The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Japanese Animation

ARIA the Crepuscolo: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past. It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.” –George Foreman

Anya becomes worried when she notices that Alice and Athena have both a little off of late, and relays her worries to Ai and Azusa, who suggest that they do a surprise party for the pair. After speaking with Akari, and on President Aria’s suggestion, the three decide to time things for the Festa del Redentore, a July festival that gives thanks to the end of the 1576 Plague and has since included fireworks. However, Aika denies this request, since Himeya Company plans on doing a fair on the day of Festa del Redentore. In spite of these initial setbacks, Akari remains optimistic that they’ll be able to put something together. Anya later runs into Aletta, a Sylph-in-training, who gives her a brief ride over Neo-Venezia and encourages her about finding beauty in the present. Anya later has a chance to speak with Alice in the baths, learning that Alice had been down since Athena had set such an incredibly high standard as a senior that she feels like she hasn’t done anything similar for Anya. Alice recounts a story from back when she was still a pair: during Christmas, Alice had grown disheartened that Befana (Neo-Venezia’s equivalent of Santa Claus) doesn’t exist and found it difficult to get into the holiday spirit. One night, Athena had arranged a surprise party for Alice with help from Akari and Aika, and when Alice had arrived, Athena noted that the Christmas spirit for adults lies not with the existence of mythical figures, but rather, being able to look back on how wonderful the world had previously been, and using one’s own experience to help the new youth realise their dreams. On the day of Festa del Redentore, everyone is engrossed with their duties, but after the workday draws to a close, Akari and Aika meet up with Anya, Azusa and Ai. As it turns out, even Alicia and Akira were in on the plans to cheer up Alice and Athena: they’ve arranged for Alice and Athena to meet just prior to Athena’s concert and sing together. In the empty auditorium, Athena admits to Alice that during the latter’s exam to become a Prima, a part of her had wished that Alice might fail such that they could spend more time together, and moreover, Alice’s poor singing had come from her own doubts. Athena suggests to Alice that she sing in a way that she enjoys, and that moreover, it’s okay to make mistakes, allowing Alice to finally find her voice and pass her exam in full. In the present, Athena and Alice sing together before the evening show, and then board gondolas for the Yakatabune Cruise. While Alice and Athena are graceful for their past memories, Alice and Anya feels that being able to look back is what makes something so memorable, but the present will also come to become a precious memory, and the future will doubtlessly be full of new experiences, too. Thus, ARIA the Crepuscolo draws to a close. This first instalment was announced last year just ahead of ARIA‘s fifteenth anniversary, following an original story set somewhere after Avvenire. Crepuscolo is dedicated to Orange Planet’s Athena and Alice. Eri Kawai, who provided Athena’s singing voice, passed away in 2008 from liver cancer, and Tomoko Kawakami, who voiced Athena, passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011. This meant that Athena was largely absent from Avvenire. However, Rina Satō has since taken up this mantle and does a wonderful job as Athena. The themes within Crepuscolo mirror the respect for the older voices: ARIA remembers both Kawai and Kawakami’s contributions to Athena’s character, and at the same time, keep things moving forwards to honour their work.

I first watched ARIA through the Avvenire OVAs in 2016, and I subsequently picked up the three original seasons, which ran between 2005 and 2008. ARIA is an impressive series for its world-building and cathartic tone, for being able to convey the majesty of once-in-a-lifetime moments and the merits of the everyday. However, ARIA also proved a desperately tricky series to write for; ARIA is a series that covers a plethora of themes through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences together, and it is appropriate to say that there isn’t just one central theme or idea in ARIA. Being a self-contained experience, Crepuscolo does not continue on in the same vein as its predecessors: it speaks broadly about the doubts and concerns that arise during what is colloquially referred to as the passing of the torch. Alice presently worries about being a good enough mentor to Anya, but also recalls a time when Athena didn’t feel ready to guide Alice, either. However, bit-by-bit, Athena grew into the role and began understanding Alice a little better, such as being able to help create a visceral representation of how as adults, the Christmas spirit could be appreciated from a different perspective (rather than deriving enjoyment from recieving magic, adults get to experience the joys of making others happy). Over time, Alice and Athena would come to deeply treasure their time together. However, owing to Alice’s innate talents as an Undine, she rises through the ranks and can bypass the Single rank, which cut short the time Alice and Athena spent together. While things might’ve been short, Athena imparts the bit of advice that has since shaped who Alice is now, and in the present, Alice is able to sing as well as she’d like, although athena wondered if Alice had been unhappy with her. Introducing new juniors into ARIA really helped to depict succession and the passing down of knowledge to new generations, and here in Crepuscolo, the doubts that Alice face in mentoring Anya are the same as what Athena had experienced. It is the case that people can find it difficult to be honest about how they feel, as well as how newer generations can feel it exceedingly difficult to follow in their forerunners’ footsteps, but as a senior, one can always find their own approach towards things; friendship and magical circumstances can help one open up, and all it takes is a little nudge from the important people in one’s corner to set them down this path. Experience is what allows Athena to now help Alice find her way again, and in doing so, Crepuscolo indicates that Anya’s got much to look forward to, as well.

Anya and Alice both reflect on how being able to look back on past memories enhances the sense of nostalgia and wistfulness, rather like how the night looks darker when the sun is rising. This is why flashbacks are featured so prominently in Crepuscolo: they deliberately break up the story’s flow and directs the viewer’s attention away from the present. By forcibly altering the focus, viewers are inclined to pay more attention to events in the flashback to determine how they impact the present. This allows viewers to therefore see two critical moments in Crepuscolo that were of significance to Alice and Athena. Alice believes that Athena’s greatest moments come from imparting wisdom to her and helping her to appreciate what being an adult means, while for Athena, the lessons she taught to Alice have done much to make Alice the Undine she is today. While these are dramatically different moments, they had a nontrivial impact on how Alice and Athena view one another. In spite of doing much to shape the present, however, these things are also past, something to reflect on and appreciate, but not become bound to: with morning approaching, and the dawn of a new day, Crepuscolo also visually indicates that things don’t end here, with plenty more in the future that will be worth experiencing and discovering. This is openly stated during the Yakatabune Cruise; having come forward with their honest feelings, Alice and Athena are able to be truthful about how they feel about things and walk the future without anything concealed. Akari herself mentions something similar during the morning cruise, saying that she wonders what sorts of new discoveries and growth her future self will have made. While Crepuscolo might have spent half the film in flashbacks, Akari’s remarks thus remind the viewer that there is more to self-discovery than understanding moments from long ago, and that is to seize the moment, making the most of what lies ahead. Overall, the past, present and future figure prominently in Crepuscolo. All of the characters have matured (most notably, Akari, Aiko and Alice), but the traits that make everyone unique are still present: altogether, while Crepuscolo might be set a ways after Avvenire, the film feels timeless. ARIA has always excelled in conveying a sense of timelessness, and by weaving these elements together in a world quite different from our own, it does feel as though time has stood still: Neo-Venezia looks like it hasn’t aged a day, but it certainly is more vivid and detailed than I remember.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been five years since I last wrote about ARIA: after Avvenire finished, I took an interest in the series and watched all three seasons in the space of a few weeks. On the whole, ARIA excels in encouraging viewers to appreciate the mundane and extraordinary alike, to keep an open mind and always be mindful of one’s surroundings. In conjunction with the gentle guitar motifs, the peaceful world and fantastical setting that combines the great beauty of Venice with exotic future technology, ARIA creates a highly immersive and compelling world that is simultaneously similar to and unlike our own.

  • It is here that Kozue Amano is able to really present her ideas: Aqua is a terraformed Mars, and Neo-Venezia is a faithful reproduction of Italy’s Venice. In order to ensure that Aqua remains livable for humans, Amano introduces specialised space stations and exotic generators that help the planet to retain its atmosphere and retain an Earth-like gravity. When I watched Avvenire five years earlier, I joked that use of DOOM‘s Argent Energy would certainly have provided the power supply needed to fuel such functions. Said theory never took hold, and I’m rather surprised that a search for similar puts another blog ahead of mine, even though said blog has written exactly nothing about DOOM. In a curious turn of events, I beat DOOM Eternal last weekend, so I’ll be aiming to get a post on that done very soon.

  • Returning to ARIA, “Crepuscolo” is Italian for “twilight”, referring to this film’s focus on endings; this latest instalment of ARIA places emphasis on Alice and Athena, whom I felt were both shafted by Avvenire. This is a remark I can only make now that I’ve seen the whole of ARIA. I imagine that some readers will be wondering why I’ve not written about the original ARIA in my usual manner, and the reason for this is two-fold. First, I blitzed through this series at a breakneck speed, and at the time, I’d also been keeping up with episodic reviews of Brave Witches, so I was a little too swamped to write for ARIA. The second season is that ARIA is a pleasantly deep series, and there are many themes that Amano covers through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences.

  • At Crepuscolo‘s opening, Pair Anya is able to meet up with Athena, who is a legendary singer and was a former Prima of Orange Planet, Neo-Venezia’s largest Undine company. At present, she’s retired from her duties as an Undine (a Gondola operator and tour guide) to focus on opera singing, but still shows up from time to time. Since Athena had mentored Alice, Anya figures Athena’s the best person to speak to, since she noticed that Alice has been a little down of late. During their meeting, it’s clear that Athena still retains all of her old traits; she adds a little too much condensed milk to her beverage out of absent-mindedness.

  • At Aria Company, Alicia’s similarly retired and had since become a manager of the Gondola Association, leaving Akari to be Aria Company’s sole Prima. At this point in time, Ai’s become a Single, and here, she accompanies Akari while they give two guests a tour of Neo-Venezia’s beautiful canals. With JC Staff at the helm, Crepuscolo is beautiful: Aqua and Neo-Venezia are even more detailed than they were before, really coming to life. One noticeable change was that all of the characters have been given minor changes so they more closely resemble the characters of Amanchu!, another manga from Amano that JIC had adapted.

  • These changes bring the designs of ARIA‘s characters to be more consistent with Amanchu!‘s to mirror this fact, although things are subtle, so the differences are never too dramatic. With this being said, the characters do look a ways more mature, speaking to the amount of time that has passed since ARIA‘s beginning. Even with this newfound maturity, everyone still bears their most iconic traits, which was a pleasant reminder that while people do grow up and grow old, the heart of their personalities often remain consistent.

  • Alice’s peers notice that she’s been a little odd, and here, Alice is so distracted that she decides to eat her omuice sans ketchup. Because of Alice’s reputation as a rowing prodigy, others are intimidated by her and so, are hesitant to approach her. However, Alice’s true nature is that she’s a bit shy and not comfortable around new people; she takes time to open up to those around her. These traits are reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and now that I think about it, Alice might’ve been the inspiration for Chino: save the fact that Chino uses elastics as her hair-ties, Alice and Chino are quite similar both in terms of appearance and personality.

  • Back at Aria Company, Akari shares a meal with Anya, Azusa and Ai. One detail I liked was the fact that President Aria is seen happily polishing off his rack of lamb before wilting when Ai reminds him to eat his veggies and hands him a plate of salad. President Aria’s antics are awesome, and in the original ARIA series, he’s gone on some wild adventures of his own while Alicia and Akari were out servicing customers and training for Akari’s eventual promotion to Prima: if I’m not mistaken, President Aria even has a super-hero alter-ego, where he goes around Neo-Venezia fighting crime and keeping the peace. In this way, I am strongly reminded of Peanuts‘ Snoopy, who was a similarly amusing and intelligent character.

  • Over three seasons, there are fifty-two episodes of ARIA (excluding other OVAs like Avvenire), and some of the more incredible moments pertain to the cats, including one time where Akari finds herself whisked to the past after crossing a covered bridge when spotting some cats, and another time where curiosity leads Akari and Aika to the Kingdom of the Cats. The blending of the commonplace and supernatural had always been one of the great strengths in ARIA, and I believe that in Avvenire, Akari reminisces about a rumoured road tile that brings misfortune on those who tread upon it. When she tries the same, she’s thrown into the sky and encounters the Cait Sith, a benevolent cat spirit who seems to show up whenever Akari is in need.

  • Akatsuki appears mid-lunch, and going from Ai, Azusa and Anya’s reactions, they’re none too fond of him because of his brash, hot-headed character. In ARIA, Akatsuki was the first customer Akari had served, and while he’s quick to call Akari “pigtails”, Akatsuki spends a great deal of time with Akari every time he visits. The other characters dislike Akatsuki, but Akari treats him a little better, taking the time to speak with him whenever he visits: he began ARIA in pursuit of Alicia’s heart, although having made it a point to meet Akari on all of his visits, Alicia suspects that Akatsuki is probably in love with Akari.

  • When Anya, Ai and Azusa consider what they can do to bring Athena and Alice together, they realise that they can time something for Festa del Redentore. The real Festa del Redentore is an Italian festival dating back to the 16th century, featuring plenty of fireworks. Many Italian festivals and events are imported into ARIA, and then subsequently adapted to fit in with the future world’s customs: ARIA‘s Festa del Redentore similarly features fireworks, as well as a boat ride over to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The original was also built in the 16 century and can be seen from every point along the Riva degli Schiavoni.

  • Aika is Himeya Company’s heiress, and throughout ARIA, had long struggled with her familial connections to the company. Despite her a no-nonsense personality and tough exterior, Aika is sensitive and kind, as well. She constantly strives to prove that she’s a worthy contributor to the family company, but after meeting Akari, begins to appreciate the smaller moments in life, as well, although she retrains a very competitive and driven manner.

  • The iconic chibi art style makes a return in Crepuscolo – they were very prominent in ARIA, and every character takes on distinct features when flustered, embarrassed or surprised. These aspects carried over to Amanchu!, and while I had found them a little distracting early on, over time, the shifts in character art would become very endearing to me, speaking volumes about what was happening in a given moment in ways that dialogue alone could not fully convey.

  • The extensive use of flashbacks in Crepuscolo is not a particularly novel thing for ARIAAvvenire had done something similar, and flashbacks also figure in the original ARIA seasons. Their presence is meant to show that important memories have as much weight as the present, and that neither are inherently more valuable than the other. Such a remark would, of course, prompt the uptight Aika to shout, “embarrassing remarks are prohibited!” Here, Athena and Alice meet for the first time, and although Athena is a skilled Prima, Alice initially worries about Athena, who is so clumsy that she ends up spilling most everything. Over time, things between the two change as Athena and Alice get to know one another.

  • It turns out that Aria Company is located down the Riva del Sette Martiri along Saint Mark’s Canal. Neo-Venezia is the location hunter’s ultimate dream, being a 1:1 reproduction of Venice, and as such, the only thing one would need to do for the complete and comprehensive ARIA experience would simply be to book a trip to Venice. Famous landmarks like Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica feature prominently in ARIA, so there’s no missing them. After Ai, Azusa and Anya depart, they decide to find places in Neo-Venezia where it might be good to bring Athena and Alice together.

  • Here, Azusa passes by Ponte di Rialto, oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, while considering a possible spot. The original bridge was constructed in 1181 and was a pontoon bridge, but as the nearby Rialto Market expanded, the bridge was rebuilt with wood. This bridge burned down in 1310, then collapsed twice (once in 1444, as Azuisa mentions, and then in 1524). By 1551, it was proposed that the bridge was to be rebuilt using stone, and in 1588, construction began, finishing three years later. Although the design was criticised after its completion, Ponte di Rialto is an iconic Venice landmark today.

  • Guided by President Aria, Ai gets a tour of Neo-Venezia’s premiere eating spots and learns that President Aria himself had conquered numerous food challenges, including one for ramen and pizza. Cats in Neo-Venezia are treated great respect, being the mascot of their respective Gondola companies. All of the cats are endearing in their own right, and President Aria’s a special breed with full sentience. Alicia and Akari indulge him, leading him to become pudgy, but he’s kind-hearted and helps out where he can, as well.

  • While struggling to find a suitable spot, Ai runs into Alicia and explains that she’s searching for memories for Athena and Alice’s sake. Such an idea is inherently peaceful and is an integral part of ARIA: entire episodes have previously been spent on trying to find locations of interest, track things down or get something done, and while this meant that ARIA is a very slow series, this proved to be the series main joy. Humour in ARIA is very gentle, a world apart from the laughs that something like Azumanga Daioh provides.

  • Animation has certainly come a long way from 2005: Crepuscolo is comparable to P.A. Works and Kyoto Animation’s best. Of note are the water effects: so much of ARIA is set on the canals of Neo-Venezia, and while the original series did feature some reflections, highly-detailed, real-time reflections and ripples on the water come together to really create a sense of tranquility. Here, Akira takes a group of friends along Neo-Venezia’s Grand Canal, where she notices Azusa and Anya together.

  • While wondering what to do about the fact that Alice seems so down, Anya runs into Aletta, a Slyph (mail carriers) in training. In the original ARIA, Woody was a Slyph who often dropped by with messages for the main characters: back in 2002, phone calls, faxes and emails were the most widespread form of communication. In the nineteen years since Amano had penned ARIA‘s manga, the world has changed beyond recognition when it comes to communications. Instant messaging represents the easiest form of rapid communication, and video calls are now commonplace. This change gives letters and messengers a more romantic feel, hailing back to a simpler time.

  • Over the buildings of Neo-Venezia, Aletta explains that what makes her position so enjoyable is that, even though she’s a trainee and therefore limited to a certain altitude, the view nonetheless remains impressive, and she’s confident that once she becomes fully qualified, she’ll still enjoy the scenery over Neo-Venezia as she does now. This helps Anya to understand that while it’s important to think about the future, she should also be mindful of her present, as well.

  • In a brief flashback, while Aletta waves up at the sky, Anya takes an interest in a passing gondola. Simple moments like these don’t consume too much time, but even these can speak volumes about the characters and everyday observations. In this case, it’s the idea that while the future is uncertain, there are some things that occur during our childhood that can do much to inspire who we are as people today. While flying through the skies with Aletta, Anya realises that the scenery holds a piece of her past, too.

  • Right on cue, Woody appears and greets the pair before flying off for his duties. Throughout Crepuscolo, a gentle piece of incidental music can be heard playing in the background. The soundtrack in ARIA has always been of a fine standard, and I greatly enjoy music from the original series for how relaxing it is (just listening to the music alone reminds me of a gentle summer’s day with blue skies). However, for Crepuscolo, I believe only the film’s opening and ending songs are available.

  • Because I don’t often write about ARIA, I’ll present a stunning view of Neo-Venezia by sunset – from the location, this appears to be the Orange Planet’s base of operations (two large gates leading onto the canals can be seen to the left). In reality, Orange Planet is located at the site of Basilica St. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in real life, but the canal feels a little wider than the one in reality. Like other anime, ARIA is quite faithful to real-world locations, but some liberties have been taken to accommodate the story.

  • Back at Orange Planet’s headquarters, Alice has returned to her room with Maa and finds Anya admiring an autumn leaf that she’d picked up while meeting Aletta. Alice invites Anya to dinner, but Anya declines, leading Alice to wonder if Anya’s doing alright. Coincidently, when Anya bounces the question back at Alice, Alice wilts. The conversation suggests that Anya and Alice are both bad at being forwards with how they feel about things. Being honest with oneself, and being open about one’s feelings is always a challenge; even now, this is something that I struggle with.

  • Of course, there is time yet to improve this aspect about myself, and I try to be expressive about the things that don’t work for me. Given what anime has presented, I think it is reasonable to suppose that people who are the least likely to come forward with their feelings are usually the most considerate people; they’d rather take one for the team if it means those around them are happy, but sometimes, this can lead to miscommunications. In the baths, Alice admits to Anya that she’s worried about not being a good mentor for Anya, especially considering everything that Athena had previously done for her.

  • The story thus flashes back to when Alice, Akari and Aika were still trainees; it’s Christmas, and while Akari and Aika are in the holiday spirit, Alice seems a little detached from everything. Venice is beautiful during the Christmas season, and besides the Christmas markets, the area is quite foggy during the winter, so it feels like the buildings are floating in the skies. During winters, Venice can be quite chilly because of the humid air, so bringing a coat is suggested. I imagine that Neo-Venezia inherits Venice’s climate, as well; the real Venice has a humid subtropical climate with cooler winters and hot, humid summers.

  • Akari transforms into a chibi form while admiring a Befana doll – it appears that in ARIA, elements of Halloween are combined with Christmas, with the witch, Befana, replacing Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of the Christmas season and deliverer of gifts. I’ve always loved these chibi expressions, as they represent the character’s true selves in a visual format. Akari’s flat, angular lines signify that she’s completely lost in the moment, while Aika’s eyes become shiny and her mouth take on a cat-like shape, perhaps indicative of someone who’s trying hard to remain cool and composed. Alice’s chibi form signifies lack of amusement in the situation.

  • It was around here that I really began noticing how Amanchu!-like everyone looked – while it has been five years since I’d watched ARIA, seeing the characters in the present day meant some of the visual changes weren’t immediately apparent. However, comparing each of Akari, Aika and Alice in the present, versus their past selves, shows that everyone’s matured. It’s a subtle and pleasant touch. Here, Hime can be seen clinging to Aika: she’s the president of Himeya, and President Aria has a bit of a crush on her. During the original ARIA, President Aria would do things like sucking in his gut to impress Hime, but things always would backfire.

  • The dynamics among the cats bring to mind how the bunnies in GochiUsa act, and now that I think about it, ARIA might be seen as a more contemplative, quieter forerunner to GochiUsa, which shares in common with ARIA lovable characters, strong animal motifs, and a wonderfully designed world that is simultaneously similar to and different than our own. Upon returning to her room, Alice collapses on her bed, completely defeated that Christmas isn’t getting her excited. Athena ends up hearing Alice out, and does her best to cheer Alice up, but when nothing works, Athena takes a more dramatic route.

  • One evening, Alice spots something out the corner of her eye, and although she knows it’s Athena, curiosity takes a hold. Alice stumbles into a darkened courtyard after following Athena’s singing, and finds herself face-to-face with Athena, who’s decked out as Befana. It turns out that, with help from Aika and Akari, Athena had prepared a Christmas party of sorts for Alice and even granted her wish, of becoming the princess to the kingdom of bubbles. Alice had been saddened to learn that Befana was merely a myth for children and didn’t exist; her reaction is what most children go through upon learning Santa Claus is a story.

  • However, the transition from being a child to adulthood means helping the next generation of children to have fun and make their own discoveries. To this end, Athena puts a little something together for Alice and notes that it was very rewarding to have done something for those around her. This is the spirit of Christmas, and an integral part of growing up; becoming more mature means understanding others well and being able to address the challenges they face in an effectual, instructive manner.

  • After this particular evening, Alice appreciates that Christmas isn’t about the existence of Befana, but rather, being able to realise the dreams of others. The entire scene is quite magical: Athena, Akari and Aika have prepared non-burst bubbles with candles to create an otherworldly feeling. The cat waiters serving Alice and Athena are Aika and Akari – while ARIA has a very noticeable supernatural piece to it, the series is very measured about when to incorporate such elements. Here, the magic comes purely from the effort Athena directs towards helping Alice to rediscover her joy for the winter holidays.

  • Back in the present, Alice’s recounting this story to Anya shows what sort of senior Athena had been, giving Anya an idea of what Alice wishes to do as a senior. The natural progression in ARIA means that the series presents both perspectives very well. I’m sure a great many people have experienced this: as a junior, they’d see their seniors as role models, people to learn from and even lean on, and as the senior, they’d treat their juniors as they wish their seniors would’ve treated them. As a TA, for instance, I always strove to be clear in my instruction to students, and assess their work fairly. When I was a second year student, an excellent TA had prevented me from failing data structures, so by the time I became a TA, I worked hard to ensure no-one in my sections were left behind.

  • I also ended up going out for lunch with the product owner from Denver, where I had a breakfast burger (British bangers and a fried egg with onion), although if memory serves, that had been a bit of a stressful day, being my last in Winnipeg. Now that I think about it, without Alicia around, Aria Company does feel like it’s a bit of a lonelier place, but so long as Akari and Ai are present, things are a little livelier. Here, Akatsuki shares another conversation with Akari, hoping he’d be able to join her for a spot of tea, but with things being busy, Akari declines. I’ve noticed that present-day Akari speaks in a more confident and measured manner: Erino Hazuki has always given Akari’s voice a hesitant, soft inflection, so hearing the changes in Akari’s voice is another reminder that the characters are maturing.

  • On the day of Festa del Redentore, Aika is flooded with work, but fortunately, the Undines from other companies also show up to help out, and even President Aria has appeared to help direct guests to their tables. Akari and Ai are out taking passengers on gondola tours, so they’re unavailable to help out, but Anya is around to lend a hand. Orange Company and its large number of Undines means she’s able to get away on occasion to help out during festivals.

  • ARIA‘s presentation of different company sizes is a faithful and truthful representation of what is commonly referred to as the “bus factor” – for a given company, the bus factor is a measure of risk based on how well skill and information is distributed amongst a team. Specifically, it is a measure of how many people can become unavailable before productivity stops outright. Aria Company has a bus factor of 1 (if Akari were unavailable, Ai is not qualified to take customers on her own, and Aria Company’s operations grind to a halt), while Orange Planet has a bus factor of 20 (there are 20 Primas, so all 20 must be unavailable before business is halted). When I started working with my first startup, our bus factor was 1.5, and with my last position, our bus factor was 1 since I was the only mobile developer on the team (and similarly, our main product was an iOS app).

  • To reduce the bus factor on a team, cross-training is important: even if other developers can’t fully develop new features into the app or architect it out, having enough knowledge to debug smaller bugs and manage releases can save headache down the line. Generally speaking, a larger bus factor is desirable because it means more people can become unavailable before productivity sustains a decrease, and in more practical terms, it means that on a team with a higher bus factor, I can go on vacation for a week and not feel guilty about letting work accumulate dangerously. With the day’s work over, Akari joins Aika, Azusa, Ai and Anya as they prepare their surprise for Alice and Athena.

  • While Aika might be a Prima now and deeply respects her mentor, Akira, for allowing her to develop into a full-fledged Undine under Akira’s watchful tutelage, this hasn’t stopped Aika from calling Akira a dæmon instructor. Ironically, Akira happens to overhear Aika, causing the latter to jump in shock: Akira’s still got a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense personality. A major part of the fun in Crepuscolo was watching old dynamics amongst the characters make a return. There’s a sense of nostalgia surrounding ARIA, and I imagine that this fifteenth anniversary project will be a pleasant trip down memory lane for longtime viewers.

  • For me, I watched ARIA to completion five years earlier: I remember starting in August and slowly made my way through the series until by October, I’d finished. Back then, I was still working with my first startup, and I spent lunch hours watching episodes. During my marathon, one episode particularly stood out to me: during ARIA The Natural, Akari encounters a lady in black who asks for a ride to the cemetery at Isola di San Michele. Akari had heard about a ghost story surrounding such a lady in black, and finds out for herself that this lady is in fact a spectre. She is saved at the last second by the Cait Sith and finds herself back at Aria Company, although it is suggested that Akari’s experiences were no dream.

  • With all of the principal characters involved planning out the surprise for Athena and Alice, Akira and Alicia indicate they’ve found something that will work, and begin recalling a time when Athena had seemed quite down about something: when Athena had been assigned to mentor the brilliant but young Alice, she’d been worried about disappointing Alice; other Singles at Orange Planet had found it difficult to befriend someone like Alice, so Athena ended up deciding to take things slowly with Alice.

  • Over time, Alice would come to treasure her time with Athena, but because of Alice’s own skill, she advanced through the ranks quickly, and Athena despaired that their precious time was going to be cut short. Athena thus found herself wishing that time would pass more slowly, and chastises herself because a part of her wished Alice might fail, so that the two might be able to spend more time together. Athena recalls that Alice’s weakness had been in her singing: Primas also sing for their customers, and like GochiUsa‘s Chino, Alice’s voice isn’t particularly loud.

  • In the end, Athena suggests that Alice sing in the manner that makes her happy, and that with confidence, her love of singing would also reach her customers: Athena is famous in Neo-Venezia for her angelic voice and natural talent for singing, but despite this natural talent, Athena is also able to properly explain how she makes her singing work for her. This is the mark of a genius: although society has long counted someone as a genius if they possess uncommon talent in a field, as well as a ceaseless drive to explore, I’ve found that genius also entails being able to approach complex problems with elegant approaches.

  • In Athena’s case, she’s able to put into words what makes singing work for her and convey this to Alice. Being able to capture the feelings in one’s heart is a highly challenging task, and Violet Evergarden had similarly suggested that honestly articulating one’s feelings is a skill that must be cultivated over time. Athena is able to do just this, and I am reminded of Steven Hawking and Richard Feynman, both of which had a knack for finding creative ways of communicating incredibly abstract and tricky concepts in a way that even laypeople would understand. My old graduate supervisor similarly believed in this: the Giant Walkthrough Brain and my graduate thesis resulted from this, striving to present neuroscience and cellular biology in an accessible way to people.

  • With Athena’s words, Alice is able to reach her full potential and sings well enough for herself, allowing her to pass her exam and do what became a landmark accomplishment in ARIA: go from a Pair straight to a Prima. The composition of this scene evokes a sense of nostalgia, in recalling a pivotal moment in Alice’s career as an Undine, and for me, there was a lingering feeling of familiarity that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

  • As it turns out, the big surprise plan that everyone was helping with was to bring Alice and Athena together; Athena and Alice had been worried about not being able to meet one another, so the group writes a letter to bring Alice to the concert hall where Athena is performing. In the moments before the concert begins, the pair share a conversation together, reflect on the journey Alice took to become a Prima and everything she’d learned from Athena in the process. As the others indicate, it was difficult for both Alice and Athena to be honest with one another about how they feel.

  • However, in the end, with everything out in the open, Athena is able to express her happiness at having mentored someone like Alice, while Alice is immensely grateful to have learnt under Athena. The idea of cycles and the student becoming the teacher is especially apparent in CrepuscoloAvvenire had depicted the events following Origination and showed that Ai had joined the Aria Company, while Azusa becomes Aika’s student, and Anya began under Alice. However, Avvenire had only really scratched the surface, and having now seen the whole of ARIA, I found that Avvenire was only really an essay in the craft.

  • As such, the new series of ARIA movies have the possibility of really showing the relationship between the current generation of Prima Undines and their students, all the while giving an opportunity to expand upon moments from the original ARIA series. Crepuscolo has already shown what is possible in the movie format, so I’m hoping that Akira, Aika and Azusa will get some shine time in the upcoming movie, and then assuming this to be the case, Alicia, Akari and Ai will have their stories told in the third, and final movie.

  • With their hearts at peace, Athena and Alice are able to sing together. The vocal pieces in ARIA are beautiful: originally, Choro Club collaborated with Takeshi Senoo to compose the series’ incidental pieces and Eri Kawai’s most iconic songs. The “lyrics” were composed of tones not from any known language, to create a sense of timelessness, and according to director Jun’ichi Satō, the opening and ending songs were originally intended to be written in this way. However, Kawai decided that the lyrics should be Japanese in the end to better convey the feelings consistent with ARIA‘s aesthetic.

  • There is a sadness about Athena’s character in the knowledge that both Kawakami and Kawai have passed away: this sadness seemed to permeate Crepuscolo as Alice feels like she’s treading on eggshells where Athena is concerned, perhaps mirroring the difficult decision to recast Rina Satō as Athena. Assuming this to hold true, the remarks that Athena has for Alice, and Alice’s subsequent singing with Athena parallel Crepuscolo‘s desire to let viewers know that what happened before were to be treasured forever, but what happened in the past notwithstanding, there’s a future ahead of everyone that is worth seizing, and should be seized, free of the burdens from the past.

  • In this way, Crepuscolo‘s message is a very encouraging one; the film may have begun in a melancholy and introspective fashion, but remembering the times of old and what joy it’d brought means that the film is also optimistic. As the performance’s audience begin filing into the concert hall, they are pleased to see Athena and Alice singing already; in particular, Alice’s coworkers are happy. They’d been quite worried about Alice earlier, but seeing her on stage with Athena indicates beyond any doubt that Alice had found her answers and is no longer down.

  • Al, Akatsuki and Woody were noticeably absent from the events of Avvenire. Having seen Woody and Akatsuki, it’d be nice if in Benedizione, Al and Aika are able to spend more time together: during the events of Natural, it was shown that Aika had fallen in love with Al, who works as a Genome (an occupation entailing the maintenance of the equipment that regulates the artificial gravity on Aqua to be about 1G). This story was particularly touching, and it was fun to see the normally collected Aika become flustered in Al’s presence.

  • There are a large number of opera houses in Venice, but based on the building façade, as well as ARIA‘s tendency to use the most iconic locations of Venice, I am going to guess that Athena is performing at La Fenice, which is one of Venice’s (and even Italy’s) most renowned performing venue. The current theatre, seen in Crepuscolo, was actually built in 2001, the same year ARIA‘s manga began running. It was destroyed by a fire in 1996, a consequence of arson from electricians who’d been servicing the building’s wiring. The original theatre was opened in 1792, but was also destroyed by fire in 1836. Fortunately, swift construction efforts meant that La Fenice reopened a year later, in 1837. The building has so far rebounded thrice after fires, and therefore, lives up to its name, which is “The Phoenix” in English.

  • In flashbacks, moments from ARIA the Origination‘s ninth episode are brought to life in full, given the HD remaster treatment and completely refreshed. Because Crepuscolo brought back so many memories, both for me and for the characters, I began developing this feeling that I’d seen everything before. I therefore hopped on over back to Origination, and sure enough, the very same moments in Crepuscolo were shown in Origination, albeit with a massive visual update.

  • Athena and Alice’s smiles speak volumes about the catharsis both experience after being open with one another. While the concert Athena performs at isn’t shown, the fact that we got to hear familiar, iconic performances in Crepuscolo was very heartwarming. The combined nostalgia and warmth that Crepuscolo conveys, coupled with the fact that Benedizione isn’t going to be out until May or June 2022, there’s probably enough time to go back and re-watch the whole of ARIA, front-to-back (even with my schedule and tendency to procrastinate).

  • With the concert over, the group of friends take a Yakatabune Cruise together into the dawn. Crepuscolo had covered a very wide array of themes, from the importance of honesty and an appreciation of the learnings the past holds, to the idea that growing up can mean taking one’s childhood memories and applying that to make others happy even when one knows the truth behind some things one might’ve believed as a child. However, the strength of the symbolism here, of sailing from the dark of night into the dawn, coupled with Alice and Akari’s remarks, really drove home that Crepuscolo was about living in the present and valuing the past in equal measure.

  • The strength of this message meant that I exited Crepuscolo feeling completely refreshed: like ARIA, I am a bit of a sentimental, nostalgic person, and as the anime suggests, I do view the past with a rose-tinted lens. However, this isn’t because I want to go back to those days per se, but rather, because the sum of my experiences now allow me to appreciate the importance of what had happened previously even more strongly. For instance, while my work with the Winnipeg team was not enjoyable to me in that moment, I also learnt a great deal and became a stronger iOS developer for it: today, were I to go back, there’d be a few things that I’d do differently, and I’m confident that I’m now better prepared to handle conflicts and work towards a completed deliverable.

  • Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo was a very welcome trip down memory lane, and I was very moved in watching it. It’s a strong recommendation for all fans of ARIA, and folks wondering if this film is worthwhile do have enough time to go back and check out ARIA in full before the next film releases. Themes of the past, present and future within Crepuscolo reminds me of how these days, my thoughts are turning towards what my first home will look like; I’ve been saving for a very long time for this, and since this is a major milestone, I wish to make certain I’m satisfied with everything before signing on the dotted line. Being able to watch Crepuscolo was a reminder that some things are inevitable, but with the right mindset, I will be prepared to handle what comes up, rather like how Alice is now a bit better equipped to be a good mentor for Anya.

As it turns out, JC Staff handled the production of ARIA the Crepuscolo; JC Staff had previously been involved with adapting another one of Kozue Amano’s works, Amanchu!. In typical JC Staff fashion, backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and lighting is masterfully used to convey emotion and totally immerse viewers in another world. Within moments of spotting Anya, it becomes clear that JC Staff have also brought on board the character designers from Amanchu!. Throughout Crepuscolo, visual traits from Amanchu’s characters can be spotted amongst everyone, including sharper facial features, eyelashes and brighter eyes. While not quite what I remember from the original ARIA series, the choice to subtly shift the characters’ appearances closer to their Amanchu! equivalents really accentuates the fact that Amano had created both Amanchu! and ARIA. Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo is a welcome addition to ARIA, possessing all of the aesthetics that had been present in the originals, bringing back familiar characters and presenting hitherto unseen stories, while simultaneously giving the ARIA universe a fresh coat of paint and giving fans of the series a new story to enjoy. The first of the movies for the ARIA fifteenth anniversary project shows that in the town of Neo-Venezia, there’s always something new to explore, whether it is learning more about those around one, or some obscure treasure that has gone unnoticed. The next of the ARIA films will be titled ARIA the Benedizione and is scheduled to première in Japan on December 3, 2021. The wait this time was absolutely within the realm of what is reasonable, being only five and a half months. I am rather looking forwards to seeing what happens in Benedizione, and because Crepuscolo‘s focus was on Athena, Alice and Anya, one could reasonably surmise that Benedizione will follow Himeya’s Akira, Aika and Azusa. The basis for this is that, since ARIA originally had Akari and Alice occupy the spotlight, it follows that the last of the movies will be about the smallest Undine Company, but one that has nonetheless built out a legendary reputation over the years and therefore, would act as a proper conclusion for this set of movies.

Violet Evergarden: The Movie- An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation, On Kyoto Animation and Resilience

“Well I’ve made up my mind, anyway. I want to see mountains again, Gandalf – mountains; and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” –Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

Violet Evergarden has become renowned as an Auto-Memory Doll of prodigious skill, writing letters for royalty and drafting plays for screenwriters on top of her usual duties. After meeting Leiden’s mayor and his wife, Violet declines an offer to hang out with CH Postal’s staff at a local festival, and instead, returns to her quarters, where she writes a letter addressed to Gilbert. The next day, Violet heads over to the cemetery and pays respects to Gilbert and Dietfried Bougainvillea’s mother – her presence there surprises him, and after Violet drops her ribbon, he hastens to return it. Violet, meanwhile, returns to CH Postal’s office and arrives in time to answer a call from Yuris, a young boy suffering from cachexia. Knowing his time is limited, Yuris requests that Violet write letters to his parents and younger brother, hoping that they’ll continue to live a full life after his passing. Despite her initial surprise, Violet consents to the assignment and pinky-promises Yuris to complete her assignment. However, when Violet learns that Yuris’ refused to see his best friend, Ryuka, she implores him to speak with him in person, but gives him her word that she’ll return to write the final letter for Ryuka, as well. One evening, Claudia and Benedict find a letter in their mail room from Ekarte Island bearing handwriting resembling Gilbert’s. Upon confirming it with Dietfried, Claudia breaks the news to Violet, who becomes conflicted about the possibility of being able to meet Gilbert anew. Despite her worries, Cattleya and Iris assure Violet they’ll be able to hold down the fort back home even as the introduction of the telephone will someday render the Auto-Memory Dolls obsolete – Claudia and Violet thus head to Ekarte Island. Upon arrival, the pair set off for the school where Gilbert is working, and while Claudia tries to convince Gilbert to meet with Violet, he refuses. Violet encounters several of Gilbert’s students and is relieved that he is doing well, but is consumed with sorrow when he declines to meet her. Violet decides that she’s satisfied knowing that Gilbert is well, and prepares to head back home with Claudia. That evening, a rainstorm hits Ekarte, and Violet learns that Yuris’ condition has worsened. Unable to return home to fulfil her promise to him and get a letter written for Ryuka, Violet instead asks Benedict and Iris to step in, but Yuirth’s weakened to the point where even speaking becomes a labouring task for him. In the end, Iris decides to bet the farm on the new-fangled telephone, and in his final moments, allows Yuris to have a conversation with Ryuka, where he apologises to him and thanks him for having been there all this time.

Although Yuris dies, his parents and brother are immensely grateful to learn that Yuris had been happy in his final moments. Back on Ekarte, Violet drafts a letter for Gilbert and asks one of his students to pass it to him. That evening, she prepares to leave as the islanders test out a new cable car Gilbert had devised for transporting grapes. To his surprise, he finds a letter from Violet and comes face-to-face with Dietfried, who apologises for having burdened Gilbert with so much. Dietfried implores Gilbert to live life on his own terms, and that he will bear responsibility for the Bougainvillea name from here on out. Freed from his burden, Gilbert chases after Violet, who’s already boarded her boat, but when Violet hears his shouts, she dives into the ocean and swims ashore. Overwhelmed with emotion and seeing Gilbert for the first time, Violet is unable to form an articulate sentence, and tearfully embraces him instead. Gilbert assures her they’ll be able to be together from here on out. Violet subsequently resigns from her post and lives with Gilbert to the end of her days, while CH Postal becomes merged with another communications company as technology advances. Half a century later, Ann Magnolia’s granddaughter, Daisy, comes across the letters that Violet had written for her and become curious to know more about her story. She travels to Leiden and discovers that CH Postal’s old headquarters is now a museum, and from one of the museum’s curators, a former clerk at CH Postal, Violet ended up moving to an island to find her happiness. Inspired by the powers letters possess, she writes to her parents, thanking them for everything they’d done for her up until now – Daisy had been disappointed that her parents seemed to be more concerned with their occupations than spending time with her, but now, her adventure shows her the importance of taking a step back and appreciating the people closest to oneself. Even though technology has now advanced to the point where voices and thoughts can be transmitted instantaneously, letters remain unmatched for capturing the writers’ emotions, and Daisy’s parents immediately realise that contrary to her words, Daisy still loves them very much, much as how Gilbert and Violet loved one another: they make a pinky promise to always be there for one another. This is Violet Evergarden: The Movie, sequel to 2018’s Violet Evergarden and 2019’s Violet Evergarden Side Story: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll – the film premièred in September 2020 after several delays, but over its two hour and twenty minute run, Violet Evergarden: The Movie presents a multi-faceted and detailed film that acts as a stunning finale to Violet Evergarden.

Major Themes

From the very first moment Violet was introduced to viewers, her quest had always entailed properly understanding what 愛してる (Hepburn aishiteru) meant. In Japanese, this is the ultimate way of saying “I love you”, a phrase that entails a willingness to wholly commit oneself to another unto eternity. Before he passes out, Gilbert’s words to Violet suggest that he’d come to see her as more than a tool, and even more than a subordinate: she is a peer, a beacon of hope and optimism in a world where everything worth fighting form had seemingly vanished. However, Violet’s own background meant she is unable to comprehend fully what Gilbert had meant. As an Auto-Memory Doll, Violet would come to see other people expressing love for one another, whether it be familial love, love for the irreplaceable bonds that friendship brings with it, or even romantic love. As she begins putting into words these feelings, Violet begins to understand the relationships that different people shared with one another. However, in many cases, Violet finds herself needing to coax these words out of her clients, who struggle to honestly and openly express how they feel. Whether it is a sense of duty, their own honour or a misunderstanding, Violet’s clients each wonder if they deserve the love they’re given. By the events of Violet Evergarden: The Movie, it is Violet and Gilbert who come to this intersection. Violet desperately wants to know that Gilbert is well and ascertain what he’d meant, and now, having seen so much love, Violet begins to wonder if her undying desire to be by his side, to accompany him through the tough times and share happiness together, is what love is. However, Violet also is aware that she’d caused Gilbert no shortage of trouble. On the flipside, Gilbert believes that he should’ve kept Violet off the battlefield so she could pursue beautiful things, and feels himself unfit to meet Violet again. Both Violet and Gilbert second-guess their feelings, trying to convince themselves that it is for the better that they shan’t meet again. However, long-repressed emotions soon overflow after Violet pours her heart into one final letter for Gilbert – letters are a symbol of honesty, and the courage of being able to express what can be very hard to say. In the end, the truth has its day, propelling Gilbert and Violet to meet again, although this time, both are so overcome with emotion that neither are quite able to articulate themselves. Where words fail, silence speaks, and even though their fated meeting was a moment of few words, nothing more needed to be said as Violet and Gilbert share a tender embrace on the shores of a peaceful island far removed from the world’s troubles. In the end, aishiteru is the single most powerful expression of honesty: the courage to be forward about one’s desire to share the future together with someone of great significance and be better together.

In order to have reached this point, however, Violet Evergarden: The Movie shows Violet’s path to Gilbert as being fraught with setbacks and uncertainty. Similarly, Gilbert himself initially expresses a wish not to see Violet, worried that he’d already caused her enough trouble. While it is the case that the two were placed into extraordinary and horrific circumstances from the war, the two are only able to reconcile and set their pasts behind because they are able to forgive themselves. Forgiveness is a core part of Violet Evergarden: The Movie – Yuris’ wish to write letters to his parents and brother to express his gratitude indicates, that however dissatisfied he’d been with his illness and their pitying him, he’s forgiven them. Ryuka forgives Yuris for not wanting them to meet after he’d been hospitalised, citing their friendship together. The villages on Ekarte similarly forgive Leidenschaftlich after the war. Although it is true that Leidenschaftlich resulted in the death of their men, Ekarte’s villagers see for themselves that today, Leidenschaftlich’s citizens are a courteous and civilised people. Instead of hating them, they choose to forgive, holding a memorial every year to commemorate those who had fallen in battle. Violet Evergarden: The Movie shows that how past wounds are healed is through forgiveness: the people of the current generation did not commit the atrocities that their ancestors suffered for, and this acceptance is how longstanding grievances slowly fade away, as former enemies are now recognised as fellow human beings, and even allies. Seeing Gilbert find peace on Ekarte and the sanctuary afforded by their forgiveness is what reassures Violet. Gilbert is doing well, and seeing that her past has no bearing on his future, Violet is able to come to terms with what had happened. Similarly, through Dietfried’s impassioned pleas for Gilbert to seize his future and live life on his terms, Gilbert understands that what’s done is done, and presented with the chance to find happiness with Violet, it’s now or never. Coupled with Violet’s unerring finesse with the written word, both are able to make peace with their past and step forwards together; however tragic the past is, Violet Evergarden: The Movie consistently indicates to viewers that it is never too late to make the most of one’s future. For their troubles, Violet and Gilbert are finally able to move on together, living happily ever after to the end of their days.

Violet Evergarden has never strayed far from presenting the world as unfixed, mutable and ever-changing: the future holds uncertainty, but also possibility, and although one can never be absolutely confident in what unfolds until they take those vital steps forward, the future offers tantalising hints as to what can happen. Violet is presented glimpses of what could happen if she were honest with herself and pursued Gilbert more whole-heartedly, but at the same time, the society around her is ceaselessly marching towards the future. Communications technology becomes ever-advanced, and when the telecom runs cables to CH Postal, giving them a telephone, Iris is initially disgusted that such a contraption could replace something as reliable and ubiquitous as letters. However, she turns around after seeing the telephone connect Yuris and Ryuka together prior to Yuris’ death: the speed at which voices and emotions are conveyed is swifter than that of a letter, and every tone is passed along with flawless accuracy. In order to keep Violet and Claudia appraised of the situation, Benedict and Iris send updates using a telegraph, allowing messages to be sent nearly instantaneously. Leiden has capitalised on the power of faster communication by constructing a massive radio tower at the heart of town, and while Dolls like Iris lament the day they go obsolete, seeing what the new technology is capable of also inspires them to work harder. In the end, CH Postal is bought out by another company and presumably enters the age of electronic communications, attesting to their willingness to adapt. While the world is constantly changing, with tried-and-true methods growing obsolete as up-and-coming technologies supplant them, Violet Evergarden: The Movie indicates that this inevitability isn’t a bad thing, and technology does not so easily sweep away those with the tenacity to learn about it. Moreover, just because a new method displaces an old one does not mean that the former modes are so easily forgotten – Daisy discovers the power of writing through letters, which can endure where digital signals vanish, and upon arriving in Leiden, she finds a museum that faithfully preserves the methods and techniques Violet and her team utilised when letter-writing was still at its height. The past endures, much as how old experiences linger within the mind, but in the end, with the ceaseless march of progress, one’s decisions must always be made to account for the future. CH Postal adopts the new technology while respecting their origins, and while Violet and Gilbert both see tragedy in their lives, they also embrace the fact that there is indeed a future ahead for them, as well.

Remarks on Technical Excellence

Kyoto Animation’s works have long excelled conveying certain emotions, whether it be great joy or great sorrow. A combination of unparalleled facial animations, scene composition, build up and usage of audio-visual cues all contribute to characters taking on a remarkably life-like visage. Violet Evergarden: The Movie, being the culmination of their craft, unsurprisingly manages to take a hold of the viewers’ hearts from the very moment it begins – the story retreads Violet Evergarden‘s most powerful story, about Ann Magnolia and her hiring Violet to write a letter every year to her daughter after she’d learned that she was doomed to die. This single story was particularly moving because it spoke to the perceptible power of emotions given tangible form through letters, and so, acted as a balance against the idea that things in a given society constantly change. Through the use of sight and sound, Kyoto Animation is able to craft a powerful experience by immersing viewers completely into Violet’s world – the way the voice actors and actresses inflect their dialogue, and the choice of incidental music, together with the viewer’s own experiences within the previous instalments allows the film to fully convey the emotional tenour of a given moment. Silence is similarly used to create pauses, allowing viewers to take a moment in. In particular, Violet’s characterisation within the film is noteworthy because of her learnings and discoveries: while she’d previously saw herself as an automaton whose existence was to carry out orders, seeing the full spectrum of emotions had led her to open up and become more human. Violet thus begins to develop more agency by the film’s events – she now makes her own decisions, is able to spot when someone is making a joke and is more expressive. The Violet at the series’ beginning would not have been able to express herself so earnestly as the Violet within the film, and with Violet Evergarden: The Movie, it is clear that the path to “I love you” is a complex one, but above all, a path that asks of those whom tread it, a measure of patience. Violet simply could not have made these discoveries overnight. As such, when viewers enter Violet Evergarden: The Movie having seen all of this, her desire to do what she can for Yuris and meet becomes tangible; the tears are never too far away because the film actively reminds viewers of how far Violet’s come, how the world can take everything back in an instant, but despite this, the human spirit and resolve continue to endure in the choice of words we have for those around us. Between the writing and Evan Call’s excellent music, Violet Evergarden: The Movie creates an immeasurably deep feeling of catharsis, an environment that indicates to viewers that it is okay to be in touch with our emotions, and to cry out our stresses before picking ourselves up and preparing for whatever lies ahead.

Besides their masterful ability to render tangible the emotions within Violet Evergarden: The Movie, Kyoto Animation also excels in the film’s visual presentation. Lighting, timing and spacing are fully utilised to convey what dialogue and sound alone cannot. The fluidity and acuity of facial expressions speak volumes about how Violet and the others feel even where words fail. Attention is paid to every detail, from the glint of light off a typewriter’s keys, to the rippling of water as a torrential rain drenches the island. The diverse colour palette captures the warmth of the lighthouse, excitement at Leiden during a fireworks show, to the cool air of a morning following the storm, giving viewers the sense they are physically present. By this point in time, Kyoto Animation has only managed to surpass their own craft – their films are now comparable to the likes of Studio Ghibli and Makoto Shinkai’s works, which are renowned for their visual quality. The sheer detail in Violet Evergarden: The Movie similarly contributes to the film’s incredible ability to create emotions in the viewers; highly detailed environments and visual clutter can be overwhelming to the mind, resulting in the mind filtering things out to focus on cues within the scene. In this way, the characters’ movements and dialogue, and the emotions behind them, become amplified. It is evident that Violet Evergarden: The Movie capitalises on this fully – although Violet’s world is vividly portrayed, the fact there’s so much in the environment, from books sitting on the shelf to the small reflections on surfaces, means that viewers are naturally inclined to pay full attention to Violet and those she converses with. While anime are often watched purely for the visual spectacle of über-detailed environments and feats of animation alone, clever use of visuals allows a given work to do a lot more with a given scene. The high visual quality typical of Kyoto Animation’s works also serve to enhance immersion in the world and suggest to viewers that whatever world being presented could very much be real. This similarly displaces any disbelief in the mind; if the world is a plausible one, then so are the emotions that the characters experience throughout a given story. The technical excellence in Violet Evergarden: The Movie bring Violet’s story to life in a way that is unparalleled, and as a send-off to a wonderful series, there is no greater praise in saying that Kyoto Animation’s best exceeds expectations, giving the Violet Evergarden series a powerful feeling of closure as Violet and Gilbert manage to move forwards into the future together, having made peace with their pasts.

  • An interview with director Taichi Ishidate indicates that Violet Evergarden: The Movie is indeed the finale for the series – while Kyoto Animation’s interpretation of Violet Evergarden was quite different than the original novels, and from what I’ve seen, the adaptation looks like it is superior in every way, focusing in Violet’s story after the war and completely dispensing with the battle axe, Witchcraft, that the novels had featured prominently. The end result is a story that is very moving, and for this, I am very glad to have managed to avoid all spoilers for it.

  • Thanks to screenings outside of Japan, a sufficiently large number of people have watched Violet Evergarden: The Movie, and as such, spoilers can be found in all corners of the internet. In spite of this, I was able to avoid all spoilers to have the best possible experience, and having had a look around, I can say confidently that this is the first and only discussion of the film online to come with screenshots. Violet Evergarden: The Movie opens with Daisy, who is quite unhappy that her parents seem more concerned with their work than spending family time with her. When her grandmother, Ann, dies, Daisy comes upon the letters that Clara had requested Violet write on her behalf for her daughter. Realising how much her great-grandmother had loved her grandmother, Daisy becomes intent on learning more about the Auto-Memory Doll, Violet, who’d written the letters.

  • Violet Evergarden: The Movie was a film whose journey to the finish line was fraught with challenges – announced back in July 2018, the film’s production was impacted by the arson incident at their studio. Thus, the original première date of January 2020 was pushed back to April, and then the pandemic resulted in the film opening in September 2020. The home release was originally scheduled for this month but has since been delayed to October. Overseas fans hoping for a means of seeing this film have been out of luck so far, but on the plus side, knowing the BD will be available in October means having a concrete date to look forwards to.

  • To go any further in this post would constitute spoilers, so folks looking to optimise their experience of Violet Evergarden: The Movie would do well to stop here and close this tab (or perhaps bookmark this post for a later date). I do hope readers have a chance to see this movie for themselves if they’ve not done so; as the finale to Violet Evergarden, Violet Evergarden: The Movie hits all of the right notes. Right out of the gates, the film revisits the story I most enjoyed from the original TV series, and with the tears never too far away, I knew that this film was going to be an emotional powerhouse.

  • After the story changes focus from Daisy to Violet, Violet’s composed a hymn that Irma’s set to read as a part of the memorial event marking the end of the great war. By now, Violet’s become a very proficient writer capable of expressing very complex and abstract thoughts in a highly articulate manner. The service is successful, and in the aftermath, Violet receives praise from those around her for having successfully taken on a highly demanding assignment and even has a chance to meet Leiden’s mayor and his wife after the ceremonial reading.

  • Even though the war is long over, scars linger, and it is through ceremonies such as these that the sacrifices of the fallen are not forgotten. However, being a survivor of the war, Violet herself is a testament to the fact that people are capable of committing acts of great terror, but in spite of the horrors, people are also capable of regaining their humanity. Indeed, Violet’s terse remarks bring to mind the likes of Halo‘s Master Chief, whose unfamiliarity with civilian convention is offset by a singular desire to protect humanity – while Violet is constantly striving to learn what love is, there are some conventions that she remains unfamiliar with.

  • Because of this, Violet herself is very modest and humble to a fault – she expresses that she’s merely the intermediary between the thoughts in a sender’s mind and the words that ultimately are used. Violet’s bluntness comes from a combination of still being unaccustomed to closeness with people she doesn’t know, and she speaks very candidly at times, understating her own achievements.

  • This particular aspect of Violet’s character is meant to make her as more endearing to viewers, but also serves to show the intricacies behind Violet. An optimist will view Violet’s modesty as as sign that she’s now familiar enough with emotions and social convention so as to read the mood of a given situation and react accordingly, whereas someone a little more pessimistic might see this as Violet being blunt about her goals: helping others is a consequence of her trying to reach her own objectives.

  • At the festival in town, Violet and the rest of CH Postal’s staff meet an aspiring playwright who’s managed to land a job writing at a local theatre. It becomes clear that through their work, CH Postal has left a powerful positive impression on their clients, helping them convey their thoughts in written word. Violet’s first job had been to help the sister of a struggling playwright, and through her words, Violet is able to help convince this playwright to get his game together. Since then, he’s regained his footing and now has people, including the aspiring writer, look up to him, and Violet herself also gained a new friend for her efforts.

  • Every evening, Violet regroups and calms her nerves by typing out letters to Gilbert. Although she writes with the knowledge that the letters will never reach Gilbert, that she continues to do so indicates that he’s always on her mind. While typing one evening, her mechanical fingers jam, and Violet attempts to clear the jam up, allowing Kyoto Animation to really show their craft. Everything in Violet Evergarden: The Movie is beautifully animated, and it speaks volumes to the film’s quality that this is merely one of the many things that Kyoto Animation nailed down in their feature-length presentation.

  • In keeping with the times, CH Postal’s purchased a brand-spanking-new telephone: Violet Evergarden‘s world also had their equivalent of Alexander Graham Bell, a Scottish inventor who is credited with the world’s first operational telephone in 1876 (although inventor Antonio Meucci had a working phone as early as 1854). The earliest phones needed an operator to change the switches, and they proved somewhat impractical, but by the 20th century, phones had become quite sophisticated; the model that CH Postal uses is a wall-mounted unit, and while it is powerful, Iris considers it a nuisance.

  • Both Cattleya and Claudia are aware that the Auto-Memory Doll programme is a dying one: with the ability to instantaneously transmit one’s voice over a wire in real time, the need for letters is lessened. Iris promises to work hard and make the most of her career while the phone is in its infancy – it’s an admirable spirit from her, indicative of someone who is aware her career is headed for its twilight, but nonetheless doesn’t wish to call it quits just yet.

  • It turns out that in her spare time, Violet visits the cemetery to pay her respects to Dietfried and Gilbert’s mother – she does so of her own volition. This is significant because Violet previously had little agency, but her experiences throughout the course of Violet Evergarden has allowed her to be more in tune with her own desires and wishes. It’s a very subtle, and clever, way of showing how Violet’s changed as the series progressed. While her words and manner might be that of someone who is utterly dedicated to her craft, Violet’s actions outside of her duties indicate that there are things that she wishes for, even if she doesn’t speak her mind openly to others.

  • Violet ends up taking on an assignment from a young boy named Yuris, who is afflicted with a terminal illness. His family clearly loves him, but he’s grown weary of their concern for him and wishes that with the time he has left, they’d treat him normally. To this end, he calls CH Postal with the hope that someone would be able to write letters for him conveying how he feels about everyone, hoping to leave a positive memory behind for his family. While Violet is forced to hide when Yuris’ family unexpectedly shows up, she is able to gain a measure of what Yuris wants.

  • Speaking to Violet’s own development as a person, when Yuris asks Violet how much the assignment would cost and shows her the funds he’d saved, Violet flatly notes that she’d be able to write a few characters at best, and seeing the shock on Yuris’ face, appends the idea that there’s also a youth discount available: it just so happens he has the precise amount needed. In reality, Violet’s just told her equivalent of a joke here – Violet’s empathy means that she’d been quite prepared to do this assignment for free, and her humour flies over Yuris’ head, once the terms are settled, Violet promises to return and get his letters done.

  • Back at CH Postal, Violet is shocked to see Dietfried at the gates – it’s clear he’s not welcome here, from Claudia and Benedict’s reactions. Violet herself immediately makes to subdue Dietfried in an arm lock from muscle memory before catching herself and remembering the war is long over. It turns out Dietfriend had found Violet’s hair ribbon and merely sought to return it to her. In addition, he also has plans to dispose of Gilbert’s old boat, and was thinking that some of Gilbert’s possessions might be of interest to her. Violet immediately accepts the invitation to see Gilbert’s boat.

  • While Claudia is openly disapproving of Dietfried, a conversation with Cattleya leads her to suggest that that both Violet and Dietfried are leaning on one another to handle their grief at Gilbert’s passing. Indeed, when Dietfried and Violet meet, Dietfried’s words to Violet suggest that he is sorry about what had happened and wishes to at least make amends with Violet – it had been on his suggestion that Violet was assigned to serve under Gilbert, and to Dietfried, he supposes that had he not made the call for this assignment, Gilbert might still be alive.

  • Conversely, Violet believes that Gilbert’s death falls on her shoulders: in that fateful battle, she’d been unable to save him and was forced to leave him behind. Gilbert’s death weighs heavily on both Dietfried and Violet’s minds. The chance to converse with one another offers a brief bit of understanding for both, and while neither are changed by this conversation, both Violet and Dietfried are able to understand what Gilbert meant to one another more clearly. In particular, Dietfried had always regarded his younger brother coldly, and while he’d been arrogant and unfeeling as a soldier, after the war ended, the deaths of those around him fill him with remorse. A part of his concern for Violet comes from wishing she’d be able to be at peace with herself, too.

  • When they were younger, Dietfried had express distain at the prospect of having to join the army, very nearly earning himself a physical beating from his father, a military hero and proud man who’d served the army. To defuse the situation, Gilbert offered to take up this responsibility instead to save his brother, and subsequently joined the army per his word, leaving Dietfried to become a renowned naval captain. It had been Dietfried who found Violet, but his old thirst for glory meant that he was unsure of how to best handle Violet. Dietfried’s competence and leadership notwithstanding, he’d spent the whole of Violet Evergarden a spiteful and proud individual.

  • As such, Claudia does not exactly regard Dietfried warmly, but his actions in Violet Evergarden: The Movie indicate that he is trying to make amends for his past actions. Similarly, whereas Violet once saw Dietfried as a hostile individual, that she now gives him the benefit of the doubt and hears him out indicates that she’s also doing her best to live and let live. I believe that this film is set a year after the events of Violet Evergarden Side Story: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll, which suggests that around three to four years have passed since the Great War of their time.

  • Yuris and Violet finish their letters for his parents, and turn to the letter for his younger brother. Despite rebuking him earlier, it is not surprising that Yuris cares greatly for him, as well. Violet is able to deduce this, surprising him with how well she knows the feeling. With their letters done, Violet is introduced to the pinky promise: Yuris indicates that it’s a gesture with deep meaning, and Violet herself commits, promising to deliver the letters to his family. The practise’s origins are contested; in Japan, it’s known as the yubikiri (指切り, “finger cut-off”), and stems from the idea that failing to keep one’s word will result in the loss of one’s smallest digit. In North America, the practise is suggested as dating back to 1860 from a rhyme that suggests misfortune befalling those who cannot keep their promise. Whatever the origins are, it’s a gesture of trust, and with this, Violet demonstrates her commitment to whatever her word is.

  • Violet Evergarden: The Movie progresses like the TV series does up until the moment Claudia and Benedict find an undelivered letter in their mail room. This is the disruption to the status quo that really sets the story in motion. In every work of fiction, an agent of change is what propels the narrative forward, and until this letter was found, Violet Evergarden: The Movie felt like another episode. However, with the revelation that Gilbert is potentially alive, the possibility to something much larger opens up. The first two fifths of the movie thus end up feeling a bit slower, but this pacing serves an important purpose: to establish how Violet and Dietfried have dealt with Gilbert’s absence in the past several years.

  • Before informing Violet, who had been thinking about Gilbert every day since the war ended, Claudia decides to check things with Dietfried first. His reaction to the undelivered letter confirms that the handwriting is indeed that of Gilbert’s, and while his words many not show it, he also cares enough such that when Claudia makes a request of him, to investigate the mailing address on the letter, he is able to turn up something and passes it along back to Claudia. With concrete evidence that Gilbert is indeed alive Claudia lets Violet know of the news.

  • When Violet learns that Gilbert living on a distant island known as Ekarte, her thoughts overwhelm her. She is unable to string a coherent sentence together and retreats to the rooftop overlooking Leiden. Previously, Violet had also come up here in Eternity and The Auto-Memory Doll with Taylor, after the latter had been inundated by her crash course in the fundamentals of literacy. Besides showing that Violet knows how to manage her stress, Violet Evergarden also takes the effort to show viewers that Violet cares for those around her, even if her body language and choice of words don’t always indicate this is the case.

  • Shortly before Violet and Claudia head off to meet Gilbert on Ekarte, Violet suffers from nerves. A wave of questions pour from her, and she wonders if Gilbert is doing well, whether he would recognise her after all this time, and, whether not she’s ready to convey to Gilbert she returns his feelings. Violet’s doubts are yet another sign that she’s developed a great deal of agency, to be able to spot her own worries and desires. Cattleya reassures Violet it’ll be find, and that since the trip is going to take a few days, she’ll at least have some time to gather her thoughts and figure out what she ought to say first.

  • Evan Call returns to score Violet Evergarden: The Movie‘s soundtrack, and with his finesse, creates a score that captures the full scope and scale of the emotional tenour within the film. The use of horns and strings create a compelling sense of warmth, and I imagine that this causes the mind to relax, with the gentle tones conveying an air of comfort and wistfulness. The use of music, in short, causes viewers to let their guard down and opens them up so that emotional moments in the movie are amplified tenfold. Knowing the essentials doesn’t mean the soundtrack is any less effective, and this is probably the reason why I always felt a stone’s throw away from tears throughout Violet Evergarden: The Movie.

  • As it was, I picked up the soundtrack a few weeks after the Japanese screenings began, and in what was a masterful bit of work from Call, the soundtrack betrayed nothing about the movie itself. The track names are all in English, and music often has a way of telling listeners an aural story that can lead some folks to guess at what’s happening in the movie, but here in Violet Evergarden: The Movie, the songs flush visuals from the mind and compel listeners to immerse themselves wholly in the sound of music. Compared to the anime, the film’s incidental pieces have a decidedly movie-like feel to them: everything sounds bigger.

  • After finding Violet’s letters for her grandmother, Daisy is sufficiently moved that she ends up travelling to Leiden to learn more about the Auto-Memory Doll who’d transformed her grandmother’s world so dramatically. Upon arriving at CH Postal’s location, she finds that it’s been transformed into a museum detailing the modes of communication from a half-century earlier. However, the curator there was a former member of CH Postal and is happy to walk Daisy through things. Through conversation, Daisy comes to learn that Violet had stepped back from her duties one day after travelling to Ekarte.

  • Ekarte is a remote island located between Leidenschaftlich and the Galdarik Empire. Their proximity to Galdarik Empire meant that the island’s men were drafted to fight against Leidenschaftlich, and in the years after the war, the island’s demographics shifted to consist of only women, children and the elderly, as a large number of men perished in the fighting. The islander’s hymn to the ocean, originally to thank the ocean for its bounty and mercy, evolved into a memorial service, as well. The large cliffs here overlooking the ocean bring to mind the likes of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

  • It turns out that Gilbert had survived the war, and after his injuries were healed, he ended up travelling here to escape the horrors lingering from the war. He’s now a teacher, providing instruction to the youth on the island, and in his spare time, lends a hand to the people in their farming: Ekarte’s main crop appears to be grapes, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think the island was one large vineyard, supplying the grapes needed for winemaking elsewhere. The viewers’ first impressions of Ekarte is that the island is very peaceful, the perfect place to retreat to after a brutal and gruelling war.

  • Weather has always played an integral role in Kyoto Animation’s productions, and Violet Evergarden: The Movie is no exception to this – Violet and Claudia’s journey to Ekarte is set under moody, overcast skies. Grey, cloudy days like these are almost always followed by rain in anime, which is used to set the atmosphere for dramatic moments. As it was, that this trip was taken on a cloudy day meant to me that meeting Gilbert would not be a straightforward matter of knocking on his front door and expecting him to invite Violet and Claudia inside for a spot of tea.

  • The grey skies would also suggest cooler weather, which lacks the warmth and colour typically seen in Leiden. A long time ago, I detested overcast days and preferred it when sunshine allowed a land to showcase colours at its best. However, following my watching Sora no Woto, I came to appreciate the aesthetic that cloudy skies can bring. On the trip to Ekarte Island, Violet is a little pensive and restless, leading Claudia to suggest that she put her own thoughts to paper. This exercise helps to calm Violet, but on the deck of the ship taking them to Ekarte, a gust of wind strips Violet of her letter. The symbolism here is plain enough – carefully prepared words may fall apart, and some situations require that one play things by ear.

  • Upon touching down at Ekarte, the islanders note that Violet and Claudia are unexpectedly polite and quite contrary to their impressions of Leidenschaftlich’s people: since the war had killed so many men from their island, the remaining residents saw Leidenschaftlich’s citizens as arrogant and callous monsters. However, seeing Claudia and Violet provide a concrete reminder that Leidenschaftlich’s citizens themselves didn’t wish for war any more than they did, nor were they directly responsible for the fact that Ekarte’s men never came back home. Ekarte’s residents thus treat Claudia and Violet with respect and help them with their search for Gilbert.

  • Conversation with the islanders lead Violet and Claudia to a school, where class has ended for the day. After consideration, Claudia feels it might be easier on Gilbert if he were to meet him alone first – Violet had meant a great deal to Gilbert, and the shock of seeing her again after many years would also make things tricky for Violet. While Violet would like nothing more than to see Gilbert right away, she sets aside her own feelings, feeling that she’d waited this long to meet him, so a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt.

  • After entering the school grounds, Claudia runs into several of Gilbert’s students. A brief conversation with them confirms that Gilbert is indeed here, and after they surprise him with a dead praying mantis, the students prepare to head home, leaving Claudia to have his first conversation with Gilbert in several years. The energy that these students convey, coupled with their neat appearance, shows that the standard of living on Ekarte isn’t bad, and moreover, that Gilbert’s been looking after his students well.

  • Thus, when Violet runs into the same three boys, she smiles warmly after hearing their praises for him as a teacher; it is clear to her that Gilbert’s managed to find a new path in life following the war. Relief and joy is written all over her face here – this was one of my favourite moments in the whole of Violet Evergarden: The Movie, as Violet smiling is a particularly rare sight to behold.

  • Encouraged by what she’s hearing, Violet becomes curious to know what kind of teacher Gilbert is, and the students are happy to oblige. For Violet, even simply knowing Gilbert is fine puts her heart at ease – Gilbert had disappeared without a trace, and for the longest time, Violet had no idea if Gilbert was even alive. Admittedly, as Violet Evergarden portrayed things, his fate was left ambiguous, and after he’d been heavily wounded, he ordered Violet to live on in his stead. One wonders if this ambiguity had been deliberate, planned from the start – had the series been direct about Gilbert’s fate, a movie would either be impossible or inevitable.

  • In contrast with his student’s spirit and energy, Gilbert himself is less than pleased to meet with Claudia; his choice of words suggest that he’d long regretted what happened to Violet, and even now, Gilbert wonders if Violet would even face him after all of the sins he’d committed. However, for Claudia, Gilbert spares some time to explain how he’d survived and found his way to Ekarte Island. It turns out that after he lost consciousness, he was taken to a monastic hospital run by nuns – his dog tags had been destroyed (normally, they’d survive and allow for identification). While his injuries were great (Gilbert lost his right arm and eye), he managed to survive and recover.

  • However, while the body might heal over time, wounds in the hearts do not close so easily. Consumed with grief and regret over the war, Gilbert ended up wandering about before deciding to travel a remote island, Ekarte. Because Gilbert is literate, he started writing letters for the island’s residents, and over time, ended up becoming a teacher of sorts. Gilbert came to believe that his greatest mistake was sending Violet into combat alongside the rest of his men, and as a result, caused her misery, as well. There is thus an interesting parallel: both Violet and Gilbert think of themselves as unworthy of the other, believing that they would only cause trouble for the other.

  • Love, however, entails being able to care greatly for someone and strive for their happiness, in conjunction with accepting that one will occasionally hurt and be hurt by the other in some way, and in spite of this, accepting this to forge a path into the future together anyways. Both Violet and Gilbert are stubborn in their beliefs because they are unable to forgive themselves for what had happened. Consequently, the island of Ekarte becomes the perfect setting for this conflict to reach its resolution: the island itself represents the idea that Gilbert had closed himself from the world, and it takes someone from the outside (Violet) to help him to find his recovery.

  • However, merely reaching the island is not enough, and by the time Violet decides she wants to meet Gilbert whether he wishes for it or not, he’s already headed home. Undeterred, Violet and Claudia head on over to his home, intent on having Gilbert at least give Violet a chance to speak with him for the first time in several years. The overcast skies give way to a heavy rainfall as the storm finally breaks and hits the island: Kyoto Animation’s stories always make extensive use of the weather to accentuate the tenour of a moment, removing any doubt as to what the moment was supposed to feel like.

  • In this regard, Kyoto Animation has never been subtle, and shortly after their arrival, both Violet and Claudia implore Gilbert to open up. While neither are able to convince Gilbert otherwise, with the door separating them, and hearing Violet’s voice, Gilbert begs Violet to leave – seeing Violet would be to remind himself of every failure he’d ever had, but Violet takes this to confirm that she had indeed caused Gilbert great pain. The parallels between how Gilbert and Violet feel are striking; both love one another enough to be willing to fully bear the burden of taking responsibility for what had happened, but in this moment, emotion overpowers rationality. Feeling the distance insurmountable, Violet runs off, only to fall into the muddy road.

  • The play of lighting and water effects in this scene were phenomenal: the flow of rainwater through cracks in a dirt path, and rippling as they strike the saturated ground exhibits real-time reflections. I would imagine that Kyoto Animation utilised computer software to render this water effect – the results look as convincing as they would in some of the best games of today, and other studios, most notably, Comix Wave Films and Studio Ghibli, produce water effects that look quite different when they’re hand-drawn.

  • As the storm rages, Claudia and Violet end up taking refuge in the lighthouse, where they are afforded some warmth and a chance to dry their clothes. Claudia reassures Violet they’ll try again the next day once the storm’s passed, and Violet suggests that if they do manage to succeed in seeing Gilbert face-to-face, she’d like nothing more than to punch his lights out. This moment speaks to the fact that Violet’s got a strong grasp of emotions now – even though she’s unhappy with Gilbert’s state and holds herself accountable, this joke subtle hints at the idea that she also holds him responsible for his actions here and now, as well as the fact that Violet herself is able to understand how to use humour to handle a difficult situation.

  • However, things become trickier when the lighthouse operator receives a telegraph from a hospital back in Leiden – it turns out Yuris is dying, and because news of Gilbert had come so suddenly, Violet realises that she’d forgotten to help Yuris with one final request. Not wanting to see how frail he’d become, Yuris had angrily asked his best friend, Ryuka, not to see him at all, but Violet mentioned it took strength to see someone dear to oneself in such a state and suggests that Yuris make amends with Ryuka in the time he had left. With his death imminent, Yuris wished to reconcile with Ryuka, but Violet herself is now several days away, unable to return in time.

  • Realising what this assignment had meant to Violet, Claudia sends back a reply, asking Iris and Benedict to do whatever it took to connect Yuris to Ryuka. In the end, it is determined that the new-fangled telephone would be their best bet: Iris fetches the device itself, while Benedict heads off to the operator with the aim of convincing him to link their telephone to Ryuka’s residence. This connection is successful, and for the first time since Yuris had asked Ryuka not to visit him, the two friends are able to speak.

  • Speaking to how new the telephone is, Ryuka initially has trouble with the apparatus. The march of technology is inevitable, and details within Violet Evergarden: The Movie capture these nuances very well. Even for someone like myself, whose career is in technology, I’m still bewildered at how new programming languages, libraries, frameworks, SDKs and APIs continue to change the way things are done. The field is constantly evolving, and with it, the way people do things constantly shifts, as well. When the technology is in its infancy, even folks in tech have trouble with it – when Apple introduced Swift 2.0, I was completely frustrated with the idea of optional unwrapping, but these days, they’re an essential part of my work, and in fact, I feel that forced unwrapping is actually a poor practise, since it can result in crashes.

  • Back in Violet Evergarden: The Movie, Yuris and Ryuka are able to connect; unlike letters, their voices convey precisely how they are feeling, and Yuris is able to apologise to Ryuka, who in turn replies that he was never angry with Yuris to begin with. Whereas Violet Evergarden had letters fulfilling this role previously, the telephone demonstrates its ability to carry ideas and feelings in a manner that is far swifter than any letter. This technology thus allows Yuris and Ryuka to reconcile their feelings, and subsequently, Yuris dies, knowing he’d been able to get his true feelings out to the most important people in his life.

  • For Iris, watching this unfold would’ve been very difficult; being with a family as they watch their son die was hard enough on her, and she did what she can to help Yuris and his family in Violet’s place, but having spent the film with a kind of bravado about doing her best despite knowing her occupation’s twilight had come, Iris realises here that the technology she had doubted was actually capable of doing the very thing she’d long held to be limited to the realm of letters.  Aside from telephones, the telegraph also begins rising to prominence by the events of Violet Evergarden: The Movie; utilising radio waves, it is able to send messages over great distances at haste.

  • I imagine that in Violet Evergarden, they’re probably using some form of Morse Code, adapted for their own alphabet – closeups of letters find that Kyoto Animation had gone to the lengths of creating a constructed written language for the series utilising Tamil as the basis for phonology. Thanks to voice-overs, viewers can spot patterns in the letters and associate the characters with meaning (similarly to how Alan Turing’s team of codebreakers cracked Enigma after determining that all Nazi messages ended by addressing the Führer), and since patterns can be spotted in the letters, it becomes clear that, while the written language in Violet Evergarden is not as sophisticated as Quenya or Sindarin, an impressive level of work went into making the language realistic.

  • Since there is a finite set of characters, it stands to reason that whatever equivalent of Morse in Violet Evergarden is similar to its real world counterpart, allowing for swift communications. The telegraph thus lets Violet learn that her coworkers have managed to help Yuris out to the best of their ability: with no more regrets or lingering thoughts troubling him, Yuris dies peacefully surrounded by those who love him greatly. Yuris’ parents are greatly saddened by his death, but also find solace in learning that he’d appreciated them greatly for everything they’d done for him. For his younger brother, Yuris expresses the wish that he will live life fully and bring his parents joy where he could not.

  • With Yuris’ story ending, Violet Evergarden: The Movie returns focus to the main storyline – Yuris prima facie feels secondary to the central, as did Daisy’s story, but their inclusion serves an important purpose in giving context to Violet’s character. Yuris provides an instance of how far Violet has come since her first days at CH Postal, and Daisy indicates how Violet’s letters continue to have an impact even long after Violet’s era has passed. In other words, these secondary stories show that by this point in time, Violet’s got the empathy to understand others and is finally ready to deal with her toughest assignment: herself.

  • In the end, Violet is relieved to know that she’d completed her assignment successfully – Yuris passes on, at peace with having been able to properly express himself for his family. Her smile stands in contrast with her woebegone appearance, a consequence of having tripped earlier. I imagine that, seeing the power letters still hold in their ability to convey emotions and thoughts where spoken language is inadequate, Violet decides that it’s time to write another letter to Gilbert; she decides that it’s fine if Gilbert won’t meet her, and that her experiences with letters have found that through words, she might be able to convey her feelings to him despite his reluctance to meet.

  • From the largest landscapes to the dewdrops glistening on individual blades of grass, Kyoto Animation’s care towards bringing every scene to life is apparent in this film. After the tragedy that struck their studio two years earlier, an outpouring of domestic and international support allowed the studio to continue operating, and it was decided to continue running a training programme for prospective animators. While some of Kyoto Animation’s works were delayed, ultimately, the act of unspeakable evil did not prevail, and the studio continues to demonstrate that their staff are ready to continue on with their exceptional work.

  • This shot of Ekarte Island reiterates to the idea that the island is a peaceful sanctuary far removed from the worries of the world, and seeing the inhabitant’s livelihoods does hint to viewers that for Gilbert, having a quiet home removed from the world’s troubles is something he definitely needed. The idea of tragedy sending people to remote places to re-evaluate their outlooks is not new, and one of my favourite examples is Jet Li’s Fearless, where Huo Yuanjia is portrayed as wandering the countryside after losing his family to his arrogance, and after he reaches a village, learns humility and compassion there. When Yuanjia returns to Tianjin years later a changed man, he apologises to those whom he had wronged and makes amends, before fighting to defend the integrity of Chinese martial arts.

  • However, while the intention of using journeys begins the same, Violet Evergarden: The Movie and Fearless are radically different, each with their own merits. Back in this film, as the day draws to a close, Violet is finally ready to send her letter to Gilbert. Gilbert, meanwhile, had been helping the islanders with a small gondola system that makes it easier to transport grapes up the mountain. Even in a place as remote as Ekarte, technological progress is inevitable, showing humanity’s inextinguishable spirit for progress and improvement.

  • Violet is doubtlessly disappointed that did not have a chance to see Gilbert in person and express her feelings properly, but the knowledge that he’s alive and well, coupled with the fact that she is able to at least leave a letter, means that Violet is okay with heading back to Leiden and resuming her duties. At least, this is what Violet tells herself, and in reality, people often set aside their own desires to pursue a more practical path. There is no right or wrong way to approach this, and for me, what matters is whether or not one is able to take ownership of their choices.

  • At the bottom of the hill, near the ocean’s edge, Gilbert resigns himself to the fact that it’s probably better if he didn’t meet with Violet as the sun casts the land in the glow of a dying day. In Kyoto Animation’s works, evenings always signify an ending of sorts, the conclusion of one chapter in preparation for the next chapter’s beginning. Under the oranges and reds of twilight, characters are most honest with themselves as the light begins fading, and in this way, evenings come to represent the time where runway runs out. Kyoto Animation shows that it is when people realise that the end is near, they tend to be the most truthful about how they feel. Ryōko Asakura confronts Kyon during the evening during The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, signifying the close of one milestone.

  • In CLANNAD and Kanon, different evening palettes similarly would show viewers whether or not the ending of a particular arc was meant to be rising action or falling action. Particularly sharp colours and hues of red indicate something is amiss (during the aforementioned scene in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and when Misae realises that the Katsuki she knows had died some years prior to his meeting her), whereas oranges and golds (such as during Tomoya’s kokuhaku to Nagisa, or in K-On!! following Yui and the others’ final concert) suggest a warmer ending. In Violet Evergarden: The Movie, the evening colours tend towards the former, with intense shades of orange hinting to viewers that things still need resolution.

  • While looking over the sea, Gilbert hears from an older man, whose words speak volumes to what the islanders believe in: although horrific things happened during the war, war treats its participants all the same. Ultimately, the islanders bear no grudge towards Leidenschaftlich’s people, since the brutality of war likely meant that a Leidenschaftlich similarly would’ve experienced what they did in terms of loss. The islanders therefore have forgiven Leidenschaftlich for the war and are moving on, but Gilbert is unable to forgive himself.

  • This is ultimately the impediment that keeps him from wanting to see Violet. While Gilbert’s stubborn insistence on leaving Violet be might seem foolish, Kyoto Animation takes the effort to show why characters make the decisions that they do. In a work of this level, the characters’ actions and decisions are backed by more than just their dialogue and internal thoughts: metaphors in their setting and visual elements like lighting also speak to how an individual is feeling. In Violet Evergarden: The Movie, environmental factors like weather and time of day speak largely to Gilbert and Violet’s emotions.

  • Dietfried, long considered a detestable character, finds his redemption in Violet Evergarden: The Movie when he shows up on Ekarte and apologises to Gilbert for foisting upon him a burden that Dietfried was originally responsible for. Being able to speak to Violet and understand what Violet meant to those around her leads Dietfried to an epiphany of sorts: Dietfried promises to uphold the Bougainvillea name and take on the duties Gilbert once shouldered, assuring Gilbert that the time has come for him to live on his own terms.

  • When Violet’s letter arrives on the very gondola he’d helped to build, Dietfried presses Gilbert to open the letter Violet had written for him. In this letter, Violet expresses gratitude to him: while it is true Violet had gone through very tough times even though she’d been in his care, Violet had nothing but appreciation for him. Seeing her feelings put into words is what turns Gilbert around:

Dear Major Gilbert,

Please forgive me for my sudden intrusion. This is the final letter I’ll write to you. The reason why I’m alive, and are able to think of others fondly, is all thanks to you. Thank you very much for taking me in, for reading books to me, and teaching me the alphabet. Thank you very much for buying the brooch for me. Thank you very much for always being by my side. Thank you for loving me. Because you said you loved me, those words became my way of life. Ever since I found out what love is, I’ve wanted to say those words back to you.

Major Gilbert, thank you very much for everything.

Violet Evergarden

  • Dietfried expresses the thought that was on my mind all film: that it incredibly hard for people to be truthful to others about how they feel. This is ultimately the basis for all love: being able to be sincere and honest about one’s feelings rather than holding them in, and trusting those around oneself. Dietfried realises this, and at long last, Gilbert finally decides the time has come to follow his heart. In doing this, Dietfried redeems himself: while Violet had suffered under him, she found solace with Gilbert, and giving Gilbert the push he needed to reunite with Violet is his way of making amends. No longer bound by his past, Gilbert rushes off for the pier, hoping to catch Violet before she’d left. Even after the boat departs, Violet hears Gilbert’s anguished shouts, and she jumps overboard.

  • Against all the odds, Violet and Gilbert are able to meet one another properly without doubts or regrets separating them. In moments like these, neither Violet nor Gilbert can find the words to express to one another how they feel. While the sun has set, indicating the end of one window, moonrise brings with it a new light, illuminating in the land with a gentle radiance. Kyoto Animation’s symbolism is spot on – just because one chapter has passed doesn’t mean things are over, and there is always new beauty that arises in the world. It is therefore unsurprising that it is here that Violet and Gilbert meet.

  • It is not without irony that Violet, despite having come so far in her understanding of human emotions and having attained a mastery of language that are the envy of manny, is reduced to a blubbering mess here. Some experiences and moments simply are beyond words, and all Violet can do is stammer out how happy she is to see Gilbert, who similarly is unable to express himself coherently. Kyoto Animation’s presentation here shows how love isn’t always the elegant declaration that fiction make it out to be, but even then, the feelings are genuine and sincere.

  • A tearful embrace therefore speaks volumes about the outcome; Violet Evergarden: The Movie‘s climax is here, the culmination of years of progress for Violet, and a lengthy three-year journey for fans of the series. Considering what it had cost to get here, I count the outcome to meet expectations – both Violet and Gilbert have experienced so much that it would stand completely contrary to the film (and series’) messages were they to go their separate ways. I appreciate that this sort of outcome only rarely happens in reality (love is fickle and desperately tricky to get right), but for the sake of a story, having a meaningful, worthwhile theme matters more than realism.

  • Signifying the end of the chapter, Gilbert lets go of the letter Violet had written for him – the pair now have their futures ahead of them, and the letter is a visceral, tangible piece of the past, one that is no longer relevant to either of them. Knowing that both Gilbert and Violet have found their footing at last sets a feeling of relief in viewers: the story chooses to offer the long-suffering couple a modicum of privacy, rather similarly to how Daniel Handler had opted to not record the quiet moment that Violet Baudelaire and Quigley Quagmire had shared while climbing the frozen waterfall in The Slippery Slope. Readers took this to mean Violet and Quigley express their feelings for one another here, so assuming this to hold true, Violet Evergarden: The Movie would similarly indicate that Gilbert and Violet do live happily ever after to the end of their days, as Bilbo had hoped after relinquishing the One Ring before his journey to Rivendell.

  • Claudia returns to Lieden, just in time to join Cattleya and the rest of CH Postal’s staff for a fireworks show unveiling the completion of the city’s new radio tower. This tower looks decidedly like the Eiffel Tower – the original Eiffel Tower had originally been constructed as a part of the 1889 Expo and was indeed use as a transmission tower for FM radio. When the permit for the tower expired in 1909, plans to dismantle the tower were abandoned owing to its valuable service, and today, the Eiffel Tower remains an iconic part of the Paris skyline. This final fireworks show in Violet Evergarden: The Movie serves as a finale of sorts for Violet’s era, bringing it to a definitive close.

  • It is no secret that I’ve enjoyed the movie thoroughly, and numerous others have similarly done so. Even Anime News Network provides a review that calls the movie “a fantastic film… [that] is an emotional experience with a deep insight into the human condition”; their reviewer only holds against the movie that it “can be hard to see the beauty on screen through all the tears”. Anime News Network may strike out with some of their reviews, but this is not one of those times, speaking to the incredible quality of writing within Violet Evergarden: The Movie. Anime News network did have another review for the film; it turns out that five and a half months earlier, another reviewer had travelled to Japan to watch the film shortly after it premièred in Japan.

  • This reviewer felt that Violet Evergarden: The Movie had a “heavy-handed approach to emotions” resulting in “the Violet and Gilbert plot [falling] flat” that ultimately resulted in “a messy experience overall”. This time around, I’m glad the reviewer left their textbook for gender roles and normative behaviours in 19th century Europe at the door to focus purely on their experiences with the movie. While the review suggests Violet Evergarden: The Movie tries a little too hard with their delivery of emotions, the reviewer also praises the technical excellence and indicates that they also had a passable experience overall. It was interesting to finally read a critical review from ANN that was actually fair and focused on their experiences over suggesting the lack of social relevance was to the work’s detriment.

  • That Violet Evergarden: The Movie was able capture the power of language and convey it even to some of the internet’s harshest critics, as well as finding ways of impressing particularly cynical viewers with its phenomenal visuals, speaks volumes to how well done the movie is. Violet Evergarden: The Movie ended up being an experience that, were the option available to me, I would consider travelling to Japan for the express purpose of watching the film. Were that to be the case, I’d probably just indicate that I was sightseeing at customs, and then take advantage of that to explore other parts of Japan (say, Yamanashi or Izu).

  • Since such a trip isn’t in the realm of possibility, at least for the present, I remain content to kick back in my favourite chair and watch the movie from the comfort of home. After the fireworks concludes in Violet Evergarden: The Movie, the story returns to Daisy, who learns that Violet ended up travelling to Ekarte Island. In retracing Violet’s steps, Daisy connects a little more with her grandmother, whose life was changed after Violet had written her those letters. The Ekarte of Daisy’s time doesn’t look like it’s changed too much from when Violet first arrived, and the people seem friendly enough.

  • As Daisy travels further into Ekarte, the islanders’ livelihoods look solid, and the people have flourished: she might be visiting during the winter on a cold, overcast, day, but the bright lighting suggests that the moment is peaceful. While Violet and Gilbert might no longer be around, they’ve left a tangible legacy on Ekarte. One imagines that the two would’ve run the school together, teaching students how to read and write to better prepare them for the demands of a changing world. While some of the students would leave the island to pursue their careers, a handful of people also chose to remain behind and keep the island’s services running.

  • This is best shown when Daisy stops by a local post office and learns that Ekarte had a very large number of letters bearing stamps from CH Postal; the officer running the post office is well aware of Violet’s legacy, indicating that after Violet moved to Ekarte, she continued to help people out in her own way. Having Daisy’s story within Violet Evergarden: The Movie thus becomes clear – the story was intended to implicitly present Violet and Gilbert’s ultimate fate. Ambiguity is used in Violet Evergarden to enhance the story’s impact –seeing Violet and Gilbert together would’ve diminished the mystery and provide a definitive ending, but showing the legacy the pair leave behind, and the fact they are remembered five decades later allows the film to really show just how much good Violet did for the world.

  • Violet had been quite confused by Yuris’ use of the thumbs-up gesture, but after understanding it to mean a sign of approval, came to appreciate that there was a plethora of ways of expressing happiness and agreement. I imagine that Violet Evergarden: The Movie meant to show that Violet’s impact on Ekarte is not trivial with this gesture, although I note that thumbs up have existed since the Roman Empire, and in the Middle Ages, was taken to mean “ready”. One might imagine that on Ekarte, the men leaving meant that the gesture was forgotten over time, and with Violet’s arrival, the notion of thumbs up returned to the island.

  • Despite the advent of the telephone and telegraph, Daisy thus realises that letters can still hold their power in telling a specific set of feelings where spoken words might be too tricky to wield. At a quiet café, she sets about writing a letter to her parents, thanking them for being there for her despite being so busy all the time. The courier delivering the letter is riding what looks like a Super Cub, although at this distance, it is quite difficult to tell. With this, the largest post I’ve written for 2021 comes to a close (final word count: 12762). It should go without saying that I enjoyed this movie enough to give it an A+, a 4.0 of 4.0 (or ten of ten), a strong recommendation (albeit one that requires a priori experience with the TV series).

  • I am glad to have had the Heritage Day long weekend to write about this movie – towards the end of the long weekend, the skies darkened and the air cooled, offering relief from the hot and muggy weather that dominated July. Besides an eleven kilometre walk under overcast, drizzling skies, I also had the chance to get further into DOOM: Eternal, and I finally set foot on Northrend in World of Warcraft. In addition, I’ve finally had the chance to hit the optometrist after two years of not going (being busy in 2019, and then last year, everything was closed) and get a haircut. A delicious homemade sirloin steak dinner rounded out the long weekend, and now, I’m ready to take on August.

  • Kyoto Animation pulls an MCU in Violet Evergarden: The Movie – after TRUE’s “Will” and “For people in the future” plays (both are excellent songs I cried to) play over the credits, there’s a post-credit scene of Violet and Gilbert sharing a pinky-promise. This simple gesture speaks volumes about their future, and after such a route to get here, the two have definitely earned their happily ever after, to the end of their days, several times over. Violet Evergarden: The Movie is an immensely satisfying conclusion to the series, and because this film is an essential experience for everyone who enjoyed Violet Evergarden, I hope that everyone who wishes to see this film will have the chance to do so.

Whole-movie reflection and closing remarks

With the grand finale to Violet Evergarden in the books, it is evident that Kyoto Animation has not only met, but surpassed expectations in their production of Violet Evergarden: The Movie. This film is a technical and thematic triumph, demonstrating that despite the tragedy that struck their studio two years earlier, the staff were able to overcome this adversity and produce a work that speaks to their values and virtues. The love and dedication Kyoto Animation’s staff demonstrate towards their craft is evident within Violet Evergarden: The Movie; every scene is crafted with an eye for detail, and the final product is a powerhouse of a performance. Kyoto Animation thus demonstrates that creativity and the human spirit can and will endure, even in the face of senseless acts of ignorance and violence. It is therefore encouraging to see Kyoto Animation continue on in their work, for their fans, themselves and those who were lost that day – Violet Evergarden: The Movie demonstrates that living well is the best revenge, and their conclusion to Violet Evergarden indicates the studio remains as resolute as ever to push the limits of creativity. As I saw it, Violet Evergarden: The Movie is the culmination of experience and devotion, combining story and character development together with superior visuals and sound to tell a compelling, emotionally-impactful tale of love, forgiveness and keeping an eye on the future. I thoroughly enjoyed Violet Evergarden: The Movie for tying in the strongest elements from the anime and bringing closure to the element that had doubtlessly lingered on viewers’ minds; being able to see Violet finally meet Gilbert brought with it a sense of catharsis and closure. Violet’s transformation from an emotionless killing machine to a sensitive and gentle individual intent on helping others while pursuing her own journey. By Violet Evergarden: The Movie, Violet’s come far enough to have her own agency, showing that she’s now ready to help herself to pursue the future she’d desired. The film is a send-off for the Violet Evergarden series as much as it is Kyoto Animation’s way of telling the world that they’re still here, and still making memorable, exceptional anime. Violet Evergarden: The Movie is a fitting conclusion that decisively wraps up the franchise, being the end point of Violet’s journey towards understanding love, and having already accomplished this with resounding success, the remaining elements within the film serve to remind viewers that Kyoto Animation’s craft is unparalleled. I therefore look forwards to seeing what lies ahead for Kyoto Animation; they’ve unequivocally shown their viewers they care very much, and this shows in all of their productions. Violet Evergarden: The Movie is no exception, and in fact, reinforces the idea that adversity is not going to stop Kyoto Animation, a studio that is always ready to go the extra mile for their fans.

The Human and Material Costs of Ambition, Dispelling Controversy in a Collaborative Discussion with Dewbond on Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

“If you don’t do something because you think you can’t do it, you’ll never be able to do anything in the future.” –Kira Yamato

Gundam SEED first crossed my path when I was a student. Back then, the local television station ran English-dubbed episodes on Friday evenings, and I caught a glimpse of the series late in the game. One of my best friends had taken an immense liking to the series and picked up all four volumes of the soundtrack some time later, sharing two iconic songs, Strike Shutsugeki and Seigi to Jiyuu, with me over MSN messenger. I subsequently longed to hear more of the soundtrack, and stumbled across Rie Tanaka’s Token of Water. With her singing voice, I was captivated. However, back then, it would’ve been very tricky to get ahold of Gundam SEED, and for the next sixteen years, what sort of series Gundam SEED was would remained unanswered. Recently, at my best friend, and Dewbond of Shallow Dives in Anime‘s recommendation, I would finally begin Gundam SEED. What followed was a fantastic journey; going in, the only knowledge I had was that internet opinions of the show were not entirely trustworthy, and so, I entered with an open mind. The road from the first episode to finish took ten months altogether; I actually started back in September of last year, but only really accelerated my experience in the past six months. With the whole of Gundam SEED now in the books, I am finally in a position to say I’m ready for a collaborative talk about Gundam SEED. I welcome back Dewbond for this discussion; with my best friend, Gundam discussions never stray far from mobile suit mechanics, their analogues in real life and video games, and how politics in Gundam always seem to predict or speak to current events with a chilling accuracy. Such topics form the bulk of discussions I am most familiar with, but this approach comes at the expense of things like characterisation and other topics. Gundam is, after all, a franchise whose largest successes come from a balance of character growth and development, exploration of a plethora of themes as varied as current events to bioethics, and thrilling, well-animated combat sequences. Having Dewbond for this collaboration thus represents a fantastic opportunity to talk about the sorts of things that I might otherwise miss while conversing with more familiar faces, and this in turn will confer, as my best friend puts it, a “most” experience.

  • The HD remaster brought new life into a series, bringing the visuals upwards to improve the experience. It’s not a complete overhaul, but having seen the side-by-side comparisons, the changes are noticeable: to put things in perspective, it’s the difference between 2007’s Halo 3 and Halo 3 from The Master Chief Collection. I’ve heard that subtle changes were also made to the order of events compared to the original, but I’ve not seen the original, and Dewbond similarly enters with the HD remaster, so for our conversation, we’ll be sticking with the HD remaster.

Firstly, Dewbond, I’d like to welcome you back to our latest collaborative project. Before we delve further into the heart and soul of things, I will note that I enjoyed every step of this journey. I’ve always been intimidated by long-running anime; at first, the prospect of watching all of Gundam SEED‘s episodes seemed daunting, and watching the series in a Netflix-style marathon was off the table. However, as I delved into the series, I did find myself watching episodes in twos and wishing I had the time to polish off one more before lunch break ended, or before I turned in for the night. The experience ended up reminding me of YU-NO, which similarly led me to watch multiple episodes in one sitting the further I got, speaking volumes to how much fun I had with Gundam SEED. In fact, I’m now wishing I bought an MG Aile Strike back in the day; that’s how enjoyable Gundam SEED is. However, that’s enough from me: Dewbond, I’d like to hear a little more from you and how you came upon Gundam SEED!

I actually have MGs of each of the Gundams in SEED, at least the first few!

Gundam SEED is a show that I watched in the tail end of the 4kids/Toonami Era, and the start of the Fansub Era. It was a show on late nights on Friday, and having been one of the people who watched Gundam Wing, I was for sure going to watch anything else with Gundam on it. To that end, SEED has been a show that’s been with me for a long time, and a personal favorite of mine. As I’ve gotten older and other Gundam series have come and gone, I’ve always retained the belief that SEED isn’t just good Gundam, it’s good anime period. Which is a surprisingly contrary opinion as most fans look down heavily on the series.

But for me, I love the characters, the story, the mechs, the themes, the music and the ease of which it brings new viewers into a classic Gundam story. Not a perfect show by any means, just look at the animation recycling, but something that I think is unfairly judged, and helped in no small part by the it’s own sequel.

That is something I didn’t know, and it’s great to meet a fellow Gunpla builder! We should swap photos and stories some time. Unfortunately for me, SEED always aired a little too late for me, so I always ended up seeing the first five minutes of episodes before turning in; my first Gundam was Gundam 00, which I’ve heard is similar to Gundam Wing in some ways. Having now seen SEED, I am aligned with the idea that it’s a fantastic series for beginners. The protagonists’ goals are clearly defined, and the scope of the ZAFT-Earth Alliance conflict is slowly expanded upon as not to overwhelm viewers, the mobile suits are similarly smaller in number early on so viewers can get accustomed to what the G-project’s implications are before more variety is introduced, and Kira himself represents a viewer who is similarly thrown into the story.

In many ways, Gundam SEED succeeds in bringing the best aspects of the Universal Century into a fresh environment – it would’ve been a bold new project during its time, and I can’t help but feel that perhaps the animation shortcuts were a result of having spent more time writing out the story; if this is the case, then the story in Gundam SEED more than offsets the fact that the Freedom’s full burst mode is identical in no fewer than six scenes. In the heat of the moment, these can be hard to notice, so in that department, I’ll also give it a pass. Finally, I’ve not seen Gundam SEED Destiny in full (save a few iconic scenes like the Strike Freedom’s launch, which is awesome no matter how the rest of Destiny is perceived), so I entered Gundam SEED with more or less a blank canvas, and will reserve all judgement for Destiny once I’ve gone through it. Further to this, I have heard the unjust hate Kira Yamato himself gets, and SEED demonstrates that almost none of these assertions hold true.

Gundam SEED was the first time a Gundam series was done on the computer instead of traditional hand-drawn animation. I’ve also heard that most of the budget went towards booking top-tier voice actors and music, though I can’t confirm that. What I can say is that the animation recycling is very noticeable, especially after a re-watch. It gets only worse in Destiny, but again we are keeping things to SEED here.

Now on to the series proper. I’ve said before in my own posts that I have little love for the UC timeline of Gundam. I’ve watched quite a bit, enjoyed some parts, but it has never pulled me in as much as the Alternate Universes have. Simply put, the UC’s vaguely defined space politics (and also telepathy) never gripped me as much as say SEED‘s story of science, or Wing‘s “philosophical” nature, or 00‘s peace through violence. I think it is important, for me at least, to point out that SEED has at least two central themes running through it. One for the overall Coordinator-Natural conflict, and one for the characters themselves. Both of these intertwine throughout the show, but I do think they are quite separate.

For the characters and most notably the lead, Kira Yamato, his story is about stepping up to the plate. By using your gifts and powers to do something, and not just run away. This is very present in the first half of the series where Kira, like Amuro Ray before him, struggles with becoming involved in a war he has no interest in. He is a kind and gentle soul who doesn’t want to kill, which is made even worse when his friend Athrun is on the other side. But things are out of his control and to protect his friends and later, the world, Kira comes to terms with realizing what he can do and what he should do.

And this theme is present in all of the characters. From Mu and Murrue on the Archangel, to Miriallia, Tolle, Sai and Kuzzy, to Cagalli and Lacus, and even to Flay. Everyone in the cast has to reckon with whether they will try to do something, or let the world go the way it is suppose to. But I’m getting ahead of myself, Zen, let’s talk about the central two characters of the story, Kira and Athrun, what do you make of them?

A long-standing question that people are asked about anime is, if the visuals weren’t exceptional but the story was, would said anime still be okay? I’ve never given my thoughts on that until now, but Gundam SEED is the perfect example of a series whose visuals might not swing with say, the likes of Gundam 00 (the mobile suit fights and combat scenes have aged very gracefully and look amazing to this day), but as far as story, emotional investment, character growth and world-building, Gundam SEED is remarkably well done: Gundam 00 was my first Gundam, and looking back, if I’d seen Gundam SEED first, I probably would’ve found it to be every bit as enjoyable then as I do now (although the “me” of a decade earlier is unlikely to have articulated his thoughts quite as coherently!).

Once we step away from the internet memes and forum discussions surrounding Kira Yamato, I found a very relatable individual who rises up to the challenge. While his Coordinator abilities certainly would’ve been an asset, it is his heart that makes all the difference. He simultaneously detests war and wishes that other options were available to sort out disagreements, but at the same time, knows that since he’s the only one capable of stepping into the cockpit and defend those around him, he does so whenever needed (however reluctantly). His first few battles open his eyes to the reality of warfare – sometimes, there really is no other way, and hesitating to pull the trigger means watching one’s friends or allies die. Indeed, the worst of it is when he is made to confront Athrun, his best friend.

Athrun might be on the other side of the war, but his convictions and beliefs are equally as strong as Kira’s. Whereas most Gundam series delineate things very clearly, having one’s best friend on the other side immediately changes things by humanising one’s opponents. It was easy to vilify Zeon, but seeing Athrun with ZAFT meant understanding him and his team, too. They’re soldiers, whose sense of duty is no less than Kira’s, and who genuinely believes that swiftly beating his foe is a route to peace. Athrun is not one of the bad guys, and in fact, one sympathises with him for the fact that he is conflicted between his duty and what and what he feels is right. Amidst the horrors and losses accrued in war, Gundam SEED brings these two to the brink, and Athrun’s fight with Kira was a milestone in the series, representing how war and its brutality strips us of what makes us human. It is a tragedy in the making, but fortunately, we have Lacus and Cagalli speak with Kira and Athrun, respectively helping them to mentally recover. By the time the two meet again, they are able to reconcile, and this moment put a particular smile on my face.

Once Kira and Athrun understand one another, as well as what they desire, Gundam SEED symbolically grants them superior mobile suits, armed with a nuclear reactor and possessing the power to finally affect positive change on the world. Had the two been given the Freedom and Justice early on, their brash impulses would’ve taken over and inevitably result in tragedy. This was a brilliant move on Gundam SEED‘s part, in using the mobile suits themselves to visually denote the characters’ state of being. The early Gundams are limited by their batteries, and constrain the pilots, who must be mindful of how they fight. The natural progression of the technology and pilot skill is synchronous with character growth – seeing Kira and Athrun improve and overcome their trials was a rewarding part of Gundam SEED. However, the two do not do this alone. Kira has the crew of the Archangel and his friends to support him early on, and eventually meets Lacus, who changes his life. Similarly, a chance encounter with Cagalli also pushes Athrun in a direction that forces him to choose what matters more to him, and her presence eventually pushes him to follow his heart. Lacus and Cagalli are similarly integral players in Gundam SEED – while they are formidable and capable individuals in their own right, their power lies in being able to inspire and support those around them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Cagalli and Lacus!

I like your view that when Kira and Athrun are given the Freedom and Justice, they are in a sense given power on par with their new resolve. I never really thought of it that way, though in hindsight, Lacus kinda does spell it out.

Kira and Athrun’s relationship is of course, the backbone of the series and it is interesting in how similar and different they are. There are both gentle souls and would avoid killing if they have too, yet while Kira fights for his friends, Athrun fights, at least the start, for a sense of duty. He feels like he has too, that it is expected of him, and that because he lost his mother in the Bloody Valentine, he should be a solider who seeks vengeance. But he isn’t really that kind of person. Even after Nicol’s death (which is changed in the HD version to make it more of a mistake, then intentional by Kira), Athrun’s rage against his friend is only for a few fleeting, but crucial days.

When he learns Kira is alive, he isn’t bent on furthering his revenge, or killing his friend. Through Lacus, he realizes he needs to figure out what he is fighting for. As she puts it to him. “Is it the medal you received, or your father’s orders?” This conversation I think helps pull Athrun out of a rage-filled revenge fest that might have driven him otherwise (as it does Yzak), and allows him and Kira to sit down and talk it out. That is a great conversation and they both reach a sense of peace that is rare both in Gundam and Anime in general.

As for Lacus and Cagalli, they are both interesting characters, and I want to talk about them both. I’ll put Cagalli aside for the moment and focus instead on Lacus. I’ll admit, that when it comes to Lacus Clyne, this is where the anime comes up short in terms of character work. There is too much “tell” and not enough “show” for Lacus, and there feels like we are just supposed to accept parts of her character with it really being shown the A to B road.

Zen, what did you think of the Pink Pop Princess?

It is probably no joke when I say that Lacus Clyne fuelled much of my interest in the series prior to my knowledge of what Gundam even was. I’d been long itching to see what role such a character would play in a series where warfare was a core concept, and where space battles were the norm. One evening, when I’d just started high school, while trying to find more music from Gundam SEED, I inadvertently downloaded Rie Tanaka’s Token of Water. At that point, I wasn’t a fan of any sort of vocal music newer than the 80s, let alone contemporary J-Pop, and Rie Tanaka’s stunning performance in that song blew me away. This one song, with Tanaka’s clear singing voice and emotional delivery, single-handedly changed my mind about songs with vocals. I would similarly fall in love with Tanaka’s other songs as Lacus Clyne (Quiet Night, and Fields of Hope come to mind), and that led me to watch Chobits. But, that’s going off topic: on Lacus herself, I entered Gundam SEED knowing she was an excellent singer and an idol of sorts with a profound dedication to peace as a result of having listened to her songs so extensively.

Gundam SEED‘s portrayal of Lacus is indeed limited – upon meeting her, viewers get the sense that her ditzy, easygoing manner is a veneer, and underneath, she has a strong sense of justice and stands strongly behind her ideals. Beyond speeches and the Clyne name, Lacus doesn’t have quite as direct a role as her popularity amongst viewers suggest. However, I believe that this element is deliberate – despite not stepping into the cockpit herself, Lacus does venture onto the battlefield and rally those around her to see what’s going on around her. Moreover, she’s the one who convinces Kira to forgive himself for what’s happened, and upon seeing Kira’s devotion to what he believes in, boldly steals the Freedom from ZAFT for him. Lacus’ actions in Gundam SEED are indirect, but they nonetheless have a large impact on how the war turns out. Princess-like figures in Gundam hold an unusual power in the series, driving pilots to do things they otherwise won’t do without a bit of encouragement, and in the most recent instalment, Hathaway’s Flash, Federation Commander Kenneth Sleg, remarks that the right women in the right place can tame even the fiercest man’s heart, suggesting that for all of their weapons and power, at the end of the day, those feelings within the heart remain more powerful still.

In Gundam SEED, Lacus is able to impact both Kira and Athrun in this way, though hearts and minds, by gently guiding them along rather than more openly propelling the to open their eyes. This is where Lacus can seem a little less prominent, especially where compared to her counterpart, Cagalli Athha, who is very much a woman of action. Where Lacus is composed and graceful, Cagalli is direct and action-oriented. She speaks her mind and is an untamed spirit, preferring to meet injustice with force compared to Lacus, who would rather sit the sides down and have them talk out their problems. With the rambunctious and daring Cagalli, whose devotion to Orb compels her to even pilot the Strike Rogue, Lacus does seem to have a lesser presence. However, I feel that Lacus is no less important, affecting the story in her own way, and before we delve deeper into Lacus’ counterpart, I would also be curious to hear more about how Lacus would’ve been able to play a larger role in SEED (and be credited accordingly).

As always Zen, you are more abstract, while I look at things like they are on the page, but it is a good counterbalance when we have conversations like this.

Like I said before, Lacus in my view, is the weakest of the four main characters, and the least developed. While Kira and Athrun both go on journeys to find their place in the war and Cagalli learns that you can’t shoot your way through everything, Lacus really doesn’t have any kind of journey. The switch from idol pop princess to the philosophical and measured leader of the Clyne Faction feels very much out of left field. There is just no connective tissue that links the two together. Was Lacus a follower of her father? We know that a little, but did she make her own speeches, did she study the issues? What is her stake in all of this? Hell the only time we see Lacus show a sliver of actual human emotion is when she runs to Kira after her father’s dead. It’s a good moment, and shows you there is a human underneath, but to be honest, we never got to see the ‘icon’ side of her that much either.

It’s not that it isn’t believable, Lacus’s role in the story is to be the guiding force for the other characters. She is in a sense, the figurehead to counter balance Rau Le Crueset and Patrick Zala. There is just no legwork done to try and connect what feels like two different version of the character. Maybe that was due to scripting reasons, critics of the series have said that the show’s tone takes a marked shift after the Kira and Athrun fight, but I can’t say for sure.

What do you think Zen, did you see any of this?

Now that you mention it, following the Kira and Athrun fight, Gundam SEED sets aside the idea of being forced to do extraordinary and difficult things (like shooting to kill even though it’s one’s best friend on the receiving end) in warfare, to the greater conflict between the Coordinators and Naturals. In retrospect, this does come across as a bit jarring, coinciding with the arrival of Muruta Azrael and the Biological CPUs. Gundam SEED suddenly feels bigger – the smaller scale and focused battles suddenly give way to a much larger war, with the racism and hatred between the Coordinators and Naturals really coming to bear. Before, we’d seen it briefly with how Naturals regard coordinators, such as through Flay and her initial treatment of Kira, but Muruta really came to embody the worst excesses of the Earth Alliance.

I would say that the shift is noticeable: even though the arrival at JOSH-A and the beginning of Operation Spit Break showed that the Earth Alliance and ZAFT both sought escalation, the series’ main conflict only comes to the table after Kira and Athrun have sorted out their own differences. The timing is quite convenient, and it does feel like ZAFT and the Earth Alliance were politely waiting for the two to reconcile before unveiling their own hostilities. If memory serves, Gundam SEED did have some directorial challenges (not as severe as Destiny’s, however!), so the tonal change might also be related to why Lacus received less development than she could’ve otherwise.

With this in mind, Gundam SEED still manages to apply the lessons learnt from earlier conflicts to guide Kira and Athrun along, so that when the world descends to extremism and madness, the pair remain resolute in their convictions. This gives a constant beacon for the two that allow them to convey Gundam SEED‘s themes. While SEED might be rough about transitioning from its character-vs-character and character-vs-self conflicts to a character-vs-society conflict in its final third, SEED continues to intrigue because of its messages. As you’ve mentioned earlier, the larger conflict in Gundam SEED deals in the ramifications of genetic engineering and pushing science faster than ethics can keep up. This has always been a fascinating topic for me (and I’m not just saying this because a part of my undergraduate education dealt with research ethics); science fiction is fond of demonstrating the risks of uncontrolled progress (“just because we can, doesn’t mean we should”), and I’d love to hear your thoughts on where Gundam SEED excels in its portrayal of dangerous knowledge.

Gundam SEED, and its outer theme (the inner theme being the characters stepping up to heroism and the right thing), has been to me, after so many re-watches: the good and bad of human ambition, which is represented in many ways by both Kira Yamato and Rau Le Creuset

For Kira, the ultimate coordinator. He represents the strive for humanity to do better. To reach for the stars, to, as Rau says “to be the strongest, to go the farthest, to climb the highest.” Man always tries to go above and beyond their limits, to break them and do them again. It’s for the greater good of humanity. Coordinators were created for that purpose, to help guide humanity into the stars and help create a more perfect earth. Kira’s abilities are the best they possibly can be, but it is only through other people, coordinators and naturals, that he is able to fully become who he is. Kira ends the story as a mature and understanding young man, aware of the evil of humanity, but always willing to see the goodness that is there.

The problem is that while humans are capable of great compassion, they are also capable of great cruelty. And that’s Rau Le Crueset.

If Kira represents the goodness of science, the Rau is the bad. He is a product of greed, ego, ruthless ambition and doing whatever it takes to get ahead. Instead of accepting your limits, that you only have one life. we see Mu La Flaga’s father try to cheat death with his money, to create a clone to replace his ‘inferior son.” Rau only sees the worst in humanity, a greedy war obsessed people who will destroy the planet as long as they can remain on top. And unlike Kira, who has friends and loved ones to guide him, Rau only has himself and he only sees what created him and the misguided hatred of the Patrick Zala and the rest of the hardliners in the PLANTs.

It is a great contrast to me brings the ‘outer theme’ of the series into focus, especially during the Mendel episodes, which remain my favorite part of the series.

This is definitely where Gundam SEED particularly excels: in order to address the larger challenge of forbidden technology, Kira must first understand what he himself is fighting for before gaining the conviction to deal with the embodiment of evil that is Rau le Creuset. Gundam villains have greatly varied, from Char Aznable himself, who initially fought for revenge against the system that wronged his family, to Ribbons Almarc, who was created to guide humanity but deviated from his aims and Full Frontal, who believed that there was a more elegant way to force human migration into space. Rau le Creuset is unique in that Gundam SEED starts him as a masked character who appears immensely devoted to ZAFT and the PLANTs. However, at Mendel, when the cards are finally laid on the table, Rau le Creuset takes on a new menace to Kira and the protagonists. The beauty in Gundam SEED comes from Kira now having the maturity to remain true to his convictions despite hearing everything Rau le Creuset had thrown at him and Mu.

The timing of this confrontation was appropriate: having now come to terms with the idea that he should do what he feels is right, Kira is able to focus even though his world has been rocked with Rau le Creuset’s revelation (and in fact, during their final fight, Kira demonstrates that Rau had been unsuccessful in changing his mind). SEED’s portrayal of how humanity deals with possibility is an optimistic one, and at the same time, suggests that, armed with the sort of compassion and empathy Kira possesses, even the fouler consequences of progress can be overcome. We see this time and time again in Gundam, where protagonists and antagonists, when possessing or given equal power, choose to wield that power differently. When that decision is to wield it selfishly, the very power they sought to control ends up consuming them. Rau le Creuset’s existence was ultimately self-destructive, and no matter how strong his desire to annihilate humanity was, his hubris would be his undoing: he is so focused on the idea that he is unequivocally right that he cannot comprehend that there could be others with a will exceeding his, to protect and defend. While Rau le Creuset might’ve had a smaller role during Gundam SEED‘s first half, his prominent role in the second makes him the perfect foil for Kira.

With this in mind, wars are fought not as single combat between titans, but a result of politicians and people in power giving orders to their subordinates as though they were pushing pawns on a chessboard. On one end of the extreme, we have Patrick Zala and his utter hatred of Naturals, believing their inferior abilities as the singular cause of his wife’s death. In the other corner is Muruta Azrael of the Blue Cosmos, who believes that the Coordinator’s enviable abilities are unfair and personally have wronged him. Where leaders convince their followers that there is an inhuman foe to be exterminated, tragedy can only result: both Patrick Zala and Muruta Azrael are completely consumed with hate, so when someone like Rau le Creuset guides them down a path of destruction, the pair are so blinded by their ideology that they would choose to fight without question. In this sense, I also see Rau le Creuset as a natural force that merely is: immensely powerful to be sure, but one that is only as potent as people allow. Dewbond, where do you stand on the PLANTs’ Patrick Zala and Earth Alliance’s Muruta Azrael?

I’ll be honest, I found both of them to be rather one-note characters to the story. Not bad, but just doing what was advertised on the box. They serve a purpose showing the two sides of the coordinator vs natural debate. Azrael representing the fear, resentment and jealously of the naturals and Zala the arrogance and superiority of the Coordinators. They more plot devices than characters, and I honestly really didn’t think much about them. Though I will say Azrael getting his comeuppance by Natarle’s sacrifice is one of the series best moments.

One of the most interesting things in the story however, is that despite the hatred shared between the naturals and coordinators. Had they let things take their course, the Naturals would have ended up winning. The show makes references to the fact that Coordinator’s are becoming increasingly sterile, and that they actually need naturals to make more of their children coordinators to help stablize the population.

I was always surprised this plot point never really got fully addressed in the story. It gives the entire world of the PLANTs a ticking clock, that despite their supposed superiority, they are a doomed race regardless. It’s almost as if they want to be ‘king of the ashes’ as Game of Thrones put it. Did you pick up any that?

There is no question about that particular moment, although Muruta’s death comes at a cost to Natarle. It’s true that Patrick Zala and Muruta Azrael were the products of decades of resentment and mistrust, which in turn speaks to the writing in Gundam SEED; enough world-building was done to create a compelling and plausible backdrop for the events which lead up to the Alliance-PLANT conflict.

Regarding the reproductive challenges Coordinators face, this is another detail that I enjoyed. Had the Coordinators been created as flawless, the Naturals would have no edge to speak of. Instead, this seemingly small flaw in their genetics ends up being how the Gordian Knot could’ve been cut were it not for resentment and contempt. It’s a very clever way of showing how the simplest solutions (here, the idea of cooperating to better the world, per George Glenn’s original ideals) are often forgotten. Further to this, the genetic limitations in Coordinators also suggest that extremism and patience don’t usually go hand-in-hand. The Earth Alliance very nearly pay the price for this at Jachin Due: had GENESIS fired a third time at Earth, it would’ve probably eliminated the whole of humanity.

These small details really speak to what makes the Cosmic Era so enjoyable: we have the central theme that guides the story’s events, but then the tangents can each lead to a rabbit hole in their own right, giving viewers something further to think about. It is therefore unsurprising that even now, nineteen years after Gundam SEED aired, there can still be meaningful and engaged discussion about the series’ messages, and what it had contributed to the Gundam franchise. (If we go down the characters route:) Of course, no theme can exist in a vacuum, and Gundam SEED‘s characters are very much at the heart of what happens. One of the advantages about Gundam SEED was that with its runtime, it was able to satisfactorily explore a lot of character dynamics. Where do we begin?

I think Gundam SEED has a good run-time. There is enough time to tell the story and I honestly don’t feel that anything was left out. Everything felt wrapped up and explored to an adequate level.

I mean, we could Monday morning quarterback the series to death. There would be somethings I would do differently, I would try to tie the second half closer to the first, I would make the sterilization of the coordinators a bigger issue. I would absolutely give Lacus more backstory and quite frankly, I’d add more boobage. But what we have ranges from good to really great.

Most Gundam Series often fall apart in the back half, as they run into ‘third disc syndrome’ where they need to tie their ending up with some philosophy, but SEED, with it’s coordinator vs natural fight, gets most of it done without it feeling shoved in.

It’s a shame more anime don’t go the 4-cour approach nowadays, when everything is based off BD sales rather than telling a well-explored story, and Gundam SEED‘s first half was solid for this reason. Now that you mention it, the dwindling Coordinator question would’ve been perfect materials in a continuation: it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Naturals to exploit this and use this to start a new war. Of course, this never materialised, which is a shame, because Gundam SEED laid down the groundwork for what could’ve been exciting directions. I don’t believe Gundam SEED Destiny can be said to achieve this, but that’s going off-mission: I mention Gundam SEED Destiny only because, having only seen glimpses of Gundam SEED Destiny on TV back when children’s channels actually aired anime, I’d always gotten the sense that the Cosmic Era had a lot of moving parts.

Gundam SEED‘s first half shows that my misconceptions were untrue; the Cosmic Era is very accessible to newcomers, which is great. Beyond Kira, we have Sai, Flay, Tolle and Miriallia, whose friendship with Kira provides him with his initial desire to fight and protect the Archangel. They’re not soldiers, but ordinary people propelled into extraordinary circumstances. Sai, Tolle and Miriallia each rise to the occasion several times over, as do Marrue, Natarle and the Archangel’s crew. Their initial mission of reaching JOSH-A at Alaska was a very self-contained adventure, giving the characters plenty of time to grow, and despite the tragedies they suffer, continue to fight for the hope of a better world and for survival.

Of the initial group that Marrue encounters at Heliopolis, I am probably not mistaken in saying that Flay is probably the most nuanced, but also the most controversial. Whereas her friends willingly volunteer to keep one another safe and out of harm’s way, Flay herself is reluctant to fight and demonstrates a degree of prejudice towards Coordinators. However, if memory serves, Dewbond, you’ve previously noted that Flay’s portrayal often is not given proper credit: after all, Flay represents the average individual unaccustomed to war and its demands. Beyond the controversies and angry internet discussions, Flay is an integral part of Gundam SEED in many ways. I’d like to hear a little more on her and how her actions are central towards Gundam SEED‘s progression!

Ah yes Flay. If people have followed my look at the series from earlier this year, or my character dive on her. They’ll know that I came out of the series with a newfound appreciation for the character. Where once I sort of dismissed Flay as a ‘nothing character’, someone who was there to cause drama, going back to the series I found that Flay is both a damn compelling character, and a key aspect of the plot.

I won’t re-hash what I said in my blog post (pluggity, plug), but I will say that Flay Allster serves as a mirror to most of the character themes of the story. While Gundam SEED is about the crew of the Archangel, especially Kira and his friends, stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing, Flay is the opposite. She is weak, cowardly, and has absolutely no place in the situation she is. She is shunted from one ship to another, never having stability or purpose. She seeks comfort in Kira’s arms, but then runs right back to Sai when he vanishes. While Miriallia, in a moment of weakness, attempts to kill Dearka, she pulls back, while Flay goes for the gun. She is weak willed, cowardly and often bitterly racist person. Yet it all works in the series.

Because the truth is, not everyone is able to step up to the plate. Not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get it together. Just as their are strong people, there are weak people. Flay is one of those weak people. A woman in a situation she should never be in, and who doesn’t have the personality or mental fortitude to adjust. It is what makes her death at the end so tragic, because she is never able to find a true level of peace. And in a series where nukes end up flying, and a giant space laser is wiping out fleets. That one death seems to be the most tragic of them all.

In the end, all of the death and wanton destruction seen in Gundam SEED is a tragedy, a cost of politicians treating soldiers as little more than pawns on a chessboard. I’d heard of the controversy surrounding Flay, and the combination of your thoughts and being able to see everything for myself puts things in perspective. I could never hate her after all she’s gone through, and especially towards the end, being forced to accompany Rau le Creuset and hear his visions for the world might’ve changed her. Lives are cut short all the time by laser fire, both intended and unintended, in Gundam SEED; this is a series that handles death in a very mature, plausible manner.

Even among the soldiers, death isn’t something to take lightly; Gundam SEED took the time to develop characters on all sides of the conflict. In doing so, viewers come to care for Athrun and his team, as well. By giving the characters down time after their initial operations of the war, we’re reminded that each of Athrun, Dearka, Nicol and even Yzak are humans first, and soldiers second. Consequently, when Nicol dies in the fight with Kira, it mattered little that he was ZAFT and part of the team tasked with destroying the Archangel: we’d come to hope that he might get out of this war alive and survive to play the piano for those around him again. Even with the biological CPUs, once it became clear they were modified into weapons and made to suffer for some fanatical cause, it felt like for Shani, Orga and Clotho, death was a release from their suffering. This aspect was a masterful way to help remind viewers of the idea that behind every gunsight is a human being, and having explored it with you further, this part of Gundam SEED now stands out as being particularly noteworthy.

I have to agree, and while I don’t think SEED goes too deep into the ‘war is hell’ vibe that other shows, including Gundam series have done. It does a fine job when it wants to.

Before we wrap up, I do want speak about Cagalli, and I also think it would be remiss to not talk about the mobile suits of the series, as well as the music. Where do you want to start first Zen?

It makes the most sense to begin with Cagalli! She’s the second of the Gundam SEED princesses, and unlike the refined, elegant and philosophical Lacus, Cagalli is brash, impulsive and driven by a desire to do good on the front lines. She’s a fighter, and very much an interesting foil to Lacus for this reason. However, while her heart is always in the right place, her hot head often threatens what she stands for, too. Her first real meeting with Kira in the African desert sets her on a path of growth – Cagalli begins to realise that it is not prudent to rush in to everything with fists raised and guns blazing.

Things only continue to get more interesting from here after Cagalli meets Athrun after they shoot one another down, and as their paths become increasingly entwined, Cagalli, Athrun and Kira continue to have a considerable impact on one another. Having said all of this, I’d like to hear your impressions of Cagalli, as well, Dewbond!

Cagalli was the character I hated the most in SEED for a long time. For me, she was the worst example of the ‘rebel girl’ trope. The woman who has to be 110% more committed to the cause to make up for the perceived deficit of being a woman. She’s never been a character who stuck well with me, being abrasive, angry, confrontational and trying to prove something. Gundam has no shortage of these bratty characters, and Cagalli fit into that mold well.

However, with this re-watch, I paid a bit more attention to Cagalli this time, and I found that, while she’s my least favorite of the four leads, she isn’t as bad as I thought. Seeing the story with new eyes, I found Cagalli to be all those things, but also someone who has a drive and zeal that helps fill in the gaps of the other character. She may be blunt, but there is a layer of kindness and compassion that can only come from someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. Her relationship with Kira, her twin brother is a good back and forth. While Kira hesitates, Cagalli is a woman of action. Both of them have moments when they are right, and both when they are wrong.

Where Kira struggles to find his place in the war, Cagalli throws herself into it, often to the detriment of the bigger picture and her own safety. She has an emotional side to her that clashes with Athrun’s failed attempt to ‘go cold’ against Kira. It is only during the last half, after her father gave her a talking to, that Cagalli realizes that blindly throwing yourself into the fight doesn’t help anyone and that she’s only doing it for her own self-satisfaction.

So I think I liked Cagalli a bit more this time around. What did you think of her Zen?

Personally, I rather liked Cagalli precisely because she was so blunt and short-sighted early on – perhaps your dislike of her speaks to the fact that Gundam SEED did a solid job of presenting just how immature she’d been at the series’ beginning. In a way, her idealism and belief that being actively involved was the only way to change the world, was something that was exaggerated so we viewers could see how events later on, from meeting Kira and watching him fight, to that fateful encounter with Athrun, culminate in her finally realising that fighting without understanding and unnecessarily putting oneself in danger isn’t the way to go.

This character growth is what makes Cagalli an interesting character; like Kira and Athrun, being involved with the conflict itself teaches them the significance of patience and thinking things through before acting, in turn giving them the conviction needed to stand against large-scale horrors, extremism and foes wielding an inhumane amount of power. I’m always fond of watching characters grow, especially if unlikeable characters become at least those we can sympathise with later on, and signifying this, Cagalli ends up piloting the Strike Rogue, a Gundam – she’s become mature enough to handle the responsibility of operating the sort of power Kira and Athrun wielded when Gundam SEED first began.

This is a fantastic segue into the mobile suits of Gundam SEED. To be honest, this aspect could be an entire thesis on its own, because Gundam SEED‘s mobile suits are awesome, so Dewbond, I’ll make a sincere effort to not to overdo things when it comes to discussing the mobile suits and eponymous Gundams!

I’ve always been a fan of the ‘less is more’ type of design when it comes to Gundam, and SEED mostly does that. The Strike is probably one of my most favorite suits, because even with it’s striker packs it wasn’t overdone. That suit is just damn fucking cool. A great example of re-imagining the iconic RX-78 Gundam, but taking it in a new direction.

The Freedom and Justice I was also a big fan of. Again, the Freedom is a great example of a suit having a bunch of cool weapons, but not overwhelming in terms of design. It’s not dressed to the nines like the Unicorn ends up becoming, or with its weapons stuck on the shoulder like the 00 Quan-T or Nu-Gundam. It’s a damn good design, and the same can be said for the Justice. I love the backpack, and I wish they’d have shown more scene of Athrun riding it.


For me, the Strike acts as the perfect first Gundam for Kira – he begins Gundam SEED a civilian, and mirroring his inexperience and naïveté, the Strike by design holds him back and forces him to think tactically. The Strike’s battery is reduced wherever the Phase Shift armour sustains a blow, and similarly, every shot Kira fires consumes limited battery power. In order to protect his allies, Kira must learn to make the most of his mobile suit. The fact that the Strike can switch so readily between different configurations also shows that Gundams can be built for a range of roles.

Indeed, when one looks at the Strike, its design philosophy goes into how the Earth Alliance and ZAFT subsequently design their mass production and special purpose mobile suits. Prior to acquiring the Duel, Buster, Blitz and Aegis, ZAFT’s GINN mobile suits were inspired by the Zaku line, being basic but reliable units that was far more powerful than the Möbius fighter craft. Subsequently, the data the Earth Alliance acquires allows them to build the Strike Dagger, a cut-down Strike that mirrors real-world design philosophies that take place whenever a given product is marked for mass production. Seeing the natural progression of mobile suits among both ZAFT and the Earth Alliance in the aftermath of the information returned from the G-Weapon project was a superb detail that again, accentuates the attention to detail in the series.

By the time Freedom and Justice arrive, mobile suit design has really accelerated, and ZAFT again takes the lead in technology when they successfully incorporate the N-Jammer Cancellers into these machines. From a design perspective, both Freedom and Justice look amazing. The Freedom’s biggest strength is that it works out of the box, and in a word, is the complete package, capable of single-handedly turning the tide of a battle without being overpowered, unlike the 00 Gundam, which spent half the season hampered by the fact that it couldn’t operate at full power. While there is considerable talk of how the Freedom is plot armour, when one considers that the Freedom’s Full Burst mode only allows for Kira to hit five independent targets at a time, the Freedom is actually well-balanced and an extension of Kira’s preference to disarm rather than kill. Compared to the likes of the 00 Qan[T] or RX-0 line, the Freedom is a thoughtful machine (the 00 Qan[T] is capable of teleporting at will, and the psycho-frame on the RX-0 series allows these mobile suits to turn back time or accelerate faster than the speed of light, which is ludicrous).

The Justice itself has a little less notoriety compared to the Freedom, and its design is strikingly similar to the Aegis. In Gundam SEED, I was initially a little less awed by its performance in battle – while similarly has unlimited operational time like the Freedom, it appears the Justice’s greatest strength is its mobility, and its loadout is correspondingly smaller. However, in retrospect, this makes sense: the reduced firepower and Fatum-00 backpack means Athrun is well-suited to assist his allies. He’d been trained as combat pilot and follows orders even if it meant casualties against his liking, so giving Athrun a high-speed mobile suit meant to support those around him allows him to follow his heart and still make meaningful contributions without causing casualties. Indeed, the Justice’s final act in destroying GENESIS was an artfully-done decision.

Freedom and Justice, the two most iconic Gundams in Gundam SEED‘s second half, also form the name for one of my all-time favourite songs on the soundtrack. It’s a tense, urgent sounding piece of incidental music that transitions into a haunting choral performance and speaks to feelings of resolute determination to do what’s right. When my best friend introduced me to that song sixteen years earlier, he mentioned it was for times when I needed to stay focused and not allow setbacks to keep me from doing my best. At the time, I’d been vying for spot of best student in my middle school (I was a bit of a trophy hunter when I was a student, and liked doing well in classes to collect shiny awards for the purpose of having shiny stuff). Said best friend also sent me Strike Shutsugeki, a heroic sounding track that plays whenever a Gundam takes off, ready for battle – this song, I was told, was something I should save for my moment of triumph. The soundtrack in Gundam SEED is, bluntly, amazing, and Toshihiko Sahashi did an incredible job of capturing everything from combat scores, to more melancholy and reflective pieces that speak to the sorrows of warfare. What do you think of the soundtracks in Gundam SEED, Dewbond?

I always love how you go way too deep into the weeds with things like this, while my response is always “yeah, they look pretty cool, I like the one who shoots the lasers from its wings”

Anyway, I do really like how SEED was able to look at what was done before and adapt it for this new re-telling. Like you said the GINN and such are similar, but not a copy/paste job of the ZAKU (that’s for the sequel). It shows a respect for the series that came before, but enough creatively to take things in a new direction. I forgot to mention that I was a big fan of the Buster and Duel as well, as they continued that ‘less is more’ design. The Blitz and Aegis meanwhile never sat well with me. Too busy, too much shit going on, like they were trying to hard. The same for the EA Gundams, which the exception of the Calamity. That was a cool suit.

Going to your point about the music. The tunes of Gundam SEED is where even the most vocal hater of the series has to give it points. This is a top shelf soundtrack, and absolutely where the most money was put into. Each of the opening themes was solid, with great visuals (and boobs). ‘Moment’ remains a great duet that I have yet to see repeated in anime, Believe is a great action packed song, and Invoke by TM Revolution can sit beside Gundam greats like ‘Beyond the Time’ ‘Daybreak’s Bell’ and ‘Just Communication’. The OST was great as well, especially during the final fight between Kira and Rau, or when Cagalli escapes to space.

Lacus’s singing was great as well, and I know that production community worked hard to secure a top-tier singing voice for those moments. Lacus has a beautiful voice, and I like how they were able to incorporate it into the series when they could. I have no doubt that with the movie finally coming, we’ll be able to see more of that.

Gundam SEED (and just about any series with a large mechanical piece) causes me to go a little crazy! I’ll dial it back some, but that there’s so much to go for in Gundam SEED really speaks to my enjoyment of all the different parts. The opening and ending songs were fun, TM Revolution’s Meteor is an iconic piece, and Rie Tanaka’s performance of Lacus’ songs were sublime (Token of Water was the one song that got me into appreciating vocal music and J-Pop!). I think Gundam SEED did a nice balance with Lacus: while she’s a singer, her role doesn’t overshadow the pilots and soldiers. The two songs we do get to hear (Quiet Night and Token of Water) present a very wistful and contemplative mood amidst all of the fighting and chaos, a beacon of light in the darkness, as it were. It is fair to say that my original interest in Gundam SEED came from its soundtrack, from the incidental pieces and openings, to the insets and endings!

Similarly to you, Dewbond, I’m quite excited to see what the Gundam SEED Movie entails. If I’m not mistaken, fans have been waiting for fifteen years for this announcement. That’s quite a bit of anticipation, so I hope that what results from this production, fans will be given a phenomenal experience. I personally have no idea of what to expect, but I suppose that’s also a large part of the fun.

The Gundam SEED movie is going to be very interesting to see, part that it has been so long since it was first revealed, and also because the series is well into its second decade. I hope it is good, but I mean, we can only go up after SEED Destiny.

With that, I think we’ve covered the gambit when it comes to this series. This has been a very interesting conversation Zen, and probably the first where you and I both come to with vastly different ideas. We both looked at this series very differently, but those different views make for good conversation!

Overall though, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is a great mecha show and a great Gundam series. Full stop. I’ve always loved it each time I’ve watched it, and despite some fobiles, it remains a very well done and easy understand Gundam show that newbies can get into. Great characters, fantastic music and solid designs. Like Sword Art Online, it is an anime that people love to hate, but I think those haters have it wrong, and they are missing out on what is a damn fine show.

  • Gundam SEED is indeed a damn fine show, and while Dewbond and I found different facets of Gundam SEED to be particularly noteworthy, the outcome is obvious: the reputation that the Cosmic Era has picked up is not at all deserved, contrary to what the most vocal internet discussions (circa 2003-2004) have said, Gundam SEED is well worth one’s while, and especially with the upcoming film, it could be a good idea to re-watch the series and recall where the Cosmic Era had started. In the meantime, this wraps up the latest collaboration between Dewbond and myself. Two thoughts remain from me: first, I wonder what series might make its way to our table next. Dewbond has suggested that Fate/ZERO (or perhaps Sword Art Online‘s Færie Dance arc) could be a possibility, so time will tell where we head next. The second is that folks interested in doing a collaboration can always get in touch; it’s always nice to get a different set of eyes on things, after all!

Gundam SEED has proven that internet reputation is by no means an accurate or fair assessment of a given anime: looking past the stock footage and whatever other criticisms this amassed back in the day, it becomes clear that Gundam SEED is indeed a fine addition to the franchise, well-suited for folks getting into things for the first time. With due respect, the inter-fandom rivalry has never particularly made much sense: each universe has its own strong points and charms, and speaking as someone who entered Gundam through the Anno Domini universe, I see the Universal Century and Cosmic Era as each possessing something that make them distinct and meaningful. With this in mind, there are precious few people around in the present day to talk about Gundam SEED, owing to the fact that Gundam SEED did begin airing back in 2002. Consequently, where an opportunity to speak with fellow Gundam SEED fans like Dewbond presents itelf, I am inclined to seize such a chance, and our conversation finds that despite its age and the fact it was likely discussed to death back in 2003, there are always new surprises around the corner. Gundam SEED received a remaster nine years after its original airing, dramatically improving the visual quality, and ten years after the HD remaster, it turns out there is going to be more to the Cosmic Era in the form a new model kit, manga and film. I am, of course, a little behind on the times, and while Gundam SEED is under my belt, I’ve yet to see Gundam SEED Destiny in full. I am aware that the controversy surrounding Gundam SEED is legendary, and even the Gundam fans around me indicate that Gundam SEED Destiny is a bit of a special case. However, it does feel appropriate to continue on with things, in the event that the film does reference events from Gundam SEED Destiny. My decision means I’ve got another fifty episodes ahead of me, but with the timelines anime films follow, I suppose that even if I do take another six to eight months to roll through Gundam SEED Destiny, I’ll finish it with time to spare. In the meantime, both Dewbond and myself have previously written about Gundam SEED, and folks looking for my mecha-and-politics focused threads or Dewbond’s big picture theme and character analysis will find them here for perusing.

Dewbond’s Gundam SEED Posts

Infinite Zenith’s Gundam SEED Posts

Higurashi GOU: Whole-Series Review and Reflection, A Return to Hinamizawa

“This is how things are now! You and me, trapped in this moment, endlessly.”
“Then you will spend eternity dying!”

– Doctor Strange and Dormammu, Doctor Strange

Keiichi Maebara moves to a remote mountain village in 1983 and discovers that this seemingly sleepy village conceals a dark secret that has consistently claimed the life of one individual and resulted in the disappearance of another every year during the town’s Cotton-Drifting Festival. At least, this is what Higurashi was originally about: 2020’s Higurashi GOU was quite unexpected and surprising given that KAI had satisfactorily answered all of the questions that Higurashi had raised. Thus, when GOU began airing, the first half of the season felt to be an incomplete retreading of the original Higurashi, as different arcs saw Keiichi and Mion succumb to madness. However, as the story progresses, Rika begins to realise that something is off: having broken the cursed cycle, she finds herself suffering tragedies anew. Rike learns that the culprit is none other than Satoko; after defeating the Yamainu and revealing there never was Oyashiro-sama’s curse, she decides to pursue a future at St. Lucia’s, a prestigious academy for young women. It turns out that Satoko had joined Rika on her journey, but, lacking the academics and social skills to fit in, became increasingly withdrawn. When Keiichi, Rena and Mion invite her and Rika back to Hinamizawa, Satoko begins to long for the days of old and decides to take a walk around, eventually reaching the old storehouse holding the statue of Oyashiro-sama. When she comes into contact with a piece of the statue, she is transported into a void and comes face-to-face with the entity that consents to be known as Eua. Here, Satoko gains the same power Rika has, and vows to do whatever it takes to stop Rika from leaving Hinamizawa, even if it means endlessly killing her best friend to utterly smash her resilence. Satoko’s constant resetting of time begins to be felt across different realities: her uncle, Teppei, begins to realise the horrors he subjected Satoko to and makes amends, while Miyo follows a feeling in her heart and learns her adoptive grandfather had intended her to live a happy life. Miyo decides to stand down from her research, but Satoko capitalises on the moment and takes possession of a vial of agent H-173, promising Eua that Hinamizawa’s fate is now hers to control. From shaky beginnings to a shocking middle and gripping ending, GOU thus sets the stage for the upcoming SOTSU by posing the questions that had allowed Higurashi to be so successful. Despite treading on familiar ground, GOU thus manages to reignite interest in Higurashi and creates a compelling story to follow.

Despite being a question arc, in which the story is only partially told from several viewpoints to pique the viewer’s curiosity and set the table for the big reveal, GOU nonetheless establishes that Higurashi has returned to demonstrate that the notion of a happy ending is only thus from a certain point of view. The outcome of KAI had decisively finished off Higurashi and ostensibly eliminated any chance that evil could rise where it was once buried, but in GOU, this is precisely what happens anyways. In fact, GOU ends up being even more brutal than its predecessor: the instrument of Rika’s suffering is none other than Satoko, and during a particularly horrific episode where Satoko had sawn Rika in half with the ritual hoe, it becomes clear that KAI left Satoko’s wishes unattended; it was Rika who’d defeated her fate to create a path for her future, and nowhere else in GOU was Satoko’s longing more pronounced. While seemingly gratuitous and unnecessary, the reason for such an outcome would later be explored as Satoko found herself increasingly shut out from Rika’s world after the pair had gained admittance to St. Lucia. Melancholy turns to pure hatred, speaking yet again to the horrors that lay dormant. Higurashi had nailed this particular concept, only to demonstrate that despair can be beaten back through hope in KAI. However, with Satoko seemingly holding all of the cards as we leave GOU, it becomes clear that the renewed Higurashi has something else in mind for viewers. GOU had appeared to suggest that an unwillingness to change is an instrument of suffering, causing people to cling to the past, but so far, GOU depicts Satoko as having no remorse, and understanding Rika’s determination only increases her own twisted desire to destroy Rika utterly. The extreme lengths Satoko has gone to in doing a deal with the devil, and the disregard for those around her so long as she achieves her ends, has not been met with a response in equal and opposite manner just yet, but such a path can only be self-destructive: I therefore expect that the upcoming SOTSU will aim to demonstrate the cost of reactionary behaviours, and potentially, how even the foulest and despairing minds can yet be redeemed.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It feels a little strange to be back in Hinamizawa again after six years: as my story goes, I had a friend who had been quite interested to hear my thoughts about it, and so, I kicked off the series in the knowledge that I had also been watching GochiUsa, as well as working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain on the side. While graphic violence has never been something that I do well with, especially in anime, it turns out that Higurashi‘s art style wasn’t of the disturbing sort. So, I shot through the series, found it superbly enjoyable, but also found myself at a loss for words: back in those days, I wasn’t too effective with condensing out an entire series’ worth of thoughts into a single post.

  • Thus, the first I’d ever talked about Higurashi here was with Dewbond, a peer blogger with a keen eye for character dynamics and the importance of certain events on a story’s overall messages. Higurashi had left a trail of questions in its wake, but by the second season, KAI, it became clear that Higurashi had been stressing the importance of winning hearts and mind; the tragedies of Hinamizawa are averted when characters learn to forgive past evils and accept one another, as well as demonstrating the patience to hear even one’s foes out in conversation.

  • As Dewbond and I mentioned in our collaborations, the Black Ops approach would probably result in total devastation: the reason there is such a disparity between Call of Duty Black Ops and Higurashi, despite both sharing in common ordinary men and women trying to do good in a world entangled in ancient conspiracies and shadowy actors manipulating things from behind the scenes is simply because of their respective genres. Higurashi is about speaking to players, of making good decisions in the shoes of an ordinary person whose small actions can have a massive difference, and Black Ops is a first-person shooter whose entertainment value comes precisely from blowing stuff up.

  • GOU‘s portrayal of Hinamizawa brings the place to life with updated visuals. Modelled after Gifu’s Shirakawa, this remote mountain village has a population of two thousand and is host to a unique set of beliefs, with Oyashiro-sama’s curse being the chief of them. With mysterious disappearances and unexplained murders darkening the area, the village was host to the dam conflict, during which villagers succeeded in convincing the government to withdraw approval to construct a hydroelectric dam in the area.

  • Classic elements like outrageous club activities, Rika’s nipaa and mii, and Satoko’s trademark ojou-sama laugh all return in GOU: when the series began, it initially felt like a reboot of the original Higurashi and GOU. Familiar elements are presented, along with a lingering sense of mystery and multiple, distinct timelines that sees characters make mistakes and end up committing murder or walking towards their own destruction. However, GOU also had characters demonstrate a vague awareness of the past, as well, akin to what had happened in KAI.

  • One of the most memorable events in Higurashi and KAI was when Keiichi gives a doll he’d won at games day to Mion rather than Rena. Originally, this was intended to signify that Keiichi does see Mion as a girl and staves off the outcome where her twin, Shion, succumbs to Hinamizawa Syndrome. A recurring theme in KAI was how small differences in the choices people make can have a knock-on effect on things, and moreover, that if given the choice, people generally would choose to pursue acts that they know will help those around them.

  • Angel Mort makes a return in GOU: Keiichi initially believes Mion to be working here, but it turns out to be her twin, Shion. This initially created no shortage of confusion in me during the original series; the pair are tricky to differentiate from one another on the virtue of appearances alone, and instead, it is subtle differences in their personalities that allow one to tell Mion and Shion apart. Mion, despite her tough-talking exterior, is shy and girly at heart, while Shion’s girly personality is a façade masking her violent and unstable traits.

  • Detective Kuraudo Ōishi is seen throughout Higurashi, and while he initially appears to be a hostile member of the law enforcement, it turns out his interest in Hinamizawa stems from the death of a friend here and is search for justice. His direct and forward methods leave Hinamizawa’s residents thinking poorly of him, and his words can often imply that he’s no friend of Keiichi’s, but in most arcs, Ōishi is an ally, looking out for the characters and helping them to achieve their goals.

  • The frequent resets in GOU betrayed nothing about where the series was headed, but once the series ventures into Satoko’s arc, it becomes clear that something’s off: in KAI, Keiichi leads a titanic effort to get the local government to recognise that Satoko has trouble at home with her uncle, Teppei, and in the end, manage to free Satoko from his clutches. GOU revisits this route in vivid detail, showing that Keiichi takes a very similar route that had originally worked well: he even manages to convince Shion to stand down, feeling that if they were to off him, something worse might happen.

  • Convincing child services to support Satoko was an integral part of KAI to show how Keiichi could affect positive change, but in GOU, Satoko’s older brother, Satoshi, is completely absent from the proceedings. Despite doing his best to protect Satoko, Satoshi ended up succumbing to Hinamizawa Syndrome and is currently held at the Irie Clinic, with doctor Kyosuke Irie working tirelessly to cure him and redeem himself from his past misdeeds. Like Satoshi, Kyosuke only shows up briefly in GOU, and only serves to encourage Keiichi on his quest to free Satoko of Teppei’s abuse.

  • Despite the success Keiichi has in liberating Satoko from Teppei, GOU ultimately took an unexpected turn when Teppei ambushes Keiichi after he walks Satoko home. While Keiichi is initially caught unawares, he manages to fend off Teppei and kills him, but passes out in the process. Later, it turns out that Ōishi himself succumbed to Hinamizawa syndrome and opened fire on the festival-goers with his service revolver, killing Rika, Satoko, Mion and Shion. This handily undoes everything that was accomplished in KAI and is the turning point in GOU where it becomes clear that there is something affecting the timeline, forcing Rika to suffer anew.

  • Whereas GOU had not particularly impressed up until this point, the series decides to then take viewers for a shock-filled ride. Many began wondering what GOU had intended to accomplish with this, as the sudden increase in violence wouldn’t likely be enough to compel one to approach the series with renewed interest when the series’ direction had not appeared clear. This is one of the reasons why I elected not to write about the series while it was airing – Higurashi is a series that is always filled with surprises, and my impressions at any given moment may not be a fair assessment of things, especially when the context isn’t known yet.

  • As it was, I sat through a full episode of Rika getting killed off in gruesome ways, some of which have been described by others as “torture porn”. As Rika’s resolve weakens, she decides that if she can’t get to a desirable ending in five attempts, she’ll use the shard of an ancient sword to take her own life. Hanyū, who’d been assisting Rika all this time, is beginning to fade, and without her support, Rika begins to wonder if there is anything left in her world worth fighting for.

  • Most infamous of all was when Rika reawakens in a world where Satoko is the one to end up killing Rika: after using a ceremonial implement to cut Rika in half, Satoko administers a high dosage of painkillers and explains to Rika that her actions led to this moment. Without any context, only questions linger: what led up to such a moment, and what could drive Satoko to do this? As painful as it was to continue watching, the enormity of what happens here ultimately has an important role in setting up the remainder of GOU: it is in the series final acts that things really begin to take on an interesting turn.

  • It therefore seems especially jarring to switch over to a scene of ordinary summer fun in the rivers of Hinamizawa moments later; Rika’s curse means she is doomed to repeat suffering eternally, and the Rika here seems utterly defeated, playing the part of a beaten individual resigned to the sanctuary of idle days in a remote mountain town. This is a dramatic departure from the Rika we’d previously known, whose resolve had been so great she was willing to spend the equivalent of centuries living those same weeks over and over again in the hope for a better future.

  • There’s an uneasy feeling as GOU enters its endgame – while tragedies are seemingly averted, viewers are surprised again when Satoko draws a sidearm on Rika. While Rika retains her memories of her previous loops, that Satoko appears to have knowledge of what’s happening becomes a bit of a surprise. This outcome sets in motion the final story of GOU, and it is a thrilling one once the pieces fall into place.

  • GOU thus sends viewers back to the point where Miyo is apprehended once more, and this time, it really does seem like Rika is able to continue on and embrace the future she had been cruelly denied earlier. KAI had ended here on the note that Rika was free to follow whatever her aspirations had been, so this would mark the first time I’ve seen life in Hinamizawa after 1983.

  • Rika and Satoko thus enter middle school in 1984, a year when the Soviet Union and her allies boycotted the 1984 Summer Games. While Satoko is content to live life out as she and the others had previously, Rika begins turning her attention towards gaining admittance at St. Lucia, a school that makes ladies out of young woman. Unable to bear the thought of being separated from Rika, Sotoko reluctantly follows suit even as Keiichi and Rena continue to run the club that Mion left behind.

  • After a gruelling effort, Satoko manages to pass the entrance exams, but rapidly finds herself falling behind in academics, as well as feeling the culture at St. Lucia’s to be too formal and stuffy for her liking. Despite doing her best, Satoko feels as though Rika is leaving her behind in the past, and resentment grows. The gap between Satoko and Rika’s experiences at St. Lucia is indicative of what the difference between people are when they do something by choice, and those who do something because they have no choice.

  • Had Satoko chosen to accept that Rika and her futures diverged, the events of GOU would not occur, and that would correspondingly mean there’d be no SOTSU, either; in real life, people often have guidance as to how they should best handle challenges and difficult decisions such as these, but where common sense and reason may have an influence in reality, stories are written to accommodate the story, and as such, characters act in a way that drives the narrative forwards. Satoko’s choice is therefore logical in the context of Higurashi even if it may seem foolish in reality.

  • Satoko’s story really takes off after she and Rika receive an invitation to hang with the old crew in Hinamizawa for old time’s sake, their afternoon is spent retreading old club traditions with Mion, Keiichi and Rena, who are now post secondary students. While times have changed quite a bit, everyone’s still more or less who they were before they’d left, creating an old sense of nostalgia reminiscent whenever I gather with old friends for raclette or other events. By this point in time, Mion’s obtained her operator’s license and is able to transport everyone around without trouble.

  • Despite the time that’s passed, some things have evidently not changed: beyond Mion’s love for classic club activities, Rena retains her love for all things kawai and practically bulldozes Keiichi and Satoko into the ground in her haste to hug her. With the catching up over on short order, it’s back to classic club activities again with the same familiar rules and penalties. These moments evoke memories in Satoko and make her yearn for the world to be perpetually trapped in the June of 1983, where all seemed possible. However, resisting change is something that brings upon suffering to varying extents; Satoko’s wish of keeping things as they were have a significant impact on the remainder of GOU.

  • While I started my Higurashi journey with a fondness for Rena (bonus points for the fact that Mai Nakahara also voices CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa), time has led me to appreciate Mion greatly: despite her boisterous nature and a love of creative punishments, Mion is also fiercely loyal to those around her. With an indefatigable resolve and spirit, Mion is the only member of the main group to never fire a shot in anger. In short, she acts as a constant throughout Higurashi, being the energetic club president leader who looks out for her friends while at the same time, embodying the themes that Higurashi strives to convey.

  • After the day’s activities end, Mion and the others end up swinging by Angel Mort for dinner, but Satoko uncharacteristically declines, wishing to tread along familiar paths in Hinamizawa. She discovers that the village itself is changing when seeing that Rika’s old house has collapsed from snow load, and when following an instinctive feeling to return to the temple storehouse housing Oyashiro-sama’s statue, Satoko suddenly finds herself transported into a void known as the Sea of Fragments. Here, an enigmatic being greets her and grants her the power to live in loops, feeling Satoko to be an interesting character. She later accepts the name Eua and walks Satoko through the details, helping viewers to fill in gaps in the process.

  • Thus, Satoko’s effort to stave off the future where Rika leaves for St. Lucia begins. However, to her frustration, nothing works on Rika: Eua explains that Rika was no stranger to pain, and as such, her determination to escape tragedy had resulted in the fabric of reality reflecting this. It would thus be very difficult for Satoko to find the outcome that she desires: despite imbibing the memories that Rika retained, Satoko is unsuccessful in all of her attempts and winds up committing suicide to gain a fresh start on multiple occasions.

  • Satoko’s frustration becomes increasingly apparent with each failed attempt, and one can quickly see how GOU‘s most horrific moment came to fruition: on one of the particularly bad timelines, Satoko’s emotions get the better of her, and she presumably cuts Rika in half before committing suicide again. GOU‘s final act speaks to the dangers of clinging to the past, and while a traditional story would go the route of telling how this negatively impacts the individual, Higurashi boldly chooses to show how much damage can occur when misguided individuals are given the power to affect their fate, but understand little of what this power actually entails.

  • Indeed, while Satoko herself certainly hasn’t been made to learn any lessons yet from her actions, her constant resets are beginning to affect the world, to the point where other individuals are beginning to recall memories from alternate timelines. Much as a database lacking normalisation would have many redundant entries, which slows down search and insert operations, the accumulated memories (i.e. data) Satoko’s created appears to be breeding instability in her timeline. As of GOU, no ill effects are noticed yet, but if other works of fiction (including the new MCU mini-series, Loki) are anything to go by, the increasing instability will demand correction in the form of what could be a violent return to equilibrium: for one, I doubt Eua can be bargained with.

  • One of the things GOU absolutely succeeded with was showing how even the most irredeemable individuals, if given a second chance, might be able to accept their mistakes and make amends. Teppei had been presented as a wholly detestable character, but towards the end of GOU, after recalling his own sufferings and the pain he’s caused, he attempts to reconcile with Satoko, who is shocked that such a thing could happen. In any other timeline, this would be a pivotal moment that accentuates Higurashi‘s themes, but Satoko seems to be intent on turning even this to her advantage; in a manner of speaking, Satoko has become a greater evil than Teppei and even the Hinamizawa Syndrome itself.

  • If I had to guess, Eua would probably be most similar to Death Note‘s Ryuk, who dropped his Death Note in the human world out of boredom. Eua similarly has no concern for Satoko’s well-being and only facilitates her actions because she deems them interesting. Assuming this to be the case, Satoko’s fate would be doomed to be similar to that of Light’s, and it would take a titanic effort from Rika and the others to bring Satoko back from the precipice. This is merely speculation from my end for the present: with SOTSU only a few weeks away, I’m curious to see where things will head. Having said this, Higurashi‘s always been an unpredictable series, and as such, I am not particularly invested in any of my own personal theories: as long as things are compelling, I’ll be happy.

  • The stakes are amplified by the fact that Satoko is exploiting Miyo’s change of heart to steal a vial of H-173, which is a chemical agent that induces the same symptoms from Hinamizawa Syndrome. Declaring that she’s now able to dictate when tragedy strikes, Satoko sets off with the determination of obtaining what she feels she is owed, no matter how much suffering occurs. That each timeline is a proper reality in its own right speaks volumes to how callous Satoko’s become: loops had simply made Rika more resilient and understanding of things like kindness, but Satoko’s become more selfish and stubborn. Where these opposing forces meet will doubtlessly form the bulk of SOTSU‘s story.

Higurashi GOU is, like Black Ops: Cold War, something that didn’t necessarily need to be made, but now that it exists, serves as a powerful and enjoyable instalment in their respective franchises, further developing and expanding out their worlds further and giving them a fresh coat of paint. The new character designs in GOU aren’t particularly distracting or jarring, and the updated background artwork is solid. Kenji Kawai returns to score GOU‘s soundtrack and as usual, excels in creating atmosphere for both ordinary and horrifying moments. The story, despite starting off slowly, accelerates wildly towards the end; familiar events and outcomes are gradually displaced by the presence of something much more sinister, and GOU absolutely delivers a stunning reason to give the continuation a go; in the knowledge of what’d been established in Higurashi, and then how things reached a resolution in KAI, GOU shows that there remains a ways to go yet before a new equilibrium can be established. The journey will doubtlessly be a part of SOTSU, and if the trailer is anything to go by, SOTSU will not be pulling any punches at all. I appreciate that some viewers did find the violence to be more brazen than anything seen previously in Higurashi, where things were more implicit, but shock factor aside, the choice to portray things directly is meant to suggest that Higurashi and KAI, being Rika’s stories, had been about the fear that lies within her heart. The open portrayals of violence in GOU, on the other hand, mirror how Satoko is more direct and forward than Rika, acting rashly without thinking things through. It’s a clever bit of a contrast to indicate that GOU is Satoko’s story, and my only remarks here are that, as long as I’m not made to watch heads being mangled in SOTSU, I will accept the more explicit violence as a part of GOU and SOTSU‘s storytelling. With this post in the books, I think that at some point, it’ll probably be prudent to invite Dewbond back – as I’ve demonstrated, my thoughts on Higurashi are feeble at best and lean quite heavily on my making remarks about the series’ unusual connection to the Black Ops series. Having an extra set of eyes on things means being able to really delve into how GOU turned around from being a middle-of-the-road experience to something I’ve become quite excited to check out.

Houkago Tea Time’s Real Life Visit to London, England: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of K-On! The Movie

“In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in.” –Paddington Bear.

Whereas I’ve kept my virtual location hunts limited to Japan thus far, in this post, I will take readers to the heart of London, England, home of Houkago Tea Time’s impromptu but memorable graduation trip. In K-On! The Movie, a plan to make a graduating gift worthy of Azusa transmutes into a graduation trip when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi do their utmost to conceal it from Azusa. London differs from any location I’ve previously written about: for one, everything’s in English, making it much easier to plan a trip and get around. In conjunction with the fact that there are undoubtedly K-On! fans in London, and that the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook identifies key areas that Houkago Tea Time visit meant that, within a few months of the film’s première, fans were already purchasing train or plane tickets bound for London, ready to retrace the same steps that Yui and her friends tread during their lightning trip in Britain’s capital, home of some of the world’s most famous music locations. Abbey Road crossing, The Troubadour and Camden Town are iconic spots, associated with the development of rock music around the world, and speaking to Mio’s love for music, wind up being places that the girls visit during their haphazard but exciting travels. During the course of their travels, Yui and her friends both visit famous spots, as well as perform their own unique music for London’s citizens in a trip that helps the senior students to remember that their greatest gift to Azusa would take the form of the music that had inspired her to join their light music club in the first place. While folks have travelled London and done their location hunts previously, the combination of circumstance and curiosity led me to turn the Oculus Quest towards London for the internet’s first-ever virtual tour of K-On!‘s locations. Despite nearly ten years having elapsed since K-On! The Movie premièred (and with it, the inevitable fact that London’s cityscape has changed considerably since Naoko Yamada visited to research locations for the movie), the power conferred by the Oculus Quest and Google Maps’ ability to seamlessly display historical map data has meant that it remains quite possible to have an authentic virtual tour of London à la Houkago Tea Time, utilising the Oculus Quest’s unmatched ability for immersion.

  • Having already done a post about Toyosato Elementary School some nine years earlier, I’ve chosen to skip ahead to London proper. While I’m armed with an Oculus Quest and the best that technology has to offer, folks looking to reproduce Houkago Tea Time’s trip back in 2012 were not left at a disadvantage: K-On! fans who lived in London shared locations with prospective visitors, and the official movie guide also points out where the different stills are from. Coupled with a bit of path finding and use of Google Maps (already decently sophisticated in 2012), finding the locations for the film proved quite straightforward.

  • The taxi from Heathrow International Airport to the girls’ first destination, Hotel Ibis London City, takes them past Famous 3 Kings, an iconic pub serving classic fare like burgers, wings and pizza that is known for their excellent drinks, food and ambience. While Yui and the others never swing by a pub for dinner (presumably, only Mio’s English is sufficient to navigate the menu), were I to visit London for myself, a pub would be on my list of places to check out, along with a place for a proper plate of bangers and mash, fish and chips, Sunday roast and a full English Breakfast. I concede that a lot of pubs back home have a very British or Irish feel to them, but nothing beats checking out the real deal.

  • Because Ritsu imagines that there’s only one Ibis in London, she supposes that they’ve booked the one in London City. Their first stop thus ends up being the Ibis at London City, rather than Earl’s Court. The Ibis at London City is located in an excellent spot – it is within walking distance of iconic London landmarks like the Big Ben and Tower of London. The decision to not have Houkago Tea Time lodge here was likely because the point of this trip wasn’t about London itself, but rather, their shared experiences – the Ibis at Earl’s Court isn’t near any London icons, but instead, offers Yui and the others a chance to check out a side of London known to the locals.

  • While the London cityscape has changed considerably in the past nine years since K-On! The Movie premièred, as evidenced by the different storefronts here on Commercial Street, the buildings themselves are still recognisable. The traffic in the Google Street View versions, however, is considerably denser, and one of the long-standing limitations of a virtual reality approach – the Google Street View car takes images at specific intervals, and this means that I’m not always to get the exact same angles as seen in an anime.

  • Because of how the London Underground is set up, Mio and the others have a chance to swing by Camden Town, whose location made it a transport hub in London. As the district became the nexus for rail lines and canals, warehouses were constructed here to store goods. However, the area was redeveloped, and today, is better known as an entertainment district with a highly unique aesthetic. K-On! The Movie captures this particularly well, showing it as a colourful district with a myriad of storefronts.

  • Yui and the others travel from Aldgate Station to Camden Town Station: after Yui notices Azusa having trouble walking, the girls take a detour in search of new shoes for Azusa on Mio’s suggestion. After leaving the station, the girls immediately comment on the atmosphere in Camden town, and at an outdoor market, they end up picking out something that works for Azusa. The kaiten sushi place that Yui and the others perform at is no longer around: it’s the former Proud Music Venue, which opened in 2001 and closed in 2018.

  • After a lengthy day, Yui and the others finally make it to the Ibis at Earl’s Court, and since the check-in isn’t shown, it stands to reason that the process was very seamless. Unlike Ibis London City, Ibis Earl’s Court is located further from central London attractions: the hotel has its own conference facilities and brings to mind the likes of the hotels in the eastern part of my city. Ibis Earl’s Court is noted for its clean facilities and friendly staff, although the hotel’s age is showing. The prices here are slightly lower than those of Ibis London City, making it suited for a group of high school students whose graduation trip came out of the blue.

  • While the locations in London initially seem intimidating, Naoko Yamada and her staff fortunately drew their stills from nearby locations, and a brief walk down Lillie Road allows for everything to be located with relative ease. The scene of London’s iconic double-decker buses was taken at the intersection between Lillie Road and North End Road looking west: the spot is only 210 metres away from Ibis Earl’s Court.

  • Ritsu and the others pass by West Brompton Station on their second day en route to breakfast. Located on the London Underground District Line, one can easily reach Aldgate Station from here: had Yui and the others chosen not to go to Camden Town per Mio’s request, reaching the Ibis Earl’s Court from Ibis London City would’ve been fairly straightforward, and indeed, thanks to the District Line, the Ibis at Earl’s Court is an excellent alternative for folks looking for slightly less pricy accommodations while at the same time, still be somewhere close to a line back to central London.

  • This intersection is located at Old Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road, and the angle seen in K-On! is from Earl’s Court Road, looking south. K-On! The Movie has Yui and the others looking left per the signage on the road surface to check for vehicles before crossing, which I found a little strange, since Japan also has left hand traffic. Conversely, left hand traffic is foreign to me: whenever I visit Hong Kong, the fact that everything is the opposite of what I’m used to always requires a bit of adjusting to.

  • After crossing the intersection and backtracking a little, Yui’s curiosity about The Troubadour leads the others to stop for breakfast here. The Troubadour is a coffeehouse that dates back to 1954 that has played host to music icons, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. The location was chosen precisely owing to its connection to music history, although for Yui, I imagine she picks it owing to its distinct appearance. A glance at The Troubadour’s brunch menu shows that Yui had the Eggs Benedict, which goes for 9.5£ (16.27 CAD): brunch is served from opening until 1430, and this does feel a bit pricy, but on the flipside, their dinner menu is much more reasonably priced, with their iconic braised Rosemary and Garlic Lamb shoulder going for 24£ (41.11 CAD). The Troubadour is definitely a restaurant I’d be happy to swing by should I ever decide to visit London.

  • Upon finishing K-On! The Movie, a few locations did elude me, such as the Chelsea Ballet School and the apartments along Oakley Street. The K-On! Movie Official Guidebook was instrumental in helping me to sort out where everything was located: the guidebook had indicated that Yui and the others had travelled along King’s Road, and this is what led me to Oakley Street. There’s nothing innately special about the Chelsea Ballet School: it offers youth instruction in ballet, and according to the notes, substituted David Bowie’s house, which the team couldn’t find during the time in London.

  • With the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook to go off of, I first found Oakley Street first, and then did a bit of backtracking to find the Chelsea Ballet School. While this row of apartments seems quite unremarkable, the spot is actually close to the Bob Marley Blue Plaque, which is across the street from the spot Mio and the others pass by en route to World’s End. Since the moment happens so quickly, it stands to reason that Mio did not end up stopping the others for a quick photo, which speaks to K-On! The Movie‘s themes: even in London, home of music legends, Houkago Tea Time are more wrapped up in their own adventures, doing things at their own pace.

  • With Azusa’s planning, the group next swing by the backwards clock at World’s End: this store sells what is advertised as timeless music fashion, and I imagine that the clock is supposed to be indicative of this. Having now taken a closer look at the range of locations Houkago Tea Time visit in London, it is clear that Yamada and her team researched the locations thoroughly for their connection to music, and even if Mio and the others never actually stop at the iconic locations she’d wish to check out, through serendipity, the girls do end up passing by some of the most famous music spots of London anyways.

  • Just a stone’s throw from World’s End is this apartment block and a set of benches that Yui et al. catch their breath at. The apartment can actually be seen from World’s End, making this a relatively easy location to find. I believe that in Britain, apartments are referred to as flats in casual speech, although realtors call them apartments. The gap between British and North American English is noticeable, especially with regard to pronunciation and vocabulary, but aside from these differences, English is English: were I to visit London for myself, I’d have a much easier time of it for the simple fact that, besides my Canadian inflection, my command of English is sufficient for me to get by over in England.

  • Abbey Road Crossing is probably the single most famous crosswalk in the world: Apple Records’ John Kosh had designed the album on the idea that The Beatles were so famous that they could get away without the album or band name. The actual photograph was taken in 1969, and since then, The Beatles’ famous crossing has been imitated endlessly. When Azusa, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Ritsu cross, their minds aren’t even on the fact that they’ve tread on hallowed grounds: Azusa is busy trying to figure out what other spots the group can visit next.

  • While K-On! The Movie is generally faithful to the placement of locations, the biggest one that would’ve thrown location hunters off was Harpers Café at the intersection Southwark Street and Borough High Street: it is located south of the River Thames, and is nowhere near Hyde Park or the British Museum. Serving a range of sandwiches, Harper’s was replaced by a Costa Coffee at some point after the film released: location hunters today would have no chance of checking out Harpers Café, which featured in the movie because their neon coffee sign drew Yui’s attention for its resemblance to the Houkago Tea Time logo.

  • It is not lost on me that numerous Blogspot blogs have come up over the years portraying their owners’ trips to London in search of K-On! The Movie‘s locations. During an exercise I conducted some years ago, a hypothetical trip to London, England would cost no less than 3500 CAD in total. However, this trip was conducted using estimates of the price, and today, using something like Expedia, I was able to put together a flight and accommodations package for a total of 788 CAD. I appreciate that the current global health crisis has resulted in travel prices plummeting, but even assuming that the actual price is twenty percent greater (946 CAD), this is still considerably less pricey than my original estimates.

  • Of course, if I were to do a trip to London, I would allocate about a week to fully explore and take in everything; K-On! had condensed the trip down to five days and three nights for the sake of the story, but to really take in everything, I would prefer to do things at a slower pace. Big Ben and Palace of Westminster can be seen while crossing Westminster Bridge here: Big Ben was originally built in 1859 to act as a highly accurate clocktower, and the Palace of Westminster adjacent to it was finished in 1876 after some 36 years of construction: the site had been home to an older palace that hosted the British parliament, but a fire in 1834 decimated the original building.

  • At the time of K-On! The Movie‘s première, the London Eye Ferris wheel was the highest viewpoint until The Shard opened two years later. Even now, it still offers a breathtaking view of the London Skyline. Tickets cost £31 per adult (52 CAD) if one were to order them on the day of, as Yui and the other have done during their trip. Visiting the London Eye offers them a spectacular alternative that, while unexpected, was nonetheless enjoyable. Even Mio, who’d developed a fear of rotating things during the trip, casts her worries aside once she sees the London cityscape.

  • After returning to the Ibis Earl’s Court for their second night, a still from the intersection at Old Brompton Road and Warwick Road looking north is shown. There’s a unique charm about London, and K-On! The Movie manages to capture a feeling that looks like it came straight out of SkyfallSkyfall really captured the moody, brooding aesthetic of London in a way that previous Bond films had not, and K-On! The Movie replicates the Cold War-like feeling of the nighttime London streets. What’s impressive is that had come out before Skyfall, speaking to how much effort went into the film.

  • The next morning, while out and about, Yui wanders past the Brompton Cemetery. She passes by the stone arches and gates on its northern end while noting that she’s having trouble with the song for Azusa, and looking around the area, the recycling bins have since been removed. I imagine that Yui’s just wandered here while contemplating what Azusa’s song should sound like: moments later, Azusa calls out to her, saying it’s time to head off for that morning’s adventures.

  • Because Yui and the others are set to perform on their final full day in London, they swing by Denmark Street near Tottenham Court Road to check out instruments. The large buildings at the end of the street are office blocks, and Google CGS, as well as Central Saint Giles have their offices here, too. This was about the last of the spots I could easily check out using the Oculus Quest: in this post, numerous locations, such as the Waitrose & Partners Gloucester Road supermarket, Borough Market, Tower Bridge, Jubilee Park and Tower of London have been omitted because limitations in Street View precluded their inclusion.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with the London Bridge Experience, a tourist attraction claiming to be the United Kingdom’s spookiest. As a callout to this fact, K-On! The Movie has Mio running away from a staff dressed up in horror garb in abject terror. While my post is by no means the first ever location hunt for K-On! The Movie, nor is it the most comprehensive, it does demonstrate the level of effort that went into making the film memorable, and having life-like locations definitely helped to make Yui and Azusa’s London trip special.

Revisiting the locations Houkago Tea Time visit during the course of K-On! The Movie was a trip down memory lane: when the film became available overseas, I was well into my MCAT review, and exam anxiety had gripped me. To be able to watch Yui and the others explore London in a carefree, spirited fashion conferred catharsis that allowed me to regroup, and over the years, my fondness of K-On! The Movie has only increased. The film’s messages of appreciation and living in the moment, of going with the flow are timeless and universal, and while the film is cheerful throughout its run, a hint of melancholy permeates every scene; viewers know that with K-On! The Movie, K-On!‘s animated adaptation would be drawing to a close. The film’s decision to visit London, birthplace of rock as we know it, and whose musical icons doubtlessly inspired the way Houkago Tea Time play, acts as a swan song for the series. After watching the film, I ended up purchasing the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook, the first time I’d ever bought an artbook, and a few pages in, I’d noticed that the locations seen in the film were catalogued. For the longest time, I’d been meaning to do a location hunt for the movie, but eventually, such a project fell from my mind. However, with the recent resurgence brought on by the Oculus Quest’s capabilities, I decided the time was ripe to go visit London. The technology has its limitations: there are a few points in London where Google Street View does not offer coverage, so I was not able to visit all of the spots that Houkago Tea Time had, but beyond this, it was a fairly comprehensive experience. While Yui and her friends only stay in London for three days, it becomes clear that even this short trip was filled to the brim with new discoveries. With this in mind, given how much London has changed over the past nine years, visitors looking to see things precisely as Yui and the others do might prove disappointed: some shops have been replaced, and new buildings are found in London’s skyline (including the Shard, which was under construction back in 2011), so the scenery isn’t going to be entirely what Houkago Tea Time saw. In spite of this, many spots still remain as they once did: the Hotel Ibis at Earl’s Court, and Troubadour are still around, as is the British Museum and Chelsea ballet school. Camden still retains its unique aesthetic, and the view of Big Ben from Westminster Bridge remains quite unchanged from nine years earlier. In short, London is still worth visiting, and I imagine that such a trip would be life-changing, well worth it: I certainly would be interested in purchasing a flight across the Atlantic and booking accommodations at Ibis Earls’ Court.