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Four Worlds, Four Tomorrows, and Four Fashions For Finding Fulfillment on this First Day of the Fourth Month: Remarks on A Place Further than the Universe on Exploration, Closure, Determination and Teamwork

“Sometimes, people are just mean. Don’t fight mean with mean. Hold your head high.” –Hinata Miyake

2018’s A Place Further than the Universe is a title that aired to universal acclaim for its heartfelt and sincere portrayal of a disparate group of four high school students, each resolute on fulfilling their individual dreams, and through a serendipitous turn of events, come together as members of an expedition to Antarctica. Each of Mari Tamaki, Shirase Kobuchizawa, Hinata Miyake and Yuzuki Shiraishi set out for the last continent of the world with different aims, but through their shared dream, determination and perseverance, come away from their experiences completely changed. A Place Further than the Universe‘s successes came from watching this journey unfold and how it impacted the characters, and by the time the season ended, there was no doubt as to what this anime had accomplished. However, even amidst the excitement of going to Antarctica, each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki never forget why they’d set out on this journey to begin with – viewers, on the other hand, were so blown away by the scope and scale of A Place Further than the Universe that these initial motivations were forgotten. While this speaks positively to the anime’s ability to build excitement and anticipation in viewers, the reasons behind why Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki set off on their journey are quickly shelved. However, these reasons are an integral part of A Place Further than the Universe, represent four different reasons why everyone wants to succeed in their expedition and more broadly, four perspectives on why people pursue success.

  • This post began its life as a series of thoughts after I began rewatching A Place Further than the Universe and realising that while discussions have thoroughly covered off why the anime was so rewarding, the ending outcomes were strong enough to eclipse the reasons that spurred Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki’s initial reasons for going to Antarctica. Without these initial reasons, the events of A Place Further than the Universe wouldn’t have been anywhere as moving as they were.

Success in achieving one’s goals is a central theme in A Place Further than the Universe, and the anime wastes no time in letting viewers know that success takes persistence, effort and dedication, traits that are ultimately summed up as “hard work”. Hard work consists of attributes that are necessary and commendable, and while the initial payoffs may not always be apparent, hard work is understanding that short term pains translate to long term gains which far outweigh the initial costs. Whether it’s learning how to set of navigation waypoints on the side of a mountain and learning that Mari tends to hug whoever she sleeps beside, acclimatising to the disciplined and turbulent life on a boat, or the frigid dangers of Antarctica itself, the road to the most remote continent is fraught with challenges. However, Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki, in their own reasons for being here, each rise to the occasion, and their individual rationale parallels reasons why people in reality wish to succeed. In this post, I’ll briefly explore how everyone’s motivations have roots in reality and how each motivation impacts one’s approach towards achieving their goals where real-world objectives and dreams are concerned, using my own experiences as an iOS developer to speak about everyone’s desires and experiences.

“I want to explore something new.”

Mari’s justification for participating in the Antarctica expedition is of everyone, is the most innocent. Having gone through middle school and her first year without having gone on any destinationless journeys, Mari simply wants to do something. However, she is initially unaware of what this something looks like, and supposes that cutting class to visit Tokyo would qualify. Upon meeting Shirase, however, and learning of the latter’s desire to go to Antarctica, Mari’s world is completely opened up. From visiting the Shirase II in port to attempting to speak with expedition members, Mari’s befriending Shirase sets in motion a journey that Mari never anticipated. With her naïveté and open-mindedness, a key part of her desire to try new things out, very few things can keep Mari down. She’s optimistic, enthusiastic and adaptive. A Place Further than the Universe sought to show, through Mari, that open-ended journeys, trips without destinations, have their merits because it allows one to be wholly immersed in the experience. The good become immensely pleasant memories, and the bad result in one’s learning how to better handle a scenario next time around. As an iOS developer, this is where my journey began – a love for the mobile devices and their ubiquity led me to accept a project to build an iOS app that collected survey data for patients undergoing treatment five years earlier. At this time, I’d only worked on small iOS apps for university coursework, and putting a full app together was a daunting task, considering I’d never built one before.

Through this experience, I learnt the ins and outs of RESTful APIs, authentication and the fundamentals of implementing view controllers, their data models and having everything play nice on different phone sizes. After five months, the app was finally finished, and while it was certainly not my best work, it was the first commercial app I’d assembled. There were more failures than successes, and it was frustrating work to debug things while at the same time, getting used to Swift. However, looking back on this project, I remain grateful to have taken it, because the underlying principles would be what I subsequently saw in every app I’ve since worked on. Similarly, in A Place Further than the Universe, Mari is quite unprepared for her Antarctica expedition and treats things as a game. However, when the chips are down, Mari proves more than willing to learn, and much as how her body adjusts to life on a rocking boat and the harsh climate of Antarctica, Mari develops a more resilient mentality, allowing her to begin appreciating the exceptional experience she finds herself in. Mari’s motivation to simply do something, even if she does not know the outcome, represents the explorer’s mindset: her goal is the journey itself, and so, without any specific objectives beyond this, Mari is open-minded, flexible and adaptive. Someone seeking to explore will similarly be willing to take things in stride, seeing adversity and challenge as being an integral part of the experience, and whose presence simply serves to make successes even more rewarding.

  • Where stepping into the unknown, there’s a little Mari in all of us. Mari represents the optimistic greenhorn, inexperienced but willing to learn. Because Mari is so new to everything, she has no expectations going into a given challenge – this leaves her slower on the uptake compared to veterans, but at the same time, also means that she’s not limited by existing knowledge when it comes to solving problems.

“I want to find closure and finish what was started.”

For Shirase, ever since her mother, Takako, went missing in Antarctica three years earlier on the first-ever civilian expedition, Shirase’s been absolutely resolute on returning there to see for herself what Takako had seen, and gain closure on the fact that Takako hadn’t been in her life for the past three years. The sense of powerlessness and helplessness that Shirase feels each and every day, from not knowing precisely what had happened to Takako, is focused onto a single, concerted effort to make the journey and find the answers that she seeks. Shirase had long known that Takako held an utmost respect and a great love for Antarctica; her words in the book A Place Further than the Universe accentuates this, that despite its inhospitable conditions, the continent was also home to unmatched, unspoiled beauty. Takako’s disappearance left more questions than answers, and for both Shirase and many of the expedition members, a part of this operation had been intended to fulfil a long-standing promise to Takako, to return and continue on the work she had envisioned. While Shirase is doubtlessly driven, her focus is such that she puts earning money for such a trip ahead of everything else. When Mari meets her for the first time, Mari’s innocence and optimism is surprising to her: for Shirase, the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to her mother has pushed everything, even friendship, out of her mind, and A Place Further than the Universe shows here that sometimes, our search for the answers and solutions can cause us to lose perspective. However, when given a chance to regroup, things turn around rapidly: having the support from Mari, Hinata and Yuzuki is what allows Shirase to find a conclusive answer in the frigid cold of Antarctica.

In reality, being driven to finish what one starts is a respectable trait, demonstrating one’s willingness to see things through to the end. Finishing something represents commitment and dedication. It is only by fighting and working hard to the last possible second that one can say they put in their best efforts, and because one had genuinely put in an effort, there are no regrets lingering as a result of wondering if one could’ve done more. This is the sort of mentality that is mandatory in iOS development – bugs or difficult-to-implement features remain on my mind until I’ve taken a good shot at them and have either solved the problem or at least, ascertain what would be needed to solve the problem and determine whether or not something is outside of my skill set (for instance, my knowledge of Core Animation isn’t as strong as it is with Core Location or AV Kit) – to leave bugs and issues unattended is inviting future disaster, since errors could propagate and affect other parts of the system. For Shirase, the question of what happened to Takako was always going to hang over her head, and it was only by going to Antarctica that she is able to decisively accept things, having seen it for herself. While this knowledge is painful, it also brings Shirase closure that she was able to gaze upon Antarctica with her own eyes and finally connect with her mother’s dream: Takako is gone, but her experience now lives on in Shirase, and this allows her to move on without regrets. Seeing something through and finding closure is unsurprisingly a key reason why people are driven: we want to be able to do something that we have no regrets about, and this is accomplished by finishing what one starts.

  • While Shirase states that she wishes to succeed and stick it to those who doubted her, her actual motivations for going to Antarctica are far deeper than A Place Further Than The Universe initially presents. Shirase’s conflict in the series stems from understanding her mother’s probably deceased, but at the same time, she holds out hope that they might one day reunite. To move on from the latter and gain closure for the former, Shirase intends to travel to Antarctica and decisively find closure. However, along the way, with the others, she’s able to really express how she feels and comes to terms with the outcome of her journey: at the end of A Place Further Than The Universe, Shirase cuts her hair short to signify that she’s turned over a new leaf, and the closure she found allows her to seize the future with her best effort.

“I want to prove it’s possible that I can do something big.”

The drive to explore and push the limits for what’s possible has been one of the major reasons why humanity has been able to accomplish feats like putting a man on the moon or creating microchips that transform the way we communicate. Hinata, the most energetic and spirited of the group, initially joins Mari and Shirase because she appeared to like the pair’s personalities, but later, she explains that she’s here to do something big before returning to high school. As it turns out, Hinata had been an exceptional track-and-field athlete, but because of her ability, antagonised more senior members of the team, who would go on to slander her. Unable to deal with the social pressures, Hinata dropped out of high school. While her confidence was shaken, Hinata nonetheless studies independently and hopes to one day return with a smile on her face, with an achievement or two to her name. For Hinata, Antarctica thus represents a chance to do something amazing, and she seizes the opportunity upon meeting Mari and Shirase: people doubted her, and Hinata intends to demonstrate that each and every one of her detractors wrong, as well as to prove to herself that she can make it on the merit of her own skill and traits. Of the girls, Hinata’s reason for going to Antarctica is one that I relate to the most. As an iOS developer, I have previously worked with other developers who were uncooperative, and who even actively worked against me: the first app that I’d been working on depended on JSON responses with keys spelt a certain way, and I was informed that the keys would always be lowercase. I thus built my serialisation logic on this assumption, although one day, where I had a meeting to demonstrate the app to the product owner, the backend developers unexpectedly changed the keys and capitalised the first word, resulting in the app crashing.

Because I had the presence of mind to take a video of the app working (a habit I got into because the simulator could occasionally be unreliable back then), and swapped out the keys for that meeting to match the responses from the backend, I was able to show the product owner the iOS app was working fine (and suggest that more communication about changing keys would be a good idea). Communication and conflict-diffusing thinking allowed me to sort that problem out: it simply felt more appropriate to fix things on my end and ask for clarification, rather than point fingers. I meet challenges head-on, and like Hinata, I enjoy nothing more than showing people that I am able to keep my word and deliver what was promised no matter what obstacles present themselves. This drive is doubtlessly something that motivates people to work hard and find their success: when people say something isn’t possible, it fuels my desire to test their assertions out for myself. It therefore becomes easy to root for Hinata, and once the Antarctica expedition draws to a close, it is quite clear that this group of friends wouldn’t have made it as far were it not for Hinata’s constant encouragement of everyone. In exchange, Shirase is able to help Hinata find her closure by blasting Hinata’s old classmates on a live broadcast, stating that no matter how hard they dragged Hinata down, Hinata’s own determination and perseverance led her to go somewhere that these classmates can only dream of visiting, proving decisively that Hinata has indeed done something big with her time, both for herself and to prove to her detractors that they ultimately mean nothing. While admittedly petty, proving wrong those who would underestimate me is something I like doing, as well. Of everyone in A Place Further Than The Universe, I am most similar to Hinata, striving to demonstrate what can be done when I’m playing for keeps.

  • Outwardly, Hinata’s diminutive stature means that people underestimate her. However, as Yuri Orlov would describe, Hinata is a big spirit in a small package – pound for pound, she’s livelier and more cheerful than anyone else, and has the book smarts to match her energy. She’s always pushing people forwards, and while never hesitating to speak her mind, is mindful of those around her as well. As such, Hinata is a go-getter, fully aware of what her objectives are and longing most to prove her worth, both to herself and those around her.

“I want to do something special with the people I care about.”

When Yuzuki met Mari, Shirase and Hinata for the first time, she assumed the three were best of friends on account of how well they got along with one another. Reluctant to take an assignment that would see her report on an Antarctic Expedition for the entertainment industry, Yuzuki is convinced upon realising that Mari and the others are more than willing to accept her as a friend. Having been a child actress all her life, Yuzuki never had time to partake in everyday activities and make friends. However, when her current “friends” from school end up leaving her behind, Yuzuki realises that the eccentric but genuine Mari, Shirase and Hinata are there for her, prompting her to accept her assignment on the condition that these three are allowed to come with her: she wishes to really be a part of a team and work on something with others, whereas previously, her assignments had never really allowed her to connect with those she worked with. As a result, Yuzuki’s desire is to work on a team with Mari, Shirase and Hinata: in her own words, she wishes to commiserate over setbacks, celebrate successes, argue and laugh with the others. Indeed, over the course of the expedition, Yuzuki will do precisely thus, experiencing the aspects of friendship that had, until recently, been a foreign world to her. It becomes clear that through ups and downs, Mari, Shirase and Hinata are here to stay, understanding her circumstances and choosing actively to remain by her side in spite of this. Teamwork is something that I greatly respect about Yuzuki: we both have an appreciation of what it entails and what is possible because of teamwork, but in both cases, our situation means that we’ve not really had a chance to be a part of something larger.

The reason why teamwork is so vital is because it enables the sharing of knowledge and perspectives towards problem solving: a problem that I can’t solve on my own might simply require a fresh set of eyes, or a procedure that I might not have thought of because of my experience and background. Indeed, when teamwork is at its finest, miracles can happen; Neil Armstrong’s historic achievement in 1969’s Apollo 11 mission, for instance, involved some four hundred thousand scientists, engineers, technicians and other support staff. Until then, landing on the moon had been something relegated to the realm of fiction, but with four hundred thousand people working on a shared vision, the impossible suddenly became merely challenging. Similarly, as a developer, while I may not always see eye-to-eye with other developers, I nonetheless respect and appreciate the work they do. At the time of writing, I can’t build my own SQL databases or write NodeJS endpoints to allow apps to retrieve and modify information stored in a backend. Working with the people who do possess these skills is how my apps are successful, and also allows me to learn off these developers, as well. On larger teams, with more people, it becomes possible to bounce ideas off one another, and even solve problems in novel ways. With few exceptions (such as individual sports), success and teamwork go hand-in-hand, with synergy resulting from the sum of everyone’s efforts leading people to new heights. With Yuzuki, being able to coach Shirase in speaking more effectively also helps her to feel more connected to the others, as does participating in the routine work at Showa Base and heading out to conduct experiments: she returns home with three friends, and although everyone heads their separate ways for now, everyone’s more connected than before.

  • Yuzuki’s desire to see every aspect of friendship, both the good and bad, stems from having worked on her own for so long, and never really being able to connect with anyone. Where given the chance to connect, Yuzuki is able to support those around her, and even if a few rough moments arise, her honesty allows the group of friends to sort things out with nothing held back. Yuzuki parallels folks who wish to share in their experiences with everyone, believing that the individual succeeds with the team, and despite not having many friends until now, gets along very well with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

While individual motivation and hard work is central to each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki making their dreams a reality in A Place Further than the Universe, it is unfortunate that in reality, the respect for hard work and effort isn’t quite what it used to be. The ceaseless social media controversies and politics does give the impression that traditional values are being displaced by a demand for instant gratification and an entitlement to an audience, where retweets and memes matter more than having done something useful with one’s time for the benefit of others. For instance, video game developers now place emphasis on lootboxes and cosmetics over engaging gameplay, as functional gameplay demands skillful development. Governments tackle non-issues because this make it look like they’re doing something, as opposed to addressing matters of economics and sustainability, something that requires a considerable effort to even begin approaching. Journalists run with misinformation because it’s easier to draw an audience with sensationalism than using legitimate news based in fact. There appears to be a genuine aversion towards hard work and effort, and should such trends continue, society will be in for a very grim future. While this sounds pessimistic, the reality is that hard work and being useful can take many forms. Once one accepts that this is a long-term deal, things become much more manageable. I consider someone worth respecting if they choose their actions such that they are able to make even a single person’s day better; kindness and effort are both scalable, with the mindset for helping one person easily being applicable for bettering the lives of many. While A Place Further than the Universe has Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki setting off on their journey for themselves at the onset, they come to impact many lives in a positive manner, beyond satisfying their own initial objectives: everyone started their adventure for a different reason, but everyone arrives in the same place, leaving behind the same positive impact together. Consequently, A Place Further than the Universe suggests that there is value to taking that first step, and that people can have a nontrivial, positive impact on others as well as themselves with a bit of effort and hard work. I thus leave readers with the question: what gets you up each and every morning?

  • I will note that today’s April Fool’s Day, but the only thing about this post that’s an April Fool’s joke is the fact that the post is actually not a joke in every way – I stand behind every word I’ve written, and this post was actually more for myself, more than anything. Today, I start work as an iOS Developer for a new company, and this post is to remind me of the things that I believe in, to never compromise those core values that I adhere to, no matter how difficult things get. I understand there are many ills in the world, but it’s not on me to convince governments to stop pursuing Sisyphean Tasks or for game developers to remove lootboxes from their games. As long as I am able to do what I can for those around me, and make any part of their day smoother, easier and better, I’ve done my part for the world, and that counts for something.

MythBusters meets High School Fleet: Addressing Claims Surrounding Hai-Furi and Akeno’s Pinches on the High Seas

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes…as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons, than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.” –Norton Juster

In the aftermath of Hai-Furi: The Movie, I felt the inclination to revisit 2016’s Hai-Furi, which first began airing in April that year. Back then, it took many viewers completely by surprise: all indicators had suggested that this was going to be an easy-going series around discoveries made while training to become Blue Mermaids, a venerable organisation whose duty is to patrol the oceans and provide assistance and defense where appropriate. On her first day of class, Captain Akeno Misaki leads her destroyer, the Harekaze, into training, only to come under fire from her own instructor. In the aftermath, the Harekaze becomes wanted for alleged mutiny. In the ensuing chaos, Misaki and her crew get to know one another better as they work to clear their names, eventually unearthing a mystery behind their pinches. As the series continued running, viewers created their own speculations and theories regarding what was occurring. While generally interesting to read, some of these theories became increasingly ingrained as fact even as Akeno’s adventures began proving them to be untrue. Hai-Furi is the sort of anime that really requires an open mind to appreciate, and there are some claims that absolutely must be ascertained before one can start this series. In this post, I will be covering four myths surrounding Hai-Furi, which came about during and shortly after the first few episodes aired. When accepted as true, these myths significantly degrade one’s experience of the series, where the extraordinary events ultimately form the backdrop for a simple and straightforward theme: that bad luck is often-times only an excuse, and that the outcome of a given action is more likely to be successful when everyone is working as a team where the individuals trust one another to perform their role in a satisfactory manner. As Mashiro Munetani learns, luck has very little to do with things, and even what appears to be a setback, or the bad luck she is quick to cite, can become an asset with enough creativity and forward thinking.

The inert torpedo from the Harekaze sank the Sarushima

In the first episode, after the Harekaze arrives late at the rendezvous point with the Sarushima to begin their first class, Akeno and the others find themselves under fire from their instructor. The girls initially assume that this is a reprimand for being late and attempt to signal the Sarushima, but when nothing is effective, Akeno orders a training torpedo to be launched: realising that they’ll be pummeled to death if they continue to evade, Akeno chooses a course of action that sets in motion the events for the remainder of Hai-Furi. The crew thus put their training to use, firing a single inert torpedo that impacts the Sarushima and buys the girls enough time to escape. In the aftermath, the Sarushima appears to have suffered from noticeable hull damage, listing to the port and leaking oil. However, claims from Myssa Rei suggest that the Harekaze outright sank the Sarushima:

Wrong, in fact this is one of the things that the people at /a/ immediately contest — an armed 93cm Long Lance would have blown the Sarushima in half, as LSCs literally have no armor (or modern missile destroyers for that matter). They simply weren’t built to defend against an attack like that, because torpedoes no longer figure in modern (Cold War and onward) ship to ship combat. The Kagerou class could only launch one type of torpedo, as the Type 92 launcher was only made for the Long Lance in mind.

In every source I’ve looked and read, the Type 92 launcher, which is rendered EXACTLY how we saw, was only designed for the Type 93 1933 61 cm Torpedo, aka the Long Lance. IJN destroyers carried nothing else, and the torpedos that came later — the Type 95 and Type 97 — were made to be launched from subs, and would be too small to be launched safely from the Type 92. We’re talking a big difference here, as the type 95 and 97 were 53 cms. They wouldn’t fit snugly into a Type 92.

Now the fact that an UNARMED Long Lance would have sunk the Sarushima though? That’s where conspiracy theory and wild mass guessing steps in. According to the usual military enthusiasts, a PRIMED 93 cm Long Lance would have blown the Independence-class to smithereens, yet an UNPRIMED dud wouldn’t have made it list so much as in this episode… which could point that it was all a set-up.

  • Myssa Rei’s reasoning was that, since these mounts were designed for the Type 93, it stood to reason that the Type 93 was the only torpedo the Harekaze could have carried. However, discussions immediately deviated from the topic – while Hai-Furi had established Akeno specifically ordered a dummy torpedo loaded and fired, things immediately turned over to the question of how much damage a live Type 93 would do to the Sarushima, which is an irrelevant question with regard to what had been happening at the time.

  • The reality is that the Harekaze was equipped with Type 93 torpedoes with an inert warhead for training: Myssa Rei’s implications, in omitting mention of Akeno’s order, here would be analogous to suggesting that a rack for launching the AGM-114 Hellfire would only be compatible with live variants, but is otherwise unable to accept missiles outfitted with the M36 training device in place of its usual warhead. This is evidently not true: launchers are agnostic to the type of warhead the torpedo or missile is loaded with, as long as the missile casing is the right size and type, it will fit into the launch mechanism.

  • Thus, the torpedo mounts on the Harekaze would’ve accommodated both training and live torpedoes without any issue. There was never any doubt that the Harekaze had a stock of training torpedoes to use for exercises. The bigger question that this myth created was, how could a training torpedo have sunk the Sarushima? The answer itself is actually simple enough, and looking back, I now wish that I did take the time to step into the discussions and make my presence more visible: I imagine that by debunking Myssa Rei’s claims, discussions would not have gone in a cyclic, unproductive manner as it did.

  • The reason I did not actively correct or counter-argue with Myssa Rei had been because at the time, I had just been gearing up for my graduate thesis defense, and had simultaneously begun to do episodic reviews of Hai-Furi. Together, this was a very busy time: I was juggling the final draft of my thesis paper, the defense presentation itself and keeping abreast of all of the different speculation and theories that had surrounded Hai-Furi to ensure that my own posts adequately answered questions that might’ve been raised. Arguing with Myssa Rei did not seem the best use of my time, so I did not act, and in retrospect, the decision was both wise and foolish: by focusing on my work, I was able to pass my thesis defense with flying colours, but on the flipside, I allowed myths about Hai-Furi to endure.

  • Once the training torpedo hits the Sarushima, it leaves a sizeable dent in the hull. The ship begins listing to port, and evidently, the fuel tanks must’ve also sustained damage. However, even though the Harekaze’s crew imagine that they were in trouble for sinking an instructor’s vessel, no such thing has occurred. It typifies forum and image-board discussions to immediately jump to conclusions in a hive-mind like manner, and it was this mode of thinking where many of the misconceptions and errors about Hai-Furi came from.

Firstly, the Type 93 “Long Lance” was a 610 mm (24 inch) torpedo, not a 930 mm torpedo (probably a typo on Myssa Rei’s part). Being one of the most sophisticated Japanese torpedoes of WWII, the Type 93 utilised compressed oxygen as the oxidiser, greatly increasing the torpedo’s range and speed. Together with the 490 kilogram warhead, the Type 93 allowed small destroyers like the Kagerō-class to equip weapons capable of dealing damage to battleships at a range of 40 kilometres at a speed of 70 km/h. To put things in perspective, the best Allied torpedoes were the 530 mm Mark 15, which carried a 375 kilogram warhead out to a maximum range of 14 kilometres at 49.1 km/h (although the Mark 15 could reach a maximum speed of 83 km/h at a cost to its range). There were risks associated with these torpedoes, but in practise, the Imperial Japanese Navy recorded successes with the Type 93: for instance, four Type 93 torpedoes were used in sinking the USS Hornet at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in 1942. As it stands, modern warships are much more lightly armoured than their predecessors, instead, depending on electronic countermeasures to evade enemies over heavy armour. The Sarushima is modelled after the Independence-class littoral defense ships, which use an aluminium alloy hull and only possesses light armour, counting on its speed and ECM to evade enemy fire. Intended for shore patrol, intercepting smaller ships and anti-submarine warfare, the Independence-class represents a completely different use-case, and it is the case that a single live Type 93 could have rendered the Sarushima inoperable, overwhelming multiple bulkheads and creating a catastrophic situation where water would’ve filled enough compartments to eventually sink the ship, had the torpedo hit the wrong spot.

However, in Hai-Furi, the Sarushima only suffers from moderate hull damage; the very dialogue has made it clear that a training torpedo with an inert warhead was used. As for the amount of damage the training torpedo did to the Sarushima, we recall that the Type 93 torpedo had a mass of 2.7 metric tonnes: capable of reaching speeds of up to 96 km/h, at the close quarters that the Harekaze fired it in, even if no warhead was equipped, a glance at the relationship between velocity and mass finds that the amount of kinetic energy imparted by a direct hit is non-trivial. The light armour on an Independence-class would at least buckle a little from the impact, especially if the torpedo had struck whilst moving at high speeds, and given Akeno’s unusual luck, it is not out of the realm of possibility that she could’ve hit somewhere critical, breaching the hull and allowing water to seep in, creating the list seen in the anime. However, modern naval vessels possess watertight compartments so that, if one compartment is breached, it is immediately sealed off, preventing water from entering other areas. When the Sarushima was hit, systems on board would’ve prevented the hull breach from causing the ship to sink. Owing to their engineering, naval ships are very difficult to sink outright; for example, during a 2016 RIMPAC SINKEX exercise, a Perry-class frigate was used in a live fire exercise. With no crew on board, and all of the watertight compartments sealed, other vessels hammered this abandoned Perry-class. Without a damage control crew, the vessel still took a day to sink. Moreover, the Independence-class has a Trimaran hull, so the port impact would not have affected the starboard hull. Hence, it is clear that a live Type 93 is not guaranteed to have immediately sunk the Sarushima (even if it does mission-kill the ship), and moreover, an inert training warhead certainly did not sink the Sarushima. It is important to reiterate that at this point, the Sarushima was damaged, but not sunk: the vessel was later towed to port for repairs, while instructor Furushou was transferred to a different vessel.

Verdict: Busted

The Hunt For Red October‘s plot influenced Hai-Furi‘s plot in its entirety, and the entire staff watched the film ahead of production

Shortly before the third episode aired, the Hai-Furi production team released a special interview with script supervisor Reiko Yoshida on their official website. In this interview, Yoshida remarks that Hai-Furi had always been intended to be about overcoming difficulties, and that crossing the ocean became a metaphor for the series’ themes. As such, the series placed a particular emphasis about camaraderie on the high seas, and to this end, showcased different members of the crew and their unique points to really emphasise how life on a ship was conducted. As a part of the interview, Yoshida was asked about whether or not she was inspired by any other works while writing for Hai-Furi.

According to this the production crew watched The Hunt for Red October as reference material. Let that sink in.

問: なかなか参考資料が少ない作品だと思いますが、参考にされたものはありますか?
答: 吉田 鈴木さんから参考資料を貸していただいたり、映画はいくつか観ました。『レッドオクトーバーを追え』などですね。船内の生活の参考にしています。

Whether its[sic] for script reference, of just crew conditions, is up to debate.

Q: This is an original work with few references to existing works, but are there any references to other works?
A: I mostly referred to materials from Suzuki, but I also saw some films. For instance, I used The Hunt for Red October as a reference for what life on board (a ship) was like.

  • It was indeed Hai-Furi that led me to pick up and read Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October – at the time, I’d already been a fan of Tom Clancy, having read a handful of his Jack Ryan Jr. books, which followed the clandestine off-the-books group, The Campus, as they work to collect intelligence and action it in order to stop plots that threaten the United States. The Hunt for Red October had been described as “the perfect yarn” by former President Ronald Reagan, and upon reading it, I was very impressed with how the book managed to weave so much technical detail into a compelling story. I subsequently watched the film, as well, finding it to be every bit as engaging as the novel.

  • However, one thing also became apparent to me: all of the memes online that suggested Hai-Furi was The Hunt for Red October with hawt anime girls were wrong. A bit of tracing found that all of this ended up from Myssa Rei: originally, the interview at Hai-Furi‘s official site was posted to Reddit and initially did not receive too much traction. When Myssa Rei found it and posted the above quoted passage to both AnimeSuki and Tango-Victor-Tango, the idea immediately took off like a wildfire. Some fans even create fan art of The Hunt for Red October‘s movie poster featuring Akeno and Mashiro, while at Tango-Victor-Tango, a troper would write that there were enough similarities between the two’s plots: both involve pursuit of a “rogue” naval vessel.

  • When I first watched Hai-Furi, I had not read nor watched The Hunt for Red October for myself, and so, I could only remark on it. However, once I did finish, I found next to no similarities beyond this, and so, I dug a little further into the interview. Armed with my own rudimentary ability to read Japanese, I quickly learnt that Myssa Rei had, in fact, left out a great deal of context and (inadvertently, I’m sure) mistranslated the interview passage. The interview had been with one of the script supervisors, Reiko Yoshida, who mentioned that she specifically watched the film to gain insight as to the conditions inside a ship.

  • Nowhere in the interview did she suggest that other members of the staff also watched The Hunt for Red October. Yoshida’s mention of The Hunt for Red October was in the passing, and wasn’t an integral part of the interview. In spite of this, the lack of any other information resulted in memes being created, and misinformation being spread. When one reads the interview in full, it becomes clear that The Hunt for Red October was but one part of Hai-Furi, which had been intended to be a story about overcoming difficulties as a team.

  • The lesson learned from this myth is not to always trust someone’s translation work in full unless they are a professional: languages have their own subtleties, and Myssa Rei’s partial translation left out enough details such that it completely changed what the interview’s answers had been about. Instead, folks should always strive to reason through things themselves, and where applicable, use any appropriate resources to assist in the process.

Yoshida largely used scriptwriter Takaaki Suzuki’s notes to help with her work, and in the interview, she explicitly stated that she also watched The Hunt for Red October to gain a measure of how other works presented life on board a ship (in this case, the submarine, USS Dallas). In the interview, however, there is absolutely no indicator that the entire production crew had sat down to watch The Hunt for Red October, nor is there any truth in the claim that the overarching narrative in Hai-Furi was inspired directly by The Hunt for Red October. The Hunt for Red October was about CIA analyst Jack Ryan struggling to convince his superiors that Soviet Captain, Marco Ramius, was intending to defect, and the novel’s themes had been about the complexities of politics interfering with one’s ability to do what is right, as well as the idea that not everyone in another nation is subservient to their ideology. These themes were framed around a submarine chase and technical expertise from the submarine crews, as well as Ryan himself: the US Navy had intended to capture Ramius and the Red October, a Typhoon-class submarine equipped with a revolutionary silent propulsion system, something that Ryan was familiar with. Shortly after this interview came out, Myssa Rei quoted the passage above out of context and mistranslated it, resulting in the impression that The Hunt for Red October had served as the primary inspiration for Hai-Furi. This resulted in the preposterous claim that Hai-Furi was, in effect, an anime adaptation of The Hunt for Red October, since both series involved “a rogue ship is being hunted down by the world’s navies”.

When the interview is read in its entirety, however, Hai-Furi was written with a very different objective in mind: even before the anime’s story was fully presented, the full interview shows that Hai-Furi had always been intended to show how people grow and mature when placed into difficult situations. The idea to use a naval setting was simply because on a naval vessel, quarters are very cramped and narrow. Things that people take for granted become valuable or even absent, and so, it created an environment where trouble and adversity awaited around almost every corner. Thus, Akeno and the others needed to adjust to this environment and rise above their problems. Conversely, in The Hunt for Red October, the metaphor of using sonar to hunt for a rogue submarine was chosen to represent navigating political circles: finding the answers is akin to searching for a needle in a field of haystacks, but even then, skill and perseverance carry the day. It becomes clear that Hai-Furi and The Hunt for Red October only share the most superficial of similarities: both works take place on the high seas, but beyond this, strove to accomplish entirely different goals, tell different stories and present different themes. There is no basis to suggest that Hai-Furi was inspired directly by The Hunt for Red October at scale. This particular misconception resulted as a result of a mistranslation, and as a consequence of taking Yoshida’s words out of context; the lesson learnt here is not to take fan-translations of interview materials at face value, especially if they are sourced from individuals who do not have the skill or willingness to provide a correct, complete translation.

Verdict: Busted

Takaaki Suzuki tweeted a full justification for why powered flight doesn’t exist in Hai-Furi

The absence of heavier-than-air flight in Hai-Furi became immediately noticeable by the events of the third episode, when Kouko comments on how she wishes she could fly like a bird, without the need for hydrogen or helium, and Mashiro remarks it’s outright impossible. I myself had immediately noticed the absence of aircraft carriers out of the first episode and found it absurd that they’d be absent, especially considering that smaller carriers have been successfully used as helicopter carriers: while there may be no need for super carriers and power projection, helicopter carriers would be immensely useful for deploying rotorcraft, which have applications as emergency transport vehicles, search and rescue, observation and even carrying loads. Their utility would be immediately apparent in a world like Hai-Furi: helicopters do not require a runway to take off, and given how that the land had been submerged by rising oceans, it stands to reason that these aircraft would only become more valuable as a part of the Blue Mermaid’s tool set. This apparently was not the case: it soon became clear that heavier-than-air flight had never been developed at all in Hai-Furi. This was evidently a plot device: the presence of heavier-than-air flight would’ve allowed for the Blue Mermaids to trivially solve the anime’s story, and the restrictions were present precisely to give World War Two era naval vessels a chance to shine. For the same reason air and infantry support are absent in Girls und Panzer, Hai-Furi dispensed with heavier-than-air flight altogether to accommodate the story. This is understandable, but things became murkier once Myssa Rei claimed to have found a series of tweets from Takaaki Suzuki himself.

I think that people should be MORE worried about another tweet by someone connected with the production itself, rather than getting angry at how airpower was just taken out of the picture by authorial fiat (because the sheer butterfly effect this would cause is already driving some people up the wall). The extra information you seem to be referring to were kind of Q&A Tweets from Military Adviser Takaaki himself:

In addition, I wonder how many people watched script writer Takaaki Suzuki’s commentary on the setting for Hai-Furi. According to the commentary, it’s “a world where powered flight was unsuccessful”, so there are no blimps, aircraft or rockets that use onboard propulsion to fly. As such, aircraft carriers do not exist, either.

Furthermore, because Japan became resource-rich as a result of methane hydrate mining, there was no need for a Pacific War. World War Two became a strictly European conflict, and without aircraft, there was no need to develop effective anti-air weaponry. As such, more advanced anti-air weaponry from the latter half of the war will not appear.

  • Early in Hai-Furi, Kouko expresses a wish for heavier than air flight, only for Mashiro to reply with a blunt “no”, that it’s impossible. I did not particularly take exception to this fact, since Hai-Furi would’ve progressed very differently were air power available as an option. The choice to remove air power was done deliberately so naval ships from the World War Two era had a chance to shine in Hai-Furi – as aircraft carriers became more integral to naval power during World War Two, battleships were quickly pushed out of the picture. The Yamato, Japan’s greatest battleship, was defeated not by the USS Missouri, a similar battleship, but by aircraft launched from carriers.

  • Instead, I disagreed immediately with Myssa Rei pushing a few Tweets as being sufficient evidence for why air power never developed. Looking back, it was suspect that Myssa Rei chose to screencap the Tweets and upload the images to an image host, as opposed to providing a direct link to the Tweets themselves. While this was likely done out of convenience (e.g. if the Tweets were deleted, or the account were to become deactivated), a record of them would remain. However, this also prevented others from grabbing the text and translating it for themselves, which meant that for ease of discussion, forum-goers simply accepted Myssa Rei’s translations and interpretations to be true.

  • I was able to use Twitter’s findfor-since-until query to locate the original Tweets and grab the original text for a bit of machine translation. The results should not be too surprising: the original Tweets had not actually been from script writer Takaaki Suzuki as claimed, and moreover, were again, translated in an incomplete manner. Through Myssa Rei’s translation, it was implied that air power had simply been too hard to figure out, so people gave up on it. The actual text simply supposes it was unsuccessful, and gives no further explanation, meaning it was equally likely that powered flight went the way of the earliest electric cars after the internal combustion engine was developed.

  • As it was, I disagreed with Myssa Rei on this particular detail, and was met with a stony silence on the forums. It typified Myssa Rei’s usual modus operandi: since I was deemed unworthy of talking to them at the same level, I never got responses for any of the information or theories I put forward. However, in a curious bit of passive-aggression, Myssa Rei later edited Tango-Victor-Tango to read that I was a part of the “broken base” over the absence of air power. I had not been opposed to the lack of heavier-than-air vehicles, but rather, the assertion that it was simply too hard and therefore unnecessary to develop aircraft and helicopters.

  • I’m not sure how Myssa Rei would’ve actually found the Twitter posts in question, but I imagine that it was probably through imageboards. I’ve never particularly liked image boards, since their anonymous nature meant that people were often prone to abuses, with users posting fan theories and outrageous guesses that almost always turned out incorrect. For instance, 4chan’s anime boards speculated that the phenomenon caused by what was later known as the Totalitarian Virus was actually mind control, whereas I contended it was a virus. When I made this suggestion on AnimeSuki, I was told that this was impossible, and mind control made more sense. Once the later episodes revealed the phenomenon had a biological origin, discussion on that topic immediately ceased.

I will open by remarking that the Twitter account in question does not actually belong to Suzuki: Suzuki operates a Twitter account under the handle @yamibun, and specifies his birthday as being June 9. This profile is definitely Suzuki’s, as it openly specifies that he works as a writer and does screenplays. Conversely, the account that Myssa Rei cites, @hunini181202 (formerly @xBbZcxGT3KAVmR9) belongs to a military enthusiast who enjoys uploading military photos to Wikimedia Commons and lives in Ujitawara in the Kyoto Prefecture. Furthermore, @hunini181202’s profile lists the user’s birthday as November 16. The lack of overlap indicates that @hunini181202, who Myssa Rei cited as being Suzuki, is in fact, not Suzuki, who uses the @yamibun account. Thus, the conclusion is simple enough: the individual who made those Tweets about heavier-than-air flight in Hai-Furi is not Takaaki Suzuki, and in fact, is only stating that he has source material from Suzuki. We can thus discard Myssa Rei’s assertions that the lack of air power in Hai-Furi is justified on the basis of “authorial fiat”, having shown that Myssa Rei’s initial premise is false. However, in proper MythBusters style, this isn’t any fun, so those claims from the anonymous user are still worth considering. Thus, let’s suppose for a moment that Takaaki Suzuki did, in fact, argue that the lack of heavier-than-air flight stems from setbacks dating back to the Wright Brothers in 1903.

The primary point here is the assertion that heavier-than-air flight, like fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, don’t exist simply because the attempts to develop it failed, and as such, humanity simply discarded the concept and walked away without ever considering the idea again in the future. This is, quite frankly, an insult to Wilbur and Orville Wright, as well as every aviator who attempted to carry out powered flight prior to 1903: the Wright Brothers had struggled extensively to design a vehicle capable of powered flight. After testing various designs between 1900 and 1902, they determined that the Wright Flyer design was the most suitable and set about testing it. On their first trial, Wilbur crashed the vehicle, but it was repaired, and Orville took to the skies for a total of twelve seconds on a subsequent attempt. Although short, and their initial efforts resulted in the destruction of the original Flyer, the Wright brothers had demonstrated that powered flight was indeed possible. History would’ve dictated that, had the Wright Brothers failed, early aviators like Karl Jatho, Samuel Pierpont Langley or Alberto Santos-Dumont would have succeeded given enough time. History is dotted with individuals who were met with failures before success: the Dyson vacuum under went more than five thousand iterations before it worked, and James Dyson ended up creating his own manufacturing company to build them when large manufacturing firms declined to, Robert Goddard’s concept of a liquid fuel rocket was originally dubbed “impossible” but would form the basis for all modern rockets, and Thomas Edison famously experimented with a thousand designs before succeeding in creating the incandescent lamp. The lesson here is that humanity is largely a species characterised by a desire to explore and discover, so to suggest that humanity gave up on powered flight is to imply that as a species, we are not driven by innovation. So, for the sake of discussion, let’s suppose that is the case. Writing letters is effective enough of a form of communication, but it hasn’t stopped Hai-Furi‘s universe from developing tablets of the variety that Kouko uses. Consequently, innovation and advancement does exist in Hai-Furi, and since this contradicts the original idea, that humanity in Hai-Furi has stagnated, we can conclude by saying that it is the case that humanity is still advancing, the idea that humanity simply lost interest in powered flight is not an acceptable answer. As such, barring a more detailed explanation from Suzuki, this is not the answer we’re looking for.

Verdict: Busted

Methane hydrate mining cannot cause land to subside, so the alternate time-line in Hai-Furi is implausible from a geological perspective

At Tango-Victor-Tango, one of the tropes I’m least fond of are the “artistic license” ones: inaccuracies committed for the sake of story, in their own words. Tropes seem to love these, because it gives them a chance to show off their own knowledge and intellect. In Hai-Furi, it is supposed that because Japan was involved in the mining of methane hydrate (simply, methane crystallised into a ice-like material as a result of pressure extremities), their economy was stable and therefore, there was never any need to engage in any expansionism. However, Japan became highly dependent on the mining and sales of ice hydrates to the point where they over-mined, causing Japan to sink. Myssa Rei immediately posted the “artistic license” trope under geology, stating that:

The explanation given by Mashiro’s mother for the reason for the subsidence of Japan’s landmass being partly due to the over-mining of the undersea deposits of Methane Hydrate doesn’t make any sense. There’s a chance that she was genuinely misinformed, however.

  • There was actually one more myth I was originally looking to write about in this post – shortly before the first episode aired, a blog post argued that all of the characters’ nicknames had been based on popular cat names in Japan. I ended up asking for a source to prove this and received a link for a pet name ranking for dogs, dated for 2018. The names “Mike” and “Shiro” do not even appear in 2018, so that myth was so busted, it didn’t merit a full entry. As it stands, Akeno and Mashiro are not named after cats.

  • As Hai-Furi wore on, it became apparent that my speculations were consistent with what ended up occurring, and I found the series to be more than it let in on. Looking back at the discussions at various forums, it became clear that they were likely the reason why Hai-Furi had not been enjoyable for some: people spent more time arguing the withertoos and whyfores that the series original themes, which Yoshida had touched in in her interview, were completely forgotten. In my finale post, I praised the series for having a clear theme despite the hurdles the plot faced, noting that the inaccuracies and liberties taken did not detract from the messages of trust and teamwork even if they had been numerous.

  • However, in retrospect, beyond the mechanism for the Totalitarian Virus, everything else in the series stands up to scrutiny: Hai-Furi is not realistic by any means, but how the world was presented was sufficiently well thought-out that the story did work despite the fact that the series felt distinctly cobbled-together. Once the finale to Hai-Furi ended, many of AnimeSuki’s most active participants did not show up for the OVAs or film that followed. In the aftermath, I ended up working with another netizen to iron out the remaining issues at Tango-Victor-Tango. This individual was an active editor there, and I would help them with writing out the Hai-Furi page such that all of the speculation and outdated information sourced from image boards were removed.

  • This is the overhead view of Japan that led me to conclude that Hai-Furi‘s geography had resulted from a mining accident, rather than a global rise in sea levels. As it stands, I believe the four myths discussed, and busted, in this post are likely the main details I wished to address. The Totalitarian Virus is a central part of the story and therefore, one’s reception to that is a more accurate determinant of whether or not Hai-Furi would be enjoyable for them. That is to say, dismissing Hai-Furi on account of a torpedo’s damage, whether or not it lined up with The Hunt for Red October, plausibly explained away heavier-than-air flight or was realistic in its geological description of the mining disaster is to be mistaken.

  • Admittedly, re-watching Hai-Furi without any of the forum drama going on is how I prefer to watch this series. It’s now time to finish busting the last myth, finish off this post (which has reached 6649 words in length and took seven hours to write altogether), and then return to regularly scheduled programming: immediately on the horizon is Wednesday’s post for the tenth Road to Berlin post, and I need to get a move on the post for Halo 4, having beaten it last Thursday.

Evidently, the Tango-Victor-Tango Department of Geological Sciences does not have mining subsidence as a part of their syllabus: subsidence is the sinking or settling of ground downwards with little horizontal motion, and it has been shown that extensive mining activities can cause the ground to sink. In the case of natural gas deposits, there is a limit to how much the gas can be compressed before it enters the liquid phase, and liquids, being incompressible, will support soil layers above the gas field. Extracting the gas then results in a reduced pressure, and the mass of materials above the deposit will begin sinking. Methane hydrates do indeed have commercial applicability: the deposits around the world are thought to contain as much as ten times the volume of natural gas as known deposits, and Japan has expressed interest in using this as a fuel source: their geologists estimate upwards of 1.1 trillion cubic metres of methane hydrates in the Nankai trough alone. Real-world geological research has thus indicated that Japan does indeed have sizeable reserves, and in the realm of fiction, things have simply been scaled up. As such, excessive mining, coupled with the fact that natural gas extraction could in fact cause land subsidence, is not too far-fetched a concept for setting up how Hai-Furi‘s Japan ended up the way it did.

Experimenting with sea level maps, the image of Japan shown near the first episode’s ending suggests that Japan’s sunk by anywhere from 50-80 metres. However, the Korean peninsula looks relatively unaffected, whereas a 60 metre sea level rise (occurring if all of the world’s ice caps melted) would also be noticeable in that overhead image. The sum of these observations indicate that the sea level rise in Hai-Furi did not result from global warming as a result of burning natural gas: this was something that a few folks at Anime News Network concluded was the actual cause of the events in Hai-Furi, and the anime had simply gone with a different route to avoid the topic of climate change and its impacts on the world. When everything is considered, catastrophic climate change resulting from greenhouse gases was not the cause of Japan sinking: investigation of the consequence of extracting natural gas and assuming that a similar model can be used for methane hydrate extraction at scale finds that it is plausible for such a disaster to occur. Consequently, the claim that Hai-Furi‘s world-building is an example of artistic license in geology is untrue: while admittedly far-fetched, Mayuki wasn’t misinformed in any way. Such an occurrence is not beyond the realm of what is possible given the distribution of methane hydrate deposits around the world and is consistent with what is potentially known to occur with natural gas extraction.

Verdict: Busted

Closing Remarks

Having shown that the theories and research surrounding for Hai-Furi were oh-for-four in this post, the conclusion I leave readers with is really just to approach Hai-Furi with an open mind. Misplaced expectations will inevitably result if any one of these myths were on the viewer’s mind while watching Hai-Furi. The observant reader will have noticed that all of these myths came from Myssa Rei. It is not the intent of this post to cast Myssa Rei in a poor light, but to demonstrate the consequences of basing one’s interpretations and speculation about a series from incomplete details missing context, or speculation from disreputable sources like 4chan. Had I agreed with Myssa Rei, Hai-Furi would not be enjoyable. Akeno making a decision that resulted in the Sarushima’s sinking would paint her as bumbling and incompetent. If Hai-Furi had really been a retelling of The Hunt for Red October, the vastly different themes between the two works would mean that certain events would never reconcile. The lack of powered flight would speak poorly of society in Hai-Furi, giving very little incentive to suppose that the people in charge are competent and able. A lack of a plausible mechanism for explaining why the world was the way it was would imply the writers did not care enough for the final product to make a reasonable world for Akeno and the others, and consequently, there wouldn’t be a reason to root for Akeno, Mashiro and the others. All of these are untrue, and Hai-Furi is, in fact, a moderately enjoyable series.

The point of this post is to demonstrate how exercising my own judgement and forming my own conclusions allowed me to enjoy Hai-Furi. As such, in retrospect, I probably should’ve written this post much earlier, as this would’ve helped to smooth out any inconsistencies as a result amongst the other viewers. Looking back, a common problem that I’ve noticed with news and information of any sort is that, the first person to release it inevitably gains all of the credit for it, and their work is automatically assumed to be correct. Consequently, even if it can later be shown that the first person had been in fact, wrong, and a retraction is issued, the misinformation continues to endure because most people will not be interested in the recanting of outdated, incorrect information. I realise full well this is what’s happening here with this MythBusters-style post: even though I’ve busted four myths in a succinct manner, it is doubtful that Hai-Furi fans will read this post, much less realise that Myssa Rei had been completely mistaken about a great many things. While the ship has sailed for busting Hai-Furi myths (pun intended!), there are two take-away lessons from this post for readers that certainly apply to other series. The first is that when a series is airing, one should always make their own judgements and not allow influential-looking individuals to affect their impressions of a work. The second is that, for a series that has finished airing, someone who sounds authoritative about the work might not always be correct, and again, one’s assessment of said work should be based on their own judgements.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part IV), On Handling Critique, Criticisms and Controversy Fatigue

“A person who was demoralised is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his balls then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralisation.” –Yuri Bezmenov

We’ve come to the last item in Moyatori’s Controversed: as a short refresher, it’s a bit of a special workshop Moyatori’s been hosting to understand how peers become versed in maturely and expertly navigating controversial topics. For this final week, the name of the game is handling criticisms and feedback from readers – up until now, the topic has always been how we wrote about difficult topics. However, the readers’ inputs are also a key part of the process: they may offer insights to augment our own, challenge us with different ideas or, my personal favourite, swing by with colourful insults, never to be heard from again. The comments are thus a necessary part of any discussion involving controversy, and Moyatori’s questions this week deal in some of the more memorable experiences that we’ve had in the community with bad comments, specifics behind how everyone handles feedback, and the sort of things I do to combat fatigue amidst flame wars. Thus, for this post, it’s time to go storytelling for the first item, spend some time explaining my own comments policy and style, and then wrap up with another story. Before I begin, I will note that all comments here, and most other WordPress blogs, are moderated automatically by a tool called Akismet, which automatically filter out spam comments from bots looking to sell essays or Sildenafil from dubious, malware-infested sources. New comments that are not determined to be spam are pushed to a queue that I personally review, and only after being cleared, will comments become visible to all readers. As far as my WordPress comments experience with this blog goes, a vast majority of readers, I am happy to report, are civilised, well-mannered and rational people who have interesting and valuable things to say. By speaking with them, I learn or have a good time in considering different points of view. Over this blog’s nine year history, I have only ever deleted a single comment from a user who clearly had nothing of worth to add to my discussion of the Kokoro Connect Incident, and in general, I tend to keep even the ad hominem comments, if only so I can make an example of those who are unable to have a civilised discussion. In short, my WordPress experience has been very smooth sailing, and I have no horror stories to report here.

  • It is a bit surprising to see that the end of November is already upon us, and that this is the fourth Controversed post. Because Moyatori indicated that the deadline was going to be the upcoming Sunday at noon Pacific Standard Time, I figured that I should get this done as soon as possible. This event has been quite fun for pushing me to explore directions that this blog wouldn’t normally explore, although I do get the feeling that far from helping readers to understand how I do things, I’ve only really succeeded in dropping my follower count.

Because my blog has been around for quite some time, it’s drawn readers who have found the content here to be enjoyable or relevant to them, and some of these readers have been courteous to spread the word by sharing links to my posts elsewhere online. Most of these conversations use my materials as a starting point for their own discussions, and I do not begrudge people for doing that in any way. However, it is also off-site where almost all of the criticisms are levelled at this blog. There is a recurring trend in that some readers find my style to be very dense, dry and difficult to read. I find this to be perfectly valid: I have a particular style, but I don’t find it easy to write in a conversational manner. I try to address this with my figure captions, where I do get to be more informal. Beyond this, I’ve been accused of being self-aggrandising, writing to “listen to the sound of my own voice” and the like, as well; again, had these folks decided to leave the feedback here, it might’ve been possible to query them and gain insight into what precisely they were looking for: it could be the case that I am being pedantic for readers, but it is equally possible that I happened to disagree with them and found a way to so thoroughly shut their argument down, that their only retort amounted to naught more than a juvenile insult. If folks insist on making their criticisms in their own venues (Reddit and TV Tropes are where most of my critics congregate), then there is no opportunity for conversation or understanding, since I don’t make it a point to ensure a hundred percent approval rating from websites that I am unrelated to. The goal of this blog is certainly not to appease Redditors or Tropers to validate their egos, and with this being said, I typically find that the off-site criticisms about this blog remain relatively mild compared to the story Moyatori’s looking to hear for this Controversed. In response to whether or not I have a horror story about feedback, I do happen to have such a story, and it is a thrilling one.

  • The page quote is sourced from Yuri Bezmenov, who spoke of the “active measures” that the Soviet Union had employed to undermine the foundations of western civilisation. While it seemed improbable that generations of people would suddenly stop believing in facts, what I’ve seen around the internet has indicated that, foreign influence or no, the western world does seem to be trending towards a lack of respect for facts and science. Some nobody with a Tinder-style Twitter profile picture is more trustworthy than an expert in the field, and in their minds, should be afforded equal respect.

This story deals with K-On! The Movie, which follows Yui and her friends as they travel to London after a miscommunication results in the group setting up a graduation trip to cover their actual goal of writing a song for Azusa. During the course of their travels, Yui sees what Azusa means to her and the rest of Houkago Tea Time. With Naoko Yamada directing, this movie was a smash hit by all definitions. However, the series’ success has also been viewed by a small, but vocal group of people as being detrimental to the industry. In the summer of 2012, shortly after K-On! The Movie‘s home release had become available, AnimeSuki’s Reckoner (a writer at Behind the Nihon Review) published a lengthy harangue about K-On! The Movie. Behind The Nihon Review has had a history of criticising K-On!, and while Sorrow-kun, the site’s lead writer, always maintained that they were a bastion of intellectual discussion, the reality was that they had used academia and intellectual methodology as an immature (but effective) cover to complain about genres that made anime look like anything other than intellectually stimulating treatises on philosophy, sociology and politics. Ten days after the movie came out, I awoke on Saturday to find this atrocity of a “review” in my list of subscribed threads:

K-ON! has always been one of the most disingenuous anime franchises of all time to me. If there is any big reason why this movie ultimately falls flat on its face it is because they try to strike a sentimental chord about the nostalgic high school years in a franchise whose sincerity has gone completely bankrupt a long time ago. Not to mention the amount of distraction that is caused by what ultimately felt like a minor side point to this story, their trip to London.

Seriously what was the point of this movie in ever venturing off to London? Half the movie, if not maybe a little more actually takes place back in Japan. The time they do spend in London is just waltzing around random parts of the city and hardly utilizing any elements of the culture and setting for the purposes of the movie. When they did their little performances, one was at a sushi bar and the other was at a Japanese cultural fair. Home away from home? Give me a break. This movie never needed to go to London to do what it did because it never actually really used the goddamn setting in anyway meaningful. The focus here is completely off.

I also have to note why people in London were portrayed like the biggest weirdos ever. I mean c’mon now, I know Japanese people tend to not be very good with foreign countries but this sort of ridiculing portrayal of foreigners has got to stop. I usually forgive TV more for this since well they don’t got the budget and stuff, but this is a goddamn movie and they can’t actually do a better job here? Worst the engrish still exists and they can’t get proper english speakers? Give me a break.

If this movie was supposed to be about how they wanted to say goodbye to the their good friend, then good grief did they go about in the most roundabout manner possible. It does not help that most of movie is pretty much recycling the same old jokes and personality quirks that have long since gone past their life time of freshness and amusement.

And like always this franchise hasn’t been about music. That became very clear in its very first season and it still is clear now. I never got the impression that the music was something deeply important to the character, rather it was the experience with themselves as friends that they seemed to value more. Essentially the hobby didn’t matter, it was just that they all interacted with this hobby. To the very end this permeated the show, and I still have to ask the question here, why music? If K-ON!! ever truly sent the message here about why music was here in the first place, I never got it. It had about as much purpose as it did in something like Angel Beats, it’s just sort of there. This franchise is still completely false advertising in this regard.

I also do not like how they always manage to play so damn perfect in their songs. Oh we wrote a song, we don’t really practice it and all of a sudden they’re on stage and the whole crowd eats it up. Great. It’s a disservice to the process of music completely. The only time they did any different was the very last song that they prepared for Azu-nyan, but these scenes were far and few in between through this entire franchise and even in the movie.

In reality this didn’t need to be a film. The pacing throughout was completely off and very uneven. The production values were honestly a bit disappointing for a Kyoani effort. A lack of a cohesive narrative structure plagued the film all throughout because of two completely different focuses never meshing together. The sentimentality doesn’t work because it never properly built a base by distancing itself from its obvious 4-koma roots in the first place. When most of your show consists of eating cake and drinking tea with 4-koma styled humor and interactions throughout, it just does not feel sincere. The film wasted too much time in an ultimately pointless side adventure to make up any ground here on this front.

I hope this is the last we ever of the K-ON franchise. This film was extremely, extremely poor.

Within moments of finishing reading this that morning, counterarguments began racing through my mind: if anything, it was Reckoner’s “review” that was extremely, extremely poor. Reckoner was wrong on all counts about K-On! The Movie. This “review” demonstrated his emotional bankruptcy, as well as small-mindedness and inconsolable envy at the fact that a series with a theme on something that wasn’t “intellectually stimulating” could perform well. The London trip in K-On! The Movie was an accident, a consequence of the girls trying to conceal their graduation gift to Azusa, and that the fact it happens shows that Houkago Tea Time is very much a go-with the flow band. The movie also used native English speakers, and I felt it reasonable to suppose that Reckoner is probably a non-native speaker if he had trouble with comprehending the dialogue. The series has never been about music, and instead, was a story of discovery and appreciation, as well as expressing thanks through music. Houkago Tea Time’s consistently high standard of performance comes from the fact they’ve been playing for three years and know how to put on a show. Reckoner’s dishonesty was disgraceful in his “review”, and calling the movie out for poor production values is to be outright lying: the film looked and feels sharper than anything seen in the TV series, making use of sophisticated lighting and camera angles. Behind the Nihon, if anything, was false advertising, claiming to have “intellectual” discussion when all they did was complain about moé anime. It was fortunate that beyond AnimeSuki, Reckoner’s “review” never made it anywhere else, as it represented an unsatisfactory effort based on emotion rather than well-reasoned thoughts. Amidst this jumble of thoughts, I knew that Reckoner was entitled to his opinions of the film, but as I’ve continued to maintain, being entitled to an opinion does not mean one is entitled to an audience, or entitled to having people agree with him for free.

Thus, rather than counter-argue against the “review” directly, I attempted to probe further and see if I could get Reckoner to rationally justify why he had watched the movie if he’d never been a fan of the franchise. If people were going to agree with him, I felt that Reckoner would really have to earn this right. However, I never got any further: back in those days, AnimeSuki possessed a reputation system that was originally intended to show which forum members had anything useful to say. Naturally, Reckoner, being a longtime user of the site, had a much higher reputation score than myself. When I asked why people were agreeing with Reckoner despite his rant being contributing nothing of value to the discussion, this prompted people in the discussion to dole out negative reputation to my account. Over the course of an hour, I’d gone from being reputation positive to being very reputation negative, which resulted in my being totally ignored in all parts of the forum. All of this resulted from challenging a longtime member to really justify their conclusions properly in the spirit of discussion. Because Reckoner had completely convinced his arguments were indisputable and counting on his reputation rather than merit, to defend his position, he resorted to crude means of closing the discussion, expecting that people agree with him simply because he’d been around at AnimeSuki for longer. At Reckoner’s request, for months afterwards, all of my posts were completely disregarded, which completely defeated the purpose of participating in the forum, and my blog even experienced a significant drop in traffic as Reckoner asked in the Behind the Nihon Review community to boycott me for challenging his authority.

The lesson learnt from this incident was that there are people with frail egos who do not like to be challenged, and on virtue of their reputation, demand agreement from others. Were I to go back and do things over, per Moyatori’s question, I’m not sure if there is anything I could’ve done differently to have a conversation with Reckoner directly – this writer from Behind the Nihon Review had a large, but fragile ego and had been utterly convinced that K-On! was something no one should watch. I imagine that had I continued, I would’ve simply been banned. In retrospect, while attempting to get a rational answer from Reckoner was impossible, I could’ve turned the entire situation around by re-writing Reckoner’s review from a completely positive standpoint and made a more concerted effort to gain the support from the other forum goers, to prove that the positives in K-On! The Movie far outweigh the negatives. I never did get around to doing this, however: in the end, I ended up speaking with the admin, who noted that, while Reckoner’s actions were in the wrong, reputation was not something they preferred to deal with (if they allowed me to reset my reputation, it would set a precedence where people could also ask for the same). However, they did permit me to deactivate my old account and spin up a new account for a fresh start. Since my old account was deactivated, I was not violating any rules with the new account. Since then, I’ve been rocking this new account. Further to this, AnimeSuki did away with the reputation system as a result of this incident, and with reputation gone,  all of the forum members were now on equal footing, and I found it much easier to properly have discussions with people when I did rejoin. While it created new problems, allowing Sumeragi to hijack threads and flood them with lies (I’ll discuss that in a few moments), removing reputation was largely a positive move for AnimeSuki: without reputation, Reckoner had to defend his opinions on merit alone and began posting with a dramatically reduced frequency. Finally, as for Reckoner’s efforts to boycott this blog, people soon forgot about things: today, this blog seems to be doing well enough, and dare I say, considerably better than Behind the Nihon Review, which gets as much traffic in a year as I do in a day now.

  • I absolutely stand by my assertion that the hostility towards K-On! stemmed from the fact that the individual had saw himself as being above the creators. This brand of thinking has since permeated the world, with people believing their own knowledge supersedes expert opinion. This is because if their truth is overridden by the truth, the foundations of their world no longer make sense to them, and further to this, the instant gratification afforded by the internet, and social media in particular, mean that highly specialised, technical disciplines are not worth pursuing to them simply because they take a great deal of time to cultivate. Patience and social media do not align: if it takes years to acquire the expertise and skillset needed to understand a topic, it won’t help one get retweets or upvotes, these people reason.

On the matter of how I address my critics and criticisms, I start by noting that there is precious little I can do about discussions that happen off WordPress, and I suspect that my most vocal critics deliberately choose to attack my blog off-site for this reason, likely fearing (non-existent) retribution. However, they are mistaken in their assumption that I censor everything the same way Sony NA does, and in fact, I count this blog’s commenting policy as being very open. Further to this, I strive to be fair to readers who take the time to comment: assuming the comment has cleared the spam filter, is relevant to the discussion and is free of prohibited materials, I always aim to ensure my reply to a comments are close in length to the original, and I strive to answer the commenter as best as I can if they have a question. Readers who leave a sentence and a reaction will likely get a smiley face with their light-hearted reply, and commenters who take the time to write paragraphs will receive a paragraph back in response. The goal here is to foster discussions from across the spectrum: if users are looking for a quick reaction, I can accommodate that as readily as I do lengthier conversations. All sorts of comments are welcome here, and I usually make an effort to reply to comments as soon as possible, usually before I publish my next post. There is only one exception to this rule: I have a zero tolerance policy for memes because of their repetition, which is wasteful, and in particular, the so-called “pepega” meme is outright prohibited here. Posting that hate symbol is the fastest way to be permanently banned from commenting. Beyond this, I welcome comments from readers – besides offering insights I may not think of, there are the occasional comment where a reader writes about how my posts have helped change their lives in a tangible, positive manner, and those are always a joy to read and respond to.

  • Consequently, there is decreasing respect for the scientific method, experts and facts, and this means that controversies become more common. When there is no foundation to build discussions off of, people only have their subjective experiences and emotions to argue from. I call these “feels” in a derogatory manner, and my participation in Controversed found that a lot of misunderstandings in controversies happen precisely because of these so-called “feels”: without context and facts, some people fall back on a knee-jerk reaction to simplify complex issues into a us vs. them debate. In a proper discussion, this does not happen because there is context, and a common ground to build arguments from.

The last item on today’s itinerary is how I handle the potential exhaustion that may result from discussing controversial topics. We suppose that avoiding them is not an option in this case, since my nominal answer is to simply sit them out while they’re raging: a few years ago, a forum-goer calling themselves “Sumeragi” was arguing that Miho was not justified in saving her teammates in Girls und Panzer, and claimed that his own personal views were the correct way of living out life. This resulted in a massive flame war, and while other forum members attempted to counter with logic and reason, Sumeragi insisted on how his beliefs and backgrounds proved that all other arguments were void. This is something straight from the playbook of extremists who’ve rejected reality and replaced it with their own delusions. Against a foe of this sort, it is simpler to not participate. In the case, however, where one is entangled, I would suggest disabling notifications to posts and replies in the social media environment, and for forums, using submit-and-forget approach. The key to avoiding fatigue is understanding that a constant presence in the debate and a swift reply is not worth the stress it introduces. For social media, disabling notifications means not being constantly bombarded with updates, while on forums, writing infrequently and only responding periodically reduces the amount of effort one has to spend replying to people who may not be arguing in good faith. In both cases, the idea is to make the person on the other end of the screen endure the deluge of notifications and refresh their pages anxiously. Even with this approach, heated discussions can get very tiring, and in this case, my favourite course of action usually follows: head offline and do something fun, whether it be going for a walk, grabbing a beer, or unwinding with a good film. There is a price to “winning” online arguments, whether it be suffering from anxiety or, in Sumeragi’s case, a permanent (and well-deserved) ban from AnimeSuki. I remark that there is a difference between a spirited discussion done with folks one is familiar with, and arguing with anonymous people who are convinced they are in the right: with people where a mutual respect is shared, discussions happen at a casual pace, and there is never any exhaustion.

  • To undo demoralisation, then, people must look to accepting that there are other people in the world who specialise and excel in different areas, and that it is the sum of this knowledge that progress is built upon. This means having faith in a physician’s diagnosis of a patient, an engineer’s designs for a building and the software developer’s explanation of how an algorithm works, rather than deciding that one’s own access to Wikipedia makes them equal to an expert. These are my closing remarks for Controversed, and I assure readers that December will be a lot more conventional in nature, as I focus on my usual topics: perhaps then, the readers I’ve frightened off may return.

I believe that with this post, I’m now finished Controversed. I’m not too sure how useful my content has been for Moyatori, and if anything, participating has helped me to recall why I prefer to avoid online controversies altogether – a recurring phenomenon in controversies is that people are often unwilling to listen. Even when presented with the facts, people will cling to their ideology and emotions until the bitter end. A computer program or mathematical proof is insufficient to convince these people of reality, and they stubbornly insist they’re correct even in direct contradiction to empirical data. In this situation, we speak of the demoralisation that Yuri Bezmenov warned the world of decades earlier: when facts fail to be respected, and argument boils down to “feels”, there is nothing to be learnt, and no discussion to be had. Social media exacerbates this, and it gives the terrifying impression that rational, logical thought is rapidly going the way of the dinosaurs. Logic and reason are the sole tools in ensuring that in a controversy, people find the willingness to listen to all sides of the argument. In an age where this is often forgotten, complex issues are reduced to matters of black and white, where all context is stripped from the argument. This accounts for why controversies continue to erupt over every trivial thing in anime and other matters. While knowing how to navigate controversies and discuss these topics is doubtlessly important, the topic Moyatori chooses to close off Controversed is equally important – in a world where every debate is potentially black and white, and where neither side refuses to yield or concede that the other side has merits, knowing precisely how to handle difficult individuals and situations is vital in keeping one from burning out. As long as there are enough people who adhere to civility, logic, reason and a willingness to listen in their arguments, interesting discussions will always be had without getting out of hand, and within the circles I’m a part of, I’ve had no trouble asking difficult questions of my peers, who’ve given me insights I certainly wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part III), Considering What Lies Beyond Existentialism in the Execution of Sora no Woto

“I’ve never been a stickler, certainly not Latin names [for plants]; I’ve never known the Latin names, but even just general names, even if it’s good to know. I’ve never been a stickler about it because, in the end, in a survival situation, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It only matters whether or not it’s poisonous or edible, or useful.” –Les Stroud, Survivorman, Director’s Commentary

Before delving into the third round of Controversed, for readers who are coming in for the first time, this is a special community project that a handful of peers are helping Moyatori of The Moyatorium of with – the aim is to gather a wide range of perspectives on controversy with the goal of inviting discussion and becoming familiar, versed, with controversial topics and criticisms being at the heart of the conversation. In this week, Moyatori has set us up with three prompts this week, all of which are driven by literary criticism rather than controversy – for this post, I’ll be returning to one of my favourite anime of all time to look at where the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre fit into a series that followed a girl and her journey of learning about music’s impact in a world devastated by warfare. The first prompt had been to examine a work using a critical theory of some sort, and admittedly, I found myself having a bit of trouble with this one initially. Fortunately, something has come together in this post, and I hope that it is up to satisfactory standards. In addition, Moyatori also poses the question of whether or not all art is inherently political, a very touchy subject that has seen its share of debate on social media, and lastly, I consider the question of why anime isn’t scrutinised the same as something like literature or film. It’s a wide range of topics this time, and I’ll start with tackling the place of existentialism in Sora no Woto, as well as how this illustrates the need for some practises in the anime community to be adopted such that more interesting and meaningful discussions can be had. Without further delay, then, we delve into Sora no Woto, an anime dating back a decade that was created as a part of the Anime no Chikara programme, which sought to create new and exciting anime not based off any manga or light novel.

  • Initially, I was contemplating sitting this round of Controversed out: upon reading Moyatori’s prompts, I realised I was out of my depths with the topic of choice: while I’ve taken literature courses during my time as a university student, my preference was for courses that focused on literature as a representation of society, and how interpreting a work gave insight into technology and science during that work’s period. As such, critical theories, the so-called –isms, were not those that I learnt to wield in great depth. However, while out on a stroll, it hit me that I had spoken of such a topic previously, albeit in more casual terms.

Sora no Woto follows a young girl named Kanata Sorami, who transfers to a remote outpost in a town called Seize. Besides dealing with themes of self-discovery and optimism, Sora no Woto caught viewers by surprise at its halfway point: on the eve of a festival paying respects to the dead, squad leader Filicia Heideman recalls the horrors of losing her original squad-mates during a brutal engagement: these were fellow soldiers that had mentored her and trained alongside her. When an enemy tank managed to flank them during combat, Filicia was the sole survivor, with the remainder of her squad blown to bits. Filicia subsequently wandered the battlefield aimlessly and fell into a subway line. Here, she began to feel the hopelessness of her situation, and succumbed to despair – delirious, Filicia hallucinated a conversation with the corpse of a fallen soldier, who had believed that the world was inherently meaningless, and that all human actions would be futile in the long term. In the black pits of her despair, Filicia even contemplates suicide, wondering what good was left in the world that would be worth protecting. However, in the darkest of moments, she hears a trumpet, and after calling out, finds herself face-to-face with Princess Iliya, a member of the royal family and an active soldier. Filicia is saved, but since then, suffered from the post traumatic stress disorder of losing her old squad and coming close to death herself; every year during the festival of the dead, Filicia becomes quiet and withdrawn. When Kanata arrives, the sheer joy and energy she brings helps Filicia to understand what makes life worth living – the world might’ve been intrinsically meaningless, but it is up to its inhabitants to inscribe meaning unto the world. Thanks to Kanata, Filicia is able to accept her past and honour her fallen comrades without breaking down. This episode completely took viewers by surprise: Sora no Woto had been, up until that point, a light-hearted series resembling K-On! more than Saving Private Ryan.

  • I’m not quite sure where the original assertion, that existentialism is Sora no Woto‘s main theme, came from. I believe it began when an anime blog, whose name I cannot recall, wrote that it existentialism was a central piece of Sora no Woto a year after the anime ended, and then someone at TV Tropes took this to mean that existentialism was the main, overarching theme of Sora no Woto and moreover, this was supposedly not a matter opinion because Filicia’s words is, word-per-word, the definition of existentialism. While it is true that existentialism exists in Sora no Woto, the anime’s emphasis on music means that the story is by no means purely about existentialism, and moreover, many attempts to analyse Sora no Woto, especially at 4chan, were unsuccessful because they never explain why existentialism enhances the Sora no Woto experience. With this in mind, I now had the perfect Controversed topic.

The brand of philosophy that Filicia voices in Sora no Woto is existentialism, a form of thinking characterised by the belief that the individual holds the responsibility of giving meaning to a world that, in the absence of a human observer, lacks meaning. Existentialists believe that the world does not naturally have any values or definitions we would be familiar with; that is to say, existence precedes essence. The premise, then, is that by default, nothing has meaning, and that the human consciousness is what creates this meaning as a result of existing in the universe, giving it an essence. In Sora no Woto, both existentialism and nihilism are juxtaposed: in the subterranean halls, Filicia succumbs to despair and wonders why anything exists at all if suffering is the end result – seeing the horror and desolation of warfare, the lack of meaning in her fight, causes her to lose all hope. The despair described in existentialism might be seen as a form of existential nihilism, in which one believes that what qualities make up the individual (and by extension, the universe) have no intrinsic worth. Consequently, in the presence of hope, something to look forwards to, the existentialist necessarily believes that intrinsic meaning or no, the individual has the agency to define the meaning of something for themselves, and this counts for something. Sora no Woto has Filicia subscribe to an existentialist point of view to emphasise its message of optimism and positivity. She had lost her way after her squad perished in battle, and even now, still feels guilt and anguish at their untimely passing. However, with Kanata, Rio, Kureha and Nöel, Filicia begins to appreciate that as long as there are people in her corner, there will be hope. Per the role of hope in existentialism, then, where there is hope, there is meaning and value in living.

However, while existentialism is a means to an end in Sora no Woto, it is by no means an end-all: after the seventh episode aired, anime critics immediately jumped to the conclusion that Sora no Woto was solely a tale of existentialism. The world Sora no Woto is set in is decidedly grim, and while Kanata and her squad manage to find the cheer in the most mundane of things, their world is suffering: global devastation wrought by the last war is eroding the arable land, oceans are devoid of life, and the planet’s capacity to support life is falling. In spite of this, Kanata and the others carry on, resolute in doing what they can to give their lives, and world, hope. It therefore seemed logical that Sora no Woto was indeed an existentialist story. However, this conclusion has long been something I counted incomplete. In a vacuum, existentialism only supposes that the individual has agency in determining their development and actions. This agency exists, but by those terms, it means the individual also has the agency to choose whether or not they end up taking the path to advance themselves. Thus, a purely existentialist theme in Sora no Woto would leave discussions open to the implication that it is sufficient to find meaning in one’s life, but then it is not necessary to act on the meaning:

“It’s the difference between us thinking we are paper-knives, made with a predetermined purpose, as opposed to us actually being bits of flint on the beach which can be MADE into something useful and purposeful in reality.”

This is quoted from one of the earliest, and most well-known assertions that Sora no Woto is purely an existentialist tale: I always found this to be an irresponsible way of thinking, as it implies that people are shaped by their external environment. Further to this, the quoted passage above actually deviates from the definition of existentialism, which requires that the individual be the agent shaping their course. The latter, of course, places responsibility on the individual to make of life what they will (and correspondingly, accept the consequences of their actions). Consequently, to remove this ambiguity, I stepped outside the realm of existentialism and looked to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to clear things up. A quick glance at Sora no Woto, after Colonel Hopkins is defeated, all of the girls’ basics are secured. Rio begins setting her sights on bettering the world, and the first step to accomplishing this is to rebuild a hot-air balloon that will allow her to travel to previously uncharted regions. Rio has not only found her meaning in the world, but she is taking the initiative to actualise her vision and act on her goals. By drawing on a concept completely unrelated to existentialism, I conclude that it was insufficient to merely find one’s meaning, but one must also do something with that knowledge in order to leave a tangible, useful legacy that indicates their agency was one with value. This is what conclusion can be reached about the role of existentialism in the execution of Sora no Woto. The point of extending the discussion was so I could be explicit about where existentialism fits in with the series’ theme: existentialism on its own is not a theme in Sora no Woto, but rather, a part of the theme. The series leaves viewers with the optimistic, hopeful message that through people, hope is rekindled, and through hope, there is meaning that makes pursuit of one’s goals worthwhile and valuable. Themes in a story are nuanced, complex topics that speaks to the author’s views on an idea, and as such, it is rarely the case that an author will merely draw from one critical theory to guide their story. As such, anime critics must also be able to discern the idea that a single theory cannot neatly encapsulate all of a work’s themes into one particular critical theory. I’ve noticed this to be a recurring theme in anime discussions, where individuals oftentimes will only ever reach the comprehension stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where they are able to identify a principle or concept by its traits, but fail to do more with it. For the individual quoted above, they’ve demonstrated an understanding of what existentialism is, but do not go beyond this. To really make an insightful statement about existentialism, one must go further and synthesise the observation with other events in Sora no Woto to create a new, noteworthy perspective of it, and then evaluate how successful Sora no Woto was in its execution. Through this examination, my aim has been to illustrate how to effectively bring a critical eye to anime in such a way as to synthesise and evaluate different critical theories as they appear to in works of fiction in general to create a novel idea – the entire enjoyment of reading what others write about anime lies in gaining insight into how they see the world. Simple identification or regurgitation of knowledge does not allow for these more engaging and meaningful discussions to be had.

  • If there was a take-away from this post, it’s that attempting to fit the theme of a fictional work into one critical theory is usually doomed to failure, since authors often draw from multiple viewpoints, and correspondingly, multiple theories, to craft their themes. In Sora no Woto, looking at existentialism in a vacuum is not particularly useful, but seeing how existentialism inspires the characters to do something more with their lives creates a much more exciting discussion. As it stands, I find anime analysis to only really be useful if one can draw conclusions from what they look at in a work, and the best discussions occur when folks begin discussing things like how their experiences impact their perspectives of a given series in the context of a critical theory.

The matter of existentialism allows for a curious segue into the next of Moyatori’s prompts – if we were to extend the ideas in existentialism to literary discourse, that meaning is dependent on the individual, the debate of whether or not all artwork is intrinsically political would be reduced to a matter of personal preference. There are no correct answers for which side of the coin holds true, since whether or not one views a work as political is governed by their experience and background, and so as long as the decision was made by an individual with agency (obtusely, anyone who does not draw upon retweets and upvotes to shape their world views), both perspectives are potentially valid. Some works are naturally more political than others by definition: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, for instance, can be seen as a commentary on whether or not governments can be trusted in times of crisis, whether or not individuals should act in collective or individual interests and understanding the motives behind our opponents is critical, especially if one does not have a full picture of whom they serve. While it is perfectly fine to approach The Division 2 as a game where the object is to blow stuff up and collect increasingly cool toys to play with, the setting and topics of The Division 2 naturally invite political discussion. Similarly, anime such as GochiUsa are inherently difficult to draw politics into – Cocoa and Chino becoming closer to one another as a result of their adventures is far removed from topics of ecological responsibility and whether or not social issues are a valid reason for imposing sanctions on a nation’s economy. For this particular issue, I fall back on an old classic that my instructors and PIs in the Health Sciences programme stated to be valid: it depends. Here, the outcome hardly matters – whether or not art is inherently political is secondary to how thoughtful the discussion is, and whether or not discussions can remain civil by steering clear of ad hominem attacks, as is usually the case when upvotes or retweets are involved.

  • There’s a reason why I’m not insistent on using the –isms of the philosophy, psychology and sociology worlds in all of my talks: in a conference for academics, using the terminology is critical because it streamlines communications; here on a casual anime blog such as this, there is not such a need. Being a good communicator means knowing the audience, and knowing what level of detail one should go into depending on who’s listening. The page quote is from Les Stroud: like Stroud, I’ve never been a stickler for the fancier terms for something because I’m not writing for a specialised reader who’s got a background in philosophy or psychology. I’m writing for any reader who is looking to know what I thought of something and what I got out of it. Sounding impressive isn’t half as important to me as being clear, and if being clear means keeping my concepts simple and cutting down on jargon, then that’s what I’ll do. For instance, if I said I optimised a networking call to ensure that two blocking-operations are not synchronous, that wouldn’t mean much to someone who isn’t a developer. For someone who isn’t familiar with programming, I would simply say I made a function run faster by making sure the screen isn’t waiting for two things to load before updating by reloading the screen whenever one thing is done first. Yes, that takes longer, but now, I’ve become very clear on what I’ve accomplished, and that clarity is worth it.

Finally, on the question of why anime does not invite the same breadth or depth of critical analysis as other works of fiction, such as literature and film, I do not believe that accessibility or popularity is the issue. The reason why we don’t take a philosophical hammer or psychology axe to works like GochiUsa, Girls und Panzer or Strike Witches is because those works do not naturally invite such discussion. Most anime is produced with the intent of entertaining its viewers, not creating a commentary on society or the human condition, and as such, finding any philosophical conversation or psychoanalysis on some series, especially slice-of-life and military-moé anime, is tricky because the work was not aimed at making a statement. Anime conducive towards such discussion do exist, and when properly written, can be as insightful on society as something like Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells or Leo Tolstoy’s novels. The reality is, however, such works are inherently fewer, and there are similarly works that may appear to utilise deep, complex themes and ideas, but utterly fail to adequately (or even correctly) wield them. With this being said, a good analyst can find meaning and insight in almost anything they watch: even if one does not have a particularly strong command of the different theories and principles behind philosophy and psychology, it remains more than possible to write about and participate in discussions on the less obvious facets of a work. The point of critically evaluating a work is to see what the work’s aims were, and how well it conveys its messages, rather than demonstrate one’s familiarity in principles taught in undergraduate courses, and as such, I’ve seen and participated in discussions where folks without a formal background have brought insightful, meaningful thoughts to the conversation. The take-away message here is that critical thinking and literary analysis can occur in all forms, and just because someone does not have a grasp of the terminology does not mean that they understand something to a lesser extent than someone who is happy to throw around –isms all day. Folks who keep an open mind and appreciate that analysis can be conducted in more informal terms will find that critical analysis of anime does exist, having the additional benefit of not requiring the same academic rigour as something like a term paper.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part II), Remarks on Style, and A Case Study Using Operator Precedence

“The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.” –G.K. Chesterton

We continue with Moyatori’s Controversed programme, and this time around, I am actually on time for once. This week’s prompt deals with the non-trivial matter of how I approach controversy, whether or not my style is conducive for discussing polarising topics, and how I strike a balance between being clear and reaching the depths needed to adequately cover a topic. In a curious bit of coincidence, I will be able to do a live demonstrate the approach I take for this week’s Controversed, which is exciting: a few evenings ago, order of precedence, the order in which arithmetic expressions are evaluated based on the operands, began trending on Twitter after a user submitted the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” and claimed that such an expression was unsolvable on account of ambiguity. In this post, I will step through a justification of the answer, approach it from a computer science perspective and explore the problem in Moyatori’s context to reflect on how my experience, and style, impacts the way I solve problems (and by extension, how I deal with controversial topics). The aim of this exercise is to give readers a sense of how I ensure my posts can cover the details that I aim to, while simultaneously remain accessible for readers from a range of backgrounds. In today’s discussion, the versatility of my style will be put to the test as I strive to explain why the approach I have taken towards solving the semi-viral expression is appropriate.

  • This post is a little long, so for Moyatori’s Controversed, I’ll answer the questions here, elevator-pitch style, for visibility:
    1. I write very nearly the same way I used for for my journal publications and thesis paper. My blogging voice varies: in paragraphs, I aim to be neutral and stick to what I see in a given work. In the figure captions, I have a little more fun and speak more casually.
    2. My bias depends on what I’m writing for. If I’m writing about anime, I’m going to be biased: my goal is to have fun, and therefore, I tend to accentuate the positives. I’ll still try to explore all sides of the arguments where possible and mention any merits they may have.
    3. My approach in 2) ensures I cover both sides, although I will spend more time presenting evidence for the side I am on. With this being said, I have changed perspectives as I do more reading before; a well-written piece can and has persuaded me to see other perspectives previously.
    4. I use visuals and lean heavily on my screenshots/figure captions to help me out. Words alone are dense and can be very dry, but captioning a picture can help people gauge my reaction to something more readily.
  • With the prompts answered for folks in a hurry, I can almost delve into an example of how I handle controversy. Before I do, I would like to extend a special thanks to Rose of Wretched and Divine and Nabe-chan of Geek Nabe for encouraging me to do something a little more exciting, and fun, for this post.

The Matter of Order

In mathematics, operator precedence (or order of operations) is a method used to determine which operands are carried out first in a given expression. Such rules exist precisely to eliminate ambiguity: broadly speaking, mathematics is a discipline that deals in quantity, structure, space and change. To ensure consistency, students are taught a set of rules to help them compute the value of an expression earlier in their education: brackets are calculated first, followed by exponents, and then multiplication or division follow, with subtraction and addition last. This is a relatively simple rule set that ensures students understand operator precedence, and in the case of carrying out order of operations, a one-line expression such as “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” can be evaluated as follows:

The explanation is simple enough: we execute the sub-expression in the brackets first. The sum of 1 and 2 is 3. Subsequently, using the operator precedence, which states that multiplication and division are carried out in the order that they appear in, we evaluate the 6 ÷ 2. This results in 3, as well. The resulting expression, 3 x 3, is computed as nine. The only assumption here is that we are dealing with a one-line operation, and this is where the alleged ambiguity comes in: are we supposed to interpret the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” as a rational expression? Suppose that we do interpret the original statement as a rational. Then, evaluating it yields the following:

One seemingly simple expression, represented in a different manner, yields a completely different result when evaluated through. This is where the crux of the controversy lies: which of these final values are correct? Basic mathematics is, after all, deterministic: given that we hold the parameters consistent, the result should always be the same. In this case, ambiguity has seemingly created a situation where mathematics is open to interpretation. To remove this ambiguity, mathematicians define what is called a “symbol of grouping”, in which certain symbols, such as the horizontal fraction line, create distinct groups that can be solved. In the case of our expression here, assuming it is rational (a / b for any integers a, b, and b ≠ 0), the numerator and denominator can be treated as a group. The numerator is evaluated separately from the denominator, and the final value is the quotient of the numerator and denominator. The horizontal fraction line is critical: its presence clearly indicates that we have two groups of operations, and as such, the final value, 1, is correct provided that we did, in fact, have a horizontal fraction line. However, because the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” was displayed on one line, there is no symbol of grouping present. Mathematics is about being explicit, and there is no symbol to make it clear that “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” was in fact the rational expression with a numerator of 6 and a denominator of 2 (1 + 2). As such, if it is not a rational expression, “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” is a simple, one-line expression to be evaluated left-to-right, exactly as it appears.

A Swift Solution

To verify this is the case, I implemented a simple evaluator in three different languages: Python, Java and Swift. The complete code is provided below, and I invite readers to give this a whirl. The code for Python can be copied to a .py file and run with the python command in the command line (e.g. python MathSolver.py), while for Java, the code will need to be copied to a .java file, compiled using javac (e.g. javac MathSolver.java) and then run. Finally, I’m writing Swift code for Playgrounds, which provides a Python-like way to run code without requiring one open a new Xcode project. As an aside, everything I’m running has a time and space complexity of O(1): it runs in constant time, and everything is guaranteed to halt once the expressions are evaluated.

Python Example

def solve():
  result = 6 / 2 * (1+2)
  print(result)

solve()

Java Example

public class MathSolver
{
  public static void main(String[] args)
  {
    int result = solve();
    System.out.println(result);
  }

  static int solve()
  {
    int result = 6 / 2 * (1+2);
    return result;
  }
}

Swift Example

func solve()
{
  let result = 6 / 2 * (1 + 2)
  print(result)
}

solve()

In each language, the result was the same: the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” evaluates to 9. The reason this is happening is because the compiler (for Java and Swift) or interpreter (in Python) is reading the expression as a single-line expression and is following operator precedence to compute the final result. Compilers tend not to make decisions about more complex operators and in languages like Java, Swift or Python, simply evaluate expressions left-to-right. It is the case that different programming languages may interpret the same expression differently depending on how it was designed, and so, it is the programmer’s responsibility to write out the expressions themselves in the correct order if they intend for an expression to have a specific meaning. This is no fault of the engineers who designed the aforementioned programming languages: the goal of a high-level programming language is simply to allow the programmer a means of providing instructions to the computer in a readable manner (low-level, or assembly languages, provide much more control at the expense of readability and ease-of-use), and as such, programming languages will interpret instructions exactly as they are provided. As such, if one intended to indicate that “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” was, in fact, a rational expression, it would be necessary to write the line as “6 ÷ (2 (1 + 2))”: the additional brackets eliminate any ambiguity and clearly denote that we intend to treat the “2 (1 + 2))” as a denominator. Unsurprisingly, all three of Python, Java and Swift evaluate “6 ÷ (2 (1 + 2))” to 1. Below, I provide an example of what clean code looks like if one were to write a function evaluating 6 ÷ (2 (1 + 2)) in Swift. While less concise, every line clearly indicates its functionality.

Swift Example of Good Practises in Readability

func solveRational()
{
  let numerator = 6
  let denominator = 2 * (1 + 2)
  let result = numerator / denominator
  print(result)
}

solve()

I further remark that a good programmer wouldn’t just write out the expressions on one line: readable code is critical for maintenance and extensibility. While it may require more lines and come at the expense of conciseness, readability has numerous benefits. In this example, to make it explicit, beyond any debate that I was dealing with a rational expression, I would express the rational expression with separate variables for each of the numerator and denominator, and then return the quotient. Otherwise, in the case where no other context is given, the compiler does not make any assumptions about the expression and simply evaluates it. In the example above, I’ve not passed in any parameters or done any work to allow for the evaluation of an arbitrary rational expression. That is simple enough, but outside the scope of this discussion. Computer programs are only as good as the programmers that write them, and as such, a faulty program is inevitably the responsibility of the individual who write the code: if one wished “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” to evaluate to 1 in a programming language which handles similarly to Swift, Java or Python, the expectation is that they, at the very least, add the additional brackets to clearly indicate their intentions; otherwise, what the programmer has on their hands is a semantics error, in which the program produces an output contrary to what was expected because said programmer did not correctly communicate their intentions.

Handling Controversy Elegantly

I have now roughly defined how I reached my solutions, my understanding of how the alternate solution is reached and provided justification for why the alternate solution requires a massive subjective leap that renders it incorrect in the current context. Upon posting this to Twitter originally, I was met with resistance. From an explanation of why the computer is not correct, to a poorly formed proof and even ad hominem attacks, it appeared that people were insistent that their calculations were correct, often-times without adequate explanation. The best effort was an attempt to prove that “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 1”, where the individual worked their way to a solution, but had a converse error in their reasoning. A converse error occurs when, given ∀x, P(x) → Q(x), one assumes Q(a), which gives them P(a). In the attempt at a solution, the individual here supposed that since, they had Q(a) (i.e. 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 1), therefore, they had P(a) (6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 6 ÷ 2 [(1 + 2)]) as well. This is an invalid mode of reasoning (one that I informally call “supposing what you want to prove is true”). I have a counter-proof using one of the more fun forms of reasoning, called a proof by contradiction. Here, let’s suppose that it is the case that 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 1, such that 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 6 ÷ [2 (1 + 2)]. Through the use of algebra to simplify both sides, we end up with the following contradiction:

Since it is clear that 1/6 is not equal to 6 (which is absurd were it to be true), we’ve established our contradiction, and therefore, the premise is false. I have shown that the two expressions are different and therefore, not equivalent. Proof by contradiction is one of the most amusing and powerful forms of reasoning there is, and this is a clean, elegant way of showing my point. The other arguments were that Apple’s engineers are wrong, that I’m living a “sad life…trying to work out this problem like an 8 year old but it’s[sic] actually much cooler than that” and I “litteraly[sic] changed the equation…[because I’m] trying to seem smart but that took pre calc can see you’re wrong”. On Twitter, I’m unable to reply to those owing to the character and formatting constraints, but here, where I have all the space I need, I’ve concretely and decisively demonstrated in not one, but two different ways that there is no ambiguity here. Certain results come from how clearly defined one makes their expressions, and there is one reality: if one does not have an eye for detail and pay attention to things, they will inevitably get results that seem correct, but are in fact erroneous. Such mistakes can be fatal in a system: individual errors may not seem like such a big deal, but in a complex system with many equations and many computations, error propagation means that the more errors there are, the worse a system will perform. I will leave it to the individuals above to decide whether or not this makes me as being equivalent to an “8 year old” who apparently had not taken pre-calculus.

The takeaway lesson here, then, isn’t that mathematics is open to interpretation because there can be ambiguity, but rather, that in mathematics, and computer science, there are specific symbols and syntax that is used to define semantics. The compiler, not being human, will not infer the user’s meaning, and as such, it is the writer’s responsibility to make clear their meaning. Consequently, the entire Twitter debate only served to illustrate one thing: that there is a non-trivial belief that mathematics can be regarded as one might a liberal art: open to debate, semantics and interpretation. The origins of this belief are outside the scope of this document, but I hold that the reason why mathematics, and science in general, can be counted upon is because it is a discipline dependent on quantitative measures. Unlike the liberal arts, where personal background, beliefs and other intangible elements come into play, there are some things that simply cannot be argued against in mathematics: these laws and theorems form an indisputable framework that can be used to solve more complex, sophisticated problems. If these fundamentals cannot be agreed upon, there would be no foundation from which to explore increasingly exciting solutions for handling challenging and relevant problems.

  • The short version of this post, pertaining to the “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” problem, is as follows: the answer is 9, and I’ve offered my reasons for why this holds true. Given what I have presented above, I can conclude that 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 9 with a quod erat demonstrandum (the mathematician’s equivalent of a mic drop; more formally, it is Latin for “that which was to be demonstrated”). I personally feel that Twitter’s limited character count really prevents discussions such as these from happening, and this could be one reason why controversies seem to be happening every other day now: without enough space to establish context, things get misunderstood more often. There is one more remark I have about this post; it took a total of around an hour to forumate the ideas, and then an extra four hours put it the actual post together, including the equations and code snippets; the tricky part was formatting the post so everything looked nice for the readers. With this post in the books, I’m going to return to doing what I do best: relaxing with the anime community on Twitter and gear up for Kanon, which we’re revisiting, as well as blasting bad guys in The Division 2, which I’m sure my opponents would find more agreeable than if I were to give them a personalised demonstration of what graduate school makes of their foes.

For this week’s controversy, I have presented a discussion that roughly indicates how I’d resolve a polarising question outside of the realm of anime. In this case, I feel that I am not biased, having analysed both sides of the argument to reach the conclusion that I did. In something like computer science or mathematics, bias can be detrimental, so I always strive to ensure I understand what the other side is saying, and why they are saying it: there are circumstances where I am confident in my position, and there are others yet where the other side is correct because of a misunderstanding on my end. I do not believe in defending something incorrect, and I can be convinced to accept the other side’s statements if there is a well-reasoned and evidence-based explanation. In anime discussions, things are more subjective, and I admit that I can grow attached to my own theories. However, even here, I am not above hearing other perspectives: the point of being in an anime community is, after all, to see what others are saying. The merits of this is being able to see what different peoples’ experiences are through how they watch, and enjoy their anime. Finally, Moyatori’s discussion raises the question of how I ensure people walk away with a good idea of what I am saying, even if I do venture into the realm of the arcane and begin drawing terminology and phrases from my old textbooks. The solution for this is simple enough: I use a lot of screenshots, and I tend to be a little more casual in the accompanying figure captions. Here in the figure captions, I crack jokes, explain myself in more conversational terms and use the screenshots as a context for what I’m saying. For this post in particular, I’ve used visual examples to demonstrate my thought process (i.e. show my work). I believe that over the lifespan of this blog, is one that has allowed me to cover a variety of topics, from anime, games, films and all manners of topics in between without creating inconsistency.