The Infinite Zenith

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Reflections on A Decade After The First Reflection and Remarks on Mighty Ships, Cell and Molecular Biology and Road to the MCAT

“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.” –Thomas Paine

After the day’s lesson on biochemistry concludes, I bid my classmate farewell and make my way over to the adjacent building for the bus ride back home. In the term leading into the MCAT, I only had one class on Mondays, and so, after biochemistry, I would head home so I could review the day’s lessons without worrying about any other classes. Upon arriving home, I would prepare a Swanson ready-made meal and watch television, before setting about going over the most recent topic. At the beginning of term, I spent my lunch breaks watching Angel Beats!. By the time term was reaching its end, I’d wrapped up Angel Beats! and coincidentally, Discovery Channel was available as a part of the cable provider’s free preview. As it so happened, Mighty Ships aired during my lunch breaks, and I remember sitting down to their North Star episode in early April. Halfway into the episode, one of the chief engineers describes the importance of morale during difficult situations, and the narrator transitions over to how good, homecooked food is a game-changer on the high seas: a solid meal gives people something to look forward to, and this in turn compels people to work harder. North Star’s journey from Tacoma to Anchorage is to deliver vital supplies, and this particular ship is a vital link between Alaska and the remainder of the United States. Throughout the episode, the ship’s crew are shown in dealing with remarkably challenging scenarios that are, to them, another day at the office. Despite raging winds, harsh Alaskan ice and an engine problem, the crews handle every problem with remarkable professionalism and focus. A week later, shortly before exams began, I watched an episode about the Cristobal Colon. This ship is resonspible for dredging, and in the episode, was involved in reclaiming land for a windfarm at the mouth of the Elbe  . This uniquely equipped vessel deals with a different set of problems than the North Star: during its operation, a valve ruptures, forcing the crew to repair it before the Cristobal Colon can continue on with its work. The nature of their work similarly demands facilities for unwinding, and like the North Star, the Cristobal Colon’s head chef is shown frying up chicken steaks. He explains that cooking well means keeping the crew healthy, happy and ready to take on whatever adversity appears. It’s now been a decade since those days, and while I cannot say I did particularly well in biochemistry (I ended up with a B grade in the course), nor do I remember what the difference between L and D sugars, memories of the resilience and professionalism in Mighty Ships linger, alongside with yet another important lesson I gained from my cell and molecular biology lecture.

Unlike biochemistry, which had been a generic course the Faculty of Science mandates as a requirement for students, Cell and molecular biology was offered by my home faculty (Health Sciences), and as such, was tailored for the multidisciplinary, inquiry-based learning approaches we were intended to pick up. Besides a group term project and individual term paper, the course also had a conventional exam. However, despite being significantly more work than biochemistry, cell and molecular biology was a considerably more engaging experience, providing context behind the biochemical reactions seen in biochemistry. Context and application is why biology has always been so fascinating for me, and why to this day, I continue to care greatly about what something can be used for. Theoretical knowledge on its own is a curiosity, but it becomes valuable when one can turn that knowledge towards helping others out. A major part of the cell and molecular biology course was designated as “reflection”: every week, we would submit a short paragraph summarising our learnings, and these made up ten percent of our final grade. The professor had suggested that prompting students to look back on why the material was helpful would help with retention, and so, while I similarly fail to recall the exact steps in the cyclic-AMP pathway, I still remember that cAMP is a second messenger involved in a large number of signalling pathways, regulating phosphorylation and in turn, affecting sugar and lipid metabolism. Reflections became a way to help reinforce learning, and it was this that ultimately led me to adopt a similar approach for this blog: keen-eyed readers will have noticed that a lot of my posts are titled “Review and Reflection”. This is the origin of that particular nomenclature – I do not do conventional reviews here, and instead, prefer to look introspectively on my own background, and how they impact my thoughts about a given work. This approach has worked for the past decade, and it allows me to approach anime in a different approach than those of my peers (and competitors); while readers are unlikely to be worried about why a large number of my posts are counted as reflections, I would hope that this clarifies the naming convention I’ve adopted for any curious reader.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Ten years earlier to this day, I had my first real day off after a term’s worth of courses, and I spent it unwinding at home, writing my first-ever reflections post. Although I didn’t know at the time, this term would turn out to be slightly better than my term from the year earlier. I ended up committing yet another gaffe, having misread the examination schedule for my Cold War course, and arrived after the exam ended. Under academic policy, I should have taken a zero on that component, but the professor had been kind enough to allow me another chance. I thus wrote the exam a few days later than scheduled and took a small penalty to my grade, but still ended up with a B+ in the course overall.

  • Conversely, the course I found the roughest was biochemistry, which was based purely on rote memorisation. I’ve never really done well in courses that demand I commit a bunch of properties and reactions to memory and then regurgitate them for an exam. Biochemistry was one of those courses, and the year before, organic chemistry had similarly been my bane. While the University of Calgary claims their organic chemistry program is especially effective in terms of student outcomes, I found that the department’s vaunted computer-assisted learning (CAL) component was completely ineffective, being merely a computerised version of more traditional methods.

  • The department had actually published papers suggesting that CAL resulted in improved student performance, but automation of organic chemistry assessment only makes it easier for grading things like quizzes. I would suggest that in order to effectively teach organic chemistry, the changes required to the mode of instruction aren’t particularly groundbreaking or demanding; it is sufficient to teach essential reactions and properties of different functional groups, and then provide students with data sheets on exams and quizzes. This way, student’s aren’t made to memorise reactions, but rather, apply basic principles to solve more complex problems.

  • Under such a setup, exams would need to be entirely short answer: a few, multi-staged problems involving a broad range of principles would be a satisfactory test of knowledge retention and information synthesis. It would be more effort for grading, but students would end up with much larger gains from the course. The approach I suggest is inspired by precisely how my health sciences courses were structured. Adjacent to my biochemistry course, my cell and molecular biology course also had an exam component, but in addition, assessment was made based on a term paper and group project. Unsurprisingly, I fared very poorly in biochemistry (a sixty-five on the final meant I wrapped up with a B grade) because it had depended entirely on brute force memorisation of reactions and processes.

  • Cell and molecular biology encouraged me to apply knowledge at a much broader level, I did very well on the final, but also excelled on the term paper and group project (A in the course overall, and a 90 on the final). That term proved to be an interesting one, being a return to form where I began performing as I had hoped in order to stay in satisfactory standing. A major part of this shift was the fact that I began managing my breaks better, and using breaks to regroup strategically. Watching Mighty Ships ended up being one of my methods, and here, while the show is interviewing the North Star’s chief engineer, two of his staff appear with fire suits, leading to a remark on how during tough situations, keeping one’s spirits high is how one gets through those rough spots. This become especially important as the chief engineer deals with a leaking engine during their run from Tacoma to Anchorage.

  • In some Mighty Ships episodes, the programme emphasises that what keeps the crew going after a rough day is a good, solid meal. For me, having three square meals to look forwards to helped me to stay focused: mealtimes become a break of sorts in the day, allowing me to structure out a period where I am going to take it easy and not worry about my goals. This approach has persisted to this day, and I continue to organise my time in this way.

  • North Star’s journey from Tacoma to Anchorage is a routine one: while the ship itself is suffering from a leak in the engines and ends up going down to three of four engines for its run, the captain and crew run things very smoothly to deliver their cargo on time. Mighty Ships does tend to dramatise problems that are common at sea, and even the more severe problems are those the crew have the mental capacity to address, no matter how unexpected. The series’ portrayal of issues showing up would be akin to announcing that running into a “Fatal error: Unexpectedly found nil while unwrapping an Optional value” in Swift could cost customers millions. While it is true that forced-unwrapping of variables that could be null will cause an app to crash and result in angry users, the solution is as simple as it is mundane: providing a default value or doing if let checks eliminates the issue for the most part.

  • Knowing that the people portrayed in Mighty Ships are professional, I always derived enjoyment from watching them work out their problems, and this sort of spirit stuck with me as I went into my finals after a term I’d been a little uncertain about. I still remember enjoying a lunch out with my parents when they’d had a day off, and in my mind, I thought to myself, while I might’ve accidentally missed an exam, I was lucky enough to get it rescheduled, and moreover, the remainder of the term had gone much better than it had the previous year.

  • Once I’d finished writing my history exam, I returned to my lab space to pick up my belongings and prepared to head off to unwind: one of the things that had made that particular term a little melancholy was the knowledge that even though I’d finished, I still had a physics course and the MCAT ahead of me. I utilised that time to write for my blog, enjoy time with friends and otherwise, unwind knowing that at least for the present, I wouldn’t need to deal with biochemistry anymore. The open time also led me to take a closer look at Team Fortress 2: at around this time, the Halo 2 servers were slated to shut down, and I’d been looking for a replacement.

  • Mighty Ships‘ North Star episode ends with the captain making a perfect season of being on time, and he’s excited to get back home. Another captain will helm North Star for the next several weeks, and here, I note that North Star was built in 2003. The episode aired in 2011, eight years later, and that means today, North Star will have been in service for almost two decades. Given it’s been ten years since I watched this episode for the first time, I wonder how many of the crew featured are still active.

  • Besides the North Star, the other Mighty Ships episode that stood out to me was the Cristobal Colon. Mighty Ships features ships of all types, from cargo ships like the Emma Maersk, to the USS Nimitz, and everything in between. The Cristobal Colon is named after explorer Christopher Columbus and is a hopper dredger. In the Mighty Ships episode it was featured in, the Cristobal Colon is working on a wind farm project near the Elbe River delta. Built in 2009, it would’ve been in service for three years by the time I watched the episode of Mighty Ships it was in.

  • Cristobal Colon faces a different set of challenges than the North Star, and it was after this episode I really got into Mighty Ships: at the time, I was a health science student and dealt primarily with things like the determinants of health and SDS PAGE, so watching shows like these acted as a reminder of how vast the world is, and how there are professionals in all fields. I’ve found that as people become more competent and specialised in their respective fields, they also begin to forget that when they need something done, they’re likely also dealing with someone who’s at least as competent and specialised.

  • This is one thing that I continue to remind myself to be mindful of: the people moving my furniture and setting my plumbing straight are just as vital as the people who engineer out the bridges I drive across, keep me up to speed on my finances and offer information whenever I have queries about health. This is why it’s so important to treat all people with politeness and courtesy: allowing them to do their jobs means I can get on with my own day more quickly, and with a smile on my face. Things like these aren’t taught in the classroom, but remain as important as the technical knowledge one acquires.

  • While one of the Cristobal Colon’s engineers look after the massive dredging unit, I remark here that, as unpleasant as I found organic chemistry and biochemistry, having the requisite knowledge did mean that studying for the MCAT’s biological sciences and organic chemistry section more straightforward: the MCAT of 2012’s biology and organic chemistry segments were basically watered down versions of the course work I’d taken, and back then, I still retained enough knowledge to pick things up fairly quickly again. However, at this point in time, my mind wasn’t on the MCAT just yet.

  • Because we’re now approaching the decade mark to when I’d written the MCAT, readers will have to bear with me over the next few months as I reminisce, perhaps needlessly, about an exam that ultimately ended up being what I consider to be a poor use of funds and time, but also provided an experience of melancholy and exam-taking that led me to perform significantly better, both in my final undergraduate year and throughout graduate school.. Back then, I had aspirations for medical school, but when my application results came back, to no one’s surprise, I was completely lacking in medical volunteer experience and activities that exemplified my commitment to ethics. Almost immediately after those results came back, my undergraduate supervisor scooped me up for graduate school.

  • I ended up bypassing the entire application process (I was offered admissions within an hour of submitting my application, which I was told would be a formality in my case). Mighty Ships had demonstrated that a vital part of finding one’s path is knowing when to take a step back and seek out alternate solutions when one method doesn’t work, as well as when to be unyielding. On board the Cristobal Colon, the narrator explains that good food isn’t something that can be compromised: the cook here is shown frying up chicken and comments that food keeps the crews happy. I smile at this moment: when I first watched this episode, I was hastily eating a ready-made meal so I could hit the books, and thought to myself, I’d love to have a chicken steak at some point.

  • I acknowledge that this post is quite unusual one, even for this blog: normally, I write about anime and games, but owing to the fact that this year marks several milestones, I would like to take some time and look back at some of the things going on in life when I’d just begun my blogging journey. Readers can reasonably expect a few more reflection-style posts about the MCAT and the summer of ten years previously interspersed with things in the coming months. My world is dramatically different now than it had been back then, and while I recall those simpler times with fondness, I wouldn’t trade the world to go back to those times. With this post in the books, my blog turns ten-and-a-half years old now, and although I have no idea how long I’ll keep this party running for, readers do have my world that 1) I’ll still be around for the foreseeable future and 2) if I do call it quits, there will be plenty of notice.

According to the blog’s archives, a decade earlier, I had just wrapped up my term, having finished all of my exams. It’d been a rainy, grey day, and while I was waiting for my exam results, I also took advantage of the time to write for this blog, as well as relax in the knowledge that a few weeks later, I’d be facing a physics course to make up for the course I’d withdrawn from a year earlier. At the time, this blog had just turned half a year old, and I wasn’t too sure on what I would do with it. As the summer progressed, I utilised it as a space for sharing very short thoughts on things. However, as the summer progressed, and I traded physics for the MCAT preparation course, even though my studies ended up consuming the whole of my summer, I did end up with a distinct set of memories of that time. Much as how I’ve forgotten the specifics of biochemistry, and even cell and molecular biology, I’ve long lost recollection of the exact materials I covered for the MCAT. However, what has endured after all this time were the soft skills. The MCAT taught me to be strategic on exams and take on problems by prioritising them based on a value-difficulty matrix (e.g. “always take on the high-value low-difficulty items first), cell and molecular biology had imparted on me the importance of looking back at what I got out of something, and Mighty Ships actually ended up leaving me with something that was much more valuable than anything I picked up in biochemistry: while I am unlikely to be able to explain β-Galactosidase activity now, I carry with me a profound respect for the sort of professionalism and resilience I’d seen in Mighty Ships, to solve problems to the best of my ability where possible, and to both identify and implement alternative solutions where necessary. In the decade since I wrote about my initial plans for this blog, things have become considerably different. This blog is now my preferred venue for sharing my thoughts, and I’ve since gone from being a medical student hopeful to being an iOS developer. However, I hold that my experiences from this time period, especially with respect to soft skills, have shaped the path I would end up taking, and it is no joke when I remark that Mighty Ships was probably a shade more helpful to my career than biochemistry was.

A Major Milestone: Reflections on Moving Day, A New Desktop and The Future of this Blog

“As much as I’ll miss the anticipation that this trip created, I’ll know that I’ll always have a great time remembering it, and I’ll keep hatching new plans that are worth looking forward to. In fact, that’s a good strategy for life: make yourself do a lot of things that you’ll be happy to look back on, and make sure you got plans for more of those things in the future.” –Steven Rinella, Meat Eater

It’s now eleven at night, and the sunset earlier had filled the landscape with the last golden rays of light from an early spring day. I look around my new work space, which affords me with a wonderful view of the cityscape below: lights glint in the distance, and I take a moment to appreciate the scenery before returning my attention to this post, my last task of the day. It’s been about twenty-four hours since I moved in, but I have not yet gotten accustomed to the beautifully appointed lodgings just yet. This marks the latest chapter in life, the culmination of a journey that had begun last August. Yesterday was moving day, and it was the culmination of over six months of planning, of long days spent looking through legal paperwork, gathering documents, looking up movers and daydreaming about how I’d like to lay furniture out. Where there had been excitement and anxiety surrounding the move, plus the attendant stress resulting from the changes to my schedule, there’s now a sense of relief, and of quiet. Meat Eater‘s Steven Rinella put it best: the anticipation, the meticulous planning and the work that went into preparing for this very moment is now past, and for the past half year, I’d lived in the shadow of a moving day that was steadily approaching. Some days, moving day couldn’t come quickly enough. On other days, moving day hurtled towards me with the inevitability of a freight train. However, now that everything’s in the books, there’s a bit of a void where that anticipation once filled. During or after moving, people may experience depression as a result of the dramatic changes in their lifestyle or environment – the process itself is nastily exhausting, and one is deprived of the spirits they need to pursue their usual activities, creating a bit of a positive feedback loop. While it will doubtlessly feel tempting to stay in now that the move is done, to recoup on rest and perhaps even embrace what’s become colloquially known as “goblin mode” (Himouto! Umaru-chan‘s Umaru is probably the closest example I can readily think of), Rinella’s words come to mind. I’ve never been one to idle, and per Rinella, I see all of this change as an opportunity to try new experiences.

Owing to recent circumstances, I also determined it was appropriate to pull the trigger and build a new desktop computer. Shortly before moving in, all of my parts shipped, and I spent the better part of the previous weekend getting the new rig put together. While I had originally intended to build a new computer after I’d moved, current events had pushed my schedule up; a contamination incident affecting NAND flash supplies, coupled with the conflict in Ukraine impacting neon gas and palladium supplies, could potentially mean that parts could see a jump in prices by the time I was originally intending to buy the parts. At present, video cards remain in short supply, but fortunately for me, my old GTX 1060 6 GB from 2016 is still in fighting shape, so I was able to re-use this, along with a pair of older 4 TB Seagate HDDs. After a Saturday afternoon directed towards putting everything together, my new desktop is ready to roll: it’s running a 12th generation Intel Core i5-12600k, 32 GB of 3200 MHz RAM and a 1 TB NVMe SSD. To ensure this new computer remains quite cool even under the tasks I carry out with it, I’ve decided to go with an aftermarket cooler, coupled with a case sporting better airflow. Taken together, I am confident that this new computer will allow me to do the things I intend to do with reasonable efficiency: while my GTX 1060 is unable to play the most modern games at ultra 4k settings and 120 FPS, it is more than enough for the titles I still have time to play through. Building a new computer so close to the move initially appeared to be a questionable move in that it did complicate things somewhat, but now that everything is done, I am glad that I am able to move in with a new desktop, signifying the start of a new page in life. Buying a home was a process that required a lot of effort, planning, attention to detail and care, and looking back, I also learnt a great deal: I know now of the process, and where there’s precedence, doing things a second time will be much easier. It was a process that pushed me to be more on top of things, and to be my best self; in fact, this experience was no different than my MCAT or thesis defences for my undergraduate and graduate studies, being trying times that demanded my best.

Additional Thoughts and Remarks

  • The past month and the preparations leading up to the move have made it very nearly as exhausting as I’d remembered the MCAT had been ten years earlier: in both cases, there was only so much work that could be done ahead of time, and on the day of both, it came down to a combination of experience, keeping a cool head under pressure and a bit of improvisation to get everything to work. Like the MCAT, moving day ended up being as smooth as I could’ve hoped: all of my existing furniture was moved without incident, and the smaller articles were similarly moved without trouble.

  • At this point ten years ago, I was staring down midterms for biochemistry and molecular biology. That term had been a bit of a tougher one, but overall, I still managed to maintain a reasonable GPA. I thus entered that summer with a pair of courses on my plate; besides the MCAT preparations classes, I also opted to take physics to replace the course I’d withdrawn from during my second year. I did end up recovering from the challenges of this time frame, and university after that became significantly more enjoyable.

  • A bunch of my older furniture made the move, allowing me to save a bundle on things like the dining table, wall unit and couches: I try to take care of my belongings, and as a result, most of the stuff I have still are in a nearly-new condition despite having been battle-worn. However, some things, like the beds and coffee tables, needed to be replaced: the original coffee tables I had pre-date me, and have been around since the 1980s.

  • Here on the coffee table, a copy of Treasures of China can be seen. This is the book I’ve been longing to read again since I first borrowed it from the library some fifteen years earlier, and last Christmas, I received a copy. While it’s a little worn, it’s still in great shape, and I enjoy perusing it from time to time. A GameCube and Mac Mini are also visible here: the Mac Mini has been around for about seven years, and despite being a little slow, it’s still operational. Meanwhile, the GameCube is in near-perfect condition and handles as well as it had nineteen years ago: I still play Agent Under Fire on it.

  • There’s actually a curious story behind the dining table: it’s about forty years old, being the table my parents used when they first bought a home. Because it’d been so solidly built, it remained in excellent condition right up until now. I’d considered getting a new marble-top table, but I could never find one that really fit my tastes, and in the end, this dining table survived the cut and became the oldest piece of furniture I’d ended up bringing over. Despite its age, however, it still looks almost-new.

  • What impresses me most about the new home is just how well-lit everything is. By day, natural light fills all of the main living spaces; I’m still working from home at present, and this has allowed me to see how lighting works throughout various hours: I’ve found that aside from the interior hallway and dining area, the remainder of the space is bright, and I only need a desk lamp to illuminate my work area.

  • The kitchen area had particularly impressed me when I first toured the home – with stainless steel appliances, things look especially sharp. I’ve now had the chance to cook here, and I was blown away with just how modern and efficient everything is. The oven has both conventional and convection baking, and fans allow it to cool faster than my old oven. The range heats up more quickly than before, making it faster to heat a pan up for cooking. The main challenge now is getting accustomed to where all of my kitchenware is: before, I’d had everything memorised, but now, it takes me digging through all of the cabinets to figure out where something is, and similarly, after washing the dishes, it takes a bit of time to find where something goes.

  • For no apparent reason, this is the manga collection I’ve got set up in my bedroom. My collection is comparatively modest, especially against the likes of those I’ve seen in the community, but my modus operandi is to only buy the works that particularly impacted me; I tend to watch the anime first before reading the manga, and the only exception is The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, whose first volume caught my eye a decade earlier. On the topic of manga, Harukana Receive‘s ninth volume is now available, and the tenth will release in April. Since I’m so close to a bookstore, I have plans to purchase both once the final tenth volume comes out next month. I would very much like to review Harukana Receive‘s second half: the anime only covers the first five volumes, and it’d be great to get some thoughts out on what happens to Haruka and Kanata after they prevail over Claire and Emily, although I’ve never done a manga review before, and therefore have no idea how to format such a post, but that will be a problem for a later date.

  • This is my workstation as it appeared shortly after the move finished: the new computer tower can be seen in the lower right hand corner, just left of the printer. I’ve got an iMac off to the left for all of my iOS development work, and the Windows desktop handles everything else, from gaming to taxes. Despite being beside a window, glare is not a problem – I can simply lower the blinds during the day, and I’m set. One thing I would like to look at in the near future are sleeves for cable management: while I’ve done my best to reduce the tangle of cables behind my machines, having a few sleeves would make vacuuming easier, reduce visual clutter and more importantly, prevent my feet from catching the cables while I work.

  • For now, though, my setup is satisfactory, and, I daresay that it is a cut above even those featured in Danny Choo’s Otaku workspaces. Now that I’m settled in somewhat, I anticipate that I’ll still likely be able to find time to keep up with my hobbies to a reasonable capacity, while at the same time, really explore the new neighbourhood and all of the amenities around. The first thing I’m itching to do is go back to the gym: it’s been over two years since the global health crisis, and I haven’t properly done a bench press in that amount of time. With this post in the books, I am looking to write about Slow Loop and 86 EIGHTY-SIX before this month is out – the finale for the former comes out tomorrow, and I imagine that I’ll have a few moments to catch up on the latter now that most of the work has concluded.

Now that I’m on the other side of things, it is not lost on me that I’m in a brand-new neighbourhood. Restaurants and parks are more accessible than they ever were, and I’ve got a gym upstairs, meaning I can slowly build my body back up to where I’d been two years earlier. The fact there’s a grocery store across the street means I have a bit more wiggle room for trying out more exotic recipes. If I felt inclined, I could spend an afternoon working out of the nearby coffeeshop, and on weekends, I could even browse the bookstore adjacent to said coffeeshop, if I were not walking the trails alongside the river. The possibilities are mind-boggling, and at my age, it suddenly hits me that now is the time to really live in the moment more, to take advantage of every amenity my new community has to offer. All of these exciting new activities will require time, and that leads to the inevitable question of what this means for the blog. In the past decade, I’ve written here on a fairly consistent basis, sharing my experiences in anime and games with an open-minded, well-read and amicable community. I believe that moderation is the key to all life, and with this in mind, while I am definitely going to direct more time towards new pursuits, this blog isn’t going anywhere. Readers can reasonably expect me to still drop by and periodically offer my recollections on things, albeit at a reduced frequency than before, especially in the next quarter-year, as I acclimatise to a new routine and the nuances that this demands. Once I settle in to a new life, I will have a more concrete idea of what I’d like to do with my time and keep readers posted accordingly, although I will note here that there are plenty of excellent bloggers out there – even if I were to call it quits, it would be no loss, since a few dozen bloggers would be happy to fill that void and share their thoughts on various anime and games (although I imagine readers will be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys slice-of-life moé anime and first person shooters). For the time being, however, those hoping that I would hang up my hat and ride into the sunset will probably be a trifle disappointed, while readers who enjoy my writing will know that, at least for the foreseeable future, I will continue to write for this blog where I am able. As always, I am grateful to all readers who take the time to offer their feedback and share their thoughts on things; it will be very exciting to see where things go from here on out.

Using Shirobako as a fictional context to compare salaries and work satisfaction in the anime industry against a real-world example

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” —Confucius

A short while ago, P.A. Works released a chart detailing the yearly salaries for individuals involved in the anime industry. The figures are reflective of why some characters are constantly mindful of whether or not they can make ends meet even though they are employed, and also leads me to wonder about salaries and income after my time as a graduate student ends. From what is immediately apparent in the chart, working in the anime business is gruelling, with long hours, high stress and relatively low wages. The only exception are popular voice actors and actresses, who earn an order of magnitude more than the producers. With this in mind, and the fact that many major animation studios are located in Tokyo, making a reasonable living becomes a challenge. At the time of writing, the cost of living in my home city, the centre of Canada’s oil country, is only slightly lower than that of Tokyo’s: staying in the black becomes a challenge of sorts even for the more senior employees in an anime company. Shirobako can therefore be said to be an anime that aims to paint a picture of what the anime industry is like: as a fictionalised account of what this field is like, Shirobako is a watered-down version of what employees are subject to. These sorts of occupational difficulties are meant to illustrate that very few anime viewers actually understand what goes on behind the scenes, and that the individuals making this media for everyone to enjoy, though passionate about their work, are oftentimes earning just enough to get by (even if they make the appropriate lifestyle changes to ensure they stay in the black).

  • In the above figure, from left to right, the positions and corresponding yearly salaries are as follows (with their respective equivalent in Canadian dollars, because the Canadian dollar is the standard I’m used to). The currency conversions assume the exchange rate at roughly 1800 GMT on the date this post was written, and I’ve also superimposed some yardsticks below for comparison’s sake.
    • Animators make 1100000 JPY or roughly 92000 JPY/month; this is 10353.16 CAD or roughly 862.76 CAD/month
    • Japanese university students make 2000000 JPY or roughly 166000 JPY/month; this is 18823.92 CAD or roughly 1568.66 CAD/month
    • An NSERC USRA pays roughly this much per month, with a top-up from the supervisor, for an undergraduate student conducting summer research over a four month period
    • Part-time workers (on the chart, “Freeters”) make 2180000 JPY or roughly 182000 JPY/month; this is 20518.07 CAD or roughly 1709.84 CAD/month
    • Assistant producers make 2280000 JPY or roughly 190000 JPY/month; this is 21459.27 CAD or roughly 1788.27 CAD/month
    • CG staff  make 2610000 JPY or roughly 217500 JPY /month; this is 24565.22 CAD or roughly 2,047.10 CAD/month
    • Graduate students fit in somewhere around here on average, although this value can vary depending on the scholarships they have
    • Effects directors make 3330000 JPY or roughly 277500 JPY /month; this is 31341.83 CAD or roughly 2611.82 CAD/month
    • Directors/story-boarders make 4950000 JPY or roughly 412500 JPY /month; this is 46589.21 CAD or roughly 3882.43 CAD/month
    • Animation directors make 5130000 JPY or roughly 427500 JPY /month; this is 48283.36 CAD or roughly 4023.61 CAD/month
    • Junior software developers and beginning engineers fit in somewhere around here on average
    • Producers make 7540000 JPY or roughly 628000 JPY /month; this is 70966.19 CAD or 5913.85 roughly CAD/month
    • Medical doctors, senior developers, senior engineers and project managers typically fit in somewhere around here on average, with salaries in the six-figures
    • Well-known voice actors/actresses make 70000000 JPY or roughly 5833000 JPY /month; this is 658837.27 CAD or roughly 54903.11 CAD/month

Barring the voice actors, most of the staff at Musashino Animation do not earn a great deal (especially Ema, who must make her budget work with only 860 dollars per month); their passion for doing their jobs that keeps them in business, and even though the hours are long and the pressure can be mind-boggling, Aoi, Ema and the others continue on because their resolve do not waver, as they strive to fulfil the promise they had made to each other during high school of joining the anime industry. Moreover, several episodes in Shirobako show the moments of pure joy as their episodes finally reach completion and positive reviews begin appearing online. While this is rewarding, from a strictly personal perspective, unless one were at the absolute top of their field (this holds true for everything, including the anime industry), being in the anime industry and enjoying one’s work is no longer sufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Taking a quick look at the charts, I briefly note that the average graduate student will earn anywhere from 20000 to 22000 CAD per year, and students with scholarships can net around 30000 to 36000 CAD per year. On average, it costs roughly 800 to 1100 CAD per month to minimally survive where I am; a graduate student could reasonably survive if they managed their finances well. After graduation, the average junior software developer earns from 45000 to 65000 CAD per year (3750 to 5417 CAD per month) at their first position, which is comparable to that of a producer’s income.

  • This post was a little unusual; I was looking through my income and expenses for graduate school and also came across the chart from above, which got me thinking. It also inspired me to work harder because society is always becoming tougher to survive in. The next Shirobako post will deal with more general concepts at the halfway point, which I’ll try to have after the New Years. Beyond that will come the discussion for the finale, but that’s a few months away.

While I’m still a little behind in Shirobako, the anime has insofar captured the some of the challenges that characters occupying the lower echelons face: they must either break their backs to improve and be promoted, or else switch occupations. According to some sources, animators can earn bonuses for exceeding quotas, but this is undesirable as it typically comes at the expense of quality. As an anime, Shirobako will probably aim to provide some fail-safes for characters like Ema to prevent them from failing and allow their work to be rewarded at some point in the future, although the real world is hardly as considerate. As such, while there’s nothing wrong with following one’s passions, Shirobako is probably meant to illustrate that the anime industry, outside of being a voice actor/actress, is not as glamorous as some might believe, and subtly hints to viewers that they must also be mindful of the field they’re getting into with respect to the advantages and disadvantages that each occupation confers.

Wings night and the future

Yesterday, one of my friends and his friends decided to gather for wings night, an event that is well known for an incredible deal on buffalo wings that are battered and fried, then seasoned with a variety of sauces (the more interesting of which were the bacon chipotle sauce and the roast peanut sauce). Every drink permits an order of up to 20 wings: at 10 cents per wing, we ended up ordering around 100 wings altogether, and as with ribs night the previous year, the total cost of the drinks we ordered was greater than that of the wings. I had been at the lab, testing my computer simulations on the day of the event: because the pub I went to is only a 15-minute walk from campus, I stuck around on campus until the sun began to set, and the offices on my floor had emptied out.

  • Wings themselves are more substantial than the ribs: fried and battered, they are delicious. This time, I decided to avoid getting a pint-induced headache and went with a pair of ginger ales instead. Judge me as you will, but I still prefer things like ginger ale and sprite over beer. On the other hand, a rye and coke are perfectly acceptable for me.

  • Contrasting last year, we had more people turn up this time, so we ordered a large plate of standard nachos. One of the attendees noted that he disliked peppers, tomatoes and olives, but their unique combination on a plate of tortilla chips covered with melted cheese made them enjoyable; indeed, between the nachos and wings, there was no need to order anything else.

Conversations soon turned towards medical school, graduate studies and the future, bringing to mind a similar event from a year ago. The conversation also reminded me of what I would need to do for the upcoming year, and admittedly, it is quite an intimidating thought to consider what kind of things will lie beyond the horizon as my undergraduate career draws to a close. Looking back, my degree has proven to be an incredibly enriching experience, giving me the privilege to work in a research and development environment through the implementation and testing of computer models, as well as learning how to present and publish research work, and last but not least, speak publicly about said research. For the present, I prepare myself for the future, and while I continue to wonder what the future holds, I do have the confidence to receive it as things unfold, whether it be relevant to my career or other aspects of life.

Ribs night

Expectations probably suggest that discussions about the future are dead serious. However, I think it is quite possible to discuss these matters in a relatively friendly manner, especially as the previous evening has demonstrated. I had met up with a few friends from my program, who were discussing their own futures and some of the criteria for application to a medical school and review strategies for the MCAT. We would eventually head over to Kilkenny’s for dinner, where the conversation eventually diversified into various matters on economics, computational technologies and the nature of the HYRS program. Being Wednesday, it was 3 cent ribs night, and our party of three ordered some 110 ribs, alongside some Irish Nachos.

  • If ribs cost 3 cents each, and we ordered a hundred 110 ribs, the overall cost before tax would merely be $3.30. Thus, the individual drinks ordered would cost more than the ribs themselves. At that stage, the ribs themselves are sufficiently substantial to become considered a meal in its own right.

  • Fries can technically be substituted for the waffle-cut fried potatoes, and the potatoes are typically dipped in sour cream or salsa. The melted cheese holds the entire plate together, making for some interesting results when one attempts to pull the fried potatoes apart. For some reason, meat and potatoes always goes exceedingly well together.

110 dry ribs and 11 sauces results in an interesting menagerie of flavours: my personal favourite remains the honey mustard and the tangy BBQ sauce, although after some 20 odd ribs or so, the flavours become less  distinct and the enjoyment process sets way to a Man v. Food style race to finish said ribs before they cool. As an interesting aside, Irish Nachos technically do not have Irish origins. So-called because of their substitution of waffle-cut fried potatoes in place of tortilla chips, Irish nachos are topped with shredded  jack and cheddar cheese, green onions, jalapeños and diced tomatoes. This bar food tends to disappear very quickly with larger parties, and pairs rather nicely with meats like wings or ribs.