The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Tag Archives: MCAT

Growing Sunny, Crying and Sometimes Singing: Revisiting the Conclusion of Tari Tari a Decade Later and The Legacy A Celebration of Multidisciplinary Approaches Imparted on P.A. Works

“That’s the key to new and good ideas; they come from having a very broad and multidisciplinary range of interests.” –Robin Chase

While Tari Tari had opened with uncertain aims, by its finale, this series had delivered a moving story of how a disparate group would come together and, using their unique backgrounds and experiences, help one another out of their problems before rallying their entire school together to perform one final swan song, in the form of a play with live music from the choir, before it closes down ahead of a plan to redevelop the area. Although Tari Tari had seemingly been about everything and nothing, this aspect of it proved to be the anime’s greatest asset – each of Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro came in with different skills and perspectives, but despite seemingly lacking a shared set of interests, they come to realise the worth of their time spent together and cherish the memories they make, using these experiences to forge onwards into an uncertain future. In this way, Tari Tari was a celebration of being multidisciplinary; the final performance comes about precisely because everyone was able to bring something distinct to the table. Wakana’s background in music and a desire to bring her mother’s old song to life allows her to write the play’s music. Konatsu’s optimism and enthusiasm keeps her friends moving forward even when everyone seems mired in their own problems. Atsuhiro similarly desires to do something grand for a friend back home and ends up contributing the props with Taichi, while Sawa uses her connections to bring as many people as possible to make the show one to remember. None of this would’ve been possible had the characters not opened up to one another – when Tari Tari concluded, the series’ emphasis on music had spoken to the idea that music transcends background, belief, intents and desires to unify people. The series showed how people who are outwardly different can share more in common than they had imagined, and that by opening people up to this fact, music can set people down a rewarding path they’d never experienced. Seeing Wakana come to terms with her mother’s death, and Sawa fighting her hardest to again admittance to an equestrian school reminds viewers that everyone has their own struggles, but when they open up and help one another out, seemingly insurmountable problems are overcome. However, Tari Tari also marked the first time P.A. Works explored the multidisciplinary mindset. Rather than have each of Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro be members of the choral club, Tari Tari gave everyone a unique background and has them come together in the unusually-named Choir-and-Sometimes-Badminton Club. Such a setup would, on paper, seem conducive towards lack of a cohesive direction, but the club ends up exceeding expectations in its achievements precisely because, given that Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro all contribute different things to the swan song that leaves their entire graduating class with life-long memories.

In its execution, Tari Tari would ultimately set the precedence for P.A. Works’ future anime to a nontrivial extent. Despite possessing a less focused story than its predecessor, Hanasaku Iroha, and having a shorter runtime, Tari Tari had demonstrated that even with the short format and a narrative that progressed much more quickly, it remained possible to tell a highly compelling story with engaging, relatable characters. This approach would return in Sakura Quest, which similarly had a group of individuals with distinct skillsets and backgrounds unite in a quest to bolster tourism in a remote rural town, and again in The World in Colours, where magic and photography combine together to allow Hitomi and her grandmother, Kohaku, to connect more closely and help Hitomi to regain the colours in her world. Similarly, in The Aquatope on White Sand, Kukuru and Fūka both end their stories quite far from their first steps. Fūka began her journey as a failed idol who sought refuge by working in an aquarium, but her experience in entertainment allows her to bring a very unique skillset to become a talented attendant. Kukuru had spent her entire life enraptured by marine life and longed to be an attendant, but at Tingarla, she discovers that her attempts to keep Gama Gama open means, when she puts her mind to it, she is able to excel in marketing, as well. Tari Tari established that stories celebrating the multidisciplinary approach can be exceptionally moving regardless of the context – in time, viewers will come to root for the characters because seeing their stories and grit proves inspiring, regardless of whether the characters’ goals are to embrace magic, bring tourism and life back to a small town or promote a newly-opened aquarium. In promoting the multidisciplinary approach to life, P.A. Works is seeking to remind viewers of its increasing relevance in all facets of life – combining seemingly unrelated fields confers numerous advantages in both academia and industry because it provides a more holistic view of a problem, and this in turn allows one to draw upon knowledge from different areas to identify and implement effective, innovative solutions. Through their stories, P.A. Works celebrates methods that encourage people to adopt a broader mindset towards the challenges in their lives, and from a storytelling perspective, it creates for plots in which one is always kept on the edge of the seat by what’s about to happen next.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • By Tari Tari‘s end, everyone’s undergone a considerable amount of growth. Konatsu is more mindful of those around her, while Wakana has rediscovered music, and Sawa similarly realises that she can count on people in her corner to help out. It was a rewarding journey to follow, and thirteen episodes later, Tari Tari shows that even with the shorter format, P.A. Works could still deliver a fantastic story by ensuring that no moment is wasted. In this way, Tari Tari is all steak on top of its sizzle. Towards the series’ end, the land the students’ school stands on us purchased by a land developer, forcing term to close early.

  • Although the developers had tried to buy the principal out, in the end, the principal decides his students’ memories are worth more than whatever bonus they’re prepared to offer him. Forgoing the bonus, he authorises the final performance to proceed even as a heavy rainfall hammers Enoshima. One detail in Tari Tari I’ve always found especially impressive was the use of reflections to convey the idea of wetness on the ground whenever it rains, and here the characters’ reflections can plainly be seen. Tari Tari aired during a time when NVIDIA’s Kepler series first hit the market: this was well before real-time ray-tracing became mainstream, and a part of me does wonder if real-time ray-tracing could be applied towards anime.

  • Instructor Naoko had been a minor antagonist of sorts early in Tari Tari: she was strongly opposed to Konatsu starting her own choral club and seemed quite intent on ensuring that Konatsu would not sing, but as Tari Tari wore on, it became clear that Naoko saw a bit of Wakana’s mother, Mahiru, in Konatsu: when she was still alive, Mahiru had been a free spirit who was both knowledgeable about musical theory and saw music as an avenue for having fun. Over time, seeing Wakana come around helps Naoko to accept her best friend’s passing.

  • Thus, on the day of the performance, Naoko has no qualms in backing the principal’s decision to allow the performance to continue, and she even helps organise the choral club and band’s participation. The rainy weather on this morning had acted as something of a dampener, accentuating the feeling of unease, but once everyone gathers, even rain cannot douse their spirits. The Choir-and-Sometimes-Badminton Club thus initiate preparations ahead of their presentation while other students and parents begin assembling to watch the show.

  • Although Konatsu had initially appeared to be a Ohana Matsumae knockoff, over the course of Tari Tari, she would come to gain development of her own. Like Ohana, Konatsu is optimistic to a fault and is very forceful about what she wants, but this initially gets her in trouble with those around her. Konatsu gradually learns to dial it back and think before jumping into a situation, but is also given a chance to be her usual self upon learning the school is closing; her blunt and direct approach is needed in a time where speed is essential in ensuring everything is ready, inspiring even her former choral club classmates to contribute.

  • As the morning transitions into the afternoon, the rain begins letting up, and some of the students start showing up to check out the performance. Enoshima Sea Candle can be seen in the background: the events of Tari Tari are set in Fujisawa, and the area’s picturesque landscape has made it a popular choice for being the setting in a given anime. However, of all the incarnations I’ve seen so far, Tari Tari‘s portrayal of Fujisawa and Enoshima remains the best: even though this is one of P.A. Works’ earlier titles, Tari Tari‘s visuals are gorgeous.

  • The musical finally begins: this had originally been Konatsu’s idea as their school geared up for their annual culture festival, but when the developers purchased the land and accelerated their plans to begin construction, all school events were cancelled. Refusing to give up, Konatsu and her friends ended up pushing ahead even without permission; help from Wakana is ultimately what gives everyone the resolve to continue. Wakana had begun her journey in Tari Tari with the intent of quitting music and leaving her regrets behind: shortly before her mother had passed away, Wakana had been short with her, and since then, she’d felt guilty about not spending more time with her. Abandoning music was her original way of leaving the pain behind, but through Konatsu and Sawa, Wakana realises the way forward is to embrace what her mother had loved.

  • The energy and determination in the Choir-and-Sometimes-Badmonton Club exude eventually convinces their classmates to help out; because their school was slated to close so suddenly, the students realise that this represents a final chance of sorts to participate in a swan song to their high school memories. In this way, the club is able persuade both their fellow students and neighbourhood to show up. The sort of outcome in Tari Tari brought to mind memories of my first-ever journal publication: it had been abandoned when term picked up, but after the MCAT, I found myself with more time than I’d known what to do with.

  • Working on the paper with my colleagues was my way of filling that time and doing something with the remainder of my summer. In the end, we were able to complete the paper ahead of the deadline, and when I asked my colleagues if they wanted to be first author, both agreed that since I ended up spearheading the project and bringing it back to life, I had earned that particular honour. Like the musical Konatsu had wanted to perform, publishing this paper was a bit of a last minute thing, and while it did mean I spent three weeks not working on starting my thesis project, the paper actually would accelerate my thesis work by giving me the inspiration I needed to design the project.

  • Hikari no Senritsu is a recurring theme in Tari Tari: the song was originally written by Mahiru, and Wakana later adapts it into a version that the Choir-and-Sometimes-Badminton Club perform for their finale. As the group breaks into song, the clouds begin dispersing, with shafts of light illuminating the performers right as they hit their stride. While short, Tari Tari‘s journey and its parallels with my undergraduate paper led me to count this as a masterpiece, showing what’s possible when hearts and minds align.

  • During the finale, scenes cut to the audience enjoying the show immensely: Sawa’s father is especially enthusiastic, having brought both a video camera and DSLR camera to capture his daughter’s accomplishments. For Sawa, Tari Tari saw her as a friendly girl who generally gets along with people, but struggled with her rejected equestrian school application because she’d been too tall to qualify. Although Sawa’s father had considered her aspirations as being a game rather than a legitimate occupation, he would come around and see how serious Sawa had been. Despite his gruff nature, Sawa’s father genuinely cares for her.

  • Taichi and Atsuhiro ended up receiving some development: although failing to perform well at a tournament, Taichi resolves to give it everything he’s got, while Atsuhiro’s preoccupation with a friend back in Austria leads him to double down and do what he can here in Japan for his friend’s sake. Everyone’s stories converge on this one moment, and seeing everyone singing so gracefully together, one would be forgiven if they imagined Konatsu, Sawa, Wakana, Taichi and Atsuhiro to be members of their school’s choral club.

  • Tari Tari‘s final performance was so moving that amongst the anime community, the series was universally acclaimed. Random Curiosity wrote that it was almost criminal as to how the expectations for this series was so low early on, especially when Tari Tari went out of its way to make itself stand out from its predecessor, and other fans felt that the series had been so decisive and satisfying that it exceeded expectations. Despite being a little-known series, Tari Tari‘s sincerity and focus impressed most viewers. In fact, to the best of my recollections, only THEM Anime Reviews had anything negative to say about Tari Tari, calling it a series ” full of platitudes and melodrama but lacking in most other respects”, and that “music anime out there in which the actual music is much, much better, and dramas in which the trials and tribulations the characters face are far less contrived-seeming”. I strongly disagree with this assessment because it is superficial and fails to understand why drama is present in Tari Tari.

  • THEM Anime Reviews’ writer missed the point of the series (namely, that music transcends certain barriers, that one needs to allow themselves to open up in order to get past problems they can’t individually handle, and that sometimes, situations arise that require people possessing skills from a range of backgrounds). The series isn’t “a lot of artificial drama being thrown in to make the journey to that performance seem significant”, and instead, Tari Tari sought to show how being multidisciplinary is the key to overcoming life’s problems. In this area, Tari Tari is successful, and I’ve found that, especially where P.A. Works’ anime are concerned, the most critical views often come from those who have not experienced the sorts of messages a given anime sought to convey.

  • As the performance draws to a close, the camera pulls out, showing the number of people that have shown up to see the show, as well as the size of the choral club. By this point in time, the clouds have begun giving way to a clear day, acting as a metaphor for how times of difficulty will always pass. It is evident that this final show was a resounding success, and with this particular goal satisfied, Wakana, Sawa, Konatsu, Taichi and Atsuhiro turn their attention towards their future aspirations. I still vividly recall entering my thesis year as Tari Tari geared up for its finale.

  • A week after term started, I got my MCAT results back, and with a great weight lifted off my chest, I focused my entire effort towards the thesis project. After sitting down with my supervisor and asking about whether or not it would be feasible to extend my old renal model from two summers earlier, we hashed out a project that could show off the lab’s in-house game engine. I’d worked with this game engine for two years at that point and was quite familiar with its strengths and limitations, so when it came time to present my project proposal, I was completely confident that I could answer any question about the system, its implications and constraints.

  • The thesis project took up two of the five slots in each semester, so I had three remaining courses to fill. I decided to take easier options so I could focus on the project: in science fiction literature and genomics, I excelled. These courses were largely based on reading and writing papers, something I’d been reasonably confident in doing at that point. The other course I had begun taking was iOS programming. I would end up working on a game, and while that project was unimpressive, it did kick-start my interest in mobile development. Until graduate school, this was the easiest term I’d taken, allowing me plenty of time to work on my thesis project.

  • Looking back, my undergraduate thesis was also quite unremarkable: I’d already had an impressive model of agent-based flow by then, so the project itself entailed writing a mathematical modelling layer over top and then synchronising a visual representation of several nephrons working together in parallel to the model’s outputs, before making use of the game engine’s world space to illustrate the different scales. I would’ve liked to have explored more complex processes, such as self-assembly. However, my supervisor and invigilators were satisfied with the level of complexity in my project.

  • In the end, I had a great time with my project, and while things do seem unsophisticated a decade later, I nonetheless found a fantastic experience in going through the thesis project. A decade after starting this project, I’m now a half-year into living at the new place, and I feel quite settled in now. Looking back at some of the posts I wrote shortly after the move, I did end up capitalising on the amenities: over the summer, I’ve had a chance to enjoy sushi twice from the nearby Japanese restaurant, spent an afternoon working out of a Starbucks with a fruit juice in hand, and even was able to pick up an RTX 3060 Ti during a flash sale after work.

  • Summer had been a fantastic time this year, and while I’m a little sad to see my favourite times of year draw to a close, the Autumnal Equinox was two days ago, bringing with it comfortably brisk days that are still pleasant. The leaves have taken a little longer to yellow this year than they have in previous years, but I welcome the fact that we’re no longer getting heat warnings. In fact, for the first time in a while, I’m rather looking forwards to the winter, as well. In previous years, winters meant negotiating icy roads and shovelling out after a snowfall while wind-chill drops the thermometer down to -40°C for up to two weeks at a time, but it also blankets the landscape in white and invites the sipping of a hot chocolate while curled up in one’s favourite easy chair with a book and blanket in hand.

  • Tari Tari‘s epilogue was satisfying, but also left quite a bit ambiguous: in particular, the outcome of Taichi’s kokuhaku to Sawa is left unknown. This question has lingered on my mind for the past decade, and while Tari Tari ~Mebaitari Terashitari Yappari Tokidoki Utattari~ (Tari Tari ~Budding, Shining, and Sometimes Singing~), a sequel novel set a decade after the original’s events, was released back in July 2018, interest in this has been sufficiently low so that even a synopsis for the novel’s premise doesn’t exist. I can say that in ten years, a lot can change: ten years after I graduate high school, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Japan, finished my graduate degree and was working with my first start-up.

  • This year marks the ten year anniversary to Tari Tari: I’d been a student a decade earlier, gearing up for my undergraduate thesis defense. A full ten years later, I’ve become a senior iOS developer and homeowner. In spite of everything that has happened, the fact that I still remember Tari Tari as fondly now as I did when the series finished airing back in 2012 speaks volumes to how much this anime got right. The amount of stuff that can happen in a decade is staggering, and this is one of the biggest reasons why being unable to read Tari Tari ~Mebaitari Terashitari Yappari Tokidoki Utattari~ is so excruciatingly painful: I’ve been longing to see how Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro are doing.

  • However, because most people in reality tend to be honest, hard-working and sincere, most people tend to find a path for themselves over time. Applying this to Tari Tari would suggest that everyone must be well, having had ten years to broaden their horizons, grow their skillsets and improve their ability to empathise with one another. Because of how much can happen in ten years, a part of me also feels that Taichi’s feelings for Sawa could wane over time as he pursues his own passions. As romantic and touching as it would be for the pair to retain their feelings after all this time, people do drift apart over time, especially since Sawa had been heading overseas to follow her dreams of becoming a jockey.

  • Regardless of what actually happens in the sequel novel, I would be more than happy to read it. At the time of writing, I don’t believe the novel’s even available for purchase at my usual avenues: if it were, I’d have no qualms in picking it up because in this day and age, ML and computer vision is sufficiently advanced so that I could simply take my phone, image the text and get a real-time translation. With iOS 16, I can then extract the text from my image and then convert it into strings that I can open in a text editor, where I could edit and improve passages. In this way, I feel that I could translate the novel for myself without much difficulty.

  • I’ve always wanted to feature the moment where Sawa begins singing alongside her friends and opens the window in her dormitory: I’ve written about Tari Tari quite extensively over the years, but never was able to feature this moment previously. There’s a sort of joy about Sawa doing this that captures the sort of excitement that accompanies the uncertainty of stepping into the future. I believe it is this scene of Sawa opening the window with a smile on her face that I would later comment on in RPG Real Estate, when Kotone does the same while checking out a prospective property.

  • I imagine that seeing Wakana take up music again encourages Naoko to spend more time mentoring her. Naoko had always found Mahiru’s approach to music admirable, but one she could never take up, and when she died, it was probably the case that Naoko handled her grief by distancing herself from music as a source of joy. However, when Wakana comes to terms with her mother’s death and approaches to music, to Naoko, Wakana has inherited her mother’s joyful spirit, as well. Mahiru might no longer be around, but mentoring Wakana allows Naoko to keep supporting her best friend.

  • Meanwhile, Tari Tari‘s epilogue shows Konatsu as meeting two other girls that seem quite friendly: although Konatsu has known Taichi and Sawa for a long time, such a moment shows that Konatsu can find her own path forward, as well. Small details like these can speak volumes about how characters are doing, and I’ve noticed that since Tari Tari, P.A. Works is a studio that has excelled in finding a way of saying goodbye to its series. Although making up only a short amount of the finale’s runtime, these short scenes provide a satisfactory amount of insight into how everyone’s doing.

  • On account of yesterday marking the half-year anniversary since moving day, we treated the family to the famous fried chicken from the Japanese restaurant across the way; they’ve been running a promotion on their in-house ginger-garlic karaage, which is going for a dollar a piece. In this way, we were able to have a wonderful dinner commemorating six months at the new place for fifteen dollars, a fantastic deal: the chicken is expertly fried, being crunchy outside but retaining succulent and tender meat. The Japanese restaurant is suggesting they’ll be introducing new flavours in the future, which is exciting: I’m curious to see what other flavours the chefs have coming.

  • With this, my reminiscence of Tari Tari comes to a close. I’ve written about the series with some frequency over the past decade, speaking to the strengths of this series: despite the time that has passed, the fact that Tari Tari‘s lessons now remain as applicable as they did back in 2012 is a key indicator to how well everything here was thought out. After Tari Tari ended, P.A. Works would swing between creating smash-hits like Shirobako and Nagi no Asukara, alongside failures like RDG Red Data Girl and Glasslip. Over the years, however, learnings from Tari Tari have meant that P.A. Works’ coming-of-age and workplace anime tend to be quite consistent: Sakura QuestThe World in Colours and The Aquatope on White Sand all carry over the multidisciplinary approach that Tari Tari pioneered.

When Tari Tari concluded, I was three weeks into my thesis year. Impressed with how well Tari Tari had presented its messages, I entered my thesis project with enthusiasm – this year marked the first time since secondary school that I was confident in my ability to perform. In the Health Sciences programme, students complete a thesis project to round out their degree, and three weeks into term, our goal had been to present a project proposal in front of the course coordinator and classmates. Unlike my classmates, who had a four month head start on their projects, I entered September with only a rough idea of what my thesis would entail. However, in the time between the start of term and the proposal presentation date, I had managed to draw on my previous experiences in my lab to design a novel project of my own – having just published my first paper about our lab’s in-house game engine and its flexibility, I decided to extend the work I’d began two years earlier on agent-based renal flow and build it into a multi-scale system that combined mathematical modelling with agent-based approaches. Much as how Tari Tari and its successors encouraged combining approaches from a variety of disciplines to build a magnum opus, I drew on my knowledge of biology and software to suggest how component-based modelling would confer enough flexibility to build anything, with a renal system being an example of a complex system worth visualising. On the day of the presentation, I remember delivering my proposal and smoothly answered questions: in that moment, it felt as though I were selling a start-up’s groundbreaking new idea to VCs rather than outlining a health sciences project to professors. Speaking in front of experts is an intimidating experience, but for me, it dawned on me that where software and simulations were concerned, the cards were in my hand. It was here that I began seeing Tari Tari in a new light – Tari Tari isn’t merely a series about music’s ability to convey messages that transcend linguistic and cultural borders, and the importance of opening oneself up to others around them, but also how important it is to be able to bring in knowledge from other areas in order to improve one’s own problem-solving ability and resilience. P.A. Works has certainly taken this message to heart: following Tari Tari, anime like Sakura Quest, The World in Colours and The Aquatope on White Sand all integrate multidisciplinary approaches elegantly into their stories to create a compelling anime, and the fact that even a decade later, workplace and coming-of-age stories from P.A. Works that employ this style have continued to impress.

Norway and Tiburón Island: Survivorman Ten Days, Remarks on Resilience and a Reflection Ten Years After The MCAT

“It would seem that in this survival ordeal, I’ve experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.” –Les Stroud

Although Les Stroud had wrapped up Survivorman in 2008 owing to the significant physical toll associated with filming survival in extreme environments, in 2012, Stroud would embark on two survival expeditions that were larger than anything he had previously done. This series would become known as Survivorman Ten Days, and true to its title, has Stroud surviving in two new environments for ten days. In Norway, Stroud simulates how one might go about surviving if their car broke down. In the beginning, with intense wind and a wet snowfall, Stroud stays with the vehicle until his provisions are depleted. He siphons gas from the vehicle and lights a fire, then uses the car’s upholstery to fashion snowshoes before heading out into the backcountry. After a cold night in the bush, Stroud manages to find hunters’ cabins, and deer remains. Capitalising on the shelter and food, Stroud enjoys a few days here in the cabins before preparing to head downhill towards the coast. Although Stroud is put into a perilous situation as the sun begins setting, he manages to make it down before nightfall. He later explores the coast and finds a summer cottage, where he rests before preparing a massive signal fire for his recovery team. At Tiburón Island, Stroud plays the role of a sailor on a yacht who is stranded. After reaching shore, Stroud notes that water is his biggest priority and fashions a desalination device from items he found on the beach. With the still making water, Stroud then explores a nearby estuary, where he finds an extensive clam population. While Stroud enjoys a feast of clams and calamari, he determines that in order to survive, he must head inland and find water – he leaves behind the coast and travels inland. After a few days, Stroud ultimately locates a spring that provides him with fresh water, the most critical of necessities in a place as dry as a desert. Continuing on in the same vein as its predecessors, Survivorman Ten Days features Les Stroud creating an entire survival show with no camera crew or production team assisting him. This time, however, instead of the typical seven days, Survivorman Ten Days extends the survival ordeal by three more days, and while three days initially seems minor, this can add another dimension of complexity to survival, especially in the knowledge that one must plan for three more days’ worth of survival. In Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud rises to the occasion, drawing upon his extensive knowledge and experience to survive, as well as utilising every advantage in his environment to make a difficult situation manageable.

Survivorman Ten Days comes to represent a fantastic show of how having a reliable knowledge base means that, even when one is confronted with a problem they’ve never faced before, or if the problem is of a different scale than one is familiar with, applying the same principles will help one to put things in perspective, and break things down so that it is more manageable. At Tiburón Island, surviving ten days in the desert seems daunting: previously in the Kalahari, Stroud had suffered from heat stroke and very nearly had to call off his shoot for safety reasons. Here in Tiburón Island, the absence of fresh water meant survival was already going to be a difficult task. However, with the knowledge that he could obtain water in a creative fashion, Stroud chooses to construct a distilling apparatus and is able to draw potable water from the ocean, prolonging his survival and giving him a chance to take stock before making the decision on what his next steps are. Stroud had previously utilised novel methods of acquiring water in difficult situations, and acknowledges that these methods only provide one with the minimal amount of water. However, even this small amount of water helps survival, and in helping to ward off dehydration, Stroud ultimately is able to find a more substantial supply of fresh water. Similarly, in Norway, Stroud has his most difficult experience when he attempts to make his way down into the valley. Although Stroud had known there were paths leading down, the combination of slippery and damp conditions meant that, had Stroud happened onto a cliff, he would’ve lacked the means of returning back to the cabins before nightfall, and potentially putting him in harm’s way as the wet, cold conditions elevate the risk of hypothermia. Even with all of his experience in the bush, Stroud is in a perilous situation – this situation puts all of this knowhow and decision-making to the test. In the end, Stroud decides to keep going, and to his great relief, finds himself on the edge of the fjord right as night is about to fall. Despite being in a terrifying, gripping situation, Stroud remains calm and collected, doing whatever he can to stave off disaster. However, he’s also honest about it: in a voice-over, Stroud indicates that viewers can audibly hear his heartbeat, a consequence of a genuine, tangible worry about how dangerous a seemingly-simple trek down the mountain had become. When Stroud reaches the bottom of the cliff and sets up camp, viewers breathe a sigh of relief alongside him, and similarly, cannot help but smile when Stroud comes upon summer cabins. Through it all, Stroud continues to call upon everything he’s previously done to persist, endure and ultimately, make it safely down the mountain. With a bit of luck, Stroud succeeds here, and much as how his resilience and experience come together to help him find fresh drinking water in Tiburón Island, the same mindset and skillset is applied to help Stroud reach safety in the snow-covered fjords of Norway.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Survivorman Ten Days aired during July 2012, a time when I’d been fully focused on studying for the MCAT. By that point in the summer, my physics course had ended, and I walked away with an A-. My days were thus spent attending the preparation course, doing revision in my spare time and, to unwind, I divided my time between Team Fortress 2 and MicroVolts. To learn that Survivorman was continuing proved to be a huge psychological boost; I’d already been familiar with the series by then, and always found myself inspired by the teachings Stroud conveyed in his episode.

  • Survivorman Ten Days had come completely out of the blue, but I welcomed the news and watched episodes with enthusiasm. Unlike previous Survivorman episodes, which were set over a week, Survivorman Ten Days has Stroud surviving for three more days, but the additional three days meant that there were two episodes for each location, providing Stroud with extra time to really showcase everything. In Survivorman Director’s Commentary, Stroud had mentioned how one of the challenges in the editing phase was actually paring down footage to fit the episode’s 40-minute length.

  • This is actually similar to the problem I have in blogging: I end up with a large number of screenshots that would result in far more content than I could realistically write, and to ensure my posts are of a manageable size, I cut down the number of screenshots to a multiple of ten for easier writing. The idea of breaking posts up into parts has been suggested to me before, and this is why for some series, I do split things into parts. For discussions on movies, however, I prefer keeping everything together in a single post. In Norway, Stroud initially remains behind with his vehicle to mimic what the average traveller might do if their ride suffered from failure. With the wind gusting outside, Stroud says it’s only natural for people to want to stick with their vehicles and wait out rescue.

  • Moreover, a vehicle represents a ready-made survival shelter, and so long as one has fuel, they can take the chill out of the air readily. However, a vehicle can also become a death-trap in that, in keeping people attached to the vehicle, may create scenarios where people would rather stick with their car than walking out of a difficult situation. Because this is a Survivorman episode, Stroud mentions that it’d be possible for him to walk out of this situation, but then there’d be no episode. For this episode, Stroud’s brought some provisions with him, including a jar of peanut butter, a six pack of beer and a mandarin orange.

  • Rationing food in a survival situation can be tricky because one doesn’t have a definitive idea of how long they’ll be in survival for. For Stroud, the mandarin orange depletes after a few days, and Stroud decides to take on a more proactive approach to survival. Being trapped in a dark vehicle might mean that crews clearing the road will likely ignore it, but a roaring fire burning behind a vehicle would pique some curiosity. While Stroud doesn’t have any obvious fire-starting materials on hand, he’s never out of options.

  • Siphoning fuel from the tank, and then using the vehicle’s battery to ignite the mixture creates a very powerful flame that would certainly attract attention, but even if this doesn’t happen, it gives Stroud a significant source of warmth. Being active with the fire outside also reminds Stroud of how cramped the vehicle interior is, leading him to plan out how to head into the bush in search of more beneficial conditions. The situation Stroud finds himself in during Norway would, in retrospect, parallel my own experiences with the MCAT.

  • Stroud’s desire to stay with the car is not so different than my initial feelings about the MCAT being an unbeatable opponent. I had managed to do well in the physics course despite coming close to throwing in the towel, but after the MCAT preparation course began, the lessons gave the impression that the exam was completely unlike anything I’d faced before. However, the further I got into the course, and the more practise exams I did, the more I realised that I needed to adopt a new strategy towards handling the stress associated with the exam.

  • Stroud’s leaving the car is analogous to me embracing a new method of studying, one which entailed making use of strategically-placed breaks. Every day, after five in the afternoon, I would stop all revisions and play a few rounds of Team Fortress 2 or MicroVolts. The idea was that I would have dedicated time to study and prepare, but then I was always assured of downtime so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed on a given day. Previously, I approached exams with brute force, studying until I was confident with the materials.

  • After leaving the car, Stroud spends the night under a tree and recalls he has a portable survival stove, which he uses to boil some water. It is here that Stroud mentions how he always hits the bathroom before sleeping; any liquid in the bladder forces the body to expend energy heating it, so emptying out said bladder allows one to conserve energy and sleep better. This is a habit that I learnt from my parents as a child: the reasoning they had was that it would help me sleep through the night and not run the risk of nocturnal enuresis, but Survivorman shows that there’s more than one reason to hit the bathroom before sleeping.

  • While my dislike of the winter and snow is no secret, I will concede that there is a beauty in a snow-covered landscape under semi-overcast skies. This appreciation is doubled if I don’t have to travel anywhere, and during the past couple of years, I worked from home during the winter. Snowstorms stopped being an irritant, and there is a sort of coziness associated with waking up to a fresh snowfall. Knowing that my commute is a 15-second walk to my desk increases the charm. Back in Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud’s managed to find hunter’s cabins, complete with a wood stove and bed.

  • The situation improves even further after Stroud spots a deer carcass left over from hunters: while all of the meat one would normally eat is gone, Stroud finds that the hunters have left behind the heart, liver, lungs, and a bunch of fat, plus a bit of meat. Although such moments appear contrived, Stroud has encountered hunter’s remains on many occasions previously, and even in Survivorman, during the Alaska episode, Stroud has found a partially-eaten fish that an eagle dropped and later enjoys a fish dinner after cooking it. On the first night, Stroud prepares a broth for himself: as he states, eating too much at once would overwhelm his digestive system and cause all sorts of problems.

  • Having enjoyed deer broth and a little bit of meat the previous evening, Stroud begins preparing the remainder of the deer remains for consumption and gives viewers a close-up of the deer. Besides the entire deer liver, Stroud’s pleasantly surprised to find the entire heart is also present. The heart of an animal tastes especially rich and beefy because it is the hardest-working muscle. The day had begun with some sunshine, but soon, the clouds roll back in and create an overcast sky. Despite this, Stroud’s in fine spirits, since shelter and food are now taken care of.

  • Because Stroud had been trapped in a car for two days, he ends up cooking his meal outdoors. The cabins come stocked with matches, but to conserve on limited resources, Stroud uses duct-tape as a fire-starter here, and in a few moments, his fire’s hot enough for him to begin cooking the deer. Imagery of cooking the meat over an open fire is par the course for enjoying the great outdoors, but in a survival situation, every bit counts. Stroud previously mentioned in Alaska that boiling the meat would be the best way to get all of the nutrients out, and here in Norway, he applies this approach to the deer meet, boiling things up to create a highly nourishing, if unphotogenic, meal.

  • The psychological boost of being able to eat, and sleep in a warm bed, proves to be a pivotal moment. The renewed energy Stroud gains from food and sleep allows him to plan out the final leg of his journey, but it also results in intense and vivid dreams that can play on the psyche. Survivorman Ten Days uses some very unusual footage here to convey this: a time lapse of the Norwegian Winter is played while Stroud gives a voice-over, creating a very chilling and surreal feeling. I’ve never quite understood how such footage was obtained, and if Stroud were to ever do Norway for Director’s Commentary, I would likely ask how this was filmed.

  • With a chance to re-evaluate his situation, Stroud determines it’s time to head down the cliffs for the coast, reasoning that now’s the time to do so: if he stayed in the cabins, he’d eventually run out of deer. However, what was supposed to be a simple hike down the mountain becomes one of the most challenging things he’d ever done. The combination of slippery rocks, snowfall and the constant threat of running into a cliff, meant that Stroud was more nervous than usual, and at one point during this trek, one can hear his heartbeat from the camera, speaking to how worried he was.

  • To the viewers’ great relief, Stroud does make it down the mountain okay, and he swiftly sets up camp before lighting a fire. As miserable as being soaked during cold, wet weather is, Stroud has, at the very least, reached the bottom without being stuck: his worst fear was that he ended up at a cliff, and as exhausted as he was, he would’ve had no way of heading back up the mountain and reaching the shelter of the cabins before nightfall. Hypothermia was the biggest risk here, and here at the bottom of the cliff, it’s still a very real risk, but Stroud is afforded the reassurance that the cliffs are behind him.

  • The next morning, Stroud continues on with exploring the coast: he stops to take a drink and finds some rosehips. However, the next find is a truly game-changing one – a summer home on the coast. Stroud’s fortunes completely turn around, and after a frigid night on the mountainside, he’s now able to take shelter in a cozy cabin. Stroud mentions that breaking in for shelter is something that should only be done in a survival situation – although breaking and entering remains illegal, the law states such an action would not be counted as an offense in a situation where such an action was necessary to avoid personal death or injury, and provided that one leaves no sign that an offense was committed.

  • This B-roll shot of the sun rising over the fjord is one I’m especially fond of – the B-roll footage in Survivorman has always been fun to watch even though the focus in the series is on survival. Such moments are typically shot before Stroud actually begins survival, and per Stroud’s commentary, is actually the most ordinary part of a Survivorman shoot in that it’s the one part where there’s a camera crew. After looking around the summer cabin, Stroud finds a key that allows him to enter. He immediately sets about seeing what other food might be available to him, and manages to locate some seaweed, blue mussels and potatoes.

  • I did a bit of looking around and found that the summer cabin Stroud comes across towards the end of the Norway trip is called Tingastad, which is located near Sogndal Airport. Looking around at satellite imagery of the area, one can even find the hunter’s cabins located higher up on the mountain, which are located a mere 1.29 kilometres from the airport. Although this shows that Stroud could’ve walked out at any time, the whole point of Survivorman is to show what happens if one were in trouble, and being somewhat close to civilisation is important in case things do go south.

  • In the end, Stroud creates a large signal fire for the purpose of letting the rescue boat know of his location. An effective fire doesn’t need large flames, but rather, smoke, and to do this, one needs to burn oily substances like birch bark. The boat eventually notices him and picks up him, bringing the first of the Survivorman Ten Days episodes to a close. Although Norway represents one of the most difficult of Stroud’s expeditions yet, I was thoroughly impressed with how he continued to draw on existing knowledge and push towards bettering his situation even when things looked grim.

  • This was the sort of mindset that I would carry with me into the MCAT – I found that at the heart of all difficult, seemingly-insurmountable problems, is a collection of smaller problems which, when attended to properly, can be handled individually. The important lesson learnt here is to always be mindful of the basics, and understand how the basics can be applied towards dealing with much bigger challenges. In fact, it is fair to say that failure results if one allows a large problem to overwhelm them to the point where they forget the basics.

  • I’ve now transitioned over to the Tiburón Island episodes, which sees Stroud travel to a desert island in Mexico. Here, the weather is the polar opposite of what it’d been in Norway: snow-covered trees and foggy fjords are replaced with rocky beaches and blue skies as far as the eye can see. Stroud faces a completely different set of problems here, with water being the chiefest of his problems. In Norway, Stroud could ingest snow to replenish his water, so hydration was never a problem, but here at Tiburón Island, there’s no freshwater nearby. Stroud does down a mouthful of ocean water to restore electrolytes, but for this trip, he carries enough water to last a few days.

  • As such, the immediate concern is making his water supply last while he works out where to get more water. One of my favourite Survivorman moments happens here – after finding a large bucket on the beach, Stroud crafts a handmade desalination still. The idea is simple enough: boiling salt water will create steam that evaporates, and this steam, when condensing back into a liquid form, will yield fresh, drinkable water. Although simple in principle, desalination at scale is an incredibly expensive process because of how much energy it takes to boil water.

  • Stroud’s handmade still yields about two cups of water a day; while it’s not enough to stave off dehydration and requires that Stroud continuously tops off the fire to ensure he can boil the water, it does allow him to extend the lifespan of his existing water supply. Stroud names techniques of this as a MacGyverism, of creatively using whatever materials in his environment to fashion tools and equipment that can be helpful in survival. Once the desalination still is fashioned, Stroud turns his attention next to exploring the beach and nearby estuary.

  • Although Stroud was hoping to find a flounder at the estuary, he ends up digging up a fair number of clams. In a survival situation, Stroud notes that having a food source he can easily gather is a huge advantage (in his words, there’s nothing worse than expending energy to travel a mile, only to find enough food for a half-mile walk). The clamming technique Stroud describes here is something I’ve previously commented on in Houkago Teibou Nisshi, and I was impressed the latter echoes Stroud’s sentiments about leaving the smaller clams so their population isn’t decimated.

  • I am particularly fond of the Tiburón Island episodes because they’re set under sunny skies, and while survival out here is no less difficult than in Norway, having blue skies conveys a sense of calm: things don’t feel quite as urgent or deadly as they did in Norway, and these episodes would come to remind me of those days when the MCAT seemed like a manageable exam, when revision was going well and I felt more confident in being ready to handle the exam.

  • The pacing of Tiburón Island meant that Stroud spends his first few days checking out what the nearby area has to offer, and by chance, he encounters a dead squid floating on the beachside. He decides to bring it back with him, and after cutting the grippers off, proceeds to cook it over an open fire. In a voice-over, Stroud admits that he’d never prepared squid before, so here, he ended up cutting away a lot more than he needed to for safety’s sake, but if he’d come in with more background, he could’ve gotten more from the squid. This is a recurring theme in Survivorman – it’s better to err on the side of caution if uncertain, but over time, experience allows one to survive more effectively

  • It was immensely satisfying to see the desalination still do its magic for Stroud: beyond the effort of building the still, fetching the water and topping the firewood off, Stroud now has a reliable means of getting access to water. Watching Stroud get water always instills in me an inclination to get some water of my own. I’ve never understood why people dislike water and would eschew it, and while I prefer to take my water filtered and boiled, I have no qualms with water so long as it quenches my thirst when appropriate.

  • Stroud’s approach of mobile, proactive survival means taking advantage of good times to make things better. With the clams in the estuary as a known, reliable food source, he’s able to explore other options. He fashions a makeshift spear here, along with shinguards, to explore the area for fish and defend against stingrays that may be trapped. Although his fishing expedition is unsuccessful, Stroud finds some oysters that he deems worth eating. This move proves to be a poor choice, since the oysters subsequently knock Stroud out of the game.

  • While stomach problems at any time are difficult, stomach problems during a survival situation would be debilitating. Stroud mentions that during survival, one shouldn’t take any chances, and aim to minimise their problems one by one. This is sound advice, and while Stroud does his best to adhere, speaking to the complexity of survival, even a veteran like Les Stroud can occasionally make a mistake. Far from invalidating Stroud, moments like these serve to remind viewers that even experts aren’t infallible, and it makes Stroud more human.

  • After Stroud recovers, he begins to travel inland in search of water. Tiburón Island represents an interesting conundrum in that the areas with food are close to the shore, where there’s no water, and where there’s fresh water, there’s no access to food. In previous Survivorman episodes, Stroud’s mentioned that travelling great distances during a survival situation is immensely difficult, and we recall earlier that even in Norway, when he’d been about a mile or so from the airport, the lack of food and rest means that travelling even a kilometre can be challenging.

  • Before heading inland, Stroud writes a message in a bottle and hucks the bottle into the ocean. Ocean currents mean that eventually, the bottle will end up on a shore somewhere, although I’ve not heard of anyone who managed to find the specific bottle Stroud threw into the water. This bit of imagery is a stereotype that is at least as old as that of the cartoon depicting a desert island several metres across, with a single palm tree on it. This depiction originates from gag comics published to The New Yorker in the 1930s and became the mid-20th century’s equivalent of a meme, which annoyed readers and editors enough so that they implemented a ban on publication of desert islands. The ideas endured into the newspaper comics of the 1980s and 1990s – The Far Side is especially fond of these gags, although I find The Far Side vapid and uninspired.

  • In general, I’ve found newspaper comics have become increasingly irrelevant and out-of-touch with reality: Blondie, The Meaning of Lila and Between Friends, for instance, present office culture in an antiquated, unrelatable fashion. Back in Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud makes use of his gear to continue boiling water, and he’s also brought clams with him, providing a food source as he treks further inland. Once in the desert itself, Stroud’s back in terrain similar to his survival trips to Arizona, Utah, the Kalahari and even the Australian outback. Each desert in the world represents a different kind of survival challenge, but all deserts share in common the same problem Stroud must address: the need for water. Bringing the desalination still inland is a good idea, allowing Stroud to to continue making water.

  • The last of the Survivorman Ten Days episodes aired on July 21, 2012 – at this point in the summer a decade earlier, K-On! The Movie had just seen its home release, and I had finished writing my review of the film. In those days, my blog wasn’t well-known, and reviews were mainly more for myself rather than readers. By the time July ended and August arrived, and after I wrote the last of the full-length practise exams, I began rolling back on my revision efforts. Previously, I spent most of my days studying, but once two weeks were left to the exam, I only studied for about four hours each day.

  • As I entered the final few days to the exam, I stopped studying outright – besides gaming, this blog’s archives showed that I also spent time blogging. The idea behind this was that an extra day or two wouldn’t likely make any difference and may even increase stress. On the morning of the exam, I remember re-watching Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode to psyche myself up for the MCAT itself. After a light lunch, I headed out into the afternoon, and steeled myself for a difficult war of attrition. However, as difficult as the MCAT had appeared, in retrospect, I had prepared adequately. Besides the preparation course, and spending hours doing drills, my friends also had determined it would be helpful to study together.

  • On top of this, I managed my stress by budgeting out time to game and watch various shows – besides Survivorman, I also watched Man v. Food extensively. Seeing Adam Richman taking on food challenges allowed me to approach the MCAT with humour: I likened my own exam experience to Richman and particularly tough moments, even joking that I hoped to avoid the same situation that Richman experienced at Munchies 420 in Saratosa, Florida. There, the mystery challenge proved so diabolical, it gave him the hiccoughs within one bite. I would later learn that this was no laughing matter, as the staff at Munchies 420 had emptied an entire bottle of ghost chilli extract into his wings for kicks.

  • However, watching Richman prevail over his challenges proved inspirational, and it was pleasant to see him stoically accept defeat. Besides Man v. Food, I also ended up making my way through CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~Tari TariPapaKiki and Kokoro Connect during the summer. Dealing with the MCAT did leave me with a newfound way of managing stress, and I became more able to make light of my situations. This led me to continue to crack jokes about things like my undergraduate defense, conference presentations, seminars and graduate defense later down the line.

  • After several days of pushing through the desert, Stroud finally finds a pond with a large amount of rainwater. He fills an entire bottle with it and revels in this fact. With water now dealt with, Stroud is now confident he can continue to survive in the area, and the episode draws to a close. For me, I prepared to step out and face down my foe, one I’d spent several months preparing for, at this point in time a decade earlier, and while I did not know it at the time, I would indeed rise to the occasion. Survivorman played a significant role in making this possible, and even now, I attribute my mindset and path to the things I learnt while watching the show.

  • With this, I’ve now done a full recollection of the days leading up to the MCAT, and readers are now assured of the fact that I likely won’t mention these stories again, having written about them to the depth I’d wished to. Once the MCAT was done, I spent my weekend unwinding and watched The Dark Knight Rises – this was a fantastic movie that I do wish to do justice to, and to this end, I will be writing about the film on short order. The movie has aged very well; in fact, it’s aged as gracefully as K-On! The Movie, and even though I’ve rewatched The Dark Knight Rises with the same frequency that I have for K-On! The Movie, I find myself impressed each and every time.

While I have not experienced things to the same level that is seen in Survivorman, much less Survivorman Ten Days, the MCAT that I’d written a decade earlier is an analogous situation. On this day ten years ago, I wrote the exam itself, and although I would love to say the exam was a straightforward and smooth experience, my own exam day was anything but. After a light lunch, I arrived at the exam venue, and was surprised to find the building holding a sweltering 30°C (86°F). Moreover, one of the exam invigilators had stood at the door, saying that they were half an hour behind schedule. As it turns out, the building had suffered from an HVAC malfunction, causing both the power and air circulation to fail. I sat down and meditated until we were called into the exam room. The building’s technicians were still working on getting the fans back up, so it remained blisteringly hot as I sat down to the physical sciences section. Within a few minutes, I developed a cramp in my stomach. However, as the exam began, I had no choice but to weather on: I leafed through the questions, determined that the third problem set was something I could do, and set about writing the exam. When the time for the first section ended, I rushed out the door and immediately hit the facilities. The stomach pains subsided, and I wrote the remaining sections in relative comfort: the temperatures remained high, but at least the cramps were gone, allowing me to focus on the task at hand. All concern and doubt was dampened as I recalled the materials I reviewed, the strategies I was provided with, and days spent studying with friends at the medical campus’ small group rooms. The exam ended four hours later, and I stepped out into the evening, seeing the setting sun cast a warm, golden light on the landscape. After most exams, a part of me worries about the outcome, but with this MCAT, I felt as though I’d put in my best possible effort. I joined my family to a dinner at my favourite Chinese bistro in town, before sleeping the best sleep I’d had all summer. Like Les Stroud and Survivorman Ten Days, beating the MCAT became a matter of psychological resilience, and setting aside the “what-ifs” to deal with whatever was in front of me in that moment. Much as how Stroud focused on getting down the mountain despite the setting sun, I focused on solving each question without any thought to what happened post exam. While I saw numerous concepts on the exam that I certainly didn’t review during practise, they’d been similar enough in principal to materials I’d already seen, and I fell back on existing knowledge to reason through those questions. I didn’t learn of the end result for my MCAT until a month later, but the final score, a 35T (518), speaks volumes to the efficacy of these methods. The numerous parallels between my own experiences, and what Les Stroud presents on Survivorman, thus became a reminder to me that survival techniques had applicability in almost every walk of life: while I’m no outdoorsman like Stroud, everything that is presented in Survivorman is relevant to everyday life, too. It is therefore fair to say that watching Survivorman Ten Days was yet another part of the reason why I survived the MCAT ten summers earlier, and while I’ve never used my score for anything other than an interesting conversation topic since taking the exam, the ancillary learnings, such as prioritising problems, applying existing knowledge to take on new problems, dividing and conquering, and maintaining a mindset of resilience amidst adversity, have fundamentally changed the way I operated, positively impacting everything I do even to this day. Ten years ago to this day, it’s almost time for me to head out and write the MCAT – I had no idea what the outcome would be, but, armed with the will to survive, I set off for my exam, resolute to do my best, too.

Arctic Tundra: Survivorman, Baffin Island and Remarks On The Final Approach to the MCAT

“Cold…wind…lack of wild edibles…it’s a tougher one. The skies and temperatures…grey skies, very little blue, can play on the psyche.” –Les Stroud

In the third season of Survivorman, Les Stroud is dropped off at Pond Inlet in Baffin Island, located in one of the furthest reaches of Canada. Up here during the summer, the sun never sets, and Stroud is faced with the challenges of surviving in an inhospitable land battered by wind and waves. The blustery weather becomes especially wearing, and during the week, the overcast skies and lack of food begins taking an emotional toll on Stroud, on top of a physical toll. However, when Stroud decides to head inland and gather wild edibles and other plants, he realises he’s forgotten something at his campsite. Returning to retrieve it, he notices a school of Arctic Char swimming by, and in the moment, immediately gets a fishing line into the water. Moments later, his demeanor is completely changed – with four large Arctic Char in tow, Stroud is energetic, animated and ecstatic his situation has suddenly changed so dramatically. The resulting fish feast becomes Stroud’s favourite Survivorman moment, and in a Director’s Commentary video, Stroud comments on how this particular food moment even surpassed the feast he had on the Cook Islands. Stroud’s excitement is tangible, and viewers smile right alongside Stroud as he cleans the fish, enjoys fresh roe and fish, and cooks up the fish to enjoy later. In the space of moments, Stroud’s fortunes have completely turned around, showing how quickly circumstances can change, and moreover, how important it is to maintain a positive mindset during difficult times, and how one should not be complacent even when things begin turning around. At one point, Stroud comments on how he can use some of the entrails from the Arctic Char to potentially catch some seagulls and add to his food reserves. While Stroud is rewarded with a delicious meal, viewers are treated to loving closeups of Stroud preparing and cooking the Arctic Char. In the aftermath of this pivotal moment, Stroud continues to explore inland and retrieves a variety of plants that provide nutrition and kindling, taking advantage of a good situation to improve things even further; as a result, when a rainstorm sweeps into the area, Stroud ends up enjoying his Arctic Char as it rains, does stretching exercises to keep the blood flowing, and even makes a qulliq oil lamp with a stone, old sock and the remainder of his whale blubber. Only when the storm worsens, does Stroud call things in and prepare to head back to the settlement. By this point in Survivorman, Les Stroud has found his rhythm, allowing his experience and knowledge to feed into his decision-making process while at the same time, acknowledging to viewers that the variability of survival means that one often has to make the most of the hand they are given.

The Arctic Tundra episode represents Survivorman at its finest – while it is undeniable that Les Stroud is an incredibly skilled outdoorsman with years of survival knowledge under his belt, being placed in the wind-swept, desolate hills of the Pond Inlet area of Baffin Island puts his skillset to the test. Out here, there is no substantial vegetation to craft shelters from, and food is scarce, being difficult to gather and hunt outside of a small window of time in the year. Weather can change at the drop of a hat, and during the episode, Stroud remarks on several occasions that the wind prevents him from travelling to a more favourable spot, keeps him from exploring his surroundings, et cetera. Stroud’s able to capitalise on his skills to make a difficult situation manageable, moving to a better spot on his canoe and whipping up a surprisingly sturdy shelter using old steel drums found on the beach, but has no luck in luring in seagulls for food. As the weather becomes increasingly gray, Stroud comments on the conditions and how they can be incredibly demoralising even when one is armed with a vast collection of skill and experience. Here in the Arctic Tundra, Stroud’s situation speaks to how there are cases where a little luck is required. However, while one might interpret this as being how luck is necessary, the opposite is true: if one has the skill, then they have the means to capitalise when luck shows up. There is no substitute for skill, and this is what makes Stroud’s experience in Baffin Island so inspiring – even when things appear to bottom out, Stroud continues to count on and share his knowledge, with the end result that he is able to net a total of four Arctic Char. In any other show, such a moment would be scripted, but what makes Survivorman especially rewarding is the fact that everything that happens occurs naturally. In some episodes, Stroud is faced with exceedingly challenging scenarios: at Kalahari, Stroud grappled with trying to fend off heat stroke, and in other episodes, he’s unable to secure food. Having seen these previous episodes, it was rewarding to see luck on Stroud’s side and show what can happen in a survival situation when the stars line up, and one possesses the skill to capitalise on the opportunity. Seeing Les Stroud cooking and enjoying the Arctic Char, in his words, “fresh sushi”, was so visceral, it felt as though I’d been the one who had caught that fish, and therein lies the main joy of watching Survivorman. In all episodes, I’m especially fond of moments where Stroud finds food, and whether it’s something like the Witchetty grub or scorpions, to a roast bird and deer remains, Stroud has a talent for making anything look good. Stroud has previously mentioned that in a survival situation, one takes what they can get, and there’s no room for dramatisation: it’s all about getting the nutrients down. This has increased my appreciation for the food, but Survivorman actually had another, even more profound impact on how I conduct myself that influences how I do things even to this day.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My story with Survivorman is an extensive one: I came upon the series while travelling. In 2010, I was in China on a tour of Beijing and Shanghai, and one evening, we’d stopped over in Hanzghou. A major thunderstorm had rolled into the region after dinner, and so, rather than explore the neighbourhood around the hotel, we decided to retire to our quarters and take it easy. I began channel surfing, and came upon a Chinese dub of Survivorman as he was preparing a turtle in the Georgian Swamps. My curiosity was piqued, and upon returning home, I began following the series as it aired on Discovery Canada.

  • While Survivorman remained little more than a curiosity at that point, and I mainly watched the show to see Les Stroud’s reactions to finding water, enjoying survival food or successfully lighting a fire with unorthodox means, by the time the MCAT rolled around two summers later, Survivorman had become a sort of panacea for the stress I was facing: watching Stroud survive off the land and making do with the hand he was dealt reminded me that my own challenges weren’t quite as demanding, but moreover, a similar mentality for survival would be essential in getting through a difficult time.

  • By that point in time, I’d already caught up with all of the Survivorman episodes and was familiar with Stroud’s approaches for reasoned, methodical survival. Seeing a similar set of skills being adapted for different situations was one of the biggest draws in Survivorman, and the first of these skills is determining what to do first. In the desert, Stroud’s immediate priority is determining how he might find more drinking water. Here on Baffin Island, the bitter cold and relentless wind meant shelter was essential. With old plywood, Stroud is able to construct a shelter that stops some of the wind, and as a break, he sits down to a bite of whale blubber, reminiscing about how he’d done something similar during an earlier episode.

  • Survivorman episodes instruct viewers in three ways. The first is when Stroud walks a viewer through what he’s doing and explains the rationale behind why he’s doing something, and the second comes from voice-overs Stroud later adds in the editing suite, which provide a bit of reflection on his actions. The third is unique to Survivorman: Director’s Commentary, a YouTube series that released back when the pandemic was starting. In Director’s Commentary, Stroud takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes and further presents to viewers his thought process. On some occasions, he may even indicate that what he was doing in a situation was not optimal.

  • Beyond the act of showing survival in a measured and methodical manner, the nature of Survivorman means that viewers are treated to stunning vistas and landscapes. Even somewhere as desolate as Baffin Island in the high Arctic, there is great beauty in the scenery. In episodes, Stroud notes that he captures some of the landscape footage himself, but larger shots and time lapses (the industry term is B-roll) are done by a team, oftentimes before Stroud himself gets out onto the land for survival. These elements then come together to make the episode.

  • Fresh water is always a priority: the body lasts an average of three days without water before dehydration kicks in, and dehydration brings with it a plethora of unpleasant symptoms, including headache and dizziness. In some episodes, water is a major challenge, but at Baffin Island, fresh glacial melt and pristine meadows mean that Stroud isn’t worried about Giardiasis or Cryptosporidium. Even when water-borne parasites may be a real hazard, Stroud notes that where possible, boiling the water will lessen the risk, and in a time of extreme difficulty, it might be okay to risk an infection and then seek treatment once one is back in civilisation.

  • In both the Arctic and Arctic Tundra episodes, Stroud is legally required to bring a rifle with him as a means of protection against polar bears. Luckily, in both episodes, polar bears have not approached Stroud in a way that has required use of this rifle. While a rifle might be a form of defense, it is worth noting that unlike humans, which collapse when shot as a self-preservation reflex, bears do not share this trait and may keep charging, so shooting a polar bear with a single .22 may not be effective unless one’s got extremely good shot placement.

  • To simulate real-world scenarios, Stroud’s episodes often have a narrative, simulating things like getting separated from a team while diving, getting lost while canoeing, being injured in the wilderness after a plane crash or a lapse of judgement resulting in one’s vehicle running out of fuel in a remote area. In the Arctic Tundra episode, Stroud simulates being a part of a research team stuck here, and outfits himself accordingly: among the pieces of equipment he’s brought include a fishing tackle and a CB radio. Here, he attempts some fishing: one of his Inuit guides had mentioned the area would be dense with Arctic Char, and Stroud figured that a fishing tackle would be an essential survival tool.

  • Stroud’s lament about the presence of trash on beaches along every coastline in the world was a sobering one, and is a reminder that whatever one carelessly discards will always end up somewhere. This is why I do my part to ensure all of my garbage is properly dealt with: when my city introduced a compost and recycling programme, I was thrilled: reusing things and repurposing waste means less effort is expended in remaking everything anew, and this mindfulness also extends to other parts of life. I’ve long been a proponent of sustainability, but I also recognise that stopgap measures are needed to reach our ideal level of environmental consciousness. This is why I do not espouse activism, and instead, commit myself to smaller scale things I can do: composting, turning the lights off and conserving water is much more environmentally friendly than organising large rallies.

  • Through Director’s Commentary, I was able to learn much more about the episodes beyond just the survival elements. Arctic Tundra was Stroud’s first Director’s Commentary, and he explains that early episodes were plagued with issues because he was shooting with different camera brands, which use different recording chips and yield different image colours. Later episodes has Stroud switching to one brand, and being mindful of each camera’s capabilities: some cameras have buttons that can instantly disable autofocus, and Stroud mentions how he would use tricks like taping up the button to avoid accidentally depressing it, which would leave an entire scene out of focus.

  • In Secrets of Survival, Stroud mentions that his favourite method of starting a fire is the fire bow, although things like a flint striker come in a close second. For a non-expert like myself, a flint striker would be especially appealing, representing a reliable means of getting a fire going (provided one already has access to tinder and a good supply of wood). However, I can spot why Stroud might not like the flint striker: it would require a good strike from something like a knife, and in a survival situation, having a sharp knife can make the difference between a difficult situation, and something that can be managed.

  • As such, when the moment allows, Stroud will utilise unorthodox methods to get a fire going. In Baffin Island, Stroud uses the battery from his CB radio and some steel wool he’s found nearby. It turns out that touching the steel wool to the battery’s terminals will create a short circuit that ignites the steel wool, and this creates fire. Stroud refers to these as MacGyverisms, the practise of being creative and using whatever is on hand to achieve something. With this in mind, if and when I’m asked, having been a fan of Survivorman for the past decade, my top five survival items would be a hatchet or hand-axe, multitool, lengths of rope, a steel container for carrying water, and a flint striker.

  • Behind the comfort of a screen, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the locations Stroud visits in Survivorman, and it suddenly strikes me as to just how vast and barren the northernmost reaches of Canada are. For the Arctic Tundra episode, Survivorman makes use of very distinct incidental music that isn’t heard anywhere else in the series; the soundtrack to Survivorman is composed by Peter Cliche, Dan Colomby and Les Stroud himself, being an eclectic collection that captures the tenour of the locations that Stroud visits, combining modern outdoor sounds with local flaire. There are two albums with songs from all three seasons altogether.

  • Even while out in a survival situation for Survivorman, Stroud still takes the time to describe indigenous cultures and their means of survival. High in the Arctic Tundra, the indigenous peoples would create warm shelters out of whale bones and caribou hides: although people nowadays tend to congregate in population centers located in comparatively temperate environments (past a certain point, it’s too cold to reliably maintain infrastructure for sustaining larger populations), the fact that there are humans in virtually every corner of the globe, and that all of these populations have developed adaptations to not just survive, but thrive in their environments speaks to the level of ingenuity there is in people.

  • Until Survivorman and Sora no Woto, I’d never really been a fan of grey, overcast days. As Weathering With You‘s Hodaka says, people do feel most alive on sunny days, and feelings of joy appear to be amplified. Overcast days create a sense of gloominess that diminishes from one’s spirits. However, moodiness represents a chance to look inwards and reflect: Sora no Woto‘s fourth episode had been set under grey skies that later turn to rain to gives Kanata a chance to see Seize on a quieter day, and do some introspection on why her bugling skills seem to have stagnated.

  • During the summer a decade earlier, I recall how May and June had been predominantly overcast, but then by July and August, the days became sunny. As July began turning into August, I’d been more or less ready for the MCAT itself, having spent long days reviewing materials and doing practise exams. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would wake up early and go to campus to lift weights, while my MCAT preparation courses were on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Throughout most of the week, then, I spent mornings on campus either doing my course, or studying, before returning home for the afternoon for more revisions.

  • However, as July drew to a close, and I wrote the last of the full-length exams that was bundled with my course, I began to roll back the level of intensity; in the last two weeks leading up to the MCAT, I only studied in the mornings and took the afternoons easy. In the last few days before the exam itself, I stopped studying outright. This was so I wouldn’t suddenly come across a concept and then panic. The approach I took towards the MCAT was inspired by Survivorman, where Stroud does things in a methodical and deliberate manner. Here, his camera lens is covered with raindrops, and he remarks in Director’s Commentary that this was so viewers could really feel they were being rained on.

  • About halfway through the Arctic Tundra episode, Stroud packs up his gear and moves to a different site. Here, he fashions a new shelter out of some oil drums and uses his canoe as a roof. Being able to take advantage of stuff in the environment is of a great help: earlier episodes saw Stroud building his own shelters from tree boughs and whatnot, and while this was important, it’s also extremely time consuming to find all of the materials and assemble it into a shelter that can somewhat keep out the elements. Stroud himself would comment on how even a single piece of tarp can make all the difference in a survival situation, saving him an entire afternoon’s worth of work to waterproof a shelter.

  • After putting a sturdier shelter together to keep him out of the wind, Stroud proceeds to build a bird trap using the remaining bits of whale blubber he’s got. The idea behind these traps is that they work even when one isn’t, making them a nice way to potentially get food without expending too much energy besides setting the traps up. While at first glance, these details are far removed from things like studying for the MCAT (or tackling a particularly challenging development problem), but when abstracted out, Stroud’s approach corresponds to doing the low-effort-high-payoff stuff first. This approach is identical to how I would take on the MCAT itself (do the questions that I’m most comfortable doing first, especially if they’re worth more).

  • In Director’s Commentary, Stroud mentions that the Arctic Tundra episode is a personal favourite of his, but his editors also enjoyed editing this episode immensely because the grey clouds of the north created a sort of gloominess that other settings couldn’t. The weather seen in Baffin Island is reminiscent of the weather in Calgary from April through June: these are our rainiest seasons of the year, and while I wasn’t fond of such days previously, Survivorman contributed to my coming around: cloudy and rainy days are perfect for feeling a little sullen, of slowing down and appreciating the warmth of one’s home.

  • Stroud’s low point in this episode comes after another failed effort to fish: between the lack of food and grim weather, Stroud slowly walks away from the camera, and his senior editor, Barry Farrell, enjoyed using this moment to really convey to viewers how defeated Stroud must’ve felt here. He crouches down in front of the camera and remarks that even one day can mean the difference between life and death to accentuate the gravity of this situation. In what I found to be one of the cleverest bits of editing, Stroud does a voice-over on how timing is everything, cutting to him standing at the water’s edge with a fishing line in the water.

  • Armed with a fishing tackle, Stroud’s fortunes change entirely: he catches not one, but four large Arctic Char. It speaks to the brilliance of Survivorman that the elation Stroud feels here is so tangible that viewers cannot help but feel as happy as he does, and right out of the gates, Stroud states the importance of having a fishing tackle as a part of one’s survival kit. One thing that’s always bugged me about this scene was how Stroud says that he seems to have lost his fishing line after catching a particularly large fish, but since Stroud seemed quite unconcerned with things and makes no mention of actually losing the line itself in Director’s Commentary, I’ll assume that it was briefly lost on the beach.

  • In a curious coincidence, the Arctic Char that Stroud catches are caught in order of increasing size. Stroud immediately sets about preparing his prizes for consumption, removing the entrails and separating all of the different parts of the fish out. It is this specific scene in Survivorman that opened my mind to watching anime like Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Slow Loop, both of which feature fishing and preparation of freshly-caught fish prominently. However, they key difference here is that in anime, the characters have home field advantage and therefore can access the gear they need to be successful, whereas Stroud is playing the away game.

  • In spite of this, I was impressed with the finesse Stroud prepares the fish with. He cuts the fish at an angle so the slices fall away from one another, allowing them to air out. Stroud notes, both in the episode itself and in Director’s Commentary, that this is a traditional method of preserving fish. The end result is that the fish ends up looking like strips of watermelon, and Stroud immediately digs in, commenting on how this is the freshest sushi he’s ever eaten. The Director’s Commentary reveals that his crew were camped out a few kilometres away from him, and while Stroud is enjoying fresh fish, the crew was eating canned soup.

  • Different camera placements capture the sense that Stroud is really alone on his adventures; some of the survival shows that came out after Survivorman are actually shot with full crews, and on some occasions, the stars of the show even return back to civilisation as the day draws to a close. Conversely, by continuously reiterating that Stroud has nothing beyond himself, his camera and whatever the land has to offer, Survivorman is a true show of what survival entails. In later years, serious bushmen and outdoorspeople have risen up to the occasion and put on shows that rival Les Stroud’s in terms of quality and helpfulness, but for me, Survivorman remains iconic, a trailblazer.

  • Watching Stroud enjoy freshly-caught Arctic Char raw, and then the safe consumption of raw fish in Houkago Teibou Nishi and even Yuru Camp△ would ultimately convince me to give nigiri a go: I’ve long been apprehensive about raw fish dishes of any sort, and during my vacation in Japan, when a hotel served us sashimi, I clandestinely dunked my fish in the nabe, cooking it instantly and rendering it in a state I was much more comfortable eating. As it turns out, raw fish intended for consumption is frozen, which kills any parasites in the flesh, and when properly prepared, it is reasonably safe to eat.

  • Nowadays, I’m perfectly happy with eating things like raw fish in moderation: when raw, salmon and tuna are surprisingly tasty, although nothing quite beats a piece of fried cod or steamed Tilapia topped with soy sauce, ginger and spring onion. One other side effect of watching Survivorman was that I became open to eating offal: in a survival situation, Stroud utilises every part of an animal, including the liver and the heart. As a result of seeing this, I became open to eating things like turkey liver and blood tofu. Here, Stroud enjoys the fish roe, which is a delicacy and which I know best as a part of sushi and, in Cantonese cuisine, can be added to fried rice or siu mai.

  • Amidst the preparations, Stroud mentions that all of the fish blood smell might attract polar bears. It suddenly strikes me that the rifle he’d been carrying earlier is nowhere to be seen, and I imagine that it’s probably stashed away at the campsite. After finishing preparation of the fish, Stroud notes that with the intestines and other entrails, he might be able to add to his bird trap and see if he can’t get a few seagulls to increase his food stockpiles. In Director’s Commentary, Stroud appends that it’s always important to keep looking forward, and just because things are good now doesn’t mean one can’t take advantage of things to better things further. This is another one of those nuances that applies to real life.

  • I smiled upon hearing Stroud say that a good guide should be able to get a fire going even somewhere that’s seen nonstop rain for the past three days. A determined bushman will be able to find or make dry tinder anywhere and make things work; this is what speaks to being a good guide. I remain skeptical that a master guide could simply summon wine and chocolates as readily, but the comment adds a bit of humour to things and acts as a reminder that the situation has shifted enough for Stroud to be cracking jokes. Something similar happened in the Colorado Rockies; after a fishing trip, Stroud says he didn’t catch a single fish.

  • Instead, he’s caught two; being able to apply humour in a difficult situation helps to lighten the mood up and gives the mind a chance to regroup. After the wood’s prepared, a bit of steel wool and a battery is all that’s needed to light the fire. In other episodes, Stroud has used duct tape as a fire-starter, validating the MythBusters‘ episode where they had shown that duct tape is actually a viable fire starter (on top of being useful in many other functions). In other episodes, Stroud has used corn chips and chapstick to start and hold a flame (which is unsurprising, since corn chips are basically oil and hydrocarbons, and chapstick is basically wax). Having a fire at this location proves to be a massive morale booster, giving warmth in a place of nonstop wind and cold.

  • Stroud ends up cooking his Arctic Char over an open flame, and this moment had gotten me curious about what Arctic Char tastes like. Despite looking a little like salmon, Arctic Char is a bit more oily and has a more intense flavour compared to salmon – it is supposed to be more trout-like in terms of texture and taste. Despite being considered more sustainable than salmon, Arctic Char is not widely farmed, and as a menu item on restaurants, it tends to be pricier, being found at higher-end places.

  • The Baffin Island episodes marks one of the few times where Stroud’s so thoroughly enjoying the moment that he addresses his editor, making a joke about how later, once he’s back home and they’re working on editing all of the cuts into an episode, his editor, Barry Farrell, will doubtlessly begin feeling a little hungry at the sight of watching Stroud enjoying fresh-cooked Arctic Char. Director’s Commentary never clarifies whether or not Stroud and his team shared a laugh at this moment, but I would imagine that Farrell probably smiled at this moment.

  • Towards the end of the episode, a persistent rainfall rolls into the Pond Inlet area, preventing Stroud from doing too much beyond sitting in his shelter and enjoying his fish. The aesthetics of this moment reminds me of when I’d been in Rennes, France, after the Laval Virtual Conference had ended; I’d picked up a bug and was not feeling well, so I spent my day in Rennes at the hotel, trying to rest up. A fierce rainstorm was raging outside, and in moments where I had the strength to do so, I was reading through a novel I’d brought. I was lucky in that my stomach bug had subsided long enough for me to make the flight back home, although it was another few days before I healed up completely.

  • Memories of watching rain for large drops against the hotel window linger in my memory, and even now, whenever it gets rainy, my mind wanders back to the March of several years earlier, as well as Stroud’s Baffin Island experience. June this year was especially rainy, and as I worked from my home office, I occasionally turned to face the window and enjoy the sound of rain pattering against my window. We’re now entering the August long weekend, and like the two previous years, we’ve got a heat warning in place, with the temperatures hovering above 30ºC until Tuesday.

  • When the rain lessens up, Stroud heads out into the fields behind his camp to forage for wild edibles and other plants. With the energy from the Arctic Char, Stroud is able to wander around and explore for different things, including a sort of tuber that is quite nutritious. Throughout this episode, Stroud says that timing is vital, as being in a certain place at a certain time can mean the difference between having a Smörgåsbord of things to eat, and being stuck in a desolate landscape. This timing influences when Stroud chooses to go out onto the land for a survival excursion, and while Stroud is widely respected amidst the community, he does have his share of detractors.

  • Stroud always has a fair and reasoned answer for his detractors, explaining that there are certain constraints and limitations he works within. Director’s Commentary really brings these topics into the open, and in fact, when Stroud began doing Director’s Commentary for his Survivorman: Bigfoot series, he explains his mindset behind how he approaches the pseudoscientific field of cryptozoology – although my own scientific background makes me a skeptic by default, Stroud makes a very valid point about how it’s so important to keep an open mind even for this sort of stuff because some of the people who recount these stories are experts in their own right.

  • To dismiss them as delusional, or lying, is then unfair, and at the minimum, one should hear the story through and try to understand what happened. This mode of thinking opened my mind to the idea of Sasquatch, and since watching the Klemtu episode back in September 2020, I’ve also become more open-minded towards the History Channel’s Ancient AliensSecrets of Skinwalker Ranch and the like. While it’s not hard science like NOVA or Nature, there’s a fun about these shows that make their topics worth considering. If and when I’m asked, I would say that while I am skeptical of things like UFOs or Sasquatch, I do not deny that there is a possibility such things do exist, especially considering how large the universe is.

  • Director’s Commentary opened me up to things that I would’ve otherwise not experienced, and this is why Survivorman is something I respect so deeply – even today, Les Stroud always finds a way to impress with his content, and ever since subscribing to his YouTube channel, I’ve broadened my horizons considerably. The global health crisis changed the way I consume media: before the pandemic, I was subscribed to no YouTube channels and only ever watched music channels. Amidst the pandemic, I ended up following a variety of channels, including MeatEater, Binging With Babbish and Rick Steves’ Europe.

  • As the rain continues, Stroud decides to make a qulliq, a traditional Inuit oil lamp that provides long-lasting light during the darkest months of the year. This bushcraft was a reminder of how once the basics are taken care of, the mind is free to focus on other pursuits. Inclement weather subsequently shuts down the episode, forcing Stroud to end things earlier. With the end of this episode, Survivorman concludes one of the most memorable survival experiences, and for me, my reminiscence on the MCAT very nearly is about to draw to a close: I have one more Survivorman related discussion for covering my own recollections of exam day itself.

  • I’ll save those recollections for that post proper, apologise to readers who were doubtlessly hoping for posts about anime, and note that folks will only have to suffer through one more MCAT-related post for the remainder of this blog’s existence. The reason behind why I embarked on a trip down memory lane was because there were learnings from that period of my life that still impact the way I do things now, and I find that it’s important to do a little introspection and reflection every so often. Understanding old experiences and being mindful of how we did things before allows one to keep doing what works, and avoid doing what doesn’t. In the meantime, I’ve got a surprise post for a movie and Among Trees scheduled for early August. Here, I will also note that I’m hosting Jon’s Creative Showcase, aka #TheJCS, for August. I’m not too sure if anyone was hosting it in July, but I do look forwards to seeing what submissions will be available this time around.

For me, the Arctic Tundra episode became a quick favourite for this reason – Stroud speaks to the importance of proactive survival, keeping an eye out for anything that can be helpful and always looking for ways to better one’s situation, all of which are traits that proved instrumental for the me of a decade earlier: at this point in the summer, less than two weeks had remained between myself and the MCAT. Despite having spent nearly two full months in the MCAT preparation course, and despite having done several full-length practise exams, I remained quite nervous about the actual exam itself – in my final week of the preparation course, I was swinging between wanting the exam to come as soon as possible so I could write it, and wishing I had another month of preparation time. As a part of my preparation course’s offerings, I had one full-length exam left to me at this time, and I decided to write it with two weeks left, just to gauge how I might do. I thus spent a sunny Saturday indoors doing this exam under simulated conditions. Six hours later, I finished the exam, and to my great surprise, I scored a 33 (551 in today’s terms). It suddenly dawned on me that the preparations had been fruitful after all: my practise scores had trended upwards, and I thus left for a family dinner that evening more relaxed than I’d been all summer. In the days leading up to the MCAT, I did practise sections and found that for physical and biological sciences, I was scoring 11-12 (128-129), while the verbal reasoning was giving me 9-11 (126-128). The shift in momentum was brought on by this one moment, and I immediately found myself relating to Les Stroud’s Arctic Tundra experience – entering Baffin Island, Stroud had already possessed a considerable set of survival skills, and with the right bit of luck, a difficult situation turned into a manageable one. For me, the realisation I was probably more ready than I felt provided a similarly significant psychological booster: I had all of the knowledge and skills needed to face down the exam, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. Having this confidence proved to be the final piece of the puzzle I needed, and as the final two weeks to the MCAT approached, I spent the remainder of my days doing revisions and drills in the morning, before taking the afternoons easy by blogging, or playing Team Fortress 2 and MicroVolts. The end results speak for themselves, and my experiences with the MCAT would later impact how I faced my undergraduate thesis defense, graduate project and the transition from university into industry: falling back on existing knowledge and doing my best even when facing down a problem of unknown scope has allowed me to consistently work out solutions to problems. While Les Stroud’s Survivorman may deal with bushcraft and survival, the mental aspects of survival, such as the will to live and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity.

Routine Feat: Remarks on the Importance of Structure as a Route to Success and A Calgary Rodeo Reflection

Late night, come home
Work sucks, I know
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares

–blink-128, All The Small Things

Developed by Alexandre Ignatov, who had previously published ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, Routine Feat was actually written before IT’S WINTER, but the assets were reused to create a very moody and contemplative experience. However, unlike IT’S WINTER, Routine Feat has additional depth to it – it puts players in the shoes of an office worker who appears stuck in a routine of monotony: day in and day out, the office worker heads to a dreary job where, in his office, he’s scrawled onto a piece of paper “My work does not bring joy and is not so important for me and the people around me, but I cannot quit it. Otherwise, what will I eat?” Between his duties, the office worker toils away on his own novel, occasionally struggling to come up with ideas, but over time, his perseverance pays off: on a sunny, peaceful morning, the office worker submits his finished manuscript and heads to work. Coming home, the office worker spots a letter and a pile of cash in his mailbox – the publishers love his book and have already placed an order for a hundred thousand copies, saying that such a book will move millions. At first glance, Routine Feat appears to follow in the footsteps of IT’S WINTER in conveying a sense of melancholy and longing. Note scattered around the office worker’s home and workspace suggests someone who’s living day-to-day, seemingly without purpose or motivation. However, the office worker’s novel is the one ray of light in his life, and by investing time into this project in between his work, while at the same time, doing his best in a daily routine despite his boredom and melancholy, the office worker is able to create something of worth and find new value in his life. Among the monotony of routine comes new joy, and in this area, Routine Feat shows that there is nothing wrong with routine. While social media glamourises spontaneity and travel, and relationship guides claim (without evidence) that dating spontaneous people is the singular key to happiness, experts universally agree that routine is vital in maintaining one’s mental health, reduces anxiety and increases resilience against adversity. People who follow a consistent routine sleep more soundly, and may also enjoy improved physical health on top of mental wellness. Having a routine creates familiarity which allows one to do more – knowing one’s always going to have an hour in the morning means being able to lift weights before starting one’s workday, and being assured of an hour of rest before turning in means I’m confident that I could get some writing or gaming done that day.

The melancholy and monotony that is seen in Routine Feat contrasts sharply with the beautiful summer weather – when players open Routine Feat, they are met with the same apartment complex seen in IT’S WINTER. However, this time, sunlight fills the rooms with the warm golden glow of a mid-summer’s morning, and the sky is a pale azure. The landscape is verdant and lush with vegetation. Even though there isn’t another soul around (I’m the only person around), and it feels as though the weather is mocking me, it’s clear that Routine Feat is not trying to convey the same sense of hopelessness that only a bitterly cold winter’s night could. The change of seasons is what sets Routine Feat apart from its predecessor – long days filled with sunshine instills a sense of hope, and having light out increases the incentive to stop to take a breath and live in the moment. Although it might not be a life-changing journey to Japan, there is a certain joy about being able to feel the warmth of sunshine while waiting for the bus. Similarly, more sunshine means after coming home from work, it’s still light enough to enjoy the last rays of sun before returning one’s attention to their pursuits. It is therefore appropriate that here in Routine Feat, looking beyond what superficially appears to be a dull and dreary life, one finds a world filled with nuance and excitement. It is unsurprising that the office worker is able to write a book under such conditions – no longer trapped by the winter, one is really able to stretch their feet and allow the long days of summer to provide inspiration. The combination of routine in Routine Feat has its basis in reality; I am reminded of spending endless days during the summer of a decade earlier indoors with MCAT preparations while the world around me enjoyed everything the summer had to offer. However, even though I was not engaged in activities associated with the summer, the warm weather and beautiful skies gave me a sense of comfort and reassurance. This sense of well-being, coupled with the fact that I’d settled into a fairly consistent routine, of studying, lifting weights and unwinding, meant that what had appeared to be an insurmountable foe would suddenly look more manageable. On this day ten years ago, it had been a gorgeous morning, and while the family had stepped out to enjoy the Calgary Stampede, I remained behind to brush up on verbal reasoning. It had been a particularly fine day, and after hitting my quota for the morning, I walked out to the local sandwich shop for a pork rib sandwich. I was struck with a thought: appreciating small things in life is what makes things worthwhile. Routine Feat makes it a point to convey this, and while the game might initially seem repetitive and pointless, once players take the time to slow down and figure things out, there’s an unexpectedly uplifting and optimistic message about how, in the throes of routine, people can optimise their schedules and come to do great things with the time that is available to them. I managed to have what was, in retrospect, a pretty enjoyable summer ten years ago despite having spent so much of it on the MCAT (I would later go on to travel and even put out a journal publication). The office worker in Routine Feat may live a routine life, but in growing familiar with his day-to-day patterns, manages to optimise things and find the time to pursue his own interests, chipping away tirelessly until things finally come to a head, and his efforts are rewarded.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I became intrigued with Routine Feat after playing IT’S WINTER and discovered the game was free to download from Ignatov’s website. However, when the game became available on Steam back in May, I decided to pick it up to support Ignatov: both Routine Feat and IT’S WINTER speak to some of my own experiences with loneliness, of being trapped during both winters and summers during my time as a university student. In 2013, I earned my Bachelor of Health Science degree, but between all of my friends heading off to pursue their careers, and a one-in-a-century flood knocking out my summer plans (which entailed a kokuhaku), I fell into a mild depression.

  • As that summer drew to a close, I began dreading the imminent arrival of winter; the individual I had wished to deliver my kokuhaku to had left for an exchange programme in Japan, and I was left to pursue open studies while awaiting the results of my second shot at getting into medical school. In the depths of winter, my applications fell through, and I got a sneaking suspicion the person I was hoping to ask out would not wait for me. However, it was not the end; upon hearing about my applications’ outcomes, my supervisor immediately extended to me an offer of admissions into graduate school, as well as a position on what would become the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. Spotting an opportunity to walk a different path, and to immerse myself in something that took my mind off things, I accepted immediately.

  • This proved to be a pivotal moment for me, and I attribute my recovery to this turn of events – keeping busy with a project that would contribute to scientific communication in the community took my mind off the hurt of what had amounted to a rejection, and I thus focused my entire effort towards learning Unity. While I would slowly find my way again and ended up becoming an iOS developer as a result of my experiences in graduate school, I remained quite hostile towards winter for some time after. However, even this dislike wouldn’t last forever; I would come to take stock in the fact that, no matter how cold winters got, summers would always return, and until summers did come back, I had somewhere warm to return to every day.

  • IT’S WINTER spoke to me about this fact: while the game is supposed to convey an overwhelming sense of isolation and sadness, I found that the game actually captured something quite unexpected. To be able to wander outside in a bitterly cold winter’s night, and then returning to the warmth and comfort of the player’s apartment was quite reassuring: no matter how far my wanderings took me, I could always go back to somewhere with light, heat and food. It was with this mindset that I approached Routine Feat, which was similarly written to be a game that speaks to depression and melancholy associated with an unremarkable life.

  • When players start Routine Feat for the first time, they are met with blue skies and the light of a summer’s morning. I remember numerous such mornings in all of my summers, especially during the year I took the MCAT. Like the office worker of Routine Feat, I would board the bus and head for campus to either attend my preparation course or lift weights, before hitting the books and returning home. Buses to the university are practically empty in the summer, adding to my sense of isolation. However, while my MCAT year should have been lonely, I found that having a routine helped me to focus effectively.

  • The reason for this is simple: knowing what to expect on a given day creates confidence in having control. Having structure in one’s day provides certainty and reassurance, allowing one to know that they’ve got time blocked out to get certain things done. This is why, when the global health crisis hit some two-and-a-half years earlier, I was able to cope with things. I woke up early in the mornings, ate breakfast and got to work. Every day at 1030, I would stop for a yogurt break, and then I’d resume work until 1200, during which I’d break for lunch.

  • Lunch breaks would last precisely an hour, and then I would work until 1500. Here, I’d stop to enjoy the refreshing tang of a mandarin orange. Once this break was over, it was a straight shot until the end of the day. After work, I would either do light exercise in the basement or, if the weather allowed me to, go for a stroll around the block. Between my routine, I found enough time to game, blog and chat with friends. While I greatly missed being able to go to restaurants and my favourite places in town, knowing my days were well-organised, and that I was still getting things done, gave me some reassurance.

  • In this way, when restrictions began rolling back, I would come to look forwards to grabbing takeout from the local Cantonese restaurant, or spending some time in the nearby parks on weekends. This new routine has worked well for me: despite beginning a new position last April and moving house this year, old habits died hard; I ended up following the same work and life patterns I previously did, with the main exception that I’m doing more housework now. Curiously enough, doing housework is when I’m most at ease, as it gives my mind a chance to wander and unwind.

  • Having now moved for a shade over three months, I’ve formed a new routine by merging old habits with nuances of the new place, and this has in turn allowed me to acclimatise to life in a new part of town; there is enough time in a day for me to work, look after the new place, exercise, sleep well and on top of all this, continue to keep this blog going. Back in Routine Feat, I will note that the game gives players full freedom to do whatever they choose to. In mornings, a bus will appear at regular intervals, and boarding will take players to work.

  • One can choose to deliberately miss the bus without penalty: buses will keep coming ad infinitum, and the game will only advance if one boards, so one could spend as much time as they wish to explore the environment. Unlike IT’S WINTER, where there’s a soft boundary that will transport players back to the heart of the map, Routine Feat features hard boundaries at the map’s edges to prevent them from going further. The map is actually a ways bigger than it was in IT’S WINTER, and one can thoroughly explore the woods surrounding the office worker’s apartment block.

  • The lack of deadlines means Routine Feat is free to give players full agency over their decisions. This is especially important, since many things in the game can be interacted with. One can choose to cook a scrumptious breakfast with the ingredients in their refrigerator as a way to start the day, or go for a stroll in the woods surrounding the apartment. Reading the notes on one’s desk will also lead one to realise that the office worker is an aspiring author, and while he may occasionally struggle to come up with ideas, for the most part, the office worker can find inspiration to write.

  • One thing that I didn’t notice was that, in order to make any progress on the novel, one must type on the typewriter, and then when a page is done, it must be manually inserted into an envelope on the office worker’s desk at home. Every morning and evening, the office worker will produce two to four pages before calling it quits, and so, to finish Routine Feat quickly, one must make it a habit of writing every day, before heading for work, and then before turning in. However, there’s no obligation to move at such a breakneck pace: Routine Feat won’t punish players for finishing slowly, nor will it reward players further for finishing quickly.

  • Observant players will have noticed that in Routine Feat, mornings will look slightly different when a new day starts, and similarly, players arrive home from work at varying times of day. Sometimes, the sun is just setting when one gets off the bus, and at other times, it’s fully nighttime, with a full moon in the sky. On one of my mornings in Routine Feat, the sky was overcast and brought back memories of last year, when extensive forest fires a province over devastated entire towns and filled the skies with smoke.

  • This year, the weather’s been quite the opposite – we’ve been fortunate that no heat dome settled over British Columbia, keeping the forest fires at bay, and moreover, near-normal precipitation and temperatures have made for both green surroundings and comfortable days. July and August are the times of year best suited for summer adventures, and unlike the previous two years, this year, I am hoping to slowly ease back into planning out excursions on weekends to take advantage of the long and warm days that I’ve long expressed fondness for.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I’ve not yet shown a screenshot of the office worker’s bedroom. Although the quarters are spartan, especially for folks who’ve grown accustomed to living in a detached home of at least 1200 square feet, looking around the office worker’s apartment still gives a very inviting sense. Everything is reasonably clean and well-kept, and while there’s no living room, the bedroom is very large. Were I to live here, the only adjustment I’d make is to move the bed over to the right, closer to the heater by the window, and then put the TV stand underneath the tapestry.

  • Because of variability in the weather, on some mornings in Routine Feat, I wake up to sunlight filling the bedroom. This is how bright my room gets in the morning during the summers – it’s gotten to the point where I don’t need an alarm clock to wake up on days where it’s sunny, and I’m always filled with a feeling of peace whenever it looks like this. I’ve noticed that sleep is never really a problem in Routine Feat; inconsistent sleep is often associated with depression, as depression can create feelings of regret, sadness and longing that result in thoughts that wholly occupy the mind.

  • Players have no trouble sleeping in Routine Feat, and falling asleep is as easy as looking at the bed and pressing “E”. Once asleep, Routine Feat treats players to fantastical dreamscapes. According to Ignatov, the dreams themselves don’t have any deep or specific meanings, being meant to represent spaces that are quite different than the office worker’s home and day-to-day life. I’ve always been fond of creators who step up to clarify things and remind folks to take it easy: it’s not lost on me that, perhaps as a result of North American literature courses, people are taught to pick works apart and focus on nuances like symbolism and literary devices over the overarching themes and character experiences.

  • As it turns out, the approach of analysing every last element in a work is known as the reader-response criticism theory, in which practitioners can interpret a work independently of the author’s intentions, and in this way, produce any end conclusion because the reader’s interpretation is treated as the main authority on things. A handful of anime blogs out there subscribed to this approach and at their height, took things one step further by asserting that works can be analysed independently of cultural and individual influences to produce an “objective” interpretation. Behind the Nihon was fond of this, but I found their methodology flawed on the grounds that it produces a very narrow and limited view of the work, since Behind the Nihon Review’s writers still brought their own subjective tastes and backgrounds to the table.

  • Conversely, I always strive to pay attention to what the author attempted to convey, since how they present and execute a work is influenced by how they perceive their experiences. Reconciling the differences between what I experience, and what the author’s intentions are, produces the richest understanding of things. Routine Feat, for instance, is a game that conveys sadness and melancholy from routine, but because the game chooses to give the player an end-goal (of writing a book) that they do succeed in, the game also shows the nuances of following a routine. This is Ignatov’s intention: “if you stop and take a breath of air, then you might like [Routine Feat]“.

  • On a quiet morning with blue skies, I managed to get all twenty pages of the book written out, and submitted the manuscript to the publisher. What awaits the player is another day at work, but this time around, there’s a faint sense of excitement this time around. Routine Feat doesn’t have a large number of goals, but the office worker’s act of writing a book does advance the story. However, it is worth noting here that Routine Feat does not have any save points, and as such, one must play through several days in order to write all twenty of the requisite pages: leaving the game at any time will reset one’s progress.

  • Earlier today, I had awoken to gorgeous skies and a forecasted high of 26°C. However, it was no typical day: I was set to attend the Calgary Stampede with the company, and to ensure I arrived in time for lunch to begin, I left earlier. Today marked the beginning of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and this event traditionally kicks off with a large parade downtown. The light rail line runs right through the downtown core and intersects with the parade route, so the wisdom of leaving early became apparent. After arriving, I made my way to the Rotary House, which had been marked as closed for a private function (i.e. ours).

  • Once lunch ended, we moseyed on over to the Grandstand for my first-ever rodeo show, which featured Saddle Bronc, Barrel Racing, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Bareback and most exhilarating of all to watch, Bull Riding. The afternoon had begun with the entire grandstand bathed in sunlight, but a cool shadow stole over the venue as the afternoon wore on. While I’ve attended the Calgary Stampede in previous years, I’ve only ever checked out the midway and exhibitions, but otherwise, had never actually seen any rodeo events, so it was quite a unique and memorable experience to watch the events that are at the heart of the Stampede.

  • After enjoying the Unagi Sushi Taco, I ventured into the exhibition halls to see what arts were being displayed. This year, the BMO Centre is undergoing some dramatic changes: like the University of Calgary, which has seen massive construction projects, the Stampede Grounds are being upgraded. They had begun demolishing the Stampede Corral in 2020 after an assessment in 2016 found it was no longer viable to bring the building up to code. At present, the framework to the new structure is up, and it is expected that construction will conclude next summer. Fortunately, the exhibitor hall and Western Oasis art displays were still present, and I cooled off in here with a root beer before heading back home.

  • With today’s events, I’m reminded of why Calgary’s workforce jokingly remark that for 10 days of July, all work grinds to a halt as workers from all occupations take time off, whether it’s personal time or company events, to visit the Stampede. Today was quite far removed from my usual routine: I am usually found sitting at my desk and churning away at my IDE, or else pacing around whilst conceptualising solutions. This Stampede visit was a nice break from routine, and I’m left ready to relax this weekend before returning on Monday to continue with my current assignment.

  • Back in Routine Feat, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter from the publisher and a pile of money in my mailbox after submitting the book. Players receive a small amount of money in their day job in Routine Feat, so to see this kind of money come in would probably be a shock. All of a sudden, melancholy and loneliness turns to joy. In reality, things would happen over a longer timeframe, but the outcomes are undeniable; hard work and perseverance is what brings about success, and having a routine allows one to be able to achieve their goals. Routine Feat works in a meta-gaming perspective: once players figure out the routine, they can easily advance the story and see the office worker realise his dreams.

  • I ended up taking the letter back into my room to read it, and it was a remarkably pleasant feeling: the office worker’s novel turns out to be a smash hit. The publishers have already ordered a hundred thousand copies and expect the book to sell very well. I did notice some HTML tags in the publisher’s letter, and in a few areas in Routine Feat, there are spelling mistakes, but these are comparatively minor, especially considering the rest of the game works smoothly. It felt fantastic to see the office worker succeed in his dreams, and the epilogue suggests that the office worker is able to pursue his own dreams freely now.

  • As a means of celebration, I gathered some of the items from the fridge and made the office worker a very nice meal: the usual eggs on toast was accompanied with sausage, cheese, tomato and cucumber, and then I decided to have an apple and banana, washed down with a glass of milk. Routine Feat automatically restocks the player’s refrigerator every time the player returns home or wakes up, so there’s always sufficient provisions. This aspect of Routine Feat was one I particularly liked, since it showed how while the office worker’s days might be monotonous, he’s still able to support himself well enough to pursue his own interests.

  • To wrap things up, I’ve climbed to the rooftop to get a look at the neighbourhood. There’s a bunch of beers up here, and after successfully publishing a book, it felt appropriate to crack open a beer and enjoy the summer evening. Routine Feat might be simple, but there is no denying that the game is successful with its messages. Further to this, aside from a few rough spots here and there, the game is polished. I’m impressed with how much fun I had in Routine Feat: while the game is not “fun” in a traditional sense, it was very instructive. I relate quite well to the environment and themes that Ignatov sought to convey, and so, Routine Feat became quite refreshing to play through.

Ignatov has expressed that the minimalism in Routine Feat and IT’S WINTER is deliberate: the game’s Steam Store description indicates that the theme is “overwhelming loneliness” that arises in a world dominated by isolation and abandonment. However, even on beautiful summer days with no one else around, Ignatov writes that one may find a sense of peace in taking the time to stop and smell the roses: the game was written with this in mind, and Ignatov has mentioned in an interview that the aim was to create a world that players could get lost in. Interactivity lies at the forefront of things in Routine Feat, and like IT’S WINTER, one can also deliberately choose not to hop on the bus and go to work. Instead, one could whip up a fantastic breakfast with the ingredients in their refrigerator, reorganinise their apartment and clear up the trash strewn about, or even go for a walk around the apartment block and take in the calm melancholy of a gentle morning. While Routine Feat offers this freedom to players, choosing to follow one’s routine by going to work, and then spending a little more time on the office worker’s novel, is where the game’s true genius shines: Routine Feat suggests that although one might seemingly be bound to monotony in their everyday lives, life is also what one chooses to make of things, and the familiarity offered by routine is what makes excitement so remarkable. This is why my own Calgary Stampede experience this year is particularly memorable: it was my first time attending the rodeo show as a part of a company-wide event, and after a lunch at the Rotary House, a rustic event venue, we watched the afternoon’s performances at the grandstand. I never imagined that, a decade after the morning I’d made the call to stay home and press forwards with MCAT revisions, I would have the opportunity to experience the Calgary Stampede in the most traditional way possible. On most days, my routine entails sitting down at my desk, reading through my day’s assignments and then opening an IDE to begin chipping away at my work. To be able to take a break of this sort was especially refreshing, although here, I note that things like the Calgary Stampede are so enjoyable precisely because they represent a break from routine.

Running and Inviting: Revisiting the Beginning of Tari Tari a Decade Later and the Choir and Sometimes Badminton Club’s Influence On a Journal Publication

“Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” –Joshua Marine

When Tari Tari was announced, beyond a key visual of three characters who greatly resembled their counterparts from Hanasaku Iroha, there had been very little information surrounding what this series would deal with. After the first episode concluded, it became clear enough that Tari Tari would be musically themed; viewers are introduced to Konatsu Matsumoto, a disgraced member of the choir club who wants to sing for her own enjoyment and Wakana Sakai, who is transferring out of the music program in a bid to move on after her mother’s passing. Tari Tari would ultimately detail how these two conflicting paths would reconcile, and how seeing Konatsu’s earnest efforts towards pursuing an interest would remind Wakana of how her own mother had approached music, as well. This would lead Wakana to come to terms with her past and in doing so, help Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro create something meaningful as their school sends off their final cohort of graduates ahead of a redevelopment project. Uplifting and inspiring, Tari Tari indicates that when people stumble, it is support from others that help them to find their way again. Unlike other series, Tari Tari has a very intense pacing: Wakana comes to terms with her mother’s death mid-series, and uses her newfound enjoyment of music to both help Konatsu leave a legacy behind as their school closes, as well as Sawa to find her way again when she begins to lose hope after being rejected from an equestrian program. Much as how Sawa and Konatsu had tried to help Wakana, Wakana is able to grow and return the favour to her friends in a big way. The first episode of Tari Tari, however, betrays none of this to viewers: at the end of the first episode, viewers were only introduced to the characters, creating a sense of intrigue as to how the series would unfold. First impressions in anime are important, and Tari Tari certainly captured my interest during a time when, having finished my physics course, I became wholly focused on preparing for the MCAT. Each and every week, I had a new episode of Tari Tari to look forwards to, and seeing how the series showed a group of individuals putting in the effort to make something bigger than themselves would have another, unforeseen impact on what I ended up doing after the MCAT concluded.

A half-year before Tari Tari began airing, one of my colleagues had suggested the idea of submitting a paper to an undergraduate journal about the versatility of our lab’s in-house game engine in visualising and interacting with biological processes. After classes ended, we would spend time drafting notes on what the paper would deal with in the student lounge on the medical campus. Halfway into the winter term, however, the coursework began picking up – I was struggling with biochemistry and needed to keep up with cell and molecular biology, while my friends similarly became busy with their own studies. The paper became forgotten as a result. When my MCAT finished, I had three weeks left in the summer left to me. By this point in time, Sawa had recovered her own determination after overhearing her father vouching for her while on the phone with an admissions officer from the equestrian institute she’d applied to. Together with encouragement from Wakana, Konatsu, Taichi and Atsuhiro, Sawa returns to school to help her friends convince the music instructor they should be allowed to perform at the culture festival. In the last hour, everyone had pulled through and set the groundwork for realising their wish of doing something together. Although three weeks was not a lot of time, my summer schedule had been quite open. I therefore approached two of my other colleagues who’d been interested in the paper, and they readily agreed to continue with the paper, being more than happy to refine their notes into passages. In the space of two weeks, I worked on the paper and transformed a set of notes into a full-fledged publication. My peers were pleased, but to my surprise, my supervisor was also impressed. A few revisions later, we had a complete first draft ready for submission. Both my colleagues had suggested that I take the first author position, having spearheaded the paper; while I am not one for ceremony, it suddenly dawned on me that a desire to do more with my summer beyond just the MCAT had left me with an experience not unlike that of Tari Tari. Having now written our first-ever publications in a journal, I became curious to see how Tari Tari would conclude, and the ending, which aired as my undergraduate thesis project was under way, was every bit as heartwarming and satisfying to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tari Tari caught my eye because I had greatly enjoyed Hanasaku Iroha: at the time, I would’ve still been a novice to anime, and had picked my series based on their similarities to shows I’d previously watched. At first glance, the character designs in Tari Tari were very familiar and had clear counterparts in Hanasaku Iroha: Wakana is Minko, Konatsu is Ohana and Sawa is Nako. However, while there are some overlaps in terms of personality, I would quickly find that Sawa is more confident and foward, while Wakana lacks Minko’s bite. Konatsu, while energetic, lacks the same stubbornness seen in Ohana.

  • The music in Tari Tari is top-tier: Shirō Hamaguchi is the composer for the anime’s soundtrack, and the series’ leitmotif, Kokoro no Senritsu, was such an iconic song that I felt compelled to watch this series on the virtue of listening to the music alone. As it turns out, Hamaguchi has a very extensive resume to his name, having previously composed the music to Ah! My Goddess, and later, would score the soundtracks for Shirobako and Girls und Panzer. Hints of Ah! My Goddess and Girls und Panzer can indeed be heard in Shirobako‘s music. However, Hamaguchi is a versatile composer, unlike Kenji Kawai or Hiroyuki Sawanoo, whose style makes them immediately recognisable.

  • In its opening moments, Tari Tari gives all of the main characters some shine time so their personalities can be established; unlike Hanasaku Iroha, which had two cours of time to work with, Tari Tari only has thirteen episodes. This meant that there is a lot less time to develop nuances, and I found that compared to the previous anime I watched, such as Ah! My GoddessAzumanga DaiohGundam 00 and Real Drive, things were a lot more condensed. The early 2010s were a time when anime studios were transitioning away from two cour series so they could work on a wider range of projects, and today, one cour series are more common than they had previously been.

  • On his first day of classes, Atsuhiro transferred into the same class as Sawa, Konatsu, Wakana and Taichi. Atsuhiro’s commonly known as “Wein” because he’s from Vienna, and while he’s unfamiliar with Japanese customs, speaks Japanese well enough. Tari Tari chooses to have him framed in a way as to face the school by morning to reinforce the idea that he’s new around these parts, and while originally, I had the least to say about Atsuhiro, it turns out he fulfills an important role: he acts as a surrogate for the viewer, who’s effectively dropped into things. Atsuhiro, like viewers, are unfamiliar with everything that’s going on around in Tari Tari, but over time, would come to get to know Wakana and her group better.

  • Even today, the visual details in Tari Tari are impressive: True Tears had been unremarkable, but from Angel Beats! onward, P.A. Work directed a great deal of effort into their lighting effects. Scenes end up becoming much more vibrant, and reflections are used to great effect. Here, one can see subtle reflections in the gymnasium’s wooden floor, and throughout the remainder of Tari Tari, reflections are utilised to make environments pop more. In giving spaces a shiny and reflective character, P.A. Works’ locations convey a sense of cleanliness.

  • While Wakana might not be friends with Sawa and Konatsu per se at the beginning of Tari Tari, everyone does appear to know one another well enough to share a conversation. Wakana is voiced by Ayahi Takagaki, whom I know best as Gundam 00‘s Feldt Grace, True Tears‘ Noe Isurugi and Honoka Ishikawa of Non Non Biyori. Now that I think about it, Wakana has the same voice as Honoka, so I’m actually a little surprised I didn’t notice this earlier. There’s a slightly childish trait about Takagaki’s voice in portraying Wakana and Honoka that makes both characters quite endearing. I’m not too familiar with Asami Seto’s roles, but I know Saori Hayami (Sawa) best as GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain, Yuzuki Shiraishi of A Place Further Than The Universe and Oregairu‘s Yukino Yukinoshita. Hayami is playing Ruby Rose in RWBY: Ice Queendom, as well.

  • Instructor Tomoko Takahashi is set to go on maternity leave at Tari Tari‘s beginning: this decision was made to emphasise to viewers that they are dropped into the story at a time of great change. Tari Tari would ultimately convey many themes, but at the heart of this anime is the idea that people always have the chance to count on one another and overcome obstacles that are too great for one to handle individually. This theme is a very popular one because it mirrors human society: our greatest achievements come as a consequence of teamwork and collaboration.

  • At Tari Tari‘s beginning, Konatsu struggles with music. She loves singing greatly, but ever since an incident which saw her fail spectacularly, she was demoted from an active role. She tries to convince the Vice Principal to reconsider reinstating her, but she is unsuccessful: the Vice Principal, Naoko Takakura, believes that one must approach music with finesse and precision. This behaviour foreshadows her own past friendship with Wakana’s mother, who had been very free-spirited and felt the best music came when people were free to be themselves. To dull the pain of Wakana’s mother’s passing, Naoko takes a very serious and no-nonsense approach to music.

  • Since the Hanasaku Iroha days, P.A. Works has been very fond of adding what I call “funny faces” to their anime. Said funny faces are usually a particularly strong reaction to something, and while some folks felt they break immersion, I’ve always found that funny faces really show how characters are feeling in ways that words and actions alone cannot. Funny faces reached their height in Shirobako, where Aoi Miyamori would sport a myriad of expressions in response to frustrations she encounters while on the job. Subsequent works, like The World In Colours, dispensed with this completely, but more recently, The Aquatope on White Sand brought funny faces back.

  • P.A. Works has gone through a lot over the past decade, and while they don’t always produce works I’m interested in watching, I’ve found that their coming-of-age and workplace are their strongest series, telling a very convincing and authentic tale of growth and self-discovery. This is a matter of personal preference: I happen to enjoy anime set in the real world, dealing with people and their problems. With this in mind, not every individual will share this perspective, and this is perfectly fine. However, over the past ten years, I’ve noticed people hating on P.A. Works to an unnecessary extent: AnimeSuki even has their own dedicated thread for criticising and tearing down the studio for everything they’ve produced after Hanasaku Iroha.

  • Things eventually reached a point where people regard True Tears and Shirobako as the only works of note P.A. Works has produced, with every else being an abject failure. After taking a closer look, it turns out some of AnimeSuki’s members, especially one Pocari Sweat, popularised the intense vitriol that arises whenever the name Mari Okada comes up. It is one thing to watch an anime all the way through and then do a reasoned breakdown of why it failed for an individual, but it is quite another to broadly dismiss a work simply because Mari Okada’s name appears as the series’ director.

  • Although I get that people have certain directors they dislike (Pocari Sweat’s hatred of Mari Okada is equivalent to people who do not watch Michael Bay films because of their hectic cutting and emphasis on special effects over substance), to have maintained this level of hatred for over a decade is unhealthy. I personally assess series based purely on its own merits and generally couldn’t care less about who’s directing it. While directors do have a signature style (e.g. Christopher Nolan’s films are very contemplative) that impact how a story unfolds, the worth of a work is based on how themes come together with other things like acting, visuals and flow.

  • Tari Tari was directed by Masakazu Hashimoto, who had previously worked on storyboards for Hanasaku Iroha and Angel Beats!, and as such, has a more subtle feel about it (whereas Mari Okada would’ve been a little more blunt about things). In a series about finding one’s path, this approach ends up being a ways more appropriate – there is some drama in Tari Tari, on account of the series being a coming-of-age story towards the end of secondary school, but things are resolved in a satisfying and conclusive manner.

  • As memory serves, I actually didn’t watch Tari Tari on its original airing date: a decade earlier, I’d been enjoying a day out in the mountains on a well-deserved break from studying for the MCAT, and ended up writing about the first episode on the second of July. Fast forward ten years, and the mountains have now become a very crowded destination owing to the fact that National Parks having free admissions on Canada Day is now common knowledge. This year, I ended up taking the family out over to the Badlands to check out the Atlas Coal Mine, after making a promise to my parents that we’d do a mine tour some five years earlier.

  • Tari Tari is a series I consider to be underappreciated in the anime community; despite its short length, this was a series that captured, with full sincerity, what it feels like to take the initiative and make the most of something. Although perhaps seen as annoying those around her, Konatsu’s spirit means that she’s ultimately able to bring Wakana out of her shell, and in doing so, Konatsu indirectly helps Sawa out, as well. Tari Tari betrays none of this in its first episode, but the combination of likeable characters and visually appealing visuals meant that I had no trouble becoming invested in Tari Tari as my summer wore on.

  • From here on out, my focus was singularly directed towards the MCAT. Tari Tari and Kokoro Connect gave me something to look forward to weekly, while my day-to-day schedule was spent studying extensively in mornings and afternoons. On days where I had my MCAT preparation course, I would usually linger on campus until around two in the afternoon before returning home. After five, I would put the brakes on studying and kicked back by spending most of my time in Team Fortress 2. My friend also introduced me to MicroVolts, which proved to be a fun third person arena shooter until the servers shut down

  • Without a physics course to also focus on, my days developed a pattern, and over the course of the summer, my practises MCAT scores climbed. From a score of 14 on my first-ever full length, I would rise to a 27 by the time Tari Tari reached its third episode, and by the time Wakana’s love of music returns to her at Tari Tari‘s halfway point, I scored a 33 on my last full-length practise exam. Emboldened, I finally felt ready to square off against the MCAT, and in the aftermath of the exam, I saw myself with nearly three full weeks of break left. Seeing the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club work tirelessly to put something together for their school festival inspired me to pick up the journal publication, which my colleagues had started but left unfinished.

  • Much as how Konatsu was able to start things with her spirit and have the Choir-and-sometimes-Badminton Club send their school off in a bang, my efforts were met with a successful publication. I entered my undergraduate thesis year filled to the brim with confidence, and while the MCAT score would remain little more than a curious topic for dinner conversation, the learnings that I picked up from the summer of a decade earlier have remained relevant right up to the present. Similarly, Tari Tari has aged very gracefully: despite being ten years old, the anime’s themes are still applicable, and the artwork itself looks gorgeous. It’s certainly worth a watch, representing a very optimistic tale of how great things can manifest when one opens their heart to those around them.

Although I was effectively four months behind on my undergraduate thesis work (I effectively spent the entire summer at my desk studying for various exams while my peers were laying down the foundations to their thesis project), working on the paper led me to realise that, because of how modular and flexible the game engine was, I already had my project. Within the space of two weeks, I had drafted out a complete proposal of what my own undergraduate thesis would be, and after my first week of term ended, I finished building a prototype proof-of-concept as a part of my proposal; in effect, I made up for three month’s worth of time lost in the space of a week. This was made possible by the fact that I’d known the game engine so well, as well as seeing what is possible when one is sufficiently motivated through Tari Tari. In Tari Tari, the narrative progresses very rapidly because the characters don’t dawdle: they either know exactly what their goals are and will not hesitate to act in a way as to pursue them, or, when they do stumble, people in their corner help to pick them back up. I would ultimately give my proposal presentation in front of my entire graduating class, and the project was given approval to proceed, right as Wakana and her friends put on a successful final musical performance before their school closed. In this way, Tari Tari would become a masterpiece for me. I would encounter some difficulty in finding the right words for praising this series, but in subsequent years, it would become clear that Tari Tari was a series that left a nontrivial impact on my life. While the series did receive an OVA with its ultimate collector’s addition, along with a sequel novel set ten years after everyone graduated, Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Atsuhiro’s futures generally remain unknown to overseas fans of the series. However, if my outcomes are a reasonable precedence, it would be reasonable to suggest that, while the path may not have been the smoothest, everyone’s found their way as adults – this is an encouraging thought, but a part of me wishes to read the novel for myself because, despite Tari Tari having concluded in a very decisive manner, I’ve long wondered if Taichi ever was able to pursue a relationship with Sawa.