The Infinite Zenith

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Courting Hope: Revisiting Kyou and Tomoyo’s Arc in CLANNAD At The Ten Year Anniversary

“If the results come true, it’s as if there’s only one future. If it fails, we can think that other futures exist…I want to believe that in our future, there are many possibilities waiting.” –Kyou Fujibayashi

With the drama club acquiring the requisite number of members, Tomoya and Nagisa focus next on securing a club advisor, but when they speak with Toshio Koumura, they learn that he’s already the advisor of the choral club. Nagisa decides to stand down after she discovers a letter warning her to back off, and Tomoya decides to visit Yukine. Youhei believes that a basketball game where Tomoya is victorious could get the choral Club to reconsider, but Tomoya refuses. When Youhei’s sister, Mei visits, she worries for him and cleans up his room. As she cannot stay with him, she lodges with the Furukawas, and later, Tomoya agrees to the basketball game. Kyou decides to participate, as well, and the choral Club are brought in to watch. Tomoya’s team is off to a strong start against their rookies, but the basketball team decides to switch in their starting line, who even the scores out. Tomoya manages to score the final basket when he is spurred on by Nagisa, and the choral club consents to share their advisor with them. The Student Council intervenes and states that such an arrangement is prohibited, and later, Nagisa collapses in school, forcing her to rest at home. In this time, Kyou tries to bring Tomoya closer to Ryou and ends up trapped in the equipment storage room with him. Later, Tomoya decides that, if Tomoyo were to become president of the Student Council, the drama club’s fate could be turned around. When he speaks to her after class one day, some thugs appear with the intent of fighting her; to prevent her chances from being jeopardised, Tomoya takes the blame and is suspended. Tomoyo, Kyou, Ryou and Kotomi visit him, and when he returns, he decides that the best way to help Tomoyo is to have her help out with various sports clubs. Tomoya learns of Tomoyo’s reason to become president; she wishes to preserve the sakura trees on the walk to school as a promise to her brother. Nagisa returns to classes and watches a tennis game with Tomoya: Tomoyo is participating, and during the match, Tomoya inadvertently shows his devotion to Nagisa when a stray ball strikes her. Kyou and Ryou are heartbroken with this revelation.

Initially starting his journey out of a selfish desire to stave off boredom during his monotonous days, Tomoya’s quest to revive the drama club sees him investing a considerable amount of effort into making things work. As CLANNAD progresses through its next arc, the source of his determination and persistence begins to shift: evident in Kotomi’s arc, Tomoya is driven by intrigue and a sense of duty to do right by those around him. When he finds himself making a basket during a match after hearing Nagisa’s voice, he begins to develop a greater interest in Nagisa, whom he has regarded as a friend until now. The two seemingly complement one another, and Nagisa’s absence further accentuates this sense of mystery. Tomoya begins to wonder how he feels about her, and while she remains at home, he sets about doing what he can for her. When Tomoya seeks Tomoyo to help out with resurrecting the drama club, he puts his fullest efforts into working out ways of boosting Tomoyo’s reputation amongst the students. He learns from Tomoyo that she wanted to save the sakura trees for her family’s sake, and here, it is significant that he learns of this late in the game: this is intentionally done to show that Tomoya’s efforts are entirely driven by Nagisa, rather than purely by a desire to help and drive off monotony. The extent of his efforts remain strong even without Tomoyo’s exposition to really illustrate who his efforts are for. In this arc’s final moments, where instinct kicks in during the tennis match, what Kyou and Tomoyo have suspected is confirmed: Tomoya’s fallen in love with Nagisa.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Toshio Koumura is an older instructor at Hikarizaka Private High School. Behind his understanding demeanor lies exceptional wisdom and experience: as a teacher, he is able to motivate even the most disinterested students into turning their lives around and is credited with turning unruly students into people who care about the world around them. At Hikarizaka, he acted as the drama club’s advisor previously, and noticing that Tomoya and Youhei seemed unusual, guided the two along a better path from behind the scenes.

  • A conflict arises when Nagisa learns that Koumura is already acting as advisor to the choral club; Rie Nishina vehemently opposes the proposal to share Koumura between the two clubs. It turns out that Rie was once a talented violinist who had suffered an accident that left her unable to properly grip a violin. With her hopes of performing abroad dashed, she fell into a depression, but Koumura encouraged her to find another path in singing. Since then, she’s helmed the choral club and has rediscovered her happiness, so when Tomoya and the others ask her to consider sharing Koumura’s time, her best friend feels that Tomoya is threatening to take away the dream that Rie had worked so hard to reassemble.

  • Nagisa has a difficult time believing that Rie and her friends could be behind the note left in her desk; ever willing to see the best in everyone, Nagisa is kind to a fault, and in CLANNAD, a different side of her personality begins appearing late in the game. Although normally quiet and reserved, Nagisa can become quite animated and determined when the situation calls for it.

  • When Youhei manages to call out Sugisaka, Rie’s friend responsible for the note, Nagisa steps between the two to defuse an impending physical beating and promises to listen to whatever Sugisaka says. It is here that Rie’s story is made known: Youhei dismisses it as a call for sympathy, but Nagisa is visibly moved and agrees to stand down, leaving Youhei frustrated. Youhei’s remarks, seemingly tactless, mirror the audience’s perspectives that many of CLANNAD‘s moments come from characters with uncommonly difficult or even tragic backgrounds.

  • Tomoya explains to Nagisa that Youhei’s strong reaction to her decision in standing down is a consequence of his own past: he was formerly a soccer player who was forced to quit after fighting with a senior. Recalling Tomoya’s background, Nagisa begins crying, and Tomoya comforts her, feeling it the right thing to do. The golden light of the early evening and volumetric lighting suggests to audiences that Tomoya is touched by how selfless Nagisa is, marking the beginning of his interest in her, but before anything can happen, Kyou shows up and tears Tomoya a new one for having allowed Nagisa to stand down.

  • When Youhei suggests taking the fight to the choral club, Tomoya mentions that the act would further sadden Nagisa: it’s another subtle sign that he’s concerned for her. Youhei decides to slack off, but Tomoya takes him to the reference room, where Yukine suggests a basketball game, and later, runs into Tomoyo, who is accosted by members of the judo club. He extricates her from the situation, and earns Tomoyo’s thanks. In the process, this incident is what allows Tomoya to devise his solution later, having heard from Tomoyo her goals of running for the Student Council presidency.

  • In a bold move, Tomoya takes Nagisa by the hand and brings her outside of campus to evade Youhei, who is quite enthusiastic about the idea of a basketball game to turn the choral club around. When Youhei catches up, Nagisa lies that she’s seeing Tomoya, hence their need for space. It’s noteworthy that this is the first thing that comes to her mind; she’s willing to risk embarrassment to cover for Tomoya. Once Tomoya gets over his initial shock, written all over his face, he is happy that Nagisa is willing to go to these lengths for him. In the awkward silence following, both Tomoya and Nagisa wonder how to best react, showing that the feelings are probably mutual, even if both are too bashful to be forward at this point in time.

  • Things are interrupted when Mei, Youhei’s younger sister, shows up to visit. Mei plays a much larger role in CLANNAD ~After Story~; in CLANNAD, she visits for a few days to check up on Youhei, whom she considers as a bit of a rogue element. After gifting him something he does not need, Mei helps him clear up his room. However, because of the dormitory rules, Mei cannot lodge with Youhei, so the Furukawas agree to have her stay over.

  • Source documents indicate that Nagisa was born in 1984, and Tomoya in 1985. In 1984, the MacIntosh computer was release to the market, and the Sino-British Joint Declaration was announced to outline what would happen when Hong Kong would be handed back to China in 1997. A year later, Calvin and Hobbes began running in newspapers, and Mikhail Gorbachev replaced Konstantin Chernenko as the leader of the Soviet Union. While the Furukawas share dinner with Tomoya and Mei, a glance around the Furukawa’s home suggest that the anime is set in an older time: the dates are closer to the start of the new millenium – mobile phones have yet to be common, and televisions are still of the old CRT type.

  • In a previous comment, I remark that Valentines’ Day is something I am largely neutral about. Last year, I wrote a thought experiment wondering what a hypothetical date with someone like Nagisa would be like, and concluded that it would be possible to make things work. I had planned on doing a similar talk about Miho Nishizumi, but as her Meyer-Briggs personality type is similarly consistent with Nagisa’s, such a talk would have been exceptionally boring, differing only on what a date with Miho might entail. I would lean towards a museum, and given my choices, I suppose it speaks volumes about the sort of personality I’m drawn to. It’s a bit of a surprise as to just how quickly a year’s elapsed: during that thought experiment, I also announced that I would be revisiting CLANNAD. With this series of post very nearly in the books, I look ahead to next year and wonder about how ~After Story~ should best be handled, provided that I’ve still time to write about it.

  • Kyou and Tomoya take great fun in trolling the living daylights out of Youhei when they discuss the organisational structure of their team of three; Kyou mentions the master-slave dynamic, and I’m certain she’s not referring to the cooperation concept that I implemented for a multi-agent rescue robot simulation for my project. The scene is meant to indicate that Tomoya gets along with Kyou rather nicely: for their differences, they share a similar sense of humour, and while Kyou does her best to set Tomoya up with Ryou, she comes to see Tomoya as someone she can count on, a far cry from her initial distaste in him.

  • The confrontation between Kyou and Tomoyo is hilarious – it’s the first time the two clash, and while there’s no physical violence, it’s amusing to see Kyou outmaneuvered when Tomoyo implies that Kyou might have feelings for Tomoya. It is during this arc that Kyou begins trying to put Tomoya into more situations with Ryou, with the aim of helping Ryou bolster her confidence, and as she spends more time with the two, Kyou herself begins to realise she’s in love with Tomoya. The outcome of this is covered quite separately in an OVA, and in CLANNAD proper, is addressed at the appropriate time. Similarly, Tomoya’s efforts in helping Tomoyo secure presidency of the student council leads her to see him differently, and this is also covered in an OVA.

  • When Tomoya, Youhei and Kyou begin making the junior players look bad, the basketball team bring their top line into play. The equivalent of bringing an NHL team’s first line to bear against junior players, it’s deliberately unfair, done to preserve the basketball team’s integrity, and their skill quickly evens things out. When the score reaches a tie, Tomoya manages to make a shot despite his bad shoulder after hearing Nagisa’s voice, allowing his team to take the win. This is yet another sign that Nagisa is Tomoya’s special person; I am reminded of my MCAT and the encouraging conversations I had prior to my exam. In the years following, I’ve since counted entirely on my own skill and experience to carry the day: there’s no one in my corner offering this sort of encouragement, so I fall back on myself to get by.

  • In the aftermath of the match, the basketball team captain compliments Tomoya on his hand-eye coordination and remarks that even with his injury, he might still be valuable as an asset. It seems, however, that this particular competition was unsanctioned, and when an instructor finds them, the players and entire audience make a break for it. Later, Mei remarks that in spite of Youhei’s minimal contributions to the game, she nonetheless respects him for having put forth the effort. She departs on a high note.

  • Nagisa, ever considerate of those around her, has given Tomoya (and audiences) very little insight into her background: when she falls ill for the first time in CLANNAD, audiences do not initially make too much of a deal about it, since occasional illness is a common enough occurrence. Nagisa’s absence, while seemingly insubstantial early on, imparts a noticeable change on Tomoya and his friends. He becomes sullen, while Kyou decides to spur Ryou on in pursuing a relationship with Tomoya, all the while concealing her own accumulated feelings for him. Here, Tomoya, Kyou, Ryou and Kotomi visit the Furukawas, who update them on Nagisa’s status.

  • It pains me to say that, even though I’d bought CLANNAD a year ago during a Steam Sale, I’ve yet to actually touch it. I’ve heard that the visual novel is tougher than Halo‘s Legendary difficulty, and even puts DOOM‘s ultra-nightmare setting to shame: one mistake will send Tomoya to Davy Jones’ locker. One of my readers recommends playing through CLANNAD with a guide, and I’ll probably have to do just this, since I have no intention of dying in a game that can trade blows with Wolfire’s Receiver in difficulty. The timeline for this particular endeavour will likely be when my gaming rig can no longer keep up with contemporary titles – with Far Cry 5Metro: Exodus and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown coming out this year alongside a new Battlefield title, I think that my machine’s finally met its match.

  • I’m looking at the housing market at present, so things like a new gaming rig will have to wait until things settle down, and while my current computer might not be able to run the latest and greatest, I still have a backlog I’ll need to get through, so CLANNAD will definitely be on my list of games to get into. Back in CLANNAD The Anime™, Ryou recoils in embarrassment, complete with infrared emissions and even steam, from one of Kyou’s remarks.

  • The issue of sharing an advisor with the choral club is settled, but with the arrangements in violation of school rules, Tomoya begins putting his backing behind Tomoyo’s campaign to run for the presidency of the Student Council. In exchange, she begins visiting him and Youhei each morning to encourage their punctual arrival to school, as a part of her campaign. While Youhei is constantly trying to fight her and gets his arse handed to him each time, Tomoya treats her as he does everyone else and ends up sharing meaningful conversations with her.

  • While carrying some volleyballs, Kyou runs into Tomoya after classes. Yukine had earlier shown Tomoya a charm, feeling that his feelings for someone is bothering him. It’s surprisingly specific, and it is quite telling that the first person Tomoya thinks of Nagisa. However, in her absence, Tomoya picks Kyou, feeling that the charm’s improbability means that things are unlikely to happen. His choice mirrors prevailing thoughts on the best person for Tomoya, as some find that Kyou’s fiery personality would be a good match for Tomoya’s grounded and practical mindset.

  • The charm ends up putting Kyou and Tomoya inside the storage room. Yukine refers to her spella as a charm, and under J.K. Rowling’s definitions used in Harry Potter, a charm is a spell that alters the properties of an object without changing it fundamentally. While CLANAND largely remains the realm of realistic, there are supernatural elements present to advance the story: how much of it can be accounted for by hard science and how much of it is left to the realm of magic is not particularly relevant, since the strength of CLANNAD always lie within each arc creating a compelling story that immerses audiences into whatever Tomoya is dealing with.

  • Kyou reveals her reason for bringing Ryou and Tomoya together, although she’s also flattered by the fact that Tomoya decided to think of her for the charm. There are numerous conflicting emotions here, as Kyou begins to accept that she may have feelings for Tomoya, but before anything unsuitable for CLANNAD can occur, Tomoya recalls the countercurse that nullifies the charm. He manages to stay hidden and extricates himself from one of CLANNAD‘s most amusing situations.

  • Tomoyo is confronted with a large number of ruffians, and teachers arrive to drive them off. Tomoya subsequently shoulders the blame to ensure that Tomoyo’s record is not tarnished, taking a suspension from school in the process. Tomoyo begins to see Tomoya as someone who cares about her, and she continues visiting him every morning to ensure he awakens on time. However, in the grand scheme of things, helping Tomoyo out really was a means to an end, and Tomoya’s sights are set squarely on helping Nagisa resurrect the drama club.

  • The dramatic changes between the amusing and serious in CLANNAD were one of the reasons why I enjoyed it to the extent that I did: I find that it humanises the characters so that audiences can really empathise with them. Following Tomoya’s suspension, Kyou, Ryou, Tomoyo, Kotomi and even Fuuko visits him, bearing food. What happens next is a food challenge worthy of Adam Richman. However, outside of these moments, Nagisa’s absence is taking a toll on Tomoya, who becomes more silent and grim than before. Kyou and Ryou begin to notice this, as well, and while it cast doubts on whether or not Tomoya might return Ryou’s feelings, as well as Kyou’s unrequited love, Kyou continues holding onto hope. It’s a surprisingly painful place to be, as I can attest.

  • Tomoya’s suspension concludes before Nagisa recovers, and when he returns to school, he learns that the incident has torched off rumours that are harming her chances of becoming the president for the Student Council. In response, Tomoya devises an inspired solution: having long noticed how virtually all of the athletic clubs at Hikarizaka long to recruit her, he decides to have her perform against the athletic clubs, turning her considerable strengths and skill towards something constructive to illustrate her as being a well-adjusted individual worthy of being the Student Council president.

  • Subtle imagery in this scene remind audiences that even the aloof Tomoyo has her tender moments. Stories of this class, with their multiple female characters and lone male lead, often are frustrating to watch because the male protagonist is indecisive and lacks the sort of determined personality that would make them appealing to the female leads. In contrast, CLANNAD presents Tomoya Okazaki as a kind-hearted individual who, despite his cynical views of life, can and will put forth his genuine best when asked of him. In short, he is someone who earns the affection and interest of the female characters around him.

  • As the evening sets in, Tomoyo shares with Tomoya her story: her greatest desire is to make her younger brother happy again, after he fell into a river and nearly drowned as a consequence of trying to stave off their parents’ divorce. The incident left him injured, forced Tomoyo’s parents into re-evaluating their situation, and while things appear to have reached an equilibrium, Tomoyo’s brother had a request to see the sakura blossoms. With the plans to cut them down, Tomoyo feels that her ability to honour this promise is to reach a position where she can influence the decisions of those around her to preserve the things that remind her of what family means.

  • As the evening sets in, Tomoya and Tomoyo spend a quiet moment together on the hillside. By this point in time, it’s apparent that CLANNAD sets most of its most emotionally-charged moments during the evening, when the sun is setting. Casting the landscape in golds and reds long-wavelength light serve to suggest that that evenings, long-associated with endings and unwinding, are the time when people begin relaxing. With their normal vigilance dialed back, people begin opening up, and allow others to learn more about them. It is during the evenings that Tomoya learned of Fuuko’s condition, remembers his friendship with Kotomi, watches as Nagisa yields the drama club to the choral club and hears about Tomoyo’s family: this time of day begins to create a sense of melancholy in viewers.

  • The tennis match in CLANNAD is what I consider to be the turning point of the series: after numerous hints and subtle clues, it is here that the way in which the wind is blowing becomes apparent. Tomoyo and a male tennis player begin their match, and as it increases in intensity, a stray ball hits Nagisa in the ankle. The song “Over” can be heard playing in the background: the lyrics are upbeat and cheerful, suggesting a ceaseless sense of wonder about the surrounding world, as well as the gradual ending of things. It seems to be sung from Nagisa’s perspective.

  • Instinctively blocking the tennis player’s efforts to help, Tomoya helps Nagisa to the infirmary. In this single moment, Tomoya accomplishes a triple kill, shooting down Kyou, Ryou and Tomoyo in one action. While Ryou and Kyou’s reactions make it clear that they are hurt, Tomoyo’s also feeling it. Her reaction is a bit more subtle, and she gazes up at the sky in silence. Kotomi seems largely unaffected, and she looks more concerned for Kyou and Ryou. Having experienced this before, I’m confident in saying that time will eventually heal those wounds, and that it’s definitely okay to embrace the ensuing sadness: that one feels so strongly about the loss shows that they have experienced love.

  • This outcome is what motivates my page quote: Kyou generally is optimistic and believes that there will be another way even when things fail. The outcome of Kyou and Tomoyo’s arc is that Tomoyo succeeds in becoming the Student Council president. With her position, she’s able to accomplish what she’d set out to do and save the sakura trees on the hillside road leading up to their school. As appreciation for Tomoya’s efforts, she also allows for the unique arrangement between the choral club and drama club to exist. With the drama club’s future steady, CLANNAD enters its final act as Tomoya prepares to help Nagisa realise her dreams.

A common criticism directed at narratives featuring a prominent male lead and several female leads is that the story ends up nowhere, but CLANNAD does the opposite, providing audiences with subtle hints that foreshadow which direction Tomoya takes. The love that Tomoya develops for Nagisa is a natural progression, brought on by spending time with her. His initial goal of doing something with his time besides his usual routine transforms into intrigue, and when Nagisa falls ill, he comes to appreciate her quiet and gentle company to greater heights. Never forcibly advanced by the narrative, the development of Tomoya’s feelings proceeds at a plausible pace. Once Tomoya becomes aware of his feelings, and his friends find out, the consequences are similarly portrayed in a natural manner. Tomoyo had begun showing interest in Tomoya for his resolute determination in helping her, while Kyou had been trying to suppress her own long-standing feelings for Tomoya by hooking Ryou up with him. Both see their chances with Tomoya evaporate when Tomoya stands up to look after Nagisa; it speaks volumes to how well both Kyou and Tomoyo have come to know Tomoya, as well, when they’re able to understand who Tomoya’s feelings are directed at. From this simple gesture, CLANNAD decisively settles the heading its story is moving towards. Without lingering doubts to sow the seeds for conflict, the risk for a meandering narrative is struck down. CLANNAD is able to enter its final arc at full force, with the story’s goal clearly in mind, as Tomoya deals with the greatest challenge he’s faced since meeting Nagisa for the first time.

​Slow Start: Review and Reflections At the Halfway Point

“The reactions of the human heart are not mechanical and predictable but infinitely subtle and delicate.” –Daisaku Ikeda

After Hana is frightened by a tenant upstairs, Shion introduces her to one Hiroe Hannen, whose tendency to order everyone online hides a situation similar to that of Hana’s. After the two are properly introduced to one another, Hana learns that Hiroe missed her university entrance exams from an illness, and subsequently lost all confidence, becoming a shut-in during the process. Hiroe believes Hana to be better off than her for having continued on her journey and having made friends. Hana decides to bring her friends over to help out Hiroe: they help her pick out some proper clothing to bolster her image and self-esteem. Thanking Hana, Hiroe is grateful for having met Hana, and the two become friends. Later, while deep in thought about Eiko, Kamuri forgets to wear her skirt to school. It turns out that she ran into Eiko’s sister, Miki, and subsequently became confused. Eiko clears things up, and learns that Kamuri, having mistaken Miki for Eiko a year previously, enrolled at Hoshio Girls’ School to be with Eiko again. Later, Tamate recounts her experiences working at a speciality restaurant while walking to Hana’s apartment to study. They run into Hiroe, who decides to help them. Eiko brings up some bath salts that the girls subsequently use to enjoy a warm bath in, and inspired by the water’s consistency, Tamate cooks up chop suey for dinner. Tamate brings out an old dating simulator for Eiko to try out and when Hana has difficulty falling asleep, Tamate reassures her that things will be okay. We thus stand at the halfway point in Slow Start, and with six episodes under the belt, Slow Start has begun hitting its stride, capitalising on its languid pacing to explore the cast in greater detail.

Halfway through Slow Start, it becomes apparent that Slow Start will give Hana plenty of space in which to grow close to her friends and trust them sufficiently so that she may be truthful about her situation. In introducing Hiroe, the largest catalyst is present to drive this change; Hiroe and Hana’s situations parallel one another. Hiroe never did quite recover from her setback, being remorseful of having lied to her friends, and while she’s willing to talk to Hana and the others about her situation, her recovery is a bit of a slower one. Conversely, Hana is unable to talk about her situation because she fears losing Tamate, Eiko and Kamuri, but has begun taking those steps to catch up. The two complement one another well, and it is expected that as Slow Start continues, the two will help one another out sufficiently such that they will overcome their individual challenges. In the meantime, Hiroe looks to join the regular cast in helping them out occasionally with their studies, and in exchange, receives companionship from Hana and her friends. Their interactions are amusing to behold, but aside from putting a smile on audiences’ faces, they also serve to show that slowly and surely, changes are beginning to take place in Slow Start. Recalling that a support system is probably the most powerful tool in maintaining positive mental health, the changes that Hana and Hiroe introduce into the others’ respective lives will play a substantial role in benefitting both.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After a rough start, Shion mediates the introductions between Hiroe and Hana, inviting her to dinner in the process. Shion and Hana are having Karaage (唐揚げ) here, a fried chicken made with chicken marinated in soy sauce, sake, ginger and garlic before applying potato starch and frying it in oil. It’s lighter than Southern Fried Chicken, which is rather more common in North America, but just as flavourful. In this Slow Start post, as with its predecessors, I’ve chosen to go with twenty screenshots.

  • Hiroe slips and falls after receiving one of her latest packages from Hana. As it turns out, Hiroe has lost enough confidence so that she’s unwilling to go outside even to a convenience store, and so, orders everything online, even common everyday objects such as tape and pins and…all sorts of things like, such as that. Services like Amazon are making it increasingly easy to buy things online, although I find that there’s a charm in going to a physical store and browsing through it even if I already have a very clear idea of what I’m to buy.

  • Hana’s the first person that Hiroe’s had over in quite some time, and Hiroe panics when she discovers that she’s got nothing to serve Hana, subsequently attempting to find a service that ships tea out on very short order. When she begins wondering why Hiroe orders everything online and learns of Hiroe’s story, she breaks out into tears. Hana does resemble CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa in this regard – with a kind and gentle personality, Hana is caring of those around her, and grows concerned for them when things seem amiss.

  • Hiroe grows depressed when she learns that Hana’s got friends and proceeds to sulk in the corner; here, Hana is contacting her friends to come over and meet someone. Of everyone, Eiko and Tamate become the most involved: with Eiko’s sense in fashion, she brings over some of her clothing and goes about figuring out what works best for Hiroe, who had, up until now, been clad in sweats. The grey colours reflect on her present state of monotony and isolation.

  • When Eiko is finished with one iteration, the differences are so dramatic that Tamate and Hana don’t initially recognise her. Hiroe wears Eiko’s dresses nicely, and her present choice of clothing hides a surprisingly aesthetically-pleasing figure: of everyone, she’s second to Shion in terms of asset size.

  • Clothes can make a considerable difference in one’s appearance, and Sam Hui understood this: in his 1980 song, “先敬羅衣後敬人” (jyutping “sin1 ging3 lo4 ji1 hau6 ging3 jan4”), his upbeat lyrics emphasise the importance of being well-dressed: folks who dressed poorly could be mistaken as vagrants or criminals, while smart attire would garner the respect of those around them. Consequently, one should not neglect their choice of clothing. It’s a remarkably fun song, and the closest English translation of the phrase “先敬羅衣後敬人” is “you are what to wear” (a literal translation is “people will judge you for your appearances before they judge your character”).

  • Of course, Eiko is not about to let Hiroe make off with her clothes, and after confirming the styles that work best for her, take Hiroe on a massive shopping spree to bring her wardrobe up to code. Clothes are not inexpensive by any stretch, but as noted in Sam Hui’s “先敬羅衣後敬人”, the value of having good clothing can be counted as such that it is worth skipping a meal to buy said clothing (in a metaphoric sense). I generally buy my clothes during sales, when prices can see reductions as much as eighty percent: being able to buy a 120 dollar button-up shirt for 30 dollars, or a 200 dollar pair of smart casual pants for a quarter of the price is immensely satisfying. With this, I also reveal my preferred dress style now.

  • It was superbly welcoming to see Hana and Hiroe connect with one another over their shared backgrounds, and seeing Hiroe in her situation allows Hana to open up with Hiroe much more quickly than any of the other characters. Similarly, despite their age differences, Hiroe gets along with Hana’s friends like peas in a pod, so I would hazard a guess that spending more time with Hiroe will have a non-trivial impact on Hana.

  • When Karumi becomes consumed in thought, she forgets to put her skirt on, leading Hana to worry that Karumi’s pantsu are exposed. Fortunately, Eiko is on station to lend Karumi her shorts. I’ve decided against including that screenshot: Karumi reminds me a bit of GochiUsa‘s Chino and there are lines that I won’t cross. This sort of occurrence is very unlikely to happen in reality and usually is limited to dreams: if one is dreaming about being out and about in their underclothes, it could indicate vulnerability, fear of exposure or anxiety.

  • Tamate breaks out some photographs of Eiko, and Karumi remarks that the individual seems quite different than the Eiko of the present. Given Slow Start‘s presentation of Eiko, she seems to be a minor celebrity of sorts who all shall love and despair. The limitations of anime and manga mean that particularly beautiful characters are often difficult to differentiate from ordinary-looking characters: the highly-stylised characters do not have facial characteristics of real people, and as such, writers rely on exaggerated personalities or reactions to convey this to viewers.

  • Usually confident and able to charm those around her, Eiko is reduced to trembling on her knees after instructor Enami flips her skirt to “verify that Eiko’s pantsu are not too risqué”. Done purely for comedy, this action in reality would certainly qualify as sexual harassment and result in much trouble for Enami. It speaks to the disconnect between anime and reality that this sort of thing could happen, and the way to recover from this shock is for a friend to pet the affected individual.

  • After a spirited discussion about body doubles, doppelgängers and the like, where Hana admits to running into someone who looked a great deal like Eiko, Karumi runs into the person who looks similar to Eiko. As it turns out, it’s her younger sister, Miki, who was responsible for creating the special soup for Eiko earlier in Slow Start. Some siblings look a great deal alike – I know what this feels like, as people have asked me whether or not I’ve mastered the art of cloning and the like previously.

  • Still a middle school student, Miki looks up to Eiko and her friends on account of their experiences. As the sun sets, the girls share a conversation and clear up the misunderstandings that accumulated from earlier – it is here that Kamuri learns of the happy mistake that allowed her to enroll in the same school that Eiko was attending.

  • It is at the halfway point that Tamate and Shion finally meet for the first time: the two immediately hit it off with their shared love for cooking, and Shion is impressed with Tamate’s skills with cooking. Hana later expresses admiration for how Tamate is able to get along with everyone, to which Tamate responds that it’s really more about her being excited about being able to talk to interesting people. An extrovert, Tamate is very much at home amongst a wide range of people, and amongst the friends, she’s got the strongest presence.

  • Tamate responds that Hana’s got strengths of her own, and when she becomes embarrassed with the praise she receives, Eiko pets her. I’ve heard unverified rumours that Slow Start will become less about Hana’s path to revealing her status and more about the other characters: the anime has not given any indicator of this happening as of yet, and I would further counterargue that doing this would detract from the message that Slow Start is aiming to present in its narrative.

  • After running into Hiroe outside of Hana’s apartment, Hana and the others invite her over, where she offers to help them study. Having finished high school, Hiroe is quite familiar with the material and explains that long ago, she was the student council president and well-respected by her classmates. While her confidence may have taken a dip, her mind has lost none of its potency, allowing her to help the others in her studies. With over a decade separating me from high school, most of my knowledge from high school remains intact, but I’m unlikely to be able to do mathematics with the same efficiency as I once did: math has long been my weakest subject.

  • After an immensely relaxing bath, the girls sit down to chop suey. Food in Slow Start is rendered with a reasonable degree of care so the details are visible, and large prawns are seen in the dinner that Tamate has cooked. Strictly speaking, chop suey is not a true Cantonese dish: while its origins are from Taishan county in Guangzhou province, the iteration as we know it (meat, eggs and vegetables fried and then laid on a bed of rice) is a North American creation. Following dinner, Tamate breaks out the games, and I suppose that I should not be too disappointed that Tamate did not bring the likes of Halo 2, the best sort of thing for a get-together.

  • Eiko’s uncommon talent for flustering other females extends even into virtual space, where she manages to beat a dating sim and win all the routes simultaneously. Her propensities bring to mind Ren of Anne Happy, who likewise used her misfortune of attracting all females of any species to her to her and her friends advantage. Tamate shows a surprising side to her character here, and frightens Hana.

  • Hana is not keen on ghost stories; even though the others tell weak stories that amuse rather than frighten, Hana is visibly frightened. She recalls a screw that fell out of seemingly nowhere and becomes unable to sleep for the remainder of the evening. I found this moment an interesting take on ghost stories of the present day: Eiko and the others use their smartphones to light their faces, whereas traditionally, I’ve seen people use flashlights to achieve the same effect. It’s a subtle but impressive touch that indicates Slow Start is with the times.

  • Noticing that Hana is awake, Tamate joins her and shares a conversation with her. It seems that of everyone, Tamate has grown the closest to Hana. After assuaging Hana’s fears, Hana is able to sleep and wakes up the next morning to find Tamate sleeping like a pharaoh. This brings the sixth episode to an end, and with it, this review also draws to a close. I will be returning very soon to write about CLANNAD, but until next time, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article.

Because Hana’s development is central to Slow Start, I anticipate that the slow, incremental changes over the season is what will lead to Hana eventually coming forward to Tamate, Eiko and Karumi about her situation, and that by this point in time, her friends will have already accepted her and thus, will not be too concerned with her being a year older than they are. As a result, in the upcoming episodes, Slow Start will be likely to explore directions more typical of an anime adapted from a Manga Time Kirara publication – from everyday life at school to time off and what the girls make of their breaks, from memorable events to daily, mundane conversations, audiences are likely to gain more insight into each of the characters and how they uniquely contribute to Hana’s first year back in high school as Slow Start settles into a routine, allowing Hana to ease into things and become increasingly familiar with her friends’ eccentricities, as well as her own place in the group. Manga Time Kirara publications and their adaptations have long excelled at presenting the subtle changes in characters over time, and given what has been shown thus far in Slow Start, it is a reasonable supposition that Slow Start will carry on in the same vein as its predecessors have.

A Place Further Than The Universe: Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” –Drake

Mari Tamaki is an ordinary high school student in her second year. She constantly longs to do something exciting during her youth but has the propensity of backing down before embarking on any adventures. When she finds an envelope containing a million yen, she learns that it belongs to one Shirase Kobuchizawa, who intends to travel to Antarctica in search of her missing mother. Inspired by Shirase’s resolve, Mari resolves to support Shirase, and she takes up a part-time position at a convenience store to raise the funds required to travel. She befriends Hinata Miyake, who had overheard Shirase and Mari’s plans and yearns to accompany them. When they attempt to participate in a meeting for expedition members, Kanae Maekawa and Yumiko Samejima catch on. They learn of Shirase’s aspirations and decline her requests to join. Later, Shirase, Mari and Hinata encounter Yuzuki Shiraishi, a young actress who is trying to worm her way out of going to Antarctica. Yuzuki, having spent her life acting, never made any friends and so, longs for a normal life, but when Mari invites her to hang out, she realises that she’s found friends among Mari and the others. She decides to accept the Antarctica assignment on the condition that Mari, Shirase and Hinata accompany her. The girls attend a training camp, where they meet captain Gin Todo, who knew Shirase’s mother, and later, Mari and Shirase receive a proper send-off from their school. Megumi reveals that she’d grown jealous of Mari, who’d become more independent since the Anarctica trip materialised, and Mari promises that she’ll return. Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki travel to Singapore for the first leg of their journey, where Hinata seemingly loses her passport. When it turns out that Shirase had taken it for safe keeping, an irate Mari and Yuzuki force Shirase and Hinata to eat a whole durian as recompense.

A Place Further Than The Universe, or Sora Yorimo Tōi Basho, is perhaps this season’s most unexpected anime: earnest and forward in its portrayal of a journey motivated by multiple factors, precise in its presentation of detail and striking a balance between the comedic and dramatic, there’s been no shortage of discussion on A Place Further Than The Universe out there. From the minute details in geolocation using waypoints and flags, to the portrayal of Singapore, A Place Further Than The Universe is an anime that invites praise discussion and scrutinisation. However, par the course for anime discussions wherever real-world details and drama are involved, folks often forget about the overarching themes within the narrative, which is akin to understanding how an engine works but not know what an engine is used for. There is a much bigger picture in A Place Further Than The Universe than what is presented at the halfway point, but for the present, the simpler and more immediate theme A Place Further Than The Universe aims to present is that the journey matters as much as the destination. This accounts for why, despite being presented as an anime about high school girls visiting Antarctica, the entirety of the first half deals with the preparations Mari and the others undertake before this dream can become a reality. From Mari summoning the courage to carry out one of her long-standing wishes of doing something worthy of remembrance and Shirase’s determination pushing her to continue her initially-futile goal of visiting Antarctica, to the fateful turn of events that bring Yuzuki into their group, A Place Further Than The Universe makes every effort to show the human aspects that transpire to turn Shirase’s pipe dream into reality. How the girls’ dreams begin, and their efforts to realise this dream, matter more than the end goal: Shirase’s seemingly-unattainable and foolish dream has the effect of bringing people together, and unified, the girls set out to Antarctica, each with their own reasons for undertaking this journey.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Featuring a bawling Mari is probably a strange way to open up a post, but I think I understand how Mari feels about having not done anything in her youth. Now that I’m no longer a carefree youth, the opportunity to go out and do something is rarer, and in Mari’s case, the cure to what she feels is to summon the courage and resolve to do something, picking something that balances what is feasible with what is memorable, and then executing. This forms the basis for the whole of A Place Further Than The Universe, which sees Mari’s world turned upside down once she encounter Shirase.

  • Mari is voiced by Inori Minase, who by now, is a well-known voice actress with numerous leading roles. In A Place Further Than The Universe, her delivery of Mari’s lines is such that Mari bears very little resemblance to GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu or Girls’ Last Tour‘s Chito. She’s speaking animatedly to Megumi Takahashi, a friend she’s known for a considerable period. Of the two, Megumi is the more level-headed and usually offers Mari advice.

  • After stumbling across an envelope containing one million yen (about 11550 CAD), Mari manages to find the owner; she encounters her crying about it in the bathroom, and after returning the money, learns that the money belongs to Shirase, who is somewhat infamous for her persistent attempts to go to Antarctica. Long ridiculed by her classmates, Shirase longs to fulfil her dream in order to find her missing mother, as well as to stick it to all of the naysayers who dismissed her dreams as impossible. Shirase mentions to Mari that everyone who initially displayed interest in her endeavours eventually backed down, but Mari, having long wanted to break out of her perpetual habit of backing away, decides to commit to and support Shirase’s goal of reaching Antarctica.

  • A stern-looking girl, Shirase begins smiling more once she encounters Mari and finds that Mari is serious about helping her. One of Shirase’s strong and weak points is her single-mindedness; once her sights are set on a target, there’s no shaking her from seeing things through to the end, and she’ll endure ridicule because she understands that it’s what she believes, rather than those against her, that matters the most. However, it also alienates her from those around her – Shirase is quite unwilling to deviate from a plan or find alternative solutions when things don’t work out, leading to conflict.

  • Without any clear plan of how to join the civilian-crewed expedition, Mari initially decides to start small, and takes on a part time job at a convenience store to earn some money to fund her travels. She is employed at the same store as one Hinata, who has been listening to Mari and Shirase’s conversations with great interest. The two strike off a friendship while working together, and two become three. Hinata spends most of her time working and studying independently, having long felt herself to be uncomfortable in the high school environment.

  • While in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, trying to sneak into a meeting with the expedition members, Hinata suggests using their powers to “convince” male members of the team to allow them in. Hilarity and chaos results – it turns out that Shirase is the equivalent of K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama. Aloof, stoic and serious, she’s also the most stacked of everyone and is prone to fits of immaturity. Hinata, with her energy and spirits, resembles Ritsu Tainaka, while Mari is similar to Yui Hirasawa, being quite lacking in direction but is surprisingly reliable when the situation calls for it. Like Mio, Shirase seems to be humiliated quite a bit, and here, Hinata and Mari attempt to haul her into meeting up with the expedition members. Their endeavours backfire, but Shirase is afforded an audience with expedition members. Yumiko and Kanae, who decline Shirase’s assistance.

  • On a hot summer’s day, Yuzuki encounters Hinata kicking Shirase’s ass while Mari looks on. A child actress, Yuzuki was originally assigned as the high school student who would accompany the civilian expedition team to Antarctica as a part of her duties, but longing for nothing more than friendship and an ordinary high school experience, Yuzuki has no interest in going. Tamiko, her mother and manager, overrule this, but seeing Yuzuki’s resistance and the spirit amongst Shirase, Mari, and Hinata, she decides that if they can manage to convince Yuzuki to go, then they may accompany her.

  • Up until this point, I’ve been reasonably disciplined with “funny faces”, but the time has come to throw caution into the wind. Here, Hinata and Mari attempt to convince Tamiko that Shirase is a suitable replacement for Yuzuki. While Shirase may be styled after the Japanese hime, Tamiko asks if Shirase can sing, dance and act, essential skills in Yuzuki’s line of work, but Shirase evidently lacks experience here, hence her embarrassment.

  • Despite her strict mannerisms, Shirase will cave like a stack of dominos when pressured sufficiently. After finding Yuzuki, Mari and the others settle themselves down with her and begin speaking with her about Antarctica – Yuzuki deduces that they’re here because of her mother, and while Mari manages to betray little of the truth, Yuzuki manages to learn the truth from Shirase’s reaction. It is here that Yuzuki’s story is presented, and later, after a dream where she accepts Mari’s friendship, Yuzuki decides to hang out with Mari and her friends: their first time spending a day together sees the girls visit a museum with an Antarctica exhibit.

  • Seeing Mari, Shirase and Hinata’s warmth and companionship lead Yuzuki to reach a decision: she will accept her assignment provided that Shirase, Mari and Hinata can accompany her. Logically equivalent to her mother’s requirements, it’s a win-win for everyone. Accustomed to acting and performing, Yuzuki resembles Wake Up, Girls! Mayu Shimada in terms of background and appearance. She prefers practical, comfortable clothing over excessively ornate designs, and I cannot help but wonder if Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! would have benefitted from having a well-known studio work on its animation: Madhouse has legends such as Chobits, The Princess and The Pilot and Rideback in its repertoire.

  • After Mari forges her mother’s signature on a form, her parents somehow find out, and Mari gets her face kicked in. She notices something is off when her mother presents a variety of Antarctica-related items, and in the prelude for what awaits Mari is one of history’s most amusing funny faces. A large amount of the comedy in A Place Further Than The Universe are the exaggerated facial expressions, which give Shirobako a run for its money. As punishment for having forged a signature, Mari must pass all of her exams in order to be granted permission to ship out to Antarctica, and on top of this, she’s got a summer training camp to prepare her for her journey.

  • I’m concurrently watching and writing about Yuru Camp△, and while the latter has more emphasis on easy-going camping, A Place Further Than The Universe deals with a journey that might involve an actual survival situation. As a result, Mari and the others attend a training camp to familiarise themselves with the rules and regulations required for safety. Les Stroud has never done any Survivorman episodes in Antarctica because of the extreme dangers and remoteness of the southernmost continent: it’s the last continent that humanity has explored, and its population extends only to researchers studying the continuent’s biota.

  • The closest approximation of Antarctica in a Survivorman episode would be when Les Stroud visits the Arctic Tundra near Pond Inet. Back in A Place Further Than The Universe, the girls begin with a geolocation and waypoint setting exercise. In the absence of familiar terrestrial landmarks, researchers make use of flags and GPS to ensure they don’t get lost amongst the vast ice sheet covering the southernmost continent. The girls are subsequently tasked with camping out, and unlike the gourmet cooking of Yuru Camp△A Place Further Than The Universe is rather more focused – when Mari tries to get some conversation going, the others remind her to stay on-mission.

  • Gin later is seen speaking with Yumiko about Shirase, remarking that Shirase is strikingly similar to her mother in terms of personality. After Shirase makes her story known, the others give her some space and step out into the chilly night, seeing the Milky Way and what a true night sky might look like. Staff at headquarters radio in to check up on Mari and the others; Hinata reports that the situation is normal, and the girls turn in for the night.

  • The next morning, Mari awakens to find Gin nearby and asks her about Shirase’s mother, before gazing at a majestic sunrise. Animation in A Place Further Than The Universe is of a very high standard: the characters may look a little unusual, but their design is by choice, made to accommodate a unique brand of expressiveness that very few series can convey with just facial characteristics. The end result is that characters stand out amongst the exceptionally detailed landscapes and interiors.

  • During a publicity event for the Antarctica expedition, Shiease has trouble presenting her goals in front of an audience, and Mari inadvertently evokes Yuzuki’s displeasure by implying that Yuzuki is familiar with public speaking. As it turns out, Shirase might be able to speak with absolute resolve and clarity when it’s to disprove others who doubt her, but when this opposition is not present to motivate her, she falters and reverts to a shy, easily flustered manner. This is probably Shirase’s true self, with the tough, strict persona being more of a façade.

  • It stands to reason that Mari ended up passing all of her exams, since she’s preparing for her trip here. While a bit weak-resolved, Mari’s undergone a considerable change in the space of six episodes, and here, she wonders what she’s allowed to bring with her. Equipment from Les Stoud’s usual survival loadout, which include a multi-tool, hatchet or knife, and a harmonica, are noticeably absent from the girls’ inventories: his gear is designed to help him survive in most areas except for the Arctic and Antarctica.

  • After the school sees them off, Mari receives a bouquet from her classmates. Later, Megumi warns Mari that resentment is growing amongst the student population, leading Shirase to vehemently declare a desire to root them out. Hinata suggests that they visit a karaoke bar to decompress. Shirase ends up screaming into the mic; this brings to mind Reina’s actions back in Hibike! Euphonium, and it’s supposed to be a release for stress. Known formally as primal scream therapy, I find that kiai in karate is similar in function, so rather than acting like Reina, I destress while doing kata and other exercises.

  • On the eve of the expedition, Mari’s parents and sister make her favourite meal: omelette rice with an egg tart pudding. I suppose now is a good time as any to note that Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki are all voiced by voice actresses that I’m familiar with. Shirase is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino and Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Sonoko Nogi), Hinata is voiced by Yuka Iguchi (Mako Reizei of Girls und Panzer and Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki), and Yuzuki is voiced by Saori Hayami (Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa and Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita).

  • It turns out that all of the ills affecting Mari, from some students finding out about Shirase’s million Yen and her parents discovering the truth about her forged signature, to the alleged rumours, were a part of Megumi’s desperate bid to keep Mari at home. She reveals that in Mari’s absence, she will become lonely and has long depended on Mari being around so she could help her. Wanting to end their friendship here, Megumi is ultimately consoled by Mari, who declines Megumi’s request.

  • While I don’t hate flying per se, the pressure differentials does make me a bit uncomfortable on long-haul flights. On average, a flight from Tokyo to Singapore, the layover on the girl’s trip to Fremantle in Australia, lasts around seven hours and forty minutes. Mari’s excitement at being at the airport evokes memories of the K-On! Movie, and while A Place Further Than The Universe initially feels far removed from the easygoing adventure that Yui and the others take while trying to find a suitable graduation gift for Azusa, the travels that both groups experience end up sharing the commonality of enriching the girls’ world views and create unique memories that they will treasure long after they return home.

  • The reason why airline food is the subject of so many comedic jokes has its roots in science: the lower pressure and cool, dry environment inside the airplane cabin dries out our olfactory systems and also lessens the sensitivity of our taste buds. In conjunction with the food preparation methods, which reduces the freshness of the ingredients and dries them out, folks have long found airline food to be a cut below conventional food. With this being said, advances in food preparation and our understanding of what’s going on mean that airlines have begun experimenting with modifying the flavour profile of foods. By using savoury ingredients and creative preparation, more enjoyable airline meals can be made. Of course, on long flights, I’m too exhausted to give a crap, and I’ll eat to replenish my energy.

  • Paralleling Yui and Ritsu’s antics whenever they travel, Mari and Hinata immediately hit up an ice cream stand in Singapore and attempts to haggle with the operator. It strikes me as strange that Mari did not bother exchanging her Yen for local currency, reinforcing the idea that she’s green to travel. This had me a bit worried, since inexperience could get her into trouble. While I don’t travel with a high frequency, I count myself as being quite lucky in having travelled before. Besides ensuring my passport is in good shape, one of the first things I do when travelling is visit the currency exchange to have the proper money: as much as I love the Canadian money, it’s bloody useless outside of Canada.

  • One’s passport is the single most important document they have while travelling: it allows one to enter and exit a foreign nation, and return home to their own nation. As such, every traveller’s worst fear is losing their passport: Hinata finds herself in a bit of a bind when her passport goes missing. It’s a lingering question even as the episode progresses, and the girls correctly identify the solution as visiting the local embassy to get a new passport. To help with procedure in the event that such an incident occurs, it’s also recommended that one keep a backup image of their passport with them: as phones are now widespread, and good PDF (or photo) apps are commonplace, there’s really no excuse not to scan one’s passport ahead of one’s travels and load it onto the phone’s local storage (I say this because WiFi is not a sure thing).

  • The anime community in Singapore is large, and when viewers from Singapore saw their hometown being depicted, they immediately set about matching all of the locations seen in A Place Further Than The Universe to their real-world equivalents. What they found was an impressive degree of realism, and this sets the precedence for what is to come. If A Place Further Than The Universe is anything like Yuru Camp△, then the Antarctica sections will similarly be faithful to how things work out in the real world.

  • Ordering dinner at hotel restaurants is always a bit more pricey than eating out, primarily because of the fact that hotels have stricter regulations on the quality of their ingredients, and also as a consequence of service costs. As well, there’s also factors related to the table turnover in hotels, which are lower than that of other restaurants. While Yuzuki and Hinata look through the menu, Mari laments the lack of Japanese options at the restaurant; they end up ordering gargantuan fried rice dishes from misunderstanding how Chinese restaurants serve food, thinking it’s individual portions.

  • By nightfall, the girls visit the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck, and Mari wonders if they can access the pool. Admissions are around 19 CAD for adults, and the pool is open between 0930 and 2200 (2300 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday). As it’s a Saturday, they could have visited had they chosen, although they likely would not have swimwear, and so, they spend the evening looking over the Singapore skyline, with Mari commenting on how it’s amazing that there are so many people out there living their lives. It’s a thought that flits across my mind when I travel, and I’m certain that other folks travelling likely entertain similar thoughts, as well.

  • After Hinata’s missing passport comes out into the open, the girls struggle to decide on what the best course of action is. In a time of crisis, the characters’ attitudes are presented to the audience and also to one another. Hinata reveals that she hates folks who put others ahead of themselves, while Shirase refuses to leave anyone behind. She eventually uses her million yen to purchase the next set of tickets to Fremantle, so as to allow Hinata enough time to get a new passport from the embassy.

  • For better or for worse, the girls resolve to stick together, and Hinata is moved by her friends’ companionship. It’s a bit of a turning point for her, having been on her own previously, seeing what real friendship is like here moves her to tears. We’re nearly done with this post, and with this, I’m now completely caught up on A Place Further Than The Universe. It seems I’ve picked a good spot to do the half-way point impressions: the girls will continue their journey to Antarctica in upcoming episodes, and it’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen from here on out.

  • However, as it turns out, Hinata’s passport was with Shirase the entire time, having handed it to her for safekeeping after exiting customs. Yuzuki is able to get a refund for the tickets, and as a result for having caused this bit of skulduggery, Shirase and Hinata are made to eat durian. I’ll say this openly: forget XKCD‘s grapefruit,  fuck durians. I might be okay with eating blood tofu and chicken feet, but the overwhelming taste of durians means that this is one food I’m not ever trying. With my complaints about durians out of the way, posts after this one will include the halfway point talk for Slow Start and a post for CLANNAD, where Tomoyo and Kyou’s arc will draw to a close ten years ago as of Wednesday.

While I was late to the party in both starting and writing about A Place Further Than The Universe, I’ve caught up with the show, and I note that I’ll do two reviews on this anime in total. From a technical perspective, A Place Further Than The Universe is impressive: the artwork and animation are of a solid quality, as is the voice acting and aural components. Of note in A Place Further Than The Universe are the distinct character designs: each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki have facial expressions that definitely contributed to my enjoyment of A Place Further Than The Universe. I refer to these as “funny faces”, and in A Place Further Than The Universe, these are plentiful, conveying precisely to audiences what the characters are feeling. In conjunction with voice talents from some of the industry’s best, emotions in A Place Further Than The Universe are vividly conveyed to viewers, from the most hilarious of moments to those where things become more subdued and serious. As the anime pushes forward, it’s evident that reaching Antarctica will be A Place Further Than The Universe‘s end goal. At this point, it’s still early to be speculating as to whether or not Shirase will reunite with her mother or not (from what I gathered about the main theme in A Place Further Than The Universe, I’ve not been able to make a well-reasoned prediction yet), but what is clear is that the journey ahead of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki will put strain on their friendship and leave them with stronger bonds with one another than before. This journey will undoubtedly have a profound effect on each individual, and it will be interesting to see how the Antarctica expedition will help each of the girls mature through their mutual experiences.

Yuru Camp△: Review and Reflections At the Halfway Point

“When you’re this hungry, anything tastes good.” —Les Stroud, Survivorman

The Outdoors Activity Club begin preparing for their first-ever camping trip together. After attempting to create their own solution for keeping warm in the brisk autumn air using a variety of insulators, the girls end up purchasing the appropriate gear online. They decide to camp at Pine Wood in Fuefuki and after hiking uphill, stop at an onsen to relax. Quite separately, Rin passes her operator’s license exam, and sets off for a trip to Nagano, where she relaxes at a rustic restaurant and waves to the others on a real-time webcam before continuing on to her destination. While the onsen is closed, Rin nonetheless continues exploring the area, finding a spectacular view awaiting her at the top of a peak. As the evening sets in, Rin enjoys a pasta, while Nadeshiko, Chiaki and Aoi cook curry rice at their campground. Rin and Nadeshiko share photos of the scenery that they gaze upon later in the evening. When the weekend concludes, Rin returns to her duties in the school library and wonders how to go about giving Nadeshiko a gift that she’d bought for her. She also finds a book-sized package in her bag that her mother had picked up – upon opening it, she finds a compact grill that she’d ordered prior to setting out for Nagano. Ena arrives and wonders if it’s an offering box, then suggests to Rin that she find Nadeshiko before her gift expires. However, Rin immediately finds Nadeshiko, who’d fallen asleep in the library while waiting for Rin and Ena to finish their conversation. Seeing the joy in Nadeshiko prompts Rin to invite her to give the new grill a whirl, and Nadeshiko decides to go camping at a site that Chiaki had found intriguing. They pick up the ingredients at the same store that Aoi works at, and while the precise ingredients Rin was seeking are unavailable, Nadeshiko is not particularly concerned. Meanwhile, Chiaki spends her weekend scouting out some prospective campsites and encounters an elderly gentleman who is camping. He shares some grilled meat with Chiaki, who becomes excited about the prospect of buying a cast-iron skillet. Later, Sakura drives the two to Lake Shibire: Rin and Nadeshiko go around the lake, and Rin shares with Nadeshiko some supernatural folklore surrounding the lake.

At the halfway point, Yuru Camp△ has focused on the dichotomy between Rin and Nadeshiko’s approaches towards camping. Rin’s preference for camping solo affords her with unparalleled solitude and the ability to freely control her itinerary, allowing for her to actively choose how to make the most of her adventures. By comparison, Nadeshiko, Chiaki and Aoi, despite their relative inexperience in camping, have a fantastic time on their first run because they’re able to consult in one another and share their experiences together. These two different camps both have their unique advantages and drawbacks: Rin faces dejection and frustration when things do not go as planned, especially amidst the frigid air, while Nadeshiko and the others must ensure that they stick with one another and make decisions as a group. However, in spite of these differences, both camps see their participants making the most of things to create a wonderful memory – Rin adds her first-ever long-range trip to her list of camp sites visited, while Nadeshiko, Chiaki and Aoi gain their first-ever camping experience under the stars. The deliberate choice to show Rin and Nadeshiko’s camps together in parallel suggest that, for all of Rin’s enjoyment of camping alone, there’s more similarities in their adventures than Rin is presently aware of. Thus, when Rin openly agrees to camp with Nadeshiko, she might initially be viewing it as a courtesy – she’s still a bit hesitant about meeting up and hanging with the Outdoor Activities Club for the present. However, seeing Nadeshiko’s boundless happiness seems to be having an impact on Rin, drawing her intrigue and leading her to slowly consider the positives about spending time with others.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Beyond the more general summer and winter classifications, sleeping bags can be broken up into four classes: Class I bags are suitable for use in the summer or in an indoors environment, while Class II sleeping bags are intended for use in late spring or early autumn. Class III sleeping bags are rated to keep users comfortable in milder conditions, and Class IV sleeping bags are necessary for cold conditions. Sleeping bags of each class further have comfort ratings (the temperature ranges that the user can reasonably expect to be comfortable) and an extreme rating denotes the temperature that the sleeping bag can prevent frostbite or hypothermia. Class IV bags can be quite pricey and overkill for what Chiaki and the others are looking to do, but upon seeing the price of a winter sleeping bag, they attempt to create their own solution, using Chiaki as a test subject.

  • While they find that their homemade solution of bubble-wrap, tin-foil and cardboard is effective, it is not functional, and so, the girls relent, purchasing their sleeping bags online. With their camping trip to Fuefuki Park now a reality, Chiaki, Aoi and Nadeshiko begin preparing, purchasing supplies and provisions at a local store. Having taken a look around at other discussions on Yuru Camp△, I think it’s safe to say that this anime is universally enjoyable and agreeable: from Random Curiosity to AnimeSuki and even Tango-Victor-Tango, viewers have nothing but good things to say about this anime. There is one notable exception where one individual attempted to apply Jungian psychology to explain why Rin’s not keen on camping with others, but the reality is that the individual in question seems to have missed the bigger picture in Yuru Camp△ – the series is meant to show how people can change given the right influences.

  • Having acquired her operator’s license for a moped recently, Rin prepares to set off for Nagano. It’s the longest distance she’ll have traveled for camping, and her mother reminds her to be careful on the journey, as all parents are wont to when their children set off for great distances. In Alberta, the requirement for operating a moped is a Class VII license, and these licenses only require that one be older than 14. While attractive for their size, mopeds in Alberta are generally not the most comfortable considering the distance between things, and the fact that it’s winter here for eight months of the year.

  • As Rin discovers, driving about on a moped is remarkably chilly; I frequently joke that anyone who finds anything above -10°C “cold” to be lightweights, the truth is that continued exposure to even a mildly brisk day of around 2°C can be quite cold. The temperature is not apparent in the scenery: as Rin makes her way to Nagano, the cold that she faces is not conveyed in the environment, and the anime instead chooses to have Rin mentioning the cold often to reinforce that it is indeed thus. On my end, the cold of Yuru Camp△ requires no stretch of the imagination: during the past week, the daily temperature has not risen above -10°C, and at least 35 centimetres of snow had accumulated as a result of recent snowstorms that brought the city to its knees.

  • Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chiaki set off for Fuefuki park by train. After a grueling hike up the mountainside, Chiaki and Aoi are exhausted, but Nadeshiko remains ready to roll, running around the area in excitement in spite of having carried the most gear of anyone. While fine for an anime such as Yuru Camp△, in a survival situation, Les Stroud recommends taking it slowly and methodically for several reasons. Doing things at a measured pace prevents injury, especially when the mind is racing and therefore, not as attentive, and moving quickly increases sweat, which invites hypothermia in cold conditions.

  • After Chiaki and Aoi regain their energy, they stop at Fuefukigawa Fruit Park. This attraction was built to emphasise Yamanashi’s role in fruit production and features a large greenhouse that holds tropical fruits, as well as a fruit museum and hotel. Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chikaki enjoy ice cream at the Orchid Café, whose menu items are made with local fruits, and here, I note that the Outdoors Activity Club’s first camping trip bring to mind the sort of outdoors activities my parents are fond of: they much prefer shopping around the various shops and doing short hikes to attractions in the mountains.

  • Rin arrives at the Korobokkuru Hutte in Suwa. Located along the Venus Line road en route to Shirakaba Lake, this cottage is a cozy location that opened in 1956, and since then, has become best-known for its coffee and cheesecake, which they serve to hikers in the area. As Rin finds out, their Borsch is also excellent, if somewhat pricey. The prices of menu items at Korobokkuru Hutte are comparable to food prices at Columbia Icefields owing to the costs associated with transporting ingredients out there. Yuru Camp△ captures the rustic feel of the cottage remarkably well, and the Korobokkuru Hutte brings to mind the Lake Agnes Teahouse, located 3.5 kilometres from Lake Louise.

  • Their break over, Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko continue to their campground. Along the way, Rin sends Nadeshiko a link of her waving in front of a webcam in front of a gas station at Kirigamine, which is used to help motorists gauge road conditions before setting off for the Lake Suwa region. There are similar webcams located around Banff, and I used them to great effect when I visited the mountains a few days before the year ended. I note that the web page hosting the live footage uses Adobe Flash, and on mobile devices running stock browsers, the video stream is not visible (having tried with my iPhone 6). The installation of Flash-capable browsers onto one’s device would overcome this particular barrier, although given the nature of Yuru Camp△, it is unlikely that Nadeshiko would be using a mobile browser beyond the default one. We can therefore suppose that their website in-universe is using an HTML5 video player.

  • The girls visit Hottarakashi onsen, whose name approximates to “left alone hot springs” for the fact that beyond the basic facilities, there are minimal staff and amenities at the site. There are two major hot springs here: Aocchi and Kocchi – the girls bathe in Kocchi, which have a head-on view of Mount Fuji. Before we get to the scenery that Yuru Camp△ is famous for, I’ll leave readers with a view of another sort that some will find entertaining.

  • The view from Hottarakashi onsen is nothing short of spectacular; overlooking the countryside northeast of Kofu, the geothermal waters form what comes close to being an infinity pool. Late in 2017, I was considering taking a soak in the Upper Hot Springs of Banff, but I’ve heard that in winter, the water sources can occasionally become depleted, forcing the installation to make use of municipal water. Coupled with the temperature differential, I decided against doing so at the last minute, and it turned out to have been a wise decision on the whole, given how the entire day was frigid and snowy. Instead, I sat down to a hearty brunch and then foolishly drove the Icefields Parkway amidst a winter storm.

  • While taking in the warm waters, Aoi remarks that she’s disinclined to leave, and this brings about the challenge I brought up earlier – I’ve long wondered how bathing in onsen work in winter, since getting out of the warm water and becoming exposed to the frigid outdoor air would be extremely painful…for you. Therefore, I have a request for readers: if you’ve been to the onsen or hot springs by winter, what’s the trick for not freezing to death while moving from the warm waters back into the locker room in an outdoor hot springs? Once this particular issue is dealt with, I may give the Upper Hot Springs of Banff a shot during the winter, although I’ll be careful to only go when the skies are fair and the temperature not unreasonably cold.

  • Having long anticipated an onsen visit of her own, Rin finds the one she was looking for to be shut down, and when she reaches Mount Takabocchi, the skies have clouded over, covering the land in a fog. For a few moments, Rin wishes that she’d gone somewhere closer to home. She stops by the Yatsugatake Chuushin-kogen farm here, where cattle roam during the summer and decides to make the 400 metre walk to the summit of Mount Takabocchi. It is here that I am strongly reminded of that day where I decided to hit the national parks during a winter snowfall.

  • While the heavy snowfall obscured all the usual scenery at Peyto and Bow Lake, in the dead of winter, both lakes were free from any other visitors. The entire area was completely silent, and when I closed my eyes, the complete lack of sound was a magical experience that gave the sense that the world was hibernating. That’s an experience I’m not likely to get again, so in retrospective, maybe that trip was not a total waste of fuel, even if I have very few photos to show for it. As Rin continues her hike, the sun breaks through the clouds just in time for the evening to set in, and she’s treated to a wonderful view of Lake Suwa (the basis for Itomori Lake in Your Name) and Matsumoto.

  • Under the setting sun, Rin prepares her first-ever camp dinner made from scratch, a pasta with bacon, onion, asparagus and shimeji (a mushroom). In conjunction with spaghetti, sliced cheese, some water and milk, Rin seasons her dinner with black pepper and parsley. The end result is a piping hot pasta perfect for the brisk autumn evening, and Rin savours her dinner, sharing the results with Nadeshiko. The narrator reminds viewers that using thin noodles is easier, as the lower pressure at high altitudes corresponds with a lower boiling point in water, reducing the temperature meals cook at. While Rin prefers to travel light with her equipment, I’ve read that a cast-iron skillet is a versatile cooking utensil for campers: pancakes and campfire nachos are just a few of the possible recipes.

  • Back at Pine Wood campground, Nadeshiko and the others have settled in, having set up their campfire and received a free 10-litre supply of water. The site is around a klick from the hot springs where they’d soaked earlier, and the owner’s easygoing, friendly nature is a mirror of Pine Wood’s real-world counterpart. The special fire bundle that Chiaki sets up here is known as a Swedish Torch or Canadian Candle, developed by the Swedes during the Thirty-Year War. As Chiaki mentions, it’s efficient, quick to set up and burns off the ground, allowing it to be set up even if the ground is wet. I’ve largely seen examples making use of heavier-gauge wire to prevent the bundle from falling apart, much to Chiaki’s surprise.

  • Rin relaxes with a book on UFOs as the evening sets in. While I’m quite skeptical of the paranormal, I admit that I do have a fondness for stories surrounding cryptids, UFO sightings and ghosts (provided that it’s all text). It’s a subtle bit of foreshadowing as to what goes down later, especially when taken in conjunction with Nadeshiko expressing discomfort at the thought of walking through a darkening forest.

  • Nadeshiko prepares campfire curry and rice for Chiaki and Aoi. Like Rin’s dinner, which turned out quite nice, Chiaki, Aoi and Nadeshiko savour their curry while overlooking the Kofu basin below. Made with the bog-standard pork, potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions, Nadeshiko adds orka and eggplant to liven her recipe up. It is evident that Yuru Camp△ will continue on with its spectacular depiction of food: besides curry, Nadeshiko, Aoi and Chiaki enjoy fried whole eggs at the Hottarakashi hot springs earlier. These are a specialty cooked in the onsen waters, allowing the egg whites to coagulate while leaving the yolk solid. When deep fried, the eggs take on a new dimension in taste that would likely impress even the likes of Man v. Food‘s Adam Richman.

  • As noted previously, every Yuru Camp△ post that I write will feature at least one image of the girls by nightfall, sitting beside a campfire or electric torch. When the girls turn in, they realise that their tent is only really able to comfortably fit two, and Nadeshiko draws the short straw in a game of rock paper scissors. It turns out that Nadeshiko’s rather afraid of the dark, and to take her mind off things, she messages Rin. who recounts her day’s adventure to Nadeshiko. Their conversation soon turns towards the night view, and Nadeshiko decides to share the view over the Kofu valley with Rin.

  • More often than not, night photos turn out blurry because of a low shutter speed, which results in minute hand shaking propagating into the image. To mitigate this, it is recommended that one use a tripod and reduce the exposure. There are some apps out there that also assist with taking night photography. With an iPhone 6, I’ve found that these simple tricks will suffice in capturing a reasonable-quality image: I usually crop and scale my images down for publishing, so they appear acceptable. After Nadeshiko captures her image, she sends it to Rin, whose mild irritation at being awoken turns to amazement when she sees Nadeshiko’s photograph.

  • Rin subsequently gets back up, hikes up Mount Takabocchi again and takes a photograph of her own, overlooking Lake Suwa. Suwa is visible on the far side of the lake, with Okaya in the foreground. Mount Fuji is just visible on the left hand side of the image. As the crow flies, Rin’s around 106 kilometres from the summit at her current position. She sends this photograph back to Nadeshiko as thanks for sharing.

  • With a distance of some seventy plus kilometers (as the mole digs) separating Rin and Nadeshiko, the two nonetheless feel as though they are camping together. The imagery in this moment makes this abundantly clear, and while perhaps a testament to how technology can connect individuals together over vast distances, the parallel camping trips of the fourth and fifth episodes were really intended to show that despite their different preferences (Rin’s enjoyment of being alone to Nadeshiko’s love for being with others), the two’s adventures are similar in the sort of experience that they confer upon each respective character.

  • After Ena finds Rin in the library, she notices Rin wearing all smiles while daydreaming about the possibilities that have opened with her new compact camping grill. The compact camping grill that Rin purchased is a Showa Press A-4 Boy, which retails for 12000 Yen (140 CAD). Its stainless steel construction and design makes it quick to assemble and disassemble, giving it durability on top of portability. While Rin intends to use it as a means of grilling meat, the A-4 Boy’s top grate can be removed, allowing it to be be used as a portable campfire container, as well.

  • Despite having reservations about finding Nadeshiko and meeting the rowdy bunch that is the Outdoors Activity Club, Rin finds Nadeshiko in the library and gives her the souvenirs from her own trip. Nadeshiko notices the compact grill, and mistakes it for an offerings box. After Rin gives her the rundown of its function, she invites Nadeshiko to a cookout, and when Nadeshiko ups it to a camping trip, Rin accepts.

  • Rin outlines her desire to grill with a high-carbon wood to maximise flavour, and while she initially planned to buy a wide array of pork cuts and short ribs, the winter season means that the supermarket doesn’t have her preferred cuts available. Nadeshiko, on the other hand, is blown away by what the supermarket does have, and so, suggests yakitori and kebabs to Rin, who accepts the idea. Here, the contrasting personalities of Rin and Nadeshiko are brought to light: like myself, Rin like sticking to a set of plans, while Nadeshiko is a free spirit who goes with the flow. These conflicting personality types end up complementing one another; free spirits like Nadeshiko allow rigid-minded folks to loosen up a little, and organised people like Rin encourage others to be themselves more organised.

  • Rin and Nadeshiko run into Aoi while paying for their groceries. A glance at the grocery store that they visit shows that it is the Selva Food Garden in Minobu, thirty minutes north of Nanbu, where Nadeshiko lives. This grocery store is a part of a small chain in the Yamanashi area that prides itself for using locally sourced produce and close ties with the community. The choice to have Aoi work here seems to suggest this, and here, I note that although we’re at the halfway point in Yuru Camp△, very little of Aoi’s personality has been presented insofar. I’m hoping that future episodes rectify this.

  • At this point in November where I am, the autumn leaves have long fallen off the tree branches. Standing on the banks of Lake Shibire, the autumn leaves are especially pleasant-looking.  The equivalent time of year where the trees are looking their best during autumn in Cowtown is usually mid to late September, and depending on the temperature, early October. Of course, it’s February now; it’s my least favourite month of the year on account of being the coldest, greyest and most miserable all-around. The flipside of all this is that the bitter cold makes food taste better, and yesterday, as the second snowstorm to hit the area began, I enjoyed cuts of lamb sauteéd with onions, enokitake and Korean hot sauce.

  • As it turns out Nadeshiko’s interest in coming here is a result of the Outdoor Activities Club wanting to scout out the area, having heard many rumours and myths about it. Located at the heart of Shibireko Prefectural Natural Park, the lake is about 320 metres across. After reaching Lake Shibire, the two check in and make the walk to Shibireko Ryuunso Camping Ground. A quiet site, visitors note that walking the distance with a great deal of gear can be quite cumbersome, even with the provided carts, and the high altitude makes the place quite cold, but the scenery and tranquility are well worth it.

  • Sakura is the opposite of Nadeshiko, being calm and composed. With the exception of the first episode, she’s definitely presented as a kind older sibling who is willing to drive her younger sister around to places. I suppose now is a good time as any to note that Sakura is voiced by Marina Inoue, who has previously performed as Valkyria Chronicles‘ Alicia Melchiott and Laura Bodewig of Infinite Stratos. She orders a chai tea here and takes in the autumn scenery of Lake Shibire.

  • While walking around the lake to reach their campsite, Rin casually shares with Nadeshiko a story about a “Ghost Cow”, which I’m almost certain is a reference to the urban legend of the same name, causing Nadeshiko to face-plant into the ground. With this episode, we’ve reached the halfway point of Yuru Camp△, who is maintaining its title as the most relaxing anime of the season. I will return when we pass the nine-episode mark in a few weeks to write about what adventures Rin, Nadeshiko and the others go on next, so for now, that’s pretty much it for Yuru Camp△. Upcoming posts will deal with Slow Start and A Place Further Than The Universe.

While it is not immediately apparent, the act of sharing their adventures allows Rin to feel some of that closeness to the Outdoors Activity Club’s members, even if Rin herself is not ready to be with them just yet. The slow pacing in Yuru Camp△ works to the anime’s advantage; the portrayal of one journey from enjoyment of activities alone to enjoyment of activities with others is allowed to progress at a very natural pacing. Yuru Camp△ is reasonably expected to see Rin making small steps towards sharing her hobby, time and knowledge with the others; the upcoming episode will see Rin spending time with Nadeshiko on her initiative: up until now, Nadeshiko’s been driving things forward and actively spending time with Rin, so it is quite welcoming to see Rin taking charge, as it signifies the beginning of her journey towards the camping trip seen in Yuru Camp△‘s opening. Yuru Camp△‘s journey will culminate here to illustrate just how much of an impact Nadeshiko has on Rin, and so, now that we are halfway through Yuru Camp△, it will be very interesting to see what sparks the events that really open Rin up to the prospect of camping with Nadeshiko, Chiaki and Aoi, as well as what leads Ena to join in with the others, as well. Yuru Camp△ has maintained its consistently solid visuals and music, so it is indubitable that each upcoming episode will be immensely relaxing and satisfying to watch.

​Slow Start: Review and Reflections After Three

“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.” –Guy Finley

Hana recalls how she got sick on the eve of entrance exams, forcing her to miss them while she recovered. In the aftermath, Hana was devastated and fell into a depression. Her mother suggests that she move in with her cousin, Shion, and she spent the year studying to ensure a place in her new high school, as well as to pass the time. Back in the present, Hana struggles through her physical examinations, tiring quickly and suffering from acute muscle soreness as a result of having not partaken in any physical exercise for a year. Her friends show her an ice cream machine on school grounds to take her mind off things. When Golden Week arrives, Eiko and Karumi vote on spending their break studying. Hana goes for a run with Shion to bolster her stamina and prepares for her parents’ arrival. When they arrive, they are relieved to learn that she is doing well; pleased that she’s made friends, they help her make some crafts to liven up her decidedly spartan living quarters. Later, Hana’s friends visit her and throw her a proper birthday party with cake. Hana becomes aware of her age difference with Karumi, Eiko and Tamate and breaks into tears during the party, but pulls herself together. It turns out that it’s also close to Tamate’s birthday, so the girls have a joint celebration. As the day draws to a close, Hana finds a birthday gift from her parents.

For the newcomers, the three episode mark is where I decide whether or not to continue with a particular show, and Slow Start has done a fantastic job of maintaining my interest after three episodes. At this point in time, the largest conflict within Slow Start is Hana’s reluctance to let her newfound friends know of her situation: she worries that the revelation will alter the dynamics she shares with Eiko, Karumi and Tamate, especially with regard to creating an awkward senpaikouhai dynamic that is not so easily reconciled. While not of a concern in the Western world, the hierarchy formed by this system is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, where the juniors are expected to express proper respect towards their seniors and not cause them to lose face, while seniors are expected to instruct their juniors and pass on knowledge. In short, it’s a non-trivial matter, and Hana’s constantly struggling with being truthful in the light of changing their current friendship, which has a flat hierarchy on account of everyone (ostensibly) being of the same age: having missed out on a year, Hana longs for nothing more than being able to spend time with her peers and experience high school as per her expectations. Having found friends now, Hana is thus unwilling to risk this, but at the same time, finds herself unable to fully open up to her friends, leaving moments that feel unnatural. As such, one of the challenges that Slow Start faces moving forwards will be how to create a heartwarming story of acceptance without discarding the Japanese values within its thematic elements: as a Western viewer, it might be easy to disregard the senpaikouhai dynamic, but considering its weight in Japanese culture, it should be clear that Slow Start cannot remove this factor from its story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The hikikomori phenomenon in Japan refers to shut-ins who become withdrawn from society after suffering from significant setbacks in life as a consequence of extreme social pressures in Japan. When a despondent Hana declares that this is the only way left to her after she recovers from the mumps, her mother manages to convince her to seek another path. Hikikomori are a non-trivial matter in Japan; there are an estimated five hundred thousand individuals in Japan who fit the definition, and the topic is quite difficult to discuss in reality, but anime such as Slow Start present Hana’s situation as adorable rather than troubling – my heart melts when I see characters such as her in situations like these.

  • Hana is spared the fate of becoming a hikikomori, pulls herself together and manages to set out on her path again, even if she occasionally doubts how things will turn out. Her serendipitous meeting with Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate helps her regain confidence, and as we continue into Slow Start, I’m slowly beginning to feel that Tamate is Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari Akiyama rolled into one with Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki: excitable and energetic, but also a good cook and highly fond of visual novels, Tamate is voiced by Ayasa Itō, a newcomer whose other roles remain quite unknown to me.

  • It seems as though there are few discussions on Slow Start out there, and even less talk on what themes Slow Start is dealing with from the big-picture perspective. As such, I am stepping up to the plate to add tinder to kindle the discussions out there – I will be writing about Slow Start in the same manner as I am for Yuru Camp△, but there is one minor difference. As enjoyable as Slow Start is, there is an upper limit to how much I can write about it, and so, Slow Start talks will feature twenty screenshots rather than thirty.

  • Composed and capable, Shion is a college graduate voiced by Mao Ichimichi (And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?’s Kyou Goshoin). When she prepares Hana’s lunch, the care put into it leads Tamate to wonder if Hana’s cousin, hitherto unknown to Tamate and the others, have feelings for her. Hana voices this concern to Shion, who decides that the solution is to dispel the myth by crafting another lunch that indicates that nothing interesting is going on between the two. This particular plot device might be used for comedy or drama in other series, but it doesn’t belong in something like Slow Start.

  • Since the topic of fitness forms the basis for a part of the second episode in Slow Start, my mind wanders to physical activity, and I open with the remark that for all of my propensities towards sitting down at a desk or in a comfortable chair with a computer or good book in hand, I do make an effort to keep in reasonable shape: I lift, hike and do martial arts, and it suddenly strikes me that I spend about the same time working out or being active in some way every week as I do my other hobbies. This is why posts don’t come out more often or faster here.

  • Characters with exceptionally low physicality are usually portrayed in a manner as to evoke a few laughs from viewers, and Hana, having not done anything for a year, is so weak that warming up blows her away. I certainly found it amusing in the context of anime like Slow Start, but as with Hikikomori, it’s less amusing in reality. I’ve heard that anime fans generally aren’t big on fitness, and while the metrics for determining what counts as fit has a long, scientific and probably uninteresting process, I posit that being of average shape means being able to do thirty pushups (on your knuckles), five pull-ups and touch your toes. So, if you’re reading this and you’ve got some interest in fitness, drop a comment down below and show me what you’ve got.

  • I’ve just recently gotten into doing squats, and now that I’m not so sore as to find myself unable to walk the next day, the time has come to raise the weights. It stands to reason that, while I’m not the epitome of fitness, I’m at least in better shape than Hana, who’s completely blown away with her physical exam. Her friends suggest bananas to help her out, and there’s truth in this – the potassium in bananas are electrolytes that aid in muscle function and recovery. I have a banana every weekday for lunch, and while I disliked them back in my days as a primary school student, my current laziness in preparing other fruits, coupled with the benefits that potassium brings, means that I’m totally good with them now. Hana has no access to bananas, but Tamate find an ice-cream machine on campus and the girls share a moment enjoying the ice-cream.

  • After Hana learns that there is not a second half to the physical exam, she enters a state of zen lasting for several hours in relief that the day’s not going to be any longer than it is. I’m not sure if her subsequent reaction is in response to the thought of Tamate sans clothing or not, but the flowers indicate she’s zoned out considerably. It’s not until dinner with Shion that she recovers from this.

  • The girls begin discussing their plans for Golden Week, which spans from April 29 to the first week of May. It’s so-called for the fact that many Japanese holidays converge here, leading institutions and businesses to close. The closest equivalent for Western students would be Spring Break, but for folks who work, there’s not any similar break except at the end of the year with the Winter holidays. Back in my days as a student, I spent all of my spring breaks, and later, reading week, studying or catching up on things: I’ve certainly not travelled or done anything too outrageous, but in retrospect, this was time well spent. I study while others vacation, and vacation when everyone else…isn’t.

  • Hana grows discouraged after a run with Shion leaves her exhausted; at Hana’s mother’s request, Shion is helping her out. I’ve long found that the morning is by far the best time of day to exercise for me: back during the summer, I attempted to lift weights at night after dinner, but felt weighted down and unnecessarily tired. The gym is also more crowded by night. By comparison, I feel fired up and ready to roll in the morning: I tire less easily and lift with more intensity. There’s no best time to lift: this is strictly a matter of personal preference, and on my end, my inclination towards mornings is because I’m a morning person.

  • Just for amusement’s sake, I’ll feature an unnecessary close-up of Shion and her uncommonly large assets for no reason beyond the fact that I can. She’s visually appealing, and if there are any episodes to be set at a beach or hot springs, I might just make that discussion a larger one, with the full thirty screenshots, purely for moments such as this if Shion should accompany Hana and her friends.

  • Eiko hangs out with a friend, and her actions seem to put her friend in a rough spot. Matters of yuri are serious business out there, and for some folks well-versed in the matter, can form the basis for lengthy discussion. The extent of what I can offer such conversation is that, if yuri were to be as prevalent in real life as it were in anime, our species would stop propagating and it’d be the end of human civilisation as we know it.

  • Kamuri’s day is spent enjoying a scrumptious breakfast that she takes several hours to finish. It is shown here that Kamuri comes from a wealthier background: her residence is quite large. Going purely from her interactions with the others at school, one could never guess that she’s of money, so episodes depicting characters outside of school often yield insight into aspects of characters that add dimensionality to their personalities.

  • Tamate is evidently a major fan of dating sims and doujin: if her constant mention of dating sims in everyday conversation were not sufficient to indicate her hobbies, she’s shown visiting Comiket and leaves with a good haul of swag. Her propensity for related jargon often leaves her friends in confusion, and I’ve heard unverified claims that this Tamate and the Tama of Bottle Fairy are one and the same on account of both Slow Start and Bottle Fairy having art from Yukio Tokumi. Officially, Tokumi has stated that the characters are meant to be similar in mannerisms and designs, but otherwise reside in different universes.

  • Hana’s parents swing by for a visit and are pleasantly surprised to find that Hana is doing quite well. They thank Shion for having looked after her for the past year, and when they learn that Hana’s to host some friends, they express an interest in meeting Eiko, Kamuri and Tamate. Feeling that Hana’s quarters are a bit spartan, they help in crafting some hand-made decorations. Hana’s parents remark that Hana’s a great deal happier, and Hana herself notes that she usually becomes lonely when her parents leave after their visits, but with her friends, things don’t seem so bad.

  • While the manga leaves the location of the town that Hana moves to undisclosed, Slow Start‘s anime adaptation is set in Karuizawa of the Nagano Prefecture. The town is a small one, with a population of close to twenty thousand: with its temperate climate, the town is a popular vacation destination for visitors. Among the area attractions include hot springs, outdoor sports facilities and Ginza Street, a famous historic shopping street. Hana visits Ginza Street in the first episode with her friends, and here, she meets Tamete at Karuizawa Station.

  • With three episodes in the books, I’ve found all of the characters in Slow Start to be likeable in their own way: Hana reminds me a great deal of Miho, and Tamate is similar to Yukari. Kamuri and Chino are likewise reminiscent of one another, and Eiko’s quite interesting. Here, Hana bursts into tears after being reminded of her age gap, but her friends assume she’s simply moved and don’t think anything of it. It remains to be seen when and how Hana will break the news to everyone – given the nature of things, I imagine that this will likely for the basis for the anime’s overarching plot for this season.

  • While the girls partake in some cake, Eiko leaves briefly to use the bathroom, and exploiting the moment, Tamate decides to tease Kamuri; in Eiko’s absence, Kamuri becomes completely shy and silent. I wonder how often this will be exploited for comedy, although it is also likely that Kamuri will mature as the series wears on, to the point where it is no longer possible to pull this off.

  • After cake is enjoyed, the girls settle into their studies and are impressed that Hana’s so familiar with the materials. It turns out that Hana had exclusively spent the previous years knee-deep in the books: this shows that she’s a very determined individual and will make the most of things in her own manner. While initially a dreary existence (as I can attest, having spent a summer with my face in books in preparation for the MCAT some years back), Hana’s efforts have some positive consequences, as well, allowing her to keep ahead of the course materials. With this in mind, audiences needn’t worry about how Hana’s performing, allowing the story to focus purely on her social developments.

  • Hana’s friends bought her and Tamate a pair of stuffed bears to signify their togetherness; Tamate decides to leave her bear with Hana’s to reinforce that they’re friends. The snow globe is from Hana’s parents, who’ve not forgotten Hana’s birthday. As the sun sets, casting the room in a warm light that glitters in the snow globe, Hana smiles. This brings my Slow Start discussion to a close, and while the post was a bit unexpected, this means that I will be continuing with Slow Start. In the meantime, it’s time to quickly catch up on the fourth episode before the fifth releases, and I also note that Battlefield 1‘s North Seas update has released, which brings Heligoland Bight’s naval combat and the new TTK patch into the game. My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, and I’ll be writing about that in the very near future.

With the challenge of balancing a meaningful message without disregarding Japanese values, Slow Start has more to offer audiences than merely antics surrounding high school girls in their everyday lives: it provides a (albeit highly watered-down) bit of insight into the way Japanese society is structured and the implications this has on the well-being of people who find themselves stepping away from the rigidly-choreographed path in life they’re typically expected to follow. By comparison, things in the West seem to be much more lax, and individuals who miss a year can still recover should they put in the requisite effort – consider that I took a year off to do open studies between my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. That particular detour was the consequence of my aim to decide once and for all whether I wished to write software or become a medical doctor, and during this time, I blended into classes without standing out, even if I did feel a little out of place amongst the students. Returning to Slow Start, while the series is not expected to undergo any major shifts in mood and should continue on presenting Hana and her friends’ time as high school students in an adorable manner, I am curious to see just what sort of path awaits Hana as Slow Start progresses. The clean, simple artwork and smooth animation make the anime a visual treat to watch: nowhere nearly as detailed as Violet Evergarden or distinct in design as A Place Further Than the UniverseSlow Start nonetheless comes across as having a solid execution that makes the episodes something that I look forward to each week.