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Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative: Remarks On the Outcome of Possibility, A Review and Reflection

It has been found again.
What? – Eternity.
It is the sea fled away
With the sun.

–Eternity, Arthur Rimbaud

Jona Basta, Michele and Rita Bernal were friends who foresaw the devastating outcome of Operation British and became dubbed the “Miracle Children” for their part in helping reduce casualties with their prediction. They were subsequently sent to a Newtype research facility, where it became clear that Jona and Michele did not exhibit the traits of a true Newtype. Rita was ultimately sent off for further study, while Michele returned to Luio & Co, and Jona ended up joining the EFSF navy as a pilot. Some seventeen years later, in UC 0097, the enigmatic Phenex Gundam, brother unit to the Unicorn and Banshee, makes a return. A year earlier, the Laplace Conflict revealed that the original UN Charter had encompassed the existence and rights for Newtypes, but the world’s policy remained unchanged. The tremendous power that the Unicorn and Banshee demonstrated was seen as a threat, and the two Gundams were dismantled. However, the reappearance of the Phenex prompts the Federation’s Intelligence Bureau to capture it, secretly collaborating with the Sleeves remnants to capture the Phenex. two years previously, the Phenex was lost during a test when its psychoframe resonated and it destroyed the Shallot, an Irish-class battleship supervising the test. Because the Unicorn and Banshee were purportedly dismantled, the Phenex remains the only Gundam with a functional psychoframe that could be studied. Jona is sent to participate in the operation Phoenix Hunt with the Narrative Gundam, but lets the Phenex escape. Later, when following the Phenex’s psycommu signal into the Metis Colony, Jona encounters Zoltan Akkanen, a Sleeves remnants clone who, like Full Frontal, was created from Char’s memory. Zoltan’s instability leads him to engage Jona, and the Phenex intervenes. The Narrative begins resonating and makes to engage the Phenex, taking control of the II Neo Zeong Zoltan had called in, but the process is stopped when Rita’s spirit helps Jona come to his senses. Back on board the Damascus, Captain Averaev forces Michele explain the details of Operation Phoenix to the crew. It turns out that her interest in Newtypes stemmed from the promise of eternal life that it could bring. In order to draw the Phenex out, Michele provided the Sleeves remnants with the II Neo Zeong and hoped that the Narrative would resonate with it. However, the failure to recapture the Phenex casts doubt in the Phoenix Hunt programme, and the superiors order the operation stopped. Zoltan, learning that his usefulness has ended, seizes the II Neo Zeong and intends to destroy the colonies, feeling that people are incapable of change and will only cause further harm by exploiting Newtypes as a military asset. Jona sorties in the Narrative to engage Zoltan, but the II Neo Zeong overwhelms him. Michele, realising that she’d been indebted to Rita for giving her a chance to live, decides to sacrifice herself to save Jona, who escapes the destruction of the Narrative Gundam. Boarding the Phenex, he destroys the II Neo Zeong and stops Zoltan’s spirit from triggering a runaway fusion reaction in the Helium-3 storage facility. In the aftermath of the battle, Banagher Links appears to rescue him, and the two watch as the Phenex departs.

In its hundred-minute run, Gundam Narrative deals with the aftermath of the Laplace Conflict, which shows that humanity ultimately did not develop or progress considerably in the year since Laplace’s Box was opened. Instead, fear of the possibility that the Unicorn and Banshee represented led authorities to suspend all research into the psychoframe technology, which has come to represent forbidden knowledge in the Universal Century. The ability to cheat death and achieve eternal life, physically manipulate the world on a hitherto unprecedented scale and even turn back time itself is seen as transgressions that violate the very laws of nature. In the pursuit of knowledge, and by pushing technology and science further than it had ever been pushed, the unknowable can occur. Historically, humanity has always struggled with the duality of science and technology – improved knowledge has led to advances in quality of life and standards of living, but has also introduced new dæmons on the world. When fission was discovered, humanity could grasp a cleaner power source that produced negligible emissions, but the same technology has also birthed atomic weapons capable of horrifying destruction. Similarly, fears that highly sophisticated AI may destroy humanity exist and temper excitement in the great benefits their applications bring. This is a theme that Mary Shelley similarly covered in Frankenstein, whose titular character created a monster that haunts him, representing his guilt and horror at having succeeded. In Gundam Narrative, psychoframe technology is forbidden knowledge: while offering limitless possibility, the potential for destruction and chaos is equally great, and while characters can see the good that is possible with the technology, fears of it being applied for harm are equally present. This endless conflict is ultimately why despite the potential and possibility for change exists, there is always going to be concern for what might arise if knowledge is abused – this is why the world has not changed too dramatically since the Laplace Conflict in the Universal Century, and Gundam Narrative closes without a clear idea of which perspective it champions, leaving audiences to draw their own conclusions about the implications of ceaselessly advancing knowledge on human civilisation.

Besides dealing with one view on forbidden knowledge, Gundam Narrative also extends on the concept of a Newtype with the aim of speaking to human nature in a more visceral way – Zeon Deikun postulated that human evolution would accelerate to adapt to the voids of space. The Universal Century portrays Newtypes as having precognition skills and the ability to communicate telepathically with other Newtypes, making them exceptional pilots. With the introduction of psycommu technology, Newtypes could manipulate physical objects, as well. The introduction of this abstract series of capabilities into Gundam creates invariable comparisons between a Newtype and Force-users from Star Wars. While the capabilities of Force is similarly discussed, ultimately, the Force and being a Newtype are means to an end: Gundam Narrative builds upon but also deliberately leaves details vague. From a storytelling perspective, Newtypes and the Force are meant to be tangible representations of human intent. In particular, it’s what one chooses to do that ultimately matters. The Jedi use the Force for compassion, understanding and mediation, the Sith use it to increase their own power and control through fear. In Gundam Narrative, the power conferred by a psychoframe can be used to shorten a conflict and empathetically connect with others, or it can be used to inflict harm upon others by performing feats that are otherwise impossible. Gundam Narrative reminds viewers that one’s choices, rather than whatever power they may possess, is what is most relevant: in light of this, Gundam Narrative hints at the idea that forbidden knowledge, in the hands of those who would intend to do good and have selfless aspirations, can greatly advance humanity, and at the end of the day, the hope for a better world will always be something meaningful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Gundam Narrative was announced back in April 2018, and released in theatres during November 2018. Ahead of the screenings, a 24-minute preview was uploaded to YouTube to drive excitement: the film opens with a flashback to the moments leading up to the colony drop event at the end of Operation British. For six months, this was the most of Gundam Narrative that I saw, and as a successor to Gundam Unicorn, my curiosity was piqued. While screenings were held in Singapore and Malaysia earlier this year, I’m actually surprised as to how limited the discussion to Gundam Narrative is, and even though it’s been three weeks since Gundam Narrative‘s home release, I am surprised that this post is probably the only proper full-length talk on the movie around with a respectable collection of screenshots.

  • In the present day, Michele Luio is a special advisor to Luio & Co., a large manufacturing company with its headquarters in Hong Kong. Luio & Co. were mentioned in Gundam Unicorn, providing fortune-telling services to politicians as a part of her roles in keeping the EFSF close at hand. The Hong Kong seen in Gundam Narrative is a far cry from the one seen in Char’s Counterattack, whereas the latter appeared run-down and destitute, New Hong Kong in Gundam Narrative is modern and clean. Despite lacking any of the landmarks of Hong Kong, such as the IFC and the Hong Kong Bank of China, the streets are shown to resemble those of Wan Chai.

  • Michele is presented as being driven by a near obsession with the power that the psychoframe possesses: her descriptions suggest that the psychowave the Unicorn emitted during the final moments of the Laplace Conflict are said to have dismantled the generator cores to the Federation mobile suits sent to disable Magallanica, rather than disabled them. The psychowaves appear to give the Unicorn series the ability to manipulate time itself, and this is why Michele desires to take possession of the Phenex.

  • As Operation Phoenix gears up, Jona is deployed as a part of the task force to intercept a convoy carrying Martha Vist Carbine, who was previously involved with the Laplace Conflict and still being held in EFSF custody. He operates a MSK-008 Dijeh for this assignment, a mobile suit designed for ground operations that was based off the Rick Dias, and possesses features that are common in Zeon mobile suits because Zeon engineers contributed to its design. Michele intends to capture Martha for the wealth of knowledge she still has on the Phenex: one can surmise that Martha answered Michele’s questions in a satisfactory manner.

  • A few weeks later, Federation forces are out pursuing the elusive Phenex. The Phenex was the third of the Unicorn-type Gundams, possessing the same technical specifications and combat performance. However, it is equipped with a pair of Armed Armour DE shields, and these offer the Phenex superior acceleration and mobility even compared to the Unicorn and Banshee: the Shezarr squadron are completely ineffective in hitting the Phenex, whose manoeuvrability is such that it moves like a dancer more than a mobile suit.

  • The Shezarr squadron is made up of six pilots, commanded by Iago Haakana, who leads his squadron into combat despite his own unease about Operation Phoenix. While they manage to corner the Phenex and deploy a net to ensnare it, the Phenex escapes, promoting the squadron to wonder how any pilot could survive those movements. During the course of Gundam Narrative, numerous characters are introduced, but the film’s run-time of f minutes means that beyond Jona, Michele, Rita and Zoltan, it’s difficult to recall the names of the other characters, even if their roles are non-trivial.

  • In Gundam Unicorn, the Jesta was a limited mass production suit with higher performance than a Jegan. Intended to be used as a support suit for the Unicorn, three Jestas were operated by the Londo Bell Tri-Star team. A year later, Jestas have become more common: the Shezarr pilots each operate Jestas of their own. These modified Jestas sport an upgraded backpack unit that resembles the Stark Jegan’s, and possesses additional hard points to mount booster packs.

  • Even with only the twenty-four minute preview, it became clear that the Phenex is a ghost machine, having no human pilot. The unnaturally long operational time of the Phenex and flashbacks foreshadow that the Phenex actually has no pilot, and the fact that it’s been loose for two years means that it ran out of fuel long ago. Close-ups show the psychoframe of the Phenex glowing even though the NT-D is disabled, giving credence to the idea that the Phenex is willing itself to move through the void of space.

  • At the age of twenty-five, Jona is now an ensign with the EFSF navy. He is given a special normal-suit embedded with psychoframe material to enhance his connection to the Narrative Gundam, and his appearance is a surprise to the Federation forces, who were unaware that they’d be getting a Gundam to help with their operation. The Narrative Gundam is one of the more unusually-named Gundams I can recall, and the name “narrative” is used to describe the Gundam’s role in a story about possibility, having nothing to do with its colloquial usage in social media or news.

  • When it first appears, the Narrative Gundam is in its A-packs configuration; besides boosters, the A-packs setup allows the Narrative to carry a variety of equipment parts to restrain and capture the Phenix. The RC-9 Narrative Gundam itself was originally designed and built by Anaheim Electronics, intended to be a testbed for the RX-93 ν Gundam, and as such, did not require the same external armour pieces of a standard Gundam. Throughout Gundam Narrative, Luio & Co. provide the Narrative with interchangeable parts.

  • The tails on the Armed Armour DE shields resemble General Borcuse’s Hykelion from Break Blade, which similarly had a secret weapon dubbed the “scorpion tail” concealed under the Hykelion’s cloak: these were used to stab through enemy golem units. Break Blade was made into a six-instalment OVA between 2010 and 2011: I picked up the anime during the summer of 2011, and felt that the format was somewhat similar to Gundam Unicorn. Like the Hykelion, the Phenex’s tails can be used as piercing weapons in addition to acting as stablisers.

  • Special equipment known as the psycho-capture system allows the Narrative to temporarily disable the Phenex, using technology similar to the jammers found on Angelo Sauper’s Rozen Zulu. However, when Jona hesitates, the Phenex escapes capture, disappearing into the depths of space and leaving Michele furious at having come so close to achieving their goal. The music of Gundam Narrative is composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, who provided the awe-inspiring incidental pieces for Gundam Unicorn, as well. Overall, I found Narrative‘s soundtrack to be a little weaker, recycling motifs from Unicorn and favouring an electronic element over orchestral ones.

  • Mineva Zabi makes a return in Gundam Narrative, retaining her regal composure and calmly speaks with a Zeon politician. It is not lost on me that five years have passed since Gundam Unicorn‘s finale aired, which means that five years have also passed since I worked on the Giant Walkthrough Brain. This is probably a mere coincidence, but I find it intriguing that five years since the Giant Walkthrough Brain, there have been a fair number of parallels between this year and the summer of five years previously.

  • Captain Averaev commands the Damascus, a Clop-class cruiser. His appearance suggests that he is an older officer who’d seen combat previously, and the Clop-class is an older design: these are essentially stripped-down versions of the Ra Cailum that Bright Noa commands, and in Gundam Unicorn, Full Frontal is mentioned to have single-handedly defeated two of these on his own, suggesting that the Clop-class have some degree of resilience in combat despite their limitations.

  • On board the Damascus, Michele chastises Jona for having let the Phenex get away. During the combat, Jona had heard Rita’s voice as clear as day and hesitated to engage, feeling that shooting to kill would’ve defeated the purpose of their mission. Throughout Gundam Narrative, Rita’s remarks on whether or not the soul could exist haunts Jona, who greatly regrets not being able to save her from being taken away years previously.

  • The depth of my knowledge in Gundam is nowhere near as sophisticated as those of dedicated fans, and admittedly, after watching Gundam Narrative, I did have a few lingering questions. I ended up speaking with a friend whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Gundam is unparalleled in order to clarify certain details for this post. Besides being able to identify almost every mobile suit and its variants, plus combat characteristics, said friend has an appreciation for the thematic aspects of Gundam that extend well beyond politics: he argues that meaning in a fictional work is better defined by the morals characters learn, rather than any allegories and analogues of real-world political systems.

  • Erika Yugo briefs Sleeves remnants soldiers on the Phenex, which disappeared and then resurfaced shortly after Mineva made the Laplace declaration. Feeling it’s impossible for the Phenex to be operating independently, she gives no indicator that Luio & Co. have been driving things from behind the scenes. However, believing that they have an edge with the psycho-monitor, a technology Full Frontal employed to track down the Unicorn previously, Zoltan is prepared to deal with a confrontation with the Federation, since it’s likely they’ll be fighting special units rather than the regular forces.

  • At the same time that Erika is briefing the Sleeves remnants, Michele explains to Captain Averaev their use of a psycho-monitor, before thanking him for the EFSF’s assistance. Both Narrative and Unicorn present civilian interference in military affairs as having detrimental consequences, speaking to the negative effects of the military-industrial complex. Both Luio & Co. and Anaheim Electronics have enough influence to impact policy, which creates the instability that civilians and soldiers alike must deal with.

  • During a training exercise, Jona tests the Narrative Gundam’s B-packs configuration, which replaces the bulky support unit for pair of wire-guided assault units. Jona’s experience as a pilot appears lacking: the Shezarr pilots quickly paint him in an exercise, and remark that his skills aren’t up to scratch for someone who is supposed to be enhanced. After leaving the Newtype research facility, Jona enlisted with the Federation forces and has a very unremarkable career, although he was chosen to specifically work with Luio & Co. on the Phoenix Hunt assignment. While Jona remains distant with Michele for having abandoned her, Michele still remembers and so, requested that he operate the Narrative.

  • The psycho-monitor soon detects a signal emanating from Metis Colony, a facility dedicated towards higher education. While Averaev protests that he does not have permission to deploy a mobile suit squadron into the colony’s interior, Michele pulls a few strings and grants them permission. Quite separately, the Sleeves forces have also deployed and entered the colony, which is comparatively quiet at present because term has ended and most of the students have gone on break.

  • Zoltan pilots the Sinanju Stein, a prototype mobile suit designed to test the psychoframe. Originally, this was the original form of the Sinanju before the Sleeves stole the unit and used it to create Full Frontal’s Sinanju, but Gundam Narrative revises this – there were actually two units, and the second unit was acquired by the Sleeves remnants. Compared to the Sinanju, which was modified for Full Frontal’s style of combat, the Sinanju Stein lacks the Sinanju’s high-performance thrusters and uses a bulkier rifle. While inside the colony, Zoltan decides to engage the Narrative against orders: this is a live colony and there are inhabitants still inside it, hence the restrictions weapon usage.

  • After a hole is punched in the colony thanks to Zoltan calling in the II Neo Zeong, the Phenex appears. The page quote is from Arthur Rimbaud’s “Eternity”, which speaks of the impermanence of life in an existence that is endless. This poem is referenced in the light novel, being a recurring theme about how human existence is finite and ultimately, inconsequential. While this sounds pessimistic, from another point of view, the finite nature of human existence is a blessing, as suffering is also finite. Further, this also gives weight to moments that we do experience: we treasure them precisely because they are ephemeral.

  • Rita’s question about whether or not heaven and the soul exists is echoed several times in Gundam Narrative. She decides that heaven might not be real, but is certain that the soul beyond the bioelectrical impulses in the brain must exist. The question, seemingly an open one, suggests that Rita had always been an inquisitive and carefree individual: this is reinforced by the fact that if given the choice, she would wish to be a bird, signifying her desire to be free.

  • While Rita longs to be free, Jona is tormented by the fact that Michele had lied to him and in the process, cost Rita her life. The researchers, unable to tell who the real Newtype was, decided to play a sort of Prisoner’s Dilemma game with Jona, Michele and Rita: they falsely claim that the real Newtype will be spared, while the other two will be executed. Michele ultimately was discharged, while Rita was hauled off to be dismantled.

  • Whether or not the soul exists is something that is the subject of no small debate amongst theologians and philosophers. Modern science describes our consciousness as the sum of billions of neurons interacting together to create a system of immeasurable complexity, but the notion that memories and the essence of a being can endure in the absence of an energy supply (cellular respiration producing the energy needed to drive neurological processes) is not supported by contemporary models. Having said this, there are some phenomenon that simply cannot be described by any craft that we possess, and while some postulate that quantum mechanics might be involved, research in this area is so limited that it’s difficult to say for sure what’s happening.

  • Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Narrative extend on the idea that the psychoframe; made up of billions of nano-scale processors that can capture human intent and translate that into movement, the pyschoframe’s architecture mirrors the brain and therefore, it is able to replicate the complexities of the human mind. Over time, psychoframe can even “store” the consciousness of its operators. The emergent properties from transplanting the human consciousnesses into a machine are completely unforeseen, and in Char’s Counterattack, this manifested in the form of a warm green light that emanated from the ν Gundam that projected enough force to push Axis back into space. Banagher uses the Unicorn’s power to absorb a colony laser in Gundam Unicorn.

  • Michele had always longed to come back for Jona and Rita, but circumstance drove them apart. Jona eventually joined the Federation forces, while Rita was made into an experimental subject and tested the experimental Phenex. The psychoframe resonance between the Phenex and Narrative brings back the pain of these memories in Jona and amplifies them: he takes control of the II Neo Zeong, whose systems begin to run wild and threaten to destroy the colony.

  • At the last moment, the Phenex approaches Jona and calms him. The friend whom I spoke with about Gundam Narrative speculates that the Neo Zeong’s systems were built in particular to amplify negative emotions, and while I initially thought that the psychoframe amplified what already was (per Marida Cruz’s assertions in Gundam Unicorn‘s finale), the fact is that the psychoframe from the II Neo Zeong emits a red hue, far removed from the green that is emitted whenever a positive phenomenon occurs. This dichotomy between understanding and hatred is apparent in the choice of colours, and brings to mind the colours of lightsabres in Star Wars. Originally, lightsaber colours were simply a consequence of the crystals used to focus the blade, and that the blood-red blades Sith Lords used simply came from them picking synthetic crystals because natural crystals were not available to them.

  • The new canon foists upon us the idea that the red blades of the Sith come from the tainting of crystals through their corrupt use of the Force, and that lightsabers were specifically powered by Kyber Crystals. I cannot say that I am fond of the new writing, but to delve further into this is to deviate from Gundam Narrative. Back on board the Damascus, Michele sheds tears at having lost the Phenex yet again, and Captain Averaev requests that Michele fully disclose what her intentions are, as well as what the Phoenix Hunt was really about.

  • Michele reveals that Luio & Co. had deliberately provided the Sleeves remnants with the II Neo Zeong, which had been confiscated, to draw the Phenex out for her own ends, but this ended up backfiring, since the Neo Zeong had been built with knowledge that seemed beyond what exists in the world. Michele had been motivated by a desire to cheat death and achieve immortality because she had been tired of living in a world where people had to hurt one another to survive, but seeing the cost her dreams have accrued leads her to change her mind. This conversation here drives Michele and Jona’s growth: Michele comes to accept that the ends do not justify the means, and Jona realises that Michele had never given up on her promise.

  • With the secrecy of the operation of utmost importance, Luio & Co. close off the Phoenix Hunt and strikes a deal with the Republic of Zeon’s Monaghan Bakharov, a politician who intends to restore the Republic of Zeon’s glory. In exchange for keeping Zeon out of the operation, the Federation will be allowed to kill anyone attached to the project. Monaghan indicates that Erika is to be spared, but Zoltan overhears Erika’s conversation, summarily killing her and decides to take matters into his own hands. I initially felt that Zoltan’s role was ill-developed, but said friend suggested a different perspective: rather than treating Zoltan as presenting a character-versus-character conflict, regarding his contributions as being more of a character-versus-nature conflict was appropriate.

  • Finally taking control of the II Neo Zeong, Zoltan begins engaging the EFSF forces that have deployed from the Dogosse Giar-class General Revil to carry out the mop-up operation. He orders the Sleeves ship to hide behind the Helium-3 tanks, reasoning the Federation will not risk damage to their resources, before making to engage the Jegans that begin firing him. Using the II Neo Zeong’s wired funnel bits to effortlessly eliminate the Jegans, Zoltan’s combat approach is more brutal than Full Frontal’s – the differences between Full Frontal’s combat approach in Gundam Unicorn and Zoltan’s in Gundam Narrative bring to mind the differences between Thanos in Infinity War and Endgame.

  • Whereas Infinity War‘s Thanos is calm and introspective, only using as much force as necessary to subdue opponents because he genuinely wanted the snap to randomly decide who got willed away from existence, Endgame‘s Thanos lacks the Infinity Stones and resorts to a more combative approach to seize the Stones. As as result, Thanos in Endgame is shown as fighting with a much greater ferocity, fighting toe-to-toe with a Stormbreaker-equipped Thor, Iron Man’s Mark 85 suit and even overcoming Captain America, who is wielding Mjolnir. In particular, watching Thanos crack and destroy Captain ‘s shield with his sword was terrifying. The fight in Endgame was a sight to see, allowing audiences to truly appreciate just how dangerous of an opponent the Mad Titan was even without the Infinity Stones.

  • Zoltan is similar to Endgame‘s Thanos in this regard: unrestrained and lacking the same contemplative manner that made Full Frontal fight with efficiency, Zoltan runs wild on the battlefield, making full use of the II Neo Zeong’s weapons more liberally than Frontal ever did. The end result for viewers is a better idea of what the Neo Zeong was capable of – the scale of the destruction it can cause is immense, and Gundam Narrative shows that Full Frontal never really made full use of the Neo Zeong’s weapons against a fleet in his fight against the Banshee and Unicorn.

  • When the General Revil’s commander orders the vessel to target the Helium-3 tanks, the resulting explosion from the tanks destroys the Sleeves’ ship, killing those on board. Zoltan retaliates, using the II Neo Zeong’s psychoframe to accelerate and compress a single Helium-3 tank to the point where enough pressure allows the Helium-3 to spontaneously undergo a fusion reaction. The intensity of the reaction vapourises the General Revil instantly along witha large portion of the task force sent to destroy the Sleeves forces.

  • The friend who lent time towards helping realise this post remarked that the reason why people are so reluctant to cover the human aspects of Gundam and fixate on the politics or technologies themselves is because they fear looking into the mirror and relating how the lessons of Gundam apply to their own lives. In the end, politics and the mobile suits themselves are the catalysts that shape the world and its conditions to make the story worthwhile, rather than being the focal points, and so, I’ve found it rather more fruitful to focus on the aspects that Yoshiyuki Tomino aimed to portray with the Gundam series.

  • The fusion reaction that Zoltan triggers is nowhere near as impressive as Naga Sadow’s use of Sith techniques to tear the core out of a star and trigger a supernova to destroy the Galactic Republic’s fleet. Although Naga Sadow’s feat was augmented by Force crystals, its scale vastly exceeds what Zoltan can pull off. However, the threat posed by Zoltan is nontrivial. Forcing all of the stored Helium-3 to undergo fusion would create an explosion powerful enough to torch an entire Side and create a debris field that would make a colony drop look like picnic – in response to this, the Phenex reappears to engage Zoltan, who has seized a number of Jegans and are remotely controlling them in the same manner that Full Frontal had.

  • While the scale of Gundam Narrative (both the battles and the storyline itself) is much smaller than that of Gundam Unicorn, the combat sequences remain impressive. Here, the II Neo Zeong has engaged its psycho-shard system to fully allow Zoltan to manipulate his surroundings with his will alone. While I supposed that the psycho-shard system was designed to destroy enemy weapons in Gundam Unicorn, it turns out that the utility of this function is to greatly enhance an individual’s physical control over their surroundings. Full Frontal had merely used it to disable Banagher and Riddhe’s weapons systems during their final showdown.

  • While the Narrative Gundam had been packed away for transport, Michele convinces Jona to sortie to engage the II Neo Zeong. Here, the Narrative is equipped with its C-packs, which loads psychoframe directly onto the unit. Despite being an outdated suit, the Narrative remains effective because of the additional gear that Luio & Co. provide for it. Thus, despite lacking the same dedicated weapons as the Unicorn, the Narrative is able to hold out against the II Neo Zeong’s overwhelming firepower for a period and even does some damage of its own.

  • A review that was published to Anime News Network in December, shortly after the film’s release in November 2018, stated that Gundam Narrative attempted to do too much with its shorter runtime, and the dependency on prior knowledge from Gundam Unicorn would diminish the experience for those unfamiliar with the Laplace Conflict. These remarks are, incidentally, the same thoughts that I have about Infinity War and Endgame: these two movies are technically excellent movies that masterfully incorporate elements from previous films to drive its plot forwards, but for first-time viewers without an idea of the context regarding the Infinity Stones and Thanos, the films do come across as overwhelming.

  • Ultimately, the reviewer at Anime News Network finds that while Gundam Narrative might be a bit difficult to follow for those who did not watch Gundam Unicorn, they do recommend the film for folks who have seen Gundam Unicorn. This is a fair assessment of Gundam Narrative and is ultimately how many would likely feel after watching Gundam Narrative. Coming in with my background (and assistance from a friend), I’ve come to enjoy the contributions that Gundam Narrative adds to the discussion surrounding Newtypes and psychoframe technology, even if some of the aspects were unclear.

  • The reason why I’ve mentioned the Marvel Cinematic Universe in this talk in Gundam Narrative is because of the similarity the two radically different universes share – both had predecessors that began in a more realistic manner and shifted towards the fantastical at the end. Iron Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier both remained quite grounded and were presented as events that could plausibly happen. Similarly, Gundam Unicorn‘s first few episodes featured more realistic mobile suit combat and placed a focus on the military details. However, introduction of the Infinity Stones had the same effect as the psychoframe did, and by their series’ respective ends, the feats and events that occur resemble magic rather than science. This does not diminish my experience of either Gundam or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although it is to my understanding that what is tantamount to magic did lessen the experience for some viewers.

  • Captain Suberoa Zinnerman makes an appearance in Gundam Narrative, operating another freighter and working with Banagher, who has remained with the Mineva faction, which exists in secret to act as a sort of check-and-balance against the more nationalistic Zeon proponents like Monaghan Bakharov. Zimmerman no longer bears the same grudge against the Federation that he once did, and works with Mineva to ensure that the old conflicts do not flare up again. Sensing that something is wrong after one of the Helium-3 tanks undergoes fusion, Banagher takes off to engage the threat.

  • Jona is pushed to his limits after Zoltan uses the remote bits to take control of the Federation Suits. Despite putting his own life in danger, Jona refuses to return fire even as the hijacked Jegans open fire on him. Discussions on Gundam can become as heated as the mobile suit battles themselves, and the last time I wrote about the events of Laplace’s Box five years previously, some folks sparked off a flame war when they shared my talk on Gundam Unicorn to Tango-Victor-Tango. I learned of this through my site metrics and followed the link that led to a vociferous discussion where during the course of this debate, one of the forum-goers began attacking this blog rather than the argument at hand.

  • Ultimately, Michele sacrifices her life for Jona, realising that what she had longed for all this time was to give something back to Rita after Rita had sacrificed herself. She pilots the transport directly between a beam meant for Jona. Her assistant, Brick, had revealed earlier that Michele had something she wanted to prove to Jona, as well: that if the psycho-frame and Newtype phenomenon had worked the way she postulated, then death would not be the end. She would therefore kill two birds with one stone, allowing Jona to live and continue fighting to end what the living had created, as well as reunite with Rita.

  • Devastated with Michele’s death, Jona loses the will to continue fighting, wondering what the point of anything is if suffering is what lies ahead, but Michele’s spirit spurs him on. The most vocal detractor purported that I believe that “‘effort’ (which seems to mean ‘word count of the post’) makes an argument more valid” and then went on to compare my style as being equivalent to “[spending] twelve pages explaining why 1 + 1 actually = 3, [I’m] still wrong even though [I] put more ‘effort’ into it” before immediately contradicting themselves by saying “this sort of criticism [isn’t] objective”, but nonetheless needing it to prove that my methods were invalid. I note that my posts are lengthy not because of this reason (which is, incidentally, a disingenuous claim), but because I find it enjoyable to cover a range of topics in movies.

  • Rather than looking at my content and then figuring out counterexamples to illustrate that I was off or that there’s more to consider, by adopting a pseudo-academic stance and using such a poor analogy, the individual in question implies that my opinions are objectively wrong because they did not align with theirs. Naturally, I could say the same, but this isn’t too productive, since all opinions are subjective. Instead, I would suggest that the individual first begin by figuring out what I was saying: “the lies and cover-ups that brought about Laplace’s Box created a problem that became increasingly difficult to address as time wore on, and Gundam Unicorn uses supernatural phenomenon, in the shape of the psychofield, in order to get over this particular barrier to show what lay ahead”.

  • Knowing what I intended with the post, it then becomes a simple matter of finding another solution to show how and why the Newtype phenomenon was not necessary in conveying the themes of Gundam Unicorn – this is what proper discussion looks like, and there’s certainly no need to regress to petty arguments, which to me, shows that the detractors of my article actually had nothing meaningful to say. Back in Gundam Narrative, the Narrative Gundam is destroyed, and Jona makes use of a core fighter to reach the Phenex. When he enters the cockpit, he finds it empty, confirming suspicions that Rita had long been deceased and has become a spirit with the power to control the Phenex. His combined acting as a conduit for the Phenex’s NT-D and Rita’s presence allows the Phenex to activate its Destroy Mode for the first time since the incident two years previously.

  • With the NT-D active, the II Neo Zeong proves to be no match for the Phenex, which subsequently destroys the II Neo Zeong’s psycho-shard system and disables its remaining weaponry. The speed of these actions were great enough so that I wasn’t able to acquire screenshots with good composition, and this is something curious parties will simply have to watch. The final fight between the Phenex and the II Neo Zeong is rather one-sided: while capable of great destruction, the II Neo Zeong is unlikely to be able to track the movements of the Phenex, which can allegedly accelerate to speeds approaching that of light despite the clear impossibility of such a feat.

  • Jona’s emotional baggage and the Narrative’s configuration are closely related: as Gundam Narrative progresses, the transition from the A-packs to B-packs and then C-packs shows a decrease in hardware. The A-packs is essentially a mobile armour, while the C-packs simply has additional psychoframe. Over the course of Gundam Narrative, as Jona comes to terms with Michele’s actions and his own past, his internal burdens lighten, as well. Jona also sheds the heavy psychosuit before entering the Phenex’s cockpit, leaving the last vestiges of his doubts and concerns behind. The Narrative is ultimately destroyed, marking one of the few cases where a lead Gundam was defeated totally, and Jona escapes in a core fighter. Zoltan makes to destroy the core fighter, but a familiar weapon makes a return: Banagher manages to destroy the wire bit with a well-placed shot, giving Jona time to board the Phenex.

  • While the II Neo Zeong was destroyed, Zoltan is not finished yet, and makes to engage the Phenex with beam axes. The performance gap between the Sinanju Stein and Phenex are obvious: there is no fight as the Phenex impales and destroys Zoltan outright: Jona is assisted by the spirits of Michele and Rita, who briefly appear. After his death, Zoltan’s spirit performs one final act of defiance, insistent that people cannot change and cannot accept possibility: he triggers fusion of the remaining Helium-3 tanks. However, before the reaction can go critical, the Phenex engages its own psychofield and calms the reactions, suppressing them and preventing catastrophe.

  • Ultimately, this act would be counted as deus ex machina in any other realm, and the only reason why it would even be passable is precisely because Gundam Unicorn had already previously established the mysteries of Newtypes and the psychofield’s unknown properties. Viewers are made to accept that Newtypes are similar to Force users, and in conjunction with a technology that is essentially the equivalent of the Infinity Stones, Newtypes are capable of feats otherwise known to be impossible. The psychoframe does have parallels with the Infinity Stones: besides similarly being referred to as singularities, their feats are similar, affording Gundams the ability to turn will into physical energy (Power stone), traverse incredible distances quickly (Space stone) and even store the consciousness and will of beings (Mind and Soul stones). The more outrageous feats the psychoframe have been seen to pull off include creating compelling illusions (Reality stone) and even undo events locally (Time stone).

  • I admit that for this month, my posting frequency has been very limited, and preparing this post was one of the reasons why: it took a bit of effort to get the party started, but once I developed momentum in writing about Gundam Narrative, the writing process became much easier. Between this lengthy post and taking the time to review this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase submissions, plus keeping up with Battlefield V‘s Tides of War, time for writing about other things has been reduced. This has been exacerbated by the fact that I’ve been having a little too much fun with the complementary Oculus Quest I received from attending F8.

  • In particular, SUPERHOT VR has been a blast, and the wireless experience that the Quest confers takes this game to a whole new level, offering a truly immersive experience that is unparalleled. While I’m having a ball of a time with SUPERHOT VR, I’ve also finished Valkyria Chronicles 4 and can finally begin making my way into Metro: Exodus. It has not escaped me that today also happens to mark the première of both Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s second instalment, as well as the Aobuta movie, Seishun Buta Yarou wa Yumemiru Shoujo no Yume wo Minai (Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl). My grievances with anime movies and their release patterns are well-known at this point: the reality is that, as I am unwilling to drop several thousand dollars to fly over to Japan for the sake of two movies, I won’t be writing about these for quite some time.

  • Thus, for the time being, I will enjoy Metro: Exodus and the Oculus Quest: I will discuss the films once they available and focus my attention on things available in the present, since there’s naught I can do about the films and their availability. Back in Gundam Narrative, the ending to the film greatly resembles Gundam Unicorn with the emphasis on psychofields and the positive energy they can confer. I’ve become rather fond of Michele’s character for her progression: she begins the film as being thoroughly unlikable, but dealing with the psychoframe and being forced to confront her past changes her outlook on things. In death, she finds peace and is reunited with Rita.

  • Tielle’s “Cage” begins playing as the Phenex stills the Helium-3 reaction. Cage is a brilliant song that was originally written as the theme song for the life-sized RX-0 Unicorn Gundam model in Japan, and its composition has made it one of my most favourite songs of late, speaking of whether or not the world is worth saving from itself. Callbacks to Gundam Unicorn are frequent in Gundam Narrative: once the Phenex has halted the criticality event, Banagher retrieves Jona. In the psychofield, the original RX-0 Unicorn can be seen, as well.

  • Ever since the Unicorn was decommissioned, Banagher has since been piloting the ARX-014S Silver Bullet Suppressor, a variation of the Silver Bullet: this series of mobile suits were intended to test quasi-psycommu systems and have solid performance. However, because Banagher continues to use the Unicorn’s beam magnum, the Silver Bullet Suppressor has been outfitted with a unique rack that allows the mobile suit to rapidly change out the unit’s arms, which become damaged from the beam magnum’s sheer recoil. While questions have been cast about the Silver Bullet Suppressor’s design, the beam magnum remains a choice weapon for Banagher, allowing him to target distant objects with precision and firepower: despite their power, even beam mega-launchers lack the range to hit distant targets with any reliability, and the beam magnum happened to be the weapon that suited Banagher’s objectives.

  • Looking at the Phenex in Destroy Mode here, I’m reminded of an alternate ending to Gundam Unicorn that I’ve only heard about, where Banagher sortied in the Full Armour Unicorn Plan B, where the Unicorn was equipped with parts from the Banshee and Phenex and engaged in a different fight with Full Frontal’s Neo Zeong. This post has been a ways in the coming: I’ve been chipping at it since early June, and tonight, after picking up a new Magic Trackpad at a store near the edge of town (to replace a Magic Mouse that unexpectedly stopped working), I spent time with the family at a Chinese restaurant where the evening’s centerpiece was a seafood yi mein that had fish, calamari and shrimp.

  • Jona and Banagher watches as the Phenex soars off into the cosmos: Banagher remarks that it’s impossible to catch up with it now, and this marks the ending of Gundam Narrative, with the Phenex’s ultimate fate left ambiguous. Having Banagher make a return was a very nice touch – it turns out that following the events of Unicorn, Banagher did end up returning to the world of the living, giving some closure to his fate. However, his role in events after UC 0097 are less clear, and Gundam Narrative can only offer some insight as to what his fates are after UC 0100. Hathaway’s Flash appears to be the next Gundam series on the horizon, and there are unconfirmed statements saying that Unicorn itself might be getting a continuation in an unknown form.

  • With this, I’m very nearly done writing about Gundam Narrative, although unlike Gundam Unicorn five years previously, I am a little more reluctant to give this one a recommendation: on one hand, it is a fun watch that anyone who appreciated Gundam Unicorn will enjoy, but at the same time, the narrative is a bit more confusing. With this being said, I enjoyed it, and found that it was worth the wait – after seeing the preview in November, I’d longed to see the story in full. Overall, it appears that impressions of Gundam Narrative elsewhere are fairly consistent with my thoughts on it, and with the general absence of discussions out there, I’m guessing that Gundam Narrative has not generated the same level of engagement as Gundam Unicorn. With this one in the books, upcoming posts, besides this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, will be talks on K-On! and Yama no Susume: Omoide no Present.

Gundam Narrative is very much dependent on a familiarity with Gundam Unicorn for its themes to be clear: while both Jona and Michele mature over the course of Gundam Narrative (Jona accepts that Michele had cared about him after all this time, and Michele comes to understand that Rita’s sacrifice gave her a chance to live life in place of being dismantled in the name of science), numerous other characters’ backgrounds are minimal, whereas Gundam Unicorn takes the time to better explore secondary characters like Marida Cruz and Suberoa Zinnerman. Zoltan was not explored to the same extent as Full Frontal did, and unless one accepts him as more of an abstract representation of hatred and resentment (rather like a force of nature), his place in Gundam Narrative can seem unnecessary. Despite lacking the time to create the same compelling characters as Gundam Unicorn did, Gundam Narrative ended up validating the themes initially presented in Gundam Unicorn, that possibility will always exist alongside the capacity for great good. The messages remain cautiously optimistic, dealing more with human nature than with politics through the Newtype phenomenon: weaker characters do not result in diminished thematic elements. Likewise, while Gundam Narrative does not have the same fluidity and detail in the animation as did Gundam Unicorn, the overall quality of the artwork and animation, especially during combat sequences, remains of a high standard – Gundam Narrative was a visual treat to watch. Despite its limitations in characters and dependence on Gundam Unicorn to provide context, Gundam Narrative is a welcome addition to the Universal Century for covering themes of forbidden knowledge and presenting a plausible portrayal of the world after Laplace’s Box was opened.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Turning Chaos into Compassion in Seishun Buta Yarō

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge” –Daniel J. Boorstin

When Sakuta Azusagawa meets actress Mai Sakurajima, who is clad in naught but a bunny girl outfit, he is simultaneously drawn to her and begins to wonder about the mysterious phenomenon that afflicts youth. He eventually learns that no one can see Mai, and that this is related to how people remember her. Sakuta eventually confesses his love for her in front of the entire school, burning her existence into everyone’s memories, and sets about helping those around him with their own challenges in adolescence. Sakuta helps Tomoe Koga overcome her anxiety about being accepted and pretends to date her, forcing her to come to terms with her feelings for him. He next aids Rio Futaba, the sole member of the school’s science club who believes Sakuta’s experiences have scientific backgrounds until she manifests two bodies as a result of lacking confidence in herself. Sakuta manages to rectify this, and later, helps Nodoka Toyohama, Mai’s younger half-sister who felt as though she was living under Mai’s shadows, after Nodoka switches bodies with Mai. Sakuta’s younger sister, spurred on by Sakuta, decides to set goals for herself: she suffered from memory loss as a result of the trama from being bullied and reverted to a more infantile personality. After Sakuta’s efforts to help her reach her goals, Kaede reverts to her old personality, and a distraught Sakuta regrets not being able to do more for her until a mysterious visit from Shōko helps him recover from his melancholy so that he can fully support Kaede, who feels ready to pick up her life from where they’d left off. This is Seishun Buta Yarō (literally “Young Asshole”, but officially translated as “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai”, an obvious reference to Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner and Aobuta for brevity), an adaptation of a 2014 light novel about the challenges and turbulence that youth face as they struggle to learn of their place in the world. At its core, Sakuta is portrayed as a unique protagonist, being strictly mundane in manner and appearance. Unlike other light novel protagonists, Sakuta is not uncommonly intelligent or lucky; instead, he is exceedingly kind, has a particular way with words and is exceptionally faithful. The sum of these elements creates a highly focused story where audiences are confident that Sakuta will work out a solution without creating situations that typical light novels push towards, and his genuine concern for those around him results in a protagonist who is exceedingly likeable, giving viewers incentive to follow his story and root him on as he strives to help each of Mai, Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede move beyond their situations.

For its exceptional presentation of what the struggles of youth may manifest as in a visceral manner, it is unsurprising that Aobuta immediately became a favourite among viewers when it aired. Aobuta has heart, capturing the problems that adolescents see in their lives and giving them memorable metaphors that really describe what being young is like; as an adult, we tend to see problems as having a rational, logical answer, but as youth, what is obvious to us may not be so apparent, creating this chaos and conflict. However, as Sakuta demonstrates, the solution lies not in a reasoned process, but through compassion: for each of Mai, Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede, he works to understand their situation and then determines how to help the individual in question overcome their insecurities and doubts. Aobuta shows that Hajime Kamoshida evidently has a strong grasp on how to visualise youth and their struggles in a compelling manner, and this is ultimately Aobuta‘s main draw. However, while it is sufficient to focus on the human aspects of Aobuta, Kamoshida’s inclusion of quantum theory into his work as the metaphor has given the impression that a functional knowledge of matters as varied as wave function collapse, or free will versus determinism. However, these references weaken with time within the anime, and this suggests a deliberate choice on Kamoshida’s part. Taken at face value, these are ultimately are ill representations of the phenomenon that Sakuta and the others experience and end up being a minor distraction. While poorly-applied references to quantum mechanics may have had the potential to decimate the emotional impact and strength of Aobuta‘s narrative, it speaks to Kamoshida’s understanding of the human aspects that allows Aobuta to remain immensely engaging and enjoyable. Simply, knowledge of existential philosophy and quantum theory are completely unnecessary towards finding the strengths in Aobuta, a series whose emotional and interpersonal pieces far exceeded my expectations coming in.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because this is a Terrible Anime Challenge, I won’t be discussing Aobuta in my typical manner. I open by remarking that Terrible Anime Challenge shows fall into three categories (“was as good as expected”, “did not meet expectations” or “as poor as described”): Aobuta falls squarely into the “was as good as expected” group, impressing me with its likable characters. Both Mai and Sakuta bounce off one another in reasonable and entertaining ways. Asami Setō performs Mai’s voice: I know her best from Tari Tari‘s Konatsu Miyamoto and Kinuyo Nishi of Girls und Panzer.

  • For the remainder of this post, I will be dealing with misconceptions surrounding quantum mechanics, either within Aobuta itself or from the community at large. The first deals with Schrödinger’s cat, which is a description of quantum superposition where an object may simultaneously exist in two states, and which state cannot be determined until it is observed: this is only vaguely related to Mai’s situation, which is strictly a matter of how Mai sees herself. It has nothing to do with probability, but rather, stems from Mai’s doubts about herself. she therefore feels that she has become invisible to the world, and the story then goes about presenting this in a literal fashion.

  • While I enjoy considering the applicability of real-world phenomenon in fiction, ultimately, fiction exists to tell a particular story, and so, I am not particularly fond of treating intrapersonal problems as a matter analogous with science. One particularly poorly-written case argues that Mai exists in a single reality, but with multiple states as described by Schrödinger’s cat, which is supposedly rectified by pushing her towards the probability of existing or the observer. However, this explanation, besides being a pointless exercise in verbosity, does not account for why Sakuta is able to interact with Mai normally. Before I continue, here’s a lighter moment in Aobuta where Tomoe gives Sakuta a free kick after a misunderstanding occurs while he’s en route to a date with Mai; Tomoe’s perfectly-formed arse is the butt of many of Sakuta’s jokes.

  • Schrödinger’s cat is about how something cannot be known until it is observed – it has nothing to do with probabilities, and therefore, is a completely inadequate representation of Mai’s situation. This is the limitation of attempting to analyse series early into its run: without more information, it is very easy to commit fallacies because the bigger picture is not known. Early discussions suggest that Aobuta‘s theme is that “perception defines reality…and existence, as well”, which is false in light of the events that Sakuta experiences.

  • Rio Futaba is presented as being well-read, but her metaphors are lukewarm at best and outright incorrect at worse. This is by design: being quite shy around others, it is not surprising that she’s not exactly versed with social convention, and as such, analogies she raises do not match. She dispenses with them as Aobuta progresses, which is a powerful indicator that viewers were never meant to take the quantum mechanics comparisons seriously to begin with, and therefore, there is no meaningful discussion to be had by bringing such matters to the table. By comparison, Sakuta manages to distill out enough to determine what needs to be done to help the individual in question and invariably solves the problem by compassion, rather than logic.

  • Tomoe’s situation is similarly mentioned to involve a “Laplace’s Dæmon”: after Sakuta experiences a time loop akin to that of Endless Eight, Rio suggests this as the cause. This concept supposes that the outcome of any situation is known given a sufficiently large amount of information. The original concept assumed this to mean “the position of the atoms”, but this concept has been dismissed for its inability to conform with the Laws of Thermodynamics, namely, that some processes are irreversible, so no Laplace’s Dæmon could exist to reconstruct a state at time t-1 given a set of parameters at time t.

  • Determinism is most certainly not the theme of Tomoe’s arc; this is a principle that supposes that all events exist independently of human consciousness (i.e. free will). The matter of whether or not free will exists is a topic I will not cover for the present, and in the context of Aobuta, determinism has no place in discussion because the time loop’s cause is ultimately Tomoe’s inability to let go of a certain outcome and desires to keep rolling the dice until a desirable result arises. Rather than philosophy, understanding of human nature here explains why a time loop was chosen to represent feelings of longing and regret.

  • Because humans are involved, human solutions end up being what breaks the time loop. Sakuta manages to get the truth out of Tomoe: she’s fallen in love with him and cannot bear to let go. After a heart-to-heart talk, Sakuta manages to help her accept that they can still remain friends, allowing her to remain connected with her other friends without alienating them. The same folks who asserted Schrödinger’s cat needed analysis for Mai’s arc to be understood subsequently had trouble with figuring out where the Laplace’s Dæmon could hold for Tomoe’s arc. Tomoe is voiced by Nao Tōyama (Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo and Kantai Collection‘s Kongo).

  • When Rio’s arc arrives, and it turns out that two simultaneous versions of Rio exist, the individuals above assert that the two incarnations of Rio represent id and ego, principles from Sigmund Freud. I was wondering when Freud would appear in discussions. In this Freudian model of the psyche, id is supposed to represent the baser aspects of human nature, and then ego is a more rational element that maximises some goal function for the future and for satisfying the id. I’m not sure why anime fans generally hold Freudian concepts as being valid – some of his theories have proven to be cripplingly incomplete and catastrophically wrong, failing to account for why people act the way they do. In particular, id and ego are not credible concepts in any way given the complete lack of evidence to suggest that they hold true.

  • Instead, Rio splitting into two manifestations is much simpler explained as a character versus self conflict, made visceral by having her develop two physical selves. There is a side of Rio who wants to use her physical attributes to increase the attention people are paying to her, especially Yūma Kunimi, Sakuta’s best friend, who is dating Saki Kamisato, and another side who is content with the status quo but longs for more. Reconciling this internal struggle involves a human solution: Sakuta engineers a chance for Rio to come to terms with her feelings and has both Rios invite one another to the summer festival, merging the two personas back into one.

  • Throughout Aobuta, I’ve noticed a recurring trend in that as the series progresses, the focus on the philosophical and scientific aspects in discussions elsewhere diminishes in lockstep with the decreasing emphasis within Aobuta itself, and curiously, as these elements dissipate, so did some individual’s enjoyment. I’m not sure why some people demand convoluted narratives with quasi-academic elements in them to motivate their discussion, especially when it’s clear that such topics are not their area of expertise. While there is nothing wrong in learning about other disciplines, it is problematic if individuals asset to be authorities where they are not. This is what motivates the page quote: I’ve long felt that folks who act as though they are experts in a matter are more harmful to a discussion than those who are unfamiliar with the topic, and this is why I’m always mindful to not overstep what I know.

  • By the time Nodoka’s arc appears, even the most ardent efforts to force a scientific explanation on things prove ineffectual: in Aobuta itself, Rio speculates the body switching is some form of quantum teleportation and leaves Sakuta to work out a solution, indicating that science and philosophy are irrelevant. Nodoka’s problem manifests as body switching: resentful of Mai’s successes, Nodoka longs for her mother’s approval. She’s voiced by Maaya Uchida (GochiUsa‘s Sharo Kirima, Rui Tachibana of Domestic na Kanojo and Rei from VividRed Operation). The body switching exposes to Nodoka how difficult Mai’s job is, further increasing her dislike of Mai, whom she feels is flawless and a natural at whatever she does.

  • Nodoka is pushed over the edge after a concert Mai performs in, but when Mai reveals that she kept Nodoka’s letters to motivate herself, Nodoka comes to terms with who she is. Conscious transfer is a topic strictly consigned to the realm of science fiction: because the machinations of the mind remain poorly characterised, there is no satisfactory hypothesis for how a conscious manifests itself.

  • I join the ranks of many others before me in saying that the interactions between Mai and Sakuta are remarkably refreshing and genuine. While Sakuta has a predisposition for the lewd, at heart, he is trying to inject humour into what would otherwise be a fairly serious situation. As a protagonist, Sakuta is very likeable: unlike Oregairu‘s Hachiman, who comes across as being a smartass with no understanding of social structure, Sakuta does his best to relate those who are around him. Aobuta does outwardly resemble Oregairu, in terms of art style and its focus on youth, but Aobuta is ultimately more optimistic and better written, since Sakuta has clear motivations to help those around him.

  • This motivation stems from Sakuta’s fear of being unable to help his sister, and as it turns out, having been unable to prevent Kaede from suffering amnesia was what led to the scars on his chest. After Sakuta explains Kaede’s situation to Mai and Nodoka, Kaede decides to set goals for herself with the eventual aim of going back to school. In her state throughout Aobuta, Kaede is cheerful, somewhat dimwitted and fearful of strangers. However, the original Kaede was more reserved and taciturn: when Kaede recovers her memories, the time she’d spent with Sakuta and the others vanish from her memories.

  • While coming out from the shadows of something like OregairuAobuta stands out because it ultimately has a more optimistic tone, and Sakuta’s actions have a clear benefit for him, as well as those around him. By comparison, Oregairu‘s portrayal of Hachiman leaves him feeling like an apathetic misanthrope whose story ends up carrying no weight regardless of who his actions benefit: I am not particularly fond of Hachiman, and Oregairu‘s enjoyment factor came from his interactions with Yui and Yukino.

  • Mention of a scientific or philosophical concept does not mean a work of fiction intends to use it to advance the narrative further; in stories where the focus is purely on the human element, the gains to viewers are what characters learn from their experiences. Aobuta‘s phenomenon could be justified by constructs like the Infinity Stones, and the anime would still hold all of its weight. I would prefer that discussion focus on what the characters are doing and shown to be doing, rather than seeing people regard quantum tunneling and wave collapse as being literal representations of the emotional turbulence that youth experience.

  • One may wonder why I am so vehemently opposed to things that, for the want of a better phrase, “sound smart”. The answer to this is simple: one of the biggest aversions I have is ultracrepidarianism, referring to people who act like they know more than they do. An irritant at best, people who believe themselves to be more qualified than they are have the potential of causing real damage in society; an example is Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, who asserted a (nonexistent) link between vaccinations and autism, resulting in an increasing instance of people who hold his findings as true and refuse to vaccinate their children. Ultracrepidarians are one of the few things I do not tolerate, and while they are unlikely to have the same impact in the realm of discussion on fiction, such individuals can still be disruptive to what constitutes as good discussion.

  • In shows such as Aobuta, authentic discussion entails drawing from one’s own experiences, well-established social norms and anecdotal evidence as rationale in justifying (or renouncing) the actions that characters take. Attempting to play philosopher or psychiatrist on the characters is not beneficial, since the individual doing so does not have the same background or assumptions as the author would: I’ve mentioned before that Death of the Author is a very presumptuous way to approach media. The author’s intent matters because it allows audiences to understand a specific perspective on a work, which relates back to the society and its attendant conditions that led to the author expressing their thoughts into a narrative. Excluding this is to dispose of that context, ultimately resulting in a loss of information.

  • My final verdict on Aobuta is that it has definitely earned its praises: this is a solid A grade (9 of 10) for being able to vividly portray the human stories to each arc that Sakuta encounters. Aobuta is greatly helped by the fact that Sakuta is more optimistic and friendly, as well as acting as an amusing foil for Mai, with whom his interactions become entertaining to watch. Characters and their experiences drive the thematic elements, and while the series may incorporate elements of quantum theory into its run, Aobuta makes it clear that these elements were feebly presented precisely because the experiences of youth cannot be so readily compared to even more abstract concepts. In short, one does not need to know anything about the particle-wave duality, determinism or quantum tunneling to get the most out of Aobuta.

The inclusion of such abstract concepts in Aobuta as a deliberate choice allows Kamoshida to deal elegantly with one long-standing complaint I have about light novels: their propensity to force pedantic characters into the role of the protagonist. Aobuta has Rio embody this role as a secondary character, and when I began watching the series, I was unimpressed with her role in acting as a resource for seemingly explaining away the phenomenon that Sakuta encounters. However, progressing into Aobuta meant seeing the characters’ true personalities and nature be explored. After Rio herself experiences a manifestation of this phenomenon, her inclination to rationalise it is diminished: Kamoshida appears to suggest, through Rio’s increasingly half-hearted efforts to present Adolescent syndrome as having a scientific basis, that there simply is no effective way to compare something as nuanced and complex as human emotions during youth with thought experiments meant to deal with science. The pseudo-science is thus displaced by genuine, heartfelt moments as Sakuta helps Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede in overcoming their internal struggles. Consequently, this means that viewers have no need to consider the withertos and whyfors behind why things happen: the who and the what are much more valuable. As Aobuta progresses, Rio becomes less of an encyclopaedia and into a fully-fleshed out character. The lessons of Aobuta are that a story’s enjoyability and ability to capture an audience’s interests lies strictly and entirely within its characters, as well as their dynamics. In the complete and total absence of philosophy and science, series that deal with youth can therefore remain incredibly compelling because at its core, they are about the people and how they overcome their challenges, rather than real-world principles that demand dedicated study. Beyond its execution, Aobuta featured solid technical aspects that come together to create an anime that merits praise. Having now seen it for myself, I understand why people consider this to be a strong series, and so, I can readily recommend Aobuta, albeit with one caveat: prospective viewers should not go into Aobuta thinking quantum mechanics and philosophy are requirements, as the series has numerous merits that make it exceptionally engaging and compelling.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Nagi no Asukara, The Merits of Co-Existence, Tolerance and Adaptability Towards Change

“Having feelings for someone just brings sorrow to someone else. Someone always gets sacrificed and suffers. If this is what it means to fall in love, then falling in love is terrible.” –Hikari Sakishima

After their middle school from Shioshishio, a town under the seas, closes from a low student population, middle school friends Hikari Sakishima, Manaka Mukaido, Chisaki Hiradaira and Kaname Isaki are sent to a school on the surface. Despite friction with residents of the surface, the four begin adjusting to their lives and befriend Tsumugu Kihara. As the group learn more about their respective worlds, as well as seeing his sister’s life, Hikari come to care about the fates of those on the surface – with the gods’ powers waning, the world is cooling off, and that the only means of staving off global catastrophe is to perform the Ofunehiki, a rite that pays respects to the ocean gods. While Shioshishio’s residents have the capacity to hibernate and wait out the long winter, temperatures on the surface will result in a death toll, including Hikari’s sister. Preparations for the Ofunehiki take off in earnest from Shioshishio’s inhabitants, with the surface residents helping out. In the process, the mistrust between the two peoples begins fading away, but on the day of the ritual, calamity strikes when Manaka is knocked into the water, presumed lost. Five years later, Hikari, Manaka and Kaname reawaken amidst the frigid world, struggling to deal with the changes that have occurred in their absence. Miuna Shiodome and Sayu Hisanuma, who had initially attempted to sabotage Hikari and the others’ efforts in preparing for the Ofunehiki, have also matured. Miuna has developed feelings for Hikari, who remains in love with Manaka. Chisaki doubts her feelings towards Hikari, and Tsumugu develops feelings for Chisaki. Kaname remains fixated on Chisaki and is unaware of Sayu’s feelings for him. As they strive to resolve their conflicts and bring back Manaka’s ability to love, Tsumugu and Miuna realise they have ena, a substance that allows humans to freely breathe underwater. This had long been a source of tension between Shioshishio’s residents and people from the surface. Refusing to allow Manaka’s feelings to be sealed away, and with the fact that the winter is intensifying, prompts another attempt with the Ofunehiki in an effort to appeal to the sea god. During the ritual, he is knocked into the ocean and decides to sacrifice himself for Manaka, but at the last moment, a miracle occurs. The residents of Shioshishio awaken, and the cooling of the world is halted. With life returning to normal, Manaka and Hikari reaffirm their feelings for one another. This is Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, literally “From The Calm Tomorrow” and sometimes misspelled as Nagi no Asu Kara), an anime from P.A. Works that ran from October 2013 to April 2014. In its twenty-six episode run, Nagi no Asukara covers a wide range of topics and proved an enjoyable anime for many for creating an immensely vivid world whose characters were plausible, and whose struggles were relatable. Together with a moving soundtrack and exceptional artwork that brought this world to life, Nagi no Asukara‘s status as being one of P.A. Works’ strongest series is a well-deserved one.

Nagi no Asukara is sharply divided into two very distinct acts. In its first acts, the focus is largely on notions of tolerance and co-existence: Hikari, being the son of a priest, is very much prejudiced against people from the surface. However, when his older sister finds love on the surface, Hikari begrudgingly begins to learn more about how aside from their ena and customs, the surface people are not particularly different than Shioshishio’s people. Despite being a coming-of-age story, Nagi no Asukara‘s portrayal of prejudice and bias between peoples of two disparate societies does much to emphasise the depth of the world that Hikari lives in. Both societies’ perspectives are shown; this allows audiences to quickly empathise with both groups and understand where their beliefs originate from, and as such, when Nagi no Asukara pushes forwards with the impending freezing of the world, watching Shioshishio’s residents and the people from the surface collaborate becomes all the more rewarding to watch. Brought together by the shared desire to stave off calamity, the two separate groups discover, as Hikari does, that their mistrust for one another has been misplaced, and that the commonalities that both societies share outweigh their differences. Co-existence is a major part of Nagi no Asukara‘s first half, and while the anime might be six years old now, its theme has never been more relevant in an age where division and bipartisan beliefs have become prevalent. Fear, intolerance and hatred are an unfortunately accepted way of thinking, driving people to conduct heinous acts. However, all hatred stems from fear, and fear is countermanded with knowledge. Nagi no Asukara shows that the first step towards dispelling fear is to become acquainted with different people, and understand that aside from minor differences, people are ultimately more similar than they’d initially thought. This is admittedly an optimistic approach: Hikari learns to tolerate, and then accept surface residents through watching his sister’s interactions with people on the surface, but Nagi no Asukara does show that all progress must start from somewhere, no matter how trivial.

By its second act, Nagi no Asukara transitions into a more personal narrative, dealing with the group dynamics and their shifts after a five year time-gap. While the passage of time and its attendant changes are inevitable, the characters struggle to deal with these changes. In particular, Chisaki is hit particularly hard; because she avoided hibernating, she’s now five years older than her friends. Missing the time she’d spent with them and feeling guilty at having moved ahead of them, and is unable to accept that her feelings for Hikari have wavered and clings onto them, viewing them as a way to bring back this lost time. The age disparities among the group create new conflicts: Tsumugu had matured alongside Chisaki and fell in love with her, while Kaname has not moved on from his old feelings. Miuna has now fallen in love with Hikari, who’s still in love with Manaka, and Sayu’s feelings for Kaname have only strengthened over time. While this love tesseract could have been immensely complex, Nagi no Asukara masterfully weaves everyone’s stories together, striking a balance between drama and character growth to create a more credible tale of how everyone eventually comes to find a solution for their situation. Relationships are immensely complex, and like reality, Nagi no Asukara shows that not everyone ends up with their first choice. In spite of this, second choices always exist: being able to recognise this and then possessing an open mind, to adapt and change, allows one to seize these opportunities to make the most of a new future. Chisaki manages to let go of her past and come to terms with her feelings for Tsumugu, while Kaname’s eyes are opened when Sayu gives him what I found to be one of the most genuine declarations of love that I’ve seen in fiction. Especially for Kaname, being made to see that there is someone who’s been chasing after him all this time forces him to stop and reconsider his own goals, and brings about a closure for him: he accepts Sayu’s feelings and with it, begins to finally move on with his life, as well. Romance and love are among the most poorly-characterised but also most engaging components of humanity. If love had been understood with the same precision and rigour as something like Newtonian mechanics, then love songs, romance fiction and endless self-help articles dealing with love would not exist, and the process would be reduced to a series of unexciting steps. Nagi no Asukara is a visceral reminder of both sides of love, and having spent its first act establishing the world for its story, allows the characters to explore new directions in a world whose unique points are now familiar sights.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Nagi no Asukara was one of the toughest anime for me to write for because of how numerous its strengths are, and for the longest time, I had no idea where to begin. It’s time to take a crack at things: while Nagi no Asukara certainly did not initially strike me as a masterpiece, after watching it a second time in full, I realised that the sincerity and honesty in its delivery made it a series worth remembering. The series has two distinct acts, each with its own distinct theme, and originally, I considered doing two separate posts for Nagi no Asukara.

  • While that could’ve been a good endeavour, my time simply does not accommodate for that anymore, so a single post will have to suffice for now. Right from the onset, Nagi no Asukara introduces viewers to a highly unique and nuanced world. Folks living under the sea have a special biological agent known as ena that protects them from oceanic pressure and allows them to breathe under water. While they can survive on the surface, they must consistently find a water source to soak in, otherwise the ena dries up and fails to function.

  • Chisaki, Manaka, Kaname and Hikari are the protagonists: this close group of friends are initially shocked about their school’s closure and of everyone, Hikari is the most resentful of the surface-dwellers. This change over time is noticeable in his character, and while he remains a hothead throughout Nagi no Asukara, he does exhibit concern for those around him in his own way. Manaka is an energetic and easygoing girl who is rather indecisive: she is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Shirase Kobuchizawa in A Place Further than the Universe, Yukari Yukino of The Garden of Words and Your Name), while Chisaki is voiced by Ai Kayano (Saori Takebe of Girls und Panzer and Mocha Hoto from Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?).

  • Because I only have a space of forty images to really discuss Nagi no Asukara, I won’t be able to cover every detail in the anime completely, and will massive leaps in the timeframe throughout the course of my discussion. Hikari’s initial goal was to bring Akari home after hearing that she was married to a surface-dweller, but after spending time with this new family and seeing his sister happy, he comes to understand the people on the surface might not be so bad after all. Hence, when it is revealed the world is freezing, he spearheads the effort in hosting the Ofunehiki festival, coming to learn how to work with his classmates and other people on the surface, as well.

  • The unique setting of sea and coast allows Nagi no Asukara to showcase highly unique and imaginative settings. P.A. Works pulled all the stops to create a visually compelling and detailed world, making use of light effects, colour and sound to immerse viewers into the coastal town and ocean that is Hikari’s world. While P.A. Works have always had consistently solid artwork and animation, most of their works are set in more ordinary locales: extensive use of water separates Nagi no Asukara‘s world from P.A. Works’ previous titles, and the quality has remained comparable even with more recent titles.

  • Like Angel Beats!Nagi no Asukara makes extensive use of comedic and everyday moments to familiarise viewers with the protagonists. Purely comedic or dramatic series tend to craft situations that characters must react with, and while these moments allow characters to show their best and worst, it does little to show how they are as individuals outside of more noteworthy moments. By comparison, giving a baseline of how a character is allows audiences to see how they normally act, in addition to seeing their best and worst sides; knowing someone better is how we come to empathise with people, and it is this reason that Key works like CLANNAD and Angel Beats! are so effective at moving their audience.

  • Strictly speaking, Glasslip‘s Tōko Fukami is a carbon copy of Manaka, featuring similar personalities and appearances. Similarly, Tsumugu and Kakeru Okikura resemble one another in appearances, as well as manner. The key differences are that Manaka and Tsumugu have more time during which their traits can be developed, and Glasslip feels as though it sought to reuse familiar characters while experimenting with a highly unstructured, atypical narrative.

  • While Hikari is initially quick to assume his classmates were responsible for vandalising the Ofunehiki doll they’d been working on, it turns out that the damages were caused by Akari’s daughter, Miuna, and her best friend, Sayu. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Miuna and Sayu are no longer nuisances and become an integral part of helping the others prepare for the festival. While Sayu can be seen as ill-mannered, her spirits quickly grew on me.

  • Chisaki and Manaka watch the tomoebi, a phenomenon similar to parhelion that is, incidentally, created by very similar conditions: whereas our sun dogs come from the refraction of light rays through suspended ice crystals in the air, tomoebi results from moonlight refracting off the sea salt-based snow crystals, which is subsequently refracted through cold water to create a false moon. While the friends had originally planned to watch this event together, but separate in the process.

  • Unified by the shared goal of the Ofunehiki, Hikari and his classmates now get along very nicely. While they remain committed to their heritage by wearing their school’s preferred uniforms, everyone is on cordial terms with one another. Working together for a common objective brings people together, and in the aftermath of Otafest, I attended a feedback session where one of the points I made was that it would be nice to get to know the other volunteers better, beyond the time spent working with them: knowing the team would reinforce the sense of community even further.

  • Admittedly, this stemmed from I’d experienced something I’d not expected during my volunteering for Otafest: during one of my shifts, a young lady, another one of the volunteers in my section who was helping looking after the panels, would look in my direction, and then break into a dazzling smile once my gaze returned from whatever I was doing previously. It seems that I could probably fall in love with a warm smile, and so, post-Otafest, I am left with mixed feelings despite the event’s overwhelming success and satisfaction from volunteering.

  • Watching the people of the sea and surface come together was immensely rewarding: there is a massive payoff in what Hikari and his friends have led, and while I might not remember every detail of Nagi no Asukara, the higher-level events stuck with me. One element in the setting that remains a bit of a mystery even now are the reinforced concrete pillars that dominate the landscape. While some have speculated they’re for supporting a sea-to-sky style freeway, or otherwise were meant to have symbolic value, they are never mentioned by the characters, nor do they seem to affect the narrative in any substantial manner, leading me to conclude they’re probably just a part of the scenery.

  • Sayu and Miuna head the support efforts: the entire community’s women have come forward to provide food. While perhaps not as intense as the scene in Avengers: Endgame where every female hero shows up to help deliver the Iron Gauntlet and its Infinity Stones to the time machine in Scott Lang’s van, it is a reminder that in any given project, effort or endeavour, things work at their very best when everyone is working together, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or beliefs. I greatly enjoyed seeing all of them women of the MCU come together in a titanic moment to help defeat Thanos, and Nagi no Asukara, pre-dating Avengers: Endgame by some five years, does a fine job of showing what cooperation looks like.

  • If memory serves, I believe this is the moment when Miuna falls in love with Hikari, seeing the sheer determination in his eyes as he hoists a flag in preparation for the Ofunehiki. Despite his brisque and rough mannerisms, Hikari is a respectable character who ultimately acts with the interests of those around him in mind. Watching him grow throughout Nagi no Asukara was one of the biggest draws about the series, and one of the things that I look forwards to most in a given anime is seeing how initially-unlikable characters mature into honourable people.

  • While the Ofunehiki is happening, Akari’s wedding to Itaru is also on the horizon. Seeing the union of two people prompts Hikari to attempt and confess his feelings to Manaka, who is unsure of how to react and seemingly rejects him. Meanwhile, Chisaki decides to do a kokuhaku to Hikari after Kaname did the same for her: I’ve heard that weddings can really drive up people’s desires to be together, and in the moment, the emotional tenour pushes everyone onward, although adolescence and the naïveté of youth means that misunderstandings occur.

  • The Ofunehiki itself is a glorious spectacle even though the outcome is suboptimal: the wrath of the seas kicks in midway through the ceremony, bringing things to a halt. Manaka, Hikari and Kaname fall into the ocean, while Chisaki manages to rescue Tsumugu. The freezing of the world sets in soon after, with Chisaki being left behind on the surface while the others enter hibernation. A five-year time skip occurs, and with this, we’ve reached the halfway point of Nagi no Asukara.

  • A time skip of five years happens to be exactly the same time skip that was in Avengers: Endgame, and I must say that Nagi no Asukara actually holds its own. In five years, Chisaki’s matured into a young woman whose style is noteworthy, while Akari has become accustomed to life on the surface and has raised a rambunctious son, Akira. Tsumugu’s become a university student pursuing a marine biology degree, and Miuna is now in middle school.

  • As middle school students, both Sayu and Miuna have become sufficiently mature as to be considered peers with Hikari, Manaka and Kaname. Now is a good as a time as any to note that Sayu is voiced by Kaori Ishihara (The World in Colour‘s very own Hitomi Tsukishiro), and Mikako Komatsu (Sanae Kōzuki of Sakura Quest) provides Miuna’s voice. Seeing these two grow from being impediments to integral parts of the cast was rewarding, and a part of the dynamics possible, because of the unique world building, is watching these two deal with Kaname and Hikari as fellow classmates.

  • Of everyone, Chisaki is the only individual to have avoided the hibernation and therefore, ages alongside Tsumugu on the surface. When she meets with her friends, who are now biologically five years her junior, she struggles to come to terms with the differences and desperately tells herself that nothing has changed, despite having spent five years of time with Tsumugu and his family. Here, she waits for a bus on the surface, and subtleties in the environment, such as the shape of the bus stop signs and bus designs, show a world that is meant to be simultaneously similar to and different than our own.

  • After the time skip, Hikari grows more distant from Tsumugu, feeling him a rival for Manaka’s feelings and that it is unfair for him to not return her feelings. The two clash on several occasions, until Tsumugu reveals that he is in love with Chisaki. The flow of relationships in Nagi no Asukara is very natural: a sort of closeness develops in the group as a result of time spent together. Because Tsumugu has spent so much time with Chisaki, the two know one another as well as themselves: Chisaki may believe that she’s still in love with Hikari, but these feelings manifest as a result of her wanting to hold onto the past.

  • While time stood still for Hikari during hibernation, once he returns to classes, he holds a degree of maturity and seniority over his classmates despite being biologically the same age. A testament to his learnings during Nagi no Asukara‘s first half, Hikari gets along with most everyone in his classmates. Much of the conflict in Nagi no Asukara‘s second act comes from everyone trying to sort out their relationships, although now, Miuna and Saya take center stage, as they are the same age as Hikari and Kaname. Meanwhile, Chisaki and Tsumugu are removed from this equation, being five years older than the others.

  • With Miuna now a middle school student, she enters the same world of relationship challenges that Hikari had been dealing with. When Sayu learns that one of Miuna’s classmates intends to confess his feelings for Miuna, she becomes jealous. It turns out that, now that she’s the same age as Hikari, Miuna feels that she has a fighting chance to win Hikari’s heart even in the knowledge that Hikari loves Manaka. Hikari’s concern for her only serves to amplify her feelings for him.

  • Sayu subsequently attempts to distance herself from her feelings for Kaname: distraction from romance is one of the most frequently recommended suggestions for dealing with a broken heart. I can vouch for this: The Giant Walkthrough Brain from five years ago ended up being my distraction that saw me create something constructive. As I pushed into learning the Unity Engine and build what would become the starting points for my graduate thesis, I found myself feeling a great deal more whole than I had following heartbreak. While there would be days where I felt miserable, I continue to remind myself that there is more to life than romantic relationships.

  • Kaname does eventually return to the cast, joining Hikari and the others. Of everyone, he feels the most left behind, having seen first-hand how close Chisaki and Tsumugu have become. At the age of nineteen, Tsumugu has enrolled at a local university and studies Nagi no Asukara‘s equivalent of marine biology, participating in research. While still young, Tsumugu’s involvement with a research lab is not implausible by any stretch: undergraduate students interested in research are encouraged to find a supervisor and lab to work in during summer. My faculty was particularly forward with this, and after learning of a biological visualisation lab on campus, I decided to spend my summer working with them. This is how I met my supervisor, who would go on to oversea and provide guidance on my undergraduate thesis, the Giant Walkthrough Brain and ultimately, my graduate thesis.

  • The tensions between Sayu and Miuna reach an all-time high after Sayu runs into Kaname, who fails to recognise her. Feeling that her emotions have given her naught but trouble, she renounces them, only for Miuna to declare that being truthful to how they feel is more important. Both Kaname and Sayu experience the misfortune of having the person they’re interested in seem unaware of or are otherwise unable to return their feelings: I’ve been down this road before, and this is why for me, Kaname and Sayu’s stories in Nagi no Asukara hit me the hardest: I know what unrequited love feels like, to feel so desperately sure that things could work out, and fail nonetheless.

  • Of course, it’s a disappointing thought, but it happens all the same. While Miuna may cling onto her feelings for Hikari, she’s also able remain mindful of her surroundings. When it turns out that Miuna has inherited ena, and with it, the ability to freely move about underwater, she is ecstatic and becomes a new contributor to the research Tsumugu is working on. By using acoustics, Tsumugu’s supervisor is able to work out where to best enter Shioshishio: since the events five years previously, intense currents have surrounded the town, making the area inaccessible. However, given a chance to visit, Kaname, Hikari and Miuna decide to undertake this assignment.

  • For the first time, Miuna visits the middle school that Hikari and the others would have attended. The location feels like a haikyo, and here, Miuna plays with an xylophone. Reflections from the windows and the bright lights coming from outside create a very melancholy impression: while Shioshishio is a very lively town, having all of the inhabitants in hibernation creates an eerily still locale, a far cry from the Shioshishio that we’d seen during Nagi no Asukara‘s first act.

  • Aural anomolies were the reason that Hikari and the others descend to Shioshishio. When they trace them to its source, they find a graveyard of old Ofunehiki effigies, and Manaka frozen at the center. The mystery of where Manaka went is solved, and Hikari decides to bring her back. This action results in a disturbance, and Manaka’s memories are seemingly lost when she is returned to the surface.

  • For Miuna, Manaka’s return is a mixed bag. On one hand, a friend has returned now, someone who she can talk to and support as thanks for having done so much for her previously. However, Manaka is also a rival for Hikari’s feelings; her return means that Miuna’s feelings for Hikari may never be realised if Manaka’s memories return. In the end, Miuna picks a selfless route, deciding that bringing Manaka back for Hikari’s sake is much more important than whatever her own wishes are. This is the truest sign of love, being able to let go and hope for another individual’s happiness even at one’s own expense.

  • One evening, Chisaki decides to try her old middle school uniform out again for kicks. It is impressive that after all this time, her uniform still fits to a reasonable extent: besides being tighter in the chest and hips, she’s still able to wear it. In what is Nagi no Asukara‘s only cliché moment, Tsumugu walks in, coming face-to-face with an embarassed Chisaki who proceeds to throw things at him until he beats a hasty exit.

  • While Manaka is still unconcious, Miuna seeks out Lord Uroko, a minor sea god born from a scale of the original sea god. He acts as a messenger to the gods, and despite his appearances, holds a great deal of knowledge about the lore of the ocean. While typically flippant and unsympathetic, he appears to help if the situation demands it. Lord Uroko explains that Manaka’s sacrifice was to appease the sea god, and taking her back means taking something in return: when she reawakens, Manaka appears to be as happy-go-lucky as she had been during the first act once she wakes up, but lost her ena and recollections of Hikari.

  • Nagi no Asukara builds its lore in an incremental manner, showing only as much as is needed to drive the narrative forwards, and integrates this seamlessly into the story. Audiences never feel left out when details surrounding their world are presented, and each bit of knowledge helps viewers understand what must be undertaken for Hikari and the others to help bring Manaka’s love back. It is therefore unsurprising that Nagi no Asukara features many tearful moments such as these – where the most fundamental of human emotions are involved, people can become overwhelmed.

  • As Nagi no Asukara reaches its final episodes, everyone’s emotions come to the forefront. Hikari learns that Tsumugu had never had his eyes on Manaka and loves Chisaki, while Chisaki did return his feelings, fearing only that if she accepted them, it would mean discarding old friendships. Chisaki overhears his kokuhaku and dives into the sea; when Tsumugu goes after her, he discovers that he possesses the ena, as well. Lord Uroko later agrees to help out, since everyone has worked out a possible solution for the situation at hand: having taken back Manaka, the sea god demands another sacrifice. Manaka’s pendant, a special stone that seemingly holds everyone’s feelings, is suggested as the substitute.

  • As preparations for another Ofunehiki begin, the only person who feels left behind is Kaname – everyone is busy working towards setting things right, and having heard that Tsumugu and Chisaki accept one another’s feelings for himself, Kaname becomes dejected, even wondering if he had done the right thing in saving Tsumugu years previously. Despite being level-headed and wise for his age, Kaname’s unrequited feelings for Chisaki leave him feeling left out; of the characters, I relate to him the most strongly.

  • It takes a tearful confession from Sayu to force Kaname to accept that things are what they are now – she implores him to see her as a girl rather than a child and that she’d only had eyes for him for the past five years. Realising that there had been someone in his corner all this time, Kaname is shocked and decides to start over with her. While such outcomes seem relegated to the realm of fiction, reality can work in strange ways; Kaname accepting this turn of events show that he is not so stubborn as to see alternative paths, and this open-mindedness is what sends him down another means towards finding what he sought.

  • Nagi no Asukara‘s soundtrack, hitherto unmentioned, was composed by Yoshiaki Dewa and Masayuki Watanabe. They make extensive use of Spanish guitar in more relaxed moments, and piano when emotion kicks in to create incidental music that adds another level of depth to the anime: the soundtrack has two volumes, released two months apart. Together, there is a total of sixty tracks, and these well-composed pieces do much to convey the atmospherics within Nagi no Asukara.

  • With all of the secondary characters’ stories largely resolved, preparations for the Ofunehiki wrap up, and the ceremony commences. This time, it is with Lord Uroko’s consent, and as they had done five years previously, prepare a sacrifice with the aim of appeasing the sea god. This second attempt similarly disrupts the sea, and Manaka falls overboard. Miuna rescues her, and Manaka’s memories return, but Miuna is drawn into the depths, standing in as the new sacrifice.

  • Realising that Miuna was lost because of her intense feelings for him, Hikari implores the sea god to take him instead. The seas react to this: it turns out that the original sea god was unable to let go of Ojoshi, his original lover, who had turned her back on the sea for a life on the surface with a mortal. Devastated, the sea god froze the world, but realised that Ojoshi’s original feelings for him and the sea never wavered. He consents to allow the world to return to its normal state, and the oceans begin flowing again. Shioshishio’s inhabitants begin awakening from their hibernation, as well, signifying that the world’s climate is returning to its normal state. Hikari’s father greets him and notes that he accepts Akari’s marriage, expressing that he looks forwards to meeting his grandson.

  • The finale to Nagi no Asukara is optimistic; with the natural order back in the balance, lives begin returning to normal. I also expect that at this point, readers who have stuck out would have a nontrivial inclination to never read this blog again: I’ve made no fewer than thirty mentions of the word “feelings” in this post alone. In the epilogue, Hikari, Manaka and Kaname don surface middle school uniforms before heading off to classes, signifying that they accept in full the people on the surface.

  • An exceptional anime in all regards, Nagi no Asukara represents one of P.A. Works’ very best work since Angel Beats, covering an exceptional amount of material during its twenty-six episode run. With life-like characters and a vivid world rich in lore, Nagi no Asukara tells a coming of age story that fully utilised every aspect of its environment to convey a moving story. Masterpiece Anime Showcase will return next time with K-On!‘s first season – this series is celebrating its tenth anniversary and is counted as a masterpiece in my books for a very special reason. Other series that will be covered include Kanon and Your Lie in April: I know that some readers have expressed an interest in hearing my thoughts on these, and I look forwards to seeing if I can meet those expectations.

Because of its raw and emotional portrayal of what coming-of-age means for a group of friends, in conjunction with the fact that I still have nothing by the way of experience in this particular discipline, writing for Nagi no Asukara proved much trickier than I originally anticipated. As such, I did not write about this series despite making numerous references to it in other talks. However, after taking a look back through the series, I figured that even if I cannot readily speak from experience, the fact that Nagi no Asukara was so moving for me meant that there was much more at play that I could properly write for. Looking through the anime a second time, I saw a series whose enjoyment factor increased with time: watching it again meant being able to appreciate the subtle details that present themselves on a second visitation. Between giving the characters a unique world to grow in, the time to develop and the opportunity to watch them overcome their challenges, Nagi no Asukara gives audiences reason appreciate the characters and their struggles. In conjunction with some of P.A. Works’ finest animation and artwork, Nagi no Asukara represents a maturation of the learnings from Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, inheriting highly relatable characters and exceptional visuals with a bold new direction in a fantastical setting. The incidental music further accentuates the atmospherics Nagi no Asukara intends to convey. All of these elements come together to create an anime that is timeless, recognisable and moving; Nagi no Asukara is something that I can readily recommend to all audiences because of its fantastic world-building, universally-relatable themes and strong execution. There are a lot of moving parts in Nagi no Asukara: its appeal stems from being able to cover such a diverse range of topics and explore them in satisfying depth; in conjunction with a world whose every facet is vividly-rendered, Nagi no Asukara stands out as one of P.A. Works’ more memorable titles that is well worth watching.

Yama no Susume Season 2: Whole-series Review and a Full Recommendation

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” ―David McCullough Junior

After failing to scale Mount Fuji, Aoi falls into a melancholy and wonders about her future in mountain climbing, but after receiving the letters that Hinata and Kokona had sent her from the top of Mount Fuji, she decides to climb Mount Tenran again, running into Hinata. after viewing fireflies with Kokona and Kaede, Hinata and Aoi later decide to invite Aoi’s mother for a hike at Mount Kirigamine. Here, Aoi and Hinata learn that the mountain of their promise, where they’d seen the sunrise together, was Mount Tanigawa. Kaede decides to give Aoi her old raincoat after reminiscing about her friendship with Yuuka, and the girls visit Shinrin Park to help Aoi manage her fear of heights; Aoi is torn about the cable car ride needed to reach the trail to ascend Mount Tanigawa. Aoi decides to take a part time job to earn the funds for equipment, and struggles to finish her homework ahead of their climb. As the date of their ascent draws nearer, Aoi bakes a cake for Kokona, whose birthday is the date of their climb, and Kokona visits Akebano Children’s Forest Park with her new shoes that she’d gotten for her birthday. On the day of the hike, the girls help Aoi when she becomes frightened on the cable car ride. Once they reach the trial, Aoi encounters a quiet girl named Honoka, who’s fond of photography. A rainfall sets in, but the girls reach their mountain hut, where they unwind. Aoi and Hinata voice their worries about what will happen once their promise is fulfilled, but support from their friends lead the two to realise that there will always be new promises to be made, and new journeys to partake in. They reach the summit as the skies clear, and the girls see the sunrise that they had promised to see. On the eve of a summer festival, Aoi and Hinata get into a disagreement. Honoka is visiting, and upon hearing Aoi speak of Hinata, Honoka begins to understand that Aoi and Hinata’s friendship is quite deep despite Aoi’s outward appearances. After watching fireworks together at the festival, the girls unwind at Aoi’s home, where Aoi and Hinata realise that whatever it is they had a disagreement about was trivial. Yama no Susume 2 is ten times longer than the first season, and with a substantially increased runtime, is able to fully explore the suite of dynamics between Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona: seeing more of the characters really allows the audience to connect with everyone more strongly, and this is one of the strongest aspects about Yama no Susume 2.

Aoi’s inability to finish ascending Mount Fuji ends up being but one of many events in Yama no Susume 2: while Aoi’s interest in mountain climbing wavers from her failure, encouragement from her friends and her own recollections ultimately give her the resolve to continue. The first half showed that individuals sometimes cannot overcome adversity even with assistance, and in the second half, Yama no Susume 2 aims to convey that adversity must be conquered from within. After receiving the letters from Hinata and Kokona, the encouragement in “Encouragement of Climb”, it ultimately still falls upon Aoi to make a decision. She could have very well simply decided there and then to throw in the towel, but instead, she finds enough encouragement to rediscover what led her to engage in mountain climbing. Walking the trails up Mount Tenran again, Aoi finds it an easy hike, and realises how far she’d come with Hinata, Kaede and Kokona. This small bit of joy leads her to take another small step in hiking Mount Kirigamine with her mother, and in the end, sets in motion the events that lead Aoi to actively pursue fulfilling her promise with Hinata. Despite her own acrophobia, Aoi does her best to push through the difficult moments, and for her efforts, she manages to both see the sunrise with Hinata as originally promised, as well as making a new friend in Honoka. The simple act of deciding to return, and grasping her friends’ encouragement leads Aoi to overcome the initial disappointment in her failure to climb Mount Fuji. Aoi picks herself up and moves ahead, taking two steps forward for the step backwards that she’d encountered. Taken together, the two halves of Yama no Susume 2 indicate that one’s successes and failures ultimately fall onto the individual’s own resolve, determination and grit; in the presence of friendship and encouragement, failures cost a bit less and successes feel all the more empowering. The extended format shows that Yama no Susume can very well stand on its own: the strength of its episodes and clarity of a theme indicate a series that very much knows what it aims to say to audiences, and knows how to best convey this in a concise timeframe.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Upon returning from Mount Fuji, Aoi’s fallen into a depression and Hinata is unsure of how to help Aoi recover. She decides to leave Aoi be for now, and in this time, the letters that she and Kokona had sent to Aoi from Mount Fuji arrives. Realising that she’s got fantastic friends in her corner, she decides to climb up Mount Tenran again and is surprised at how easy the hike is. This moment is indicative of Aoi’s progress – even though she may have failed to overcome Mount Fuji, she’s improved in many ways since her first hike up Mount Tenran with Hinata.

  • Coincidentally, Aoi runs into Hinata at the top of Mount Tenran, and here, Hinata is able to properly convey how she feels about Aoi; she wants Aoi to continue accompanying her in mountain climbing and provides encouragement. When Aoi offers Hinata a sweet remaining from the Mount Fuji hike, Hinata bursts out in laughter. Aoi and Hinata’s friendship is, despite the turbulence, a deep-running one, and the ups-and-downs make it all the more authentic. The themes in Yama no Susume 2 are very clear and direct, but there are numerous moments worth mentioning. As such, this post will feature forty screenshots in total.

  • Yama no Susume and Non Non Biyori both present fireflies as a magical experience. The choice of lighting in Yama no Susume, however, reminds me of Grave of The Fireflies, which I watched earlier this year – like Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, it’s a haunting anime about the costs of warfare and shows the price paid by warfare. While the latter presents a more optimistic view on recovery in the post-War, Grave of The Fireflies suggests that the suffering of victims in World War Two ended after death: Seita and Setsuko are shown to be at peace after the war, but there is a great deal of sadness in seeing what war makes of ordinary people, as well.

  • Returning to Yama no Susume 2, after Aoi’s spirits are restored, she decides to take her mother to Mount Kirigamine when the latter expresses concern about Aoi’s hobby, on a suggestion from Hinata’s father. Located in the Nagano Prefecture, Mount Kirigamine has a maximum height of 1925 metres, and the trailhead starts a mere 325 metres from the summit. It’s an easier hike, and thus, well-suited for showing Aoi’s mother that her hobby is quite safe provided the proper precautions and techniques are observed. Throughout Yama no Susume 2, Aoi’s mother also sees character development, becoming more comfortable with Aoi’s hobby and coming to support her over time.

  • I’d actually crossed the finish line for Yama no Susume 2 a week ago, but this past long weekend had been remarkably busy – I spent the majority of it volunteering at Otafest, the anime convention of Calgary. It was an incredibly enjoyable and meaningful experience, to be helping the convention run smoothly and help patrons have the best experience possible. In my roles, I helped keep panels orderly, answered questions about where events and facilities were, and generally aimed to help guests have a good time. On my first day, the convention bakery (which sold Japanese baked goods and soft drinks) had run short of staff, and I decided to step in to help out, doing the equivalent of an additional shift.

  • It was well worth it: helping keeping things run smoothly was rewarding, and I also found enough time between shifts to have my photo taken with the convention mascots, as well as check out the vendor hall (I ended up buying Your Name. Another Side: Earthbound and a Shimarin keychain). All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing things from the other side. I was once a patron myself, and now, I have a bit of involvement in the local anime community, as well – it is great seeing the positive energy among the patrons. I do note that my own tastes in anime appear quite unique, and there aren’t many people in my area who watch things like Yama no Susume.

  • The top of Mount Kirigamine is characterised by its wide expanses and meadows filled with yellow lilies. While the area may be shrouded in a heavy fog, Aoi and Hinata’s hike is on a beautiful day. The tranquil air up here sets the stage for Aoi and Hinata to rediscover their old promise of climbing a mountain to see the sunrise together again. There is one minor problem, though: neither Aoi or Hinata can quite remember what the mountain they’d climbed together as children was called. Here, the hikers enjoy a delicious lunch amidst the scenery that the mountain offers, and Aoi and Hinata later learn that Mount Tanigawa (Tanigawa-dake in Japanese) was the mountain of their promise.

  • While the Japanese may hold that their mountains are nowhere near rivalling the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, I feel that the mountains of Japan are beautiful and convey a sense of adventure. Anime set in rural Japan predominantly feature mountains because this is the common topography throughout Japan, but Yama no Susume takes viewers deep into the mountains to give them a better appreciation of how majestic the Japanese mountains are: parts of the scenery (e.g. in anime like Ano Natsu de Matteru) become a central aspect of the show.

  • Besides Aoi’s rediscovery of her love for hiking and mountain climbing, Yama no Susume 2 also gives more insight into other characters. Kaede realised how deeply her friend, Yuuka, cared for her after the latter became angry with Kaede’s physical well-being when she’d sprained her ankle on a hike. Recalling this after finding an old raincoat they’d bought together after this, Kaede invites Yuuka out shopping. Practical and focused, Yuuka also has a better eye for fashion than Kaede, who wears what’s comfortable.

  • There is a single obstacle preventing Aoi from from climbing Mount Tanigawa: there’s a gondola that carries hikers up the mountain, and while Aoi’s come a long way, her acrophobia is still very much at play here. Her friends thus decide to help encourage her, and this begins with a trip to Kaede’s house. While audiences have seen Kaede inside her room previously, none of Hinata, Aoi or Kokona have been to Kaede’s house as of yet.

  • Kaede’s room shows her enthusiasm for hiking and mountain climbing; it resembles a section in Canadian Tire, being filled with climbing equipment and books. The setup deeply impresses Aoi, Hinata and Kokona, and after settling down, Kaede explains that she was once worried about gondolas as well, but eventually acclimatised to them. When Aoi reveals she has no raincoat, Kaede decides to give Aoi the old raincoat that she had considered discarding, feeling happy that this beautiful raincoat now has a new owner who will put it to good use.

  • To help Aoi with heights, Hinata brings everyone to Musashi Kyūryō National Government Park in Namegawa, Saitama Prefecture. With a host of outdoors facilities and hiking trails, the grounds have something for everyone. The girls spend their time in jungle gyms and swings to get Aoi used to moving around above ground, and then break for lunch, where Hinata shows off the fantastic lunch that her father had made for her. Of everyone, Aoi is the most proficient at cooking.

  • When met with a suspension bridge, Aoi finds herself unable to cross, but Hinata drags her across. This is a recurring theme throughout Yama no Susume – Hinata’s insistence is often what causes Aoi to step out of her comfort zone and is what led Aoi to take up mountain climbing to begin with. Hence, whenever Aoi is frustrated or irritated with Hinata, the two always manage to make up because Aoi recalls everything Hinata has done for her. Once everyone’s across the bridge, they bounce around on a bounce-house like hill, where Aoi’s fear of heights diminishes for a few moments before she bumps into Hinata, and the two tumble down the slopes of the bouncy hill.

  • When Aoi’s coffers begin emptying, she takes up a part-time job at the shōtengai‘s bakery. After submitting her job application and resume, she begins and meets Hikari Onozuka, who instructs her in the basics of the job. Over time, Aoi adjusts to her job, learning to greet customers with a smile and serve then efficiently. Hikari is very energetic and initially, intimidates Aoi, but her mannerisms also inspire Aoi to follow. Hikari is voiced by Yūko Gibu: she’s credited with a few roles in Yama no Susume and also voiced Tamayura‘s Maon Sakurada.

  • Between working and gearing up for Mount Tanigawa, Aoi’s neglected her homework completely. Hinata is unable to help, having long finished and is travelling, so Aoi turns to Kaede, who surprisingly is weaker with academics – when Kaede sees Aoi’s material, her mind draws blanks and she attempts to brush it off by saying the curriculum’s changed. Unexpected sides of characters add depth to Yama no Susume, and I’d long thought that Kaede would be sufficiently studios as to get by. It takes Yuuka’s help for the two to finish: she’s harsher towards Kaede than Aoi, but both manage to finish just in time for Mount Tanigawa.

  • During volunteering at Otafest, I encountered many fellow volunteers who were still students and therefore, would immediately relate to Aoi’s plight. My own memories of school are strong, and there’s no real trouble in conversing with high school students and undergraduates alike about school; a few of the girls I was working alongside initially guessed that I was in my final year of high school from appearances alone. The first giveaway that I’m much older than I look is that besides high school students, who are energetic and full of life, I am absolutely drab and slower.

  • Over Yama no Susume 2‘s run, I’ve become rather fond of Kokona, whose appearance and mannerisms are adorable. She’s like a færie of sorts, and had actually met Aoi and Hinata as children. During a festival, Aoi and Hinata were lost, and run into Kokona, who’s dressed as a firefly. While perception of their memories leads Aoi to see an angelic being, and Hinata to see a monster, Yama no Susume shows that it’s rather fateful for everyone to be together again. Here, Kokona happens upon the gift her mother bought for her birthday and learns they’re a pair of hiking shoes.

  • It seems that everything Kokona does is heart-warming, and having an episode dedicated to her adventures around town was remarkably fun. She spends the day exploring Akebano Children’s Forest Park and finds a book from her childhood before heading home. The gentle-paced, easygoing episode shows Kokona as having a great deal of fun on her own – this is what solitude looks like, and while some folks are very anxious about being alone, there is a difference between solitude and loneliness. I personally love solitude, as it’s how I refresh myself. Having said this, I most certainly can and do enjoy crowds, as well as striking up conversations with people I meet.

  • Upon returning home, Kokona falls asleep while waiting for her mother to return from work. However, her mother’s not forgotten her birthday and has brought a cake to celebrate: Kokona’s birthday is on the day of the hike to Mount Tanigawa. Towards the end of Yama no Susume 2, the pacing picks up, and I watched episodes back-to-back: once the date to ascend Mount Tanigawa arrives, the remainder of the series deals with the emotional impact of having realised a promise. Neither Aoi or Hinata know what will happen next once they’ve done exactly what they said they were going do.

  • On the day of the hike, the girls must first ascend an incredible flight of steps out to the gondola station. Yama no Susume 2 does not have Aoi engage in a rematch with Mount Fuji: by taking this direction and focusing on Aoi and Hinata’s childhood promise, Yama no Susume 2 shows that overcoming one’s challenges can take different forms. By taking the initiative to climb Mount Tanigawa and doing her best to make it possible, Aoi’s grown in a different way that still shows her development since Mount Fuji.

  • While Aoi initially freezes in fear prior to boarding the gondola itself, encouragement from Hinata, Kaede and Kokona prompts Aoi to board. The delay means that the group allows others to board ahead of them, including a quiet-looking girl with a camera. Despite being scared, Aoi manages to open her eyes once the gondola has cleared the terminal, seeing for herself the sights en route up to the trail-head.

  • However, the lifts still present a challenge for Aoi, although here, the moment is meant to be taken in a light-hearted, comedic fashion. Yama no Susume 2 excels in both comedy and personal development: I was all smiles for each step of Yama no Susume 2, and looking back, while I’d heard about Yama no Susume since my time as a student, I never did get around to watching it until one of my readers recommended the series and praised it in their own reviews. At the time, my interest was piqued sufficiently for me to go through the series, but I was simultaneously going through episodic reviews of Hakukana Receive, as well.

  • Once at the trail-head for Mount Tanigawa, the girls begin their hike to the mountain hut. With a maximum elevation of 1977 metres, Tanigawa is known for its weather conditions, which can roll in from the blue and turn a hike under a beautiful cloudless day into a trek of cold, wet misery. This is why Aoi and the others have properly outfitted themselves with rain gear. The hike to the summit is reasonably safe, but Mount Tanigawa is known for its fatalities: some trails for rock climbing are extremely steep, and the elevation gain in places is even greater than that of Mount Fuji.

  • At a rest point, Aoi and the others enjoy their lunches under excellent weather conditions. The girls in Yama no Susume bring bentos as their lunches during hikes; in my experience, I typically carry wraps and sandwiches with a generous helping of meat, cheese, tomato, pepper and a flavourful sauce: sandwiches and wraps can hold all of the food groups in an easy-to-eat manner and don’t require utensils. During the course of Otafest, I decided to bring sandwiches and wraps, so if necessary, I could eat during my shifts.

  • Aoi later encounters the quiet-looking girl again and decides to push on ahead with the intent of befriending her. She learns that this is Honoka Kurosaki, who has a profound interest in photography. Curious, Aoi decides to follow Honoka for a bit, and her friends catch up. After introductions, they part ways, and rain begins falling. Having anticipated this, the girls don their rain jackets and cover their backpacks, pushing forwards through the rain to their mountain hut.

  • Meeting and befriending people is a skill: it takes me a while to warm up to people, and I remember that for the longest time, I didn’t really do well in crowds. These days, it’s a different story, and I can get by fine, talking with people after starting a conversation with eye contact and a smile. These sorts of things do happen over time as one gains more experience, and while some folks are more comfortable doing this than others, I hold that being able to make conversation is a skill rather than a talent, and by getting used to it, it becomes much easier and more enjoyable.

  • The biggest worry that Aoi and Hinata have is what will happen once they see the sunrise together at Mount Tanigawa: with their promise fulfilled, what lies ahead is unknown, and there seems nothing left to work towards. While it’s a momentous achievement for the two, to finally return again, they also begin wondering what lies beyond this promise. This is an understandable feeling: after putting in some much effort and dedication towards seeing something through, the time after finishing can seem empty and devoid of purpose.

  • Together with Honoka, Aoi and the others enjoy dinner. Unlike Mount Fuji, Aoi is in excellent condition here, and her mind is on the outcome of their climb now. After dinner, the girls sing a song and then prepare to turn in for the evening, anticipating an early start. While it rains into the evening, everyone remains hopeful that the skies will clear out ahead of their ascent to the summit of Tanigawa for the sunrise.

  • As evening sets in, Honoka shares with Aoi some of the photos that she’s taken during her adventures. Honoka is voiced by Nao Tōyama, best known as Yuru Camp △‘s Shimarin, Karen Kujo of Kiniro Mosaic and Kantai Collection’s Kongō. It is no coincidence that Tōyama plays quiet, reserved characters in both Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume: while her repertoire of shows includes characters who are rambunctious and outgoing, Tōyama is very skilled at delivering lines for taciturn characters, as well.

  • Bright and early the next morning, the girls don their raincoats and prepare their head-mounted lamps. A mist covers the ground: it’s a chilly morning, and with the skies staying covered, it would seem that Hinata and Aoi might not be able to see the sunrise per their promise. Unlike Mount Fuji, this time the group is plus one: Honoka accompanies them, joining in on an adventure between friends that sees her become a part of their group. Like Kokona and Kaede’s introduction in season one, Honoka’s entry comes a bit later into Yama no Susume 2.

  • As they reach the summit of Mount Tanigawa, the sun breaks through the clouds and bathes the land in a warm light. Aoi and Hinata hold hands, feeling at peace that their promise has been fulfilled. After their conversation the previous evening, the two learn from their friends that fulfilling one promise simply leaves the future open to new directions. For all of their differences and conflict, Aoi and Hinata are inseparable and best friends. If there was a single screenshot that captures the sum of every emotion and lesson in Yama no Susume 2, this would be it.

  • This achievement marks the end of Yama no Susume 2: her friends have given Aoi the encouragement necessary to rediscover her own love for mountain climbing. In the process of fulfilling an old promise with Hinata, Aoi has also matured sufficiently to begin befriending new individuals, as well. This is a wrap for Yama no Susume 2, acting as an immensely enjoyable and satisfying conclusion where Aoi climbs, falls and learns to pick herself back up again, coming out all the stronger for it.

  • At least, that’s what I’d say if that were the finale proper. The finale actually entails Aoi and Hinata getting into a fight over something that audiences don’t get to see. While it may be strange of me to say so, Aoi and Hinata’s fights were actually the magic moment that got me into Yama no Susume: the fights themselves end up being adorable, but their importance stems from really painting the characters as being more human. Deliberately omitting the reason for their fight forces audiences to look at how Yama no Susume‘s themes apply here.

  • Honoka comes to visit shortly after – she’s quieter than Aoi, and the contrast comes to show how far Aoi had come since Yama no Susume‘s first season, where she was content to engage in activities on her own. By Yama no Susume 2‘s ending, Aoi is able to take the initiative and show Honoka around town. When Aoi arrives at the bakery she works at, Hikari and the manager imagine Honoka to be Aoi’s significant other. This is, of course, a misunderstanding, and after Aoi buys some pastries for Honoka, Hinata arrives quite separately, still bothered by the fight she had with Aoi.

  • Honoka is able to offer an alternative perspective for Aoi: after hearing Aoi subconsciously mentioning Hinata into conversation at every turn, Honoka understands that outward differences aside, the two are very much friends regardless of what happens to them. She suggests to Aoi that friends are like photography, and that sometimes, there is beauty in looking at the same thing from a different angle.

  • Thus, while Yama no Susume 2‘s finale might not include any mountain climbing, there is a different sort of climbing involved as both attempt to summon the strength needed to properly apologise to one another. However, even with the summer festival drawing nearer, Aoi and Hinata are unable to do so. Seeing the series in its entirety convinced me that there is something special about Yama no Susume, and so, after the second season, I can confidently count Yama no Susume as a masterpiece: this is equivalent to an A+, or perfect ten.

  • The reason why I’ve designated Yama no Susume a masterpiece is because of its multifaceted characters whose experiences are expertly reflected in visual metaphors, as well as how the series takes a more grounded portrayal of learning and discoveries. Failures exist, as do the processes involved in picking oneself back up afterwards. Conflicts are addressed in a more natural manner, with the occasional loose end showing that not everything can be neatly resolved. The sum of these lessons, in conjunction with Yama no Susume‘s commitment to accuracy (the series occasionally mentions techniques and terminology in mountain climbing for viewers) and for presenting the joys of mountain climbing means this series left a non-trivial impact on me.

  • Yama no Susume reinforces the life lessons that I’ve learnt, and also has fuelled by excitement about mountain climbing. Motivated by the series, I intend to climb Ha Ling Peak. Located outside of Canmore, the hike takes roughly five hours to complete, the hike itself spans a distance of 5.3 kilometers, with a 855-metre elevation gain. It’s easily going to be the most challenging hike I’ve ever done, and I expect that I’ll need to pick up gloves for scrambling, as well. Ha Ling Peak is currently undergoing maintenance, and I plan on ascending once the trail re-opens.

  • Back in Yama no Susume 2, after enjoying the fireworks and summer festival, everyone visits Aoi’s house to unwind. Aoi’s room seems the most spacious and modern of everyone’s, making it the perfect place to hang out. Kokona is seen hugging a teddy bear as large as she is, and Kaede kicks it easy, reverting to her preferred casual clothing style. It is here that Aoi and Hinata realise they’d completely forgotten what their disagreement was about.

  • While climbing mountains might be the core of Yama no Susume, watching the characters mature and grow from their adventures was the main draw. Yama no Susume 2 was certainly a worthy sequel to Yama no Susume, and nailed every part of the experience for me. I will be returning to write about Omoide no Memory and then the third season for Yama no Susume. In the meantime, with two weeks left in May, Gundam Narrative and Nagi no Asukara are the two major projects I have on the immediate horizon.

Yama no Susume 2 proved to be an incredible experience: besides improved artwork and animation over the first season, the extended length really allowed the series to properly convey the feelings encapsulated in Aoi’s desire to climb mountains, and the struggles that she experiences during the course of her journey. Seeing Aoi’s varied interactions with the cast, especially Hinata, make her especially compelling as a lead character: while most protagonists of series in this genre usually retain shared attributes such as determination, shyness, clumsiness and being generally adorably air-headed, Aoi can be irritable, stubborn and even petty. People are not flawless, and seeing Aoi’s less positive traits show that she is very much human, with much room for improvement in her character. This improvement comes from gaining new perspective on the world, both by climbing mountains and by interacting with others to better understand her friendships with those around her (especially where Hinata is concerned). Honoka’s introduction late in Yama no Susume 2 and her role in helping Aoi realise the depth of her friendship with Hinata is an example of this. Flawed, but also kind-hearted, Aoi makes for a very intriguing protagonist that audiences can relate to. Yama no Susume 2 successfully capitalises on its extended run to breathe considerable life into its world, and this corresponds to a series that I enjoyed each and every second watching. At this point in time, I’ve got the two OVAs from Yama no Susume 2, and Omoide no Present left to cover before I roll into the third season, which aired last summer. Yama no Susume has provided plenty to write about, and I am rather looking forwards to continuing a series whose merits are numerous, and whose characters stand out in a genre where many protagonists share enough attributes to feel unremarkable.

Penguin Highway: A Review and Reflection

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.” –Albert Einstein

Aoyama is a fourth-grader with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and spends his days making detailed observations of the world around him. With a strong sense of confidence, Aoyama encounters a lady working at the dental clinic, whom he takes a liking to. His effort to impress her lands him a conversation, and she consents to instruct him in chess. When penguins begin appearing in his town, the lady tasks him with solving the mystery of the penguins’ origins, and Aoyama sets about applying his own brand of logic and reason towards seeking a scientific solution to this fantastical phenomenon. With his best friend Uchida and the equally-inquisitive transfer student Hanamoto, Aoyama continues to work out how the lady and penguins are connected, discovering a mysterious orb that he dubs the “ocean”. From observations made while he hangs out with the lady, and also his own experiments, Aoyama finds that while he can identify patterns (such as how the lady can only conjure penguins under clear skies and that her well-being diminishes the further away from town she is), he is no closer to solving the mystery: the enigma surrounding this orb deepens when the Lego probe with instruments that Aoyama, Hanamoto and Uchida sends into it vanishes. After a typhoon rolls over the area, and the orb expands, Aoyama and the lady enter the orb to rescue researchers from the university, including Hanamoto’s father, who became trapped in the orb while investigating it. Upon finding the researchers, the lady destroys the orb and bids Aoyama farewell, but not before he confesses that he’s fallen in love with her. After she disappears, Aoyama’s life returns to normal. One day, while relaxing at the local cafe, he sees a penguin, runs off outside and finds that while it has disappeared, the Lego probe he’d sent into the orb previously has returned. This is Penguin Highway in a nutshell, a 2018 film about the boundless curiosity and impermanence of youth, and whose home release only became available in 2019.

While Penguin Highway has Aoyama attempting to ground his observations in the realm of science, it soon becomes clear that the whole of the film takes place in a world where the laws of Newtonian and quantum physics simply do not apply. Matter is freely transformed without adhering to the Laws of Thermodynamics, and the lady herself appears to be an embodiment of the world’s mysteries given human form. With a whimsical, fantastical setting, Penguin Highway speaks to how children perceive the world; while adults have a very procedural, structured way of approaching problem, children often have alternative insights precisely because they are not bound by the same methodologies that adults have. Aoyama, while longing to be an adult and exhibiting the logical and deductive skills of someone much older, shows audiences how there are some phenomenon, miracles, in the world that can defy explanation by conventional means. Even he is baffled and impressed with the sights that he witnesses: unable to formulate a hypothesis on why, Aoyama is taken on a ride with the lady, and comes to discover a new feeling – one of love, as he becomes drawn to the mystery that the lady represents. Penguin Highway suggests that, while adults often dismiss children as thinking in simple terms, their unique outlooks on the world are as complex as an adult’s, even if they cannot structure or organise their thoughts to the same extent. Consequently, the thoughts of children can be quite wondrous when one takes the time to consider them, and this is what Penguin Highway aims to convey. While the structuring of Penguin Highway is turbulent, it captures the raw curiosity of children as they attempt to work out the things they experience in the world.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To give an idea of how busy things have been in the past while, I watched Penguin Highway halfway through back in late February, on a Sunday afternoon where my ISP went down. I had some work-related matters to deal with that day and left for the office so I could attend to those items. I finished the film post-F8 – after the conference ended, I had a chance have a coffee at the heart of San Francisco, drove the Golden Gate Bridge, and even had lunch (fried chicken and barbecue brisket) at the Facebook Campus in Menlo Park. On my last day, I had some of the best (and biggest) ribs I’ve ever had for lunch under a beautiful afternoon sun after visiting the Armstrong Redwoods State Park. Penguin Highway opens with a monologue from Aoyama, who wastes no time in establishing his superior intellect (“I’m smart, and I know I’m destined for greatness”). At his age, I was knee-deep into the natural sciences and history, reading every book I could get my hands on, and drawing out everything I learnt.

  • Aoyama is very bright, and able to deal with Suzuki (the class bully, Penguin Highway‘s equivalent of Calvin and Hobbes‘ Moe) with a dose of wit; at the dentist, he convinces Suzuki that the latter has an unknown, lethal disease, frightening the living daylights out of him. However, Aoyama’s thoughts also wander towards how attractive the woman working at the dental office is; the lady catches him checking her out when they first meet, and he blushes in embarrassment. Aoyama’s matter-of-act temperament draws her interest and she begins spending more time with him, instructing him in how to play chess.

  • Penguins begin appearing in Aoyama’s town: the name broadly refers to aquatic flightless birds of the family Spheniscidae, and the ones seen in Penguin Highway appear to be Pygoscelis adeliae, the most widespread of the penguin species. The penguins’ sizes in Penguin Highway are consistent with those of P. adeliae, although their bills are different. With their habitat being coastal Antarctica, P. adeliae possess adaptations to deal with the frigid conditions and lack of fresh water: it is unsurprising that their appearance in Japan would be quite surprising.

  • In revenge for Aoyama’s stunt at the dental clinic, Suzuki manages to catch Aoyama, whose attempts to escape fall short: he is tied to a vending machine, and the lady appears. After she frees him, she helps him pull his loose tooth, during which she creates a penguin. Such a phenomenon easily catches Aoyama’s eye, and the lady declares that her existence is a bit of a mystery, leaving him to try and solve it.

  • Using the scientific method, Aoyama manages to work out that the lady can only create penguins under clear skies, with bats being spawned in darkness and nothing happening during overcast days. The same techniques are applied (albeit with modifications to suit their needs) in various disciplines; when I debug software, I aim to only manipulate one variable at a time to ensure that an outcome is not caused by another factor. In Penguin Highway, however, the world hardly appears to conform with the laws of thermodynamics, and so, while Aoyama might be able to draw a correlation, causation cannot be so readily concluded.

  • The artwork in Penguin Highway is of an incredible quality, bringing life to Aoyama’s world. From details in the lighting to the choice of palette for a given scene, Penguin Highway‘s visual components add a considerable amount of immersion to the story. The cool of a rainy day, or the rush of wind can be felt as vividly as though one were present in the scene in person – on a rainy day, Aoyama visits the lady’s apartment, and the grey-blues of the day give a sense of gentle gloom.

  • Aoyama’s feelings for the lady begin from physical attraction: he outright admits to staring at her chest more often than he’d like and despite his stoic nature, never objects to spending time with her. Feelings of love in children are as authentic as those adults feel, and I imagine that this is common. For me, I had a bit of a crush on my art instructor/yearbook club advisor in high school, as well as my science instructor during my first year of high school. I expect that these feelings manifest from a combination of the physiological changes that adolescents go through, as well as taking interest in mature individuals that act as role models.

  • Aoyama’s father gives him an alternate perspective on things: he uses a small bag to motivate the notion that by inverting the bag, he is in effect, holding the whole universe in the bag, since relative to the bag’s exterior, the universe surrounds the interior. It’s a clever metaphor, akin to Stephen Hawking’s analogies and explanations for how multi-dimensional spaces might work. This explanation foreshadows the phenomenon seen later in Penguin Highway.

  • Hanamoto is on par with Aoyama in terms of intellectual curiosity and is skillful in chess. She invites Aoyama and Uchida to check out a mysterious phenomenon that has appeared in a clearing in the woods. While Suzuki has taken a liking to Hanamoto, she is more interested in Aoyama for being her peer in an intellectual capacity and is keen in having him help out in trying to work out the recent string of events.

  • It turns out this phenomenon is a wormhole that resembles a suspended sphere of liquid water – Aoyama and the others are quick to christen this sphere as the “ocean”. Its physical properties are completely unknown, beyond the fact that its surface reflects light from its surroundings. Over time, Hanamoto, Aoyama and Uchida collect various observations from it, learning that its size changes over time. While Penguin Highway makes extensive use of the scientific method, it is erroneously considered to be a science fiction story: the definition of science fiction is loose, but in general, it refers to stories that deal how human society reacts to advances in science and technology.

  • Since Penguin Highway does not have a societal component, the presence of the scientific method alone is not sufficient for the film to be considered as science fiction. Penguin Highway is better classified as a fantasy-adventure, following Aoyama’s journey and expressing the components of childhood curiosity in a visual manner for audiences. Aoyama is seen here running to a meeting with his friends, and the normalcy of the neighbourhood is apparent; it’s a beautiful summer’s day, and the blue skies invite exploration.

  • Summer is long associated with endless opportunity to explore, or else simply relax. Besides their research activities, Aoyama, Uchida and Hanamoto also partake in summer activities, such as sharing ice pops and visiting summer festivals. We’re now pushing towards the halfway point of May and are nearly halfway through spring – the days are lengthening, and I am now head home after a day’s work under sunshine. The weather, which has been persistently clinging to winter, has been remarkably nice of late, and I am hoping that the summer this year will be marked by beautiful days punctuated with a good rainfall at regular intervals.

  • During the summer festival, Hanamoto’s father shows up. He’s a researcher working with the local university and has taken an interest in the phenomenon that Hanamoto is studying, as well. During the summer festival, Aoyama and Uchida run into Suzuki and his cronies; Suzuki is interested in what’s going down between Aoyama and Hanamoto, and Aoyama quickly deduces that Suzuki is developing a bit of a crush on Hanamoto.

  • I admit that Penguin Highway was a bit more difficult to write for – I normally write about an anime series or film based on what messages a particular work aims to convey using the experiences the characters go through. By experiencing a disruption, characters mature and respond in a particular way, speaking to a life lesson that can then be discerned as a theme. Penguin Highway does not follow this particular approach and therefore, needed to be viewed with a different mindset in order for its theme to be identified. One review stands out as claiming that there is a substantial philosophical component in Penguin Highway, but fails to identify what this is.

  • The reason why this reviewer cannot identify what philosophy is being presented is simple: there is no overarching philosophical element in Penguin Highway to identify. It comes across as being disingenuous to readers when reviewers for larger sites make factitious claims that an anime is “smarter” than it is, and I make it a point to never do this with my own discussions. Penguin Highway is not a film intended to make audiences feel smarter, but strives to present a very specific picture about children and their curiosity. As their understanding of the orb’s properties increases, Aoyama, Hanamoto and Uchida decide to send a Lego probe into the orb. It is promptly absorbed into the orb and becomes unretrievable.

  • After Suzuki and his gang appear, Aoyama boldly claims that Suzuki must have feelings for Hanamoto and earns a beat down for his cheek. The lady appears and uses her penguins to scare off Suzuki and his gang. When the penguins try to interact with the orb, the orb reacts adversely and begins shooting out water that damage the surroundings. Hanamoto is shocked to learn that Aoyama had not shared this with her: Aoyama claims to have done so to keep the lady safe, and this moment is a subtle reminder of how dissemination of information in academy goes, with secrecy being a part of things as academics work to be the first to present their findings.

  • Aoyama is very blunt in his manner, and when he asks to suspend all investigation into the sphere after spotting a Jabberwock (inspired by Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky, a poem about the killing of a creature), Hanamoto loses her cool, accusing Aoyama of doing this because he’s got a crush on the lady and her physique. Aoyama is unfazed by this and openly admits this. As a bit of trivia, there are articles written from two years back that assert that staring at someone’s mammaries increases longevity. The precise mechanism behind this is not well-understood, but some hypotheses suggest that it increases positive thinking.

  • During a bright summer’s day, the lady decides to take Aoyama to the coastal town in her memories despite Aoyama being no closer to solving the question of who she is. However, as the lady travels further from their original town, she becomes weaker, eventually collapsing on the train station. Mysterious entities begin spawning into the platform, but these dissipate over time, and the pair agree to return home. Wondering if diet could be anything, Aoyama feverishly decides to stop eating to see if the results can be replicated, but falls ill in the process.

  • While trying to sleep off his cold, Aoyama’s dreams are turbulent and confusing. Because the mechanisms behind dreams are not understood, the reason why we have repetitive dreams while ill is similarly poorly understood: some speculate that the sheer amount of energy the body has diverted towards fighting illness leaves the brain in a state of producing stranger, more limited dreams. When Aoyama wakes up, he finds the lady by his side. Frustrated by his lack of progress and the events around him, Aoyama allows himself tears.

  • Aoyama recovers the next morning, and learns that the orb has grown to a gargantuan size. Earlier, Suzuki and his gang were interviewed by scientists to learn more about the phenomenon around town, but these scientists have disappeared. He, Hanamoto and Uchida plan on sneaking out after an evacuation order is issued, and are confronted by Suzuki’s gang: they decide to help out, as Suzuki wants to get back into Hanamoto’s good books. Never one to hold grudges, Aoyama readily agrees, and the gang come in handy for helping Aoyama and the others eluding patrols around the school.

  • After Aoyama appears to have escaped from the pursuing law enforcement officers, he runs into the lady but come face-to-face with more patrols. When it looks like they are cornered, the lady summons a veritable army of penguins to get them back into the forest, towards the orb. The spectacle is nothing short of impressive, and there are hundreds of penguins on the screen at once: the sight is comparable to the scale of the final fight in Avengers: Endgame, which I just had the pleasure of watching mere hours ago. This is not a talk about Endgame, so readers should not expect any spoilers here.

  • As the penguins carry Aoyama and the lady through the city streets, the world becomes increasingly surreal, foreshadowing the film’s complete departure from anything resembling reality. While Penguin Highway retained a largely realistic world throughout its run, as the climax approaches, this is discarded. I’ve heard comparisons for this scene to a similar moment in Hinata no Aoshigure and Fumiko no Kokuhaku, which featured a likewise chaotic scramble towards their ends: I have seen the latter, but not the former.

  • After a wild ride into the forest and upon entering the orb itself, Aoyama and the lady find themselves resting on a raft of penguins, watching the sunset in a strange world. The sort of events in Penguin Highway can only  be explained with magic approaching those conferred by entities like the Infinity Stones, and for me, I feel that approaching Penguin with the expectation for adventure, rather than instruction, is the most appropriate way to get the most from things. If and when I am asked, Penguin Highway makes extensive use of the Space and Reality stones to drive its events.

  • After entering a town where buildings float and defy physics, in a world that appears as though it were the sandbox environment for a game developer, Aoyama and the lady find the missing researchers. They decide to close off this world, even if it comes at a great cost to the lady. The setting feels infinitely peaceful, with its vividly blue skies and vast ocean. I’ve been referring to the lady only as such because she has no given name, and is referred to as onee-san throughout the movie, accentuating her enigmatic presence.

  • It’s been a week since I returned from F8, and it’s been remarkably busy, hence my low number of posts. On Tuesday, I spent the evening catching up with an old friend: we swapped stories over ramen at a local restaurant (their daily special was a pork ramen so hot that I felt the effects for the whole of the next day), and then I stepped out for lunch on Friday at a restaurant that I was sure was a furniture store, and where every item on the menu, including their Swiss-mushroom burger, was six dollars. In the aftermath of F8, there’s a great deal of work to do, and while travelling has been fun, I have enjoyed settling back into my daily routine.

  • The page quote comes from Albert Einstein, who is best known for his work in relativity and contributions to quantum mechanics. The events of Penguin Highway tend towards the creativity that Einstein described as being essential for tackling new problems – approaching problems from the realm of what could be possible, rather than what already is, allows minds to envision new solutions and approaches in ways that purely using existing knowledge cannot.

  • By the film’s end, it becomes very clear that Penguin Highway is more about imagination than about knowledge – existing reviews out there similarly identify imagination as being one of the biggest strengths in the film. Back in the real world, the orb collapses, releasing a torrent of pure water that flows through the city streets. Penguins that the lady have conjured run about, popping the water spheres in the streets, and bemused, Hanamoto’s father can only stare at what occurs. In the aftermath, Suzuki and his gang return to the school, while a tearful Hanamoto embraces Aoyama upon finding out that he’s alright.

  • Aoyama’s farewell to the lady is an emotionally-charged one: with the source of her power gone, she prepares to head off. Aoyama’s forward manner allows him to openly declare that he’s in love with the lady, and she embraces him warmly before stepping out into the evening sun. After she leaves, a new status quo is reached. Aoyama is still more or less who he was before, firmly believing he is a genius destined for greatness, but subtle changes are seen: Hanamoto teaches Suzuki to play chess, and the hostility between Aoyama and Suzuki’s group seems lessened.

  • After thirty screenshots, I feel like I’ve given a modestly succinct collection of my thoughts for Penguin Highway. Overall, I enjoyed it for its portrayal of what youth feels like – the adventure that Aoyama goes on during the film’s run is a reminder of what my days in primary school were like. I used to spend a great deal of time drawing, reading and making sense of the world. While I’m nowhere as brilliant or verbose as Aoyama, I think that even now, a bit of that childish desire to know and understand everything endures in me.

  • We thus come to the end of this talk for Penguin Highway, which I think has the internet’s first proper collection of screenshots. With this one in the books, along with Avengers: Endgame, I look ahead into May. I have finished Yama no Susume‘s second season and have passed the halfway point of Valkyria Chronicles 4, which I’ve enjoyed so much that I’m considering purchasing the DLC for it. On DLC, I am also looking to buy the season pass for Ace Combat 7. In addition, Gundam Narrative will release on May 24, giving me a chance to watch the continuation for the events of Gundam Unicorn, and I will naturally be writing about this. Finally, I will need to get my Nagi no Asukara review off the ground at some point: I understand that there is interest in this series from readers.

The art and animation of Penguin Highway are a major contributor to its thematic component; while the theme initially appears to be about the limits of intellectual curiosity (seen in Aoyama’s persistence in attempting to apply logic in piecing together cause and effect), the visually stunning transitions between the real and fantastical appear to emphasise childhood wonder and excitement about the world as a whole. As a result, Penguin Highway is unique in that the deliberate choice of artwork and animation forms a part of the message the film aims to convey, and that in its absence, the theme would have found itself much more difficult to discern. This is likely why there are so few discussions on the thematic elements in the film: most existing reviews are from newspapers, which tend to focus on the enjoyment factor instead, and I’ve not seen any other reviews on the movie. The theme in Penguin Highway encompasses more than the outcome of its narrative and character growth: sight and sound come into play, as well. Penguin Highway therefore comes across as being less of a story and more of an immersive experience whose engaging presentation outweighs the story’s weaker cohesion and direction. Although I do not believe that Penguin Highway is suited for anyone looking for a good mystery or will be useful for those seeking to understand the philosophical ramifications of how children think, the film earns a recommendation for viewers who are open-minded towards a highly visceral and visual romp through the mind of a child – I hope that more people would give Penguin Highway a watch, and look forwards to seeing what others make of the film.