ve felt it pertinent to remind other viewers that Japanese exams are different than exams from the west. This has no bearing on how successful Hanayamata is at presenting its story, and I reiterate here that while my talks may be academic-sounding, I’m here to share ideas, not lecture readers on obscure, useless trivia.

  • I’ve chosen to stick to calling Sari by her given name rather than her nickname “Sally-sensei” – I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not particularly keen on calling people by their nicknames because that can lead to inconsistencies and confusion in my writing. Fortunately, phonetic similarity means that there shouldn’t be too much confusion, and here, Sari wilts after discovering she was responsible for forgetting the music the girls perform to. Machi retrieves the music just in time for the performance, and while Naru trips during their routine, Hana, Yaya and Tami reassure her that it’ll be alright.

  • This is why Naru’s falling was not protracted: with her friends’ support, she recovers very quickly and moves ahead to seize the future. On the other hand, Machi’s decidedly hostile relationship with Sari is a result of her dismissing Machi’s efforts. Long ago, Machi looked up to Sari as an elder sibling, but when Sari wanted to pursue her own interests, she abandoned Machi and her dreams, as well. Machi has since viewed Sari as a selfish individual, and worries that Tami and the others will be hurt. This is why she’s so opposed to the Yosakoi club. However, when Sari demonstrates her commitment to her career choice by passing the certifications to become a full time instructor, Machi has a change of heart and joins the club in full.

  • In becoming a fully-qualified teacher, Sari can continue to advise the Yosakoi club, and the girls set their sights on the Hanairo Festival. Tami proposes that they go on a club trip to practise, which one might expect the usual antics from. However, Hanayamata breaks this tradition and shows the girls practising together. Of note is Machi, who’s determined to catch up to the others and puts in a very strong effort to learn everything.

  • I’ve primarily focused on the Yosakoi club and their characters in this post, but the artwork and animation are worthy of praise: each moment is vividly rendered. Nights are magical, reminiscent of the romp seen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and by day, the bright colours immediately indicate to viewers that they are in the middle of summer. The mind associates intensity with heat, so in anime, brightly-coloured landscapes indicate heat, while dull, washed-out colours similarly convey a sense of coldness. Colours mean a great deal to me: in a good anime, they are used to create a very specific atmosphere and can speak volumes about a scene.

  • In the likes of Hanayamata, the use of colour to convey a summer day’s heat is intended to give audiences the impression that youth is a passionate time. Madhouse has evidently not spared any expense in creating beautiful settings, and this is one of the reasons that compelled me to stick around despite my initial inclinations to rage-quit. The series really picks up after Tami’s story is told, and continues at a moderate pace to strike a balance between comedy and drama. The series thus ended up being an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

  • A glance at the shadows show the girls’ dedication: the sun is directly overhead, and the girls have been practising since the morning. When a staff member asks the girls to be mindful of the other guests, they take their Yosakoi session outside, and practise until the heat defeats Yaya. The girls agree to take five, but are seen again practising. This subtle detail shows that everyone is dead serious about Yosakoi: improvements are especially noticeable, and even the clumsy, dead-footed Naru is much more coordinated and confident in her ability as the hour grows late.

  • As the day draws to a close in the late afternoon (recall that sunsets in Japan are quite early, even during the summer), Hana notices an umbrella. Feeling it would be a fine addition to their routine, the others wonder if it is wise to change their routine so late in the game. The evening lighting creates a wistful feeling, and while the girls decide to leave umbrellas out for the present, they will come back in a big way. This scene, in presenting a visual distance between Hana and the others, also foreshadows the conflict that Hana has to sort out: while easily the most carefree of the girls, and insofar a beacon of joy, Hana’s story will become the topic of a much greater importance towards Hanayamata‘s climax.

  • One might ask: if I found Hanayamata solid enough to give it a recommendation, then why would I class this under the Terrible Anime Challenge series? After all, Hanayamata is not a series that has overwhelmingly negative reception, is not something that I stopped watching halfway in and did not have a particularly poor premise to begin with. The answer is simple enough: while received warmly for the most part, I heard that Hanayamata was very serious and at the time, more serious than most Manga Time Kirara works were. I thus set out to see whether or not the drama was meritorious of the individual analysis that some felt inclined to give it.

  • When I finished my journey through Hanayamata, my conclusion was that, once again, many have missed the forest for the trees. In being so focused on the minutiae in the drama and struggles each girl face, why the girls can grow and mature in doing Yosakoi is completely missed. The specifics behind Naru’s self-doubt, Yaya’s search for a purpose, Tami’s want for doing something for herself and Machi’s desire to excel are not as relevant as how each girl finds the answer to their challenges through Yosakoi. So no, it is not necessary and certainly not sufficient to analyse each of the girls’ internal conflicts to understand Hanayamata: the entire series is at its finest when considered from a big-picture perspective.

  • Hanayamata presents viewers with many a vivid azure sky to enjoy, and at this point in the game, the days of Naru tripping over herself are long past as the girls gear up to perform. My personal insistence on the big picture rather than the small details put me at odds with the old guard part of the anime community that prefers blow-by-blow analysis of things. However, my counterargument is simple enough: as a software developer, I write unit tests to ensure that my modules individually work as expected. However, just because all of my unit tests pass do not mean that my code will pass integration testing. In order for code to be useful, it must also work together. It is here that new bugs might be found. In my analogy, the old guard believe it is sufficient to have all passing unit tests, whereas I know that it is necessary to consider how parts of a system work together.

  • With all this being said, the discussions I refer to do date back nearly four years, and four years is a great deal of time, especially for folks to change their modus operandi and outlook. The individual who’d mentioned the Japanese-style tests above, for instance, has since admitted that they’d “…put [their] foot in [their] mouth a lot, especially when [they’d] gush about stuff [they were] not really an expert on. Been called a hack as a result. Can’t blame people for that”. It takes guts to own one’s mistakes, and personally, this means one fewer case where I need to remind readers to always think for themselves as to whether or not a statement on the internet is true or not, which is a win in my books. Back in Hanayamata, the girls decide to practise by the pool when the summer heat makes the rooftop difficult. The age of the girls means that fanservice type moments in the series are very rare, and Hanayamata is very disciplined in this department, which is one more plus.

  • With the performance drawing nearer, Naru’s come up with flowers to represent each member of the Yosakoi club. I’ve heard some reviews conclude that Hanayamata is about changing, blooming and presenting one’s best side for the world to see as flowers are wont to do. However, there’s no credit for partial answers; symbols themselves are not the themes in a show, but rather, are physical or abstract representations of an idea that is a part of the theme. The girls’ growth, liberating themselves from their internal conflict, is evident in the series, but the true message is that they find themselves precisely through doing something that is quite open and free. While perhaps speaking of Yosakoi, this activity could be anything that invites exploration: the girls of Hanayamata are largely self-motivated, receiving a quantum of assistance only when required.

  • Hana’s conflicts come into the open as Hanayamata heads into its final act. Her parents are divorced but wish to reunite, and Hana, longing for a family, is forced to choose between her friends and family. This is why it was so difficult for Hana to come forward with her challenges, and after spending an evening with Naru, makes her decision to be with her mother and father. She’s seen how much they love her, and so, decides to leave Naru with her naruko before taking off.

  • It’s a tearful parting of ways at the airport, and while Hana might’ve been off-putting at the series’ start, it is very clear that Hana’s energy brought everyone together and made everything possible. Naru subsequently picks up the torch, resolving to fulfil her promise of performing with the others to Hana. Even with Hana absent, the Yosakoi club continue to practise, continuing on from the song that they’d recorded with Hana. Preparations are in full force by the time of the finale, and one subtle touch I greatly enjoyed was Masaru enjoying Sari riding on his shoulders. In series such as these, the instructor is depicted as not being unattractive but nonetheless struggling to find a partner, so it was a nice change of pace to see signs of a romance beginning between Masaru and Sari.

  • After Hana gives her father a copy of the CD they’d recorded, he realises just how much Yosakoi and by extension, Naru, Yaya, Tami and Machi mean to her. Hana thus returns to Japan, and against the odds, manages to make it in time to perform alongside the others, fulfilling the promise they’d made to one another. This journey was thrilling, at least as suspenseful and tense as when Captain Price leads his squad down the hill in Modern Warfare‘s Heat mission; the stakes are different but just as meaningful. Fortunately, Hana does make it, and as the girls become immersed in their performance, the camera cuts away to their parents proudly watching amongst the audience. Everyone’s come a great ways in overcoming their own internal challenges through the freedom that Yosakoi brings.

  • For exceeding expectations, having a surprisingly relatable plot and striking a balance between the comedy and drama, Hanayamata earns a solid A (a 9.0 of 10). I’ve not mentioned thus so far, but the title is merely an amalgamation of the first kana to each of the girls’ names (Hana, Naru, Yaya, Machi and Tami). I am very glad to have given Hanayamata a fair chance, and note that discussions out there do not paint a complete picture of this series. With this post in the books, I remark that May’s flown by, and that we’re very nearly on the eve of Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka??: Dear My Sister‘s release. As well, with the Battlefield V reveal, the latest Road to Battlefield V event has begun, and we’re a few days out from the conclusion of The Division‘s Onslaught global event, where I got my first-ever Urban MDR through an exotic cache earned after finishing Warrengate Power Plant on legendary difficulty.

Like Sansha San’yō, Hanayamata ended up being an unexpectedly enjoyable watch. My experiences of Hanayamata differ considerable from existing discussions, which have largely focused on the individual struggles without their context (such as why Naru’s falling during their first public performance was so quickly resolved), or else have focused on the minutiae surrounding Hana’s characterisation. There is little surprise that discussions of Hanayamata have been as limited as they were, considering that thematic elements have not been considered. If I were to merely go from these discussions alone, I would have learned that Hanayamata is a cliché, generic anime that is “like K-On! done wrong”. A cursory glance at sales figures seems to reinforce this: people were not optimistic that Hanayamata would sell well, but beyond these superficial snippets lies an anime that is rather more meaningful than the community otherwise conveys. Quite simply, those who hold that Hanayamata is K-On! done wrong are evidently in the wrong. The drama aspects of Hanayamata, seemingly extraneous, ultimately serve to underline the fact that everyone has their own challenges, but their common interest in Yosakoi and the intrinsic freedoms in this dance style eventually allow the girls to overcome their own problems together while their sights are set on the prize of being able to dance together. Consequently, Hanayamata earns a recommendation from me: while its aesthetic might give the impression that Hanayamata is nothing substantial, and the direction might seem fraught with more tears and internal conflict than necessary, watching the series in whole affords audiences with a much broader perspective on the journey that Naru has undertaken since agreeing to join Hana’s journey of starting a Yosakoi club; as Yaya, Tami and Machi each note, Naru’s come to take on a brilliance of her own by the end of Hanayamata, illustrating the impact that a single fateful meeting can have in one’s life: why does each of Naru, Hana, Yaya, Tami and Machi fall? So they can pick themselves up again.