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Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!), A Review, Recommendation and Remarks On Serendipity At The Film’s Ten Year Anniversary

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première ten years previously to this day, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels. Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow.

Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others. With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. However, while director Naoko Yamada fills K-On! The Movie with the series’ previous sense of joy and energy, the overall aesthetic of K-On! The Movie is unlike that of its predecessors. For the past ten years, I’ve wondered why the film felt different – the film is still K-On! at heart, but there was a feeling of melancholy and sadness about the film that was absent in the TV series. For the past decade, I’ve lacked the words to express this, but here at K-On! The Movie‘s ten year anniversary, it is worthwhile to look at why the film continues to endure – since the film became available, I’ve watched K-On! The Movie once a year, every year.

While K-On! The Movie opens with Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi playing one of Death Devil’s songs to see what things would be like if their band had a different aesthetic, and then segues to the cheerful, Christmas-like Ichiban Ippai!, Yui and the others head off to discard some rubbish from the club room. As they walk through a sun-filled corridor leading into the courtyard, a contemplative piano begins playing in the background. Yui gazes out into the courtyard. The entire scene is faded out, featuring very little colour compared to when they’d been in the clubroom, and Yui opens by saying that she’s feeling that they should do something befitting of a senior. The moment’s composition was quite unlike anything else seen in K-On!; even though colour and joy do return to K-On! The Movie moments later, one cannot help but feel a lingering sense of sadness in knowing that, this is the end for K-On!. Much as how Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi know their time with Azusa is drawing to a close, viewers know that for every smile and laugh the girls share throughout this film, there is a point where things will inevitably come to an end. Moments like these return after the girls come back home from London. Whereas their travels had been filled with colour, upon returning home, the world becomes faded out and desaturated again. The music becomes slower, gentler and carry with it a sort of finality. Those feelings had been set aside among the excitement in London, but back in Japan, they return in full force. This melancholy, however, is not overwhelming at all. Instead, it adds to K-On! The Movie, emphasising the beauty of the girls’ previous experiences together, and that despite its impermanence, the friendship between Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa is very real. While they might part ways for the present, that it existed at all counts for something. This respect for that which is transient and fleeting creates a very unusual feeling which the Japanese describe as Mono no Aware (物の哀れ, “the pathos of things”): something is beautiful because it isn’t going to last forever. This juxtaposition and seemingly contradictory set of feelings results in a bittersweetness surrounding a given moment, and much as how viewers are aware that after the movie, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi will part ways with Azusa, the fact is that they will hold onto and cherish the countless memories they have of one another, too. It is because of these memories that everyone is able to accept that they are moving onwards into the future. Yamada’s masterful inclusion of gently wistful musical pieces and choice of colour in K-On! The Movie speak to notions of Mono no Aware, and in this way, weaves a central piece of Japanese aesthetic into the film: nothing, not even friendships, last, but this is just a part of life. Seeing K-On! The Movie capture Mono no Aware speaks to the depth of in this film, and while K-On! might ostensibly be about a group of girls who would rather enjoy sweets and tea over practising, the series also indicates that like all things, friendships do not last forever. In spite of this, and perhaps because of this, such bonds are all the more meaningful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This post came about because I did wish to share something at the film’s ten year anniversary, and the observant reader will note that this year is the tenth anniversary to many things, coinciding with when I started this blog and really began writing in earnest. The film opens with Yui and the others acting like Death Devil for kicks (at least, Yui, Ritsu and Tsumugi are in on it, while Mio’s just playing as herself). Once the ruse is up, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (“Full of Number Ones”), begins playing. This song has a very Christmas-like feel to it, appropriate for the season.

  • Because this revisitation similarly comes a full ten years after K-On! The Movie first premièred, now that ten years’ worth of accumulated experience is in the books, I was hoping to share a renewed set of thoughts about this movie. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie on several occasions and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch, but reading through these older posts, it feels like back then, I’d only really scratched the surface for what I wished to discuss.

  • When Yui and the others leave the club room, the lighting is diffuse, and colours are faded. In conjunction with the music, this scene spoke volumes to me about what K-On! The Movie had been attempting to accomplish. Whereas Hajime Hyakkoku, the composer for the series’ background music, had previously written joyful, bubbly pieces, the second track on the soundtrack has a more contemplative, thoughtful tone to it as Yui considers doing something worthy of being a senior.

  • It was here that I began to realise that throughout the entirety of K-On! The Movie, a feeling of gentle sadness permeated everything that is shown, even when the characters are caught up in their own antics and creating adorable moments for viewers to laugh at. While Mono no Aware is a part of K-On! The Movie, however, it never overshadows the general aesthetic and mood; there are still plenty of jokes throughout the film, such as when Yui attempts to make a break for it after cheating in the lottery to determine where their graduation trip should end up.

  • On writing about K-On! The Movie in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • Mio gives in to her happiness and makes no attempt to hide it when it turns out London is their chosen destination. The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I still remember when this film became available to watch: it had been a gorgeous July day, and the high reached 26°C. At this point in my summer, I’d spent almost two and a half months studying for the MCAT. The course was under my belt, and I’d been going through practise exam after practise exam. When I did my first exam, I scored a 22 (equivalent to today’s 496). However, a summer of giving up research and hanging out had an appreciable impact on my performance, and by the time K-On! The Movie came out, I was consistently scoring 30s (510 in today’s scoring system).

  • For reference, a good MCAT score is 508 (29 in 2012). I had been worried if watching and reviewing K-On! The Movie would’ve had an impact on my MCAT scores, but in the end, the movie presented no trouble in that area, and I ended up watching the film after a day spent going through a practise exam. Back then, this blog was still relatively new, and I never wrote extensive articles here. Instead, I published my first review to my old Webs.com site: over the course of two days, I wrote out a review that was comparable to the average post here. This never did interfere with the MCAT, and indeed, having the chance to watch K-On! The Movie contributed to helping me relax.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London; here, Ui helps Yui to pack, and their mother can be seen in the background. Until now, Mister and Missus Hirasawa have never been shown on screen in the animated adaptation.

  • The manga would end up doing so in its fourth volume, but since K-On!! had no such equivalent (the events of the anime diverge somewhat from the events in the manga towards the end), Yamada decided to slot Yui and Ui’s parents in as Yui heads off to the airport. The manga suggests that the Hirawasas are a happy family, although the parents are very fond of travelling, accounting for why they were never seen in the TV series.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • In an interview with Yamada, she explains that the biggest challenge the movie format posed by K-On! The Movie was how to scale the series up to fit the silver screen. This challenge ended up being mentioned in film itself, when Yui wonders how they’d make a suitable gift for Azusa that captures all of their gratitude. In the end, much as how Yamada succeeds with K-On! The Movie by being true to the original series’ style, Yui and the others found that a gift for Azusa would mean the most so long as it had heart. The journey to London thus becomes a bit of a sideshow, demonstrating how regardless of where in the world Houkago Tea Time go, they’re still themselves.

  • K-On! The Movie is at its most energetic while the girls are on their travels. The London segment of K-On! The Movie only occupies a third of the movie, but it is here that some of the franchise’s most unique moments are shown. It is the first time anyone is seen heading to the airport and travelling on an aircraft –until now, K-On! had been set entirely in Japan, so having Houkago Tea Time set foot on a plane and becoming, as Yui puts it, a part of the international community, was a monumental occasion for K-On! in showing that the series had taken one giant leap forwards.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centred on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story. It is with satisfaction that I note the most vocal of these critics, Reckoner and Sorrow-kun of the elitist Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review blogs, are no longer around because both blogs’ domains have expired. Reckoner had been a particularly fierce critic of K-On!, but his assertions were unfounded and poorly argued, while Sorrow-kun had written numerous articles claiming K-On! was “objectively” a poor series.

  • As of now, both Nihon Review and Behind The Nihon Review have gone offline: after their owner finally stopped paying the hosting fees, their hosts suspended both sites, resulting in all of Sorrow-kun’s posts becoming removed. In particular, Sorrow-kun had believed Behind The Nihon Review’s goals were to “enlighten” fans on why anime was only worthwhile if it contained philosophical or academic merit, so seeing some of the internet’s most invalid opinions of K-On! become lost forever is something worth smiling about. The comparatively short amount of time spent in London is not a detriment to the film – K-On! The Movie is not a travel show, and London was only an aside, a consequence of a fib to keep Azusa’s gift hidden. With this in mind, it wasn’t particularly surprising that London would be secondary to figuring out what kind of song they should write for Azusa. Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised.

  • Upon arriving in London, the girls enjoy the sights over Hounslow, a district in West London immediately east of Heathrow Airport. It’s been a while since I’ve boarded a plane: the last time I flew was back in 2019, when I attended F8 2019. The last time I was on a plane for leisure would’ve been back in 2017 on a particularly memorable trip to Japan. No matter where I go in the world, there is always a joy about flying over a city and wondering to myself, what are the folks down below doing in their day-to-day lives? Of course, when I’m on the ground and looking up at an aircraft, I find myself thinking of where people might be headed.

  • The flight leaves Yui excited to finally become part of the international community, and she begins bouncing while riding the moving walkway. In this frame, the girls’ hands look quite small; in a cast interview, Yamada mentioned that she wanted K-On! The Movie to appeal to as many people as possible, and to this end, modified the characters’ appearances slightly from the style seen in K-On!!. The end result leaves the characters more expressive than they’d been in K-On! and K-On!! – simple things like facial expressions are able to speak volumes here in the film, whereas in the TV series, such nuances were not conveyed through such a subtle manner. After exiting the plane and entering the terminal, Azusa remarks that they’re going to have to clear customs.

  • Yui and the others are able to get through without any issue, although Yui’s weaker English leads her to mispronounce “sight-seeing” as “side business”, leading to some confusion from the customs official: I’m not sure what the laws in the United Kingdom are, but here in Canada, doing something business-related requires a visa. Fortunately, this mispronunciation doesn’t result in any complications, and all five clear customs without any trouble. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for, or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • In the end, Mio’s luggage was placed off to the side, and she tearfully reunites with it, while developing a mistrust for revolving things in the process. Once outside in the brisk London air, the girls set off to find a taxi that will take them to their accommodations. Excitement sets in, and Mio begins taking photographs of everything Yui points at, including this Airline lounge sign for Air Canada patrons. I am Canadian, so seeing mention of Canada in the film put a smile on my face: Air Canada is the largest airline company in Canada and runs numerous flights to London. Even from my home town, there are five direct flight to Londons every week, and the average duration is around nine hours.

  • I am interested in checking out London for myself at some point in the future – aside from minor linguistic differences between Canadian and British English, I could readily do a free-for-all visit without a tour group and navigate on my own well enough. Aside from iconic spots like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, I would like to walk the River Thames and visit the same spots in Earl’s Court as the girls of K-On! do. Such a vacation could be done for within four thousand dollars, and in the past, I have considered the logistics of such a trip.

  • After spotting a taxi, the girls board with enthusiasm – the driver asks if they’re going to London City, to which Ritsu answers with a yes. While Azusa has done her reading to ensure the trip was a success, not everything can be planned for ahead of time, and for the girls, the fact that London is broken up into smaller districts is not something that crosses their mind. This bit of miscommunication leads to the girls ending up at the wrong Hotel Ibis, and here, even Tsumugi is unable to keep up with the English.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • K-On! The Movie has several moments where Kyoto Animation was able to showcase their craft at the movie level, and clever use of camera angles really brought the performances to life. Aside from the opening, inset and ending songs, there are no new Houkago Tea Time songs in the film: all of the performances in the movie are done with existing songs, and at the sushi restaurant, the girls perform Curry Nochi Rice after Yui spots an East Indian man in the crowd. Back in 2011, I wasn’t too big of a fan of raw fish, but I imagine that my openness to try it began after watching Survivorman‘s Arctic Tundra episode. A few weeks ago, when my office did a sushi lunch, I decided to participate and greatly enjoyed the nigiri: there’s a special flavour about raw fish that makes it delicious, and it goes especially well with a dash of soy sauce.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!. Here, Ritsu runs into Love Crisis, another Japanese band that was supposed to be performing at the sushi restaurant.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner. Throughout the trip, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others, who end up having a wonderful time.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Earlier this year, I did a special tour of London using the Oculus Quest to show how faithful the film had been to details; the real-world locations are portrayed faithfully in K-On! The Movie, although here, I will remark again that London’s skyline has changed quite a bit in the past decade. K-On! The Movie shows The Shard as being under construction, and it was opened in 2013. Some of the areas still remain as they once were. Earl’s Court, for instance, still looks much as it did in 2011, while downtown London is quite different; folks looking to visit K-On! locations in central London now will be hard-pressed to find some locations since they’ve changed so much – the Harper’s Coffee has since been replaced by a Costa Coffee, for instance.

  • After Yui gets her hand stuck in a receptacle for dog waste, the girls set off to find a bathroom and wind up at the British Museum. Here, they take the London Underground’s Central line from the Kensington Gardens: during the day, the Underground is nowhere near as busy as it was when Yui and the others first arrived, and certainly not as crowded as it had been in Skyfall, when 007 pursued Silva through the London Underground after the latter managed to escape MI6 custody.

  • While they’d intended to only stop by for a quick bathroom break, Mio, Tsumugi, Yui, Ritsu and Azusa end up checking out the British Museum’s exhibits, including the original Rosetta Stone. The girls recognise this as the replacement tombstone they’d borrowed from the Occult Club back during the events of K-On!!, when they found Juliet’s headstone was misplaced. The Rosetta Stone replica ended up being a suitable replacement, and the class play of Romeo and Juliet went off without a hitch. To see the Rosetta Stone again shows the kind of care that Yamada put into the film, giving Yui and the others a chance to see the world beyond Japan.

  • Here, Ritsu, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Azusa run down the stairs on the Westminster Bridge’s south banks: the location was not hard to find, since the girls end up at the London Eye moments later. There’s a doorway underneath the South Bank Lion sculpture on the left of this image, and this was used as a secret entrance to MI6’s new digs in Skyfall after Silva bombed the SIS Building. One of the joys about K-On! The Movie was that so many locations seen in this movie were also featured in Skyfall, and I myself wondered if the SIS Building would make an appearance. While this never occurred, it was a contrast to see Yui and the others have fun in the same places where Bond was on duty.

  • Mio’s fear of rotating things kicks in when the others suggest boarding the London Eye to gain a better vantage point over central London; she decides to stay on the ground and let the others have a good time. To this, Yui and Ritsu decide to haul Mio off anyways. A longstanding joke in K-On! stems from Mio’s various phobias, although it is typically the case that once Mio is pushed out of her comfort zone, she is able to live in the moment with the others.

  • As such, despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would allocate at least seven days for the entire trip London, which leaves five full days to explore.

  • One aspect in K-On! The Movie that I enjoyed was that smaller details about travel were presented; most travel shows only highlight attractions and the best eats of a given trip. Conversely, K-On! The Movie portrays the smaller, more awkward moments that result when people are far from home. After their day’s worth of adventure, the group return to Ibis Earl’s Court, and almost immediately, Yui and Azusa end up missing one another often enough to the point where they wonder where the other’s gone. Yui’s just scatter-brained, but Azusa is genuinely tired from having spent the day putting an itinerary together that allows everyone to see as much as they could.

  • In the end, the pair end up running into one another in Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi’s room. Such moments typify the sort of humour present in K-On! as a whole; it’s not over-the-top, and instead, acts to create gentler moments that elicit a smile. Some folks consider K-On! to be a comedy, but this is, strictly speaking, incorrect: K-On! might’ve had origins as a 4-koma manga driven by punchlines, but Yamada’s interpretation of the series allows for more meaningful learnings to be presented; themes like appreciation and mindfulness are more important in K-On! than making viewers laugh.

  • With this being said, comedy does crop up from time to time as a result of everyday occurrences; here, Yui slips after rushing to meet Azusa after wandering off to the Brompton Cemetery whilst considering what the song for Azusa should entail. One small visual aspect in K-On! The Movie that did stand out was the fact that all of the folks in London are uncommonly tall relative to Azusa and the others. While Azusa is stated as being only 4’11”, a quick glance at this image finds that the average Londoner would be around eight feet in height. I imagine this was a deliberate choice to show how small everyone is compared to the world.

  • After Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, they are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. Even now, whenever I see images and footage of London, K-On! The Movie is the first thing that comes to mind; the film had done a phenomenal job of bringing the city to life, and while melancholy gently permeates the whole of the film, the thirty minutes spent in London are K-On! The Movie‘s most cheerful, energetic moments.

  • After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart for Japan; owing to their timing, things are really close by the time Yui and the others have to return to the airport and board their flight back home. In general, it is recommended that one arrives at least three hours before their scheduled departure when flying internationally. This is so one can make it through customs and security checks, which can take a while, and because some airlines require one to check in an hour before their flight. Accepting a concert on the same day they were heading back would be cutting it close, especially in a city as large as London.

  • Fortunately, some elements can be abstracted away, and the girls’ ride over to Heathrow is uneventful, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close, and here, the soundtrack takes on a much slower, gentler tenour. The track that accompanies this scene has a very wistful, reflective mood about it and is appropriately titled “Winter night in a warm room”.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance. During this in-school concert, the song Sumidare Love is performed: the song had been on the vocal collections, but until now, had not been played in the series proper.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • Despite having drawn blanks while in London, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi manage to begin their song once they’re back home; it was Azusa’s actions throughout the trip that really led everyone to see anew how much they’d come to rely on their junior. While this should be a joyous moment, K-On! The Movie reminds viewers that this moment is also steeped in a sort of finality: once they finish their song and deliver it, they will have to part ways with Azusa.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about: K-On! had preferred to focus on the girls’ experience together, and things like songwriting were often set aside in favour of having everyone enjoy tea together. This did lead to the impression that Houkago Tea Time were unqualified. However, K-On! did show that Mio spent some of her free time writing lyrics to songs, and to reinforce the idea that Houkago Tea Time’s success is well-deserved, K-On! The Movie opts to show the song-writing process behind Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!.

  • This song had appeared to come out of the blue in K-On!!, but the film shows the process behind how the song the lyrics and heart that went into the song came from seeing how much of an impact Azusa had on the light music club. However, Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! was not written overnight, and because of the timeframes, I would estimate that the film is set over the course of three weeks – the first third of the movie would’ve taken place over the course of a few days as the girls figure out they’d like to do a song for Azusa, and then book a last-minute trip over to London as a graduation trip. The London trip itself is explicitly mentioned as taking five days, and then after returning, some time would’ve been needed to put the song together.

  • While this seems excessive, we recall that in K-On!!, there had been quite a gap between exams and graduation – when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi head off to write their entrance exams for the women’s college, it would’ve been shortly after Valentines’ day, and graduation itself was in March. This in-between period was never covered in K-On!!, and Yamada expertly used this time as when Yui and the othes came to write out Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! ahead of graduation for Azusa. Through K-On! The Movie, it is shown that the in-betweens in an anime can also have a story to tell. Non Non Biyori Repeat adapted this concept for the entire second season, showing that anime only shows the best moments that impact the narrative.

  • Consequently, while Yui and the others might appear to be pulling songs out of nowhere, and performing like experts without much apparent practise, the reality is that the anime and manga tend to show us viewers moments when Houkago Tea Time are slacking off, but once the chips are down, and the girls get their motivation, they’re quite determined and capable. As such, this is the one criticism of K-On! I can dismiss immediately – folks who hold this against the series have fundamentally misunderstood that anime only show milestone moments, and more mundane details are deliberately omitted for a reason.

  • Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! is the song that got me into K-On!, and after I became curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and re-watch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style. Even a full decade later, the song remains every bit as enjoyable as it had been when I first went through K-On!.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was ten years ago, K-On! The Movie had a tangible, positive impact on me.

K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred a decade earlier; even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was ten years previously. Because of how Yamada conveys Mono no Aware, as it relates to friendship, it becomes clear that K-On! The Movie was intended to be the final act for Kyoto Animation’s adaptation – author Kakifly had written two sequels, K-On! College and K-On! High School, which respectively cover Yui’s life at university and Azusa’s efforts to keep the light music club going. K-On! College was published in September 2012, and a month later, K-On! High School became available. Precedence would have suggested that adapting both of these volumes into an anime could’ve produced a two-cour season with twenty-four full episodes, but this would stand contrary to the aesthetic in K-On! The Movie. At the time, K-On!‘s anime adaptation had exceeded expectations in promoting the manga – the anime had been intended to promote the manga, and in this role, it has certainly succeeded. The manga itself concludes in a fashion that is consistent with the Mono no Aware aesthetic. K-On! College has Yui settling in to life at university and even makes rivals out of Akira, a serious musician whose skill is enough to get her noticed by professional producers, while K-On! High School has Azusa wondering what fun things the future will bring. However, this diverges from the feeling that K-On! The Movie originally concluded with; to bring K-On! back in the present would undermine what the film had accomplished ten years earlier. Six years earlier, I did walk through whether or not a continuation was possible, and back then, I had concluded that such a project would have been welcomed. After all, there had been enough materials to do so, and K-On! would’ve still been relatively fresh in the viewers’ minds. This answer has changed since then – a full decade later, it is safe to say that it is unlikely that Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa’s stories will be expanded upon. While Kakifly’s spin-off series, K-On! Shuffle, is set in the same universe and built around a similar premise (protagonist Yukari Sakuma is inspired to take up drumming after watching Ritsu perform), K-On!‘s success had largely come from the fact that it had been so groundbreaking at the time. The concept is no longer novel, and as such, adapting K-On! Shuffle is similarly unlikely in the foreseeable future. With this in mind, I imagine that this is the last time I will be writing about K-On! The Movie – as enjoyable as the series is, I do feel that I’ve said everything that needs to be said for a film that has aged very gracefully and certainly stands of its own merits, during the past decade that I’ve been active as an anime blogger.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below: A Review and Full Recommendation on Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 Film At the Ten Year Anniversary

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” –Haruki Murakami

Ever since her father passed away, Asuna Watase spends her free time looking after the house while her mother works, and listening to music emanating from a mysterious radio that once belonged to her father with her cat, Mimi. One day, she encounters a boy named Shun after running into a Quetzalcoatl, a beast from the ancient world. After tending to Shun’s wounds, Asuna befriends him, but he falls to his death from the cliff ledge. The next day, Asuna is surprised that their new substitute instructor, Ryūji Morisaki, gives a lesson on the legend of Agartha, a world inhabited by the dead, and ends up speaking to him to learn more. Upon returning to her secret spot, Asuna is surprised to find another boy, Shin, there. It turns out he’s here to recover the Clavis fragment Shun had dropped, but the pair are cornered by Archangel, a paramilitary group searching for Agartha. Shin and Asuna manage to escape underground, with Archangel in pursuit. It turns out that Ryūji is leading the operation, and after a confrontation, Ryūji secures Asuna’s Clavis, giving him access to Agartha: Ryūji had been longing to resurrect his deceased wife. Upon arriving in Agartha, Ryūji and Asuna set off for the Gate of Life and Death, while Shin returns to the village and learns that his assignment had been unsuccessful, since Asuna possessed a Clavis fragment of her own. When Asuna is captured by the Izoku, monsters that fear the light, she encounters a little girl named Manna. Shin rescues them, but after Ryūji locates the two, Asuna persuades Ryūji to allow Shin to accompany them. In the village, the elder reluctantly allows Asuna and Ryūji to stay the night as repayment for having saved Manna, but warns that outsiders have always been an ill-omen in Agartha. The next morning, Asuna and Ryūji continue with their journey, while Mimi stays behind and passes away peacefully. After Manna offers Mimi’s corpse to a Quetzalcoatl, Shin notices the village’s soldiers riding out to intercept Asuna and Ryūji. He sets off after them with the aim of saving Asuna, but is promptly defeated in combat. The commander notes he’s betrayed Agartha and leave him to die, while Asuna and Ryūji arrive at the Gate of Life and Death. Unable to carry on, Asuna sets off and makes her way back to the surface, leaving Ryūji to climb to the bottom of the pit alone. As night falls, Asuna is tailed by a horde of Izoku, and laments having accepted this journey because she’d been feeling abandoned. Before the Izoku can kill her, Shin arrives and save her. They grieve Shun’s loss together and return to the Gate of Life at Death. Here, they encounter the Quetzalcoatl who’d accepted Mimi’s corpse, and learn it too is dying. Before it dies, it sings a song and offers to carry the pair down to the Gate of Life and Death. Upon crossing the barrier, they find Ryūji preparing to make his wish of bringing his wife back. However, the cost of resurrecting those from the dead is immense, and Ryūji loses his right eye, while Asuna is sacrificed to act as a vessel for his wife’s soul. Shin manages to destroy the Clavis and stop the process, saving Asuna but leaving Ryūji inconsolable. However, Shin notes that all living things come to an end and implores Ryūji to continue living for his wife’s sake. The pair accompany Asuna back to the portal leading to the surface and bid her farewell: Ryūji’s decided to remain behind in Agartha. Later, Asuna glances at the cliff where she first met Shin and Shun, before heading off to school with a smile on her face. This is Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, literally “Children Who Chase Stars”, and from here on out, Children Who Chase Lost Voices for brevity), Makoto Shinkai’s 2011 film that remains his longest work and treads on territory that is is explored nowhere else amongst his repertoire.

At its core, Children Who Chase Lost Voices represents a bold new direction for Makoto Shinkai: although distance and separation still figures in the film’s central themes, as it had in his previous works, Children Who Chase Lost Voices deals predominantly in death and moving on. The film opens with Asuna, whose days are peaceful but lonely. When she encounters Shun one day, only for their time together to be cut short after Shun dies, she finds herself longing for a world where she could be together with those important to her again. That Ryūji appears as a substitute instructor shortly after is no coincidence, and more so than Asuna, Ryūji is seeking out what appears to be impossible, in locating a way to Agartha, the underworld, and its supposed means of bringing the dead back to life. This meeting sends Asuna on a journey into the fantastical realm that had hitherto been the stuff of legends, and through this adventure, Asuna comes to terms with her own desires. Meeting Shun had temporarily stemmed her feelings of loneliness, a consequence of living lengthy days without her father, who passed away when she’d been younger, and her mother, who works long days at a local clinic as a nurse, so it was natural that Asuna had desired more concrete relationships with people. Travelling through Agartha, and speaking to the underworld’s inhabitants, helps Asuna to accept that death and departure is a natural part of life, not to be lamented or feared, but accepted. Indeed, when Asuna leaves Mimi behind, she shows that she is able to let go of attachments in life. Conversely, Ryūji is unable to achieve the same, and his single-minded determination to reach Agartha and resurrect his deceased wife is a tale of tragedy. While he is knowledgeable and measured, he is also obsessed, and this obsession binds him to what should be obvious: that wishes contradicting the natural order will exact a heavy toll. He alone is able to reach the Gate of Life and Death to issue his wish, but the process leaves him disfigured and very nearly costs Asuna her life. Because Asuna is able to do what Ryūji could not, Children Who Chase Lost Voices indicates that our impressions of life and death are shaped early on, and while children may not be fully aware of the ramifications surrounding things like loss, they are also more open-minded and are more perceptive than adults believe. As such, when children ask about things like death, it is important to answer difficult questions truthfully and to the best of one’s knowledge, while at the same time, allowing children to also draw their own conclusions.

Beyond exploring a new theme in a novel setting, Children Who Chase Lost Voices also acted as a trailblazer for Shinkai; in his older works, The Place Promised in Our Early Days and Five Centimetres Per Second, the female leads were ethereal and delicate. Sayuri and Akari wound up being abstractions rather than full-fledged characters in order to facilitate Hiroki and Takaki’s growth. Conversely, Asuna has a much larger role in Children Who Chase Lost Voices compared to her predecessors; although she’s accompanying Ryūji, Asuna is shown as being very energetic and cheerful, even taking the initiative to do what she feels is right in a given moment. When they first arrive, Asuna heads off and finds sweet potatoes for herself and Ryūji. Later, she tries to rescue Manna when the Izoku begin appearing, and she is the first to accept that saying “goodbye” is a part of life, when she parts ways with Mimi. This is significant, marking a return to female characters with strength and agency. Asuna isn’t swept away by her circumstances, but instead, takes charge in making her own decisions, and for this reason, is able to find the answers she’d sought by visiting Agartha. This is in complete contrast with Sayuri, who falls into a coma and serves as Hiroki’s reason to fly up to the tower, or Akari, whose feelings for Takaki remain unanswered when she and her parents end up moving. Giving Asuna agency changes how Children Who Chase Lost Voices feels compared to its predecessors, and indeed, Shinkai would apply these lessons into the future: The Garden of Words‘ Yukari, Your Name‘s Mitsuha and Weathering With You‘s Hina each demonstrate the same autonomy and seize on a chance to change their situation, and even though circumstance steers them towards trouble, everyone winds up finding their own path anew. This creates more variety in Shinkai’s films, and indeed, having a female lead capable of making her own decisions and judgement would leave Shinkai’s works stronger than before. They’re no longer about separation and distance, but instead, depict the incredible lengths people go to make the most of things. While Children Who Chase Lost Voices might be among Shinkai’s lesser known works, especially when it stands in the shadows of The Garden of Words, Your Name and Weathering With You, this film remains highly significant and opened Shinkai up for more uplifting, optimistic stories about how people can take charge even when a situation appears to prohibit any sort of agency.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Today marks the ten year anniversary to when Children Who Chase Lost Voices released to BD: back then, I was an undergraduate student, and I remember that term particularly well. After a brutal semester the year before, I came into the new year filled with resolve. Children Who Chase Lost Voices would’ve come late in the semester, just a few weeks before exams were set to begin, and I still remember writing about it at my old site, as well as sharing a handful of screenshots showcasing the incredible landscapes in what was then Makoto Shinkai’s latest movie.

  • Whereas most of Shinkai’s works are set in an urban area, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is completely rural; the movie opens with a day in Asuna Watase’s life, and although her days are quite lonely, she definitely has her game together, looking after the housework while her mother is at work. Par the course for a Shinkai movie, the visuals in this film are stunning, and ten years later, the artwork hasn’t aged a day. There’s a sense of coziness in the Watase residence as Asuna collects the laundry by evening; I’ve always had a fondness for this aesthetic, and there’s a certain romance about sleeping with an open window.

  • My area only allows for this about three months of the year, although when it does get that nice, it is downright pleasant. It’s now been ten days since I took possession of my new home, and during the past weekend, I spent both afternoons cleaning out every square inch of the place. It’ll be a while yet before we can move in, since there’s the matter of buying the furniture; it’s been remarkably fun to browse through catalogues and see what’s available. After the move, one thing I am looking forwards to will be spending more time honing my craft in cooking: I can cook well enough to get by, but it will be exciting to try out recipes I see in anime and films (the pan-fried fish and Japanese rolled omelettes Asuna is enjoying here look quite good, for instance).

  • Having tried out some outrageous recipes on occasion (my favourite being a double burger topped with caramelised onions, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, bacon and a fried egg), I am getting old enough to feel that an afternoon doing housework or spent making something tasty is much more relaxing than trying to unlock weapons and attachments in hacker-filled multiplayer servers. A decade earlier, I had the reflexes to keep up with gamers, but nowadays, single player games are the only games I’ll seriously consider; they allow me to play at my own pace, and I can put the brakes on at any time to go anything else, whether it’s housework or go get some exercise.

  • Asuna’s days of solitude come to a quick end when she encounters a beast on the bridge leading to her hideout. Fortunately, a young man, Shun, shows up and saves her. Although Shun has no intention of harming this beast, it turns out that said beast is in pain, so Shun shifts gears and decides to put it out of its misery. In the aftermath, Shun and Asuna become fast friends, with Shun being especially interested in the radio that Asuna is rocking. It turns out that, since Asuna’s radio uses a special crystal, it picks up broadcasts from another world, one that Shun is familiar with.

  • Being able to appreciate the music means that a connection forms between Asuna and Shun. The events of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, in a bit of irony, mirror that year: I met the person I’d come to fall in love with in Japanese class, and things began in a similarly unexpected manner, when I showed up in Japanese class wearing a full suit after giving a presentation at the university’s undergraduate symposium. We subsequently paired up on a project, and while rehearsing for the presentation, some of my classmates from health science wondered if I’d met someone special because they’d spotted us on break, and watching this movie together on my iPad.

  • At the time, I replied ‘no’ to my health science classmates; we’d been a great team and did well enough on the project, but we were merely classmates in Japanese at the time. Thus, we parted ways after term ended. However, as fate would have it, after the year ended, and I began studying for the MCAT, that this individual came back to my life – she’d started several summer courses, and I was wrapped up in studying for an exam far tougher than any I’d previously faced, so we supported one another through those busy times, getting to know one another better in the process. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Asuna’s time with Shun ends up being even shorter; he came up to the surface to seek out something, but falls off the cliff edge and dies in the process.

  • The encounter with Shun might’ve been short, but the ‘blessing’ he provides for Asuna causes her heart to flutter. Timing is irrelevant in a romance, and people can indeed fall in love very quickly. At the opposite end of the spectrum, falling in love can sometimes occur only after a lengthy period of rediscovery and patience. Naturally, there’s no right or wrong approach; here, Asuna’s mother has returned home from her shift and is curious to know why Asuna appears to be preparing two servings of lunch. Asuna’s conversation with her mother suggests that despite spending little time together, the two remain quite close.

  • Because she’s unaware of Shun’s death, Asuna ends up waiting for him, to no avail. Mirroring Asuna’s uncertainty, it is raining quite hard; from The Place Promised In Our Early Days onwards, Shinkai begins making extensive use of lighting and weather to convey a certain atmosphere and aesthetic. This is most apparent in Five Centimetres per Second, where snowfall comes to denote longing and separation. By The Garden of Words, however, Shinkai suggests that there is a romance surrounding light rain; it is only on rainy days where Takao meets Yukari at Shunjuku Koen. Being set before The Garden of Words, the rainfall in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is used in a more conventional manner.

  • I remember seeing this scene in an early trailer for the film in late 2010, and altogether, the trailer had been remarkably captivating. Back then, Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer had just become available, and I was still a complete novice to anime movies. Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer had actually been the exception to the rule in that, while the anime movie had premièred in Japan in September, the home release became available just three months later, in December. Children Who Chase Lost Voices followed a much more conventional pattern: the film was premièred in May 2011 and hit the shelves a mere six months later.

  • The length between a theatrical première and home release has steadily increased over the past decade, going from an average of six months to eight months. More popular movies, such as Shinkai’s more recent movies, Violet Evergarden, Girls und Panzer: Das FinaleHai-Furi and SaeKano: Fine, had waits exceeding eleven months. Beyond being a bit of an annoyance, and something I’m fond of vociferously griping about, the gap actually has no bearing on my excitement about a given film; I’ve found that being able to watch a film at my own pace is really all that matters.

  • As it turns out, Asuna’s father had died when she’d been young. Back then, she hadn’t quite been able to grasp the enormity of such an event, beyond the fact that her father wasn’t going to return. Shinkai chooses to set things during the winter, both to provide a vivid contrast to the warm weather of the present, as well as to show the extent of despair and sorrow in the moment. When Asuna’s mother explains that Shun had died, denial immediately sets in; Asuna’s certain that Shun is fine even though there’d been reports of a corpse found earlier.

  • With Asuna’s original instructor preparing to head off on maternity leave, her class receives a substitute teacher in the form of Ryūji Morisaki, who provides a lesson about the world of the dead in Japanese folklore. Folklore and literature becomes an integral part of each of Shinkai’s subsequent works: after Children Who Chase Lost VoicesThe Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You each incorporate elements of classical Japanese mythology into details of his own creation. This creates a much more intricate, immersive world, and suggests that for Shinkai, his belief is that while things are always advancing, there are some traditions and values that shouldn’t be forgotten, either.

  • The topic of an underworld from which the dead can be revived intrigues Asuna, who begins to believe there might be a way to see Shun again. She heads over to the library in pursuit of more knowledge, and although today, the consensus is that the planet’s interior is solid, composed of a rocky mantle and metallic core rather than being hollow, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a story; fiction represents a space to explore what could happen if our wishes were realised, and more often than not, it turns out that having the power to do things like returning the dead to the world of the living often exacts a terrible cost.

  • After classes end, Ryūji speaks with Asuna’s instructor and learns that Asuna is a focused, well-behaved student. Meanwhile, Asuna’s classmate suggests that Ryūji’s wife had died long ago when Asuna remarks that she has a few questions for Ryūji surrounding the day’s lessons. Although the conversation is incomplete to viewers, it solidifies the idea that Asuna’s life is a lonely one; Children Who Chase Lost Voices is an excellent example of a film where things are slowly laid out for viewers to follow, providing enough depth to be compelling, but at the same time, does not demand that the viewer have a solid background in Japanese folklore and beliefs.

  • The precedence that Children Who Chase Lost Voices set carry forwards into Shinkai’s later works – Ryūji has been chasing the myth of Agartha since his wife had died. Delving through countless scrolls, tomes and commonplace books, he learnt that there were patterns throughout history to suggest Agartha was indeed real – originally, ancient beings known as Quetzalcoatl guided humanity, but humanity eventually reached a point where it could fend for itself, so the remaining Quetzalcoatl retreated underground and a few humans accompanied them.

  • Ryūji deduces that Asuna had been the one who encountered Shun, and believes that Asuna’s interest in Agartha similarly stems from a desire to bring someone back from the dead. The visual clutter in Ryūji’s apartment shows the extent of his interest in the underworld; the interior is filled with books, maps and charts. Of note is a confidential report whose contents are rendered entirely in English. After his radio lights up, Ryūji sends Asuna home and asks her to not take any detours, but on her way back, Mimi appears, and Asuna heads off in pursuit. She spots a glint from her hideout and rushes up here, where she encounters a young man no older than herself.

  • As it turns out, this is Shin, Shun’s younger brother. Their encounter is interrupted when an AH-1 Cobra shows up. The extent of Ryūji’s obsession with Agartha is such that he leads a paramilitary outfit known as Archangel to search for its entrance, and the fact that they possess a Cobra speaks to the extent of their resources – one could suppose that Archangel has investors who are curious about the wealth that Agartha possesses. When I first watched Children Who Chase Lost Voices, I initially thought that this was an AH-64 Apache, but the Cobra lacks the Apache’s distinct T700 turboshaft engines and single-barrel M230 30mm chain gun. Instead, one can spot the AH-1’s chin-mounted M197 20mm electric cannon.

  • Members of Archangel corner Asuna and Shin at the cliff’s edge: two soldiers accompanying Ryūji are armed with the Uzi. Even now, I can’t readily identify the sidearm that Ryūji himself is carrying, but I remain impressed with the acrobatics Shin is capable of: surprising the soldiers, he carries Asuna and leaps down into the forests below in an attempt to shake Archangel and return to Agartha’s entrance. However, his actions also lead Archangel straight to said entrance: the AH-1 Cobra follows in pursuit and quickly determines where the pair ended up.

  • The Clavis allows Agartha’s residents to carry out feats of superhuman strength and agility; with its magical properties, Shin moves a massive boulder to block off the entrance, before squaring off against a Quetzalcoatl he refers to as the Gatekeeper. This Quetzalcoatl was originally a guardian meant to keep outsiders from entering Agartha, but the Gatekeeper’s age means its senses are no longer as acute as they once were – it attacks Shin, forcing Shin to defend himself. However, using the Cobra’s 20 mm rounds, Archangel destroys the boulder with ease and enter the cave. Ryūji’s two soldiers then execute the Gatekeeper, and Ryūji identifies himself for Shin and Asuna’s benefit.

  • While Shin had been intending to fight Ryūji and his soldiers, once Ryūji explains that he’s here to seek out the Gate of Life and Death to resurrect his wife, Shin relents and lets Ryūji and Asuna be – outsiders had previously came to Agartha to plunder its treasures, but Ryūji’s wish is something for Agartha’s gods to pass judgement on. Moreover, Shin’s original assignment had simply been to retrieve Shun’s Clavis fragment. After Shin leaves, Ryūji gives Asuna the choice to turn back or accompany him. Having come this far, Asuna makes the choice to follow Ryūji, yearning to bring Shun back to life and see what lies beyond.

  • Ryūji leads Asuna onwards into the barrier separating the surface from Agartha: the Interstitial Sea. According to the legends, Agartha lies beneath this sea, which is composed of a fluid called aquavita, which is curious because aquavitae is the name for distilled spirits in reality. In Children Who Chase Lost Voices, this fluid possesses properties that allow for liquid breathing, and once Asuna adjusts to the unusual sensation, she and Ryūji follow a path that leads deep into the planet. The sheer scale of the constructs underground far surpass anything that modern humans have the capacity to construct, suggesting that ancient humans and the Quetzalcoatl would’ve worked together to make their underground realm.

  • Asuna reawakens and is surprised that Mimi had accompanied them through the Interstitial Sea to Agartha. They find a Quetzalcoatl guarding the front entrance into Agartha, and Ryūji prepares to shoot it, but Mimi manages to convince the Quetzalcoatl that they’re visitors. As Ryūji and Asuna gaze upon Agartha’s landscape, the music crescendos majestically. The incidental music in Children Who Chase Lost Voices is composed by Atsushi Shirakawa (better known as Tenmon), who had previously worked with Shinkai on all of his films. Children Who Chase Lost Voices marks the last time Tenmon scores the music to Shinkai’s films, and to match the scope and scale of this film, the music has a much richer sound.

  • Although Agartha is doubtlessly wonderous, the choice to have the entrance set in the open plains also serves to emphasise how vast and empty the underworld is. This disconnect creates a sense of melancholy: while Asuna and Ryūji might’ve arrived in Agartha, this land might not hold the answers to the questions they possess. In the skies above, the Shakuna Vimana passes by. These vessels originate from Hindu texts, and as Ryūji notes, they’re the chariot of the Gods. The fact that Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below draws from so much mythology would suggest that the world’s myths, at least in this universe, have a common origin in Agartha.

  • While Shinkai’s previous films had been gorgeously animated, and his latest films surpass all expectations when it comes to visual detail, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is unique because it marks the first film set in a completely different world. This allows Shinkai and his animators to really explore landscapes and scenery from a fantastical world. In this regard, I do wish that Shinkai and his team would take a chance on settings beyond Tokyo: The Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You feature Tokyo as its main setting, and as intricate as Tokyo appears, it would be interesting to see how Shinkai and his team’s advancing craft might portray other parts of the world, or other worlds.

  • After reaching some stone ruins, Ryūji sets down and consults his notes to determine their next destination, while Asuna ends up going exploring and finds Agarthan potatoes that end up being surprisingly tasty; it turns out that Asuna was able to find some salt in the stone ruins. Surprised with Asuna’s high spirits, Ryūji asks about how she’s feeling, and she replies that she’d been feeling amped since their arrival because there’s something she’s seeking out. Viewers can conclude that a part of Asuna still yearns to reunite with Shun, and the excitement she’s feeling comes from this possibility.

  • Back in a temple, Shin is debriefed by the elders; his original assignment had been to retrieve the Clavis that Shun had brought to the surface with him, and although he’d been successful here, the fact that is that Asuna and Ryūji have entered their world with another Clavis fragment in hand is worrying, suggesting that outsiders may yet interfere with things in Agartha and bring more troubles with them. To this end, the elders set Shin with recovering the Clavis fragment that Ryūji and Asuna possess. It turns out that Shun always been the preferred sibling for his powers, but possessed a desire to see the surface, which is what led him to Asuna. While Shin lacks the same power, he attempts to carry out his duties as best as he can.

  • While Shin had been set the goal of recovering the Clavis in Ryūji and Asuna’s possession by any means necessary, and remarks to another girl in the village, Seri, that if required, he’d consider lethal force, the reality is that Shin is torn between doing his duties, and doing what’s right. Their conversation supposes that exposure to the surface accelerates any illnesses one may have, and that both Shun and Shin are orphans who were raised by the village. His loyalty to them is a result of wishing to pay back the village’s kindness, although these loyalties do begin shifting.

  • Meanwhile, Ryūji and Asuna have taken refuge underneath a boulder to escape a rainfall. When Asuna makes an offhand comment about how Ryūji has come to be a father figure, Ryūji later dreams about the events that led them to Agartha. It turns out that his wife had died before he returned from his tour of duty during a war, and despite his efforts otherwise, Ryūji never moved on from his loss. The exact war is not known: while it would appear that Ryūji is fighting in the European Theatre during World War Two, he’s armed with an M4 Carbine with a Close Quarter Barrel Receiver. The M4 entered service in 1994, which complicates identifying which war Ryūji would’ve fought in, although since this is a dream, the smaller details would be secondary to the idea that Ryūji greatly misses his late wife.

  • When Asuna falls asleep, she ends up being taken by the Izoku, enigmatic monsters who can only travel through solid surfaces in the shadows while there is light (but when it is dark, they can roam freely). These beings are a part of the natural order in Agartha, although for the purposes of Children Who Chase Lost Voices, they exist to act as a reminder that life in Agartha has its own challenges. When Asuna comes to in the stone ruins, she finds another girl, Manna, here. The pair attempt to escape, but to no avail; the area is sealed off, and the nearest exit is too high to reach.

  • Fortunately, Shin arrives at the last possible second to save both Asuna and Manna. They manage to escape the ruins, but with the Izoku closing rapidly, Shin orders Asuna to jump into the river below; the Izoku have an aversion to water and will not traverse where water flows. The determined and plucky traits seen in Asuna bring to mind the likes of female leads from Studio Ghibli’s movies, marking a welcome new direction for Shinkai’s movies. Until now, I’d found that in his earlier films, the female leads were more passive, and lacked agency.

  • Conversely, in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Asuna is driven and takes the initiative to make her own decisions. These traits carry over to The Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You; a part of why these films are so successful is because female leads are impacting the story to a greater extent. Here, Asuna attempts to prevent Shin from being swept away in the river’s fierce currents, but Shin ends up taking an Izoku’s claw to the back and is swept off. Asuna leaps off after them in an attempt to rescue the pair, but the currents end up overcoming her, too.

  • The currents end up washing everyone downstream, where Ryūji finds them. Ryūji is relieved that Asuna is okay, but when Shin comes to and confronts Ryūji for the Clavis, he gets pistol-whipped. Disappointed with how Ryūji treats Shin, Asuna declares that they’ll bring Shin with them. Ryūji does not object, and upon arrival, their presence is almost immediately noted. The presence of outsiders prompt the local armed forces to appear; Agartha’s residents are deeply mistrustful of people from the surface, and here, a little more information is also provided regarding Manna: she’s mute as a result of having witnessed her mother’s death.

  • The commanding soldier initially turns Ryūji and Asuna back; the outsiders are treated as an ill omen in Agartha, and despite Asuna’s requests to get Shin looked at, the soldiers stand firm. Ryūji has no quarrel with the people of Agartha and makes to comply, but the village’s master, who also happens to be Manna’s grandfather, requests that the group be allowed to rest for one evening as recompense for having saved his granddaughter. The soldiers leave, and the elderly man bring them back to his home, where Shin is looked over and allowed to rest. As it turns out, Manna’s mother was from Agartha, and her father was from the surface; this is why the soldiers refer to Manna as “defiled”.

  • Speaking with the village’s master provides vital exposition that fills in remaining gaps about Agartha, and he explains that the antipathy for outsiders stems from a history where outsiders had arrived in Agartha to pillage and burn. Amongst historical figures who have done this include Julius Caeser, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin; it is implied that it was through the wealth of treasure and knowledge from Agartha that they were able to amass the resources to rule the world, but their expeditions also caused a great deal of harm and suffering to Agartha’s people. To prevent outsiders from returning, Agartha’s remaining residents sealed the gates that were once opened.

  • The fact that people from the surface brought death and destruction with them, enough to annihilate Agartha’s once-great civilisation, explains why there is so much hostility towards outsiders, and why ruins litter Agartha. With their birthrate declining, Agartha’s once-mighty people are now scattered in a vast, empty land. The village Master is surprised that Mimi (technically a Yadoriko rather than a cat), is so friendly with Asuna. These beings are said to accompany humans while they live, and then return to the Quetzalcoatl in death. This revelation does seem to reinforce the idea that Asuna’s father had a connection with Agartha. Here, Asuna is surprised to be offered a bath, and the sharp-eyed viewer will have noted that Asuna’s not really had the comforts of home since arriving in Agartha.

  • Being able to immerse herself in warm water and rest would seem like an unbelievable luxury after the trek she’d been on. Floral baths aren’t unique to Agartha, nor are the flowers present just for show. It turns out that taking a floral bath has some health benefits, and depending on the flowers used, different effects can be enjoyed, from improving circulation and skin hydration. Such a setup does look remarkably comfortable, although I’ve always been more of a shower person owing to the fact that a quick shower conserves water. After finishing up, Asuna gets dressed in an Agarthan-style outfit, and runs into Ryūji, who says the clothes don’t suit her, causing Asuna to pout.

  • Agartha’s cuisine appears to have an East Asian influence: Asuna had been seen peeling a daikon earlier, and they use chopsticks. Dinner proves delicious, and Asuna spends it savouring every bite. Over their meal, Ryūji asks the Master about his desire to resurrect the dead; he reasons that while this act is verboten in Agartha, that it is prohibited must imply there is a way to do so. The Master’s attempts to turn Ryūji from his desires to no avail, and is unable to convince Ryūji that life and death are a part of the natural world. I imagine that Ryūji does end up getting some answers, but this is not shown: the Master asks Asuna to look after Shin, who’s awake now and becomes worked up after Asuna mentions Shun.

  • The Master rightly notes that people who come to Agartha do so because of a great loss, and that a great many misunderstandings could have been avoided if said people had someone to talk to. This is true of Ryūji, and certainly true of Asuna. Through Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai aims to show how “adventure” is really just another way to say that after sustaining a loss, people wander. Without guidance and support, people can become lost in their own thoughts and venture down a path they might come to regret. As such, it becomes important to be compassionate and empathetic towards those who do suffer loss in their lives, while at the same time, giving them the space they need to recover.

  • The next morning, Ryūji and Asuna prepare to head off by boat, but to Asuna’s surprise, Mimi stays behind. This is shocking because Mimi had remained faithfully by Asuna’s side all this time, and as such, the unexpected change in behaviour is a result of Mimi preparing for death. For Asuna, being able to say goodbye to Mimi and part ways is a turning point in her character; she’s able to make peace with the fact that she won’t be with Mimi forever, and this sets the precedence for letting go of Shun, as well. Ryūji and Asuna travel under a gorgeous sunrise, and this moment captures the peaceful atmosphere within Agartha, as well as the fact that it is a world in decline: a massive ruin can be seen in this distance.

  • Mimi passes away, and after the Master reassures Manna it’ll be okay, the Master takes Manna out to a vast field, where Mimi’s remains are offered to a Quetzalcoatl. The one that arrives is an ancient one; one of its arms are blown off, although it accepts the offering and consumes Mimi. The Master notes that this is how Mimi returns to the world, and given the way things work in Agartha, one can suppose that here, the secret to immortality is simple enough: life is still finite, but what lingers after death, is what confers immortality.

  • The vastness of the field where Manna returns Mimi to the world is a visual metaphor for life and death itself; Shinkai indicates that the openness of such a space allows one to see great distances, and in this way, being out here corresponds to one accepting that what lies beyond life is not something to be feared. While Manna cries for the loss of Mimi’s life, Shin speaks with the Master and wonders if Asuna is able to accept life and death as two halves of a whole. The idea that death is not something to be tampered with is a theme that has long permeated fiction, and authors generally agree that those who attempt to raise new life from the dead or cheat death itself will face inevitable punishment.

  • The stakes increase when the village soldiers set off at full tilt for the same destination that Ryūji and Asuna are headed towards. The Master feels that their intention is to stop Ryūji and Asuna from reaching the Gate of Life and Death at all costs, even if it means killing them: Shin has spotted that the soldiers are carrying firearms, a sign that they mean business. When Ryūji spots them, he opens fire with his Uzi, but Shin uses his own dagger to knock the submachine gun from Ryūji’s hands before he can land any shots.

  • Noting that he’s acting to save Ryūji and Asuna, freeing himself from the debt he’d owed them, Shun now faces off against the soldiers in combat. Going from the single-shot weapons the soldiers are carrying, they would be easily bested by anyone carrying repeating firearms; repeaters first appeared in 1630 with the development of the Kalthoff repeater, and by the 1800s, revolvers and lever-action rifles had become commonplace. Since reloading presumably takes a while, the soldiers switch over to their swords and duel Shin one-to-one. Shin’s prowess impresses the commander, but he is ultimately beaten back.

  • The opening Shin creates allows Ryūji and Asuna to reach Finis Terra, a massive pit housing the Gate of Life and Death at its bottom. When Asuna glances over the ledge, the pit’s depth is such that the bottom cannot even be seen. This location likely was what inspired Your Name‘s scenery, when Taki and Mitsuha were finally able to meet one another during evening. However, Finis Terra (literally “end of the land”) possesses none of the warmth: it is raining here, and the skies are rapidly darkening as the sun sets. Tenmon uses an unearthly choir to convey the otherworldly feeling at this spot, which is easily the most unsettling place in the whole of Agartha.

  • As Asuna attempts to climb down what is a vertical cliff shear, a current rushes upwards and threatens to dislodge her; the effort proves too much, and Asuna decides to turn around and return to the village at Ryūji’s suggestion. The moment had been quite unnerving, and viewers get the sense that whatever lies at the bottom of the cliff does not want any surface-dwellers present. Even ten years later, this part of Children Who Chase Lost Voices remains quite tense, speaking to the incredible effort that went into the aesthetics for this film. While many things in my world have changed in the past decade, that anime films can still elicit the same response speaks to their staying power.

  • The extent of the changes to my world became clear earlier today, when I participated in a virtual panel to discuss career paths for alumni of my major. Joining me were my old program head, programme coordinator and two other panelists. While answering questions the students posed, I was sent down memory lane, recalling iconic health science moments, such as joining the lab that ended up being the basis for my graduate work, the various research symposiums I attended (and their free pizza), and the exams I studied for with my classmates. I was surprised to learn that there had been a question directed at me specifically, inquiring how I ended up as a mobile developer despite having started in health science.

  • The answer I gave was simple enough: while health sciences is about medical science and health policy, the inquiry and analytical skills students cultivate are versatile enough to be utilised in other disciplines, and health science has always encouraged the multidisciplinary approach towards problem solving. Coupled with the fact that I already had basic understanding of programming and software development, the transition wasn’t as abrupt as one might imagine. It did come as a bit of a surprise to me that the other panelists had a similar career progression, but as the department head stated, it’s okay not to know of one’s destination early in the game.

  • For Asuna, she set out for Agartha with a similar lack of destination in mind, and only vaguely knew that she wanted to speak with Shun once more. However, when the final leg of her journey becomes too much, she isn’t able to continue and turns back around. While this decision nearly costs Asuna her life, it also shows that Asuna is able to spot when things aren’t working. This is something that, during the panel, I mentioned as being an important thing to know – forcing ahead with something, as Ryūji does, can prove to be detrimental. However, Asuna’s journey is not meaningless, and her time in Agartha does prove instrumental in shaping her thoughts on life and death. Similarly, it is the case that one’s experiences, both good and bad, shape one’s current self, so if and when I’m asked, I do not regret taking a more crooked, uncertain path to the present, either.

  • Unfortunately for Asuna, the creek she’s traversing runs dry, and this allows the Izoku to finally capture her. In desperation, Asuna trains the sidearm Ryūji had given her, but unaccustomed to its recoil, she misses her shot. The aurora borealis here are especially visible: the night skies in Agartha are aglow with the ghostly dance of the northern lights. In reality, aurora result from the interaction of solar wind with oxygen and nitrogen atoms (which cause electrons to jump orbitals and release photons when they return to their ground state). Under ground, one would suppose that, since the skies of Agartha are blocked off by Earth’s crust, solar wind would never interact with the oxygen and nitrogen atoms down here. However, since the sun is visible down here, one must suppose that there are other forces at work, too.

  • I’m not here to break down the series for its faithfulness to reality because it is a meaningless exercise: just when Asuna is about to succumb to the Izoku’s grip, Shin shows up and kills the Izoku attacking her. The sun rises shortly after, forcing the remaining Izoku to retreat. With the morning here, both Shin and Asuna do feel as though there is new hope, now that the sun has risen. While the Izoku are a terrifying foe, Shin is able to kill one with a knife, leaving me to wonder if firearms would’ve been useful against them. The Izuko only show up in certain areas after night has fallen, and since the villages are safe, one must imagine that Agartha’s inhabitants have simply adjusted to their presence and placed their settlements away from the Izoku’s turf, rather than wage a campaign of extermination as contemporary humans are wont to doing.

  • After Shin and Asuna share their memories of Shun, they allow one another the time to cry themselves out. Asuna had been holding back her feelings, but here, she finally lets her emotions out. While society has reservations about tears, crying is an effective means of flushing out sorrow and grief: the process releases oxytocin and endogenous opioids, which are hormones that create a feeling of calm. In the aftermath, both Shin and Asuna determine that they need to get Ryūji back – while he’s kept calm by his single-minded focus, this stubbornness has left him blind to the costs of resurrecting the dead.

  • After finally reaching the bottom of Finis Terra, Ryūji locates the Gate of Life and Death and ventures inside. The Shakuna Vimana feels the presence of a Clavis crystal and makes its way over to hear whatever wish Ryūji has in mind. Thanks to numerous warnings, both from the village Master, and common knowledge about the costs of raising the dead back into the world of the living, viewers will immediately gain a sense of unease at what Ryūji is trying to accomplish. What follows is then simple enough; Shin and Asuna must get back down and reach the Gate of Life and Death to stop Ryūji.

  • The same Quetzalcoatl that had accepted Mimi’s corpse has come here to Finis Terra to pass on, as well. Spotting Asuna and Shin, it offers them a ride down to the bottom, allowing the pair to bypass the treacherous descent that Ryūji would’ve had to had made. Coupled with Shin’s Clavis, the pair float down safely after the Quetzalcoatl vanishes from this world. I would imagine that the gap between Ryūji’s enormously difficult descent and the comparatively straightforward one Asuna takes is meant to be a metaphor for how sometimes, the things that are meant to be present much less resistance compared to the things we were not meant to have.

  • Once inside the portal, Shin and Asuna spot a faint glow coming from Ryūji: he’s managed to contact the gods’ vessel, which transforms into a monstrous, multi-eyed being. After regarding Ryūji, it prepares to grant his wish. However, recalling someone from death is not an easy feat, and the gods must first use a vessel in order to carry out the process. Asuna is immediately seized, and she slowly begins taking on the appearance of Ryūji’s late wife. Even Asuna’s sacrifice isn’t enough: the energy involved draws out Ryūji’s life force, and he becomes scarred in the process.

  • It is here that Shin chooses to act; to Ryūji, Asuna was expendable, and to grant Ryūji’s wish, Asuna would have to give up her life in order to allow Ryūji’s wife to come back. The question of sacrificing the young for the old is a very difficult topic, one that I’m certainly not qualified to discuss, but in Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai suggests that this isn’t up for debate: the outcomes of this film indicates that Shinkai hedges his bets on youth and giving them a shot at the future. To this end, Shin attempts to shatter the Clavis and stop the process, but Ryūji overpowers him, allowing the process to reach completion.

  • Ryūji thus reunites with Lisa, and Asuna’s spirit is sent onwards, although Lisa appears to retain Asuna’s memories: she feels Shin to be familiar. Asuna’s spirit ends up meeting both Mimi and Shun; having found the strength to do so, Asuna manages to properly bid Shun farewell, and in this moment, Shin also shatters the Clavis. In her remaining moments, Lisa apologises for having lacked the strength to protect Ryūji and prepares to depart once more, leaving Ryūji to suffer the loss of death anew. By toying with forces beyond human comprehension, Ryūji ends up losing Lisa twice – this time would’ve hit even harder because Ryūji had, until now, been working towards this one moment, so to see everything taken away again would’ve been particularly devastating.

  • Although Ryūji desires death to escape the pain of loss and asks Shin to kill him here nad now, Shin implores Ryūji to live on instead. Asuna soon comes to, and unlike Ryūji, who’d come to Agartha with a very clear goal in mind and was unwilling to listen to those who tried to turn him away from his path, Asuna’s lack of preconceptions and singular objective in Agartha means that she was able to venture into this realm and gain something invaluable: knowledge and wisdom. Having now had the chance to properly say goodbye to Shun and Mimi, Asuna is finally ready to take a step forward and leave the deceased to rest.

  • The three prepare to make their way back to Agartha’s gateway: Ryūji elects to stay behind and learn from the Agarthans in order to find peace and come to terms with his wife’s death. Here, they make use of a ramp that leads back to Agartha’s surface – it is not lost on me that, had Ryūji been more patient and bothered to research this detail, his descent would’ve been less difficult, but then again, had Ryūji appreciated something like this, he might have never made the journey to Agartha at all. As Children Who Chase Lost Voices draws to a close, Anri Kumaki’s Hello, Goodbye and Hello begins to play. This song brought a solitary tear to my eye when I first watched this movie, being both upbeat and melancholy at the same time.

  • Some time later, Asuna returns to her old life on the surface, and having fully accepted that death is a natural part of life, is able to move on – she smiles before heading out the door for school, bringing the film to a close. While the themes in Children Who Chase Lost Voices are easily discerned, the me of ten years ago struggled to write about this film. I still had considerable difficulty with this post a decade later, but looking back, I would contend that, having ten more years of life experience and knowledge of Shinkai’s latest works together, is what allowed me to better convey how I feel about what is one of Makoto Shinkai’s lesser-known films. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is completely overshadowed by Garden of WordsYour Name and Weathering With You, but relative to its successors, is no less enjoyable and compelling, being an indispensable Makoto Shinkai experience. With this ten-year anniversary post in the books, I’ll return to wrap the month up with a talk on The Aquatope on White Sand after twenty-one, and remark that the MG Kyrios I ordered arrived today. I am looking forwards to building it once I confirm the status of the vacation time I’d requested a few weeks earlier.

Altogether, Children Who Chase Lost Voices represents Makoto Shinkai’s boldest, most daring film to date. New themes and new character traits come together in a fantastical story portraying a setting none of his works have ever portrayed. Whereas Shinkai focuses on Tokyo in his films, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is set in rural Japan and the legendary world of Agartha, a place of rolling hills, ancient ruins, endless plains and a treacherous crater housing the Gate of Life and Death. Each setting is rendered in stunning detail, whether it be the interior of Asuna’s house and classroom, to the village and landscapes of Agartha. The end result of this level of detail is that Agartha is brought to life, becoming as convincing as any real-world location Shinkai traditionally sets his stories in. Bringing out the best in Agartha makes it clear to viewers that this world is as real as the one we’re familiar with, and consequently, the learnings that Asuna picks up here are certainly applicable in the real world, as well. In an interview, Shinkai states that he wanted to create a more optimistic messages about parting ways, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a film that completely succeeds in this regard. It is unsurprising that after its release, the film was universally acclaimed; in fact, some people even began comparing Shinkai to the works of Hayato Miyazaki (although Shinkai himself dislikes this comparison, feeling it to be an overestimation of his own abilities). While Children Who Chase Lost Voices is overshadowed by its successors’ success, as well as the fact that in 2019, Sentai Filmworks lost the license to the film, the film remains a worthwhile watch owing to its trailblazing elements that would become commonplace in his newer films, as well as for its wonderful depiction of Agartha and a moving story that shows how, distance or not, people can persevere, overcome and learn. This film might no longer be as accessible as it was a few years earlier, but its contributions are nontrivial, and as such, fans of Makoto Shinkai’s works will greatly enjoy this journey to Agartha, one journey that should not be forgotten.

Shirobako: The Movie- An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“At Musashino Animation, where there’s one Aoi Miyamori and sixteen departments, there’s only enough time for Aoi Miyamori to make it to a department. She can’t be in two departments at once. This FEBruary, it’s time to AOI down your Miyamoris…in Shirobako: THE MOVIE.” –Unreleased Shirobako trailer

Four years after their successful delivery of The Third Girls Aerial Squad, Musashino Animation (MusAni from here on out for brevity) had fallen upon tough times after their latest project, Time Hippopotamus, was cancelled, and instead, are working on smaller projects to keep the lights on. Aoi Miyamori does her best as production manager, while her former colleagues have left MusAni for other companies. After meeting up with her friends one evening for drinks, Aoi wishes to one day work together with everyone again, feeling unhappy that while everyone’s moved on in their careers, their original dream appears to be more distant than ever. She later learns that line producer and current president Shun Watanabe has accepted a a new film project, Aerial Amphibious Assault Ship SIVA (SIVA for brevity), which was advertised to première in February 2020, but ran into production problems and was shelved. With only ten months left before the première date, the time-frames are tight, but Aoi accepts, knowing that it would be a project that could get MusaAni back on their feet. She later runs into former production assistants Tarō Takanashi and Daisuke Hiraoka while out running an errand, and when stopping at former president Masato Marukawa’s curry shop, is overwhelmed by emotion, recalling that Masato’s curry tastes exactly as it did when they’d worked together. While walking home, Aoi decides she’s going to do her absolute best with this movie project. She meets with producer Kōtarō Katsuragi, who had submitted SIVA to a production studio called GPU. However, as they’ve made no progress, Kōtarō’s decided to hedge his bets on MusAni. He introduces Aoi to Kaede Miyai, a producer from Western Entertainment: they’ve agreed to collaborate with MusaAni to complete work on SIVA. Reinvigorated, Aoi sets about gathering the old crew, some of which have similarly fallen on hard times, but all of which are more than willing to lend a hand to Aoi. She manages to persuade director Seiichi Kinoshita to snap out of his depression and return to produce something he’s proud of. Others, such as key animators Yumi Iguchi and Rinko Ogasawara, are happy to help out despite their own workloads. Even animation supervisor Ryōsuke Endō returns, optimistic that he can work on something to turn his life around. With the old team back together, SIVA begins taking shape. When Shizuka Sakaki auditions for a role in SIVA, encouraged by her supervisor, she manages to land a leading role. One day, Aoi runs into former senior key animator Shigeru Sugie, who asks Aoi and her friends to help with an animation class. While the children are unruly, the five manage to turn things around and excite the children, who greatly enjoy the class. The five recall their own love for animation and resolve to double their efforts in SIVA. As production draws to a close, a few impediments present themselves. Director Masashi Yamada is falsely accused of being involved in a scandal, but is able to clear this up. Meanwhile, GPU’s president threatens legal action against MusAni for having taken up the project in violation of their exclusivity contract, but together with Kaede, Aoi finds that GPU had actually breached their original contract by failing to deliver, forcing GPU to relinquish their rights to SIVA. With only a few weeks left before the première, director Seiichi finds the ending to be lacking in impact, but this time, commits to fixing things with the staff. SIVA releases to critical acclaim, and Aoi later briefs her team on The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s third season.

During its original run, Shirobako covered various aspects of anime production, from the conceptualisation to storyboarding, asset creation, voice acting and editing, all the while striking a balance between bringing a creator’s vision to life and creating a story that could stand of its own merits. Shirobako: The Movie, on the other hand, deals in the notion of copyright and licensing, as well as the importance of getting all of the right contracts signed and notorised, as well as ensuring that one is cleared to begin work on a project. Time Hippopotamus had been an instance of MusAni being a ways into production when the plug got pulled. Because the license belonged to this company, it was impossible to continue production without the proper permissions, and the end result was that MusAni had done little more than burn precious resources on a project that it could not recover from financially. Similarly, the final major obstacle in the film deals with the transfer of rights to production from another studio to MusAni: the director of GPU had not explicitly authorised Kōtarō to find another studio who had the capacity to produce a movie. Intellectual property and its handling becomes a central piece of Shirobako: The Movie: because rights to works of fiction can be very lucrative if a given works is popular, there are provisions in place to ensure that these intellectual properties are respected. However, these same systems can also be shackles, threatening entire projects. When the original studio was not able to deliver their results, Kōtarō seeks out Aoi for help, creating a very sticky situation where things could’ve ended quite poorly for MusAni. It was only carelessness from GPU’s part, that a critical document had not been read in full, and with a bit of fortune on Aoi’s end, she’s able to prove that the exclusivity agreement was null and void precisely because the original contract required that deliverables be handed over in a timely fashion. With no deliverable to show, the contract is not binding. MusAni thus dodges a bullet here, although this element in Shirobako: The Movie was meant to show that navigating copyright and licensing laws can be a tricky field as well. In this way, Shirobako: The Movie covers new territory during its run, while simultaneously revisiting familiar aspects of anime production. This time around, the returning staff are at the top of their game, determined to produce a film of excellent standards.

While it’s been four years since the events of the original Shirobako in Shirobako: The Movie, for us viewers overseas, closer to six years have passed. Watching Shirobako: The Movie was therefore a trip down memory lane, bringing back recollections of the things that the original TV series had excelled in during its run. The film returns with messages of perseverance, teamwork and doing something properly: Aoi is determined to see SIVA to the end, and demonstrates her talents for management by connecting with old staff, as well as motivating everyone to do their best, as well. With the entire former team together again, their familiarity with one another and skill-set allows them to work on the SIVA project in earnest, at a much more efficient pace than they had previously. Aoi’s own experience also allows her to find a solution to the matter of copyright, as well as helping director Masashi to escape a nasty bit of accusations designed to bring his reputation down. Despite falling into a depression when MusAni lost most of its staff, Aoi remains committed to doing her best in every situation, stepping out of her comfort zone to see things through to the end. Similarly, when director Seiichi expresses discontent with SIVA‘s ending despite having kept quiet about it earlier, Aoi is able to demonstrate to him that the team cares as much as he does. Despite only a few days remaining to launch, MusAni thus buckles down and remakes the ending, producing something that Seiichi is confident the audience will enjoy. Of the characters in Shirobako, Aoi embodies the core tenants of success, striving to make her dreams possible even when it looks as though all hope is lost. The end result of her actions is a successful launch, and the ending to Shirobako: The Movie was as satisfying as it gets, with MusAni being given the responsibility of producing The Third Girls Aerial Squad, a successful series that demonstrates the world’s faith in MusAni. During its run, it was encouraging to see that notions of hard work, effort and persistence to the end is what brings about hope, and a better shot at pursuing one’s ambitions, even when one’s path forward isn’t clear.

I need a goddamned Aoi Miyamori!

From a narrative perspective, Shirobako: The Movie treads on familiar ground to indicate to viewers that themes don’t necessarily change with the passage of time, and that things like effort, responsibility and integrity are universal. This is how the movie is able to present a compelling story despite running through the same learnings that Aoi had made in the original Shirobako. While the story is an experience viewers won’t find surprising, what sets Shirobako: The Movie apart from its predecessor is the actual artistic merit and animation quality. Shirobako: The Movie possesses slightly improved backgrounds and artwork compared to Shirobako‘s TV series, but where it truly shines is the animation and variety of styles during its run; of note is the sequence where Aoi regains her motivation, and in her mind, performs a musical that sees her revisit Andes Chucky, Exodus and The Third Girls Aerial Squad, along a host of other series, including Jiggly Jiggly Heaven. Shirobako: The Movie seamlessly transitions between these moments, demonstrating a technical prowess that brings to life Aoi’s rich imagination. Similarly, when Aoi and her friends teach children animation, disinterest and apathy soon turns to genuine excitement as Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori bring their own skills to enchant their students, who are thrilled to have brought their own work to life. In the aftermath of this event, Ema is reminded that she took up key animation because she had a love for drawing and shakes off discouragement to ensure she’s able to perform. One of the joys about Shirobako had always been seeing how P.A. Works brought to life the anime that MusAni and Aoi work on: by Shirobako: The Movie, their craft has allowed them to create genuine interest in these fictional works. SIVA looks like a fantastic movie, and MusaAni’s efforts to set the climax right really shines through in the end. Switching between different styles creates a visually varied film that serves as a welcome addition to Shirobako and bringing to life MusAni’s works, creating a stronger connection between viewers and the projects Aoi contributes to, in turn strengthening the series’ themes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • With this review on Shirobako: The Movie, I do believe I’ve broken into uncharted waters with the internet’s first full-scale review on the film, which released last year on February 29 and opens with a delightful skit summarising the events that had taken place in Shirobako. The film runs for a total of 120 minutes and was an absolute blast to watch the entire way, so I’ll open with my final verdict and score – for doing something that only the best works do, for engaging for the full duration and for bringing back everything that made the TV series so enjoyable, and then scaling this up for the silver screen, Shirobako: The Movie takes a well-deserved A+ (4.0 of 4.0, 10 of 10) and is something I have no qualms recommending to people.

  • The film proper opens with Aoi sleeping in the office, exhausted after a long day’s worth of work. How disheveled Aoi is speaks volumes about her commitment to her work, but at the same time, it also appears that Aoi is working for the sake of working now; she lacks the same enthusiasm and spirit that she’d demonstrated in leading the MusAni team during Shirobako‘s second half. Similarly, the office appears to be in a dishevelled state, although the place is also cloaked in darkness on account of the lateness of the hour. Visual cues suggest that MusAni of 2019 (when the movie is set) is a very different place than the one we remember from 2015.

  • Aoi initially hesitates to check out the release of MusAni’s latest episode for The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s second season, and once the footage starts rolling, it appears to be for good reason. This anime appears to have fallen very far from the tree, resembling World Witches Take Off! more than a combination of Sky Girls, Strike Witches and Warlords of Sigrdrifa, which is what the original anime reminded me of. The skeleton staff at MusAni watching this episode’s airing was similarly disappointing in size, standing in contrast with how in the old day, the entire office would show up for these airings.

  • One aspect of Shirobako I don’t think I spoke too much about was the growing friendship between Ema and Ai. Four years after the events of Shirobako, the two are roommates now, and Ai’s able to speak more cohesively – I remember that she was unable to complete even individual words, but with Ema, she’s able to be quite articulate. Here, she worries about Ema not eating properly; the latter is so engrossed with her work that she forgot to eat her lunch earlier.

  • Further hinting at how Aoi feels, a glance at her apartment shows it to be quite messy and dishevelled inside. She becomes uncomfortable with mention of hanging out with her family, and it was about here that I began seeing a bit of Aoi in myself. It struck me that Aoi’s career is not going quite as well as she would’ve liked. However, for those closest to her, she puts on a brave face and does her best to smile. This is something that I completely get – I’ve been where Aoi is, and I understand what it feels like to live in a world where every day is uncertain.

  • Because Aoi dearly loves the work she does at MusAni, she struggles to face her friends on their outing at a local pub the group has become fond of, worried that she’s fallen the furthest behind in her career goals of everyone. Before entering, she forces her face into a smile. While it is disheartening to see Aoi like this, I also take heart knowing that Aoi’s still resolute in her dream – the disappointment and frustration she sees in her day-to-day work shows that she cares very much about doing a good job, and this is something to be commended. In a completely unrelated aside, Aoi is voiced by Juri Kimura, whom I know best as GochiUsa‘s Rin Mate, a pushy but kind-hearted editor not unlike Aoi.

  • Admittedly, this particular outing brought to mind the time I attended a raclette party shortly before I accepted a job offer for my previous company – while I’d initially been hesitant to share that I was with a failing start-up, hearing my friends’ stories led me to open up a little, and they assured me that while they had struggles of their own, that evening was purely to unwind and swap bad stories. I thus ate and laughed with everyone, my worries forgotten that cold November evening. I’ve since gone through that cycle a second time, and while it has been rough, the silver lining is that I’ve accrued more iOS experience over the past two years. I am therefore very grateful to have worked for my previous post because of the learnings I got out of it; during my time here, I learnt to build my own UIs, and at present, I am able to build pixel-perfect UIs from mockups designers hand me, as well as put together UIs of my own when no designs are available.

  • Upon spotting Shizuka, the pub’s owners switch the channel to a programme where Shizuka is seen speaking with a young voice actress. While Shizuka is not an iconic voice actress and works on live-action programmes, she’s not lost sight of her goals and believes that expanding her repertoire would be valuable. Prior to entering my last role, I’d been more of a mid-end developer, building out data models and business layers in an app, but as Shizuka found, taking on new roles has been very helpful: at present, I’m completely at home with RESTful APIs, JSON serialisation and CocoaPods, amongst others. My experiences, within the context of Shirobako, suggest that Shizuka will do fine and reach her dreams as long as she’s willing to learn and be open to new experiences, which she’s clearly willing to do.

  • As the evening draws to a close, a sickly version of the Seven Lucky Gods passes by, visually denoting that the five friends’ dream appear as distant as it’s ever been. While returning home by train, Aoi and Ema share a conversation: Aoi mentions that MusAni has been quiet for some time, suggesting that the workload and the corresponding revenue has been reduced. In light of this, she notes that it was better that Ema ended up becoming a freelance keyframe animator like Misato Segawa. Leaving one company for another is always tricky, especially when one loves what they do, but Ema appears to have landed on her feet, and indicates that she’d be happy to work with MusAni again should the opportunity present itself.

  • When Aoi arrives at work the next morning for their team meeting, the interior of MusAni’s office is thrown into sharp relief: the scuffled wallpaper, accumulation of boxes and generally beat-up quality of the surroundings is a far cry from the offices I remember back when Aoi first started. It was here, beyond any doubt, that MusAni was in dire straights: the smaller staff count and an office that has clearly seen better days leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind where MusAni is now. Aoi’s reservation and poor spirits earlier are mirrored in her surroundings now; the movie had done a solid job of slowly building viewers up with what had happened so it doesn’t come as a shock.

  • On this rainy day, Shun brings Aoi out for a private conversation; the grim weather accentuates MusAni’s current state. Like other works I’ve greatly enjoyed, Shirobako: The Movie makes use of weather and visual metaphors to tell stories in ways that dialogue and body language cannot. I often rely on weather and lighting to help me with identifying what the significance of different scenes are because writers utilise weather to create a very specific mood, and generally speaking, weather is chosen to line up with how the characters are feeling. Consequently, when the weather is contrary to expectations, I pay even closer attention to understand what the intentions are. The choice of weather in Shirobako: The Movie reminded me a great deal of Les Stroud’s Baffin Island episode in Survivorman: during his fourth day in the arctic tundra, difficult conditions created a sort of darkness that made it seem especially melancholy, and his remarks here capture perfectly what a lack of hope looks like.

  • I couldn’t help but smile upon seeing Yutaka Honda running his own cake shop. Formerly a production manager like Aoi, he eventually left to pursue his dreams after Exodus was completed, but periodically returned to drop off sweets and encourage the team. Yutaka represents someone who ends up finding his own path and pursuing it in earnest; as a pastry chef, he is a happy and energetic individual: by the events of the movie, he’s regained his former weight as a result of trying every new creation to ensure its taste is satisfactory. After placing their orders, Shun and Aoi sit down to discuss MusAni’s future, and Shun opens with the question that people would dread hearing: has Aoi considered quitting MusAni in light of their current situation? This conversation confirms all of the visual signs that had been presented earlier, as Aoi affirms that MusAni is in a difficult spot.

  • As luck would have it, Stroud would turn his situation around when a Narwal forced Arctic Char close to his camp, allowing him to capture four fish and secure a sizeable supply of food for the remainder of his episode. Survivorman has shown how situations can turn around in a heartbeat, and while skill and preparation are essential, sometimes, a little luck can help. In Shirobako: The Movie, the turning point is when Shun reveals that MusAni has the opportunity to produce a movie. Suddenly, the grey skies and rain give way to a warm sunlight that illuminates the shop’s interior. Aoi doesn’t react to the offer on-screen, but the shift in weather speaks volumes about how Aoi feels: she’s seen wearing a look of utmost determination in the next scenes, which flash briefly over to what Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa are working as a bit of foreshadowing. It becomes clear that this film project is what MusAni needs, even if the deadline is a tricky one.

  • The next day, Aoi runs into Tarō while fuelling up the company car, which has become quite ragged and beaten-up over the past four years. It turns out he’s looking for a ride and while some time has passed, Tarō retains all of his energy and enthusiasm. Along the way, Tarō spots Daisuke and has Aoi drive him, as well. While I remember Daisuke for being quite confrontational and getting on poorly with Tarō, in the past four years, the two have developed a bit of an interesting friendship, and Daisuke feels a lot more relaxed now than he did four years earlier. It turns out the two are on their way to pitching ideas, and they thank Aoi for the ride before heading off.

  • Before Daisuke leaves, he provides some words of encouragement to Aoi, encouraging her to fight for her dreams in a world where things only come to those who prove they want it more. In Shirobako: The Movie, the famous “Miyamori Faces”, as I called them back in the day, don’t really make a comeback: during Shirobako‘s original run, Aoi was seen with a range of hilarious facial expressions resulting from shock, frustration and overwork. I imagine that these stopped being a part of the show because Aoi’s matured since then, and the things that would terrify her back then are now merely another problem to deal with.

  • Hearing Daisuke offer words of support for MusAni, however, does prompt Aoi to think back to that day when it was announced that they’d be halting all work on Time Hippopotamus. It turned out that because the company who’d contracted MusAni to produce Time Hippopotamus was undergoing restructuring, and as a result, the new company president determined that the Time Hippopotamus series wasn’t likely to justify the cost of producing it. Because this company held the rights to the characters and concept, it was impossible to finish the project and have a different company air the product.

  • While making a delivery to Masato’s curry shop, Aoi decides to have some curry, as well; the familiar taste brings tears to her eyes, as she remembers all of the times the MusAni team had spent together, hashing out projects and enjoying the curry Masato had made. Olfactory memory is something I’ve made mention of in previous posts, with tastes and smells being able to evoke very strong memories in our mind. For Masato, the flavour his curry had was also deeply engraved in his mind, associated with the times he’d spent with MusAni: after he resigned and opened his curry shop, he tried everything he could to create a new flavour, one that wouldn’t remind him of these memories. That Aoi feels it still tastes as it once did now suggests that Masato has found his way and accepted what’s happened, acknowledging that there were good memories alongside the bad.

  • Because Masato had been president of MusAni at the time, he felt that the responsibility was his to bear and resigned: MusAni had accepted the contract and diverted all of their resources into production before anything was even signed. As a result, MusAni had begun work before even receiving payment, and so, when the project was cancelled, the resources that were spent could not be so easily recouped. This is why work never begins on something until a written contract can be produced and signed. With this being said, I do occasionally spend some free time conceptualising on projects so if they are to go ahead, I can hit the ground running. While getting some air, Aoi runs into Seiichi, who attempts to stoically take the blow, but was impacted by the news as everyone else had.

  • While Time Hippopotamus proved to be MusAni’s breaking point and sent the company in a downward spiral, Aoi also felt that for that project, everyone had been at the top of their game, finishing episodes three months ahead of their scheduled deadline. In spite of what happened, the team at MusAni had demonstrated they were capable of moving heaven and earth to accomplish their goals, and while circumstances been against them that day, Aoi promises to right the ship and turn things around. Promise of working on SIVA has her pumped up and ready to go, and Masato’s words encourage her: he reminds Aoi that her motivation for making anime, to reach the hearts and minds of those who watch it, will doubtlessly inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

  • Thus, as Aoi heads home for the night, she begins singing a song to lift her spirits and encourage herself. In her mind’s eye, Mimuji and Roro join her, along with characters from Andes Chucky, Exodus, The Third Girls Aerial Squadron and Jiggly Jiggly Heaven soon join her, putting on a performance worthy of any musical. It was here that Shirobako: The Movie really proved itself as being worthy of a movie: the challenge that all anime movies based on a TV series face is scaling things up for the silver screen experience. At the heart of Shirobako: The Movie is the fact that this is a movie about making a movie, but to really make the experience unique, Shirobako: The Movie has gone the extra mile to produce a musical number that really speaks to Aoi’s optimism.

  • The actual musical presentation was impressive because it combined different art styles together and seamlessly brought them to life. Aoi’s song, beginning as a minimal set of lyrics, eventually develops into a full-fledged musical number, mirroring how life is often a game of momentum. When things don’t swing in one’s favour, finding the motivation and courage to get started can be tricky, but with a bit of momentum, the impossible suddenly appears possible. With SIVA now a reality for MusAni, Aoi promises to do her best, taking a meeting with Western Entertainment’s Kōtarō Katsuragi, a producer who had worked extensively with MusAni in the past.

  • It turns out that Kōtarō had been working on SIVA, but after another production studio, GPU, absolutely failed to deliver even after two years, GPU’s president had decided to leave Kōtarō to deal with the mess, suggesting that they might be able to work faster if Kōtarō could convince his higher-ups to send them a little more money. Kōtarō attributes his passion for the project to Aoi, and expresses his hope that MusAni will be able to pull things off. To this end, Kōtarō leaves the competent Kaede Miyai with Aoi. Kōtarō and Shun send Aoi and Kaede on their way so they can iron out remaining details to the arrangements.

  • While the odds are stacked against Aoi and MusAni right from the start (MusAni is short on staff and only has ten months to complete a movie that would normally take two years), it appears that Western Entertainment is quite ready to foot the bill. Kaede notes that Aoi basically has free reign in picking her staff, leaving Aoi free to choose a crew she’s comfortable working with. Since Kaede was brought in to sort out the problems the previous production assistant had left behind, and the project is finally moving forwards, it stands to reason that Kaede is competent in her work. To get to know one another better, Aoi accepts a dinner invitation from Kaede, and the two promptly get smashed at what appears to be half the pubs around town.

  • Aoi and Kaede immediately bond over shared work experiences and grievances – with the alcohol talking, both complain vociferously about various aspects of their jobs and industries. I’m impressed with how Aoi manages to keep up with Kaede throughout the evening and still manages to sleep it off for the next morning. This is a feat I can’t pull off; after one drink, I’m struggling to stay awake, and two is enough to give me the emperor of all headaches. For this reason, I don’t really drink, especially not to drown my sorrows. The problem for me is that my sorrows have learnt to swim, and alcohol simply leaves me feeling worse later down the line. Conversely, I have no qualms about a small glass of champagne during celebrations.

  • SIVA admittedly feels like Space Battleship Yamato in concept, with a Phantom Thief Lapin twist to it and a name that simultaneously reminds me of both the SHIVA-class nuclear missiles from Halo, as well as Skyfall‘s very own Raoul Silva. I’d been watching this with a friend, and he’d remarked that the choice of name for a space-faring vessel is deliberate: vessels of special significance are often given cool names: USS Enterprise from Star TrekBattlestar GalacticaStar Wars‘ Millennium Falcon, the Endurance from Interstellar and Halo 4‘s UNSC Infinity come to mind. This makes sense; I highly doubt that something like “UNSC Miporin” would strike a sense of awe into viewers.

  • The aspect of Aoi’s character that I liked most is how pushy she can be without overstepping: when she attempts to recruit Seiichi back to MusAni, Seiichi is reluctant, fearing yet another failure. In the four years since, he appears to be inactive, and it takes some pressuring to get him to accept his old position as a director. Aoi ends up chasing him out the front door, and he collides with Yutaka, after which Aoi notes that she’s inspired by Masato’s words. Seiichi eventually relents, promising to pick up his work again on the condition that Aoi persuades screenwriter Shimeji Maitake to also join the project.

  • It turns out that asking Shimeji to come on board took no effort: like Aoi and the others, he hadn’t been happy with how everyone’s efforts with Time Hippopotamus were so callously discarded, and sees this as a chance to both redeem himself, as well as MusAni’s reputation. With Shimeji on board, Seiichi is happy to report for duty. However, his old tendencies soon begin manifesting, and there are points where he is confined to a caged room in order to force him to focus on storyboarding. Old habits die hard, and there are several points where Seiichi attempts to escape, just like in the days of old.

  • Aoi finds Yumi at an art gallery, and while she’s up to her eyeballs in work with her current company, she’s more than happy to lend Aoi a hand; after the Time Hippopotamus failure, she ended up leaving MusAni to pursue other opportunities, but it is clear that she and many of the staff only left for practical reasons. That Aoi is able to gather everyone up with little resistance speaks to their respect for her and the company – while poor working relationships are a common reason in why people move between jobs, that so many of MusAni’s former staff still have fond memories of working here continue to suggest that the Time Hippopotamus incident was a one-off, but catastrophic enough as to put the company on the verge of collapse. That Aoi’s helped to keep things alive after all this time is a reminder of her own skill as a production manager.

  • During the events of Shirobako, Rinko had always stood out from the other characters for her distinct preference for Gothic Lolita fashion; it turns out she adopted this style because it reminded her of a character she was inspired by. When Aoi encounters her on a run, Rinko is embarrassed and asks for a moment to change into her usual outfit before speaking with her. Like Yumi, Rinko has no qualms about lending her skills and time towards MusAni’s project. One of the biggest challenges about watching Shirobako was the fact that the series had such a large cast: beyond Aoi and her friends, there are forty characters at MusAni alone.

  • Shirobako: The Movie, on the other hand, only has a handful of central characters, although even then, there are enough people such that the film continues on in the style of its predecessor and names the characters, along with their roles, for the viewers’ benefit. I certainly found this useful, and it helps that some of the characters have uniquely identify traits that make them much easier to remember. Seiichi, Kōtarō, Erika, Tarō and Ryōsuke are some of the easiest characters to remember for their distinct personalities, for instance. With the old MusAni team starting to take shape again, work can finally begin on SIVA itself.

  • When Shizuka learns that Aoi and MusAni are producing SIVA, she decides to audition for a role in the movie, and here, speaks with her friend and mentor, Mari Tateo, a veteran voice actress who is in the same company as Shizuka. With Mari’s encouragement, Shizuka decides to at least give things a shot and attempt to land a secondary role in SIVA. However, when the directors are interested to have her voice a central character, they find themselves impressed with Shizuka’s range and decide to cast her in the larger role. For Shizuka, the wait is a bit of an excruciating one, since she long desires to do the things that she sets her sights on.

  • On Aoi’s request, Misato heads off to try and get Ryōsuke on board – the directors and staff have decided that his exceptional ability to design ships would be valuable for SIVA. Misato finds Ryōsuke at an arcade and delivers a verbal beatdown, wondering what he’s done with his life since he left MusAni. Things escalate into an argument, and Misato is ultimately unsuccessful in convincing him to return. The two are technically rivals, striving to improve their own craft as to keep up with the other, and while Misato’s continued to work as a freelance key animator, it appears that Ryōsuke’s been unable to pick himself up after the Time Hippopotamus incident. That he retains his passion and energy, however, suggests that he’s willing to do what it takes to right himself.

  • While Misato was unsuccessful, a conversation with 3D director Yuichiro Shimoyanagi causes Ryōsuke to pause and reconsider – despite the two working in different fields, and Ryōsuke’s distaste for CG, the pair get along very well. Yuichiro is able to convince Ryōsuke to consider returning to his old post at MusAni: realising that there’s a chance to pull himself out of a slump, Ryōsuke ends up accepting. The two visit an aquarium, where Yuichiro is watching how aquatic life moves in water to gain a better sense of how to capture their movements in an animated fashion.

  • Ryōsuke’s wife, Mayumi, unconditionally supports him, and even after he quits his job with MusAni, she takes on a cashier job at the local supermarket to help make ends meet, believing in Ryōsuke’s potential and that he will return to his old self. As such, when he brings news of his return to MusAni to her, she decides that a celebration is in order – while rough around the edges, Ryōsuke demonstrates that the love the two share are mutual. He passes her his freshly-opened beer after she chips her nail opening hers. People like Mayumi, who are totally supportive of their partner’s dreams, must be rare, and it shows that the two’s feelings are genuine, since Mayumi has been willing to endure the bad along with celebrating the good.

  • One aspect about Shirobako: The Movie that has not been discussed is the soundtrack, which is composed by Shirō Hamaguchi, best known for his work on the Girls und Panzer and Ah! My Goddess soundtracks. Influence from the former is immediately noticeable in Hamaguchi’s music for Shirobako, which has the same spirited marches as Girls und Panzer does, and therefore, is well-suited for the energy that Shirobako strives to convey. While Hamaguchi excels with creating marches, his incidental music for more contemplative or calm moments are just as enjoyable as the more energetic pieces. On the topic of Girls und Panzer, it is not lost on me that Das Finale‘s third installment had released two days earlier. The gap between the second part’s première was eight months and twelve days, and the first part required a much more reasonable three months and sixteen day wait.

  • Assuming we use an average to estimate six months and four days, it means that part three will be available to overseas viewers in late September or early October. My original estimates put the theatrical screening of Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s third part in December 2020 and using the three month gap between the first part’s première and home release, the BD was supposed to come out this month. While the ongoing global health crisis might’ve pushed production back, one hopes that they take a route that sees the BDs available as soon as possible; readers have my word that I will be covering Das Finale to completion, whatever it takes. Back in Shirobako: The Movie, Shigeru makes an appearance. An animator of legendary skill, he continues to assist MusAni even now, and also runs workshops on the side to pass knowledge on to the community. He invites Aoi and her friends to help out with a class he’s running for children.

  • With the whole team back in play, Shirobako: The Movie returns to the style and pacing the TV series presented as MusAni works towards producing an entire movie. The usual impediments show up, with Shimeji struggling to best determine how to bring everything together in SIVA‘s conclusion. Rather than let the problem manifest, Seiichi suggests that a late meeting could still prove valuable, and Aoi sets up a meeting, bringing everyone in to help out. Although the meeting isn’t particularly fruitful, Shimeji will come to work out something for SIVA with help from Midori, whose words help him determine how to best handle SIVA‘s conclusion as the two throw a baseball around and catch some fresh air. The point of this scene was really to give a glimpse into MusAni’s process and show while that the road to SIVA isn’t a smooth one, the combined efforts from the team will allow them to find success, and that sometimes, taking a step back is what one needs.

  • Things quickly escalate when director Masashi is accused of being involved in a scandal. MusAni’s team is shocked: having worked with him for years and knowing the sort of person he is, they suspect that something is off. In the immediate aftermath, Aoi remarks that if Masashi is unable to do a live-streaming event, then he might be able to use this time and help the SIVA project out. MusAni is understandably nervous, since in this day and age, such accusations can have devastating consequences on one’s career regardless of whether or not said accusations had any basis in truth. This is one of the worst excesses of social media, and I’ve long held that while people must be held accountable for their decisions, the court of public opinion should have absolutely no say in the matter whatsoever: the public, by and large, are uninformed and lack the qualifications needed to make fair and accurate assessments that should be left to professionals in a court of law.

  • Despite improving in the four years since Shirobako‘s original run, Ema’s key frames end up feeling too stiff; despite capturing the artistic style of the originals, they lack fluidity. Ema begins to question her abilities again. I understand that setbacks are very much a part of life, and have been guilty of this mode of thinking myself: there are days where I wonder if I’m even a passable iOS developer who could code a path out of a paper bag. The key here is to focus on the task at hand and not let the setbacks get the better of one. Besides to Aoi, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ema’s character because she illustrates the doubt that exists in all of us, and in spite of this, finds the courage to continue anyways. That she worries about the trade-offs between quality and speed even now shows she remains passionate and willing to improve.

  • When Masashi shows up at MusAni’s office one day, it turns out he’s come to seek help from the team, claiming that the scandal he was involved in was a setup. Within a few moments, the truth is out: during a celebration with another company he’s working with, Masashi had his photo taken, but this photo was later altered to remove any context. On Tsubaki and Sara’s suggestion, Masashi releases an official statement to his website surrounding the event, explaining what really happened, and when his website times out, it suggests that people are at least reading things. This bit of drama passes shortly after, allowing Masashi to focus on SIVA: Aoi manages to get in touch with Tarō and Daisuke to help with production.

  • Assertive, confident but also kind, Erika Yano played a major role in Shirobako, mentoring Aoi wherever she could. She left MusAni to look after her father, and by Shirobako: The Movie, it appears that her father’s health has stablised, allowing Erika to return full time. Despite the time that’s passed, she’s clearly lost none of her edge: with four months left to launch, she returns to MusAni and her first act is to set Seiichi straight when he experiences a writer’s block. Erika’s unique way of dealing with Seiichi pays off, and his storyboards are finished with time to spare, allowing the team to push on ahead. Erika notes that they need one more unit director, and heads off to speak with Hiroshi Iketani, who does decent work, but more often than not, attempts to shirk his duties.

  • The day that Aoi and her friends are to help at an animation workshop arrives, and while their students, young children, initially prove to be quite a handful, even hostile, towards the idea that animation could be fun, things turn around with Misa’s help: she quickly realises that Aoi’s introduction to animation is a little too dry, and with children, a more hands-on approach is what’s needed. She’s able to motivate the children by challenging them to out-do one another in making something cool, and soon has enough frames to make something. Two young girls take an interest in Misa’s scanning of the frames and decide to help out despite being disinterested in things earlier.

  • Boredom soon turns to excitement when the children’s drawings are brought to life. With Shizuka’s voice acting skills, the children finally feel connected to their creation, and break out into song, another musical that adds a great deal of life to their experience. The complete turnaround here acts as a visceral indicator of how things can change in a heartbeat so as long as one has the skill and passion for what they do, being a scaled-down reminder for Aoi and her friends as to what can await individuals who make an honest effort to do their best. The engagement level in this class shows that the event was a complete success, and in the aftermath, Shigeru has some words of wisdom for Aoi and her friends.

  • At the heart of all artwork is conveying joy, and being able to work with children is a constant reminder of this. Each of Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa gain something from the experience, and in particular, Ema is able to find her footing again. Their conversation is set under a warm sunset, with red and orange hues giving the scene a very welcoming feel. Prevously, I’d felt that Shirobako‘s background artwork felt a little flat and uninspired, especially when compared to what was shown in Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, which looked on par with anything from KyoAni or Makoto Shinkai in quality. Looking back, I believe the background art is deliberately simplified in Shirobako, since the emphasis is on the characters and their work, but for Shirobako: The Movie, P.A. Works has gone the extra mile in creating rich, vivid backgrounds. The film looks amazing in this regard, and this is one of the things that Shirobako: The Movie does to scale the series up for the silver screen.

  • Shigeru’s words to the girls bring to mind my own reasons for volunteering as a science fair judge, during which I get to assess what youth are doing these days for science. Earlier this month, I did virtual judging for both a prestigious private academy and the city-wide science fair. Projects were largely impressive, and with the former, I had a chance to speak with students in a Google Hangouts call to gauge their understanding of their work. Seeing brilliant, young minds with a passion for science is always uplifting, and I am always pleasantly surprised with what youth are capable of with the right encouragement. This is uplifting and reminds me to also continue with my own work with the same level of vigour. For Aoi, Midori, Misa, Shizuka and especially Ema, they are motivated to put in that final effort to make SIVA a success.

  • With time passing in the blink of an eye, the whole of MusAni’s staff begin seeing the finish line and express joy that things have come together smoothly. When the last recording session is over, however, Kōtarō receives a message that threatens to send the entire project the way of Time Hippopotamus again. He decides not to share this with everyone for now and deals with it himself, speaking with GPU’s president. When the president reveals that GPU technically owns the rights to Silva, Kōtarō blows at least three fuses. He makes such a commotion that he is escorted off GPU premises and prohibited from returning.

  • Once he’s had a chance to cool down, Kōtarō acknowledges that what GPU is claiming is true. Shun notes that this is a delicate situation and that acting rashly will only reflect poorly on MusAni, as well as resulting in legal trouble. Kōtarō says that he has people working on things to see what can be done. Copyright can be a nasty process when not handled properly, preventing intellectual property from being utilised when abused or creating trouble for those whose aims are fair use. The existence of copyright laws, however, is necessary, as it protects those who create, and one of the challenges in this area is ensuring that copyright laws succeed in protecting creators, while at the same time, not being abused to punish people arbitrarily.

  • For Aoi, this news is probably the lowest point for her in the whole of Shirobako: The Movie: as snow begins falling under a grey sky, she collapses in the middle of the crosswalk, utterly defeated. In this moment, even more so than when Aoi had began tearing up at Masato’s curry shop, I really felt the feelings that were being conveyed to viewers: a chill stole through me, and I found myself wondering if Aoi needed a hug here to regroup. While cheerful and optimistic for the most part, a series of setbacks had left Aoi vulnerable to her circumstances. However, the night is always darkest before the dawn, and while the SIVA project appears to be in jeopardy, the fact is that Kōtarō’s company does have a legal team with which to look over things.

  • Aoi looks a bit like Miho here, again bringing to mind the Girls und Panzer connection that Shirobako has. In the darkest of moments, Mimuji and Roro appear to lift Aoi’s spirits, asking her why she’s a producer at all. Aoi answers that beyond the technical elements, it’s about delivering a finished product. The rationale is that as long as Aoi fulfils her duties completely, she can look back without regrets.  She subsequently returns to the office and runs into Yuka, who has a special assignment for her. Since Kōtarō isn’t allowed to return to GPU, Yuka sends Aoi. It turns out that the legal team at Western Entertainment did find something, and Aoi is briefed on this. She meets up with Kaede, who is here to support Western Entertainment on Kōtarō’s behalf.

  • Shirobako: The Movie excels in its over-the-top portrayals of what certain actions feels like, and while Kaede and Aoi are simply walking through the front doors of GPU’s offices, it does feel like they’re squaring off against an entire army, ninjutsu-style. The two don kimono and set off with fire in their hearts, determined to sort things out with GPU. While the president of GPU is uncooperative and cites the contract as being absolute, Aoi and Kaede have identified a clause that forces GPU to relinquish their rights to the project owing to the fact their other studio completely failed to deliver anything as agreed upon.

  • This was a bold moment, even for Aoi: I imagine that the Aoi of four years earlier would’ve been willing to go to such lengths for her work, and while perhaps a little dramatic, her undressing to reveal a tattoo (likely a temporary one) of a SIVA character serves to indicate the lengths Aoi will go to ensure that her projects are finished to a satisfactory extent, whatever it takes. It typifies Shirobako‘s ability for conveying the gravity of a situation through theatrics, and Shirobako: The Movie follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. Thanks to the clause within the original document, and in conjunction with the fact that GPU’s president never signed the contract, there is enough here now for Western Entertainment and MusAni to take GPU to court. I imagine that GPU’s president subsequently stands down, lest he face a costly legal battle that he is likely to lose.

  • With the dubbing now complete, SIVA appears ready for release. Some of the staff head back to the MusAni offices to celebrate, or otherwise begin making their way home. Having been so enraptured by the work, everyone’s ignored the catered lunch that was provided, and Seiichi remarks that the meal was a bit of a special one, consisting of grilled eel on rice. Eel is a Hamamatsu specialty, and as seen in Yuru Camp△, can be quite pricey. In the aftermath of the first screening, a melancholy sets in: while the team had doubtlessly achieved an impressive feat, picking up and finishing a movie in ten months where it normally takes two years, even sorting out a copyright claim issue, things don’t quite feel as exciting they when MusAni conquered their deadlines in the TV series: something still feels like it’s missing.

  • After Aoi learns that Seiichi was feeling unhappy about the abruptness of SIVA‘s ending, she pressures him into following his heart so he has no regrets. When she brings up the matter with the other staff on the project, they agree about how SIVA‘s ending feels rushed, and moreover, consent to change it. The end result is a film that Seiichi is proud of, and this brings Shirobako: The Movie to a close, with Aoi and her friends preparing to experience SIVA anew in the theatre. The payoff in Shirobako: The Movie is immense, and Aoi has certainly earned her ending, which came about as a consequence of hard work and perseverance. However, not everyone thinks this way: an old nemesis from Anime News Network asserted that “realism that this series had when depicting the grueling workflow of anime production gets thrown out the window in favor of pursuing a fairy tale ending” on the grounds that “it’s [not] satisfying for the characters to achieve their goals so easily”.

  • This is a disingenuous argument, to say the least: Anime News Network’s reviewer evidently missed the fact that Shirobako: The Movie is set four years after the original series, and in this four years, the characters have only had time to hone their craft further. Aoi is more than capable of running the show now than she was in Shirobako, and those who gather to work on SIVA, were already skilled in their areas. Coupled with the fact that everyone has an idea of how their teammates work, they’re able to work more efficiently together, as they had during Time Hippopotamus‘ production. Moreover, assets left over from Time Hippopotamus were reused, further cutting down production time. From a logical standpoint, there is nothing remotely “fairy tale” about the ending: the sum of hard work and skill is what allows MusAni to make its deadline. It is a recurring trend that Anime News Network’s writers struggle with understanding narrative choices in anime, especially where hard work and the corresponding payoffs are concerned: while this may seem like a novel concept for Anime News Network, the reality is that hardworking, skilled and competent people have pulled off what appears to be miracles before. The Mars rover Perseverance is one example of such a feat.

  • To suggest the happy ending was undeserved would be akin to saying that Frodo should have failed in his quest at Mount Doom, and that forces should not have resulted in Gollum plummeting into the lava below. Had this happened, J.R.R. Tolkien would’ve undermined the themes he’d striven to convey in The Lord of The Rings. Tolkien later stated that Ilúvatar himself intervened, causing Gollum to trip: Frodo had exceeded all expectations and took the Ring thus far. After such a journey, Frodo was completely spent, so another power took over to finish things. Frodo had certainly deserved all of the honour because he’d completely given himself to the task, and to deprive him now would simply be unfair. Similarly, in Shirobako: The Movie, foisting a “realistic” ending on viewers would undermine the film’s themes entirely and absolutely defeat the purpose of having a film: in both The Lord of The Rings and Shirobako: The Movie, the individual characters took things as far as they could together and overcome numerous obstacles, which made the ending satisfying.

  • To put things in perspective, four years ago, I struggled to get push notifications working, put a working credit card checkout system together using the Stripe SDK and hadn’t any idea how Autolayout worked. Four years is a lot of time to improve, and at present, I’m quite comfortable with putting an entire iOS app together: push notifications, checkout and autolayout are old friends now. This is why I not only accept, but expect, MusAni to succeed in their endeavours. We are dealing with professionals with both drive and pride, so it only makes sense for them to come together and work hard for their success. Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa and Shizuka have certainly earned their chance to enjoy SIVA with their signature doughnuts in hand.

  • Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa close the film a lot happier than they did entering, and I was all smiles throughout this entire movie. It speaks volumes to how well emotions are conveyed: when Aoi began tearing up in frustration or smiling in success, I felt those emotions as clear as day. Any movie that can hit those notes right and keep me engaged to this level has definitely done a good job. This is why I have no qualms giving Shirobako: The Movie an A+ and counting it a masterpiece: the movie has taken everything from the TV series and scaled it up successfully for the film, with the end result being something that Shirobako fans will definitely enjoy, and something that folks who’ve never seen before will still find entertaining. With this in mind, I do not recommend this film to the latter: having that additional context and background will greatly augment one’s experience of Shirobako: The Movie.

  • To visually indicate Aoi’s mindset at the film’s end, when she steps out into the night this time around, the Seven Lucky Gods‘ pirate ship soar into the skies, signifying that Aoi’s lifted herself out of her slump and is ready to take on new challenges. When it comes to anime movies, my primary expectation going in is to see if the film is able to scale up the things that the series did well and apply it to the silver screen: I cut slack for anime movies of a TV series because they already have an established premise and setting, so for things like K-On! The MovieGirls und Panzer: Der Film and High School Fleet: The Movie, I enter knowing that aspects of the TV series will be revisited, and this never impacts my assessment of a work.

  • Shirobako: The Movie has a somewhat open ending: in the aftermath of their success, Aoi prepares to lead her team on The Third Girls’ Aerial Squad‘s third season, suggesting that success from SIVA had allowed MusAni to retain some staff and take on larger projects again. No one knows how the future will turn out for Aoi and MusAni, but the accumulated experience means that Aoi is better prepared to deal with the future. If Shirobako ends here, it will have been a very decisive and satisfying conclusion to the series. However, the ending doesn’t shut out the possibility of Shirobako getting another continuation; in the event of such a continuation, I’d be more than happy to give that a go.

P.A. Works is not known for doing sequels, so to have them revisit and continue Shirobako was a bit of a surprise. The finished product is as much of a film version of the TV series as it is a chance for P.A. Works to strut their stuff; the highlights in this movie are in the technical elements, allowing P.A. works to really bring thoughts and emotions to life through animation. If Shirobako: The Movie had been intended to bring some of that joy to us viewers, the film has definitely succeeded in this area. Altogether, Shirobako: The Movie was a superbly enjoyable watch from both a story and technical piece, making use of sight and sound to really immerse viewers in this movie about creating a movie. The messages of effort and persistence in the pursuit of one’s dreams remain as relevant now as they did six years earlier, and seeing this aspect of Shirobako: The Movie was a reminder of my own career choice: the reason why I’m in iOS is simply because I believe that whatever skills I possess should be put to use in a way to benefit people, and since apps are ubiquitous, it means that I can lend my skill set towards making someone’s day a little easier, helping them to get what they came for with a given app. When Shirobako ran in 2014 and 2015, I’d not yet decided on my career choice. By now, having had almost five full years of iOS Development in Swift and CocoaTouch under my belt, returning to see where Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa are now, and their remarks about their own career advancement, allowed me to appreciate Shirobako from a new perspective. The questions that they each face in their careers, namely, what they enjoy about it and why they each wish to continue, is a question I find that viewers with careers will find particularly worthwhile to consider. Shirobako shows that Aoi enjoys her line of work because producing anime and delivering a high-quality products to thousands of viewers, and being able to bring the pictures in someone’s mind’s eye to life is immensely rewarding. Shirobako provides a rock-solid reason for why Aoi is able to put on a smile every morning and go to work, and it does much to keep her taking the next step forwards even when that next step isn’t clear. Exiting Shirobako: The Movie, the future of MusAni is uncertain, but with a new project to take on, one hopes that hard work here could help the company to build its reputation back up and allow Aoi to continue pursuing her dream of one day bringing anime to life together with her best friends.

Skyfall: A Reflection and Revisitation of Themes and Triumphs In The Twenty-Third James Bond Film

“Chairman, ministers: today, I’ve repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. Why do we need agents, the 00 section? Isn’t it all rather quaint? Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me. I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they aren’t nations. They are individuals. And look around you – who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No, our world is not more transparent now, it’s more opaque! It’s in the shadows – that’s where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves – how safe do you feel?” –M

MI6 Agent James Bond and trainee Eve are in pursuit of an agent who has made off with a hard drive containing the identities of British operatives embedded in terrorist cells around the world. When a pursuit ends in Bond being accidentally shot, the hard drive is lost, and Bond is presumed dead. Three months later, after a public inquiry, M is pushed to retire by Gareth Mallory, and MI6 is compromised. When Bond learns of this, he returns to London. Despite failing physical and aptitude tests, M authorises his return to the field with the aim of having Bond retrieve the hard drive and eliminate the assassin who’d originally taken it. Tailing the assassin to Shanghai, Bond kills him before learning the identity of his employer, but a poker chip sends him to a Macau casino, where he encounters Sévérine. She promises to help Bond out if he can eliminate her employer, bringing him to a derelict island. Here, Bond meets and captures Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who was captured by foreign actors and fell to counter-terrorism. Back in London, Q attempts to decryt Silva’s laptop, inadvertently introducing a virus into their system and allowing Silva to escape. It turns out that Silva was desiring revenge against M for having abandoned him on an assignment decades earlier, and he plans to attack a public inquiry. Bond deduces Silva’s intentions and thwarts the attack before taking M to Skyfall, his childhood home in Scotland. Q and Bill Tanner design an electronic trail to lure Silva out with Mallory’s tacit approval. After arriving in Scotland, with gamekeeper Kincaid’s help, Bond and M prepare the house for an attack. They fend off the first of Silva’s men, but Silva himself appears later and lays siege to the house with incendiary grenades. Kincaid leads M through a priest’s hole to a church, and Bond rigs explosives that destroys the house, along with the helicopter. Silva pursues them and reaches the church before Bond, begging M to kill them both, but Bond kills Silva with a knife. M succumbs to her wounds and dies. After M’s funeral, Eve introduces herself as Moneypenny, and Mallory is appointed as the new M, briefing a Bond who is ready to take up his next assignment. Skyfall is the twenty-third 007 movie in the franchise and released in 2012 to positive reception for reintroducing classic elements from James Bond films with a modernised spin.

At its core, Skyfall covers the idea surrounding the worth of human resources in an age where SIGINT has begun to vastly outperform HUMINT in terms of efficacy, accuracy and safety. These themes permeate the film: while M continues to run the 00-section and use field operatives, villain Raoul Silva specialises in electronic communications and cyberwarfare, exploiting lapses in MI6’s security to accomplish his revenge. Q remarks he can do more damage with a few well-placed lines of code than 007 could in a month. At the public inquiry, the minister questioning M wonders why there’s a need for human intelligence at all when almost all of it can seemingly be gathered with a keyboard and mouse. The vulnerability of MI6 to this novel form of intelligence, then, speaks to society’s shift away from more conventional means of getting things done. As M rightly puts, enemies no longer operate behind unified banners or a centralised organisation. They are becoming increasingly anonymous and decentralised. Even with the best technology in the world, good guys operate against an enemy that is cunning, ruthless and elusive. However, as formidable as they are with a keyboard, the cleverest villain still has weaknesses, and this is something that one cannot pick up from behind a screen – upon meeting Q for the first time, Bond remarks that what HUMINT offers that SIGINT cannot is the ability to make a crack decision, whether or not to metaphorically (or literally) pull a trigger. There are things that one can ascertain in person that would be much trickier to investigate remotely, and hence, there remains a need to strike a balance between the old and the new. This balance is demonstrated as Q and Bond work together during Silva’s escape, as well as when they lure Silva to Skyfall estate for the climactic conclusion: away from his keyboard and mouse, Silva and his thugs are mortal men vulnerable to bullets, blades and fire. In the end, Skyfall indicates that against foes that would hide behind a keyboard, it is a combination of the old and new ways that work best, although even then, sacrifices often need to be made if one means to secure victory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I watched Skyfall in theatres eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with what the film had brought to the table – it was a striking balance of tradition and modernisation, reintroducing familiar characters in new roles and new personalities. The film opens with a lengthy chase sequence: after a hard drive is stolen, Bond pursues an assassin through Istanbul in an attempt to retrieve it. Dispensing with the iconic gun barrel, Skyfall continues in the vein of Craig’s movies in being grittier. I realise that, even back in 2012, Skyfall was better remembered for Adele’s rendition of the opening theme (almost to memetic levels), and while her performance of Skyfall was solid, the film itself is phenomenal. This is one of those things where I find myself at odds with the online community, who praised the song and forgot about the movie, and one of the things I aim to address in this post are the merits of Skyfall, which I feel to be under-appreciated.

  • After Bond is accidentally shot when Eve misses the assassin, he is presumed dead, and Thomas Newman’s style begins to make itself heard in Skyfall‘s soundtrack: a contemplative, melancholy tone is found in the incidental music, which mirrors the film’s themes of old and new. The Bond motif can still be heard interspersed throughout the film, cleverly woven into Newman’s compositions, but some of the songs that truly shine are those that have a purposeful sense of modernity to them. Mallory is seen speaking with M here, and in Skyfall, Judi Dench shines – she plays a regal, composed M fully aware of what her department’s purpose is, handling criticisms with dignity and a raw determination to see the job through.

  • After an unknown enemy reroutes gas lines into M’s office, triggering an explosion, MI6 moves its operations underground. This prompts Bond, who had disappeared into the tropics as retirement, to return to London. Bond’s aging was apparent here: he struggles to keep up with the tests, fares poorly as a marksman and walks out of a psychiatric test. It is in Skyfall that the realities of being a field operative are shown – Connery, Moore and Brosnan’s Bonds had suggested that being a spy would be a classy, suave occupation defined by martinis, girls and guns, but with recent thrillers like The Borne Identity, the 007 franchise has begin stepping away from the glorified, idealised vision of espionage in favour of a more down-to-earth, dangerous occupation.

  • The Craig era of 007 movies had initially struggled to make this transition, but by Skyfall, the series has found its footing. I was rather fond of Mallory’s character: he is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, a well-known actor best remembered as Harry Potter‘s Lord Voldemort. In Skyfall, Mallory seems fairly intent on seeing M’s retirement, stating that she’s had a good run and feeling the 00 section to be obsolete. He questions Bond on why he’s bothered to return before leaving M to brief Bond on the next assignment, which sends him to Shanghai.

  • While London only is presented briefly in most 007 films, Skyfall features the city as a more prominent background to remind viewers of the series’ roots. To this end, key scenes surrounding M and MI6 are set in London, and here, Bond heads to meet Q in a museum. K-On! The Movie had its home release a few months prior to Skyfall, and at the time, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the two films’ portrayals of London – both take viewers to more mundane parts of London, including the Underground and museums, but because K-On! had been about exploration, its portrayal of London is much more colourful than Skyfall‘s.

  • Ben Washaw’s Q is quite unlike Desmond Llewelyn’s Q – the latter portrayed Q as an eccentric, uncommonly talented inventor whose genius lay in being able to conceal weapons in common, everyday objects. He enjoyed a light-hearted relationship with 007, briefing him on the gadgets that would come to save Bond’s skin in each movie, and constantly lamented that his gear never came back in pristine condition. Conversely, as a younger Q, Washaw’s talents in mechanical engineering, while still impressive, are secondary to his ability as a programmer and computer scientist. Q’s first exchange with Bond is a reminder of Skyfall‘s themes, challenging viewers to consider where the line between youthfulness and age, innovation and efficiency, is struck.

  • It is therefore unsurprising that Skyfall‘s Q equips Bond with a fingerprint-encoded Walther PPK and a radio transmitter before Bond leaves for Shanghai: this is a back to the basics loadout that evokes memories of Dr. No (when Bond switches over to the PPK), From Russia With Love (Q’s first introduction), Goldfinger (the radio transmitter), License to Kill (another fingerprint-encoded rifle) and GoldenEye (mention of an exploding pen). Once in Shanghai, Bond takes the time to do laps in a pool before setting off to tail his quarry, the assassin he had been pursuing in Istanbul.

  • In Shanghai, Bond’s old strength appears to begin returning to him: the assassin enters a building for another job, and Bond is forced to cling to an elevator to ensure he doesn’t lose the assassin. While Bond cannot stop the assassination, or prevent the assassin from falling to his death in the subsequent confrontation, he does manage to find a poker chip that points him to a casino in Macau. The fight here was a visual spectacle: as Bond and the assassin struggle to gain the upper hand over the other, the electronic signage of the building adjacent floods the floor in an unearthly light, giving the fight a surreal feeling.

  • Skyfall continues to subvert expectations for what a Bond movie is, but it also finds novel ways of playing the characters off one another: a recurring occurrence in Bond films was Moneypenny and Bond’s flirtations, which had a humourous tone to them. When Eve is sent to Macau to assist Bond, she helps him freshen up before they hit the casino. It creates a more human side to Bond’s character: previous series had presented Bond as a gentleman, but a stone-cold killer who brushed off death as an occupational hazard, and remorse as an impediment to his assignment. Craig’s Bond is more layered: he is someone who struggles with the balance between his duties and finding a meaningful human connection ever since the death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

  • While ostensibly set in Macau, Skyfall‘s portrayal of the colonial city is entirely fictional: there is no district of Macau hosting a sprawling casino, and in fact, Macau counts itself as the Chinese version of Las Vegas, with hotels and casinos rivalling those of Vegas’ Strip. I concede that Skyfall probably intended to create a more exotic portrayal of Macau to set the scene apart from Shanghai, which was correctly presented as a glittering metropolis. If memory serves, Bond also visits a floating casino in Macau during the events of The Man With the Golden Gun, lending additional credence to the idea that the choice to create a fictionalised Macau was deliberate.

  • At the casino, Bond meets Sévérine, a woman who was once a sex slave and currently works for a mysterious employer, whom she remarks to be fear incarnate. She agrees to help Bond out if he promises to take her employer out, and he agrees. Bond Girls figure in most 007 movies, although the precise definition of what makes a Bond Girl is not agreed on, ranging from “love interest” to any female character with a considerable role in the film. In this sense, Skyfall breaks the convention because the film’s romantic aspects are minimal. I’ve always found the romance in James Bond movies to be generally weak, a token aspect of the film compared to the spectacle of explosions and car chases. It is only in films like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale, where Bond considers retirement to be with someone important to him, where the romance becomes more meaningful.

  • Conversely, in Skyfall, besides Sévérine, the women (Eve and M) play a much larger role in the plot itself, setting in motion the events that leads Bond to the villain. This aspect of Skyfall shows that a Bond movie could hypothetically do without Bond Girls and still tell a compelling story. With this in mind, a Bond film without a Bond Girl probably would not be counted as a true James Bond movie: this is that balance between tradition and innovation that Skyfall itself speaks to, and I feel that Skyfall itself did a decent job of exploring these new realms. Here, after cashing in the poker chip that was meant as the assassin’s payment and taking a drink, Bond defeats Sévérine’s bodyguards, convincing her that he is up to the task. The palm-encoded gun comes in handy here when one of the henchmen grabs Bond’s PPK, but it refuses to fire, leaving him to be bitten by a Komodo Dragon.

  • Ultimately, Sévérine takes Bond to meet her employer, an unusual character who is physically unimposing, but also unstable. This is Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who turned to criminal activities after being abandoned. His hideout is on an island that resembles Hashima Island: the real Hashima Island was originally a coal-mining island, and had been home to mines since 1887. By 1916, the island’s first concrete apartment was constructed to accommodate miners and their families. These structures were intended to protect against typhoons and would soon dominate the island over the next five decades, but when the coal seams began running dry in the 1970s, the island was abandoned. Here, Silva’s setup can be seen: he’s running servers in a large room that resemble the crudely-assembled rigs that crypto-currency miners use.

  • For Sévérine’s betrayal, Silva decides to execute her, concealing it as a sporting game where the object is to knock a shot of Scotch from her head using an old Percussion Cap Ardesa 1871 Duelling Pistol. Aware that Bond’s marksmanship is poor, Silva anticipates that Bond might accidentally hit Sévérine in the process. Bond deliberately misses, and Silva shoots her himself, declaring himself the winner of that contest. However, Bond manages to turn the tables on Silva and kills all of his guards, just as a contingent of helicopters arrive to take Silva in.

  • In a way, Silva represents a proper modern villain, driven not by grandiose plans for changing the world, but rather, petty revenge. Given the prevalence of petty flame wars on social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit, Silva’s motivations are in keeping with the times, and I’ve found the world’s blind faith in social media opinions to be a disturbing one. I imagine that many of the people behind popular hate memes and misinformation campaigns out there would resemble Silva: possessing some talent, but ultimately, unstable and motivated by trivial reasons. Just because Silva is petty, however, does not mean he is any less dangerous.

  • As Q quickly discovers, breaches in a computer network do not usually result just from an adversary having a superior algorithm for defeating security, but rather, as a result of being played. Social engineering, rather than an uncommon brilliance with writing algorithms that can crack encryption hashing, is how most hacks are carried out – while most films suggest that all one needs is a strong mathematics background, Linux or Ubuntu and fast fingers to be a hacker, the reality is that hackers are frighteningly good actors, counting on their ability to lie and deceive their way into a position where they can access sensitive data. Silva’s done precisely this, engineering his capture and counting on Q to be careless in order to break into MI6’s systems and create enough disorder to go after M.

  • During the inquiry, the minister questioning M goes on such a long-winded spiel about the usefulness of field agents coming to the end, that Mallory asks her to allow M to speak, as this was the purpose of the hearing. The minister is played by Helen Elizabeth McCrory, and while I initially thought she had played Dolores Umbridge, it turns out she’s actually the actress for Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter. Despite the claims against her approach, M remains calm and explains that she stands by her work because of the changing world: it is precisely because the world is changing that tried and true ways need to be retained and act as a measure of defending things the old fashioned way while newer techniques are refined.

  • Having eluded Bond in the London Underground, Silva arrives at the hearing and opens a firefight, hoping to kill M. Fortunately, Bond is not too far behind Silva and dispatches most of Silva’s henchmen. Mallory takes a bullet during the firefight while trying to protect M, and after Bond shoots a pair of fire extinguishers to create a smoke cover, Silva is forced to flee when he’s lost the initiative lost. With Silva gone for now and M safe, Bond decides it’s time to head elsewhere, on account of Silva’s considerable reach and resources, somewhere where they’d have the edge over Silva.

  • To ensure that Silva can locate M and himself, Bond asks Q to create a trail for Silva to follow, likely by mimicking the tracking signals used by MI6 company cars, with the aim of luring Silva into the open. The operation is not strictly by-the-book or legal, prompting Q to remark that his “promising career in espionage” might be over before it really began. While it took some getting used to, Washaw’s Q is actually a nice change of pace from Llewelyn and Cleese’s Q – while as brilliant as his predecessors, Washaw’s Q is still learning the ropes surrounding intelligence, and makes mistakes on the job, making him more relatable. I’ve long joked that Cillian Murphy might be suited for portraying Hibike! Euphonium‘s Noboru Taki, but now that I think about it, Washaw wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

  • A part of keeping M safe includes switching over to the Aston Martin DB5, which first made its debut in Goldfinger. Capable of reaching 100 km/h from zero in eight seconds and reaching a top speed of 233 km/h, the DB5 became famous as being the first Bond car to be equipped with an array of unusual features: an oil slick, tire spikes, front-facing .30 calibre machine guns and an ejector seat. In Skyfall, this appears to be the original DB5 from the Goldfinger days in-universe, as the car is equipped with the ejector seat. In a in a bit of a humourous moment, Bond idly fingers the button under the transmission column when M remarks the car isn’t very comfortable, and it seems she knows precisely what the ejector seat is about.

  • When Mallory notices Bill Tanner and Q writing a phoney tracking signal, rather than reprimand them, he instead suggests to set the Scotland segment of the signal down the A9, which is the longest road in Scotland and therefore, well covered by traffic cameras. Mallory begins the film as someone who questions M’s efficacy, but over the course of Skyfall, comes to see M’s standpoint on why having field agents and HUMINT is so important – the attempt on M’s life and his efforts to defend her show that Mallory is someone who does what he feels is best, and moreover, is someone who isn’t unwilling to admit when there are merits to the other side’s perspective.

  • The unique terrain in Scotland accounts for its world-famous gloomy weather, where it is rainy and overcast for a fair portion of the year. The weather is so prevalent that the Scots even have their own word to describe it: dreich. It seems appropriate to send Bond and M up here: there is a sort of melancholy about as they make their way to Bond’s childhood home. I am generally not fond of weather such as this, but I concede that there is a charm about the miserable, grey weather that is perfect when one feels the inclination to do some introspection and brood a little.

  • After arriving at Skyfall, M and Bond meet gamekeeper Kincaid, a gruff but warm individual not unlike Hagrid. One would be forgiven for thinking they could find Hogwarts nearby – the famous School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is also set in the Scottish Highlands, and up here, Bond’s comment about going back in time holds true. An ancient stone house in the middle of nowhere, far removed from the wireless connections of the world, feels like a place befitting of a “better man wins” face-off. With Kincaid’s help, Bond and M rig the old home with improvised traps and uses whatever’s available to prepare for the inevitable firefight against Silva and his henchmen. Bond initially asks Kincaid to sit this one out, but ever loyal to the Bond family, Kincaid declines and readies his Charles Parker 1878 double-barrelled shotgun for the fight.

  • As evening sets in, Silva’s first wave of men begin showing up. Bond uses the DB5’s machine guns to mow them down, and then picks off survivors with a double-barrelled Anderson Wheeler 500 NE. Inside the house, the various traps finish off any stragglers. A lull steals across the landscape, and in the distance, The Animal’s cover of Boom Boom begins playing, announcing Silva’s arrival. I know The Animals best for their classic, House of the Rising Sun, and listening to the lyrics in Boom Boom, it seems an appropriate choice of song for Silva, expressing his thoughts about wiping M and Bond out. This creates a jovial atmosphere that stands in complete contrast with the mood that surrounds Skyfall and its final firefight.

  • After disposing of the first wave of Silva’s henchmen, Bond picks up an HK-416 D10RS to provide himself with more firepower. Considered to be one of the best assault rifles around, handling very well and shooting accurately, the HK-416 uses a short-stroke piston system that was based on the G36 line of rifles but sports a frame similar to the AR-15 family of rifles. The D10RS has a barrel length of 264 mm and is one of the more compact variants of the HK-416. After Silva arrives, he orders the DB5 destroyed and begins tossing incendiary grenades into the house in an attempt to flush M and Bond out. Kincaid takes M through the priest tunnel, and Bond rigs some dynamite he’d retrieved from the quarry to blow a pair of large gas tanks.

  • Kincaid and M make it through the priest tunnel and find the home burning: when the gas tanks exploded, it killed most of Silva’s men, and stunned the helicopter pilots, causing them to crash into the house. The resulting explosion is even larger than the first and flattens the old stone house. Bond himself barely escapes in the priest tunnel and comes out the other end, but unlike Kincaid, who knows the area well, he is forced to traverse a frozen lake and defeats the remainder of Silva’s men after falling into the frozen water.

  • Climactic battles in James Bond movies are always my favourite part of the film, featuring some of the most impressive action scenes. Some of the best final fights include the raid on Fort Knox in Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice‘s assault on Blofeld’s volcano hideout, the firefight on Stromberg’s Liparus in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker‘s space battle, which marks the only time a James Bond ever was in space. While Moonraker‘s fight can be seen as ludicrous, as my first 007 movie, I personally enjoyed it greatly. By comparison, Skyfall‘s final fight is nothing outrageous or of an impressive scale, but it works well enough for the story, being an old-fashioned gun fight in a field where skill with a keyboard and mouse has no bearing.

  • While Bond is distracted fighting the remaining henchman, Silva notices Kincaid’s flashlight and follows it to find M and Kincaid in an old chapel. He implores M to shoot them both so they die together for their sins, but fortunately, Bond arrives just in time to throw a knife into Silva’s chest, killing him. It’s a bit of an anti-climactic death for Silva to symbolise the futility of his actions, and that for all of his field experience and knowledge in cyber-warfare, he is still just an ordinary man.

  • In Skyfall‘s most poignant moment, M succumbs to her wounds and dies. However, rather than dying to someone who had a vendetta against her, she dies in the company of her best 00 Agent – while Bond might not be the most by the book 00 Agent she has, he’s the most resourceful and committed to doing his job, no matter the cost, and there is a symbolism about dying in a chapel, just as her current job of identifying and bringing the perpetrator Silva to justice comes to a close. With Judi Dench’s M deceased, her role as M draws to a close, and I admit that I was very fond of her portrayal as M – previous Ms were played by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, who portrayed a stern, serious intelligence head that embodies the English spirit. Dench, on the other hand, handles the post-Cold War MI6 with a matronly dignity.

  • After M’s death, Mallory is promoted to be the new M. Bond briefly contemplates the old M’s passing before returning to his duties. However, M’s death weighs on Bond heavily, and in Spectre, it is revealed that Bond is secretly investigating a lead M had been working on prior to her death, similarly to how Harry, Ron and Hermione continued to pursue Horcruxes after Dumbledore’s death. With this, my revisit of Skyfall draws to a close. For the themes that it covers and the fact that it weaves its themes into the very fabric of how the film was presented, Skyfall is probably my favourite James Bond movie from a story perspective. Despite eight years having passed since I first watched and wrote about the film, Skyfall‘s themes and messages remain relevant today. The film also evokes memories of my undergraduate thesis project, but I will be saving those thoughts when I write about Halo 4, which released in November 2012.

Overall, Skyfall was a superb James Bond experience, being my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film insofar, and while I’ve yet to see No Time To Die, which is supposed to be the last of the Craig Bond films, I imagine that Skyfall will continue to hold the crown of being the top Craig 007 film on account of its themes, presentation and balance between classic Bond experiences, as well as the grittier Craig-style 007. Skyfall cemented Daniel Craig’s suitability as performing James Bond during its run: Casino Royale had presented Bond as being inexperienced, a blunt instrument, and Quantum of Solace was a bit of a disappointment. By Skyfall, Craig plays an aging 007 who is past his prime, determined to continue serving his country even though he is declining both physically and mentally: the idea of returning to old places and older ideas is a recurring theme in the movie, as well, and indicate that while technology has advanced incredibly, the crutch that superior technology offers might not always out-compete raw experience. Skyfall is therefore compelling, telling a story that speaks to the realities of espionage and the world at large: fancy gadgets, fast cars and beautiful women are sidelined in favour of considering relevant social and political conditions in this 007 movie, and consequently, Skyfall does stand out as being one of the more thought-provoking James Bond films for striking a balance between old and new, the overt and the subtle, and respecting the series’ roots while presenting a contemporary, current theme at its core. Eight years ago, Skyfall was an immensely enjoyable film, and presently, topics that the movie covers remain relevant – even more of the world is connected now than it had been in 2012, and the dangers of an over-reliance on technology, as well as not fully understanding what bad-faith actors are utilising technology for, remain ever-present threats on the principles and values that form our institutions. As Skyfall suggests, it is only through a merger of the old and new, experience and innovation, that enemies of our system can be understood and if not overcome, held at bay.

Greyhound: A Movie Reflection, and Some Remarks on Expectation Management in the Military-Moé Genre with a Case Study in Hai-Furi

“This is the captain. We are running down the target. Let us attend our duties well. This is what we’ve trained for.” –Commander Krause

Commander Ernest Krause is assigned to the Atlantic convoy as the captain of the USS Keeling, call-sign “Greyhound”, with the goal of escorting cargo ships carrying vital supplies bound for Liverpool. When the convoy enters the Mid-Atlantic Gap, a treacherous stretch of ocean out of the range of Allied air cover, the Keeling and other Fletcher-class destroyers begin picking up German U-boat signals. They manage to defeat a U-boat before moving to assist the convoy rear on their first day in the Mid-Atlantic Gap. Krause orders his sailors to rescue the crew from a sinking tanker. On the second day, the U-boats resume their attacks, and with their depth charges running out, the Keeling and Dodge manage to sink a U-boat using a broadside from their main guns. In the attack, Krause’s mess attendant is killed. Entering their third day, Krause comes under attack from the remaining U-boats, and manages to evade them long enough for a shore-based Catalina bomber to sink a boat pursuing the Keeling. Relief has arrived, and the convoy cheers on the Keeling’s crew. Exhausted, Krause heads below deck for some much-needed rest. This is Greyhound, a World War Two film starring Tom Hanks as Ernest Krause that was originally intended to be screened in June. However. owing to the global health crisis, the film was never screened theatrically, and instead, the distribution rights were sold to Apple TV+. At its core, Greyhound is a tale of valour and commitment to duty during the Battle of the Atlantic: the whole of Greyhound‘s run is characterised by a sense of unease and dread at the unseen enemy, as well as admiration for Krause’s ability to effectively lead and command his ships despite this being his first-ever wartime command. The result is a gripping and compelling film that accentuates the sort of leadership and teamwork that naval combat demands; to overcome a merciless, invisible foe, every single member of a ship’s crew must do their duties well. I certainly had fun watching Greyhound, and during its ninety minute runtime, I was riveted by the film. The emphasis on anti-submarine warfare in a World War Two setting, however, also brought back memories of Hai-Furi: this 2016 anime dealt with an alternate world where high school students learn to operate World War Two era naval vessels and train to be effective members of a naval patrol to keep the world’s oceans safe.

Hai-Furi: The Movie‘s home release will be coming out later today, making it appropriate to consider how differences between war films and the military-moé genre require an accordingly different approach: one of the leading challenges I’ve seen in finding any good discourse on the latter stems from a consequence of mismanaged expectations. In particular, regardless of which military-moé series I follow, it seems inevitable that I will always run into a certain kind of viewer who deems it necessary to gripe about some minor detail in said work, ranging from the fact that Darjeeling besting Miho in each of their engagements was an insult to her, or how the Long Lance torpedoes carried by the Harekaze should’ve done more damage to the Musashi than was portrayed. The reason why viewers fixate on these details stem from the fact that they approach military-moé as a “military work with high school girls in it”, rather than “high school girls doing military activities”. The former presupposes that the military story is given greater emphasis, akin to a work such as Greyhound, Saving Private Ryan or The Hunt For Red October, where the focus is on an event and its people. In a war film, the characters might be drawn from history, and the plot is dedicated to telling how something unfolded, as well as how people responded to the aftermath. Such works feature trained personnel and professional soldiers with background, so the characters’ competence is never a major point of contention. Viewers then watch the work with the expectation that these characters put their knowledge to use in exceptional circumstances: for instance, in The Hunt For Red October, sonar technician Ronald Jones is able to use an innovative manner in order to track the Red October because, in addition to possessing the background as a sonar operator, Jones was also characterised to be very bright, with an eye for small details. Conversely, in the latter, seeing high school girls as ordinary people operating extraordinary gear means accepting that they are going to make rookie mistakes, commit to decisions on the basis of emotion rather than experience and even forget the fundamentals. A major component of this story is learning skill to be effective with their tools, and the discipline to work cohesively as a team; with time, these mistakes go away, and this journey is an essential part of the journey.

These two different approaches in mind are the difference between night and day; a viewer who enters military-moé on the assumption that they are watching students learn, discover and make mistakes along the way will interpret an event very differently than someone who watches that same work with the expectation that high school girls will have the same degree of competence, professionalism and experience as soldiers would. The disconnect between this can be disappointing if one’s expectations are not appropriate. Two particularly vivid examples come to mind here. In Girls und Panzer, protagonist Miho Nishizumi had left her old school after making a decision to save her classmates, who’d fallen into a river during the championship round. Her call costs her school the match. From a military perspective, Miho’s decision was unsound: the correct call would’ve been to communicate and have a higher-up make the final decision. Had Miho been leading a retreat, she may have led to the death of her entire armoured column, rather than lose her school the championship. However, the same decision, seen from the viewpoint of someone who sees Girls und Panzer as a high school anime with an uncommon activity, Miho’s decision makes sense: she cares about her teammates, and values those around her over victory. This paints Miho as a kind-hearted individual, a positive outlook on the same decision. Whereas those who view military-moé from the armoured warfare perspective would’ve found reason to disagree with Miho, those who saw Panzerfahren as a high school sport will find positivity in what Miho did. There is no question that the latter would be more accepting of Miho than the former. Similarly, in Hai-Furi, when Akeno left her ship in a bid to save Moeka, the all-serious perspective would be that Akeno’s decisions are rash, and that delegation would have been the correct answer here, which would have allowed her to retain command and keep abreast of a situation while her subordinates carried out her orders. However, at the same time, this moment had occurred very early in the series, and from the perspective that Hai-Furi was about learning, this moment simply shows that Akeno was not mature yet. Indeed, Akeno does learn to trust her subordinates and delegates leadership of a rescue operation to Mashiro later on. Seeing this was rewarding, and similarly to Girls und Panzer, it becomes evident that military-moé confers viewers with the most enjoyment when treated as a story about high school girls, doing activities that are military in nature, rather than a military setting that happens to have high-school aged girls in it.

Commentary and Other Remarks

  • Krause commands a Fletcher-class, a venerable line of destroyers that was designed in 1939 and was involved extensively in every aspect of naval warfare during World War Two. Besides the original specifications to carry at least five 5 inch guns, a pair of depth charge racks at the stern, six smaller launchers and ten deck-mounted torpedo tubes, the Flecher’s large size allowed it to carry a pair of 40 mm Bofors cannons in a quadruple mount, as well as six 20 mm dual anti-air guns. The Flecher class could reach a maximum speed of 70 km/h, and altogether, was a formidable vessel that would’ve been more than a match for Japan’s equivalent, the Fubuki-class.

  • If and when I’m asked, Tom Hanks has become one of my favourite actors for his ability to wear a variety of hats well. In Greyhound, he presents Commander Krause as a dedicated leader who leads by example. Out of combat, he is a polite, devout individual, who says Grace before taking a meal and breaks up fisticuffs amongst his crew. During combat, Krause is concise, focused and calm: he congratulates his crew where credit is due, looks out for them by doing the best he can despite limited resources and wastes no time in making the call to help ships in distress.

  • With Hanks’ skill as an actor, Krause really comes to life. Previous films saw Hanks play similarly capable characters, whether it was John H. Miller in Saving Private Ryan, Sully‘s Chesley Sullenberger or Bridge of Spies‘ James B. Donovan. Hanks has a very matter-of-fact, down-to-earth style about his performances. Where he is cast as a professional, he wears the role exceedingly well, giving viewers a reassuring sense that no matter the challenge ahead, Hanks’ character will lead the others towards their goals.

  • The sort of leadership that Krause has in Greyhound is exemplary, and leaves no doubt in the viewers’ mind that the Keeling’s crew are in capable hands and therefore, able to do their duties well. In most war movies, it can be safely assumed that the characters will be generally competent. Conversely, in Hai-Furi, when viewers were first introduced to Akeno and her crew, they seemed quite incapable of surviving even a training exercise. This was deliberate; the point of Hai-Furi and other military-moé anime is typically to place emphasis on the experiences characters have en route to becoming a proper team.

  • Consequently, I have no issue with story choices presenting characters as being incompetent or making rookie mistakes in anime: we are dealing with youth in situations that are either completely out of their depth (Strike WitchesIzetta: The Last WitchHai-Furi, Warlords of Sigrdrifa) or are in a setting where mistakes are forgivable (Girls und Panzer). In the context of anime, the story typically has a theme surrounding teamwork, friendship and hard work, all of which require the occasional mistake-making to accommodate the lessons being learnt. Conversely, in movies like Greyhound1917Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, the objective is to tell a specific story about a group of people and their experiences.

  • There is a very large gap in what war films aim to do, and what anime in a military setting aim to do; this accounts for the discrepancy between something like Greyhound and Hai-Furi. As a result, when I watch an anime, I’m going to enter the same way I’d approach judging a youth science fair. Because I am adjudicating projects made by youth, who may not have the same depth of knowledge an adult might, I am much more forgiving of their mistakes, and care more about how well they understand what they’re doing, as well as whether they gave any thought to the implications of their results and applications of their findings.

  • Conversely, when I’m sitting in on seminars and presentations made by peers, I am able to look at their projects more critically and really probe to see whether or not the project is sound, as well as how the presenter handle any constraints in their process. Because a peer is going to be knowledgeable in the field, I can poke further and try to enrich my own learning by asking trickier questions. The same holds true in films: in war movie like Greyhound, it is okay for me to expect characters to act professionally and with competence because that is the background the movie has established.

  • Indeed, Krause’s leadership was probably one of my favourite aspects of the film: one subtle detail I particularly enjoyed was how courteous Krause was to his mess officer, and how despite being offered his meals on the bridge, Krause would always politely refuse meals mid-combat, preferring to take a coffee and eat once he was reasonably certain there were no more sonar contacts. Seeing this doubtlessly would’ve inspired his men to keep at it: if fighting under a leader who was willing to give it their all, this would be highly motivating.

  • Greyhound was a very suspenseful movie: even though the film’s outcome is a foregone conclusion, how the film reaches said conclusion always leaves much to the imagination. A good film is really able to make viewers feel as though they were right there with the characters, and in Greyhound, the tension felt when the sonar officer begins seeing blips on their screen, signaling the presence of U-boats, was palatable.

  • As the Keeling engages U-boats and begins to run low on depth charges, Krause is forced to improvise, eventually using a surface broadside to sink one of the pursing U-boats. U-boats were equipped with either the SK C/35 or SK C/32 deck guns, allowing them to engage surface targets. These guns were nowhere near as powerful as a surface vessel’s main guns, and indeed, began to be phased out as surface vessels became increasingly powerful: submarines would turn to stealth as their ultimate defense. However, the weapons are still lethal, and during this engagement, Krause’s mess officer is killed.

  • After a short ceremony to pay respects to the fallen, Krause returns his focus onto the task at hand: it may seem callous, but grief can be a distraction from the remaining danger, and it speaks volumes to Krause’s resolve as he shifts attention back to his duties. In a manner of speaking, the dead would have truly died in vain had Krause allowed grief to consume him, costing him the mission and the lives of those serving under him. The ability to compartmentalise emotions from duty makes a leader, who recognises that carrying out their responsibilities is also a way to respect the fallen.

  • Of course, in an anime, I wouldn’t expect the same of high school students. Besides a gap in emotional maturity as a result of life experiences, the differences in brain chemistry between a teen and an adult are dramatic. In teens, the frontal lobe is not fully developed, and this leads to decisions that may come across as rash to an adult. Conversely, adults, with their fully-developed frontal lobes, are able to slow down, regroup and reason out a solution even during more challenging, stressful situations. As such, when anime characters overreact during times of crisis (such as Rin Shiretoko’s tendency to dissolve into tears whenever the Harekaze comes under fire), I do not count this against them.

  • Having firmly established how I watch military-moé anime and war movies with a different mindset, backed with both literary and scientific reasoning, I am curious to know why some folks expect high school girls in military-moé settings to behave as trained professional adults would: it is one thing to take real life seriously and do a satisfactory job of one’s occupation, but people turn to entertainment to relax, not shout themselves hoarse trying to convince others of a particular perspective regarding said works of entertainment. As such, the severity that some approach military-moé with is a bit confusing for me.

  • At the height of its run, Hai-Furi discussions were focused purely around the improbability of its premise, and discussions ran on everything from how no known pathogen could cause the phenomenon observed in Hai-Furi, to how Akeno’s behaviours should have landed her a court-martial. Very few people chose to focus on the actual developments between Akeno and Mashiro. Hai-Furi was never meant to be a speculative fiction portraying the survival of humanity in a world with higher sea levels, and so, the lack of realism was never a problem – at the end of Hai-Furi, Akeno learnt to be an effective leader without thoughtlessly wading into a problem, while Mashiro accepts Akeno as her commander. As such, while the series was far from perfect, it remained quite enjoyable.

  • During the course of Greyhound, the German U-boat commanders occasionally will open up the radio and taunt Krause. He simply ignores them and continues on in his duties, placing his faith in his crew to do their jobs better than the U-boat crews will do theirs. In the climatic final moments before the convoy exits the Mid-Atlantic gap, Krause and the Keeling are pursued by a dogged U-boat, and having exhausted their depth charges, all Krause can do is attempt to out-manoeuvre their foe. Just when it seems the Keeling’s luck has reached its end, a PBY Catalina arrives and drops its payload of depth charges into the water, sinking the U-boat.

  • The idea that Hai-Furi is an anime form of The Hunt For Red October is a mistaken one, and one that has its origins on Reddit, after a user found an interview where scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida, in response to a question about whether or not external sources had been used for Hai-Furi as references, replied:

吉田 鈴木さんから参考資料を貸していただいたり、映画はいくつか観ました。『レッドオクトーバーを追え』などですね。船内の生活の参考にしています。

Besides the reference materials that director Suzuki lent me, I also watched some films. For instance, I referenced The Hunt For Red October as a source for life on board (a ship).

  • This particular Reddit post received very little attention (amassing a grand total of eleven up-votes and seven comments altogether), and the suggestion that The Hunt For Red October was related to Hai-Furi was only of tangential interest to viewers, at least until one Myssa Rei found it and decided to rephrase the interview as “the entire staff watched The Hunt For Red October as a reference. Let that sink in”.

  • With Myssa Rei’s claims, suddenly, the community felt it necessary to analyse every nut and bolt in Hai-Furi to ensure the series was accurate. Many viewers began to assume that Hai-Furi was an anime counterpart to The Hunt For Red October, which naturally resulted in the series failing to meet expectations. Hai-Furi‘s story is completely different, and submarines only figure in one episode, whereas in The Hunt For Red October, the focus had been on proving the captain of a cutting-edge Soviet submarine was defecting. Conversely, I would argue that Greyhound is more similar to Hai-Furi than The Hunt For Red October ever was: both Greyhound and Hai-Furi have a destroyer as its focus and focus on World War Two-era hardware.

  • Of course, had I attempted to correct Myssa Rei, I would’ve at best, been ignored, or at worst, been called out for being rude to an idol. Her impact on anime discussions remains an excellent example of how misinformation can spread – for reasons beyond my understanding, she was regarded as an expert on all things military-moé, and even where she made mistakes, people continued to consider her claims as fact. Compounding things, Myssa Rei would become very defensive when her mistakes were pointed out, resulting in flame wars. I can only imagine how exhausting it was to maintain such a confrontational, know-it-all attitude for over a decade. This was evidently not something that could be maintained – Myssa Rei eventually faded from prominence, leaving behind a legacy of negatively influencing how people would approach military-moé.

  • Hai-Furi: The Movie released mere hours ago to BD earlier today (October 28 in Japan, and October 27 for me): this post was deliberately timed to coincide with the release, and I remark that I have every intention of writing about the film once I’ve sat down and looked through it. Admittedly, with Myssa Rei absent, more rational, level-headed folks are free to continue their own discussions without needing to pay her deference in order to have their perspectives considered. I anticipate that conversations surrounding the recently-released Hai-Furi: The Movie will be rather more peaceable, and so, I look forwards to checking out this movie for myself.

  • While Hai-Furi: The Movie might’ve just come out today, I imagine it’ll be a few days before the BDs start making their way to folks who’ve purchased them. In the meantime, anyone looking for an engaging naval film will find Greyhound to be an excellent watch: despite being only ninety minutes long, Greyhound is a veritable experience that captures and conveys the dread of anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Because I subscribe to the idea that military-moé is “high school girls doing military activities”, I generally have a great deal of fun with these series, seeing how the hardware fits together with the slice-of-life pieces and discoveries made during battle. This is why I typically end up finding something positive to say about a given series, whether it be Strike Witches, Girls und Panzer, Kantai Collection, Hai-Furi and even Warlords of Sigrdrifa: I do not expect the characters to be professional soldiers with extensive experience in their area of expertise, nor do I expect the characters to carry out all of their missions with the focus of a soldier. My expectations therefore liberate me from having to worry about what’s realistic or reasonable, leaving me to freely enjoy the story that comes from the characters and their experiences. It is often disappointing that some folks often forget how to have fun whenever they partake in military-moé series: such stories, while making extensive use of real-world military equipment and tactics, still feature high school students as their protagonists, and consequently, it would be unfair to expect of students what we would of adults. To approach military-moé with such a negative mindset creates a diminished experience, and one must wonder if there is any point to taking anime this seriously to begin with, especially when considering that anime is intended to entertain, first and foremost. With Hai-Furi: The Movie on the horizon, I’ve been fortunate to avoid all spoilers for it during the past nine months, and I have every intention of writing about it once I finish. I have no idea what’s coming, but I am fairly confident that the approach I’ve taken towards watching such films will allow me to have a pleasant time. For like-minded folks, I’m positive that this film (and other military-moé works) will prove enjoyable, whereas those who find my methods to be unsavoury would do better to steer clear of military-moé and stick with other fiction dealing in war: movies like Greyhound or The Hunt For Red October should be more palatable for those who prioritise detail and realism, as well as competent characters who carry out their duties with utmost devotion.