The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Japanese Animation

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

“Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose.” –G.K. Neilson

The days in Neo Venezia begin to develop a distinct chill as winter arrives. While out practising one day, Ai, Azusa and Anya encounter Akira wandering the streets of Neo Venezia alone and decide to tail her, but they are quickly spotted, and Akira invites them to the Undine Museum, meeting Himeya Company’s legendary Asuka, who now curates the museum. As it turns out, Himeya’s last remaining gondola from its founding is undergoing maintenance, and moreover, Aika appears to be refusing to inherit it for her use. Growing concerned that Aika might be losing her confidence, Azusa confronts her with the hopes of getting her to take up the gondola, but is unsuccessful. She later learns from Akira that in her youth, Aika had grown resentful of the pressures that had come with being an heir to the Himeya Company and felt that she had to find her own path. Akira ended up chasing an irate Aika through the canals of Neo Venezia, before Aika settled down, and subsequently took her on a lengthy gondola ride. The reason she’d done this was because she had made a promise to Aika’s mother, who is the current head of Himeya Company. In the morning, Aika reveals that she’d wanted to become an Undine after meeting Alicia, and Akira promises to mentor her, stating that Undines without talent can still make it by putting in the effort. In the present, Azusa, Anya and Ai approach Akari for help, and together, they schedule a gondola ride with Aika as their guide. They stop by the workshop where the Himeya gondola is being repaired, and Akira continues with the story of how Aika came to become a Prima. By the time of her exam, Aika’s become more confident, but feels that she wants to differentiate herself from Akira and make her own place in the sun. To this end, Aika had requested a tougher exam from Akira worthy of Himeya’s heir. After hearing Aika out, Akira agrees and stipulates they will resume the exam at the stroke of midnight. When Aika arrives, she learns that the exam is to see if Aika has the determination and grit of an Undine who is worthy despite lacking talent: the aim is to retrieve a rose from Akira without leaving her gondola, before dawn. Although it seems that Akira has an overwhelming advantage, Aika puts all of her learnings and experiences to use, capitalising on shortcuts and unexpected routes to close the gap between herself and Akira. As dawn approaches, Aika manages to take the rose, and becomes a Prima Undine. In the aftermath, Aika and Akira both cry their eyes out; Akira feels a sense of overwhelming relief at having brought Himeya’s wayward heir back. Aika reveals that she wasn’t a fan of the old gondola because it represented the past, and having undergone so many restorations, none of the old parts remain, so she felt more comfortable in retiring it. Together with all of her peers and friends, Aika prepares to retire Himeya’s last remaining original gondola and, as Christmas draws closer, she focuses on introducing a new item to the Rose Garden, Himeya’s Café, ahead of the coldest days of the year to create new tradition for future customers to enjoy. With this, ARIA the Benedizione, the last of the Blue Curtain Call series, draws to a close, and with it, after nearly two decades of history, ARIA draws to a warm and decisive conclusion.

Through its focus on Aika, Benedizione reiterates to viewers that success is not determined by talent alone. When Akira joined Himeya and passed her exam, Aika’s mother had complimented her on possessing uncommon talent, and moreover, had worked hard to put that talent to use. Akira’s response is telling: she doesn’t believe herself to be intrinsically talented, certainly not like Alicia or Alice, and that everything she’s accomplished and gained was a consequence of putting in the hours, learning and accepting challenges. This put Akira in a unique position to be Aika’s mentor. When the prospect of becoming an Undine hit Aika, Aika suddenly realised that, growing up the daughter of Himeya Company’s owner meant that whatever achievements she made feel unearned. Akira is able to persuade Aika to just work hard and focus on making her own way without worrying about the family legacy, and over time, imbibes Aika with the same sort of resolve that she carried. As such, when Akira pits Aika against an unconventional test, although the success parameters seem impossible, Akira had set this task to her precisely because she was confident that Aika would simply apply honest effort and, in conjunction with her skills, find a way to achieve what she’d set out to do. This is precisely what happens, and Benedizione thus reminds viewers that “talent” and “luck” are ultimately just secondary. Having a natural grasp of something won’t be enough to overcome certain barriers because some problems require persistence and resolve to solve. Falling back on hard work simply means accepting that effort must be directed towards exhausting all possibilities and learning something until one is confident with all of that discipline’s aspects. This is why Akira chooses to subject Aika to an exam of endurance and frustration: while Aika has plainly become skilled as an Undine, she had sold the idea that while unremarkable otherwise, her hard work is her best attribute. However, Aika must prove this to Akira, and this is why the assignment becomes a game of endurance, of Aika coming frustratingly close on numerous occasions, failing, and finding the raw drive to pick herself up and try again. I relate to this aspect in Benedizione especially strongly because as a developer, I am untalented. I do not have an eye for elegant algorithms or clever solutions. However, what I do have is a desire to develop clean, maintainable systems, and the patience to see this through. I work hard at making code readable and well-structured, and in this way, I find that, while I am nowhere as talented as Google or Apple’s brightest engineers, I can still hold my own. This is something I learnt to accept over time, and in Benedizione, it is plain that both Akira and Aika also embrace this ethos, reminding viewers that with rare exceptions (such as athletics and the performing arts), hard work can take individuals very far.

While it was known that Aika would pass her Prima exam, Benedizione makes a special effort to show how significant this milestone was for Aika, who has now fully committed to the path she’s chosen: she will accept the role of taking over Himeya, on the condition that she be allowed to apply her own learnings and newer methods into running the company to strike a balance between old and new. In Aika’s case, the fac that she’s reconciled the challenge of maintaining a respect for traditions and origins, and capitalising on innovation, shows that unlike the reluctant Undine Double who started her journey a sullen and moody trainee, the Aika of the present has gained enough experience to value the things that Himeya Company has made effective over the years, and at the same time, she’s remained true to her own beliefs by suggesting that there’s always room to try new things out and in this way, leave her legacy on Himeya Company in a manner different to her mother’s. Much as how she had once requested a unique exam to become a Prima, Aika’s mindset is that she wants to do things in her own way and achieve excellence on her own terms, versus pursuing approval based on existing standards. Aika’s journey to becoming an Undine, and the path she took to earn her Prima title is therefore an excellent send-off for viewers: until now, Aika’s exam had never been shown, but now that we’ve had a chance to explore things, it becomes clear that Aika’s reconciling the past, present and future becomes a fitting way to wrap up ARIA as a whole. The animated adaptation had begun almost twenty years earlier and told of Akari’s story. Over the years, Akari would graduate from a Single to Prima along with her friends, and each of Aria Company, Himeya Company and Orange Planet would acquire new trainees. However, at each stage of the journey, the dynamics and challenges are shared. Much as how Akari, Alice and Aika were juniors learning under their mentors, by the end of Origination, Akari, Alice and Aika are all full-fledged Undine, now looking after their own students in Ai, Anya and Azusa. Everyone brings their own learnings, a combination of time-tested tradition and new approaches brought on by their own experiences, towards passing on knowledge, and in this way, much as how an Undine’s skills subtly shift over time to reflect on this combination, ARIA itself has also subtly changed over the years: it remains faithful to Kozue Amano’s original vision, and each iteration sees a familiar cast reprising their roles (save Athena, where Rina Satō takes over from Tomoko Kawakami) but with different studios producing the anime, ARIA itself has been modernised, providing viewers with contemporary, vivid and detailed visuals while at the same time, conveying the same aesthetic and learnings that the 2005 series had sought to convey. Benedizione thus celebrates the integration of old and new in its run, reminding viewers of this through Aika: each of Hal Film Maker, TYO Animations, and JC Staff have left their own indelible and lasting mark on an iconic series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When ARIA last graced this blog a year ago, I had just finished Crepuscolo and found myself greatly looking forward to Benedizione. At the time, I had just begun the house hunt, and if memory serves, I had just finished touring a unit that hadn’t been quite to my liking. A week after I published my thoughts on Crepuscolo, I would end up doing a walk-through of the unit that would become my current home. Time passes relentlessly, and here in the present, I’m writing about Benedizione on a powerful new desktop, at a desk with a gorgeous view of the night lights below.

  • It is worth reiterating that both Benedizione and Crepuscolo, being produced by J.C. Works, has similar character designs as Amanchu!. These traits are most noticeable in the shape of the characters’ eyes and the pronounced eyelashes, and while subtle, they are still quite different from the art style seen in Avvenire, and the earlier seasons. Because I’d dropped into ARIA through Avvenire, I do not have any issue with the character designs from Avvenire. In fact, all of the different art styles in ARIA are secondary to the experiences the characters themselves undergo, and this is what makes all of the ARIA adaptations meaningful in their own right.

  • “Benedizione” is Italian for “blessing”, in keeping with tradition; this film’s focus is all about how fortunes become good as a result of persistence and grit, but also through fateful encounters. Whereas Crepuscolo had focused on Athena, Alice and Anya, Benedizione is all about Akira, Aika and Azusa. Alicia, Akari and Ai’s stories had already been covered in full by the events of Origination, where Akari had passed her Undine exam to become a Prima, and this in turn allowed Alicia to retire and pursue a career as a member of the Gondola Association. Since Aika’s story has never been explored in depth, was logical that the last of Akari’s generation of Undines would be given some shine time.

  • Azusa, Ai and Anya are this generation’s Aika, Akari and Alice, respectively: their adventures on Aqua and Neo Venezia are every bit as memorable as those their predecessors experienced, but since 2015’s Avvenire, I have noticed that the emphasis on the supernatural aspects of Aqua have been set aside as ARIA sets its focus on personal growth, reminiscence and using lessons from the past to drive the future. Here, Azusa, Ai and Anya are out practising in the tranquil canals of Neo Venezia, and they spot Akira out and about. Curiosity soon overtakes the three, and they decide to tail her.

  • Anime always have a tendency to portray characters as being completely unlearned in fieldcraft, setting the stage for comedy when they inevitably get burned. Akira catches on very quickly, and as it turns out, nothing funny is happening: she’d been out rowing during the morning to regroup from something bothering her, and had been making her way to Neo Venezia’s Undine Museum. As a point of curiosity, the Undine museum isn’t actually based off any museums in Venice: instead, it is modelled after the Kitaichi Venezia Museum in Otaru, Hokkaido. The museum’s architectural style is inconsistent with the buildings in Venice, so I decided to use a little computer vision to help things out.

  • The meat buns that President Aria are so fond of end up being enjoyed throughout Benedizione, acting as the perfect accompaniment for brisk days that signal the arrival of winter. Yesterday, with the arrival of September, I stepped out to enjoy a fantastic sushi and fried chicken feast for dinner. I ended up ordering a combo featuring salmon, tuna, red snapper, smoked salmon, octopus, prawn, tamago and scallop, plus the Signature Roll (smoked salmon and shrimp tempura with tobiko) and the Dynamite Rolls I’ve become fond of. Since this was dinner, I decided to add a karaage donburi and the house fried chicken to my order. Dinner was absolutely delicious and proved very hearty, proving to be a pleasant way of spending a quiet evening to the first of September.

  • At the museum, Ai, Azusa and Anya run into Asuka, an elderly lady who had once been a legendary Undine. As it turns out, Akira had a reason for visiting the Undine museum: she’d been here to check in on the last of Himeya Company’s remaining gondolas that have been in operation since its founding. As the story goes, the heir of Himeya Company will inherit this gondola as a part of the tradition, and for her own reasons, Aika has refused to accept this gondola despite its illustrious history. This revelation unsettles Azusa, who feels that Aika has always been confident, headstrong and capable of inheriting Himeya Company.

  • Akari takes some customers on a tour of Neo Venezia, and they pass by a workshop that builds and maintains gondolas. The customers had been wishing they could’ve been treated to a tour from Akira and wonder why she’d been unavailable for the day. Akari finds it unusual, since Akira would ordinarily have no qualms about using another gondola. The scenery of Neo Venezia in JC Staff’s adaptation is unparalleled, looking far sharper than anything in Avvenire – even details like water reflections are rendered in full, really bringing Neo Venezia to life.

  • It is mentioned that the last remaining gondola has undergone so much restoration that none of the original parts actually remain. This is a callback to the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment which poses the question of whether or not a ship that’s had all of its components replaced is still the same ship as the original. Philosophers have debated this question for centuries and pose complex answers because attempts to walk through it may break down. For instance, one might argue that because the history, memories and reputation associated with the ship remains, it is functionally the same ship even if all the parts are swapped out. However, if I were to take the entire contents of a hard drive from one of my computers, including the OS, and copied that over to a different computer, while that computer technically could be used just like my previous machine, it is, strictly speaking, a different machine despite handling identically.

  • I could be here all day trying to work out something to the Ship of Theseus, and such a question is above my pay grade – I specialise in solving problems in the realm of software, so I’ll return the talk back to Benedizione. Azusa, like her seniors, is very forward, and she decides to confront Aika directly about why she’s refusing to inherit the Himeya Company’s heirloom gondola and become a top-tier Undine as Akira had done. While Aika simply indicates the gondola is cursed, it becomes clear that something’s keeping her from simply rising above all adversity and staring down the challenge with her typical spunk. Knowing ARIA, it was not inconceivable that there is some supernatural piece, and in this moment, viewers become as curious as Azusa to know of what’s really going on.

  • ARIA‘s Neo Venezia never ceases to amaze, and like Crepuscolo, Benedizione makes certain to remind viewers that Aqua is a planet of tranquility and wonder. Here, floating islands and airships can be seen: they’re the only sign that Neo Venezia is not actually Venice, and in-universe, it was explained that an array of technologies make these sights possible. Because Aqua is Mars after terraforming was done, I’d been fond of joking that ARIA is the result of the Doom Slayer’s efforts in DOOM: the use of something like Argent Energy could be enough to introduce such changes. However, after the events of DOOM Eternal, it is clear that this is no longer the case, since in the Doom Slayer uses the BFG 10000 to blast a hole on Mars, one which reaches the planet’s core. For the present, I’ll contend myself with enjoying the beautiful scenery seen in ARIA.

  • When Azusa recounts the previous night’s conversation to Akira, her timing is such that Anya and Ai show up. Spotting them, Akira decides that it’s time to recount a story to the three. ARIA is very fond of employing flashbacks as a storytelling device, and Benedizione is no exception; much of the film shares moments that hadn’t been shown in earlier ARIA works. They’re used to suggest that one’s memories become important, as drawing on lessons from the past help to inform one’s decisions in the present. To accentuate this, Benedizione uses recursive flashbacks, having Akira reminisce within her memories.

  • If improperly done, recursive flashbacks could create confusion, but here in Benedizione, it works perfectly because flashbacks are already an integral part of the story, and it’s clear when one has transitioned into one. Through Akira’s recollections, viewers learn that as a middle school student, Aika had been very standoffish and hostile. Uncertain of how to best guide her, Aika’s mother would task Himeya Company’s most promising Undine with helping Aika out. Aika had always wanted to be an Undine, but after becoming a middle school student, began to feel distant from her dreams.

  • What makes the familiar dynamic between Akira and Aika so endearing, then, is seeing how awkward things had been initially. Although ARIA‘s first season had presented the two as respecting one another, despite the pair occasionally trading barbs, Benedizione shows that in the very beginning, there’d been a considerable distance between the two. Aika herself cannot understand why Akira is so determined to close this distance. Moments like these show that early in the game, the pair hadn’t been close at all, and in fact, Aika even regards Akira as a nuisance.

  • I would imagine that for Akira, Aika becomes a fun challenge, just another problem with a solution that has yet to be found. Since Akira is shown as having a indefatigable spirit, this flashback shows how for Aika and Akira, it would become a matter of whose will was stronger, and because ARIA shows that Aika and Akira strongly respect one another despite occasionally butting heads, it is clear that Akira’s resolve was greater. This is unsurprising, since I imagine that despite her misgivings, Aika had wanted to become a worthy Undine.

  • The turning point in the pair’s relationship occurs one evening, when Akira spots Aika walking off in a huff after spotting her. Deciding to adopt a hands-off approach, Akira lets Aika be this evening rather than going after her. She ends up picking up a paddle and practises her rowing under the quiet of the night, but becomes wrapped up in her thoughts: as it turns out, Aika’s attitude stems from feeling like she wasn’t ever going to be a worthy successor to Himeya Company because she’d earned none of it on her own merits.

  • This mindset is a familiar one and is formally referred to as Imposter Syndrome, which manifests when one believes that their accomplishments are undeserved. I myself am guilty of this: during my undergraduate years, I’d felt that every passing grade I earned in a computer science course, or the projects I’d completed during summer research, was the consequence of being lucky. I’ve never revealed this to my peers, family or friends: this is why I intended to pursue a career in medicine, because unlike computer science, I had felt a shade more comfortable with biology. Having a wonderful graduate supervisor eventually convinced me that I did have a modicum of skill as a developer, looking back, his asking me to lead the development of the Giant Walkthrough Brain may have been an exercise to remind me of this.

  • This project allowed me to both learn Unity and help look after my peers’ work, and once I embraced the fact that there was always something new to discover, and that it was okay not to know something, I began feeling more at home with software development. Of course, there are moments now where I view my successes as the consequence of luck (i.e. the right information was available when I needed it), but I similarly recognise that the combination of experience and support yielded those results. Back in Benedizione, it was endearing to see Aika melt for a moment after Akira finds her and gives her a blanket after she’d nodded off.

  • For Aika, her challenge was that, because she came from a distinguished pedigree, she felt especially driven to stand out and make her own way despite having no notable talents (at least, not in her eyes). This created a sense of pressure in her to excel, and while years of training alongside Akira, as well as experiencing life-changing events with Akari and Alice have helped Aika to accept herself, some things still linger. This comes across as a shock to Azusa, who’d always seen Aika as being a solidly-dependable and capable individual, paralleling how Aika would come to see Akira as a model Undine.

  • Unsatisfied with how little progress she’s made, Azusa decides to talk to Akari, who’s known Aika since their days as Doubles. They thus swing by Aria Company with some questions for her, and arrive right before she returns from her work. Akari remarks that Aika’s always been the sort of person who would put on a brave face when things got tough, even if she was inwardly unsure of herself, and in this moment, it is shown that the tough front Aika’s adopted regarding the Himeya Company gondola is a result of her being uncertain about Himeya’s future, despite having become a Prima herself.

  • Although Anya and Ai wonder how to best approach the problem, Akari comes up with something that appeals to Azusa, Anya and Ai. Having grown accustomed to Akari being a Single throughout most of ARIA, it did feel a little unusual to see Akari be the reliable senior that Alicia had been for her, and this speaks volumes to Akari’s growth. With a gentle and kind nature, Akari was my favourite of the characters in ARIA, being the sort of person I would probably spend the future with, but as far as I can tell, I’m most similar to Aika in terms of personality.

  • The next day, Azusa and the others put their plan into action: they’ve even managed to recruit Asuka for help, and she’s agreed to book a Twilight tour with her. Although Aika is surprised to see everyone, she takes everyone out onto Neo Venezia’s canals, but becomes suspicious of what Azusa and the others have planned for them. Her doubts appear assuaged by Ai’s suggestion this is to simply learn. Everyone becomes distracted when President Aria spots a pork bun vendor and grows excited. When Asuka buys some for everyone, Anya suddenly is seized with the impulse to poke President Aria. This elicits a laugh from Aika, and Asuka reminisces on how for a time, Aika had been all scowls.

  • Even as a Single, Akira was very confident in her abilities, citing that hard work is what creates talent, and Asuka explains that this is why Akira was assigned to mentor Aika. While to an external observer, both Akira and Aika are superbly skilled as Undine, what makes them standout is precisely the willingness to work hard. Hard work is a given, and while articles out there speak vocally to how hard work alone isn’t enough, it is a prerequisite. Many articles suggest that success is found by playing to one’s strengths, recognising one’s weaknesses and learning to support and be supported by others, and ARIA mirrors this by showing how the characters succeed because of their friendships. It was precisely because of this mindset that Aika’s mother believed that Akira would be perfect for mentoring Aika.

  • Aika likely already had similar beliefs, and someone like Akira, who’d been confident in her ability, would be perfect in bringing this side of Aika out into the open. It is true that our mentors have a nontrivial impact on how we do things. For instance, my middle school computer instructor’s love for all things Apple actually made me more biased towards Mac OS, whereas in secondary school, I had an inspiring biology instructor who inspired my current learning style. In university, my supervisor had a mindset similar to that of Richard Feynman, being a big believer of the idea that there is always value in conveying complex concepts simply. Coupled with his willingness to explore new approaches, I was inspired by how our lab was always ready to experiment with new technologies, and this was how I learnt the basics of game engines and VR development.

  • In the present day, my approach for doing things is an amalgamation of how my instructors and mentors taught me. Aika is the same: while she’s warm and friendly, she’s also surprisingly strict at times. The reminiscence leads Aika to acknowledge that this side of Akira is what led to her growth, giving her the encouragement she needed to push herself despite her lack of talent. Upon hearing Aika say this, Ai and the others wonder if they’ll ever stack up to the likes of Aika, Akari and Alice, and to this, Aika replies that when she, Akari and Alice were singles, they themselves had wondered if they’d ever hold a candle to Akira, Alicia and Athena.

  • This too is a familiar feeling: when I gained admittance to graduate school, I wondered if the work I did would compared to that of my predecessors, the graduate students who had mentored me. In the end, I would come to draw inspiration from their projects and build something I would be proud of. Aika doesn’t offer an answer on how she overcame this, suggesting it’s something she still occasionally thinks about, and when Azusa tries to press Aika about the gondola, Aika falls silent. However, Asuka fills the void and provides an answer; Himeya’s gondola will become an exhibit at the museum, and moreover, since Aika’s plainly become Azusa’s role model, she’s also come far as an Undine.

  • While Ai and Anya had tried to say that their day was purely motivated by training, this was strictly untrue, and the tour ends at the gondola workshop, where the Himeya gondola has finished undergoing restoration and is now awaiting Aika’s decision. As it turns out, Asuza, Asuka and Akari had also invited Akira to things, to Aika’s surprise. Moments like these speak to ARIA‘s not-so-subtle suggestion that, when faced with problems, it is preferable to bring everyone together had have everyone’s thoughts on things, versus attempting to tough things out on one’s own.

  • Gathering all of the characters reinforces ARIA‘s themes, and this is something that the series has been fond of doing: Crepuscolo and Avvenire had done the same. Bringing the group together allows for Benedizione to enter its endgame: bits and pieces of Aika’s story had been told, and by this point in Benedizione, I’d been most curious to see the remainder of how Aika would come to be the Undine she is in the present. Anime are often direct in their outcomes, but for me, the value has always been in the journey.

  • After Akira had given her a blanket, Aika had run off into the night in embarrassment, only for Akira to show up on a gondola. Aika’s thoughts are finally revealed to the viewer, and Akira decides to take her on a night ride through Neo Venezia’s canals. With a gentle Spanish guitar accompanying the moment, Aika’s internal conflict is barely perceptible: the musical accompaniment in ARIA had always created a sense of relaxation and yearning. While this may initially appear to create dissonance, the music actually serves to maintain a consistently tranquil aesthetic throughout ARIA.

  • In the end, Akira ends up rowing for Aika through the whole night, and this moment is what wins her over: while Akira might not have any innate talent, that she’s gone to these lengths to convince Aika impresses her. During the ride, Aika had finally opened up to Akira and explains her original wish for becoming an Undine: as a child, she had a chance encounter with an Undine and, seeing the magic in the career, decided to follow in these footsteps with the aim of meeting this Undine again. However, having seen what the world of Undines was like, Aika felt that someone like her shouldn’t be in the occupation.

  • Akira ends up reassuring Aika that effort can make up for a lack of talent, and, upon spotting how Aika’s likely cold, she decides to take her to the nearest place of warmth despite her own reservations. This is none other than Aria Company, where Alicia works. To Aika’s great surprise, it was Alicia who had been the Undine she’d met as a child, and she’s quite embarrassed to be here. There is nothing wrong with Aria Company: Alicia immediately fixes Aika up with a blanket, and President Aria prepares a cocoa for her. The moment comes as a bit of a shock to Aika: she hadn’t expected to meet the person who’d inspired her again, and in her excitement, Aika is reduced to a squeaky mess.

  • In the aftermath, Aika positively gushes about meeting Alicia, although with this particular achievement now in the books, Aika does feel as though she needs to be more motivated and become an Undine on her own terms. The iconic chibi visuals of ARIA make a return in Benedizione, and having now been familiar with ARIA for some six years, I’ve found them an endearing part of the show. Akira reflects on how she’s so intent on shaping Aika into a proper Undine: she sees Aika in herself, and believes that there is value seeing someone as unremarkable and ordinary make their way in the world.

  • Akari, Alice and Aika’s chibi faces never fail to put a smile on my face and warm my heart. Aika is surprised that the pair are here, and as the evening progresses, as more of Aika’s story is told, more people show up. Once the initial shock of Akari and Alice’s appearance wears off, Benedizione resumes its flashback; under Akira’s tutelage, and through her shared experiences with Akari and Alice, Aika begins changing, developing a greater confidence in her abilities, as well as her own distinct identity as an Undine: she presently runs a branch of Himeya, and although she wonders if she’ll be able to grow it more successfully, she has moments where she remains doubtful of herself.

  • Aika’s bold and brash manner is best seen during her Prima exam. When Akira begins reminiscing about her old exam, Aika suddenly realises that she doesn’t want to pass some standardised exam that all Undine go through, and instead, demands a challenge worthy of Akira and herself. Although any other invigilator would’ve probably asked Aika to kindly continue, Akira understands how Aika feels and consents to doing a custom segment of the exam: Aika clearly has the skill, knowledge and experience to pass, but there are other areas where she could truly be tested.

  • The modified exam is thus set for the stroke of midnight, and Aika’s goal is to remove a rose from Akira’s hair, in a setup that mirrors the night Akira had spent chasing Aika around. The rules are simple enough: Aika has about six to seven hours to complete her assignment and must do so on a gondola. The reason why Akira sets up the exam in this manner is because this was a matter of persistence and determination. In order for Aika to succeed, she must not only fall on her own knowledge of Neo Venezia’s canals and the skill to navigate them, but also show uncommon grit. Since Akira basically chased Aika around for a whole night before giving her a ride for the remainder, Akira reasons that if Aika can now do the same, then she’s demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that she’s committed to being an Undine.

  • Seeing this exam suddenly brings to mind my own graduate defense. I had been talking to my mentor as peers, as we normally did, in the moments leading right to the exam, but the instant things began, an intensity filled the air – I was the student, and he was the examiner. However, like the exam that Aika would receive, there had also been a feeling of trust, and faith throughout. Akira and my supervisor never pulled any punches, and similar to Aika, I was swinging with all my might, answering every question about my project to the best of my ability.

  • Although students tend to view exams as a battle with a foe, advice from one of the doctorate students in my lab contributed to how I approached it: he suggested that I approach the graduate defense like a friendly conversation, where questions were asked to get to know my work and its implications better. In Benedizione, it’s clear that, despite the difficulty of the task that Akira sets Aika, the pair are having fun despite themselves. Akira has the upper hand throughout most of the exam, but Aika comes close several times, using her familiarity of Neo Venezia’s canals to pull off unorthodox manoeuvres that bring her ever-closer to her goal.

  • Light slowly begins creeping into the sky, and it seems that Aika’s running out of time. However, she’s not out of the fight yet, and decides to try and corral Akira to a spot where she would have the advantage. Akira soon arrives and wonders if the task she set was too tricky, but when she spots the flowers growing on a wall, she is immediately reminded of her own Prima exam and wonders if Aika had known of its significance. She pauses, and this gives Aika all the time she needs to finish the fight. Right after she plucks the rose from Akira’s ear, the sun breaks over the horizon and fills the screen with light.

  • For the briefest of moments, I had the feeling that I was watching Hikari and Matoin Amanchu!. Although the Amanchu!-like designs in Crepuscolo had thrown me off, by the time of Benedizione, I’ve grown accustomed to the new character designs and admit that the Amanchu!-style characters here in ARIA do work in the series’ favour, giving everyone a modernised look that is consistent with Amano’s designs in Amanchu!. Although this moment is supposed to be of triumph, and joy, I suddenly found myself tearing up: I had finished my graduate thesis and MCAT exhausted, too tired to feel a sense of accomplishment at what had just happened.

  • However, Benedizione captures in full just what it feels like to be successful in one’s goals. As the land becomes filled with light, Akira’s surprise turns to joy, and she opens by commenting on how, from here on out, what happens is purely up to Aika. She’s passed the exam in full, having shown a level of determination and resolve that is worthy of the Prima Undine of Himeya title. However, with this accomplishment, and the accompanying freedom to be a full Undine, comes the attendant responsibilities. The Aika of this time is a far cry from her old self, and she promises to commit to her goals of becoming a great Undine and preparing herself to one day run Himeya in full.

  • This scene was especially poignant, and in completing her exam, Aika shows Akira that she’s come to find her place as an Undine on her own terms. To Akira, this means that she has now fulfilled her promise to Aika’s mother in full. The spot where Akira had become a Prima now takes on a newfound significance, in becoming the same spot where she saw her own student go from being a sullen Double to a full-fledged Undine with her own distinct strengths. Fateful encounters are a big deal in anime, and while I find that people often take these for granted in reality, anime has a wonderful tendency of reminding people to be mindful and appreciative of the meetings they’ve had in their lives.

  • The final stage of passing a Prima exam is the removal of the remaining glove, to signify a fully-qualified Undine. The moment is a bittersweet one, much as it’d been for Alice and Athena, and Akari and Alicia. I imagine that for my supervisor, watching me finish and turning my sights towards the future must’ve been a similar moment: shortly after I finished my defense and learned that I was to pass with minor revisions (where said revisions were a few grammatical fixes and improving a definition of what an Agent is), he also asked me if I would consider pursuing a PhD and expand out the VR/AR projects I’d started.

  • In the years subsequent, my supervisor became the department head, and new undergraduate students and graduate students have come in to achieve great things of their own. People may feel that their forerunners are giants in the field, but the reality is that every generation brings something new to the table. On the topic of new generation stuff, a few days earlier, I caught wind of something I didn’t think would happen in the time that it did. It turns out that my neighbourhood computer hardware store received a shipment of MSI RTX 3060 Ti LHR GPUs, and what’s more, were running a flash sale at 620 CAD (470 USD) per card. Since the RTX 3060 Ti’s MSRP is 400 USD (about 526 CAD with current exchange rates), and the MSI GPU is an after-market card with a custom cooler and RGB lighting, I felt that the price was right for me to make the purchase. I have previously stated I was going to wait for the RTX 4060, but it’s coming in somewhere 2023, and both availability and prices are unknown.

  • Conversely, an RTX 3060 Ti going for close to MSRP is known in the moment, and the card is no slouch, even if the 4060 hypothetically trades with the 3080. I thus bought the card, which is a work of art with its steel backplate and RGB lighting, and installed it yesterday: although I’d been anticipating a tough installation, after I put the power cables into my machine back in March, it turns out I had all of the right pins in place, so it was a simple matter of pulling out my GTX 1060 and putting the larger 3060 Ti into the PCI slot. I’ve since tested the game on DOOM Eternal and was blown away by how I was getting a smooth 80 FPS with ray-tracing enabled on ultra settings, and in spite of this, the GPU usage was barely breaking 40 percent. Back in Benedizione, a stylised version of the kanji 姫 (Hepburn hime, literally “princess”) can be seen in Himeya’s logo while Akira and Aika share a heartfelt post-exam conversation. After looking around, I learnt that in Chinese, it’s an archaic way of saying “woman”, but it’s also a surname.

  • Both Akira and Aika subsequently cry their eyes out at the prospect of no longer being mentor and student, before regaining their composure, and as chibis, Akira resembles Mato. As memory serves, in Origination, Alicia had put off Akari’s Prima exam for the same reason; she’d come to greatly enjoy Akari’s company and wanted to spend more time with her. However, Alicia eventually takes the plunge and encourages Akari to take the exam. After Akari becomes a Prima, she takes over operations at Aria Company, while Alicia becomes a member of the Gondola Association. Despite their jobs taking them separate ways, Akari and Alicia can always meet, and similarly, even after Aika became a Prima, she’s still able to hang out with Akira with some frequency. Knowing this allows everyone to seize their futures without becoming distant.

  • With this, Aika’s journey towards becoming a Prima Undine of Himeya Company is now finished, and having now seen the whole of Aika’s story, it makes her path even more meaningful. ARIANatural and Origination had largely focused on Akari’s experiences as an Undine; some episodes were given towards the other characters to enrich Neo Venezia, but ultimately, the main story had been about how Akari’s open mind allows her to make the most of everything on Aqua and show that she has the characteristics of becoming an excellent Undine. However, this had left Alice and Aika’s stories untold: Crepuscolo and Benedizione rectify this to close off ARIA‘s story.

  • By this point in the evening, Athena and Alicia have both joined the others. The two end up hearing the last segments of Aika’s story, and with the whole crew assembled, the evening’s main event can continue. While both Crepuscolo and Benedizione don’t have anything quite as grand as the magical events of Natural or Origination, the emphasis on the characters and their stories proves to be the real magic here. The lack of supernatural in the later ARIA instalments was probably by design: the mystery surrounding Aqua and Neo Venezia ultimately is a matter of perspective, and the characters’ own encounters and experiences forms the excitement in their memories.

  • The time has finally come to retire the Himeya Company gondola. Earlier, Akari had explained to Ai that traditionally, retired gondolas are burned at a bonfire in a large ceremony. However, what was noticeable was how Akira chooses to handle the retirement of Himeya Company’s most iconic gondola: rather than setting it on fire as tradition stipulates, she places candles on it, and intends to donate it to the Undine Museum instead once the retirement ceremony is over.

  • Al ends up joining the others, stating that he would’ve liked to have been here for something that means a great deal to Aika. It was great to see characters from ARIA making a return in Crepuscolo and Benedizione: Al and Akatsuki were largely absent from Avvenire despite playing a role in ARIA, and while their presence is not as substantial here in the movies, it was pleasant seeing them nonetheless. In Benedizione, however, Akatsuki only makes two appearances, sneezing once when Akari mentions his name. His thoughts immediately stray to her after sneezing, and I found it touching that this was the case.

  • In the end, Aika commits to her decision of not inheriting the gondola. This had been something that would’ve doubtlessly lingered on both Azusa and the viewer’s mind throughout Benedizione: Aika’s choice is a reflection of who she is, and in choosing not to inherit the gondola, she indicates beyond any doubt that she absolutely intends on forging her on path ahead. However, the manner in which the retirement ceremony is conducted also speaks volumes to the fact that Aika is determined to allow both tradition and innovation to co-exist. Rather than burning Himeya’s last original gondola to retire it, the choice to donate it means future Undine can still look upon a gondola with a great deal of history behind it.

  • I believe that with BenedizioneARIA draws to a complete conclusion. When I wrote about Crepuscolo, I had been under the impression that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would have three parts, and as such, imagined that after Benedizione, there would be one final act to focus on Akari. However, as it turns out, Benedizione was in fact the last act, and Avvenire‘s three episodes was the first instalment. While I am a shade disappointed that there won’t be more ARIA or a dedicated film for Akari, this makes sense, since Akari’s story had already been covered in full during the three seasons: as a part of her open mind, Akari is one of the few people in Neo Venezia to have been personally guided by the Cait Sith himself.

  • Thanks to the Cait Sith, Akari has seen each of the Endless Waterway Hall, the Carnival Casanova, the Mirage Coffee Shop, the Galactic Train, the Lady of San Michele Island, the Stone of Misfortune and even the Cait Sith. This showed Akari’s attunement to, and appreciation of, the world around her. Having three full seasons to chronicle this meant that Akari’s own growth is already well-established, culminating with her Prima exam at the end of Origination. As such, it follows that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would be a sequel, set to show Ai, Azusa and Anya’s own development as they strive towards the goal of becoming Prima Undine themselves.

  • After the candles are lit and placed on the gondola, along with some roses, everyone thanks the gondola for having provided service for as long as it did. Seeing how Aika conducted herself, both as a prospective Prima and here, as a Prima, helped Akira to improve as an Undine, as well: there are cases where the student can influence and impress a mentor. Having been in both positions, I can attest to this fact, and I’ve always been of the mind that someone younger may yet surprise me in positive ways. I was ultimately glad that Himeya’s gondola was not torched, as it still remains a tangible piece of Himeya Company’s history.

  • As winter sets in, I believe that this marks the first time in the Blue Curtain Call trilogy where we’ve seen Neo Venezia with overcast skies. In spite of the gloomier weather, things are as peaceful and serene as they’ve always been. Akira prepares to head out on her day’s work, greeting Aika’s mother along the way. Aika’s mother had given Aika the choice of deciding whether or not she would one day take up her current post, and Akira had helped Aika to understand her decision. In the present, I imagine that Aika’s mother would be very proud to see Aika embracing both her family’s past and pursue innovation in her own manner.

  • Meanwhile, at Himeya Company’s branch, Aika’s firing up her staff with a new menu item, and Azusa, pleased to see Aika back to her old self, makes a tongue-in-cheek remark that causes Aika to reprimand her. It would seem that Azusa’s similarly inherited Aika’s tendency to make witty retorts. While this is likely the last viewers will see of Azusa, Anya and Ai, knowing how ARIA unfolds means their own futures are never in doubt: they each have good personalities about them, are willing to work hard, but also stop and smell the roses when appropriate, and each of Ai, Azusa and Anya have excellent mentors with them.

  • Benedizione closes with snapshots into the other characters day as a gentle snowfall arrives over Neo Venezia. At Orange Planet, Anya passes Alice a thermos full of honey tea so she’ll stay hydrated and warm during her work, commenting on how similar Alice is to Athena in the process. It’s a touching moment, and Alice replies that she’s still not worthy of being Anya’s senior just yet, much as how Athena lamented that she hadn’t been ready to mentor someone like Alice.

  • Meanwhile, at Aria Company, Ai, Akari and President Aria prepare for another day of work. Akari’s monologue, that things will continue on after the current generations have passed on, but how their feelings linger, act as a send-off for both Benedizione and ARIA as a whole. ARIA‘s original successes stemmed from the fact that the world-building had been solid, and the stories surrounding each of the characters were both seamlessly woven into Neo Venezia and Aqua, but at the same time, were immediately relatable. Together with its emphasis on an appreciation of the ordinary, ARIA became the forerunner for the anime today that strive be relaxing experiences.

  • Overall, ARIA the Benedizione and ARIA the Crepuscolo together earn an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or a perfect ten of ten): for longtime fans of the series, it is a suitable sendoff that gives Alice and Aika some shine time on top of bringing back all of the memories behind the characters and the considerable growth they’ve experienced throughout the series. While ARIA had been very forward with its messages and themes, the series never once comes across as being too overt with things: masterful use of the setting to tell a story means that the life lessons ARIA sought to convey are done so in a tactful manner.

  • One year ago, I finished Crepuscolo and had been staring down one life event that looked like it would change my life dramatically. Like the feelings each of Alicia, Athena and Akira faced when Akari, Alice and Aika were preparing to become Prima Undine, the prospect of moving felt quite intimidating. However, a year later, Benedizione is in the books, and I’ve now spent a half-year at the new place. While some parts of my life are quite different, others remain comfortingly familiar, allowing me to take stock and appreciate the parts that are different without overwhelming me.

  • These elements are what ARIA speaks most strongly to, and by Benedizione‘s conclusion, it is reasonable to suggest that, while change is inevitable, so is everyone’s ability to adapt and appreciate what life may bring to them. Benedizione concludes with the end-card, “Towards tomorrow, with the one you love”. It’s a fitting close to the series, and there’s a sort of finality about such a statement: so long as one is with those they care about, there isn’t any challenge that can’t be overcome. I imagine that this is the last time I’ll be writing about ARIA (unless I decide to return and revisit each of ARIANatural and Origination in the future); with this in mind, I hope that readers have enjoyed accompanying me on this journey through one of the most iconic iyashikei around.

When ARIA first began airing, I was learning about one-variable linear equations and trying to make sense of Lord of the Flies as a middle school student. I did not become familiar with anime until secondary school, and it wasn’t until I finished university that I began watching ARIA. After checking out ARIA The Avvenire as my graduate programme drew to a close, I would return and watch each of ARIA, ARIA The Natural and ARIA The Origination. In this series, I found an infinitely peaceful world that was superbly explored and developed, and moreover, I found a series whose characters were exceptionally written. Everyone’s experiences fit seamlessly into the unique world of Neo Venezia that Amano had built out, but the lessons that each of Akari, Aika and Alice found remained highly relevant. With a touch of supernatural, speaking to the idea that the world is vast, and some things remain unknowable despite our best efforts to study them, ARIA became a cornerstone series in the iyashikei genre. Having developed a reputation as an iyashikei connoisseur, I determined that it was worth checking out, and while the visuals in the original three seasons are dated, it became clear that ARIA lives up to the praise the series has garnered. What makes ARIA distinct is the fact that it is set in such a unique world, but in spite of this, thought and care had been placed to ensuring that this is a world whose mechanics are logical and consistent. With viewers confident that the world Amano had built withstands scrutiny, this allows ARIA to focus on its characters, and this combination gave ARIA its charm. The series had ended on a high note in Origination, with Akari earning Prima status and taking on Ai as her apprentice, but subsequently, returned to grace viewers with expansions to Anya, Alice, Athena, Azusa, Aika and Akira’s stories, as well. Having finished ARIA in full by the time Crepuscolo and Benedizione released, I was therefore able to see this series off on a very high note. The story within Benedizione, with its highly relatable and relevant themes, in conjunction with the fact that Benedizione is a swan song for ARIA, made the final film an emotional powerhouse. Benedizione thus becomes an essential experience for all fans of ARIA, one which offers a definitive close to the series by showing that each of Akari, Aika and Alice are going to be fine, and that the new Singles, Ai, Azusa and Anya, are in excellent hands as they strive to pursue a future as Undines, together on the idyllic planet of Aqua.

Harukana Receive Manga: Endgame Considerations and Whole-Series Reflection After Volumes Nine and Ten

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” –Douglas Adams

Following their victory at the Okinawan championships, Haruka and Kanata prepare for the Valkyrie Cup, a national-level competition. Akari is surprised to run into another beach volleyball player who’s searching for a partner, and it turns out that this particular volleyball player is none other than Natsuki Fukami, a skilled player whose older sister, Mika, is writing a piece on Okinawan players to keep an eye on in the upcoming tournament. As it turns out, Mika is also a coach for the pro leagues, and she’s interested in bringing both Haruka and Kanata on board. While the pair mull over their decision, Akari also receives invitations to visit a new cafe in the area. To decide who gets to go, Haruka, Kanata, Emily and Claire compete with both their exam scores and then wager on the outcome of the summer beach volleyball tournament. To help Haruka and Kanata grow, Emily suggests that they switch up partners so they’re aware of how capable one another is. In the end, the results are inconclusive, and Akari ends up receiving enough invitations so everyone can visit. Meanwhile, Ayasa reminisces on how she met Narumi, and of the promise they’d made to one another. When the Valkyrie Cup begins in Ehime prefecture, Kanata and Haruka face off against several tough opponents, all of whom have their own reasons for participating. In gruelling matches, the pair manage to earn their victories and end up reaching the finals, where they square off against defending champions Narumi and Ayasa. During this match, Haruka and Kanata initially hold their own, but a change in Ayasa and Narumi’s style throws Haruka off. Having read her opponents to gain a sense of how they play, Haruka is shocked that this pair seems unreadable. Although they lose the first set, Kanata reassures Haruka to trust her own judgement, and the pair are able to tie the series. In the end, Ayasa and Narumi win their third consecutive title. Narumi later speaks to Kanata: although Kanata might’ve lost the finals, Narumi is relieved that she was able to find her way again. Because she and Ayasa are set to fly back soon, Narumi and Ayasa decide to play another match with Haruka and Kanata.

With Harukana Receive‘s manga fully completed, Kanata’s journey finally draws to a close: although she and Haruka are unable to defeat Ayasa and Narumi in the finals to claim the Valkyrie Cup, the journey the pair take to reach this point is ultimately what gives Kanata strength to stand of her own accord. Here in Harukana Receive, the journey is plainly more important than the destination, and while Kanata and Haruka still have a ways to go before they’re able to win, their learnings over the course of a year prove instrumental in helping Kanata rediscover her own love for beach volleyball. Throughout the manga’s second half, this is a topic that is returned to time and time again, and while the volleyball remains at the forefront of events, underlying Haruka and Kanata’s desire to win, both for themselves and those around them is a desire for Kanata to rise above the emotional barriers holding her back. In playing with different partners, Kanata learns that Haruka, although still a novice, is a competent player in her own right. Haruka similarly begins to have more faith in her own abilities and makes an honest effort to lean less on Kanata’s judgement calls, in time, coming to learn how to read other players and help devise a means of overcoming them. While Ayasa and Narumi are still out of reach, the sheer progress that Haruka and Kanata make in such a short time impresses even Ayasa. As such, losing in the finals to Ayasa and Narumi isn’t as large of a blow as it would otherwise be: the fact that Haruka and Kanata could trade with the defending champions shows Narumi and Ayasa that there isn’t anything to worry about anymore. Kanata has overcome the loss of her mother, and in accepting Haruka as a partner, she’s been able to find her own way forward again. This in turn gives both Narumi and Kanata the strength they need to finally speak with one another, face-to-face. In their conversation, there is gratitude and relief, reflection and apology. In this way, while Haruka and Kanata do not win or fulfil their promise to take home the title, they have exceeded expectations in being able to perform so well together, and so, readers are left with confidence that, now that all of the past dæmons are addressed, both Kanata and Haruka are ready to take on whatever the future throws at them together.

Additional Remarks

  • This is my first-ever shot at a manga discussion, and it becomes clear that there’s a reason why I typically don’t write about manga: I normally prefer to have screenshots so I can give context to the things I discuss. It’s a little trickier to take photographs from the manga I’ve bought, and the results leave much to be desired, so I wasn’t able to include screenshots for this. With this being said, I do believe that Harukana Receive ends in such a way as to be worthy of a full-scale post. A quick look around finds that there’s zero discussion on what happens from volume six onwards. The anime concluded with volume five, so it’s fair to say that this is probably the only place where one can read about what happens after the anime finished: I hope that this post, while not in my usual format, helps to answer the question, “how does Harukana Receive end?”

  • Ever since watching Harukana Receive back in the summer of 2018, I found myself impressed with the series: I’m no beach volleyball player, but the anime had brought the sport to life in a way that was accessible, while wrapping a story of self-discovery and sportsmanship around it. After the anime ended, I learnt that the series had still been ongoing, and therefore became curious to check the manga out to see where Kanata and Haruka’s promise ended up. The end result was a fulfilling one: I’d gotten to the point where I was rooting for the pair in each match, and while I’d long known that Ayasa and Narumi represent the best of the best, I’d always hoped that grit and spirit would allow Haruka and Kanata the win.

  • However, even though Haruka and Kanata do not take the Valkyrie Cup, the amount of progress they’ve made in a year is impressive, enough to turn Ayasa’s head and even catch the attention of a former professional player turned coach. Harukana Receive‘s second half places a great deal of emphasis on the characters and provides hitherto unseen insight into how Narumi ended up so close to Ayasa. The focus on back stories meant that readers would become equally acquainted with the other characters’ experiences, in turn giving their raisons d’être more weight. This means that every match is an uphill battle, making them considerably more exciting. The advantage that the anime naturally has over the manga, then, is that it is able to convey the flow of each match better: the manga does an excellent job of showing the energy behind every play, but nothing is comparable to animating each scene and bringing it to life.

  • Although Akari had sat out competitions in the anime, Harukana Receive‘s manga has her training alongside Haruka, Kanata, Claire and Emily to the point where she ends up partnering up with someone and beginning her own journey towards playing beach volleyball. Along the way, new characters are introduced, and specifics behind Kanata’s mother are also shown. Further to this, Haruka’s mother also visits her in Okinawa, consenting to allow Haruka to choose her own future. While Harukana Receive has sports as its premise, the series is not a conventional sports story in that victory is secondary to personal growth. Themes of partners being like lovers are even more prominent in the second half, although I contend that it’s not a direct endorsement of romance. Instead, the idea here is that falling in love is broad enough of a metaphor to describe many situations in life, with partners in beach volleyball being one of them.

  • Having now finished the manga in full, questions inevitably turn towards whether or not a continuation is likely to occur. Considering that it’s been a shade under four years since Harukana Receive got an anime adaptation, I would suppose that anime-only viewers will not be seeing this series wrap up. Although an excellent all-around series, sales for Harukana Receive weren’t likely strong enough to warrant a second season to wrap things up. In spite of this, I found the journey to be well-written enough so that it deserved to be followed right through until the end: each volume costs 17 CAD, and I’ve been collecting Harukana Receive since the manga became available at my local bookstores in June 2019. Three years and 170 CAD later, I’ve got all ten volumes in my personal library, and with it, the complete experience. I don’t normally collect manga, so any series that I purchase to completion should speak volumes to how much I enjoyed it.

The ending to Harukana Receive is one that some number of the community would consider “realistic”: back when Girls und Panzer was airing, it was noted that the series would fail to deliver on its messages if Miho were allowed to win. However, what these individuals miss is that Girls und Panzer was about how Miho’s conviction in supporting those around her was enough to rally teammates to overcome all odds. By comparison, Harukana Receive‘s central focus in the manga’s second half lies with both Kanata striving to meet Narumi in a match to assague the latter’s worries for her, and Haruka learning to stand of her own accord as a beach volleyball player. The outcome of the finals, then, was never as important as what Haruka and Kanata learn as they train for the tournament and square off against players whose desire to win was no less than their own. All the while, Haruka and Kanata also learn that they have the opportunity to keep playing as a pair in the future; in order to make the most of such a future, Kanata and Haruka must first excise whatever dæmons that remain in their lives. Because this was the foe to overcome, the nationals suddenly become secondary, and Harukana Receive is therefore able to take a more “realistic” route. Had the manga been purely about a sports series, then it would have taken a more conventional route and have the pair win to show how finding the right team is essential towards achieving one’s goals. Because the themes in Harukana Receive are about how finding the right person can help one to accept their past and seize the future, victory was never the endgoal; Haruka and Kanata only needed to win the matches needed so the pair could face off against Ayasa and Narumi to show the latter that by now, Kanata’s recovered and capable of standing of her own accord, allowing Narumi to focus on being the best she can be, too. Harukana Receive thus concludes on a high note, and my four-year journey through this series comes to a close; although the outcomes were somewhat surprising, the series remains successful in conveying its themes.

Anime and Real Life, The Intersection of Magic and Maturity on the Shores of Okinawa: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of The Aquatope on White Sand

“If there is magic on this planet, it’s contained in water.” –Lorene Eisley

Readers may recall that a little less than a year ago, I’d hit the white sands of Okinawa’s beaches with the Oculus Quest and its Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC processor to find where Haruka and Kanata’s quest to become Japan’s top under-18 beach volleyball players took place. During this journey, I most enjoyed the fact that Harukana Receive took viewers to corners of Okinawa that locals would be familiar with. In The Aquatope on White Sand, after Fūka Miyazawa arrives in Okinawa on a spur of the moment, after deciding she needed to get away from things following her decision to quit the idol business, she immediately finds herself in a shopping district in downtown Naha. Fūka ends up meeting a fortune teller who tells her to go east, and after falling asleep near Hyakana Beach, she encounters Karin Kudaka, who recommends that Fūka check out the local aquarium near Nanjō. Here, Fūka has a fateful meeting with Kukuru Misakino; this chance meeting changes both girls’ lives forever, allowing them to pick themselves up from what the anime described as the ruins of shattered dreams. Like Harukana Receive, The Aquatope on White Sand focuses on locations that are a bit more out-of-the way to really convey a sense of authenticity, and during the series’ first half, Okinawa’s eastern coast is lovingly depicted, becoming as familiar and friendly as Fūka and Kukuru were. The region around Gama Gama is faithfully portrayed, although right from the start, it became clear that The Aquatope on White Sand was going to take liberties with locations – Gama Gama is located where Azama Sun Sun Beach stands, and a glance at satellite imagery finds no such aquarium at this spot. However, whereas The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first half portrayed Okinawa in such a way as to render viewers familiar with Kukuru’s home, the second half of the series placed a much greater emphasis on Kukuru and Fūka’s professional development as they work for the larger, better-funded and newer Tingarla Aquarium. The intensity of work displaces the wonders of Okinawa, and fewer locations were seen in this series’ second half; like Gama Gama, Tingarla is a fictional aquarium tailor-made for The Aquatope on White Sand. However, this hadn’t stopped me from keeping an eye on the locations in The Aquatope on White Sand – that the series continues to utilise real world locations speaks to the fact that both Fūka and Kukuru’s experiences are something with a basis on reality, something relatable. Since I’d already been familiar with Okinawa from previous location hunts, as well as the fact that Okinawa has 3D photogrammetry data, I continued on with my location hunt as the series progressed, and in the end, was able to find a few more locations of interest, far removed from the beaten trail that visitors normally tread when they visit Okinawa.

  • Being Japan’s equivalent of Hawaii, or Japan’s equivalent of Heinan, Okinawa is an oft-visited destination in anime: I’d previously done an Oculus Quest-powered location hunt for Harukana Receive, but will note that anime like Non Non BiyoriAzumanga DaiohPuraOre!, Ano Natsu De Matteru and countless others have also hit Okinawa’s tropical beaches and inviting waters during the summer. The Aquatope on White Sand returns things to Okinawa with its own unique spin of things, and utilises the wonderous sights of Okinawa for a new goal: to serve as the backdrop for two journeys of self-discovery and growth.

  • When The Aquatope on White Sand first began airing, P.A Works immediately established that the events would be set around Nanjō, Okinawa. This city has a population of 41000 and was established in 2006 from the merger of several villages in the Shimajiri District, together with the town of Sashiki. Located on the southeastern edge of Okinawa, Nanjō is due east of capital Naha. The fact that Nanjō is only fifty square kilometres meant I had a very manageable search area to work with, and after the first episode of The Aquatope on White Sand, I’d located the roads that Fūka had travelled along, starting with her walk here along Niraikanai Bridge.

  • Following Route 331 north allowed me to find the same spots The Aquatope on White Sand portrays throughout its earliest episodes, and while these are unremarkable in every way (they’re not exactly attractions or points of interest), they do showcase the level of attention paid to details in this anime. Although I had to imagine the tropical heat of Okinawa whilst using the Oculus Quest, every other detail was faithfully rendered, and I could imagine a lost Fūka wandering down the sidewalk along Route 331, wondering what the fortune teller’s advice from the previous day had meant.

  • As with the location hunt I’d done for The World in Colours, there are some spots in The Aquatope on White Sand where the Oculus Quest can’t reach simply because of constraints with Street View data: were one to have boots on the ground, they’d be able to simply walk up to a spot and grab a photo. However, Street View is still sufficiently comprehensive in Okinawa such that I had a reasonable time of finding everything: here, I locate the spots for one of the stills from the first episode’s beginning, which featured several frames of locations along Route 331.

  • A-Coop is a supermarket chain in Japan, and this particular A-Coop is one that visitors recommend: it stocks souvenirs as well as local Okinawan products like seasonings and sweets, selling them for reduced prices compared to more touristy shops in the area. This sort of thing wouldn’t be known to travellers who don’t wander off the beaten path, and it strikes me that, were I to visit Okinawa now, if I were looking for Okinawa specialties, A-Coops would not be a bad choice. I certainly wouldn’t have known about this had a not done a location hunt post, and this is one of the reasons why I’m so fond of location hunts (the effort to write about them notwithstanding).

  • A little further down the road is a post office, general store and travel agency: the travel agency occupies the same spot that Tsukimi’s family restaurant is located, and in the distance, the Minamishiroichi Sight Seeing Information Center can be seen. I’ve chosen not to include sites related to the characters, such as Tsukimi’s family restaurant and Gama Gama itself, because these were locations that were tailor-made for The Aquatope on White Sand. It is not uncommon for studios to modify locations to fit the anime’s story, and so, it goes without saying that folks looking to do a tour of The Aquatope on White Sand should not expect to find a cozy street-side eatery serving up Okinawan classics.

  • The building seen here is actually a coworking space called Agai Tida, which overlooks the Chinen Peninsula and offers a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. Despite its unassuming exterior, Agai Tida has a beautifully appointed interior. Coworking spaces are a relatively new construct that became popular in Europe during the mid-2000s, and in North America, became popular after Anca Mosoiu established a coworking space in the Bay Area. Presented as a chance for cross-discipline collaboration, coworking spaces allow different companies to share office space and utilities, as well as providing remote workers an office-like environment that working from home cannot provide. In my home town, coworking has seen limited success: my previous employer operated out of a coworking space owned by Aspen Properties, and I absolutely loved the environment the space provided.

  • In late 2019, WeWork had announced they had bought out a few floors in our building, including ours, forcing us to move to a smaller building a few blocks away. This building was removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown and had a lower occupancy, making it feel a little more isolated. However, at the global health crisis’ onset, we would ultimately give the space up and worked from home remotely to cut costs further. I’m no longer with this start-up, but having acclimatised to working from home, I’ve been able to adapt to my new position quite readily. Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, I’ve made a right turn off Route 331 down Shining Sun Road, which leads to Azuma Sun Sun Beach, home of Gama Gama Aquarium.

  • It turns out that the driftwood swing set seen in The Aquatope on White Sand is located at Azama Sun Sun Beach, and while it’s probably not the most exciting swing set in the world, there is an appeal about its aesthetic: it conveys a very lonely feeling that mirrors how this early on in The Aquatope on White Sand, Kukuru is completely alone in her endeavours to save Gama Gama Aquarium from closure. Looking back, I’d gone into The Aquatope on White Sand hoping that Gama Gama would be saved, since this was the magic of fiction, but the series ended up going above and beyond expectations in its portrayal of the transition to adulthood by showing how aspirations and dreams can be realised even if in the moment, it seems like there is no other way.

  • Azama Sun Sun Beach lies at the easternmost end of Nanjō, and its location means that compared to more well-known beaches in Okinawa, it is a ways less crowded. The beach offers basic services like showers and change rooms, in addition to tubing and paragliding. The shallow waters make this a suitable place to bring children, and there are a host of gazebos with picnic tables that are perfect for a day out, although visitors report that fees are charged for everything from parking to toilet paper and towels.

  • It is here, adjacent to the shores of Azama Sun Sun Beach, that Gama Gama Aquarium is located – it appears that the shallow waters east of the beach have been filled in to accommodate an aquarium, and moreover, in The Aquatope on White Sand, this aquarium’s been here for quite some time. Although Gama Gama itself is fictional, it is with some degree of irony that visitors looking to check Azama Sun Sun Beach for themselves will find it quite true to life in that Gama Gama was demolished during The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half.

  • While looking around the Nanjō area to see if Gama Gama was indeed real during The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first few episodes, I employed 3D imagery to lend a hand to the search process, and in doing so, I came across a pair of wind turbines located a short ways away from Niraikanai Bridge. Fūka and Kukuru aren’t ever shown as coming up here themselves, but during the first episode’s opening moments, a wind turbine can be seen through the grass.

  • The first half of The Aquatope on White Sand offers the lion’s share of the anime’s real-world locations: by the second half, the focus is in Kukuru and Tingarla Aquarium. Tingarla Aquarium itself is fictional, set in an undisclosed location, and after the second half began, I did a naïve search for all aquariums in Okinawa to see if any of them could have inspired Tingarla. If memory serves, nothing came up: DMM Kariyushi Aquarium is the largest in Okinawa and is located at the heart of Naha, but inspection of its exhibits find that Tingarla is an order of magnitude more sophisticated. However, I ended up finding another aquarium at Aeon Mall Rycom, the mall that Haruka and Kanata went swimsuit shopping at. This in turn led me to find the spot where Kukuru and Fūka’s apartment is located. The Aquatope on White Sand has a rental complex on the site, whereas in reality, private residences fill the site.

  • Kukuru and Fūka’s apartment was probably the toughest spot to find in the whole of the location hunt. Like the tougher spots from The World in Colours, finding the apartments that Kukuru and Fūka reside at simply took a lot of hours looking at a lot of locations inside the Ouclus Quest, and in the end, I canvased both the build-up areas east and west of the mall. In the end, I found the apartments, located four kilometres away from Aeon Mall Rycom on foot. It would take around 40 minutes to walk, whereas The Aquatope on White Sand suggests that the apartment is no more than 15 minutes from Tingarla.

  • The pair of Shisa guarding the entry into Route 39 can be found near the Nippon Life Naha Building at the intersection between Routes 39 and 42. Things look a little glitzier in the real world than they do in The Aquatope on White Sand, but the combination of Shisa and palm trees indicates this is indeed the spot, even though there are minute differences between anime and reality. Unlike Fūka and Kukuru’s apartment, these spots were considerably easier to find; after her arrival, Fūka is limited to only a few modes of transportation and ends up at a shōtengai, so a quick search for these shopping districts returned Makisihi Public Market down Route 39.

  • From here, I was able to trace Fūka’s steps from the airport to Makisihi Public Market, a total walking distance of 4.6 kilometres if one travels along Route 331. The building here, behind Fūka, is the entrance to a store and office building of sorts. Adjacent to this is an ice cream shot, Blue Seal: if memory serves, this is where Fūka ends up grabbing an ice cream. Blue Seal was originally an American company that made ice cream for Americans in Okinawa, but by 1963, they served everyone and began integrating Okinawan flavours into their ice cream.

  • This is the entrance to Makisihi Public Market, known to locals as Naha’s Kitchen for its dazzling array of fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. The market opened in 1972, and there’s a second floor with all manner of Okinawan eateries on the second floor. For visitors looking to have the most authentic Okinawan experience possible, Makisihi Public Market is the place to visit. It suddenly strikes me that, how these establishing shots were framed really serve to capture the melancholy in Fūka when she first set foot in Okinawa.

  • The incidental music in The Aquatope on White Sand absolutely captures this, and on the topic of the soundtrack, it released earlier today. Yoshiaki Dewa reprises his role from The World in Colour, incorporating the sanshin into songs that convey a sense of longing and sadness. In particular, the tracks that stood out most for me was Fūka’s theme, Sea Turtle Fūka and Farewell to Dolphins. The Fūka at The Aquatope on White Sand‘s end the difference between night and day, being more outgoing and confident. However, every journey began somewhere, and it is amidst one of the smaller shops at Makisihi Public Market where Fūka’s course changes forever, when she meets a fortune teller who sends her eastward, towards Gama Gama Aquarium.

  • Having already shown where Gama Gama is, I see no reason to go back, and instead, will present a shot of Naha’s skyline from Daiwa Roynet Hotel: this hotel opened in 2015 and combines clean facilities, attentive staff and an excellent location with reasonable rates. There’s a restaurant on the top floor that offers an unmatched view of Naha, visible here. From here, the Naha Terrace (another hotel, visible as the building with a stairwell outside) can be seen, as well as the Fuso Building (just above the large apartment complex) and the ocean itself.

  • The building that Kukuru and Tetsuji meet the wedding planner at actually does host a wedding-related company in reality: Bridal House Tutu. They’re located down Route 58, and specialise in wedding attire rental. Bridal House Tutu actually has locations throughout Japan, from Sapporo to Osaka, and besides Western-style dresses and tuxedoes, Bridal House Tutu also rents out traditional kimonos, too. Tutu has access to several venues in Okinawa, and it speaks to the realism in The Aquatope on White Sand that a similar company is looking to expand the variety of places it has available to customers.

  • Looking around, one finds the road Tetsuji and Kukuru stand alone prior to entering the building. Finding this location boiled down to a bit of luck; it was a shot in the dark as to whether or not I would actually be able to locate the building, and I ended up doing a search for a range of wedding-related topics to see if anything would stick. Similarly to Kukuru and Fūka’s apartment, it took a bit of searching using the Oculus Quest to find the location. Standing in contrast with the locations from The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first half, which were clustered around Nanjō’s eastern edge, the second half’s locations are scattered throughout Okinawa.

  • This spot, for instance, is located along the Hija River in Furugen, and again, was only found because I’d been looking around the shores of Kadena Air Base to see if there were any familiar spots. Given how everything is placed in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half, the series’ detractors might argue that the haphazard choice of locations mirror the shift in the story’s focus. Fortunately, it is usually the case that people who tear down anime don’t exactly have the sharpest of minds or the best understanding of literary analysis – no one has yet suggested that the locations of The Aquatope on White Sand parallel the quality of writing. Had this happened, I would counter that in the series’ second half, Kukuru’s focus is narrowed, mirroring how adults often lose sight of the world around them because of their singular devotion towards accomplishing their goals.

  • During my search for other aquariums around Okinawa that might’ve been the inspiration for Tingarla,  I came across Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. This aquarium opened in 1975 as a part of the World Expo, and is one of the largest aquariums in the world, being one of the few places that exhibit whale sharks and manta rays in its tanks. In 2002, the original expo facility was replaced by a larger, and more modern installation, leading attendance rates to increase nearly six times. General admissions for adults is 1880 Yen (20.90 CAD), and a glance at the map shows that Churaumi (“Beautiful Ocean”) is vast: besides the main building, the entire area is a park. The pavilion here, where Fūka, Kukuru and Karin often have lunch, is replicated faithfully. Unfortunately for proponents of realism, Churaumi is located some 65 kilometres away from where Kukuru and Fūka live: it is simply not walkable.

  • One location that was almost certainly tailor-made for The Aquatope on White Sand was the island Kukuru ends up visiting on her unsanctioned break, and a quick look at the topological data found nothing in Okinawa that resembled this island. Conversely, when Fūka returns home, she and Kaoru head down Route 58 just south of Nago. This particular bend in the road is located near Nuchigusui, a coastal restaurant with an impressive menu: visitors report fair prices and large portions for dishes, which are tried-and-true classics with an Okinawan twist. While The Aquatope on White Sand represents one of the more tricky location hunts I’ve ever done, right alongside The World in Colours, I’m glad to have taken the time to do a handful of comparisons between anime and real life: it definitively shows the effort that went into making both series captivating and compelling.

The Aquatope on White Sand presented a different set of challenges for location hunting compared to The World in Colours – the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand had utilised fictionalised spots in conjunction with real world locations, and this has made the process considerably more difficult. For instance, Kukuru and Fūka are shown to live within walking distance of Tingarla, but no landmarks near Tingarla are ever shown. Attempts to do a search of coastal areas comes up short; an aquarium of Tingarla’s size would be located in Naha, and in reality, the largest aquarium in Naha is DMM Kariyushi Aquarium, which is five klicks south of Naha Airport. However, the entire area is flat, and Tingarla is shown as being located near some cliffs. This led me to search for aquariums elsewhere in Okinawa, and although this approach allowed me to find Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is an established aquarium that does provide some of the inspiration for Tingarla, I was left with no more clues about things, since the nearest town, Nago, is twenty-two kilometres away by car, making it unlikely that Fūka and Kukuru would commute here on foot. Similarly, Rycom Aquarium, inside Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom, is located too far inland to be an appropriate candidate. However, knowing that this did show up in the search led me to look around the area, and while it’s not particularly walkable, I did end up finding the area that inspired Fūka and Kukuru’s apartment. I was left to conclude that, while the major aquariums of The Aquatope on White Sand might be fictional, there remained a large number of places that inspired the places seen in the anime; the decision to retain some real world locations and create fictionalised spots speaks to how The Aquatope on White Sand is intended to tell a very specific story, and that there were moments where it was more appropriate to modify things a little so the anime was more effective in its intended aims. This aspect is a common part of fiction, and the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand took this route is to mirror the fact that realism isn’t a given anime’s objective. However, while the largest players in The Aquatope on White Sand might have no real world equivalent, numerous other spots in The Aquatope on White Sand are indeed real, speaking to the idea that the lessons this anime were aiming to convey have a basis in reality, as well. Having now gone through yet another location hunt set in Okinawa, home of my martial arts style (gōjū-ryū), I am left with the conclusion that, should I ever decide to travel to Okinawa in the future, I’d be able to do a three-in-one special: besides experiencing the touristy things that anime often depict, I’d also have a chance to walk the same beaches Haruka and Kanata vie for the beach volleyball championships in, as well as treading the same paths that Fūka and Kukuru take on their journey to becoming fully-fledged members of society. Such a trip is enticing, but as I’d noted in the location hunt for The World in Colours, any journey of this scale is going to have to wait a little while longer. Until the time is appropriate, however, I have access to a tool that will allow me to imitate the experience: Okinawa is only the opening of an app, and the flick of a wrist, away for me in the Oculus Quest.

Anime and Real Life, Finding The Colours of Nagasaki: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara

“Without black, no colour has any depth. But if you mix black with everything, suddenly there’s shadow – no, not just shadow, but fullness. You’ve got to be willing to mix black into your palette if you want to create something that’s real.” –Amy Grant

Fireworks fill the sky of Nagasaki in August 2078 – it’s a beautiful evening, and the skyline below is barely recognisable from its 2018 counterpart. However, Hitomi Tsukishiro is about to head back sixty years with help from her grandmother, Kohaku. After Hitomi developed achromatopsia, she became unable to see the world in colours and fell into a depression. Kohaku believes her teenaged self will be able to help Hitomi find happiness anew and so, has opted to send her back in time using magic, a power which runs in the Tsukishiro family. When Hitomi opens her eyes, she finds herself in a world sixty years earlier. While nowhere nearly as well-developed as she knows it, Hitomi finds that the Nagasaki of 2018 is a bustling city of around four hundred thousand people. In this older time, Hitomi ends up befriending members of the photography and art club, along with her grandmother; sharing time with each of the younger Kohaku, Yuito, Asagi, Kurumi, Shō and Chigusa helps Hitomi to rediscover the magic in her life, allowing her to find colours in her world anew. It is in Nagasaki that the events of 2018’s Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara (The World in Colours from here on out) are set. Nagasaki sports the unfortunate distinction being one of two cities in the world to have ever been devastated by an atomic attack in 1945. On August 9, the plutonium bomb was detonated over the city, instantly killing some thirty-five thousand people. Nagasaki was slowly rebuilt after the Second World War. Reconstruction only really began a year after the bombings, with a particular emphasis on transforming the former military city into a centre of commercial ship-building, trade and fishing. By 1949, redevelopment accelerated with the passing of the Nagasaki International Culture City Reconstruction Law, and thanks to the efforts directed towards reconstruction, the Nagaski we know forms the backdrop for Hitomi’s own journey. It is here that magic and the mundane intertwine – in The World in Colours, the ability to control magic is a trait that women in the Tsukishiro family share, and Hitomi had shut her powers away after her mother had left the family. Unlike P.A. Works’ previous anime, The World in Colours places magic at the series forefront, treating it as another skill that can create joy for others, rather than something that brings about miracles. While Nagasaki isn’t a particularly magical city (being better known for its temples and museums), The World in Colours‘ commitment to realism means that the anime is able to tell a particularly compelling story: bringing Nagasaki to life means being able to convince viewers that magic is very much a reality, even if it cannot manifest as the phenomenon that Kohaku and Hitomi can master.

  • Because The World in Colours is a story filled with magic and witchcraft, it makes sense to open the post with a virtual visit to the Forest Witch Café, which forms the inspiration for the Tsukishiro magic shop that Hitomi lodges at. In reality, the Forest Witch Café is located some twenty-seven kilometres away from the heart of Nagasaki. The restaurant is named for its location in the forest. The owners take pride in using home-grown ingredients in their dishes: vegetables come straight from their garden, and their curry is a favourite amongst patrons.

  • A quick glance at Forest Witch Café’s menu finds a wonderful variety of dishes: their lunch special is only 1650 Yen, featuring a salad fresh from their garden and homemade chicken confit, soup, a choice of house curry or pasta and a dessert, plus coffee. This is only available with a reservation. For visitors looking to do dinner, courses start at 3500 Yen. Similarly, there’s also a handful of coffees and sweets available for those seeking a pit stop. Besides this delightful café, which forms the backdrop for the Tsukishiro magic shop, Forest Witch Café also does tarot fortune telling, as well. In real life, there’s also a small shop behind the café that sells Witch-themed trinkets and goods: Owing to its location, visitors will need to take a few buses or rent a car to reach this café, which, compared to the rest of the locations in this post, is quite out-of-the way.

  • In The World in Colours, the house behind the magic shop is where the Tsukishiros live. Hitomi has numerous memories of spending time with Kohaku here, and According to Kohaku’s grandmother, their house was built in 2017 (the same year my new place was built) Inspection of satellite imagery finds that the Tsukishiro residence looks nothing like its counterpart in The World in Colours, but this is unsurprising, since actual character residences are usually custom-designed to fit with the story’s requirements.

  • Back when The World in Colours was airing, the one location I had confidence in locating was Megami Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge that takes route 51 over Nagasaki Bay. Completed in 2005, the bridge’s main span is 480 metres in length, and is beautifully illuminated by nightfall. The World in Colours had the Magic-Photography-and-Art Club attempt to catch a ferry passing underneath for a unique photo, and while they fail, the evening is a memorable one, typifying the journey that this anime had sought to convey.

  • Being the only cable-stayed bridge in the immediate area, finding Megami Bridge alone didn’t offer me with much to write about. However, last September, I was looking to do a location hunt for The World in Colours after utilising the Oculus Quest to identify and share locations within the anime that I’d previously watched. The premise behind these location hunts is simple enough: I can’t put boots on the ground right now owing to the global health crisis, but Google Street View is extensive enough for me to visit mundane, ordinary spots such as these.

  • Armed with a combination of 3D photogrammetry data and full immersion offered by a powerful VR headset, I found that it was possible to locate things with a much greater confidence than before, since the VR environment allowed me to quickly look around and orient myself. BY comparison, using Street View on a desktop computer or tablet is more limiting. In this way, I was able to make progress in finding the same streets that Hitomi and Kohaku hit during their time together in The World in Colours: by looking around for landmarks, I was able to define a starting point. This spot, for instance, was located after I found Izumokinrin Park and began looking for landmarks like Ōura Elementary School, which is visible on the hill in the right hand side.

  • To start off such a journey, I began by using Google Maps’ 3D photogrammetry data to explore areas near Megami Bridge, and in a curious turn of fate, one location caught my eye: Mount Nabekanmuri Park. This is the spot Hitomi visits in 2078 during the finale, being the place she and Yuito shared thoughts together away from the more rowdy and energetic crowd that is the Magic-Photography-and-Arts Club. To my surprise, just across the valley is the spot where Yuito shares his drawings with a curious Hitomi: Izumokinrin Park. Closer inspection of the park finds the same pavilion and amphitheater that forms the site of where Kohaku performs the complex bit of magic to send Hitomi back into the future.

  • A search for high schools in the area, near Izumokinrin Park, finds exactly one candidate whose exterior matches the high school Hitomi and Kohaku attend perfectly: this is Nagasaki Minami High School, which is only a stone’s throw from Izumokinrin Park. True to reality, the school seen in The World in Colours has the same statue and clock near its front. The World in Colours shows the high school both as it appeared in 2018, as well as again in 2078 – the school itself was opened in 1961, so by the events of The World in Colours, the school would’ve likely undergone several renovations to remain in full operations even a full 117 years later.

  • Nagasaki Minami High School can be seen on the hill here:  tracing the path the Magic-Photography-Arts Club take, I was able to find this spot without too much trouble. I’m always fond of still like these: the mirror, railings, yellow house and utility pole in both the anime and real-life versions match up pretty closely. While such spots are easy enough to find after locating the landmark, The World in Colours presented me with another challenge. Kohaku and the others are fond of taking side routes down flights of stairs that line the hills of Nagasaki.

  • There are a lot of narrow streets in Nagasaki, and even more stairwells cutting up and down the steep slopes, but Google Street View doesn’t go down these paths, so the steps that everyone uses as shortcuts are something that I wasn’t able to replicate in my Oculus-powered travels – as one would reasonably expect, the Oculus Quest is not the magic bullet solution for replacing travel outright. However, owing to current circumstance, the ability to almost wander the streets of Nagasaki with the same freedom as I would in reality is a welcome one.

  • To my great surprise, the park that the Magic-Photography-and-Art Club visit during The World in Colours‘ sixth episode is actually within walking distance of their high school. This is Glover Garden, an open-air museum that showcases Nagasaki’s western-style buildings. The most famous of these is the Former Glover House, which belonged to Scottish merchant Thomas Glover, who would later play a role in overthrowing the Tokugawa Shogunate, kicking off the Meiji Restoration. Glover Garden most closely resembles Calgary’s Heritage Park in that many of the buildings here were relocated from other parts of the city, and there’s a 620 Yen admission fee to the site.

  • Yuito is shown to be working at the Jiyu-tei Café and Teahouse, which is located in Glover Garden’s grounds. Open from 0930 to 1715, Jiyu-tei Café and Teahouse is known for its ambience and Castella, a Japanese sponge cake that Nagasaki is particularly well-known for. According to their website, Jiyu-tei offers Castella sets with seasonal drinks, although they do have cake and ice cream on their menu, along with a solid selection of hot and iced teas and coffees. Visitors report friendly service and love the ambience: altogether, one would probably find this to be a fantastic place to take someone on a date.

  • It suddenly strikes me that as a result of location hunting for anime, and as a result of looking around town for restaurants, I’ve amassed a reasonable knowledge of places nearby, including those that could prove quite romantic. In Nagasaki, Glover Park seems like a great place for a first date. The bridge that Kohaku crosses near Nagasaki Seaside Park, on the other hand, is a little more mundane, being something seen en route to a date – there are actually a pair of these bridges, and the one Kohaku crosses is the further one from Route 499, whereas here, I’m only able to see the first of the bridges. This is a case of “close enough”, since I wasn’t able to find a way of getting closer, but fortunately, the bridges are similar enough so that readers should be convinced that P.A. Works also replicated this spot with their usual attention to detail.

  • This particular spot offers an unparalleled view of Nagasaki’s skyline: it is located near Ōura Elementary School, not more than a quarter-kilometre from the Glover Garden. The stunning nightscape reminds me a great deal of the hill where Stuttgart’s House R128 is located: this house is well-known for being a modernist home capable of fulfilling its energy requirements and possesses an open floor concept: the only closed rooms in the house are the bathrooms. I’ve long had a fascination with this style of living: the open concept exposes the house to nature, and by night, the Stuttgart cityscape can be seen.

  • When I first finished watching The World in Colours, I had no idea as to where the walkway that Kohaku was running along was located: I still recall how in a similar frame during one of my The World in Colours posts, I only remarked that the site looked photorealistic. This time around, because I had found numerous of the landmarks in Nagasaki for, I was able to determine that this walkway is a part of Glover Sky Road, which consists of a covered escalator similar to Central Mid-Level escalators in Hong Kong, which is the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator.

  • Glover Sky Road is the best way to reach Glover Garden if one were approaching from the east end, and this escalator system is something that locals also appreciate, making it much easier to get around: this project was built to increase accessibility in Nagasaki, and was the first of its kind in Nagasaki. Like Hong Kong’s Central Mid-Level Escalator, Glover Sky Road has since become something of a local attraction, offering visitors with a brilliant view of Nagasaki’s cityscape.

  • Here at the intersection where Hitomi and Yuito see one another off, the Former Mitsubishi No. 2 Dock House can be seen to the left. Featuring high ceilings, coal-fired fireplaces and large windows, this building was constructed in 1896 as a dormitory for sailors. In 1972, it was relocated to its current site, and presently houses an exhibit on Nagasaki’s shipyards; shipbuilding has been an integral part of Nagasaki’s economy, alongside heavy industry.

  • After Hitomi and Yuito part ways, Hitomi prepares to make her way down Glover Sky Road and return home. The Tsukishiro home and magic shop is a central location in The World in Colour, and were such a site to be real, it would certainly be worth visiting: the magic shop is filled with luminescent jars of star-sand that exude a gentle, calming glow, and the Tsukishiro residence is smartly designed. In particular, Hitomi and Kohaku’s rooms are separated by a circular opening, allowing the two to open up to one another without exposing themselves wholly, mirroring how Kohaku takes things with Hitomi one step at a time.

  • There’s also a skylight in the Tsukishiro residence that gives Hitomi a beautiful view of Nagsaki’s nightscape and harbour. Initially, this spot comes to act as a refuge of sorts for Hitomi, representing a distant vantage point that emphasises her removal from the world. As Hitomi grows closer to the Magic-Photography-Art Club, she begins to tread the streets of Nagasaki with the others, signifying a better connection to the world around her. Here, Yuito and Hitomi head down Ringer Street, adjacent to Ōura Elementary School.

  • This intersection is located down Oda-Kaigan Dori near Nagasaki Seaside Park. Owing to the lack of Street View coverage down here, I wasn’t able to capture the places where Hitomi and Shō visited together; while ostensibly for club activities, Shō had taken a liking to Hitomi and this was a bit of a date of sorts. Chigusa and Kurumi also spend time together here while Kurumi waits for her older sister to arrive. Despite lacking the imagery, given that The World in Colour faithfully renders things like the intersection, it is not inconceivable that P.A. Works would’ve taken the time to ensure the park in The World in Colours was true to its real-world counterpart, as well.

  • A little further down the road, the Nagasaki Harbour Medical Centre can be seen, along with line 5 of the Nagasaki Electric Tramway. The tramway has a lengthy history and was opened in 1915 and is the only tramway in Japan to have retained all of its original lines: despite an adult fare of 130 Yen, the company remains profitable, and The World in Colour has the Magic-Photography-Arts Club utilising public transit quite frequently, allowing me to follow it and locate other areas of interest.

  • One such spot is Oranda Bridge crossing a tributary of the Nakashima River, where Kohaku wonders if feelings for Yuito might be the cause of Hitomi’s colour vision intermittently returning. To the right, the Juhachiginko Head Office building can be seen, and the building on the left houses Gibraltar Life Insurance. The Nagasaki Electric Tramway Line 1 runs along this road, so following it using VR allowed me to find this spot. While other sites, such as Like a Fish in Water, utilise Japanese social media and bloggers from Hatena to do the heavy lifting for them, my location hunt posts depend entirely on the technology available to me.

  • As such, finding a spot entails locating landmarks, putting the Oculus Quest headset on and “walking” around until I locate the area of interest, based purely on my estimates of where something is using hints from the anime. The process is quite tiring, and in order to avoid eyestrain, I limit my sessions to a quarter-hour at a time. For this post, locations were a ways more obscure than usual, so it took a lot of wandering over a lot of hours to find everything, such as this spot in a quiet neighbourhood near Shiiko Park. Altogether, it took around 20 hours spaced out since September to actually locate enough spots of interest, which is why this post is only out now.

  • The last spot I’ll cover in this location hunt is the observation platform at Mount Nabekanmuri Park: because The World in Colours had Yuito and Hitomi visit an observation point where the Megami Bridge was visible, I ended up doing a search to see which places in Nagasaki would offer such a view. This was the spot I would use as a starting point for my location hunt using the Oculus Quest, and I decided to save it for last because the views up here are spectacular. Although the ascent can be a little difficult for some, visitors generally report that it is well worth it.

  • With this VR-powered location hunt in the books, I’m glad to have taken the effort of treading through The World in Colours‘ locations. While certainly all of the locations possible, being able to nonetheless see iconic spots in The World in Colours using the Oculus Quest and Wander, without having to board a plane and put boots on the ground, speaks volumes to what’s possible with this technology. With the location hunt for one of director Toshiya Shinohara’s signature anime in the books, I remark that I’ve got another location hunt coming up in under a week while I’m on a roll with finding places in anime.

The World in Colours represented a very unique challenge with respect to location hunting – previously, I’d used the Oculus Quest in rural areas with great success, but urban areas were intimidating because the sheer amount of streets and structures would make it considerably more difficult to locate points of interest. This is because when location hunting, I typically start with a landmark, and then use the characters’ preferred modes of transportation to determine where other sites are. If characters typically walk, I’ll know to determine which streets provide the easiest path to their next destination. Similarly, characters taking the train means seeking out their destination station and then exploring nearby areas. In rural areas, like those of Yamanashi, or smaller urban areas like Kawagoe, this isn’t a challenge because the search area is smaller. Google Maps has improved dramatically over the years, and an increasing amount of regions on Earth now have 3D data available, so using a combination of 3D photogrammetry data and the Oculus Quest is usually sufficient to pinpoint the spots seen in an anime. However, after a city becomes large enough, these techniques become more time-consuming, and limitations in map data also preclude certain areas from being visited. In The World in Colours, for instance, Hitomi and the others often take narrow stairwells connecting streets together, and these paths are simply inaccessible in the Oculus Quest. However, on the flipside, even in a city as large as Nagasaki, the old techniques still work: locating the park where Kohaku and the others prepared to send Hitomi back to 2078 was the breakthrough moment, and after this game-changer, I determined that most of the areas of interest would likely be walkable (i.e. within 3 kilometres). From this point onwards, I ended up identifying several key areas seen in the anime simply by strolling the streets using the Oculus Quest, and ultimately, I accumulated enough spots to do a discussion on the locations seen in The World in Colours. In this way, the combination of sophisticated technology, prior experience in location hunting and a little bit of patience has allowed me to identify the same spots that Hitomi visits with the Magic-Photography-and-Arts Club during her time in 2018. The end result is that, should I ever decide to plan a trip to Nagasaki in the future, I wouldn’t have much trouble in finding the locations to an anime that had deeply moved me when I’d first watched it. However, for the time being, any trip to Nagasaki (or Japan, for that matter) remains a hypothetical, and consequently, I am glad that we are at a point where it is possible to do the next best thing from the comfort of an armchair – walk the virtual streets of Nagasaki using the Oculus Quest.

Revisiting Higurashi GOU and SOTSU With Dewbond: Were The Sequels Worth It?

“If you’re wondering what I mean by ‘miracle’, it’s simple: a miracle is a shift in perspective from fear to love.” –Gabrielle Bernstein

2020’s Higurashi GOU and this year’s Higurashi SOTSU very quickly became entangled in controversy after revealing that Satoko had been the architect of Rika’s renewed suffering after her efforts to fit into life at St. Lucia were met with failure: on a reunion trip to Hinamizawa to meet up with Keiichi, Rena and Mion, Satoko declines an invite to go to dinner with the others, and instead, wanders the village, which is slowly changing as a sign of the times. Upon coming upon the ceremonial shed behind the temple, Satoko finds herself transported into another dimension and determines that she would very much like to take a shot at changing things in her favour. Now armed with the power of the gods, to live in loops, Satoko returns to old timelines and digs up old fights with the singular pursuit of utterly crushing Rika’s spirit. Higurashi and its sequel, KAI, had decisively wrapped up the series in 2007, so to see a sequel series appear some thirteen years after the originals had ended was a bit of a surprise. Viewers were even more surprised with the directions and outcomes that GOU and SOTSU have taken – the results were widely deemed unsatisfactory, and in the aftermath, some viewers raised the question of whether or not GOU and SOTSU should have even existed to begin with. This is a rather expansive topic, and certainly one that I am not going to be capable of adequately answering on my own.

  • This latest collaboration between Dewbond and myself actually began during the Canadian Thanksgiving Long Weekend, a short ways after SOTSU drew to a close. These discussions are always enjoyable, and it is fantastic to be able to get a fresh set of eyes on things. While our conversation this time around might not be as lengthy as some of our previous collaborations, I’m certain readers will find things interesting. Before Dewbond and I continue with our party, I will stop to briefly mention that five years ago to this day, I convocated from graduate school to earn my Master’s of Science in Computer Science.

Within minutes of finishing SOTSU, it became clear to me that to tackle the topic of these Higurashi sequels, it would be wise to get another set of eyes on things. I thus welcome Dewbond of Shallow Dives in Anime back for our latest collaborative discussion. I do not mind admitting that, this time around, I’ve actually got no idea where things will begin: Dewbond, it’s great to have you back, and I turn the floor over to you!


Thanks for having me back once again Zen. I knew once SOTSU and the Higurashi sequel as a whole finished up, we would return to this topic once more. I’m glad I did, because while we briefly discussed this last time, we can now really dig into it with everything said and done.

I will say that I have not been surprised at the reception towards this series. Higurashi is a beloved and popular anime series, which means any attempt to cash in on a sequel wasn’t going to work. It never has. Very much like the endless loops, the idea of a sequel to a beloved property has never been successful. Gundam SEED, Code Geass, Inuyasha, all of them are examples. Higurashi had really no chance, especially when its story, a masterful transformation from ‘horror of the week’ to ‘fantasy/conspiracy thriller’ was so bloody well told. What chance did GOU and SOTSU really have?

This is made further clear, with the way that GOU seemed to play with people’s expectations. Many believed that it would be a full on remake of the original series, which it was, until it wasn’t. That turned a lot of people off. But what do you think Zen? What were your expectations going into Higurashi GOU?


My expectations upon hearing about GOU were practically non-existent. As you’ve noted, Higurashi and KAI had presented such a masterful twist, and wrapped things up so decisively that sequels were simply unnecessary: Rika got her ending, and even Miyo found a way to liberate herself from her curse.

After watching the early trailers, I decided I would give things a go: going purely from these, I too imagined that GOU would be a sort of HD remaster, of re-telling familiar stories with updated visuals, and perhaps, a bit of foreshadowing to show off small details that might’ve not been present. I certainly wasn’t expecting things to head where it did! How about you, Dewbond? At GOU‘s onset, was there a direction you were looking for the series to take?


I first expected it like you, to be an HD remaster of the series, or a top-down remake. However it didn’t take long for the series to be something else. A small change there, a little difference here. The fact that the show was so similar at the start probably rubbed people the wrong way. I went into it after my second re-watch of the series so I was a little bit more grated.

I think Higurashi GOU/SOTSU‘s biggest thing was that there was a clear lack of understanding of what it is. Most of that was because there was a brand new mystery to solve. Had that been brought up at the start, it might have gone down with viewers better.

With it all done as I said though, I enjoyed where the story went. And let’s save a bit of time and assume viewers know the general jist of the series, and get into the big changes. Zen, what were your thoughts on Rika being tossed back inside the loops, and the idea of Satoko being behind it?


I have mixed feelings about having Satoko being the architect of Rika’s renewed suffering. On one hand, Higurashi had ended on such a conclusive note that it felt gratuitous to bring things back to where they’d been before Rika begn actively working to overcome her curse. It’d be equivalent to winning a gold medal fair and square, only for the medal to be redacted for an arbiturary reason. On the flipside, viewers were indeed stuck in Hinamizawa during the first season and KAI: until GOU, we’d never actually saw what sort of life Rika had been yearning for. Seeing her survive through the Cotton-Drifting Festival, graduate from middle school and gain admittance to St. Lucia was a rather exciting direction, and I was quite fond of how the series portrayed the widening rift between the two close friends.

Having said this, subjecting Rika to the unending, gruesome fates that resulted from Satoko’s interventions was a bit of a shocker, and my gut reaction was that this seemed to stand against what Higurashi and KAI intended its themes to be. The Satoko of Higurashi and KAI had been instrumental in helping Rika, so it felt illogical to see this change of heart. It’s honestly something that I’m torn about, at least until I had a chance to read the excellent points in one of your posts about Satoko’s fear of change, of losing Rika, as driving force behind why she is driven to such extremes. In fact, it feels like the reason why things get as out-of-hand as they do sounds like it is a consequence of Rika and Satoko being so close to one another: is it fair to say that the closer these two were, the more inevitable that we would get what we saw in GOU and SOTSU?


I think you are right on the money. The one thing I do think GOU and SOTSU get full marks for, is the story they wanted to tell. Satoko and Rika’s conflict is a logical place for the story to go. Instead of trying to go back to the well of usual antics, it instead tries to tell a story about how characters change and involve. Just because Rika solved her predicament didn’t mean her life was now perfect. Life goes on, and new problems come. The push and pull between what these two characters want became that new problem, and Higurashi asks a new question: What is Satoko Hōjō without Rika Furude? And what is Rika Furude without Satoko Hōjō?

Rika and Satoko only had each other, and being the only two characters close in age, had a deep bond that can only come from two children growing up. They were each other’s world, and for Satoko, the only real positive and constant force in her life. The idea of that going away, and being removed from that safe space, its the biggest fear she ever has. Because just what is Satoko without Rika? Can there even be a Satoko, or would she become consumed by the traumas that had haunted her life? What did you think of this Zen?


The sheer strength of emotion driving Satoko to the lengths that she did in order to break Rika’s will reminded me of Mark Frost: “there is no light without darkness”. This bit of poetry spoke generally to the idea of Yin and Yang, of things that necessarily exist because the other exists. Satoko’s own life is no picnic, and considering that her friends had been her source of comfort and support, it was only natural that she would seek out the path that she believes would provide her these things. Rika, similarly, had lived lifetimes of suffering, and through it all, Satoko had been unequivocally there for her, too. Neither can exist without the other, and Rika’s sparing Satoko at the end of their fight speaks to that; no matter what comes between them, there are more important things yet.

The way things panned out in GOU and SOTSU creates a bit of a tragedy: it is so easy to fall onto our own values and think of Satoko poorly for her actions here, but looking back now, it turns out that Satoko’s resorting to increasingly extreme methods was a consequence of her own despair. At St. Lucia, she is isolated, and as she takes on the power to live in loops, she becomes even more alone. This in turn is what lead to GOU‘s most infamous moment, when Satoko bisects Rika with the implement. We humans are wired for companionship, and oftentimes, those around us guide us from poor decisions. Satoko does not have this luxury in GOU and SOTSU, so having had a chance to sleep on things, I think that the series did make a brave effort to portray this side of their friendship, and how far things can go if people are trapped in their own thoughts. These themes certainly answered my question of what led up to Satoko tearing Rika’s internal organs out in GOU. That particular moment had been quite shocking indeed, but otherwise, GOU and SOTSU was a bit inconsistent, even restrained for a series known for its graphic portrayal of violence. Dewbond, I’d love to hear about how this changes up the look-and-feel of GOU and SOTSU compared to their predecessors


This is an interesting question, because in a way you can’t really answer it. If you want a straight answer then no. The violence on display does not hold up to the original. I mean, perhaps for a new viewer, but if you came into this series from the first one, then what you see doesn’t hold a candle. There is just no equivalent of something like Shion’s breakdown, or Rika’s “You lie!”, moments that remain in the minds of an entire generation. The janky animation at the time, while you can laugh at it, actually adds a layer of creepiness and horror that surprisingly still works. Do I think the sequel looks better? I do, but there was something missing as well.

You can’t recreate that feeling, that shock of seeing what Higurashi actually is for the first time. But that doesn’t mean GOU/SOTSU doesn’t have some good moments. While they don’t hold a candle. While the hoe scene is probably the most iconic moment of the sequel, things like the smash cut of Rika being happy, and then dying on the floor was a great moment. As was the death montage that followed. Anytime a baseball bat is used is great, and the final fight where Satoko smashes Rika against the wall is fantastic. It is still a gory show, no question, but it doesn’t have the same “holy shit” feeling, probably because you can only feel that once.


The older visuals definitely had a more uncanny vibe to them: to be honest, I too like the general aesthetics of GOU and SOTSU, but for unsettling us, the classics hit harder because of how abrupt the changes were. There was also another piece that the originals did a little better: if memory serves, Higurashi and KAI struck a balance between outright showing the more graphic moments, and concealing things by shifting the camera angles, and then allowing sound to do the rest. By showing us things implicitly, the mind is allowed to wander, and this greatly contributed to the horror present within the original: I’ve always been terrified of scenes where people continue to desecrate a corpse long after the victim is dead, and it speaks to just far gone everyone was.

Conversely, GOU and SOTSU were a bit more explicit. This occasionally did work in the series’ favour: on top of Satoko bisecting Rika, GOU and SOTSU do have a few moments that were quite disturbing (such as Keiichi’s rampage through Angel Mort in one of the realities), but other moments were a bit gratuitous. Because of how the violence was presented in GOU and SOTSU, it feels more of a visual metaphor for Satoko gradually losing her humanity the longer she keeps at trying to roll the dice in her favour, being less of a shocker to keep viewers guessing. This also does lead to the question: Satoko was only able to resort to the means that she did after accepting Eua’s powers, but in the original Higurashi and KAI, the gods only had a minimal role, leaving Rika and her friends to resolve their own problems. Here in GOU and SOTSU, the gods seem to have a much larger role. What do you make of this, Dewbond?


I think this was a good idea to keep GOU/SOTSU from being too much of a re-hash. Like I said before, I think it was the right idea to get as much distance from the governmental thriller storyline and Miyo’s revenge as possible. We didn’t need to go back to the well, and it would cheapened what was a fun and good conclusion to that story.

So that left us with the idea of the witches, and I think this is where GOU/SOTSU both works and falters. The idea of the witches, and the author’s tying everything into his later visual novels is a cool piece of trivia and lore for deep Higurashi nerds, but for others, it might have been a little strange. Sometimes not everything needs to be explain or expanded upon. There is joy in letting some mysteries remain mysteries, or some concepts unexplained. I never really once questioned the idea of looping and witches, it all just made sense because the story was so good.

With the sequel, it was the same thing. Despite the focus on the supernatural aspects of the story, it didn’t overwhelm or distract from the plot. The character interactions and Sakoto’s desire to keep Rika and that conflict was far more interesting. It was a tool, and the best tools don’t take away attention from the story said tool is being used for.


As someone who’s unfamiliar with the 07th Expansion universe, I am in the camp who found things a little strange at first. Higurashi had established that the gods were indeed a presence, and that their power was very much a part of the world, so it wasn’t out of left field to see the story shift over, but the idea of Hanyū being a “failure”, and Eua’s familiarity with everything did come across as a bit unexpected. Once the initial shock wore off, however, the interaction between Eua and Satoko did become more interesting to watch: while ostensibly an antagonist, Eua doesn’t do more than grant Satoko the power she desires to pursue Rika and egg Satoko on to keep things, in her words, entertaining.

In retrospect, it makes sense that Eua and Hanyū’s remain enigmas – while I usually like seeing how all facets of a given story tie together, GOU and SOTSU‘s decision to leave the gods’ world unexplored is probably a hint to viewers that there are things that go on out there beyond our comprehension. This suits GOU and SOTSU just fine, and given that things aren’t terribly distracting, it works well enough for people like myself; I don’t feel that it is strictly necessary to do a little reading on Umineko: When They Cry in order to see what GOU and SOTSU are going for.


Do you need to read Umineko to enjoy this sequel? Absolutely not. It’s more of tidbits and fanservices for die-hard fans of the series, and really about confirming long held fan theories. I didn’t know much about it, and I still found GOU/SOTSU to be a very enjoyable affair, with a touching ending that even the original didn’t really capture.

So, with all of that said. Zen, do you feel that Higurashi GOU and Higurashi SOTSU were a worthy follow up to the original, putting aside fan expectations?


For me, GOU and SOTSU proved to be unexpected in many ways – the direction was unexpected, as were the outcomes, and when everything wrapped up, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. Having now had a chance to sit down, digest things and give everything some thought, I feel that GOU and SOTSU succeeded in bringing us a new experience. The themes were different than the original, and the series cast off some limiters from the originals, allowing us to see more “what if” scenarios.

While GOU and SOTSU are unlikely to displace the originals in terms of impact, I am quite happy to give credit where it is due; GOU and SOTSU end up with a different theme than did the originals, conveyed a sense of mystery in its beginning that brought back memories of the originals, and looking back, the only real quibble I have is that things dragged out for a little longer than I would’ve liked. All told, I would likely amend my initial impressions of SOTSU and say that yes, GOU and SOTSU together as a whole do add something new to Higurashi in a worthy manner.

Having said this, GOU and SOTSU have been a bit more polarising, and some folks have counted the series unnecessary as a continuation and unwatchable, amongst other things that are a little less civilised. GOU and SOTSU does feel like a series where mileage will vary depending on the person, but where provided with the opportunity, Dewbond, what would you have to say for viewers who do not see any merits on GOU and SOTSU?


I would say this to those fans who do not see any merits to the sequel.

Every follow up to a popular series has to answer the one all consuming question: “Did we need this?” So far, the resounding answer all around has been no. GOU and SOTSU do not change that equation. They are unneeded sequels to a show that pretty much ended perfectly. They are unable to re-capture the feeling of watching Higurashi for the first time, and even the most impressive blood and guts can’t bring that feeling back.

That being said. GOU and SOTSU try to do what few follow ups try to do and move the story in new directions. Instead of running back to the well, they take a few risks and let the characters grow. It is a story about change, the inevitability of it, and how growing up means growing apart, but not the destruction of friendships and yes, love. If you go into the series with an open mind and not expecting to be thrown back to your first experiences, then you might really enjoy it.


I couldn’t have said it better myself, Dewbond. As you’ve stated, GOU and SOTSU is a sequel that took risks and has its own unique rewards. Especially now, where anime can become divisive very quickly, I would think that at the end of the day, people should make their own call as to whether or not something like GOU and SOTSU is up their alley. For me, I fall into the group who enjoyed seeing where things headed overall – having now had a chance to reflect on things a little, I am happy to put GOU and SOTSU in the “enjoyed it” column.

With this being said, it’s hard to begrudge those who disliked the series; perhaps this is an outlandish comparison, but GOU and SOTSU is to Higurashi what Halo 5: Guardians is to Halo as a whole. Mechanically, Halo 5 was excellent and advanced the franchise, but the story left folks quite divided, too. At the end of the day, I remain quite glad to have watched GOU and SOTSU to completion for the experience, and I am doubly happy to have you back to share a discussion of how this continuation fits into the Higurashi franchise!


Thanks for having me as always Zen, and I’m sure we’ll be talking again real soon.


  • I’ll wrap up this talk with Satoko waving at Mion, Rena and Keiichi in SOTSU‘s final moments. Dear You begins playing, and longtime viewers will be familiar with the song know it as being used to embody the character’s feelings, as well as the overall themes and motifs within Higurashi itself. I disagree with the prevailing sentiment about how using this song was “undeserved”: this was a pleasant way to wrap GOU and SOTSU up. Similarly, I will note that Kenji Kawai’s incidental music are solid. The compositions he provides has a very distinct Ip Man character about them, and this really helped to augment the emotions of a given moment.

I’m confident that I’ll be hosting Dewbond again in the near future. With our latest collaboration in the books, Dewbond has certainly helped me to clear up some of the lingering thoughts on my mind after Higurashi GOU and SOTSU ended; GOU began running last October, and then SOTSU picked up during the summer of this year: with thirty-nine weeks of stuff happening, watching both series as they aired proved to be no mean feat, and the series certainly did offer things to consider. The conclusion that we reach after stepping through both GOU and SOTSU should not be particularly surprising, as we indicate that credit should be given where it is due. Our discussion is an instance of why I’m fond of hearing out differing perspectives on the series: on one hand, Higurashi GOU and SOTSU were indeed extraneous, but simultaneously, and perhaps contradictorily so, GOU and SOTSU also does end up offering something new to the Higurashi franchise. Having an extra set of eyes on things means I can take a step back and understand what this sequel’s aims were, as well as appreciate where it did things well. Collaborative posts are always fun to write, and I will remark that I am open to such conversations: if readers are interested in collaborating, please let me know in the comments or on social media. In the meantime, I have not yet forgotten my promise to Dewbond about Fate/Zero: folks have suggested that the anime’s main themes are about how sacrifice is required to ensure peace, that one must always be critical of the social structure and to this extent, must resort to any means necessary to create one’s own vision of society, even if it comes at a great cost to others. In order to dispel any misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding my first impressions of the series, it is only fair to watch Fate/Zero myself and make my verdict after I’ve got a full picture. That could be a solid topic to review with Dewbond, and until then, I hope folks have enjoyed the conversation Dewbond and I have shared concerning GOU and SOTSU, and if our conversation here has kicked off an interest, both Dewbond and I have readers covered.

Dewbond’s Higurashi GOU and SOTSU Posts

Infinite Zenith’s Higurashi GOU and SOTSU Posts

Missed the earlier Higurashi collaborations between Dewbond and myself?