The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Japanese Animation

Nekopara: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“There are few things in life more heartwarming than to be welcomed by a cat.” –Tay Hohoff

Kashou Minaduki is a young man who owns and runs La Soleil, a patisserie specialising in western confectioneries. When he first opened the shop, his two Nekos, Chocola and Vanilla, accompanied him in two boxes. Since then, Kashou’s been running La Soleil with their help, along with the other family Nekos, Azuki, Maple, Cinnamon and Coconut. When Chocola finds a stray kitten one day, she decides to take her in after Kashou approves. This is about the sum of Nekopara‘s 2020 anime adaptation, which was produced by Felix Films. Lacking a unifying, cohesive storyline, the anime instead presents twelve episodes of time in fleshing out the world of Nekopara, showcasing a gentle existence in a world bereft of the challenges and conflicts of the real world. Nekopara is particularly relaxing, heart-warming and fun in its anime incarnation, as Chocola and Vanilla do their best to make the new kitten, Cacao, feel at home with everyone else. While not particularly impressive from a narrative or character growth perspective, Nekopara‘s anime series excels in world-building, showcasing how the presence of the Nekos is woven in with everyday life in a world that is otherwise similar to our own, and in particular, how Cacao slowly warms up to Chocola, Vanilla and the other Nekos in the Minaduki household. I found Nekopara to be quite enjoyable as a full-fledged series for how it was able to integrate Cacao into Chocola and Vanilla’s life, although admittedly, the lack of a cohesive story and the resultant themes means that Nekopara is a bit of an unusual anime that may not be suitable for everyone: those looking for a message about the human condition or life lessons will be disappointed.

The world-building aspect of Nekopara lies at the forefront of the series’ appeal: beyond the superficialities of the Neko themselves, Nekopara explores a world where cats with human characteristics have become so tightly integrated with society that they are treated as more than just pets, but full-fledged members of the family. Regulations are in place to keep Nekos safe and out of trouble: the Bell Licensing exams are a big deal for each Neko, allowing them to go about without a human to supervise them, and the Nekos themselves are treated as being capable enough of helping people about (for instance, Chocola and Vanilla are employees at La Soleil along with each of Azuki, Coconut, Cinnamon and Maple), while at once retaining a child-like disposition that is reminiscent of how pets can bring joys into one’s life. In this regard, Nekopara constructs a paradise of sorts for cat-lovers, providing one interpretation of what the world could be like were cats to be given a more human-like form and near-human intelligence. In particular, Nekopara gives one answer to the long-asked question of what our lives would be like if our pets could converse with us in a human language: through the Neko, it is suggested is that talking pets would yield a more troublesome, but also colourful dynamic between pets and their owners that could be quite fun in its own right.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve known of Nekopara since the original games were released to Steam during my first year of graduate school, having first came across them during the Steam Summer Sales and wondering whether or not the game would be worth my while. The visual novels are surprising sophisticated and even feature a physics engine, but ultimately, despite developing a mild curiosity, I never did end up picking the games up: at present, considering the size of my backlog, which includes Grand Theft Auto VMass Effect 2 and a host of complementary games I picked up over the years, I don’t think I’ll have a need to pick up anything else for the foreseeable future.

  • While I’ve not ever played the Nekopara visual novels, I have watched and written about both OVAs. The first OVA released in December 2017 and portrays the events of the first volume, from how Chocola and Vanilla accompanies Kashou to La Soleil as he moves. While Kashou was initially reluctant, seeing Chocola and Vanilla’s determination to be with him prompts him to change his mind. Chocola and Vanilla begin living with Kashou, earn their bells and eventually haul the remaining of the Minaduki Neko to help out at La Soleil, as well.

  • Compared to the OVAs, the Nekopara anime has a slightly cleaner animation style: the lines defining the characters are much lighter and less noticeable. In this way, the OVAs actually resemble the game’s art style more closely than the anime, although beyond differences in art aside, everyone’s traits remain the same. I believe that Nekopara‘s anime has a different set of voice actors and actresses for some of the characters.

  • The anime’s core is focused around the introduction of Cacao, a stray cat that Chocola notices early in the series and eventually convinces Kashou to allow her to look after. The other nekos name Cacao after the seeds from the tropical plant that chocolate is derived from; I’m guessing that they call Cacao thus, rather than Cocoa, simply because Cocoa would be phonetically similar to Chocola. While Cacao initially acts more cat-like than human-like, she learns quickly as Nekopara progresses.

  • While I found Nekopara to be enjoyable on its own merits, not everyone will share this particular view: that Nekopara found itself in the crosshairs of yet another Anime News Network-created controversy was surprising to learn. When Nekopara began airing, Anime News Network critics Nick Creamer, James Beckett, Theron Martin, and Rebecca Silverman each decried Nekopara as being offensive by contemporary standards.

  • Creamer claims that Nekopara presents a co-called “nightmarish reality” and its themes are supposed to be dystopian in nature, dealing with “power dynamics”, while Silverman asserts that Nekopara is meant to remove consent as a constraint and pander to the viewers’ interests. These perspectives typified Anime News Network’s ability to create controversy where there is none, using nothing more than a handful of notes sourced from introductory undergraduate courses and a thesaurus.

  • Admittedly, when word of Anime News Network’s initial impressions of Nekopara reached me, I became curious to see if the series had been as dreadful as their critics suggested. After watching the first episode for myself, it became clear that the “dystopia” Creamer had so aggressively pushed was nowhere to be found. It’s not the first time that Anime News Network has completely misrepresented a work – it is a badly-kept secret that most of their writers cherish an ambition to one day write for The New York Times or The Guardian, and attempt to emulate this style by allowing personal beliefs and politics to seep into their writing. As a result, their reviews end up being useless for anyone looking to gain a measure of a given series.

  • The practise of using pseudo-academic jargon in pushing a weak opinion is not new: Behind The Nihon Review used these tricks a decade earlier to “persuade” readers that K-On! was similarly unwatchable, and in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin indicates to Hobbes that “writing can [become] an intimidating and impenetrable fog”, as weak arguments and poor reasoning could essentially be concealed behind a veneer of complex writing. This is not the purpose of legitimate academic writing, so I’ve come to define pseudo-academic writing as the practise of abusing junior psychology and philosophy principles to make one sound more impressive and knowledgeable than they are.

  • Having established that Anime News Network is no more sophisticated than an unskilled blogger, I’ll leave it to readers to make their own decisions about whether or not a given anime is worth their while. Back in Nekopara, when Kashou appears distracted one day, Chocola and Vanilla decide to go out and help promote La Soleil more actively. However, Cacao ends up getting lost as a result, but the easygoing nature of Nekopara means that Cacao’s small adventure results in her making a new friend in Chiyo, a young girl who looks no older than Cacao. Cacao ends up saving Chiyo from a murder of crows, and Chiyo brings Cacao back to La Soleil, where Chocola and Vanilla learn that Kashou had been stumped about his summer offerings.

  • During one particularly stormy evening, the Minaduki Nekos are home on their own while Shigure is out with some fellow Neko owners. The power unexpectedly goes out, and the Nekos resort to telling one another stories until Shigure returns home. Shigure, Kashou’s younger sister, is a fan of Nekos and typically can be seen holding a DSLR camera, attempting to photograph everything that goes on among the Nekos. Sporting a friendly and cheerful disposition, only a few things ever get her down, such as when the Nekos end up sleeping alone one night because of the heat, leaving Shigure unhappy. This is sorted out after the Nekos

  • Food is rendered surprisingly well in Nekopara, and I’m especially fond of the details paid to the fish that Vanilla and Chocola enjoy for dinner. Admittedly, the food aspects of Nekopara are something I enjoy about the series, and in general, anime food always puts a smile on my face. Being able to enjoy different foods is high on the list of things I enjoy doing: just earlier, I enjoyed a homemade burger of a familiar recipe, but this time, with a small twist taking the form of Sriracha-Mayonnaise sauce, which gave the burger a subtle kick and really brought out the flavour in the fresh lettuce and tomatoes that were in the burger.

  • Aside from Cacao’s everyday life with Chocola, Vanilla and the others, the other Minaduki Nekos also have their day in the limelight: Azuki and Coconut’s constant rivalry are addressed in an episode, as are Maple’s aspirations to become a singer. Each of the Nekos have their own distinct personality, making them quite easy to differentiate from one another, and it was fun to see how everyone bounces off one another. More so than the OVAs, the TV series allows for Azuki, Maple, Cinnamon and Coconut’s lives to be seen: the TV series shows that their constant clashes aside, Azuki and Coconuts very much care for one another, and Maple’s singing is competition worthy, although she lacks confidence and is grateful for Cinnamon’s support.

  • Some folks have counted Nekopara to be similar to GochiUsa or Blend S: this comparison is likely a consequence of the combination of slice-of-life elements with unique characters and the café environment. As a bit of a slice-of-life connoisseur myself, I feel that Nekopara does not hold a candle to the likes of Gochiusa as far as atmosphere and depth of story goes: GochiUsa is a bit of an outlier as a slice-of-life series owing to the combination of things it does exceptionally well.

  • After passing the exam to renew their bells, Shigure takes Vanilla and Chocola out to Kaminarimon and a kaiten sushi restaurant before exploring a variety of cafés in the area to gain inspiration for La Soleil. Seeing Shigure, Chocola, Vanilla and Cacao out and about in Nekopara‘s shows that in the TV series, there are more people around. This gives the world a more populated sense compared to the OVA and visual novels, which feel emptier by comparison.

  • This design choice is important in helping to create a more immersive world: whereas the OVA and visual novels seem emptier, which places emphasis on Kashou, Chocola and Vanilla, the TV series indicates that Nekos are an integral part of their world. As such, the full adaptation of Nekopara feels a lot warmer than the OVAs do. I recall one of my readers asking if I had any plans to watch Nekopara, and at the time, I’d seen one episode. I remarked that this was a series I intended to check out, but it wasn’t until recently I’d had the time to do so.

  • For me, Nekopara is a simple series that presents one view of what life might be like if cats could be given human traits and communicate with people more freely. However, this hasn’t stopped some people from delving deeply into whether or not the laws within the world of Nekopara treat cats more similarly to humans or pets, and what awaits the Neko that do not find a family. More negative minds suggest that there might be the equivalent of animal shelters or even euthanisation, but I’ll immediately shoot this idea down: Nekopara is so-named, being an portmanteau of the words Neko and paradise. This world is, in short, designed to be a paradise for Nekos, and therefore, we can suppose that Nekos are well-taken care of.

  • Towards the end of Nekopara‘s anime, Cacao has a sleepover at Chiyo’s place and sees a portrait Chiyo had made for her mother. Realising what Chocola and Vanilla mean to her, Cacao decides to do something similar, but feels that the impact needs to be more of a surprise. To this end, Cacao hides in a box while making this, and since Chocola and Vanilla have no idea what’s going on, attempt to smoke her out. Nothing is successful, worrying the two, but concern turns to relief and then joy when Cacao reads back her letter of thanks.

  • I found the artwork of Nekopara to be of a high standard: character animation is fluid, artwork is consistent, and the background art is solid. The heat of summer is similarly captured when the Minadukis and their Nekos visit the beach through a brilliantly blue sky. The original OVAs were done by Felix Film, who repraise their role as producers for the anime series. Founded in 2014, Felix Film appears to be involved in animating visual novel adaptations, having done the work for A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd, and they are slated to produce Otherside Picnic, as well.

  • With summer in full swing, Shigure and Kahou bring the Neko to the beach for classic summer activities, but when Cacao wanders off on her inflatable dolphin, she needs saving. A girl ends up saving Cacao, and in gratitude, the Nekos decide to swing by the shop this girl works at. They are impressed with the food, and decide to help out when they see how empty the place is, bringing a large number of customers, eventually helping them to acquire a Neko of their own to help with business.

  • Altogether, Nekopara is a B+ (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 of 10): it’s a fun series with engaging characters whose interactions are simultaneously heartwarming and fun, bringing joy as pets would in the real world. While doing nothing particularly revolutionary or novel in its run, the anime further brings the Nekopara world to life. While the visual novels might have more lurid content, the anime is surprisingly tame, making it a suitable gateway for folks who are interested in taking look at the Nekopara universe. With this post in the books, we’re also nearing the end of June on short order. I was able to get into the Halo 3 flighting and have some thoughts to share on that, and once July rolls around, my priority will be writing about Hello World, as well as Sketchbook and the last Year One content for The Division 2.

Being an animated adaptation of a visual novel, one inevitable question surrounding Nekopara is whether or not it is sufficient to motivate viewers who’ve not played the visual novels to pick it up. While enjoyable through and through, Nekopara‘s anime adaptation has not convinced me to give the visual novels a go: having already showcased the central interactions amongst the Neko and the Minadukis, Nekopara‘s anime instead gives viewers an alternate means of experiencing Nekopara, portraying the Neko and their daily adventures together While Nekopara will doubtlessly appeal to some viewers more than others, (e.g. folks who are looking for something with a more tangible theme may not find Nekopara worthwhile), the full-length anime represents an innocuous portrayal of life with Nekos intended to elicit a few laughs and create gentle moments amongst the Nekos. Nekopara is by no means a work of art rivalling the likes of Tolstoy or Dickens in impact, but as a relaxing bit of entertainment, Nekopara does succeed; the self-contained episodes were rather fun to watch, and I’m glad to have gone through this series with an open mind. Looking ahead into the future, I’m not sure if we’ll see a continuation of Nekopara in the form of a second season: while the series is quite popular, this is largely dependent on the sales of the home media. Having said this, I wouldn’t have any objections to giving any sort of continuation a go.

A Violet Evergarden Side Story: A Review and Full Recommendation on Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll

“Bender? Are you crying?”
“Uh, no! Never!”

–Fry and Bender, Futurama

When the Drossel Royal Family makes the request for Violet to help Isabella York, a student at a renowned boarding school, in preparation for a début, Violet spends three months at the academy. Isabella is initially cold towards Violet, and Violet observes that Isabella is distant from the other students, as well as appearing quite unfamiliar with the formalities and conventions of higher society. Violet’s patience and understanding allows her to assist Isabella, impressing her classmates, and over time, Isabella begins to open up to Violet. One evening, when Isabella suffers from a coughing fit, Violet spends the night by her side to ensure her well-being, and Isabella sees that Violet is someone who genuinely cares for her. Bit by bit, Isabella and Violet become friends, sharing their backgrounds with one another. It turns out that Isabella was born Amy Bartlett, an illegitimate child of an aristocratic family, but was sent off to live in poverty. Here, she took in a small child, Taylor, and cared for Taylor as her sister. When the war ended, the York family found her and invited her to join their family, as well as assuring Taylor’s well-being. Thus, the two became separated. After Violet takes Isabella to the debutante ball, Isabella asks Violet to write a letter to Taylor. With her work done, Violet returns to Leden, and Benedict delivers Isabella’s letter to Taylor, who is at an orphanage. Three years later, Taylor’s run away from her orphanage and heads to Leden, where she finds the CH Postal Company and asks to become a courier. Benedict is reluctant to take on Taylor as an apprentice, but Hodgins, recalling Violet’s starts with CH Postal, asks Benedict to give her a chance, and also has Violet teach Taylor the fundamentals of reading and writing. While out on a delivery route with Taylor, Violet learns that Taylor’s come to believe that a courier delivers happiness, and agrees to help Taylor write a letter to Isabella. Benedict agrees to find Isabella’s address and deliver this letter after acquiring a new motorcycle, and takes Taylor with him to deliver the letter. When Benedict reaches Isabella’s estate, he delivers the letter, but Taylor decides to meet her another time, once she’s become a full-fledged courier. Later, Taylor is adopted into the Evergarden family. This is Violet Evergarden‘s Side Story, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll; originally premièring in September 2019, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is a film that expands on Kyoto Animation’s portrayal of the Violet Evergarden universe, which follows the titular Violet Evergarden and her journey to understand the meaning of the phrase “I love you”.

Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of Violet Evergarden differs from the themes of the original light novels: in choosing to focus exclusively in Violet’s growth as a person, from a war machine to someone with feelings and empathy acute enough to perform an excellent job as a ghost writer, the Violet Evergarden of Kyoto Animation is not subtle in its themes, which speak to the strength of words and how letters can carry feelings that transcend space and time. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll continues on in this tradition, but appends to the theme that, through befriending Isabella, Violet’s become one step closer to understanding love. Through Violet’s time with Isabella, the latter comes to appreciate that Violet is always genuinely concerned for her, and moreover, because Violet’s experienced her own loss, both of Gilbert and her own arms, she is able to empathise with Isabella, who regrets her separation from Taylor every day. The Violet we see in Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is someone who’s made considerable strides in understanding others, having seen love in its many forms, and also how intangibles are communicated. With Isabella, her task might not involve ghost-writing, but similar skills in empathy and understanding the environment allow Violet to do her best; when Isabella wonders why Violet is so perfect (to the point that the academy’s other students praise her devotion and character), Violet responds that this is the job asked of her, and that Violet acts precisely as a girl from a background of privilege does exemplifies that she is very attuned to her surroundings. As such, when Isabella begins counting Violet as a friend, Violet feels the sincerity behind her actions and reciprocates; in being able to make friends without any external guidance, Violet has shown herself as being able to continuously form more meaningful connections with others, which in turn sets the groundwork for her to find a way towards the strongest kind of love of all.

While Violet Evergarden had typically focused on the magical ability of letters to convey complex emotions, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll also touches lightly on the ideas of technological progress, specifically, how the world around Violet is changing rapidly even as she continues to do her best each and every day. Throughout the film, characters comment on the changes in the world around them. From Taylor being impressed with electric lamps, which replace older gas lamps, to the inclusion of elevators in newer buildings and the construction of a radio tower, the world of Violet Evergarden is pushing forwards in the same manner the real world has. These changes create new conveniences for the world’s inhabitants, but they can also be a hindrance; upon using an elevator for the first time, Violet remarks that a lift would’ve been faster, and Benedict does not initially appear too fond of the radio tower in representing a new form of communication. However, as he succinctly puts it, progress waits for no one, and it’s a matter of adapting. The arrival of radio in the real world had far-reaching implications on how people communicated: from the personalised touch of words written onto paper and hand-delivered, to the ability to reach more people than was ever thought possible, radio fundamentally changed the way people communicated, increasing the speed and efficiency things could be done at the expense of a more human touch. In the present day, the advancements arising from these early steps have made it possible to carry out things like algorithmic management, in which complex subroutines can autonomously direct human workers. While efficient, such systems are also described as incredibly impersonal and cold, having their own sets of challenges for those they manage. The arrival of increasingly familiar technologies in Violet Evergarden, then, show that even Violet’s world is not immune to progress. However, although technology may one day render the courier an obsolete function, and similarly, letters an obsolete mode of communication, there remains a charm and romance in being able to convey one’s emotions by hand and then delivering feelings, having been captured onto a more tangible medium, to its intended recipient. In this way, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll makes a wonderful case in that, even if technology does render some forms of communication irrelevant, the older forms persist because there are some things that new technology cannot capture.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been about a year and a half since Violet grace this blog with her visage: the last time I wrote about Violet Evergarden, I was writing about the OVA where Violet was sent to help an opera singer write a song, and while she’d initially had her struggles, she rose to the occasion magnificently and succeeded. When I first heard of Violet Evergarden, it was 2016: I was a few weeks before starting my graduate defense, and a friend had shown me a trailer, asking if I’d known about the series. Aside from a cursory remark that Violet looked like Your Lie in April‘s Kaori Miyazono, I had nothing more to say.

  • By the time Violet Evergarden had come out, my friend had forgotten about the series, but I decided to pick it up, and I was not disappointed. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll continues on in the same vein as its predecessor, featuring a moving story, stunning visuals and excellent voice work. Violet is voiced by Yui Ishikawa (Azur Lane‘s very own Enterprise, Eromanga Sensei‘s Tomoe Takasago and China Kousaka of Gundam Build Fighers), while Minako Kotobuki (K-On!‘s Tsumugi Kotobuki and Asuka Tanaka of Hibike! Euphonium) plays Isabella.

  • It would seem that Isabella is a relatively recent student of the girls’ academy: she’s shown as being quite unable to become comfortable with the customs and ways of the upper classes, and even eating with the right utensils comes as a challenge to her. Personally, I’m used to eating with chopsticks (which commands an entirely different set of etiquette), although I am familiar with more formal, multi-course dinners where forks and knives are laid out: the way is to eat using the utensils on the outside first and work one’s way inwards as courses are served. The scene brings to mind a moment from Titanic, where Jack Dawson is given a crash course on this when dining with the first class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukaterr.

  • Isabella’s feeling of isolation is apparent: compared to the other girls, she projects a different atmosphere and isn’t at home with putting on airs. This creates a bit of distance with her classmates, who, despite their backgrounds, seem friendly enough. However, when Violet demonstrates her patience and willingness to help Isabella out, the distance melts away, and slowly but surely, a friendship blossoms. One touch I particularly liked was that, after spending an entire night awake to ensure Isabella was tended to, Isabella wondered if Violet was tired, and Violet attempts to reassure Isabella she’s fine, having been accustomed to staying up at night, but then fails to stifle a yawn.

  • In flashbacks, Isabella’s previous life is shown. She lived in abject poverty and sold flowers for a meagre living, but her world changed after she met Taylor. Deciding to look after Taylor, Isabella resolved to make Taylor’s life as happy as possible. Even if it was tough, Taylor and Isabella, then Amy Bartlett, shared many a happy memory together. Taylor had been the one person Isabella had been close to, and it isn’t until Violet’s arrival that her outlook on the world begins to change.

  • After Violet does Isabella’s hair in preparation for the day ahead, Isabella returns the favour, and like Ena Saitou of Yuru Camp△, opens by messing with Violet’s hair before setting it in a style Violet is okay with. While Violet now is as human as everyone else, she still retrains traces of her old training and habits; she remarks that hair covering her eyes could be a hazard after Isabella styles her hair a certain way. Afterwards, Isabella attempts to convince Violet to skip class, but Violet remains steadfast that Isabella must remain true to her obligations.

  • Having long been plagued by dreams of Taylor, Isabella would often awaken with tears in her eyes. Violet’s presence helps her to relax a little, and reduces the intensity of the feelings of longing that Isabella has. Further helping her, Violet occasionally swaps stories with Isabella, which puts her own experiences in perspective and serves to show her that there are others with similar backgrounds.

  • Three months pass in the blink of an eye, and soon, it is the day of Isabella’s début. CH Postal also sends Violet a special suit for the occasion. With both Isabella and Violet sporting a brooch of different colours, this is a subtle way of juxtaposing the similarities and differences between the two.

  • The formal ball is a great success, and aside from capturing the admiration of all those in attendance, Isabella also has a spectacular time, as well. It is here that Isabella’s progress is shown; despite struggling with activities and customs expected of society’s upper echelons, she makes strides with Violet’s help, and during the ball, dances with grace. Because social dancing is a part of the upper class’ activities, and is a rather involved skill, that Isabella’s cultivated her skills to this level in three months shows that under Violet’s tutelage, she’s learned well.

  • Prior to her being asked to join the York family, Isabella had barely scratch a living off selling flowers. The user of winter imagery, and the warm lighting in Isabella’s old residence after she’d met Taylor, served to illustrate the stark contrast that she saw the world in: even though she remained quite poor after taking Taylor in, her world had changed. She now had someone to look after, someone whose happiness mattered, and this made everything worthwhile. Thus, when the York family arrived and promised both a better life, even though Isabella’s conditions have improved, she still sorely misses Taylor, who was her one light.

  • Because she’s now accepted Violet in full, Isabella has one final request for Violet – to write a letter to Taylor. Violet complies, and finishes the letter prior to leaving. She promises that this letter will be delivered to Taylor. As a side story rather than a continuation, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll does not have an all-new soundtrack. Instead, a selection of Evan Call’s best pieces from Violet Evergarden‘s soundtrack are used.

  • It speaks volumes to the original series’ soundtrack that the music, with a few minor adjustments to fit the scene, remain immensely effective in Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll. While Isabella is more than willing to pay for the letter, Violet waives this, saying that it was a favour between friends, and the two depart. Violet and Isabella will not cross paths again in this film, but the assignment, and the resulting experiences, leave a tangible impact on both Isabella and Violet.

  • To leave viewers on the note that Isabella is going to be alright, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll has another classmate approach her and expressing a desire to speak freely, to learn more about one another. The old Isabella would’ve been taken aback, but as she is now, Isabella is able to reply and begin opening up to her other classmates, as well. Thus, Isabella’s story has concluded for the present, and the film can shift its focus to Taylor.

  • Benedict arrives at the orphanage where Taylor currently lives to deliver her letter. Taylor is illiterate, having never learnt to read and write, and she asks Benedict to read her the letter. The contents of the letter are simple but moving: in times of difficulty, Taylor should recall Isabella’s old name, “Amy”, to find strength to endure and overcome. For Benedict, this was a simple enough delivery, but for Taylor, her world changes. She’d had fond memories of Isabella, and while her living conditions have improved since, she still desires to meet up with her once more.

  • Three years later, an older Taylor arrives at Leden and CH Postal’s headquarters with the sole intent of meeting Benedict, who’d delivered her letter. It turns out that Violet had also written a second letter, from her personally to Taylor, saying to find her if anything should happen. While Benedict is completely taken aback, having long forgotten the delivery, Hodgins decides to have Taylor shadow as an apprentice under Benedict and Violet, seeing the same determination in Taylor that he saw in Violet.

  • Taylor’s illiteracy initially proves to be a problem: she’s unable to read addresses, only knowing numbers. However, Benedict still has her help with deliveries, leaving her impressed with how well he knows Leden. This in turn inspires her further, and Violet takes on the task of helping Taylor learn the basics. The language of the Violet Evergarden universe is a fictional one, but because this is an anime, Taylor starts to learn Japanese hiragana. In an English dub, these would doubtlessly be switched out for the alphabet.

  • Violet also takes Taylor on a few deliveries, helping her to get used to routing and also give her field experience in reading the addresses from a letter, then matching that to a destination. While making a delivery to an apartment, Violet and Taylor enter an elevator, and Violet is initially confused at how it works: elevators have been around since ancient times, but powered elevators began appearing in the mid-1800s as a result of development in mining technology. With Elisha Otis’ developing a safety elevator in 1854, elevators became more popular, and automated elevators became commonplace by the 1900s, although like Violet, most customers found them cumbersome and were therefore unwilling to operate them.

  • Thus, dedicated staff were hired to operate elevators until 1945, when features of modern elevators began appearing, prompted by an elevator operator strike in the United States. Technology goes through similar phases, and phones were the same way, with users finding them convenient when they worked, but were otherwise complex systems that required staff to make the connection. Automation has since taken over, making phones an indispensable form of communication that, like a letter, can carry feelings and emotion over space and time to its recipient in the form of sound.

  • As time wears on, Taylor becomes better versed in written language, being able to read and write to a limited extent. One evening, Violet takes her to the CH Postal’s rooftop to stargaze after speaking with her, and the conversation turns towards Taylor’s wish to write a letter to Isabella. With assistance from Violet, Taylor writes out a letter, demonstrating her progress in learning how to write, but also showing her determination. There is, however, a caveat: after Isabella graduated, she married an aristocrat of sorts but never left an address at the behest of the York family. Thus, finding Isabella would be a challenge.

  • Between Benedict’s resourcefulness and determination, with a bit of luck, CH Postal does end up finding Isabella’s current address: it’s a stately stone mansion in the countryside. Knowing how much this means to Taylor, CH Postal decides to have her accompany Benedict on the delivery. Benedict agreed to the assignment on one condition: that CH Postal procure a new motorcycle to replace his aging one, which had been so ancient that neighbourhood kids poked fun at it. The new motorcycle puts a genuine smile on Benedict’s face, and after Violet wishes them a safe journey, they head off.

  • It turns out that Isabella’s been living a quieter life since she became married, and despite her husband, Count Neville, frequently hosting events at his estate, few people have seen Isabella. This is understandable, given that Isabella’s always been frail, but in spite of this, Count Neville also is shown to care about Isabella, constructing a beautiful garden in the estate’s back that overlooks an area of unspoiled natural beauty for Isabella to enjoy.

  • Knowing this, Benedict manages to find Isabella while she’s on her afternoon walk. The scenery here is breathtaking, and the estate’s garden opens to a forested park beside a pond. The presence of nature conveys a sense of utter tranquility that suits Isabella. When she’s seen taken her stroll, she is at peace; Violet would be happy to know that her friend had made it and is doing well.

  • In Taylor’s letter, she expresses gratitude for all Isabella had done for her, and understanding towards why Isabella ended up making the choices that she did. Even after everything that’s happened, Taylor feels nothing but happiness and counts Isabella as her sister. The strength of these emotions reach Isabella, who dissolves in tears. At this time, Isabella has no idea just how close Taylor is, and a part of me had been hoping that Taylor would be seized with a desire to reveal herself.

  • Taylor, however, feels it to be more appropriate and reunite properly after she’s become a proper courier, to show Isabella that she’s made it. Thus, she decides to remain hidden for the present. With the letter delivered at the film’s climax, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll enters its denouement. During the six-and-a-half month gap between when the film was screened in Japan and when its home release became available, I’ve done my utmost to avoid spoilers for it. Now, with the movie in the books, looking back at the materials out there, it turns out discussion on this film’s been limited.

  • However, par the course for every anime movie, there were some who flew to Japan with the express purpose of watching Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll and then tear down the film to have their opinion of things be the established one. In the well-heeded Anime News Network review, it is argued that then film is disjointed and the themes are entirely with “classism and heteronormativity” but are explored in “a resigned way, as if they are obstacles that can never be overcome”. In a different series, were Violet not the protagonist of Violet Evergarden, such a remark may have some merit, but the reviewer here fails to understand that Violet Evergarden isn’t about class struggles or social issues. The series is about Violet and her discoveries, with the assignments she takes, and the people she encounter, being a part of her experiences, some of which give insight into a world with older values and customs.

  • It is evident that Anime News Network is ill-suited for writing about Kyoto Animation’s works: their review on Chikai no Finale and Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll demonstrates a lack of appreciation for the individual perspective on things, and in general, folks looking to gain a better measure of things would find it much more meaningful to watch both movies for themselves: going in blind yields the superior experience to having any prior expectations or misconceptions that any review (including mine) have created. Back in Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, with the day over, Benedict and Taylor prepare to head back to Leden under a sunset that reminds me of the journey from Paris to Laval that I took four years ago for a conference.

  • Now adopted into the Evergarden family, Taylor and Violet are technically sisters, too. She’s seen studying writing and reading with ardour, pursing her dream of becoming a courier in earnest. One final remark I have as this talk draws to a close is the matter of literacy: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll gives a glimpse into how difficult illiteracy can make things for people, especially considering the prevalence of written communication in contemporary society is. It was therefore especially heartwarming to see Taylor take up her studies with such honest effort, which would in turn better her future. and help her in realising her aspirations.

  • Of course, the leftover turkey bones and meat that were not carved will be great in a turkey congee in the near future, and I return to Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll: as the film draws to a close, Violet sets off for her next assignment with a light smile on her face as she enjoys the beautiful country air. Smiles from Violet are about as rare as smiles from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi‘s Yuki Nagato and therefore, are moments to be enjoyed. While I’ve been calling it a film throughout this discussion, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is actually just a side story (albeit an incredibly well-done one); there is a continuation to Violet Evergarden that was originally set to release earlier this year, but the current world health crisis has understandably pushed the release date back. I still have plans to write about this continuation and will do so once the opportunity presents itself.

  • The film wraps up with Taylor smiling broadly, with a bright future to work towards. Because the film hits all of the emotional chords well, tears were never really too far off while I was watching Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, and recalling my modus operandi of awarding the masterpiece designation to anything that can make me cry (this explains the page quote, as well), Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll scores an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, ten of ten) for me. In retrospect, Violet Evergarden itself is a masterpiece because it so viscerally conveys emotions, and few other series (save CLANNAD and Angel Beats!) have so convincingly allowed me to feel what the characters were feeling.

Violet Evergarden‘s side story thus ends up being a technically and narratively excellent piece: as a standalone story given additional runtime to truly flesh out its messages, Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is a spectacular work where the sum of its components, from its natural but logical character growth, to the visual and aural aspects, all come together to deliver a work that captivates its viewers. Having come to see how far Violet’s come, viewers are inclined to follow her experiences and whole-heartedly support her actions, which are firmly established to be helping her client to the greatest extent possible. While viewers have no doubt that Violet will succeed, the meaning comes from watching how Violet accomplishes this. Through nurture, care and attention paid to detail, Violet’s stoic but meticulous methods yield definitive results, and watching both Isabella and Taylor find their paths again proves to be immensely rewarding. It typifies Kyoto Animation’s ability to bring out the emotions of every scene as effectively as they do, and their talents for compelling viewers to feel precisely what the characters feel. Kyoto Animation is a powerhouse studio that has honed their craft to mastery, and even in spite of last year’s unfortunate arson incident, that their works continue to remain of such a high calibre speaks volumes to the commitment and dedication of their staff. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the arson attack in 2019, continues on Kyoto Animation’s best in their honour and shows that people, through resilience and support for one another, can endure crisis to come out stronger on the other side. Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll is therefore, a veritable masterpiece to watch; whether one has familiarity with Violet Evergarden or not is irrelevant, since this film is able to stand on its own merits and capture emotions in a way few others can.

Nekopara Extra OVA Review and Reflection

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche

Set a half-year prior to the events of Nekopara‘s first OVA, Nekopara Extra depicts Chocola and Vanilla’s introduction to the Minaduki household and how, despite the other Nekos’ warm reception, struggle to fit in until Kashou reassures them one evening. Later, Kashou, Shigure and the Nekos celebrate Christmas, during which Kashou makes a delicious dinner for everyone to share and also plays the role of Santa. With the Nekos enjoying the evening immensely, Kashou agrees to make their Christmas parties a yearly tradition. This second Nekopara OVA was released to Steam in July this year and, like its predecessor before it, is an animated adaptation of the Nekopara visual novels, which follows Chocola and Vanilla’s life as kittens as they adjust to life with the Minadukis. The Nekopara Extra OVA is simple, succinct and represents twenty minutes of amusement.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It has been quite some time since I’ve written a post this short: with only ten images and three hundred something words, this Nekopara post was written so I could say I’ve covered the second of the Nekopara OVAs, and because I’ve got a special milestone coming out in very short order that involves reaching a certain number of posts; the nature of this post will make itself apparent soon enough.

  • The first half of the Nekopara Extra OVA can be summed up to “Chocola and Vanilla struggle to get used to their new life”. Right from the start, it’s clear that the other Nekos are friendly and amicable, getting along with the new kittens straight away. I’ve mentioned previously that it’s a bad idea to give cats milk since they’re lactose intolerant, but because Chocola and Vanilla are cat-like, we will suppose that their digestive systems are also more human-like.

  • Kashou’s kindness towards Chocola and Vanilla are the reason why they cling to him by the events of Nekopara. Last I wrote about Nekopara, I made no mention of the title and realised that I did not really have an explanation for the etymology, but it turns out that Nekopara is really just a portmanteau of neko and “paradise”. Given the light, fluffy nature of the OVAs, this seems a fitting title.

  • I’m not sure how many of my readers are big on visual novels, and of those who are, I’m certain that the number of folks who’ve played Nekopara would be even fewer in number. On the off-chance that I do have some Nekopara fans in the wings, I’m curious to know what the game’s draw is and which aspects (the physics slider does not count) makes the game worth buying.

  • For me, the Nekopara OVAs represent simple escapism: there’s nothing terribly thought-provoking about the anime, but there’s nothing wrong with this. The strength of the OVAs lie in their ability to create a very gentle atmosphere, and I am glad that the Nekopara Extra OVA does away with anything risqué. I’ve heard that the games go the whole nine yards with this content, although I’ve long felt the aesthetics and atmosphere in Nekopara to be less suited for this sort of thing.

  • High on the list of things I enjoy about Christmas Day is simply being able to relax and not do anything. Of late, being able to relax in this fashion has been incredibly rare, and over the past weekend, I took a much-needed breather out to the salmon runs a province over. Being able to go on a road trip and relax was most welcoming, especially with how pleasant the weather was. After crossing over the Alberta-BC border, the moody grey skies gave way to blue, and the temperatures warmed. By the time we reached the Adams River Sockeye Run, it was later in the afternoon, but salmon were moving upriver at a steady pace. There was a bit of glare, so I don’t have good photographs to show, but the spectacle was one to behold.

  • The day ended in Vernon, and next morning, we stopped by D Dutchman Dairy near Sicamous, where I enjoyed a maple ice cream (no photographs, as it was so good, I finished it before remembering to photograph it) in an open field beside the dairy shop before taking off for Revelstoke, a quiet town in the middle of the mountains where we stopped for lunch. The final destination was Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park: I’ve never actually been there before until now, having skipped it the last time I was in Yoho because crowd sizes made it impossible to find parking. This time, however, Emerald Lake was deserted, and the lake itself was mirror-smooth.

  • Being offline and away from a computer proved to be exactly what I needed, and at present, it’s back to the grind. The current project is almost over now, and once finished, I’m considering a change of scenery. There are a lot of unknowns here, so I won’t go into too much details, but I think it will be a good chance for professional development. This may have an impact on my blogging, but I think that once things settle down there, blogging will resume in some capacity.

  • The events of the Nekopara Extra OVA culminate with the result that the Minadukis develop a new Christmas tradition of spending time together with the family Nekos. It’s a touching end to an OVA that largely has no conflicts, and the OVA itself is well-suited for a quieter day.

  • In retrospect, I likely should have watched this during Christmas, the Nekopara Extra OVA was light enough so that a shorter post was sufficient, and truthfully, there isn’t too much to talk here. So, I suppose that for the Christmas season, I will likely take a look at something else. In the meantime, I am going to be writing about Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, and ahead of a certain milestone, I am going to do another post on The Division: after the past few Global Events, where I’ve completed my six piece Classified Striker’s Battlegear set and got a Bullfrog with solid talents.

Described as a heartfelt comedy, reception to Nekopara‘s OVAs is quite varied; folks who’ve played the game will either enjoy the Nekopara OVAs for bringing the game to life, or else count it as being an inadequate adaptation. On my end, having never played the games myself, the Nekopara OVAs are not something that particularly inspire me to pick the games up: we recall that my interest in games are driven by immersion and strength of gameplay, and while Nekopara‘s supposed to have a physics setting, this alone is hardly an adequate reason to try the game out. With this being said, the OVAs nonetheless remain a moderately amusing way to spend twenty minutes: for a pair of OVAs inspired by games and made possible with kick-starter funds, the animation and voice acting in the Nekopara OVAs is of a solid quality: Nekopara Extra OVA might be shorter than the first, but the quality remains generally high and provides a bit of additional narrative for folks wondering about the Nekopara universe.

And That’s Why We Choose Our Irreplaceable Partners: Harukana Receive Finale Impressions and Whole-Series Review

“They push, we push. Every once in a while, we push hard enough that the light breaks through the clouds, and the world beyond the court glimmers.” —Battlefield 1 Prologue

With the match tied, Harukana and Éclair have a furious rally; Harukana pulls ahead in scoring and ultimately, Haruka blocks Claire’s spike, scoring the final point to win the match. Although Claire and Emily congratulate Haruka and Kanata on their victory, it is a bittersweet one. While Emily comforts Claire, who expresses no regrets in having trained Haruka and Kanata, Akari passes news of Haruka and Kanata’s win over to Narumi and Ayasa: they wish Kanata to be happy with their victory and look forwards to the possibility of facing one another in the Nationals. Later, the girls take some well-earned downtime, celebrating the aftermath of the Okinawa tournament with a barbeque on the beach. Narumi calls Haruka and thanks her for having helped Kanata rediscover her love for beach volleyball. After spending the afternoon enjoying the beaches of Okinawa, Emily, Kanata and Akari give Haruka and Claire some time alone, where Claire is able to be truthful about how she feels on the outcome of their match. She is surprised that Haruka was able to block their final spike, and Haruka feels that it was having trained with Claire and Emily that gave her the confidence to block spikes. Claire places her faith in Haruka and Kanata, to win for everyone’s sake. Emily and Kanata thank Akari, feeling that were it not for her presence in the beach volleyball club, they might not otherwise have an opportunity to remain close following that titanic match. When they return to Claire and Haruka with cold drinks in hand, the girls grow fired up and resolve to continue training together in preparation for the Valkyrie Cup. This brings Harukana Receive to an end for the present, and with all twelve episodes in the books, the time has come to look back through the entire series and ascertain what messages the anime intended for audiences to take away. Simple-minded discussions might claim that Harukana Receive is intended to be “intentional homoerotism…achieved through some subtext and an ambiguous comparison of the sporting partnership in the series with romantic relationship”, but the reality is that Harukana Receive has none of this; at the end of the day, it’s a story of friendship, discovery and learning.

Manga Time Kirara series are not known for being subtle about their themes of friendship and camaraderie. In the case of Harukana Receive, the message lies in the importance of supportive company as the motivator for progress and growth. Having lost her interest in beach volleyball from her short stature and other circumstances in her life, Kanata’s decision to leave the sport left an impact on those who looked up to her. Narumi was particularly disappointed, as the two had been partners previously, and similarly, Claire and Emily were left facing an opponent who was a shadow of her former self. When Haruka arrives, with her boundless energy and optimism, Kanata’s desire to support Haruka slowly brings her back into beach volleyball. With a partner who views the world as a place to explore and try one’s strength in, Kanata redevelops her passion for beach volleyball. This resurgence draws the attention of her old friends and rivals, and as she embraces beach volleyball again, Kanata also forms a much closer relationship with her cousin. These changes show the extent that good support can have on one’s well-being, and for Kanata, there is no one better than Haruka to brighten her day up. Similarly, when Claire and Emily are set to face off against Haruka and Kanata, the pairs set their friendship aside to face one another as opponents. Emotions run high during their match, and in its aftermath, the atmosphere is subdued, quite unlike what a victory would feel like. Haruka and Kanata may have won, but there was a price to pay. The toll extracted, however, would have been much heavier had Akari not been present. Rooting for everyone and promising that everyone’s friendship will remain intact no matter the outcome, Akari’s presence grounds both pairs and keeps them from losing sight of what is truly important: the memories and experiences they have all shared together. Because she is not in a pair, Akari brings to the beach volleyball club a new perspective on things, and this is precisely what allows Claire, Haruka, Emily and Kanata to remain on excellent terms with one another.

Placing Claire and Emily as the final opponents for Haruka and Kanata to overcome before Kanata can push ahead and keep her promise with Narumi also serves one important function: throughout Harukana Receive, Kanata’s desire to keep her promise to Narumi is a sometimes-burden, sometimes-motivator. Kanata is evidently someone who holds true to her word and expresses visible regret when she feels as though she might not be able to uphold her end of the promise. When the opportunity for keeping it presents itself, Kanata seizes it; she and Haruka make remarkable progress as a pair over the course of a year, reaching a point where they are able to play on par with the second-ranked players in all of Japan. The power of a promise as a motivator is clearly felt, and ends up being a powerful driving force for Kanata. When faced with the ultimate test of her will, Kanata shows that she is willing to do all that is necessary to keep her word, even if it means vanquishing her friends in competition. This level of determination underlies several interesting facets of Kanata’s character: besides staying true to her word, Kanata is also evidently someone who treasures those around her. Narumi might be paired with Ayasa now, but she still desires to uphold their promise to one another as friends. In an age where one’s word is often worth as little as the air it took to make it, such faithfulness to one’s promises is admirable. As Kanata discovers, there are many ways to keep one’s promises and make the most of the moment; in accepting this, Kanata is above to rediscover her old self and live in the present, finding new happiness with Haruka, Claire, Emily and Akari.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In this finale post, I’ve featured thirty screenshots, as I have done for previous finale posts. However, because I’ve spent the last three posts showcasing screenshots of beach volleyball, I am going to focus less on the final moments of the match between Harukana and Éclair. Looking back, with three straight posts of beach volleyball, it stands to reason that as far as content goes, Harukana Receive has delivered on the beach volleyball aspects as per its premise, and a year into her experiences, it is clear that both Kanata and Haruka found the answers they sought on the court underneath the vivid Okinawan sun.

  • After two episodes of play, the match finally comes to an end when Haruka blocks one of Claire’s spikes. The court quiets, and on the viewer’s mind is what Claire’s reaction will be when she faces Haruka and Kanata: it has been established that Claire has a boisterous and competitive nature, switching from being friendly and open to being dead serious in a moment’s notice. Waiting for Claire’s reaction to losing thus becomes a bit of a lengthy one.

  • While the crowd cheers for the match’s outcome, amongst the girls closest to Harukana and Éclair, there are no celebrations. Going in, Akari knew with full certainty that there would be the victor and vanquished — now that the moment for cheering on and supporting her friends have passed, she dreads seeing what will happen next. Likewise, Ai and Mai are equally as silent: Mai had been expressing support for Harukana despite her earlier dislike for Kanata, and when questioned, unconvincingly states she’s simply enthralled by the match itself.

  • If Akari, Ai and Mai were concerned, it pales in comparison to Haruka’s reaction. Her face is filled with sadness at the prospect of the emotion running through her friends’ minds, and this is mirrored in Kanata’s expression, as well. Haruka and Kanata’s reaction is a natural one, akin to two brothers playing in opposite conferences and facing down one another during a Stanley Cup final. As exhilarating as it is to win, both would always wonder how the other might react if they’d lost or won.

  • Aside from a clenched fist signifying her frustration and dejection, Claire gives no outwards sign of the loss, shrugging it off and expressing that she’s exhausted. After they shake hands, Claire rushes off to buy drinks, and the faintest trace of her voice breaking can be heard. Emily takes off after her to make certain that Claire is alright, and Akari calls Ayasa and Narumi to inform them of the outcome.

“Victory costs. Every time, you pay a little more”

– Laurence “Prophet” Barnes, Crysis 3

  • It speaks volumes to the strength of their friendship that there is no celebration following their victory; both Haruka and Kanata feel the toll of their victory, knowing that in order to win, they had no other choice but to hurt Claire and Emily. Narumi congratulates them and asks them to enjoy the moment, having understood how strongly Kanata wanted to fulfil her promise, but right now, nothing else is on Kanata and Haruka’s mind except for Claire and Emily. Every success, every victory has a cost attached to it, taking the form of a sacrifice of some sort. Whether it be a time commitment or giving up something for the sake of another, no true victory can be had without sacrifice. Prophet of Crysis 3 put it that victory costs, with each successive victory forcing one to pay more for it.

  • This was my site’s tag line for the longest time, and looking back, it’s one of my favourite quotes from any game for the simple fact that it’s a reality. Back in Harukana Receive, it seems that Claire’s had time to compose herself, and for Emily, she puts on a display of bravado. Being her sister, and knowing her better than anyone, Emily voices what’s on Claire’s mind: a part of Claire likely does regret pushing Kanata and Haruka to have progressed as far as they did, but she’s also glad to have helped create worthy opponents to spur them on.

  • A million things must be running through Claire’s mind, and Emily simply leans on her, comforting her. Harukana Receive is generally a very well-lit anime, with a bright, vivid palette in many of its scenes, so when a stark contrast between light and dark is established, it is intended to convey the emotional tenour of a moment. A similar effect was used after Narumi realised that Kanata now had someone in her life to motivate her, and here, the bright surroundings of Okinawa are forgotten as the two sisters accept that their shot at playing in the Nationals is over for the present, taking solace in one another’s company.

“Does anyone have any orange slices?” —Scott Lang, Captain America: Civil War

  • At the episode’s halfway point, the mood shifts back to the easygoing, light-hearted one that Harukana Receive utilises outside of beach volleyball. Here, Haruka and Kanata prepare to join the others for a barbeque on the beach, and I take a moment to explain the multiple page quotes. I mentioned in the talk for Harukana Receive‘s penultimate episode that I would be fielding a quote from Captain America: Civil War, and while I originally intended this to be the main page quote, Haruka’s inner monologue during their match, that she wanted to push through and see the world that was ahead of them, was surprisingly relevant.

  • Immediately, the quote from Battlefield 1‘s cinematic trailer came to mind. Likely referring to fighting hard for a better future, it fits with Harukana Receive very nicely, more so than the quote from Civil War. However, with the mood in the finale lightening at the halfway point, I figured it would be appropriate to use the quote here. After Scott Lang reverts to his normal size when Stark and Rhodes knocks him down, he asks if there are any orange slices around. His quip is meant to signify that their bout was really more of a competitive one, rather than a life-and-death one. Traditionally, orange slices were handed out at youth soccer games, so by throwing that in there, Lang reminds viewers that the fight between Rogers and Stark’s groups is not all-serious.

  • Ayasa and Narumi share a conversation about Kanata while stretching; Narumi feels that their win will now force Kanata to play with more focus and determination than before. She wonders if Kanata will be up to the challenge, but Ayasa reassures her that Kanata will uphold her end of the promise. Ayasa and Narumi are always seen to be training, showing their dedication towards their sport, as well. The price of victory in Harukana Receive is shown in more ways than one, and for me, it also suggests that there is more to the story than what we’ve seen so far.

  • I am a big fan of barbeque: during one of my trips to Denver, I stepped out to dinner at a restaurant close to my lodgings and ordered their a delicious beef rib and sausage special. Tender and succulent, the grilled taste was evident in the beef ribs, while the sausage was flavourful and juicy. There’s only really one place back home that compares to American barbeque, and that’s Big T’s. In Harukana Receive, fancy beef-and-sausage kebabs, fish, steaks and even a beer-can chicken are present during the girls’ beach barbeque party. With the emotional match over, it’s a return to the everyday experiences the girls share with one another, and although their dynamics are as spirited and joyful as they’ve always been, audiences will definitely feel that things have changed following the match. For now, the girls are free to enjoy themselves, and in the moment, the exuberant Claire I’ve come to know and love comes out in full force.

  • This is what likely comes to mind whenever Okinawa is mentioned: frolicking on the beautiful beaches and warm waters of a tropical island. While Harukana Receive might be at its conclusion for now, Non Non Biyori Vacation and its depiction of Okinawa will step up to fill that void. I’ve been longing to see this movie for quite some time, and it screened in Japan back in August. Naturally, some have flown over to Japan with the singular purpose of watching Non Non Biyori Vacation in theatres and write about how they didn’t enjoy it; as the date for the home release remains a bit of an enigma, I have no estimates of when I’ll be able to take Anime News Network’s writers to school.

  • While some have felt Akari to be a bit of an outsider, the time she’s spent with the beach volleyball club means that she’s much more comfortable and familiar with the others now, enough to be on the same wavelength as Claire; the two here are making to prank Emily and shove her into the waters of Okinawa’s beaches. As of now, we are twelve for twelve on weather in Harukana Receive; each episode is marked by pleasant weather and sunny skies.

  • Sunlight can be seen glistening on the turquoise ocean surface here, giving a tropical sense that is a world apart from the cold, foggy mists and drizzles covering my area right now. We are only two days from the Autumnal Equinox for 2018, and the weather in my region has definitely been feeling more like autumn. Strangely enough, the trees have not yet begun to yellow; by this time of year last year, most of the trees in the neighborhood and in the aspen groves nearby had already become a vivid gold. Under the deep blue autumn skies, the colour contrast is beautiful, and cooler weather at this time of year generally makes it pleasant for walks.

  • In the excitement of the moment, Akari’s forgotten to put sunscreen on, and realises the others have not done so, either. She immediately treats everyone to a lecture on the importance of protection from the sun’s rays. Intuitive for tropical locations, it may come as a surprise to some that UV radiation on an overcast day in the Canadian Rockies can be quite high; even if the sun is not shining, UV radiation penetrates cloud cover and so, application of sunscreen is necessary to protect against the radiation Akari is sensitive to.

  • Ayasa is likely running an iPhone X, as indicated by the vertical placement of the two twelve megapixel cameras on the phone’s rear. The iPhone 8 has a single twelve megapixel camera. These are Apple phones in all but name: the logo seen here placed in the same spot as where it would be placed on an iPhone X. Narumi calls Haruka to congratulate her for their win, and wonders how Kanata is doing. Haruka expresses that she’s been looking Kanata well, and Narumi thanks her for being there for Kanata, looking forwards to the day that they can face one another on the court.

  • Haruka uses an iPhone SE: with its rectangular edges, it is the smallest iPhone and with the announcement of the iPhone XS and XR, the SE is no longer being offered. Folks who use the SE have found it an attractive phone for its form factor, and I’m surprised that Apple is discontinuing the model. My iPhone 6 is still holding out okay in performance; with iOS 12, things have become a little faster than before. Last episode, I mentioned that Ayasa and Narumi still owed Haruka and Kanata ice cream. Haruka’s memory is as good as mine: she brings it up here, and Narumi promises to treat them next they meet.

  • Subtle details such as these convey to audiences that Haruka, like Kanata, is also someone who honours promises, and from the looks of it, is also someone who focuses on her goals with a powerful resolve. She mentions to Kanata here that it’s probably the first time she’s been able to take it easy since arriving in Okinawa. Real life is like this: we become wrapped up in our duties and aspirations, forgetting to take a step back every so often to enjoy the moment.

  • Many of my praises for Harukana Receive deal with the big picture aspects of the narrative: I’ve infrequently mentioned the technical elements in animation, artwork and audio in my other discussions. Overall, I’ve found that Harukana Receive has a very clean art style that is detailed enough to bring the environment to life without introducing too much visual clutter, which is important for keeping focus on the characters. Animation is generally smooth, and from a sound perspective, Harukana Receive is also solid; the aural elements are at their best during beach volleyball matches.

  • The original soundtrack to Harukana Receive is set to release on September 26, will have forty-six tracks over two disks and retail for 3456 Yen (39.70 CAD). The tracks have interesting names, being rendered in English. On the whole, the music in Harukana Receive has been suitable for the atmosphere the anime presents, although it was otherwise unremarkable. There are a few incidental pieces that capture the feeling of a tropical beach, and one track is named “Lombardo”, whom I quoted earlier in one of my reviews for Harukana Receive.

  • Emily turns the tables on Claires by slapping her posterior before taking off for drinks. Of everyone, wave propagation is portrayed with the most detail on Claire, and while I mentioned that I’m satisfied with animation for the most part in Harukana Receive, soft-body physics is something this series does not always nail. In the realm of soft-body physics, an entity with an increased Young’s modulus would be more resistant to deformation and so, bounce less. As such, I believe that oscillations seen here would be quite unrealistic for someone of Claire’s physique.

  • Claire is surprisingly adorable when bashful: with this, the number of ass-slapping moments in Harukana Receive goes up to four that I can recall of the top of my head. The count could be as high as six, but given that it’s been some time since Harukana Receive started, I can’t recall all moments with maximum clarity. While such moments might lead smaller-minded individuals to believe it is sufficient to describe Harukana Receive‘s themes as having a significant yuri component, time and time again, these moments are eclipsed. For quite some time, even Wikipedia possessed the misleading, and blatantly false, claim that subtext is a major part of Harukana Receive under the pretense of using an Anime News Network review. Just in time for the finale, it has been removed and rewritten to properly reflect on what the series is about.

  • Emily feels that without Akari, their friendship might’ve dissolved following that match. Kanata agrees: Akari’s concern for everyone has indeed forced everyone to look past their desire to win and beyond. At the end of the day, the friendship, memories and experiences that Harukana and Éclair share far outweigh the drive of competition, and while the girls become focused on their goals of winning, having Akari around also serves to remind them of the moments they’ve spent off the court. Admittedly, it does take a few jumps to reach this conclusion, but overall, I find that Akari’s presence in Harukana Receive is an appropriate one.

  • As she was truthful and open to Emily earlier, having time alone with Haruka also allows Claire to be honest with her. Relative to her match against Narumi and Kanata, Claire’s become a graceful loser; while expressing surprise that Haruka could counter her, she also acknowledges that she’d lost and places her faith in Harukana now. While they might have lost the tournament, Claire and Emily both win something much more important: the knowledge that they have been able to impart their considerable experiences and skills to Haruka and Kanata.

  • The notion of a student besting their teacher is reminiscent of The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, a Sith Lord who was so powerful he could apparently save others from death. However, because he taught his apprentice everything he knew, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. The irony of this was that he could save others from death, but not himself. However, in Harukana Receive, while Claire and Emily did likely teach Haruka and Kanata quite a bit, they managed to retain some tricks up their sleeve during the final match that surprised Haruka and Kanata, so the comparison ends here.

  • I would liken Claire and Emily’s approach to be more akin to the Chinese fable of the cat and the tiger. In this fable, the tiger is a terrible hunter and learns from a cat. Over time, the tiger improves and plans to eat the cat, but the cat reserves one trick unknown to the tiger, using it to save himself from being eaten. From that day onward, the tiger remains a great hunter but is missing one skill that the cat possesses. I am to take it, then, that Darth Plagueis never heard of this fable before, although given what we’ve seen in Harukana Receive, Claire and Emily might be familiar with this tale.

  • For Claire and Emily, then, watching Haruka and Kanata advance further is also for their sake because it is a testament to their effectiveness as seniors and teachers. Haruka resolves to do her best with enthusiasm, and the girls begin to train again for the next great journey. With this, I am very nearly finished with the finale post for Harukana Receive — as of next week, I will have Friday evenings free again. It’s been one hell of a journey to write for Harukana Receive every week, and looking back, this was easily the toughest series I’ve ever done episodic reviews for. On top of writing about a topic where my knowledge was largely lacking, my schedule was very tumultuous, making it difficult to sit down and write for this series.

  • In the end, I think I’ve done a satisfactory job covering Harukana Receive despite my constraints. This experience also reminds me again of why episodic reviews are so challenging to write for, and in the foreseeable future, I do not think that it is in my best interest to do episodic reviews. With the summer anime season coming to an end, I might write about Cells at Work! once more should there be interest in it, and I’ve got a Terrible Anime Challenge post for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in the wings, as well. Beyond this, I’m going to continue with the CLANNAD Tenth Anniversary series as we enter October, dealing with ~After Story~.

  • Overall, Harukana Receive scores an A- (3.7 on a 4-point scale, or 8.5 of 10): being far more than just fanservice and slice-of-life, the anime struck a good balance between beach volleyball and life in Okinawa. Although there are many characters, some of which got less than half the exposure than they deserved, and the pacing was less consistent in places, the story and message was solid, as were the technical details of animation, artwork and sound. A part of the reason as to why I enjoyed Harukana Receive to the extent that  I did was because I never approached it as a sports anime – rather than the details of beach volleyball, my expectations were centred around character growth over time, and in this department, Harukana Receive exceeded expectations. Thus, my final Harukana Receive post in the foreseeable future comes to an end, and while it’s been an interesting ride, I’m also looking forwards to getting my Friday evening back for some Battlefield.

Harukana Receive deals with relevant matters on having supportive peers and how this can help one approach their problems in creative, novel manners; it is far from being an empty exercise in female anatomy. During its twelve episode run, Harukana Receive depicts pivotal moments in Kanata’s journey of rediscovery and regaining what was lost. Beach volleyball is an integral part of Harukana Receive, as are the more ordinary moments spent off the court. Because of the focus placed on these moments, as well as the presence of humour, Harukana Receive reminds its audience that life is not about the high-intensity moments. Everyday moments in Harukana Receive are present to humanise the characters, showing that events away from beach volleyball also have a tangible impact on the girls’ journey. Similarly, comedy, in visual and verbal form, lightens moments up and balances a situation out such that when characters encounter problems, they overcome them together. Harukana Receive never gave the impression as being that of a serious anime about beach volleyball, and the interspersion of humour, some of which occasionally takes the form of gentle teasing and flirting, is strictly present to this end. Striking this balance is why Harukana Receive is able to tell a compelling story that relaxes and captivates well when it means to. The serious moments hold weight because audiences have come to see the girls as human, with their own unique attributes and flaws, while the light-hearted moments relax and show that Haruka and the others are ordinary people with stories worth following. For this, I would give Harukana Receive a recommendation: the fanservice and occasional unfaithfulness to reality are eclipsed by the things that Harukana Receive gets correct. As such, unless one had a particularly strong aversions to watching young women playing beach volleyball, Harukana Receive is an enjoyable watch and a pleasant surprise. The source manga is still running, and with Harukana setting their sights on a National tournament, it is pretty clear that the foundations are laid for a continuation. Should sales be strong, one could reasonably expect a second season to materialise, and it would be most welcoming to see what lies ahead for Haruka and Kanata in the future.

At This Point, We’re Basically Playing Head-to-Head: Harukana Receive Episode Eleven Impressions and Review

“The hardest choices require the strongest will.”
“I think you’ll find our will equal to yours!”

―Thanos and Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War

Claire recounts her reason for challenging a Kanata whose heart and mind is fully back in beach volleyball: after they’d lost previously, Claire and Emily befriended Kanata and Narumi, training frequently together. However, when Kanata’s resolve faltered, Claire’s drive to beat Kanata on even footing faded away. Back in the present, Kanata is playing for keeps, and together with Haruka, manages to win the second set, bringing the game to a draw. The final set is a first-to-fifteen, and Kanata decides that they might be able to use the wind direction in their favour. Winning the coin toss, Haruka and Kanata take to the upwind side of the court, where Haruka manages to surprise Claire and Emily with top spins in her serves and spikes. However, Claire and Emily catch on and turn the game around. Fatigue begins setting in, and when Haruka smashes the ball into the net, Claire and Emily come within one point of winning. Even at the brink of loss, Kanata remains collected: she’s realised that Claire and Emily are likely also at their limits, and with this knowledge, she and Haruka score twice, bringing the game to a draw. In its penultimate episode, Harukana Receive shows that moments in beach volleyball can be made to fill the length of a full episode and, despite the focus on one match, can nonetheless hold enough emotional intensity to keep viewers focused throughout the entire episode: it is clear that while they might be friends, Claire and Emily have their own reasons for wanting to come out victorious, and so, with a single point deciding the outcome of their match, it now boils down to whichever team has the strongest will to do what is necessary to win, and what is driving this will.

With only a single episode remaining, Harukana Receive has been simultaneously a pleasant surprise and conventional throughout its run; conventional in its portrayal of friendship, sportsmanship and life lessons, Harukana Receive surprises in how it is able to present beach volleyball in an engaging manner, showing the milestones in Haruka and Kanata’s journey in beach volleyball. It is the case that Harukana Receive is very inconsistent in its progression, but having considered that Kanata and Haruka begin playing in a clumsy manner and advance to playing smartly, and how the anime’s depictions of this are deliberate to reinforce this notion, it is conceivable that the inconsistencies in the passage of time are also intentional; Harukana Receive elects not to show all of the path the pair take towards reaching their promise, but instead, chooses to highlight the more pivotal moments in the girls’ journey towards reaching the nationals. The rough spots in Harukana Receive, then, are intended to mirror life itself: it is rarely a straight shot from a starting point to a destination. Sometimes, things occur sequentially and in a manageable manner, while other times, things can threaten to become overwhelming. Aspirations change, become lost and rediscovered. This is the tumultuous nature of life, and while perhaps confusing from a narrative perspective, Harukana Receive utilises it to show that the slower moments in life can be as critical as the higher-paced ones in shaping individuals: something like a day spent shopping for swimsuits or introducing a younger student to a club is counted as meritorious of exploration to the same extent as a tense showdown between Éclaire and Harukana.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Readers are forgiven if they imagined that this post for Harukana Receive was the same post as last week’s; I do feature many screenshots that are quite similar in composition and colour, after all. As the second set progresses, Harukana put on an impressive showing. The episode opens with a flashback, although I am not particularly keen on showing these again because I’ve already used the screenshots elsewhere.

  • Both Éclaire and Harukana are dead set on winning and make their intentions clearly known to their opponents. This determination, a battle of wills, is what prompted me to select the page quote, which is sourced from an exchange between Thanos and Steven Strange on Titan. At this point, I also admit that because Harukana Receive is very easy to predict with respect to plot progression, I’ve been able to determine which quote to use for the upcoming episode, and here, I will note that for the finale, I will be drawing a line from Captain America: Civil War.

  • Claire’s competitive nature means that when met with fierce resistance from Harukana, she begins to lose her cool. In practise, doing something while riled usually results in a loss of concentration, further decreasing performance and increasing frustration in a positive feedback loop. I know this feeling well; of late, frustrations with work has caused me to see a decline in efficiency and precision. I am making more typos and clicking on the wrong thing while working, and the slowdown is absolutely infuriating.

  • As soon as this assignment is over, and I wrap up a few things on my end, I think I will see about taking a few days off to recharge and regroup, which is what is recommended when performance starts taking a hit. This experience has definitely been challenging and exasperating, but like all experiences before it, has also been very instructive: I feel as though I’ve aged a year in the past month alone. Back in Harukana Receive, Haruka and Kanata celebrate after winning their set.

  • Marissa watches her daughters taking on Harukana in a live-streamed match on her iPad with a glass of wine. The time zone difference suggests that she’s back in America: Okinawa is fifteen hours ahead of Mountain Time while daylight savings is active, and given the hour, it would make sense that Marissa is living in either the Mountain or Pacific time zones, with the Pacific being more likely, as California has access to some stunning beaches. Having said this, I cannot readily identify where from California Marissa is presently in just by looking at the houses in this scene; Harukana Receive has been very faithful in depicting its locations, but I would imagine that generic suburbia is used here.

  • Narumi and Ayasa’s presence in Harukana Receive was reduced after their first rematch against Haruka and Kanata; eleven episodes and what looks to be a year later, it would appear that they still owe Kanata and Haruka an ice cream. Here, they train for their own shot at the Valkyrie Cup, and express concern for Haruka and Kanata. Deciding to go another round, they feel its best to wait for news from Haruka on the outcome of their match.

  • Because Haruka and Kanata played Narumi and Ayasa in a non-competitive environment, the match between them and Éclaire is likely to be the toughest match they play in the whole of Harukana Receive. Here, Kanata tries to invigorate Haruka: while no direct explanation is given, this gesture, the same one Claire made earlier during the match against Ai and Mai, is likely meant to signify a “let’s do this” outlook.

  • The final set is first-to-fifteen match, and on the coin toss, Harukana come out ahead. Rather than taking the first serve, Kanata chooses to pick the side of the court they start on. With Harukana Receive very nearly over, Haruka and Kanata’s respective heights never really seemed to have been much of a concern to the extent that it really impeded them, and it turns out that initial guesses, that Kanata would come to find her own way to play beach volleyball effectively, indeed came to pass.

  • Kanata’s understanding of environment factors and their ability to influence play is reminiscent of the romanticised version of Chinese politician and military strategist, Zhuge Liang, who is to have credited to be able to predict the weather from natural patterns in Red Cliff. Using his knowledge, he was able capitalise on foggy conditions in order to deceive Cao Cao’s army, covering his sailing a fleet of boats covered in straw men and goading them into firing, providing his army with a hundred thousand arrows. Later, Zhuge determined that south-eastern winds would be conducive towards using fire to torch Cao Cao’s navy. While Kanata’s understanding of the weather is not used to quite the same scale, it is nonetheless effective, allowing Harukana an early lead and bolstering their focus.

  • Haruka is quickly able to get the hang of top spins and early on, uses them to give her and Kanata a three-nothing lead. However, Claire and Emily are experienced, and so, manage to close the gap before taking the lead for themselves. Against Haruka and Kanata, Emily and Claire are forced to bring out their best techniques: the match is exhausting on both the body and mind, but Claire remarks later that this is a match she’d wished could’ve gone on for longer.

  • I’m with Claire in that facing off against one’s equals is perhaps the most engaging experiences there are. Dealing with easy things are no fun, but neither is getting one’s face kicked in by things well above their capabilities. Having said this, life is not fair, and people often end up dealing with situations that go over their head. It is with a strong resolve, faith in one’s existing knowledge and occasionally, seeking help, that allows one to really grow.

  • Insofar, Harukana Receive is eleven for eleven in depicting beautiful weather: every episode, from the first to the present, has showcased Okinawa with beautiful blue skies and inviting sunshine. Meanwhile, the march of the seasons in reality is more unkind. The warm summer days have given in to cold, overcast days, and autumn is not even upon us yet. Despite this, a clear centimetre of snow fell in my area, and I am made to bring out my toque and gloves again.

  • Harukana Receive goes out of its way to convey fatigue: as the third set continues, both teams begin making more mistakes in their play. From her comparatively lesser experience, Haruka is hit particularly hard, and she slips in several plays that allow Éclaire to gain a lead that slowly widens.

  • For the viewers’ benefit, Mai and Ai explain some of the things they’re seeing on the court, and while Akari’s doing her best to support everyone, the shifting mood on the court is becoming quite tangible, leading her to worry for her friends, as well. From the audience’s perspective, it is impressive that Harukana has lasted as long as they did against Éclaire, speaking volumes to their remarkable progression.

  • I understand that with twenty screenshots, I am invariably giving up other moments (and their corresponding conversation topics) whenever I feature fanservice close-ups such as these. The point of such screenshots is really to reiterate to readers that I am very much a fan of Haruka, and, were I to be in a gaming mood, perhaps crack a few bad jokes in my usual manner.

  • A glance at my posting patterns this month shows that this is only my third post. Having been firing on all four cylinders almost non-stop since the beginning of August, I have become quite tired, and so, have not felt the inclination to write for anything else. With this being said, Harukana Receive has remained sufficiently engaging for me to find something to say for each episode, and considering my circumstances, I think it is noteworthy that each episode of Harukana Receive has offered something unique and interesting.

  • Throughout Harukana Receive‘s entire run, Haruka has always exhibited a happy-go-lucky, go-getter mindset. Very few things seem to weigh down on her mind, and I wondered if there would come a point where Haruka’s outlook would be tested. While only a minor moment, it turns out that Haruka’s main concern isn’t about being beaten, but rather, letting people around her down. She sheds a tear while apologising to Kanata for having made the mistake that brings them to within a point of defeat.

  • Kanata is quite unconcerned, and reassures Haruka. When the set resumes, she and Haruka manage to even up the scores, counting on exhaustion to slow Claire and Emily down. Both Emily and Claire have been putting in a considerable amount of effort, counting on their skill and power to overwhelm Haruka and Kanata, but Kanata has evidently picked up on things, and paced herself accordingly. With the ball literally in her court now (this, by the way, is a correct usage of “literally”), Kanata takes control. Her lighter, smaller frame has an advantage here, allowing her to remain swift on her feet where her opponents begin feeling slowed.

  • Writing for Harukana Receive has not been a cakewalk, and I was aware of this coming into the series, since it would be about beach volleyball (something I’m not familiar with), but an additional challenge was introduced with work-related matters, which saw me boarding planes and flying all over the place. I was thus fighting exhaustion for the past few weeks while writing some of my episodic reviews for this series. As a result, of the episodic reviews I’ve done, Harukana Receive has easily been the most mentally-taxing.

  • With only a single point deciding the outcome of this match, and who will go onto the nationals, the tension in Harukana Receive reaches an all-time high ahead of the finale next week. My prediction is that Harukana will win shortly into the finale, and the remainder of it will be the dénouement as the girls shake hands and continue moving ahead in pursuit of their goals. I’ve traditionally done an extra paragraph and ten additional screenshots for finales: Harukana Receive‘s will be no different, as I will use the additional space to cover series-wide thematic elements and overall impressions of this series.

The outcome to this contest of wills is to be settled in the next episode, and as anticipated, even if the outcome is clear, the path taken to reach that outcome has been a thrilling one. Subtle details, from the small grunts the girls make from each receive and return, to shifts in their facial expressions during the match, show that everyone is playing for keeps for their own reasons. The series has proven to be quite a riveting one, and despite slower moments here and there, like life itself, Harukana Receive picks up and slows down to show that both elements are present in life. To depict the series in this manner augments the sense of realism, and entering the last episode, I find myself impressed that what was prima facie a paper-thin justification to eye Haruka ended up being a very clever presentation on the ups and downs, slower and faster moments in life that might feel disjointed or out of place when considered discretely, but in conjunction, come together to give a very specific message on living and discovery. It is a bit surprising that Harukana Receive has reached its eleventh, second-to-last episode so quickly; we are in the middle of September now, and are rapidly closing in on the conclusion of the summer anime season. For the present, one more episode to Harukana Receive remains, and I look forwards to seeing how this series wraps things up following the intense, close match between Éclaire and Harukana.