The Infinite Zenith

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Blue Thermal: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” –Socrates

When Tamaki Tsuru enters university, she determines that she wishes to pursue a færietale romance after being turned down in high school for her athleticism. On the first day of term at Aonagi University, Tamaki decides to check out the tennis club. However, an incident leads her to accidentally damage the Sports Association Aviation Club’s glider, totalling some two million yen worth of repairs. Determined to set things right, Tamaki joins the Aviation Club as an assistant, but she soon catches the eye of senior member and president Jun Kuramochi, who sees potential in her ability. Despite Daisuke Sorachi’s protests, Jun allows her to fly with him, and while Tamaki struggles to master the theory behind flight, her natural ability in a glider’s cockpit allows her to move up the ranks and even begin consider participating in competition, which Jun promises will yield enough funds to pay off the damages. Although it is revealed that the glider had been insured, Jun decides to keep this from Tamaki so she can continue to fly. During a training camp where Aonagi and Hannan’s teams train together. Here, Tamaki is surprised to run into her estranged older step-sister, Chizuru Yano, and Hannan’s hotshot pilot, Kaede Hatori. Although Kaede is disrespectful and rude to Tamaki, her bold and forward personality throws him off, and later, he is surprised to learn that Tamaki had actually beaten her in the trials. Seeing Tamaki getting along with even Kaede impresses Chizuru, who voices to Jun that she’d always been jealous of the freedom Tamaki had. Once training camp is over, Daisuke withdraws from club activities to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, and Jun is pulled away when his sponsor, Yō Asahina, decides that Jun’s destined for more than flying against college-aged pilots. Jun ends up reluctantly accepting an offer to fly in Germany, while Tamaki and the others promise to win the national championships after Yō reveals his past involvement with the Aonagi Aviation Club; having purchased the very glider that Tamaki had damaged, Jun subsequently became beholden to him, and to this end, Tamaki resolves to fly and win for Jun’s sake. When the competition begins, Yō receives news that Jun was involved in a crash in Germany, and struggles to break this news to the Aviation Club. Although the club members are saddened by this news, they promise to keep flying, and on the day of the finals, Daisuke decides to hedge his bets on Tamaki by having her fly last. When her turn comes, Tamaki manages to capitalise on the thermals in the skies and manages to keep up with the other gliders despite having had a slower start. Her impressive performance gives Aonagi its best time, and they end up winning the national championship. Tamaki subsequently presses Yō to make good on his promise, and he takes her to Germany in search of Jun, as well as the blue skies he’d sought out. As it turns out, Jun had survived the crash and, after spotting Tamaki’s glider, rushes off to the airfield, confirming to a tearful Tamaki that he’s still alive. She responds by declaring her intention to keep flying together with Jun unto eternity, prompting Jun to wonder if this is a kokuhaku. This is Blue Thermal, a film that premièred in March of this year and, unusually, saw a home release a mere four months later. True to its title, Blue Thermal delivers on sending viewers into the vast blue skies above as Tamaki earns her wings and discovers a world exceeding any expectations she may have had prior to her first day.

Strictly speaking, Tamaki and Aonagi University operates sailplanes, unpowered aircraft with a slender fuselage and long, thin wings that can pick up currents and climb without an external power source. While lacking the same range and control as a powered aircraft, sailplanes can still travel impressive distances – an experienced pilot can use thermals, ridge lifts and other means to remain airborne for hours at a time and travel hundreds of kilometres. All of this is dependent on pilot skill and an ability to read the environment, and in this way, operating a glider thus serves as an inspired metaphor for life itself, one that suits Tamaki and her introduction into a sport that she’d never anticipated becoming involved with. Unlike powered aircraft, gliders lack the power to fly against heavy winds and cannot sustain a vertical climb. However, rather than using brute force to oppose the weather and gravity, gliders operate by utilising environment conditions to provide lift. This becomes appropriate for Tamaki; she’d gone through high school as a volleyball player and sported a boisterous, rambunctious disposition which dampened her love life. By university, Tamaki desires to play a lower-profile sport with the hope of turning things around. However, when she joins the Aonagi Aviation Club, she appears to set aside her wishes for romance and pursues flight whole-heartedly. Despite a rough start with the club, and clashing vocally with Daisuke, Tamaki rapidly acclimatises to flying. Much as how a glider pilot catches onto thermals and updrafts to stay aloft, Tamaki makes the most of every moment she’s in without forcing her original goal of romance. Her initial goal of paying off the damages to the glider she’d caused Daisuke to wreck eventually transforms into a desire to embrace the open skies and sees the world that Jun sees. Tamaki’s natural prowess with a glider draws parallels her Tamaki’s open-mindedness; while she struggles with the theory, Jun decides to hedge his bets on her after spotting Tamaki’s uncommon ability to fly. Her skills draw the ire of Hannan pilots, but with this same open mind, Tamaki is able to get them to come around – she gains a semi-friendly rivalry with hotshot Kaede, and even manages to reconcile with her half-sister. Through Tamaki and the use of gliders, Blue Thermal shows how freedom is found in possessing an open mind and by rolling with the punches. Much as how gliders can stay in the skies and reach new heights by working with, rather than against, nature, Tamaki finds herself enriched beyond expectations by taking challenges in stride and approaching problems with a plucky, determined attitude. In doing so, Tamaki comes to discover what she’d wanted when she’d entered university.

The transition from secondary to post-secondary is a tumultuous time, of growing accustomed to large lecture halls, challenging material and unyielding schedules, as well as the unparalleled freedom of being in post-secondary and pursuing activities geared towards one’s future. Post-secondary, even more so than high school, is the definitive time to discover oneself and understand one’s strengths. When Tamaki enters university, however, her major isn’t even stated, and Tamaki herself states as much: she’s here to reinvent herself and is most enthusiastic about having a colourful love life. However, when everything changes, Tamaki suddenly develops a keen love for the skies and the freedom it represents. In the skies, she finds the strength to be herself: despite having been rejected earlier for being too loud, Tamaki embraces who she is and never hesitates to speak her mind. When Kaede mocks her for being a novice, Tamaki stands her ground and ends up surprising him. The pair might not get along swimmingly as peas in a pod, but form a begrudging respect for one another. Similarly, Tamaki ends up being the one to ask the Glider Club’s advisors for permission to continue on in the national competition even after news of Jun’s accident reaches their ears. Although the advisors had been looking to withdraw since the news might create unsafe conditions, Tamaki feels that Jun would’ve wished for them to continue flying for their sake. While the others hesitate to express this, Tamaki becomes the first to voice her desires. Being with the Aviation Club and being exposed to the skies’ vastness, helps Tamaki to reaffirm that she didn’t need to change, and at the film’s climax, after she helps Aonagi to win the national championship, her first action is to implore Yō, Jun’s benefactor, to give her a chance to locate him in Germany. Blue Thermal shows how important it is that one is able to be true to themselves, and while Tamaki had originally wanted to become someone who could be more successful at love, joining the Aviation Club would provide her the space in where she could be herself, and in this way, she becomes better equipped to pursue goals on her own terms. Although Blue Thermal dispenses with the romance piece after Tamaki joins the Aviation Club, she comes to discover a new love for the open skies – had she followed through with her original goal, Tamaki might not have had such an opportunity to be true to herself.

Blue Thermal‘s outcomes are touching, and seeing Tamaki make considerable strides in the film was rewarding. However, despite its runtime, Blue Thermal has a lot of moving parts. Jun’s precise relationship with Yō is never explored in greater detail, and similarly, Tamaki ends up getting along with Daisuke despite a rough start. Chizuru manages to overcome her dislike for Tamaki on her own terms rather than through any actions from Tamaki’s part. With the large number of characters in Blue Thermal, many of the ancillary stories go unexplored, leaving the impression that a bit of magic was involved in helping the other characters to find resolution. Even Tamaki’s own ending is open: while she meets up with Jun in the end and shares a tearful moment together, the outcomes are not explored beyond this. The idea of an open ending is one of controversy – a closed ending offers a definitive and satisfying conclusion, decisively showing the reader or viewer that a resolution was reached. Conversely, open endings can be confusing, and the lack of closure may undermine a story’s themes. In the case of Blue Thermal, a coming-of-age drama, the open ending and focus on Tamaki at the expense of presenting a better-fleshed out path for the other characters is appropriate; the film is told from her perspective, drawing parallels with how in reality, one is limited to their own perspective. The folks around oneself often find their own meaningful solutions to problems and make their own decisions without involving others in their thought process. Individuals may catch glimpses into things and even contribute in some way, but ultimately, the process is nowhere nearly as detailed or vivid as one’s own experiences. The approach in Blue Thermal, then, is to parallel this – things that Tamaki experience are incredibly intricate, but the things that happen to those around her are less clear, even chaotic. Daisuke ends up quitting the Aviation Club to pursue his studies but decides to stay on to see the competition through, and Jun reluctantly accepts an offer to compete internationally, leaving his club members behind. The swiftly resolved side stories, and focus on Tamaki, reminds viewers that one cannot be omniscient and know of every detail surrounding every individual they encounter, but with the information that is available to them, one can still make decisions with the information available to them. This is what spurs Tamaki to ultimately decide to keep flying for both herself, and for Jun’s sake. In providing viewers with just enough information to see what motivates Tamaki, her growth remains plausible and natural – even if Blue Thermal does end on an open note, one can suppose that reuniting with Jun allows Tamaki to see what the open skies now mean to her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I still vividly remember my first day of university: my first-ever lecture was health inquiry, and the lecturers opened by stating that there was more to university than memorisation. After the class ended, the lecturers indicated that research was central to health sciences and told us to keep our eyes out for emails coming from the programme coordinator for a list of lab tours. It was through the lab tours that I would find the lab I’d apply to and subsequently become a member of. Unlike Tamaki, who joins the Aviation Club by wrecking one of their gliders, I ended up receiving a position by volunteering, since I’d come up short when applying for undergraduate summer studentships.

  • While I started out in the lab as a volunteer, two months in, my supervisor was impressed with how quickly I picked up the in-house game engine and built an agent-based model of blood oxygenation and deoxygenation, in which red cells could independently keep track of their oxygenation state. This project would not be used for anything, but piqued my curiosity in agent-based modelling, eventually resulting in my undergraduate thesis work. For the course of my research, while I never went to competitions, I did participate in numerous presentations, helped with lab tours, and even gave television interviews with other members of the lab.

  • Tamaki’s journey is no less impressive, and while she starts Blue Thermal a greenhorn that Daisuke is intent on keeping in a low-ranking position, Jun eventually takes a liking to her. Tamaki’s first day with the Aviation Club starts out roughly, and she initially joins on only so she can work off the damages caused to the glider. The Aviation Club’s activities are set in the plains of Japan just outside of Tokyo, a setting that isn’t often explored in anime – most of the series I watch are set in the heart of Tokyo, coastal areas or highly rural regions.

  • Tamaki is basically Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi and Yama no Susume‘s Aoi Yukimura– although sporting a friendly and cheerful demeanour, when provoked, she becomes pouty and foul-mouthed. This set of personality traits is unlike the archetype for most slice-of-life series, but it works well enough in series with a larger drama piece; while adorable and fluffy characters are enjoyable, their happy-go-lucky nature precludes any conflict which drives growth. Tamaki only minimally tolerates Daisuke and sets about doing what he asks, but her fortunes turn around when Jun invites her to fly with him.

  • After taking to the skies, Tamaki channels her inner Aoi and Hina – the choice to use chibi expressions in a series that otherwise felt serious initially felt dubious, but it actually serves an important purpose, lightening up a scene and allowing viewers to relax a little. This is the author’s way of reminding viewers that the work isn’t all-business, and seeing a more human side to the characters help viewers to connect with the characters better. Of course, more serious characters, like Jun, aren’t given the same treatment; this suggests to me that some characters are meant to be more adorable or comical than others.

  • The visuals in Blue Thermal are befitting of a movie, being above-average in terms of detail and fluidity – the film is produced by Telecom Animation Film, which had previously assisted Studio Ghibli to produce films including Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away and The Wind Rises. While the character designs of Blue Thermal are a cross between Makoto Shinkai (Jun resembles the some of Makoto Shinkai’s characters in appearance and presence) and lighter series, the background artwork and overall animation are detailed and smooth.

  • Use of spacing in a frame can help clarify the emotional tenour of a moment, although here in Blue Thermal, such techniques almost feel unnecessary, as the use of chibi expressions speak volumes to what’s on Tamaki’s mind – she’s clearly enjoyed the flight but is reluctant to pursue the club activities, since such a path conflicts with her own desires, but on the flipside, Tamaki also has a sense of integrity about her, and feeling poorly about wrecking the glider, Tamaki cannot help but feel responsible for winning a competition to pay off the damages.

  • Daisuke barely contains his jealousy that Tamaki got to fly with Jun despite being a newcomer. A part of Tamaki becomes motivated to continue flying now; one aspect about her personality that stood out is that she’s a little vindictive, and in conjunction with a willingness to speak her mind, Tamaki stands out as a protagonist in that her mannerisms seem to be at odds with her appearances. These traits ultimately drive what occurs in Blue Thermal, and Tamaki ends up staying with the Aviation Club.

  • Daisuke takes Tamaki to receive her medical check-up and helps her to pick up a learner’s permit. However, when Daisuke badmouths her, she immediately responds by trying to beat up Daisuke. The dynamic between the pair reminds me of Angel Beats!‘ Hideki Hinata and Yui – the pair initially clashed at every turn, but over the course of the show, Hideki and Yui ended up falling for one another. This unlikely pairing shows how love can manifest between even people who outwardly appear incompatible. Angel Beats! was especially moving in this regard, and seeing the conflict between Daisuke and Tamaki created a curious possibility in Blue Thermal.

  • However, Blue Thermal‘s romance piece appears secondary to Tamaki’s experiences in the Aviation Club – after Daisuke helps get Tamaki set up and even chases after her to ensure she’ll pay him back, not much more comes out of things. Instead, things fast forward to a critical point in the Aviation Club – promising new members will have the chance to now fly a glider for themselves because Aonagi’s Aviation Club is serious about competition. In Japan, opportunity is often awarded based on seniority rather than skill, so any time there’s mention that skill and merit come first, one knows that things are getting serious and will invariably give the newcomers there time to shine.

  • This is something that happened in Hibike! Euphonium, and this created all sorts of drama, leading to schisms and disagreements. This is fortunately not the case in Blue Thermal – all of the club members appreciate that their ability to fly is based on skill, and there seems to be no lingering hard feelings amongst the club members who aren’t selected. Depending on what a story intends to do, different things will set off drama, and there is no right or wrong way of doing things, so long as things remain consistent within the story itself.

  • Here, Yukari Muroi and Tamaki catch a breather before Ayako Maki, another club member, approaches Yukari and indicates that her custom overalls are a little too small. Yukari has an idol-like presence about her, and while she feels like an ojou-sama in appearance and through her choice of pink overalls, she gets along with the other club members very well. Characters whose actions are contrary to how their archetypes are portrayed in other series can make for an interesting work, reminding viewers that appearances can be deceiving, and it is hardly a good idea to pre-emptively judge characters early into the game.

  • Once her turn comes up, Tamaki is invited to take the controls of the glider under Jun’s supervision, and the experience proves to be a thrilling one for her – she’s clearly a fast learner and, despite having spent almost no time studying the theory and touching up on the basics, she appears to have a knack for picking things up in a practical sense. Once Jun transfers controls over to her, she intuitively takes over and begins taking her first steps towards becoming a capable glider pilot. Jun certainly seems to have high regard for Tamaki’s potential, and while one might wonder what the basis is for Jun’s assessment is because Blue Thermal doesn’t explicitly state this, it is possible to suppose that watching Tamaki handle things in the cockpit helps Jun to make his conclusion.

  • Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Tamaki – although Jun certainly treats her kindly, she’s still a novice, and after she accidentally loses a screwdriver, she accompanies the mechanical team in searching for it. Tamaki is on the verge of tears at the thought of having let everyone down, and it is likely the case that after this incident, Tamaki becomes more mature and responsible as a result of her learnings. Many of the plot points in Blue Thermal are implicit; the film’s got a lot of elements, and only a limited runtime, so only the most important moments are shown. For viewers who dislike ambiguity, this film will not likely work for them.

  • The flight sequences in Blue Thermal are among my most favourite parts of the film – as Tamaki soars over the Japanese countryside, all of her worries appear to become left behind on the ground. Tamaki improves gradually to the point where she is able to fly solo, and on her first flight alone, she marvels at the sort of freedom being in the skies confers. For me, I admit that the lack of a pair of Pratt & Whitney engines providing thousands of pounds of thrust does feel limiting, but this is because I’m used to using engines to push through currents while pursuing bogies in air combat arcade games. However, in real gliding, experienced pilots work with, rather than against the currents, and this is what makes Blue Thermal so enjoyable.

  • Rather than resisting a force, or adversity, Blue Thermal‘s metaphor lies in embracing a force and going with the flow. At training camp, Tamaki becomes more familiar with the glider and its properties: one could say she’s rising to new heights with her experience, and here, one must surmise that she’s slowly picking up the theory, as well. While a lot of environments favour teaching theory to people first before any practical training takes place, I have found that there are cases where it’s useful to have people get hands-on learning, since this allows one to map something they can do to a theoretical concept.

  • As Tamaki becomes more confident in herself, she becomes as energetic and forward as she’d been previously. It is the case that over time, people begin showing their true selves to others as they open up. Sometimes, this is for the better, as seemingly shy and quiet people contribute more to the team, but at other times, this creates problems, as people begin to slack off. Seeing the real Tamaki at the Aonagi Aviation Club’s training camp elevates things, as she brings a newfound energy to things, and she ends up becoming much closer to Yukari and Ayako, along with Eita Narihara, a photographer.

  • With the first training club drawing to a close, one of the advisors indicates that the first year students have made excellent progress, and Aviation Club sits down to udon for dinner. Tamaki is shown enjoying her meal; while not much of Tamaki’s likes and dislikes are shown directly, simple moments like these speak volumes about characters. Tamaki clearly loves her food, and as such, it is possible to say that meals represents a time for her to unwind. I’m very similar in this regard, and one of my hobbies, albeit one I partake in with reduced frequency compared to watching anime and lifting weights, is going around and trying different foods out.

  • With two poutines in a week, I’m content to try other foods out when I go out next, and return discussions to Blue Thermal, where the club members review Jun’s impressive performance with the advisor. Here, Tamaki and Yukari learn of how many universities there are that actually participate in the competition: winning is a very tall order on account of the fact that there are many universities with excellent teams, but Tamaki remains as motivated as ever to make it into the championships and secure the title.

  • While a surprise call with Yō, Jun’s benefactor, leaves him deep in thought, he still has time for a conversation with Tamaki, who’s fired up and ready to do her best. One can reasonably gather that Jun is beholden to Yō on account of previous dealings, and here, it would appear that Jun’s main interest in Tamaki lies in the fact that she’s learnt so quickly. Since she possesses such potential, Jun feels that she might be a worthy successor to continue helping Aonagi’s Aviation Club out. Jun possesses similar traits to Children Who Chase Lost Voices‘s Ryūji Morisaki, who was similarly talented in his field and took to the female lead because she’d exhibited the potential to help him out, which left me with a bit of caution surrounding Jun and his intentions.

  • Like Girls und Panzer, clubs from different universities do arrange to train together, and as it turns out, Aonagi ends up practising against Hannan, a school with an impressive Aviation Club. Blue Thermal skips many of the intermediate moments in favour of presenting the most standout highlights of Tamaki’s time in Aonagi’s Aviation Club, and this casues the movie to have a very energetic, peak-to-valley feeling about it. Here, the advisor disappoints Aoyaki, Yukari and Tamaki when he indicates that this training camp comes with unlimited onsen access: the students had been looking forward to a more summer-y set of activities on top of their training.

  • When the two clubs meet for the first time, Hannan’s club leader, Chizuru Yano, immediately takes a disliking to Tamaki and indicates that so long as Tamaki is present, Hannan will sit things out. Tamaki later explains that Chizuru is her half-sister, but her parents divorced, and since then, she’d never gotten along with Chizuru. The distance between Tamaki and Chizuru is something that arose as a consequence, and here, I got Girls und Panzer vibes; Chizuru’s presence feels distinctly similar to Maho’s. However, unlike Maho, who’s simply quiet, Chizuru is openly hostile towards Tamaki.

  • Later, Jun explains the route that will be flown during this training exercise: the presence of mountains will make for a trickier traversal, but the numerous updrafts resulting from the terrain also can be capitalised upon. When Jun had taken Tamaki into the skies, he’d utilised a thermal to do so. This is done to maximise the amount of altitude a glider can obtain before setting off for a course, and brought to mind how the U-2 took off in a MythBusters episode, climbing in a spiral above the airfield after becoming airborne. The U-2’s design is actually inspired by a glider, allowing the aircraft to stay aloft for extremely long periods at a time. What gave the U-2 its incredible flight endurance also made the U-2 exceptionally difficult to fly.

  • Of all the characters in Blue Thermal, Tamaki tends to take on the rounded, chibi-fied traits the most, even when things appear serious. Jun infuriates Chizuru by suggesting that he’s willing to take Tamaki up in a two-seater when they’re going on a training run of the course: Blue Thermal explains, for the viewer’s benefit, that a two-seater has a lower glide ratio (how much altitude is lost per unit distance travelled) than a one-seater, and to Chiruzu, it would seem that Jun is intentionally showing her that the differences in their skill are non-trivial (it’s akin to taking a performance handicap in an FPS by foregoing primary weapons and sticking only to a knife).

  • While some of the other pilots have trouble flying, Hannan’s team successfully completes the gruelling course. When it’s time for Tamaki and Jun to fly, they end up deviating significantly from the designated route and return nearly two hours later than expected. The ground crews are overwhelmingly relieved to see the pair’s glider on approach for landing, and up here, Blue Thermal offers no insight as to what must’ve gone through Jun’s mind as he did this. A pilot of his skill level would not suffer this by accident, so it’s clear that something is bothering Jun.

  • The idea of going off a stipulated course brings to mind the likes of the 2001 film, Behind Enemy Lines, in which flight officer Chris Burnett and pilot Jeremy Stackhouse are sent out on a reconnaissance flight on Christmas Day, only to become shot down by rogue Serbian forces. It turns out that Burnett and Stackhouse had inadvertently stumbled upon mass graves, and this would be incredibly damning for the rogue Serbian forces involved. Blue Thermal has no such outcomes, leaving the precise nature of the flight that Jun and Tamaki takes ambiguous.

  • Tamaki collapses from exhaustion despite expressing joy at having remained in the skies for so long. I am reminded of a note I picked up when learning to drive for the first time; it is recommended that drivers take a quarter-hour breaks every two hours to avoid fatigue. Fully-qualified pilots in the air force similarly remain airborne for a maximum of two hours, although reconnaissance pilots, such as those operating the U-2, have flown eight hour missions in a cramped cockpit. To a novice like Tamaki, even a two hour flight would be extremely tiring.

  • In the aftermath, Daisuke looks after Tamaki and is clearly worried about her, even going so far as to almost physically reprimand Jun for having undertaken such actions. However, he contends himself with a dirty look and rushes out the door. In the time since Blue Thermal started, Daisuke’s come around regarding Tamaki and now sees her as a full-fledged member of the Aviation Club. Viewers are not given a blow-by-blow of the progress in Blue Thermal, but enough information is given so that one can fill in the blanks for themselves. A romance between Tamaki and Daisuke thus comes to mind for viewers.

  • When Tamaki awakens and leaves her room, she runs into Daisuke, who decides to accompany her, and he even lends her his coat. Upon spotting a sea of clouds over the mountains, Tamaki expresses her love of the skies fully to Daisuke, who has, by now, fully embraced Tamaki as a part of the club. An inset song plays here, suggesting that Daisuke and Tamaki have become closer as club members and even friends. Jun manages to catch a glimpse of Daisuke taking Tamaki back into the building. He smiles, suggesting a joy that Daisuke has come around, too.

  • The observant viewer will have noticed that by this point in time, Tamaki is spending a great deal of time with Yukari, Ayako and Eita. After a night’s rest, Tamaki’s in fine spirits, and she enjoys breakfast with enthusiasm. Although Tamaki is quick to recover and feels ready to fly again, Jun encourages her to continue resting. There is wisdom in doing so; even after recovering, it takes the body a bit of time to get back to the point where one can take on strenuous tasks again. The moment brings back a similar scenario in Yuru Camp△, where Sakura who forbids Nadeshiko from immediately joining Rin after her fever subsides.

  • While the training camp continues, Tamaki feels like she hadn’t contributed in any meaningful way because she’d been unable to fly for most of it. What she does with this time is not shown, but the opening would likely allow her to brush up on theory and potentially catch up on coursework; I remember how during my first year, I struggled to keep up with everything because every single course I took had weekly assignments, biweekly quizzes, two midterms and a final. The only exception to this rule was my medical inquiry course, which had papers in place of midterms and finals, but to a first-year unaccustomed to writing papers, this was tricky.

  • It wasn’t until my third year where I was able to occasionally cut lectures for attendance at symposiums and the like, and even then, this demanded a bit of planning from me in order to pull off. While I wasn’t part of any student society or clubs, I continued to remain a member of the lab I’d joined; this was impressed upon me at the end of my second summer, when I tried returning the lab keys, and my supervisor approached me and said that wouldn’t be necessary. The keys I picked up would therefore remain with me until I graduated from my Master’s programme some five years later. During those five years, I would help out on various presentations and events around campus, even representing the lab with another graduate student when our supervisor had a conflicting event.

  • After Tamaki reveals to her newfound friends her original intention for joining, they immediately rush off and clarify that there is no prize money for competition. Jun suggests he deliberately “forgot” to keep Tamaki on, and here, Daisuke’s interrupted mid-conversation; it turns out that he’s looking to step away from club activities owing to his own circumstances, but Jun convinces him to stick around until at least the rookie competition for Tamaki’s sake. The fact that Daisuke consents suggests that he’s also come around with respect to Tamaki, although it’s probably her plucky spirit, rather than her innate talent for flying, that catches Daisuke’s eye.

  • After a poor showing at the training camp, Tamaki begins to put in a larger effort to fly, and in the process, she becomes allowed to fly a glider on her own without a second pilot supervising her. This marks a turning point for her. The sort of joy Tamaki experiences here reminds me of when I drove without a fully-qualified operator for the first time; while it is a bit intimidating, once one recalls the basics and gets into the swing of things, it does feel as though anywhere in the city is within reach. Indeed, as one becomes more comfortable with driving, the open roads become inviting, and this Monday, my last Monday off for the foreseeable future, I decided to take a drive down to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in the southernmost reaches of the province. I ended up waking up at six in the morning, similarly to my workdays, so we could make the drive: one-way, it’s almost three-and-a-half hours, so altogether, driving there and back would entail seven hours of time spent on the open road.

  • While forecasts had predicted smoky skies, the Southern Alberta skies were surprisingly clear, and after a pit stop in Fort McLeod, we continued on with our drive, arriving at our destination close to eleven. The last time I was at Writing-on-Stone, I was still in secondary school, and I still vividly remember jokingly referring to the Sweetgrass Hills as the Iron Hills: they can be plainly seen from the park interpretive center and are igneous intrusions that formed forty-three million years ago. We subsequently explored the sandstone hoodoos in the park briefly: while we weren’t able to find actual writing (Indigenous rock art on the area’s distinctive formations gives the park its name), there was fun to be hand in trying to navigate the spaces between the hoodoos. Having arrived when we did, it was only 24°C, but after an hour’s of exploration, the thermometer had risen to 28°C. We thus decided to turn back, climbed back into the prairies and prepared to make the drive to Lethbridge.

  • While I’ve grown accustomed to driving the mountain highways of the Canadian Rockies and count prairie roads as boring, now that I’m the driver rather than passenger, there is admittedly a fun to driving the open roads under endless skies. Upon arriving in Lethbridge, we stopped at the Mocha Cabana Bistro, a delightful restaurant located in a historical building. After we were seated, I ordered the steak-and-eggs with their in-house hash browns and toast. I’d been longing for a good plate of scrambled eggs (having enjoyed sunny-side up eggs with a poutine earlier), and the Mocha Cabana didn’t disappoint. The steak itself was also quite delicious, seared to perfection. The in-house hash browns, surprisingly, were an unsung star: well-seasoned, tender and flavourful, it made for a fantastic conclusion to the meal.

  •  While service here was slower, it really allowed me to kick back and enjoy the afternoon in a cool retreat. Once lunch concluded, we drove down to check out Lethbridge’s High Level Bridge, which is the largest trestle bridge in the world. As the afternoon heat reached 31°C  Back in Blue Thermal, as Tamaki continues training, her skill and confidence both increase: as she falls further in love with the open skies, her performance continues to increase, and her readiness to compete grows, although she does express worry about the competition itself. Luckily for her, Jun and Daisuke both remind Tamaki to relax.

  • In terms of visuals, Blue Thermal certainly lives up to its name, as some of Tamaki’s most memorable flights take place under brilliantly blue skies. Clear weather such as this is an iconic part of summer, and looking back, this year, I’ve certainly been able to capitalise on the weather to a much greater extent than I had in the past two years: the global health crisis is looking to be better contained, and aside from a few additional precautions like wearing a mask in crowded spaces and sanitising my hands more frequently, I’ve been able to slowly acclimatise to going back out again.

  • During the rookie competition, Tamaki’s concerns about her sister leads her to forgo the practise run she’s permitted to. However, while Chizuru’s openly hostile to Tamaki, all the more so because Tamaki does seem to have a natural talent for flying, Jun completely embraces Tamaki and expresses his high expectations of her performance. Chizuru’s words are those of someone who feels threatened, feeling it unfair that Tamaki unexpectedly showed up and is trampling on a passion of hers. As an older sibling myself, I have weakly experienced this myself, but got past it by accepting that everyone’s got a different skill set, and that one can’t really be overshadowed as long as they put their all into something.

  • Although Tamaki forfeited her practise run and is slated to go up against Hannan’s hotshot pilot, Kaede Hatori, who also equipped with a thermal tracker, her natural intuition allows her to find a thermal and rapidly gain altitude, completely throwing Kaede off. While Tamaki’s performance might initially be chalked up to beginner’s luck, she does have a knack for feeling out her glider’s movements and then acting accordingly; even without technological assistance, she’s able to hold her own against Kaede. Les Stroud has spoken of not depending on technology, as it can become a crutch of sorts.

  • However, as the technology becomes more versatile and robust, it can become the standard. Until the past few years, soldiers trained extensively with iron sights; although red dot sights confer superior clarity, iron sights are more durable and immune to electronics jamming. However, their improvements over iron sights warrants allowing them to be used as a part of fundamentals training. From this angle, Kaede can be seen as not utilising his edge to the fullest of the extent possible, and as a result, Tamaki pushes Aonagi to an early lead after the first day.

  • While Kaede is humiliated to be beaten by a little girl, Tamaki’s plucky spirit endures; she’s not gloating or arrogant about winning, but instead, comes straight at Kaede and demands his best. This side of Tamaki is indeed her best self: while she might be shy in a new environment or when things become awkward, when she’s in her element, Tamaki tries to encourage those around her and doesn’t leave any lingering grudges behind. As a result of Tamaki’s forward and direct pep-talk, Kaede regains his confidence, accepts second place and proceeds to promise Tamaki a better showing that will leave her behind in the dust for tomorrow.

  • Immediately prior to setting off, Tamaki and Kaede exchange a little bit of pre-flight trash talk before she learns that Chizuru will be her in-flight judge. Both to help take her mind off things and decrease glare, Jun passes her a pair of sunglasses. I’ve made it a point to always wear my sunglasses when driving, as a good pair of polarised lenses with the right UV protection can prevent eyestrain and undue damage to the eyes. In the sky, UV radiation is even more intense, and unlike cars, which come with tinted windows that offer a modicum of UV protection, the glider canopies don’t appear to have the same feature.

  • Tamaki’s distant relationship with her sister notwithstanding, she decides to proceed as planned and fly her best. Seeing Tamaki’s progress in Blue Thermal reminds me of an old argument about how in anime, characters can be seen improving a little too rapidly without much apparent training. This was one of the biggest gripes about K-On!, where Yui’s growth as a guitarist felt “undeserved” on account of how much time the anime spent portraying her sipping tea and eating cake over pracisting. However, these criticisms appear to forget that Yui, when motivated, can pick things up very quickly and put in the effort to master them. However, portraying such moments isn’t the intent of K-On!, and therefore, they aren’t shown. Similarly, Blue Thermal has a limited runtime, and showing all of the training Tamaki participates in would take away from showing her in competitions.

  • It appears that on the control column in the gliders seen in Blue Thermal, the button is a push-to-talk switch. The idea behind this is that if every aircraft were always transmitting, radio controllers would be overwhelmed. While gliders are simple and only require one, commercial aircraft have up to nine switches. Early on in this competition, Kaede quickly gains the upper hand with his experience and equipment: he flies in a way to maximise lift and reduce turning angle, giving him a quick boost. Jun comments this is done to demoralise Tamaki.

  • As the competitors soar into the skies, the rivers and fields below are rendered in great detail. Most of the anime I’ve seen that are set in the inaka are usually presented as being satoyama (里山), which refers to where the plains meet the mountains, and these areas have been an integral part of Japanese society for centuries, as farmers learned to work their land harmoniously with nature. Satoyama have a high biodiversity, and traditional agricultural practises have proven sustainable. Although the river plains of Japan have seen extensive agriculture, the flat terrain here precludes scenery that would make for beautiful stills in anime. Blue Thermal, in taking viewers high into the skies, shows how even plains can be majestic in their own right.

  • Undeterred, Tamaki decides to follow Kaede’s manoeuvre, and although this appears dangerous, Tamaki’s banked on another thermal to provide lift. To her pleasure, things work out for her: their glider rapidly gains altitude, and for a moment, Tamaki forgets that she’s in a competition. She joyfully acknowledges Chizuru before remembering herself, and subsequently reports her position. Moments like these remind viewers that Tamaki (and by extension, all of the competitors and judges) are still amateur pilots; a professional pilot would be significantly more focused and not allow such moment to distract them.

  • Being a professional pilot is often viewed as a glamorous job with very unique perks, but after reading Patrick Smith’s Cockpit Confidential, I can conclude that being the pilot to a large commercial jetliner is about as exciting as being a software developer (another occupation that is often glamourised by the success stories coming out of Silicon Valley): for Smith, piloting consists of following routine and safety protocol, responding to trouble professionally and wishing airports had more WiFi. Speaking from experience, being an iOS developer means following schedules and best-practises, responding to bugs with a triaging mindset and wishing coffee shops had more WiFi, rather than stereotypes of going to networking events, giving presentations in front of investors and drinking beer at the office.

  • With this being said, much as how being a software developer has its moments, such as the thrill of successfully deploying a build, pilots also enjoy the satisfaction of a safe arrival. Back in Blue Thermal, rain forces the competition to be prematurely terminated, to Tamaki’s disappointment. Her resulting reaction brings to mind the sort of tantrums that Hina would throw in Houkago Teibou Nisshi: I’ve long grown accustomed to squeaky anime voices, so hearing a more realistic, deeper voice in Tamaki despite Tamaki’s similarities with Hina proved quite amusing. After a swift reprimand from Daisuke, Tamaki heads back and joins the others. In no time at all, she’s recounting to some other participants how much fun she’s having.

  • The next day, competitions continue, and the day concludes with a barbeque. Despite Kaede being strictly a competitor, Tamaki regards him as a friendly rival now, and surprises Chizuru, who implies Kaede is hard to get along with. When Jun speaks with her, she finally opens up and reveals that she’d long been jealous of how Tamaki could get along with everyone. As immature as it may seem, people do indeed get held back by old feelings, but per Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, problems are a part of life, and it stands to reason that slights one may have experienced in childhood have no bearing on who one is now, and hence, things like these aren’t worth worrying about. Talking to Jun and seeing how spirited helps Chizuru to realise this.

  • Therefore, it is not surprising that after this competition, Tamaki and Chizuru reconcile somewhat. Although Kaede ends up winning the tournament, Tamaki’s sportsmanship and new experiences mean after her initial disappointment, she ends up quite pleased with how the competition turned out. In particular, being able to meet new people was probably the biggest win for Tamaki, who ends up resolving one of her goals without realising it. While perhaps not leading to romance per se, Tamaki had been lambasted for being too noisy and direct in high school, so being able to participate in something where she can be herself and get along with people demonstrates how there hadn’t been a need for Tamaki to reinvent herself.

  • After competitions conclude, Tamaki returns to a more mundane life on campus and finds that she’s struggling somewhat with course materials, as well as feeling a hollowness from a now non-existent social life. One day, while sitting down to lunch, Yukari finds her and immediately hauls her off. It turns out that Yukari and the others have found Daisuke’s resignation letter, and he clarifies what had been discussed earlier: her had intended to leave after the training camp to focus on his studies and realise a career as a pilot.

  • Yukari becomes frustrated that Daisuke had left this under wraps, and feels that with how close Tamaki appears to Daisuke, he might’ve told her. Yukari’s remarks suggest at the presence of a very subtle love triangle in Blue Thermal, which would be consistent with the sort of thing that might arise had Tamaki been really playing for a more active love life, and while this is a fair conclusion to draw based on initial observations, Blue Thermal doesn’t exude these vibes. Yukari disagrees and hauls Tamaki off to talk love further. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Jun’s looking after his mother, who’s been hospitalised, and pressured to help Tamaki out, he reluctantly agrees to Yō’s request of heading overseas to train and compete.

  • Yō presents another reason for going about things this way: he suggests that Aonagi’s Aviation Club had become dependent on Jun, preventing them from growing. By encouraging Jun to pursue his fullest potential, he aims to push Tamaki and the others even harder to create pilots worthy of a greater purpose. What this purpose is, unfortunately, is not explored in Blue Thermal, and here, I note that it would have been nice to see what Yō’s plans were. While I have no qualms about filling this in myself (companies occasionally approach universities to scout out potential hires from things like Capstone Project presentations), having a bit more of a concrete aim here would’ve given Tamaki’s fight more weight.

  • Whether or not Yō is truthful with his intentions is irrelevant; Blue Thermal is Tamaki’s story, after all. With this being said, what Yō has said is not incorrect; juniors often become dependent on seniors to learn the ropes, and whenever problems arise, may instinctively look to a senior for help rather than work through something for themselves. I’m guilty of this: as a summer student, I would ask the graduate students for help if my copy of the in-house game engine fell apart from a bad pull. However, as I entered my undergraduate thesis, the graduate students had finished their degrees. There was no one around to help anymore, but on the flipside, I became knowledgeable enough about the in-house game engine to troubleshoot it.

  • While it’s quite scary, people do acclimatise over time, and learning to have faith in one’s abilities is very much a part of life. For Takami, Yō’s answer isn’t sufficient, and she decides to call Jun for herself, although she ends up learning nothing. Because of how this conversation goes, coupled with the situation Jun’s in, I imagine that Yō knows of the fact that Jun’s mother is in hospital, and may have agreed to help cover the medical bills in exchange for him representing Yō and his organisation. There isn’t much coverage of these aspects in Blue Thermal: in no time at all, the national competition soon arrives.

  • While Daisuke had left the club to focus on his studies, his presence here and his reaction to Yukari’s comment indicates that, at the very least, Tamaki has become someone worth cheering for to him. Blue Thermal‘s focus is on competition and self-discovery over romance, but hints of romance occasionally linger, creating a very natural feeling. It is not cut out of things and is allowed to occasionally stray across the characters’ thoughts, but at the same time, romance is never allowed to detract from the film’s main focus. Here, Kaede arrives and sticks up for Aonagi, promising that the only place to settle things is in the skies. This moment was especially valuable, showing how Tamaki’s personality allows her to, in her own way, win hearts and minds.

  • Over in Germany, Jun receives a phone call about his mother, who’s passed away from her illness. Jun had been set to go on a training exercise prior to receiving this call, and there is no doubt that the news would’ve dealt the normally composed and stoic Jun a serious blow, distracting him from his exercise. The results are inevitable for a film like Blue Thermal: while professionals might be able to compartmentalise their emotions and stay focused, even Jun is not immune to feeling regret at not being able to remain with his mother. Yō subsequently receives a call with the news that Jun has gone missing after his glider went down.

  • Although he had wished to reserve the news until the competition was over, Ayako overhears and becomes disheartened, and the remainder of Aonagi’s team subsequently wonder what’s up. Rather than withholding things further, Yō decides to be up front with everyone. This change of fortunes is not unexpected; anime films are especially fond of introducing a significant confounding development as the story reaches in climax, and since Anthem of the Heart in 2016, coming-of-age stories almost always throw in an unpleasant challenge for characters.

  • Thus, while I’d known that such an event was likely for Blue Thermal, the part that remains worthwhile was seeing how exactly Tamaki and the others would handle things. While there’s a bit of denial that Jun could’ve gotten into an accident and perished, Tamaki decides that at least for now, she’ll continue to compete and respect Jun’s wish for her to fly with her best. Encouraged, Tamaki’s teammates echo her sentiment, and Aonagi Aviation Club’s directors allow everyone to proceed: although they’d deemed it unsafe given everyone’s mental state, it seems that Tamaki is still fit for competition given her composure.

  • Having said this, Tamaki is still human, and overnight, she cries her eyes out over what happened to Jun. The next morning, she awakens with red bangs under her eyes, and although she looks exhausted, she tries to convince the others that she’s still fit to fly. While this creates for some visual humour in the scene, there is justification for why Tamaki is actually still ready to fly despite her decidedly woebegone appearance.

  • This is because crying out one’s feelings is a form of catharsis: allowing one to be with their emotions in a moment releases oxytocin and endorphins, which help to relieve stress. By allowing herself to cry things out, the feelings of regret, it appears that Tamaki has accepted her feelings of guilt and concern over what happened to Jun, and at least for the present, is ready to do everything necessary to fulfil her promise to him. In this scenario, I would likely have Tamaki assessed before she flies into the skies. However, being a movie, one can assume that Tamaki’s determination is sufficient for her to do what she needs to do without posing a safety hazard for the narrative’s sake.

  • Speaking to how far Daisuke and Tamaki have come as fellow Aviation Club members, and the respect they’ve now got for one another, Daisuke requests to fly first with the hope that the weather might begin improving in the afternoon, and that this will give Tamaki a chance to be her best self. The weather on the day of the finals is a moody and grey overcast. Weather has always spoken to the emotional tenour of a given moment, and the cloudy skies here speaks to the ambiguity of how everyone’s feeling: clouds can either give rise to a downpour or clear up, and such skies therefore show that there is uncertainty in the moment.

  • While Tamaki had just cried her eyes out, her spirits and actions on the day of the finals is consistent with someone who’s got a clear resolve and goal in their mind. Daisuke’s run isn’t the best; the other schools are up front, and this leaves everything in Tamaki’s hands. However, Daisuke isn’t concerned: he simply wishes Tamaki the best and sends her into the air. Throughout Blue Thermal, Tamaki is referred to as Tsurutama, a nickname that comes from melding her given and surnames together in a manner reminiscent of how Yuru Camp△‘s Rin is occasionally referred to as Shimarin. This is a term of endearment, to be sure, and although I imagine it may have been done early on for the sake of convenience, there is no doubt by the competition, Tamaki’s found her place as a member of Aonagi’s Aviation Club.

  • As Tamaki takes to the skies, the music swells melodiously, filling the entire scene with warmth. Shōgo Kaida composed the incidental music for Blue Thermal, and while the music is excellent, ranging from common slice-of-life pieces to tracks that capture the majesty of the sky through the use of woodwinds, I’ve actually not found anything surrounding a release for the soundtrack itself. What’s happened here in Blue Thermal is similar to Maiko-san Chi no Makanai-san, which similarly had a wonderful soundtrack that never released. On the other hand, the inset and ending themes are performed by SHE’S and have been available since March.

  • Aside from a handful of reviews at MyAnimeList (which largely recommend this film) I do not believe there are any other discussions of Blue Thermal out there. The home release came out a mere four months after the theatrical screenings, and this is somewhat of a rarity, since anime movies now average an eight to nine month wait before the BDs hit the shelves. I note that films from well-known franchises and directors tend to have a longer delay, since there might be additional tie-in promotions. Makoto Shinkai’s films are especially notorious: since 2016’s Your Name, the average wait time for movies to become available on BD after a theatrical screening is eleven months. An eight month wait seems reasonable by comparison, and a four month gap, as we see with Blue Thermal, would be unheard of.

  • Despite the slower start, Tamaki’s performance is such that she is able to quickly close the distance, and as the three gliders from each of the top schools approach, the others on the ground realise that Tamaki’s done something that is rarely witnessed: she’s completed her course in record time and as such, has brought Aonagi the title. Tamaki’s victory comes right as shafts of light break through the clouds, signifying a release of pressure. Although this day had begun uncertain, Tamaki’s contributions to Aonagi’s win shows, beyond any doubt, that she had the willpower and resolve to do her best for everyone’s sakes.

  • The payoff in Blue Thermal is therefore a meaningful one, in showing how pressure can indeed push people to exceed their limits and discover something marvelous on the other side. While she may not have found the romance she’d sought out, it is fair to say that she found love in a new world that had previously been unknown to her. In a way, then, Blue Thermal was still a love story: I’ve said this before about Koisuru Asteroid, and while people there had all but demanded a love story, saying that its title created the expectation, I find that love isn’t always restricted to romance and relationships.

  • Instead, love is broad and can speak to many things. This is why it is such an effective metaphor: in Koisuru Asteroid, it is fair to say that Mira and Ao fell in love with the pursuit of the sciences, and so, the title, Asteroid in Love, makes sense. Blue Thermal establishes no such expectation in its title, but I can imagine that some viewers may have wondered where the romance piece would come in, given Tamaki had entered university seeking out love. The end result is quite different than what she would have foreseen, but it is no less remarkable, and here, Aonagi’s victory is framed as crepuscular rays begin filling the skies, with Tamaki’s teammates note she flies with the gracefulness of a bird now. She may not yet have a relationship to definitively speak of, but at this point in time, Tamaki’s love story is with the skies and its thermals.

  • Immediately after landing, a single thought persists in Tamaki’s mind: she’s less interested in the fact that Aonagi just took the championships and runs past her teammates, who have come to congratulate her. What’s notable is that Daisuke makes to hug her, but she sprints right past him and heads for Yō. This moment is subtle, but perhaps speaks strongly to where Tamaki’s heart lies now: Jun had been the one to show her the sky, and in falling in love with flying, it is logical to suppose that since Jun’s experience and talent as a glider pilot personifies the skies, it follows that Tamaki’s also developed feelings for him, even if it currently manifests as a desire to keep flying with him.

  • To this end, Tamaki implores Yō and asks him to take her to Germany, citing that he did promise Aonagi anything should they have actually won the championship. The rays of light slicing through the clouds and illuminating the ground below take on a new visual meaning, foreshadowing the outcome that awaits Tamaki in Germany: such phenomenon has long been associated with hope, and when Yō ends up remaining true to his word, it suggests to viewers that in Germany, there is a good chance that Tamaki would find what she seeks out.

  • Aonagi’s winning the championship thus becomes a bit of a bittersweet moment: the rag-tag Aviation Club that all of the other schools had dismissed have just taken the national title, against all odds. However, in placing the focus on Tamaki’s desire to find Jun, Blue Thermal completely skips over the awards ceremony to show viewers that the competition itself is secondary to Tamaki’s heart. The metaphors in Blue Thermal‘s ending have a certain romance to them, and in the film’s dénouement, Tamaki’s effort is met with reward.

  • On a beautiful morning with perfect skies, Tamaki prepares to launch. While a melancholy permeates Tamaki’s drive to the airfield, once she enters the cockpit itself, it certainly does feel as though in taking to the air, Tamaki is leaving behind all of her worldly problems on the ground. Once Tamaki got to Germany, it suddenly hit me that there was a very real possibility that her trip wasn’t so much to find Jun himself, but rather, experience the same skies that Jun had. There is a certain romance in doing so, as it shows Tamaki had been very much taken in with how Jun had done things. In longing to see what he saw, Tamaki yearns to be closer to him in her own way.

  • Back home, Tamaki had launched using assistance from a winch, which accelerated the glider until it gains enough lift to remain airborne. Here in Germany, an aerotow is used to launch Tamaki’s glider. Some gliders are self-powered and possess their own motors, allowing them to take off without any additional support. While excellent for extended flights and providing additional safety by allowing pilots to stay aloft for long enough to make a safe landing, powered gliders are much heavier than their unpowered counterparts and therefore require stronger thermals to maintain lift once their power is switched off. To keep things simple, Blue Thermal sticks purely to unpowered gliders, as they further symbolise working with, rather than against, forces that can be outside of one’s control.

  • Despite having come all this way to Germany to find Jun, the open skies here are identical to those over Japan, and in the moment, Tamaki allows herself to embrace the moment. Once she detaches from the aerotow, Tamaki begins to fly in her own way. The gravity of the moment melts away, and Tamaki smiles at the thought of being able to fly the open skies, wondering if Jun is enjoying the open skies, too. It would have been sufficiently touching that Tamaki is ultimately able to see the same blue skies and blue thermal that Jun had flown prior to crashing.

  • However, in movies, miracles do happen, and as Tamaki soars in the skies above, a familiar face spots the glider she’s flying. It’s Jun, and he’s plainly survived the crash. I’m not too sure how Jun ascertains that it was indeed Tamaki in this glider, but if I had to guess, Tamaki’s developed a very distinct flying style which combines his own approach with her own intuition and personality. Only Tamaki could go off-course and still maintain altitude, and it does feel as though she’s instinctively drawn over the town where Jun is presently located.

  • Realising the strength of Tamaki’s feelings, Jun immediately rushes off for the airfield after getting in touch with Yō, who’s shocked that Jun’s alive after all. I would suppose that in the aftermath of what had happened, Jun had felt overwhelmed and did a controlled landing before ditching his glider, hoping to break away from things and gain a fresh start. Seeing Tamaki again reminds him of what he’d left behind, and this is why he chooses to reveal himself. Upon reaching the airfield and taking the radio, Jun is able to get through to Tamaki, who implores him to return so they can continue flying together.

  • As Jun notes, Tamaki’s remarks are probably one of the most unusual, but still heartwarming, kokuhaku I’ve heard: flying together in the skies, learning from and teaching one another, and supporting one another as pilots is a wonderful metaphor for love, so by Blue Thermal‘s ending shows that Tamaki had found her love in a way she certainly hadn’t expected. With Jun’s promise to remain by her side, Tamaki turns her glider back to the airfield, and the end credits begin rolling. The stills shown show both Tamaki’s progress as a pilot and the aftermath of the national competition; it was a joy to see everyone’s smiling faces. Folks patient enough to wait the credits through to the end will be treated with a photograph of Tamaki bawling her eyes out after reuniting with Jun as he wonders how to best reassure her things will be fine.

  • With everything said and done, I have no qualms in issuing Blue Thermal an A grade: while the film does leave some lingering questions and resolves points very quickly so focus can remain on Tamaki, overall, I found that the inconsistent pacing and open-ended presentation does not detract from the overarching themes or the strength of the metaphors within this film. I thoroughly enjoyed Blue Thermal for what it succeeds in presenting to viewers. This brings my post on Blue Thermal to a close, and I can say with conviction that I’m glad to have watched this movie. With Blue Thermal in the books, I note that ARIA the Benedizione also released earlier today, and I am looking forwards to both watching, and writing about this one, as well.

While Blue Thermal‘s story has multiple facets to it, the film proves to be quite engaging and worthwhile for portraying a relatable story of how chance events and grit shape one’s post-secondary experiences. Blue Thermal itself is a wonderful film from a technical standpoint, with stunning visuals of the skies above and landscape below every time Tamaki boards a glider. Minute details are presented well and capture everything from the intricacies of a glider’s cockpit, to clutter in the Aonagi Aviation Club’s clubroom to show how rich Tamaki’s world is. The incidental music is well-chosen and conveys everything from the whimsy of Tamaki’s initial, rocky interactions with Daisuki, to the majesty of the skies and the weight of emotion on Aonagi’s entire team as they strive to win, both for themselves and for Jun. What especially stands out, however, is the choice of voice actress for Tamaki: actress and fashion model Mayu Hotta plays Tamaki, a spirited girl who resembles Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi. When Hotta delivers her first lines as Tamaki, I was surprised to find a deeper, more ordinary-sounding voice behind her: Kanon Takao’s portrayal of Hina was a vociferous and noisy high school girl. This choice bolsters the weight of the drama in Blue Thermal – squeaky anime voices convey cuteness, and Blue Thermal is a drama, so a natural voice is appropriate. However, while things might get serious in Blue Thermal, the film also reminds viewers that life has both its serious and light-hearted moments. Tamaki and the other characters are rendered with face faults during the more laid-back moments in the film, but emotionally-charged scenes are conveyed with carefully-chosen lighting and weather conditions. From a technical standpoint, Blue Thermal is solid, and when all of the elements come together, the end result is a film that portrays the possibility that comes with taking on new experiences from the perspective of a starry-eyed first year student. For folks who’ve completed post secondary or are on the precipice of a new milestone of their lives, Blue Thermal acts as a reminder of how wonderful new adventures can be had if one is willing to embrace the ethos of a glider and gracefully roll with what hand they are dealt: this film astutely uses the sky as an excellent metaphor for this possibility, bringing back memories of both when I began my journey in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, as well as when I started work on the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. Like Tamaki, both milestones set me down a path that was both unexpected but rewarding. However, whereas my time as a university student has long drawn to a close, after several life-changing experiences, Tamaki’s journey is still just beginning, and she’s got the world ahead of her; there’s still room to improve as a pilot, and Tamaki’s resolve is strong, so I leave Blue Thermal confident she’ll probably be able to experience the færietale romance she’d originally desired, too.

Ten Years After The Dark Knight Rises: Revisiting a Batman Masterpiece and The Last Weeks of Summer

I see a beautiful city. And a brilliant people, rising from this abyss. I see the lives, for which I lay down my life – peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

Eight years after Harvey Dent’s death, and the Batman’s vanishing, Bane kidnaps a nuclear physicist over Uzbekistan in preparations for his plans to finish Ra’s al Ghul’s work of destroying Gotham and avenging his death. Having been out of action for eight years, Bruce Wayne is unprepared for Bane’s arrival and is brutally beaten in a fistfight with Bane. Bane condemns Bruce to the same prison he was once held in, before setting in motion his plan to destroy Gotham using the fusion reactor Bruce Enterprises had been working on. Refusing to see his city die, Bruce trains relentlessly and eventually makes the jump, escaping the pit and returning to Gotham, where he forms an unlikely alliance with the cat burglar Selina Kyle, who ends up returning and killing Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. With help from Commissioner Jim Gordon, police officer Johnathan Blake and his longtime friend, Lucius Fox, Bruce manages to secure the weaponised reactor and uses the Bat to fly the core over the bay, where it detonates harmlessly. Batman is presumed dead in the aftermath, but Alfred spots Bruce and Selina while on vacation. Meanwhile, Blake resigns from the police force, receives a package from Bruce and discovers the Batcave. When The Dark Knight Rises premièred ten years earlier, it became the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight triology, which approached Batman and Bruce Wayne’s character with a then-novel position: Nolan strove to present a more realistic, human side to Batman and the duality that existed in Bruce. Although Nolan’s films are known for involving aspects of philosophy, such existential and ethical themes, into his works, he also has a talent for ensuring that his films are approachable. Here in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan uses Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as an allegory for messages of revolution and revival. Sydney Carton’s willingness to sacrifice himself at the guillotine is paralleled in Batman’s decision to fly the bomb out over the bay; Carton’s actions give hope that Paris will be restored, much as how restoring the Batman’s legacy through sacrifice gives Gotham new hope, especially after Dent’s accomplishments was revealed to be a sham. Similarly, in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens suggests that while revolution in and of itself is commendable, the violence surrounding it is deplorable; fighting fire with fire simply shows that the revolutionaries only perpetuate violence, and generally speaking, the mob’s actions are never justified. Nolan chooses to present this more directly: while Bane inspires a revolution in Gotham, the violence and spoils ultimately amount to nothing because Bane simply had planned to kill everyone anyways. Nolan thus adds to Dickens by suggesting that getting caught up in the pillaging and looting is counterproductive because the revolutionaries may use the mob to their own end, but otherwise never had any intentions of helping them.

While chock-full of references to A Tale of Two Cities, The Dark Knight Rises remains immensely accessible to viewers, even those who’ve never seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight: in previous films, Nolan’s villains are highly intelligent and calculating, preferring to match wits with Batman using wits rather than physical force. Ra’s al Ghul plays on patience to advance his plan, while the Joker’s chaos and machinations mean that conventional means have no impact on him. In this way, Batman had previously counted on being a superior martial artist and support from his allies to get him close enough to his foes in order to outsmart them and play on their weaknesses (e.g. Ra’s al Ghul’s incorrect belief in Batman’s compassion, and the Joker’s belief that people are monsters by default when the chips are down) to triumph. Bane represented a new kind of villian, being both clever and apt; while the most traditional of the villains seen in the Dark Knight trilogy, Bane’s plans and actions mean that he is remarkably easy to follow, and this in turn makes The Dark Knight Rises very straightforward: it’s a film that speaks to two central messages. The first of these messages is the idea that “evil rises where [one] buried it”. During a terse conversation between Jim and Batman following Jim’s hospitalisation after falling into the sewers and encountering Bane, Jim’s remarks reveal his guilt at having allowed himself to live with the lie that Harvey Dent had stayed uncorrupted to the end; this lie had allowed Gotham to nearly completely eliminate organised crime, but the lie also came with a price. However, things had been so dark in The Dark Knight that Jim was forced to take this route, a band-aid solution, and so, when Bane appears, he finds the perfect weapon to use against Gotham. There are numerous parallels with reality in that band-aid solutions never last long-term, and in some cases, may even cause more trouble than they solve. For instance, if an app is written such that a text label displays error codes that cuts off, a band-aid solution would be to truncate the string if it exceeds a certain length. However, this doesn’t address the underlying problem: the server might be returning bad data and could potentially suffer from an exception if this isn’t dealt with server-side. The Dark Knight Rises thus indicates that the consequences of trying to bury a problem won’t cut it: the truth always gets out, and the consequences can be devastating.

While evil can fester where it is buried, evil does not exist in a vacuum, and in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce finds the strength within himself to revive what he’d once lost. Speaking to themes of duality in A Tale of Two Cities, if evil can rise, so too can good. Trapped at the bottom of the pit, the other prisoners help Bruce to recall his old strength, and while Bruce believes that his body makes the jump, the elderly prisoner is right in that the mind drives the body. Bruce had largely acted without fear before, feeling that his aim was to overcome his fears by embracing it, but in time, he’d grown accustomed to embodying fear without understanding what it felt like. This is what Bane refers to when he remarks that “victory has defeated [Batman]”. Nolan had previously shown Bruce as striving to compartmentalise his fear and overcome it. However, operating in the absence of fear can be an impediment, as well. This is akin to stress management: in the absence of stress, one becomes complacent and lazy. Too much stress can immobilise an individual and render it impossible to act. In the middle, stress drives one to work harder and push past their doubts. Similarly, in the absence of fear, Batman fights with the expectation that his foes will fall, and so, when faced with an opponent like Bane, who is familiar with the League of Shadows’ methods, the same tricks fail, and Batman is defeated. When Bruce learns to rediscover fear again, he fights with a greater intensity, of knowing what the stakes are should he lose again. In this way, Batman and Bruce Wayne are both reborn after being thrown into the pit. Rediscovering fear acts as a form of resurrection, and the only way this was possible was because Batman and Bruce Wayne fell. Through The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan also suggests that one can improve, and be their best self, after being knocked down. This message had been alluded to in Batman Begins, but here in The Dark Knight Rises, it is explored fully. Between its accessible themes, deeper allegories and philosophical pieces, excellent choreography and a compelling soundtrack, The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Even though The Dark Knight Rises was my first Batman movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it acted as a fitting way of kicking off my post-MCAT summer a decade earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Dark Knight Rises opens with what has become the trilogy’s most-parodied moment: an unknown CIA agent takes custody of the masked man known as Bane, but in parodies, is ridiculed for his efforts to maintain control and keep cool. In the theatre, I had no idea of what to expect, but this scene was meant to establish that Bane is a sufficiently cunning foe that he can plan things out and maintain control of a situation flawlessly, as well as the fact that his henchmen are willing to sacrifice themselves for Bane’s cause.

  • Beyond establishing Bane’s character, the opening sequence also has Bane seize a Russian nuclear physicist, Leonid Pavel, foreshadowing Bane’s plans for the film. The use of nuclear weapons in film is an age-old plot device: their terrifying firepower and immense destructive potential have meant that fiction gravitates towards them because they immediately convey what’s at stake. In mere moments, Bane’s men takes control of the plane, kills off most of the soldiers on board and gives Bane the space he needs to secure Pavel.

  • For his role as Bane, Tom Hardy put on some 30 pounds of muscle, but what makes Hardy’s performance especially brilliant is the fact that as Bane, he’s wearing a special mask throughout the entire movie. Despite only acting with his body language, eyes and eyebrows, Hardy manages to convey emotion and intensity anyways. Unlike the Bane of the comics, this mask supplies Bane with a painkiller gas, and all of Bane’s physical feats in the film are otherwise under his own power, making him a plausible match for Batman, who, in Nolan’s trilogy, is similarly a highly experienced martial artist with prototype gear meant for the armed forces.

  • Without any of the over-the-top elements, such as Batman’s peak human conditioning, or Bane’s Venom (a sort of strength-enhancing substance), the Dark Knight trilogy is firmly grounded in reality, and Nolan uses this to explore the human side of each character that the previous films had not emphasised. Further to this, Nolan also chooses to shoot the Dark Knight trilogy in real world locations, rather than using a highly-stylised portrayal of Gotham: in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Chicago and Manhattan stand in, giving Gotham a much cleaner feeling compared to the rainy, grimy and gritty feel of the comic Gotham. 2022’s The Batman and Batman Begins are both more faithful to the originals in this regard.

  • After a congressman goes missing after Harvey Dent Day, Commissioner Jim Gordon heads off to search for him, while Bruce Wayne deals with the fact that they’d been robbed, and that his mother’s pearls have gone missing. The congressman is found, and Jim chases some of the culprits into the sewers, where he is knocked out and captured by some uncommonly well-equipped thugs. It is here that Jim runs into Bane for the first time, and viewers gain a modicum of insight into how extensive Bane’s plans must be.

  • While the internet’s parodies of the CIA plane scene abound, the YouTube channel and musical group, Auralnauts, took things one step further, using their incredibly sophisticated skill in sound engineering and video editing to create hilarious videos parodying virtually everything Bane does. In their Bane Outtakes video, they portray Bane as a heavy-savvy terrorist who’s more concerned with people’s dietary preferences and eating well, rather than blowing Gotham City to kingdom come. Seeing these parodies helped me to lighten up considerably.

  • It turns out that the fingerprints the cat burglar had lifted are used to help Bane and his men carry out a hit on the stock exchange, where they use Bruce’s fingerprints to purchase future options illegally, effectively rendering Bruce penniless. This segment of the film really got me into The Dark Knight Rises: besides the suspense conveyed throughout the entire sequence, watching Bane burst out of the stock exchange after commenting that the stock exchange is where people go to steal money from others proved to be an excellent juxtaposition that again emphasises how Bane has the brains to go with the brawn.

  • The resulting chase sequence marks Bruce’s first appearance as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, and while he’s been out of action for eight years, Batman still operates the Batpod expertly, using an EMP gun to stop one of Bane’s mercenaries before continuing on the chase. The entire way this vehicle pursuit was done is brilliant: use of the lighting from the sirens and city lights and Hans Zimmer’s crescendoing soundtrack acts to convey the intensity of things. However, this scene also acts as a stunning visual metaphor: in the dark, Batman’s weaknesses are concealed, and he’s able to take down the mercenaries and retrieve their tablet only because of a technological advantage.

  • Nolan is well known for how he uses symbolism in his films, but despite covering topics that can be highly complex and thought-provoking, Nolan does so in an approachable manner, presenting challenging questions and moral dilemmas in a way that people can readily understand. This is something I especially respect: as a university student, my supervisor constantly reiterated the importance of being able to communicate scientific concepts well, and in fact, his lab’s aims were to showcase swarm behaviours in a way that was visual.

  • My undergraduate thesis project was the task of taking the model of physical flow I’d built a year earlier and then scaling it up so that a mathematical model could be used to influence behaviours back at the agent level. In retrospect, I didn’t accomplish much with this project, since the mathematical model was doing almost all of the heavy lifting and simply fed parameters back into the agent-based model. At the undergraduate level, however, this project was deemed to be of a satisfactory difficulty, and I therefore spent the next six months building and tuning my model.

  • The thesis project was actually more about the research process, development of the project and presentation of the results, rather than the work itself, and looking back, this proved to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Batman asks to be taken to Bane for a confrontation. Having not trained for the past eight years, Batman’s lack of physicality is apparent. Upon encountering Bane for the first time, Batman launches into a frenzied attack, but his blows deal no appreciable damage. Bane then effortlessly kicks Batman over the railing.

  • It was actually quite terrifying to see Batman getting beat so easily: although I’d not seen the previous movies, the reputation surrounding Batman is legendary. I would later watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, when Batman was at his prime. His technique here lacks the same strength and precision, speaking to how out of shape he is. While perhaps at his peak, Batman may have traded with Bane, here, he is outmatched. For the viewer’s benefit, Bane even voices as such; nothing in Batman’s arsenal, whether it be his smoke grenades or martial arts, is doing anything of note.

  • The fight ends when Bane reveals a part of his plan, which entails stealing Bruce Enterprises’ hidden armoury, before he breaks Batman’s back on his knee in an iconic moment inspired from the comics. In the aftermath, Bane has Bruce delivered to a remote prison in an ancient part of the world, and Selina disappears, hoping to get out of country before Bane carries out his plans. However, the new cop, John Blake, happens to catch her after visiting Bruce Manor and finding no-one there: Alfred has already left at this point, and Bruce is nowhere to be found. The worst that Alfred had feared has come to pass; Alfred (Michael Caine) has a much smaller role in this movie, but his moments on screen are especially poignant.

  • Although Blake is seen as a liability because he’s meticulous and dedicated, Jim quickly promotes him to a detective and has him look into the unusual comings and goings around Gotham. With a sharp mind, Blake quickly works out that the construction companies around town have been pouring concrete laced with explosives, and moreover, since the disappearance of the entire Wayne Enterprises board, Gotham’s police force have decided to go underground in an attempt to flush out the mercenaries under the guise of a training exercise.

  • Unfortunately for Blake and Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley, Blake’s discovery comes way too late: during a football game, Bane sets off the explosive charges that trap the entire police force underground and isolates Gotham from the rest of the world. Without any cops, or National Guard to intervene, Bane’s plan is now able to go ahead unimpeded, and Bane himself reveals himself from the darkness. Much of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight take place at night, where darkness conceals things and make things look more intimidating than they are.

  • Still recovering from his sojourn in Gotham’s sewers, Jim continues to recover and can only watch as Bane takes control of the situation. Throughout The Dark Knight Rises, Jim is presented as being at war during peacetime, and his fellow police officers comment on how, since the events of The Dark Knight, Jim’s wife and children have left him. As a sort of coping measure, Jim immersed himself in his work and puts in strenuous hours even as other cops take it easy in the knowledge that Gotham’s organised crime engine is all but dismantled. When Bane reveals himself, his mercenaries head to the hospital to take out Jim, but Jim hasn’t lost his edge.

  • Bane and some of his mercenaries take to the football pitch and announce their plan to put the detonator of a now-primed nuclear device in the hand of, in Bane’s words, an “ordinary citizen”. He kills Pavel in full sight after the latter had converted Bruce’s fusion reactor into a neutron bomb with a ten kilometre blast radius. Although Nolan commits to realism, there are some oversights here in The Dark Knight Rises: fusion reactors are safe by definition because a fusion reaction requires very specific conditions in order to proceed, and if these conditions are removed, the reaction would fizzle out and stop. However, a fusion reaction does yield a large neutron burst, and when the right casing is picked, free neutrons from the reaction escape. Such a device should have a very low blast yield, below ten kilotons: Dr. Pavel suggests it is a four megaton device, but a blast of this size would have a fireball exceeding the irradiated area. While the weapon itself doesn’t work in concept, it prompts the existing story to a satisfactory extent.

  • Coming out into the open by day thus reminds viewers that Bane is unlike any foe that Batman has previously faced. Bane’s speeches and promises felt outlandish and ludicrous back in 2012, but it is ironic that some of the colour revolutions out there have people flocking to the cause and its leaders in the same way that Bane’s accrued a group of fanatical followers. The irony lies in the fact that Bane cares very little for those who support his cause: the very fact is that Bane doesn’t actually just hand the detonator to anyone. As Bruce quickly figures out, Bane’s likely got the detonator, and that his speech was purely metaphoric. Here, Bane announces the truth behind Harvey Dent and frees Blackgate’s prisoners, creating total chaos on Gotham as the underprivileged classes begin looting, and wealthier members of society are hunted down, beaten and killed.

  • Seeing the chaos unfold gives Bruce the motivation he needs to try and escape the pit. In his spare time, he trains to overcome his injuries and old limitations: Bane had knocked a vertebra from his spine, but one of the prison doctors replaces it, and over time, with his old discipline and will, Bruce recovers quickly. If memory serves, a half year passes, giving Bruce time to rebuild his strength. While he becomes physically strong enough to make the attempt, initially, he fails. One of the prisoners states that in order to succeed, Bruce must not mask his fear, but use it as a source of motivation.

  • I’d long seen fear as something to be overcome, set aside and compartmentalised. However, Nolan boldly shows, in The Dark Knight Rises, that fear is a powerful motivator. In order to save Gotham, Bruce must make the jump, and failing would permanently stop him from doing so. The realisation that failure is final is what gives Bruce the psychological boost he needs, to push himself further and harder than ever before. In the years after, I came to see this for myself: under the threat of failure and defeat, I found myself producing work of a standard higher than I could before.

  • The prisoners chant deshi basara, which composer Hans Zimmer has indicated to mean “rise up”. Folks fluent in Arabic state that it’s actually as تيجي بسرعة (Tījī basara’ah), which translates literally as “come quickly”. The scene with Bruce’s final jump, without the rope, was the most inspiring of the moment in the whole of The Dark Knight Rises, and when he succeeds, the music crescendos to a triumphant flourish as the prisoners cheer wildly, having witness what would’ve been a miracle. This is the turning point for Bruce Wayne: he’s found his will again, and as Ra’s al Ghul had stated, the will is everything.

  • As a gesture of compassion, Bruce throws a heavy rope into the pit, inviting the prisoners to free themselves, before making his way back to Gotham. Looking around the production notes, this particular part of the film was filmed in Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. However, the interior of the prison itself was constructed on a sound stage. With Bruce’s resolve back in full now, and the occupation of Gotham under way, the stage is set for the inevitable rematch between Batman and Bane.

  • In the six months or so that have passed, Gotham’s residents have kept their heads down while Bane’s mercenaries and Blackgate’s thugs roam the streets unchallenged. Although ordinary folks live in constant fear, and the presence of the neutron bomb prevents the remainder of America from intervening, common citizens appear to have gotten off easy, while society’s top echelon, the so-called one percent, have been harshly punished. Cillian Murphy makes a cameo here, reprising his role as Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), and here, he acts as the judge to a kangaroo court, clearing enjoying sending out the wealthy to their deaths.

  • While Bane and his mercenaries have more or less taken complete control of Gotham, they’ve not explored every nook and cranny. This is to Bruce and Fox’s advantage: after arriving home, the pair locate the old underground saferoom where Bruce had kept spares of his Batsuit, along with other equipment that he’d previously used. When Bruce Manor had burned down in Batman Begins, while it was undergoing reconstruction, Bruce built a second saferoom to store his gear. By the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce shuts the room down.

  • The Batsuit in the Dark Knight trilogy is one of my favourite portrayals of the Batsuit in general: Fox had previously outfitted Bruce with a heavily customised Nomex suit which provided protection from blunt tools and lighter bullets but restricted his mobility. By The Dark Knight, Bruce approaches Fox with a new design, consisting of hardened kevlar plates on a titanium-dipped fiber. This suit provided a significant improvement to mobility at a cost to defense, and could not withstand gunshots from even pistol calibres at close range. In Batman v. Superman, the Batsuit Ben Affleck’s Batman wears is heavily armoured, to the point where it could even repel a pistol to the cowl at contact distance. The vulnerabilities in Nolan’s Batsuit is another sign of this trilogy’s commitment to realism, and that as Batman, Bruce Wayne must find other ways to win.

  • Since Batman had left the Bat high on the rooftops of Gotham, Bane’s mercenaries never found it, and this vehicle, a curiosity at the film’s beginning, becomes instrumental in saving Gotham. There is a sense of reassurance in knowing the Bat had been allowed to stay here all this time – as far reaching as Bane’s impact is, even he has his limitations, and subtle cues reinforce this. Here, Lower Manhattan’s financial district can be seen: the shot is north-facing, and the One World Trade Center is seen under construction.

  • Bane personally kills a special forces leader sent in to Gotham to help, and out of options, Blake decides to try and help out. Bane’s mercenaries promptly stop him. Meanwhile, Jim’s also been captured, and after a brief show trial, Crane decides to exile him. However, on the cold river ice, the Batman makes a return; after the guards are taken out, he invites Jim to light a flare that ignites a fire on the bridge tower, making the shape of the Bat-logo.

  • Bane is shocked to see this, and in this moment, the assured calm he’s held begins vanishing. Knowing the Batman will likely go for Miranda Tate, he orders his men to keep her close. Bruce had fallen for Miranda earlier on, and in the novelisation, meeting her marks the first time he’d not thought about Rachel Dawes in eight years. A major part of Bruce’s depression here in The Dark Knight Rises comes from his guilt at failing to save her and the belief that she was the person he wanted to be with in the future. The letter she’d written for Bruce would’ve been to signify that she no longer would wait for him, and this would’ve presumably led Bruce to continue being the Batman. Alfred burns the letter to spare Bruce of the pain.

  • I’m very familiar with what Bruce had been feeling: after the friend I’d wished to ask out began seeing another fellow, I felt a combination of disappointment, dejection and anger – this individual had supported me throughout my MCAT and my undergraduate thesis project, and I became convinced I might’ve had a shot. However, I channeled this frustration into a different direction, and also forced myself to re-evaluate my own values, which impacted how I approach things today. I’ve heard faint rumours that said individual, who became an expatriate in Japan, isn’t doing so well at present. Although this friend and I no longer communicate on a regular basis, if we were to chat again, I’d do my best to help her talk through things.

  • I note here that while this friend has a sizeable social media presence, support from strangers on Twitter or Twitch end up being empty words – there is no substitute for a heart-to-heart conversation from family or friends. While I wish I could do more, I’ve moved on, and it feels unwise for me to re-enter her life unexpectedly. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Jim, Batman also ends up beating down the mercenaries about to shoot Bane. Once the last of the mercenaries are cleaned up, Batman offers a suggestion to Blake – this moment was especially touching, since Batman had not, until now, ever considered the idea of someone else taking on his role. During The Dark Knight, Batman had adamantly rejected any help, but now, he imparts advice for Blake, to operate in a way to protect those around him.

  • Once the cops are freed, Batman passes a special EMP jammer to Jim, who’s tasked with putting it on the truck carrying the nuclear bomb. While Jim and a small group of allies work to locate the truck, the other cops will march on Bane’s base of operations, and they will be joined by Batman. Foley had been trying to keep his head down throughout the crisis, but spurred on my Jim’s words, and the Batman’s return, he ends up donning his dress blues and leads the cops downtown to assault Bane’s headquarters.

  • Every person seen in this scene is an extra, and in a behind-the-scenes commentary, Nolan describes how this scene was controlled chaos. Off-camera, all of the extras playing both the cops and Bane’s mercenaries are shown as sharing friendly banter – I always love the special features that accompany a movie, as it serves to show how much effort went into making things.

  • Although she’d been reluctant to help, after Bruce returns to Gotham, she agrees to take the Batpod and clear a path. Despite being relatively new to the highly-customised motorcycle, Selina wields it well, and quickly blasts a hole in the barrier. However, something compels her to go back into the heart of the fight, showing that Bruce was right about her. I’ll admit that as Selina Kyle, Anne Hathaway appears to have a natural affinity for the Batpod in a way that even the Batman didn’t: it does feel as though this vehicle was designed for her style.

  • When Batman appears for his second showdown with Bane, it marks the first time viewers see Batman in broad daylight. By no longer hiding in the shadows and operating by night, Nolan emphasises the idea that Batman and Bruce Wayne are reborn to the extent where he is no longer bound by his old limitations. In this fight, Batman fights Bane in a much more measured fashion, striking at the mask and using blocks rather than attempting to absorb Bane’s blows, before creating openings and landing hits of his own.

  • Although Bane starts the fight confident and calm, as Batman deals more damage to his mask, the painkillers no longer are delivered to Bane, and pain begins creeping in. Bane abandons his more refined fighting style for something more animalistic. Eventually, Batman is able to overcome Bane and kicks him into the hall of a building, demanding that Bane reveal the location of the trigger in one of The Dark Knight Rises‘ most hilarious moments. While this aspect of Batman is virtually unheard of, it’s probably Nolan’s way of reminding viewers that here, Bruce isn’t the old Batman, and he’s basically fighting Bane as himself, albeit kitted out in a specialised suit of armour.

  • While the fighting is going down, Blake gathers the children from the orphanage and asks them to help spread the word to evacuate in the event that the Batman cannot succeed in stopping the bomb. The Dark Knight Rises‘ climax is gripping, and I found myself rivetted to the screen on the day that I’d watched this film, precisely a decade earlier. At this point in time, my summer had really begun: I’d finished the MCAT for two days, and after taking the previous day easy by sleeping in (I don’t actually recall what else I did that day), the next day, I went to the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises and stopped by the bookstore to pick up some new books.

  • I had about twenty days of summer left to me after the MCAT ended, and I resolved to make the most of this time. I ended up using most of that time to spearhead an effort to get a paper published to the provincial undergraduate journal, and in my spare time, I began conceptualising what my undergraduate thesis project looked like. This allowed me to occupy the remainder of my summer in a productive manner: I subsequently lost the inclination to game, as I’d lost all of my cosmetics in MicroVolts and began attributing the game with my pre-MCAT jitters.

  • Besides getting the journal publication done and rapidly catching up with my peers on laying down the groundwork for my undergraduate thesis project, I had enough time left over to build the MG 00 Gundam Seven Swords/G, and also spent a weekend with the family out in Cranbrook a province over. After visiting the Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass, the first day ended in Cranbrook, where we enjoyed a steak dinner. The second day saw us drive up the Banff–Windermere Highway, stopping in Invermere for lunch before passing through Radium for home.

  • Thus, even though I “only” had twenty days of summer vacation left to me, I entered my undergraduate thesis year fully rejuvenated and refreshed. This year proved to be my strongest: after the MCAT, I developed a much more relaxed attitude about challenges, and this newfound confidence allowed me to approach exams with a sense of purpose rather than worry. It is striking as to how much time has passed since then, and in that time, The Dark Knight Rises has aged very gracefully. I ended up making a habit of watching the film every New Year’s Eve, with a glass of champagne in hand, ever since rewatching the film during the New Year’s Eve leading to 2013.

  • Although Batman defeats Bane, Miranda Tate betrays him and reveals herself as Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s. Shocked, Batman is unable to respond, but he is saved at the last second when Selina appears and blasts Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. The pair subsequently work together in an attempt to stop Talia, with Batman taking to the skies in the Bat. Meanwhile, Blake’s now reached the bridge, and he implores the guards there to open the bridge and let them across, since the nuclear device is about to go off. This moment proved to showcase some of the finest acting in a film chock-full of excellent acting.

  • The cop is so utterly gripped with fear that this is tangible in his voice and body language. In a moment of panic, he orders the bridge blown, stranding Blake and the convoy behind him. Although Gotham’s citizens and Bruce’s allies have maintained a dignified composure about them, the fear that this cop conveys must’ve reflected on the sort of fear and concern Gotham’s citizens must’ve surely felt. With this bridge down, everything now falls on Batman and Selina’s efforts to secure and stop the reactor; the original plan had been to force Talia’s convoy back to the reactor coupling in an attempt to stablise it.

  • The scene of the cop setting off the charges and blowing the bridge shows that this was filmed at the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge facing north on the East River: Roosevelt Island can be seen below. However, the location has been digitally modified: Randall’s Island cannot be seen, and Astoria appears to be cut off, although the Ravenswood Generating Station and its distinct chimneys can still be seen. The Dark Knight Rises presents Manhattan as Gotham, and it did feel curious that The Avengers, which I’d watched with friends a few months earlier, was also set in New York. The dramatically different stakes and contexts illustrate the gaps between the MCU and Dark Knight trilogy, and I remember being about as lost in The Avengers as I was in The Dark Knight Rises.

  • That is to say, I wasn’t terribly lost with either films despite having only a minimal background in both; while there’s some prerequisite information one must be familiar with in order to appreciate all of the events and references, I found both movies were well-written enough so that even someone coming in new could enjoy things. In both cases, I would be compelled to watch all of the previous movies in full. For the Dark Knight trilogy, I ended up doing this in December 2012, after I’d finished all of my finals, while for the MCU, I ended up doing a full-scale watch-through after Thor: Ragnarok came out.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that this year’s summer is rapidly dwindling: this week, I began noticing that I now need my alarm clock to wake up again, since the sun no longer illuminates my room before 0600. Having now settled in, I’ve capitalised on the time I’ve got to make use of some of my vacation days, and earlier this week, I decided to take my parents out to Cochrane, a tranquil small town located half an hour northwest of the city. Here, we explored the Cochrane Ranche park under gorgeous skies. I’ve not been back since 2017, when the Kantai Collection movie became available, and because it’d been a Monday, we more or less had the entire park to ourselves.

  • Because I’d already gone out for fried chicken pancakes, and then a Swiss Mushroom grill burger with poutine over the weekend, and because my parents were longing for a full breakfast, we ended up swinging by the A&W on the quieter west side of town. I ended up enjoying an Bacon Cheddar Uncle Burger, a heartier burger that was delicious as always. The afternoon was spent visiting Glenbow Ranch, a stunning provincial park of rolling hills and grasslands overlooking the Bow River. From this park, an eagle-eyed visitor can even spot the city center: with more or less perfect weather, we walked along the pathway until reaching Vista Pointe, whereupon we turned back. This wound up being the perfect day to wrap up my own long weekend, and I returned to work refreshed.

  • Looking back at the summer thus far, I’ve begun making some progress on some of the things I had wished to do post-move, especially with regard to getting to know the community better. Besides swinging by the bookstore on quiet weekends and enjoying sushi from the place across the way, I’ve also gotten to know a handful of the people in the area better, too. This has made lifting weights in the mornings more spirited. I’ve also capitalised on the hot summer weather to try working out of the local Starbucks with a Mango-Dragonfruit beverage: it represents a livelier environment than the quiet of my home office, and it hits me that this wouldn’t be a bad way to work if I’ve got days where my assignments are less intense. I ended up helping another patron with connecting to the free Starbucks WiFi.

  • In making use of the Bat, the final effort to stop Talia’s convoy sees Batman use the Bat’s full arsenal to try and stop the extremely heavily-armoured truck. The upgraded Tumblers give the Bat some trouble, but fortunately, Selina’s on station to blow them away, and in the end, Batman manages to destroy a Tumbler by flying some of its own guided missiles back to the sender. With the Tumblers gone, Batman trains the Bat’s rockets on the truck, and while the truck is able to resist these lower-caliber rockets, the resulting explosions create enough of a visual obstruction such that Talia crashes into the underground freeway.

  • Talia dies shortly after, and Batman decides that, with time running out (as well as the fact that Talia activated the reactor’s emergency flood protocol), there’s only one way to get rid of a bomb. He hooks the reactor to the Bat and flies off with it, but not before revealing to Jim indirectly that he’s Bruce Wayne. The revelation is a shocker, but it also gives Jim a sense of closure regarding what had happened years earlier, and everything that had transpired since. In a way, becoming the Batman and helping Jim fight the mob became Bruce’s way of expressing thanks.

  • The scene of Batman flying the reactor core out over the bay reminds me of a much more comical and light-hearted moment in Adam West’s 1966 Batman, during which Batman has a similar struggle of disposing of an active bomb and removing it from a populated area. However, with Nolan’s interpretation, things become considerably more grim and heroic: the weight of the reactor alters the Bat’s handling characteristics, forcing Batman to use the remaining missiles to blast a hole in the buildings in front of him to gain more breathing space.

  • Before taking off, Batman explains that the Bat has no auto-pilot, which led to a bit of ambiguity in this scene surrounding whether or not Batman makes it out okay. I’ve heard that some eagle-eyed viewers would’ve noticed that shadows flicker around the Batman moments before the bomb explodes, but flying over an open ocean, there shouldn’t be any shadows (presumably cast by the buildings). On this reasoning, some viewers felt that The Dark Knight Rises did an excellent job of hinting at Bruce’s survival, and moreover, one shouldn’t need an auto-pilot to fly in a straight line.

  • With the nuclear device dealt with, and the cops gaining the upper hand over the remainder of Bane’s forces, The Dark Knight Rises draws to a close – I found the film’s message about violent revolution to be a well-written one, and in it, Nolan conveys the idea that the methods Bane utilises are deplorable and untenable. At the same time, The Dark Knight Rises also indicates that modern society is one that teeters on the brink of revolution, a consequence of widening inequality.

  • Although there isn’t a Batman equivalent in the real world, Nolan reiterates that anyone can be a hero – the reason why society hasn’t folded outright despite increasing inequality and unrest is because, at least for now, the number of people committed to doing good still exceeds the number of people who desire disorder. Here, I define “doing good” to be actions with tangible consequences: donating to the local food bank and giving blood qualifies as doing good, whereas retweeting activists or trying to get a political hashtag to trend on social media does not make the cut by a longshot.

  • While Bane’s mercenaries were originally so devoted they would be willing to die for him, after Bane’s death, the remainder of the mercenaries are shown as surrendering rather than fighting to the death. This could be seen as a sign that in the absence of a charismatic leader, people would not view their cause as being so important as to lay down their life for it. Seeing this in The Dark Knight Rises creates a sense of catharsis – viewers know that with the nuclear device no longer a threat, and Bane dead, Gotham now has a fresh start. The truth about Harvey Dent is out, but so is the reality that Batman has just saved a city of 12 million.

  • Seeing the injustices of the world, and how governments become shackles prompts Blake to throw his detective’s badge into the river. While order and systems ostensibly exist to protect the people, over time, systems can and do become corrupted. The absence of any order and system is similarly undesirable, and the fact that humanity operates best somewhere in the middle, a balance of individual freedom and social responsibility, is spoken to in The Dark Knight Rises – Nolan’s genius is that in his films, he never espouses one extreme as being better over the other. Instead, in implying that there is a happy medium that people thrive under, Nolan leaves viewers to decide for themselves what works best, only enforcing the idea that extremes are bad.

  • Once the climax passes, The Dark Knight Rises enters its dénouement. Bruce Wayne is believed to be dead, and his estate is settled. The Batman becomes recognised as a symbol of hope and heroics, and Gotham begins picking itself back up. The entire scene is set to Hans Zimmer’s iconic incidental music: Zimmer creates a soundscape that constantly creates a sort of suspense and anticipation for Nolan’s movies, and because the sound is ever-present, silence becomes even more noticeable.

  • When one of Fox’s technicians tell him that the autopilot to the Bat had been fixed, he’s surprised – I imagine that Bruce was using some sort of version control, like Git, and since these repositories are reasonably secure (Git, for instance, accepts SSH keys as a means of authenticating a user prior to a commit), this was the biggest sign that Bruce is alive and well. In 2012, I was an undergraduate student, and my lab used SVN. The principals behind both are different when it comes to management, although from a user standpoint, there are similarities, and so, I transitioned over to Git from SVN without too much difficulty after entering industry.

  • At the end of The Dark Knight, Jim had smashed the Bat-Signal as a symbol of his reluctant disavowal of the Dark Knight for his “crimes”, but here, seeing the repaired Bat-Signal reminds him that even though Bruce Wayne is gone as the Batman, what the Batman stands for will now endure.

  • For me, the best part of The Dark Knight Rises was seeing Alfred enjoying his drink in Florence, and then spotting Bruce with Selina. He’d long expressed a wish for Bruce to move past Batman and live his life out. Years after my own experience with unrequited love, I’ve come to relate with the events of The Dark Knight Rises, and throughout the film, Alfred and Lucius Fox’s remarks about the women in Bruce’s life parallel remarks I’ve been given. The Dark Knight Rises suggests that Bruce was held back by the belief Rachel would wait for him, but it ultimately takes a rebirth of sorts for him to see what there had been out there, beyond the cowl and memories from eight years earlier.

  • The optimism The Dark Knight Rises demonstrates here made the film’s ending decidedly positive, a fitting and decisive conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy and shows how the combination of time and experience allows one to open back up – even it takes a great deal of time, the important thing is to allow this healing process to take place at once’s own pace. The sum of the messages in The Dark Knight Rises makes for an exceptional movie, and although the film might be ten years old, it has aged remarkably well, just like K-On! The Movie. The themes are still relevant, the action sequences hold up very well, and the execution makes the story timeless.

  • Because of the film’s ability to speak to so many topics so effectively, and because the film easily withstands the test of time, I count The Dark Knight Rises to be a masterpiece of a movie. I’m not alone in this stance, and I’d hazard a guess that the reason why so many enjoy The Dark Knight Rises is because Nolan is able to hit so many points in a way that works for different people; in fact, I’d expect readers to tell me that they’ll have enjoyed this movie for completely different reasons, and drew completely different conclusions than I did. This speaks to strength of the writing in this film, which ends with Blake taking up the mantle of the Dark Knight, and with both this film and my reflections at a close, it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a bit and finally begin looking at submissions for Jon’s Creative Showcase.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fantastic film, raising the bar for what a superhero film could convey well beyond providing thrilling action sequences: The Dark Knight Rises is thought-provoking, inspiring and emotional. In fact, after finishing The Dark Knight Rises, I later would watch Iron Man 3 and wonder why Aldrich Killian’s motivations felt so shallow compared to those of Bane – in fact, it did feel as though villains of other films suddenly became superficial, and for a time, I found myself with a decreased enjoyment for Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This subsequently dissipated after I watched Captain America: Civil War; the MCU’s films are fine, and speak to a different set of ideas than do Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The experience I had resulting from The Dark Knight Rises is a phase that some consumers of fiction go through: after watching something especially well-done, expectations are raised, and going into another film with a different director can often alter one’s enjoyment of things. Unlike the Dark Knight trilogy, the MCU is a long-running series whose greatest strength lies in how well-connected the stories are, and the masterful use of humour. It is therefore unsurprising that the aesthetic, tenour and end messages differ so dramatically, and failing to appreciate this is why the me of a decade earlier initially was more reluctant to watch MCU films. Fortunately, an open mind allowed me to turn around, and in the years subsequent, I would come to greatly enjoy the MCU for what it succeeded in presenting. However, not everyone follows this path: for instance, shortly after K-On! The Movie became available to international audiences, Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review was quick to dismiss K-On! The Movie as being “disingenuous” and “false advertising” for not delivering the same level of though-provoking content as his favourite work, Ergo Proxy. Such a mindset precludes one from broadening their perspectives; had I remained stuck on that path, I would’ve never been open to enjoying things like Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War and Endgame. However, I am ultimately glad to have seen The Dark Knight Rises because it represented a unique experience. My enjoyment of this movie led me to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and help me appreciate different interpretations of the Batman, whether it was Ben Affleck or Robert Pattinson’s portrayals (Pattinson proved a solid detective Batman, Affleck captures Batman’s physicality and resourcefulness, but for me, Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne hands down) – it goes without saying that an open mind allows one to have the most complete experience, and in taking such a method, also deepens one’s understanding and enjoyment of a work (or genre) by appreciating different interpretations and perspectives of things.

Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!!- An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best, you’ll be okay.” –Robert De Niro

Third year is now in full swing: Karen’s ended up in Sakura’s class, while Alice, Shinobu, Yōko and Aya are now in Akari’s class. For their class trip to Kyoto, the girls start in Nara, where they check out Nara Deer Park and the Nara Daibutsu, a as well as Kofuku-Ji. Alice impresses Shinobu and the others with her knowledge of the destinations. The next day, after arriving in Kyoto, Honoka struggles to get a photo of her with Karen, and although Kana tries to help, various misunderstandings prevent Honoka from succeeding. After visiting both the Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji, Honoka manages to work up the courage and asks Karen for a photo, being overjoyed she’s succeeded. That evening, after sharing a bath together, the girls attempt to start a pillow fight, only for Aya to display an unexpected ferocity: she’s longed to swap love stories with everyone else. On their final day in Kyoto, Shinobu and Alice share a conversation about their future plans while at Kyoto Tower, although Aya reminds everyone that entrance exams await them once they return home. Back home, Yōko decides to practise for entrance interviews, and Aya decides to join, feeling it to be a chance to learn whether or not Yōko returns her feelings. While Alice is writing a letter back home, she begins to worry about Shinobu’s future. A squeal from downstairs rouses her from her thoughts, and it turns out Shinobu’s mother is going through old photos: Shinobu’s mother had studied in England during her time as a post-secondary student and met Alice’s mother here, which is why when Shinobu later wanted to do a homestay in a foreign country, she would meet Alice. For old time’s sake, Shinobu’s mother decides to hop on a FaceTime call with Alice’s mother after they return home from shopping. Back at school, Alice is struggling to explain to Shinobu that she wants to return home for her post-secondary studies, and upon hearing this, Aya becomes caught in the moment, thinking the time has come for Shinobu to do a kokuhaku with Alice. Once this misunderstanding is cleared up, Shinobu explains that she’s got the gist of what’s happening, having looked up Alice’s English earlier. Upon hearing this, Shinobu decides her future is settled: she’d very much like to go to England with Alice. However, the afternoon’s felt quiet: Karen’s missing, and it turns out she’s also struggling to choose her way forward. With their plans now established, everyone begins to study in earnest. While Aya, Yōko and Karen prepare to stare down entrance exams, Shinobu spends her nights preparing for the overseas exams. Izumi reflects on how once Shinobu is committed to something, she’ll give it her all, and decides to make her some fish and chips as encouragement. When the new year arrives, Akari and Sakura swing by the local shrine to pray for their student’s success. After running into Karen and learning that Yōko’s drawn bad luck, Akari decides to do a good luck dance, to the embarrassment of those around them. Entrance exams soon arrive, and the pressure from the exams is immense: Yōko, Aya and Karen are stressed beyond words. However, exams go well for all three: despite a terrifying few moments, the three have made it into their institute of choice. Graduation arrives shortly after, and while Shinobu, Karen and Yōko sit through the ceremony with a smile, Aya and Alice end up bawling their eyes out. Even Akari has trouble saying goodbye to her first group of students. After the ceremony ends, the friends prepare to part ways. Some time later, after Alice and Shinobu have settled into life in England, Karen, Aya and Yōko arrive to visit.

With Kiniro Mosaic now at a definitive end, Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!! (Thank You!! from here on out for brevity) portrays each of Shinobu, Alice, Aya, Yōko and Karen gearing up to pursue their own futures while at the same time, remaining true to their promise of being together with one another. With their time as high school students winding down, everyone worries about whether or not they’ll be able to continue spending time together as friends, and this in turn prompts the characters to push themselves further for one another’s sake. Shinobu has her heart set on studying English abroad despite her still-weak command of the language, and ends up gaining admittance overseas to an English institute. Aya, Yōko and Karen end up at the same post-secondary, as well: Yōko and Karen move heaven and earth to succeed on their entrance exams for the sake of being together. While a few moments leave them feeling completely defeated, and even their instructors worry for them, all of this effort is met with a reward after the three gain admittance to their school of choice. In this way, Aya, Yōko and Karen get to remain together, mcuh as how Alice and Shinobu can continue to spend their futures together, as well. In this way, Thank You!! speaks to how people are willing to put in their best effort and go the extra mile for those around them, and moreover, when such raw determination and resolve manifests, miracles result. This is a heart-warming, and positive theme that is befitting of the gentle and cheerful world within Kiniro Mosaic. The film’s ending is particularly telling: although Alice and Shinobu move to England to pursue their futures, while Aya, Yōko and Karen study at a Japanese post-secondary institute, they’ll always be able to meet up again even if they are separated for the present. This leaves everyone free to cherish their old friendships while at the same time, remain open to new experiences. This aspect of high school is one that countless anime have covered, albeit in different fashions: Azumanga Daioh had left the post-secondary period ambiguous, while K-On! portrays Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi as being able to stay together when they are admitted to the same institute. Thank You!! marks the middle of the road between these two extremes, showing how secondary is definitely not the end, and people will always have the opportunity of getting back together even if their paths diverge for the present. Consequently, Thank You!! represents an immensely satisfying conclusion to Kiniro Mosaic; after three years’ worth of discoveries, the characters are left in a better position to pursue their futures while at the same time, continue to enjoy time they’d spent together as friends.

Thank You!! enters the field populated by giants: 2011’s K-On! The Movie remains the definitive yardstick for what makes for a successful silver screen experience, and in an interview, director Naoko Yamada expressed that the biggest challenge was scaling the aesthetic and messages from the TV series into a much larger, moving experience. To this end, Yamada ended up zeroing in on how Tenshi no Fureta Yo! came about, transforming the film into an expression of gratitude through an all-new story. By comparison, Thank You!! directly adapts segments of the Kiniro Mosaic manga and ties them into a cohesive narrative, showing how everyone prepares for the future ahead of graduation. However, despite not utilising an original story as K-On! The Movie had, Thank You!! still succeeds in stepping into the realm of the silver screen. This is accomplished by opening the film with Shinobu and Alice’s class trip to Kyoto – although Kiniro Mosaic briefly portrays Alice and Karen’s homes in England, the series is predominantly set in Tokyo. Changing the pacing up by sending the cast over to Kyoto creates a feeling of adventure, and in this way, even though Thank You!! returns home for the girls’ entrance exams and graduation, the energy from the class trip carries on over to the girls’ everyday experiences, creating excitement and anticipation in viewers as Yōko, Karen and Aya strive to get into their post-secondary institute of choice. By re-tooling the manga’s story to fit the movie format, Thank You!! is able to strike a balance between the scale of a movie, and the cozier, more intimate feeling of a TV series: familiar moments, like Yōko’s straight-man quips in response to outrageous moments, or Isami’s blunt, no-nonsense attitude about Shinobu’s idea of a souvenir, are presented right alongside events with a much larger novelty or weight. Things like the class trip to Kyoto, and the graduation ceremony itself are pivotal moments for the characters, and to emphasise this, inset music is used to accentuate the emotional tenour of such scenes. Altogether, Thank You!! shows that, even if an anime film feels more like an extended episode thanks to frequent inclusion of elements that had been common to the TV series, use of devices can nonetheless create the sort of scale that gives the story a larger, more encompassing feeling as befitting of a film: Thank You!!‘s runtime and choice of moments to adapt from the manga creates a logical flow of events, showing how the girls prepare for their futures and say goodbye to the plethora of memories they created as students in such a way as to decisively, and definitively, conclude Kiniro Mosaic.

Besides acting as an enjoyable close to Kiniro Mosaic, Thank You!! also sets the precedence for what lies ahead for its sister series, GochiUsa. Similarly to Kiniro Mosaic, GochiUsa had portrayed life in an idyllic world, showing how friendships facilitate self-discovery. Both series show characters grow and mature, treasuring the time they share together as they hurtle towards the inevitable milestone that is graduation. Both series also use travel as a metaphor for stepping into the future. After graduation, Alice and Shinobu move to England, where Karen, Aya and Yōko visit. When Rize’s admittance into university is given, Chino expresses a desire to travel and gain a broader perspective of the world after realising she’d spent her life living in the wood-framed town. A glance into GochiUsa‘s manga shows that such a journey does end up happening, as Chino accompanies Maya, Megu, Cocoa, Chiya, Sharo and Rize in exploring a larger city. Visiting the city would represent a considerable departure from the everyday comings and goings at Rabbit House, or the classroom; it follows that Chino’s graduation trip would represent a major milestone in her life, sufficiently significant as to warrant a movie. Such a film would easily be able to scale up the GochiUsa experience for the silver screen, and perhaps even mark a stopping point for GochiUsa‘s animated form. While the manga is still ongoing, showing Chino’s experiences in high school, long-running series often experience the challenge of continually finding something meaningful to say. Running for extended periods may result in a work becoming stale – this is something that Bill Watterson had expressed as being his primary reason for ending Calvin and Hobbes where it did. Considering how touching GochiUsa has been in its run, this outcome would not be a had idea: allowing Chino’s journey to end at graduation, leaving her a clean slate to go exploring with, is equivalent to the blank slate that Shinobu and Alice have at the end of Thank You!!. Having taken that first step forward, viewers do have the reassurance that everyone will be able to succeed so long as they put their minds to it. This is where Thank You!! succeeds, and in doing so, also sets the bar for how GochiUsa might be able to end its story gracefully.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the blog archives, it would’ve been roughly five years since I last wrote about Kiniro Mosaic‘s last instalment, Pretty Days. This would’ve been a few months before I left for Japan, and even back in 2017, it would’ve been a full two years since Hello! Kiniro Mosaic finished airing. I came upon this series after finishing GochiUsa: I’d been looking for a similar series, and Kiniro Mosaic appeared to fit the bill quite nicely. I still remember watching the first episode at the lab on campus a few days before I was set to fly out over to Taiwan, and I ended up finishing the first season just in time for the second season’s arrival in the winter of 2015.

  • While I originally felt that Kiniro Mosaic was eclipsed by GochiUsa owing to the latter’s distinct setting, in time, I would come to appreciate how Kiniro Mosaic was distinct from GochiUsa. This is one of the main joys about Manga Time Kirara series: although they may prima facie appear to be identical to one another, a closer look will find distinct flavours in each work. Thank You!! opens with a class trip to Nara and Kyoto, and perhaps speaking to Shinobu’s weaker knowledge, she imagines that Nara Park and its famous deer are in Kyoto. After Alice explains the significance of the deer as being the gods’ messenger, Karen hands her a biscuit, causing the deer to overtake her.

  • Later, Karen decides to give her own spin on the Nara Daibutsu’s story and, in a manner reminiscent to Yuru Camp△‘s Aoi Inuyama, openly lies about things, causing her classmates, Akari and Alice to step in. On paper, it sounds like it should be relatively easy to spot tall tales in such stories, but the joke here is that while foreigners might not be fully versed in specific, small details in the history of some of the sights, there are details that even locals may not be aware of. On the flipside, Alice’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic, rivalling the level of detail that Go! Go! Nippon!‘s Makoto and Akira Misaki present things to players.

  • Here, Alice explains the stories behind Nigatsudo (a water drawing ceremony site) and Kasuga Shrone (shown here, home of Nara’s guardian deities). Although Thank You!! has Shinobu and Aya visiting them sequentially, there is actually quite a bit of distance between them: Nigatsudo and Kasuga Shrine are 1.2 kilometres apart as the mole digs. At a casual pace, it’d take about 10 minutes to walk on over. Shinobu and Aya express interest in these sites, but when Alice reaches Meoto Daikokusha, a shrine for couples, Aya becomes especially enamoured with it. Unlike Nigatsudo, Meoto Daikokusha is only about two hundred metres from Kasuga Shrine, making it a much easier walk.

  • I will remark that I’ve opted to romanise Kiniro Mosaic without the extra dash: some sites choose to romanise things as Kin-iro rather than Kiniro, and I imagine this is because きんいろ is rendered as kin’iro in Hepburn. The apostrophe is meant to eliminate ambiguity; it is used to separate homophones that might be easily confused. In the case of Kiniro, if the apostrophe isn’t present, then one might accidentally transcribe きんいろ as きにろ. The dash is technically incorrect (the Third Edition of Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary specifies it’s a dash), having its origins from Victor-Tango-Victor and limitations in how their old custom PMWiki implementation could not handle some Unicode characters, but it’s persisted to this day, even being counted as the “correct” transcription of the title at Wikipedia. Conversely, the official English manga simply renders the title as Kiniro Mosaic, with neither dash nor apostrophe, so for ease of typing, this is what I’ve gone with.

  • The dinner that Alice and the others sit down to at their ryokan is a kaiseki-style dinner with wagyu beef as its centerpiece, reminiscent of the dinner I had at the Heritage Resort in Saitama. At its finest, Japanese cuisine is sublime to behold, resembling works of art rather than dinner; the sushi I enjoyed last week is an example of how is intricately and artfully prepared even seemingly-simple Japanese dishes are. This isn’t to say that other foods around the world can’t look as good as it tastes. Recent trends meant that even something like a breakfast poutine can look wonderful from a visual standpoint. Use of different colours and textures brings out the aesthetic in food, and one of my favourite examples is a local breakfast joint called OEB’s.

  • Earlier today, I’d been out and about on a walk around the city centre to capitalise on the fact that the weather in the morning was beautiful. I’ve not been downtown for quite some time, since my office is located in a quiet corporate campus in a quiet neighbourhood, and since I primarily work from home now. On my morning walk, I passed by the Telus Convention Centre (where the local anime convention is hosted) and Steven Avenue mall, which are within walking distance of my old building. I ended up heading up towards the river, where a park is located. They’re currently undergoing some upgrades, so I couldn’t quite walk the whole thing, but here, one is afforded a pleasant view of the downtown’s buildings. Since it’s now late May, the cherry blossoms were also in bloomHanami happens in March in Japan, but owing to climate differences, these trees bloom in mid to late May. The morning concluded with a breakfast poutine at OEB’s, located underneath this cluster of office towers.

  • The next day, the girls head on over to Kyoto. Lovingly referred to as “Anagram Lover’s Tokyo” in Futurama, Kyoto in reality is the former capital of Japan, and is one of the few Japanese cities to be spared Allied bombing during the Second World War. As a result, many of Kyoto’s buildings are older and therefore, gives the city a more historical feel about it compared to other Japanese cities, which were levelled and extensively rebuilt. The historical elements are far from everyone’s mind, as everyone is more inclined to take things easy.

  • In particular, Honoka’s taken a keen interest in having her photo taken with Karen: since the events of Hello! Kiniro Mosaic, Honoka’s developed a crush of sorts on Karen, and towards the end of the season, the two began to spend more time together. This aspect of Kiniro Mosaic was done to show how Karen was slowly beginning to fit in with her classmates: previously, Alice and Karen had known one another since childhood, and as a result, she ended up following Alice to Japan. In time, Karen would slowly come to find her own place in the sun, setting down the groundwork for her own way forward.

  • In Kyoto, Yōko, Aya, Alice, Shinobu and Karen swing by Kiyomiz-dera, a Buddhist temple known for its legendary 13-metre balcony: founded in 778, the structures seen today were constructed in 1663. Legend has it that anyone who survives the drop would have their wishes granted, although for safety reasons, jumping became prohibited in 1872. Today, it’s a popular destination, and the site could be of interest to Aya, as it’s also home to a pair of stones which, if one could walk in a straight line between them blindfolded, their romantic ambitions may come true. However, the sights up here end up being more inspirational to Shinobu, who spontaneously composes a haikyu up here.

  • For Honoka, nerves prevent her from asking Karen openly for a photo, and she ends up spending her wish at a shrine to get said photo with Karen. Karen, on the other hand, has no qualms about such a photo and is quite open to such a request. However, the moment never seems quite right for Honoka, and she even contemplates using a selfie-stick to insert herself into a photo. I’ve not seen selfie-sticks for quite some time now: they were all the rage in the mid 2010s, and while I had been in Taiwan and Hong Kong, one could hardly take a step without spotting a tourists rocking these sticks. The more advanced ones even have a BlueTooth transmitter that allows one to take the photo remotely.

  • En route to their next destination, Shinobu reveals that all of her photos are of Karen and Alice – she feels that their blonde hair makes them particularly standout at Japanese destinations. This comes at the expense of the photos they were supposed to take as a part of their day’s assignment, prompting Yōko and Aya to try and take over as photographers. The last destination of the day is Kinkakuji, and at this point in time, I can say that I’ve seen this iconic landmark with my own eyes. It’d been a grey, rainy sort of day, but even under overcast skies, the Kinkakuji’s distinct gold siding shone with a regal brilliance.

  • In the end, Honoka manages to get her photo at the Kinkakuji, and this leads everyone to want photos with both Alice and Karen. It typifies Kiniro Mosaic‘s ability to find heartwarming resolutions to the problems that characters face, and here, Aya is able to get in on things, as well. For this post, I’ve opted to go with eighty screenshots. The rationale was that Thank You!! has a runtime of 80 minutes, which corresponds to about four episodes’ worth of content. I imagine that at the time of writing, I’ve got what is the internet’s only full discussion of Thank You!!, complete with screenshots.

  • With the second day drawing to a close, Alice, Shinobu, Yōko and Aya retire to their lodgings, where a beautiful dinner has already been prepared for them, allowing for a quieter meal that stands in contrast with the more energetic, communal meal from the previous evening. Alice is impressed with the distinctly Japanese aesthetic of the room and states it stands in stark contrast with Shinobu’s bedroom; the latter is furnished in a Western style and is something I’d be more familiar with. Japanese-style rooms have minimalist design about them that emphasises simplicity, whereas in the West, rooms are designed to be cozy.

  • I imagine that the girls’ accommodations are at a ryokan: these Japanese-style inns are a ways more pricey than conventional hotels, but offer a distinctly Japanese experience. Many ryokan provide intricate kaiseki meals and have their own onsen on-site, which the girls here enjoy after dinner. I admit that my interest in relaxing at a ryokan does stem from seeing their portrayal in anime such as Kiniro Mosaic, and a few summers ago, I ended up picking up a coffee table book showcasing some of Japan’s most famous ryokan, ranging from ultra-modern establishments that blend tradition with cotemporary comforts, to classical establishments that give guests an entire wing of a building to themselves.

  • Whereas Aya had wanted to talk about romance the previous evening, everyone had been exhausted by the day’s events. When presented with a second chance, Aya immediately seizes it: this second night, everyone’s wide awake and is prepared for a pillow fight of epic proportions (in a Ōsama dare da style game). Determine to have her love talk, Aya swiftly steals all of the pillows and pummels her opponents into the ground to win. Although the pillow fight is not shown, the end results bring to mind the likes of what happened after Ip Man fought ten black belts. Aya is typically presented as being physically weak, but when romance is concerned, she acquires supernatural strength that matches the likes of Rize, her counterpart in GochiUsa.

  • While Shinobu’s already dozed off, Aya decides to ask Karen what her story is, and Karen’s reply is that her first love was Alice. As far as relevance towards Kiniro Mosaic‘s themes go, yuri manifests as desire to remain with those one loves. This is the driver behind some of the characters’ actions, spurring everyone to be their best selves, and in the process, creates a large part of the comedy here, as well. Conversely, because the relationships in Kiniro Mosaic are very clear-cut, there are no love tesseracts, and as such, what is colloquially referred to as “shipping wars” is practically nil.

  • As it turns out, when people say they’re doing “analysis” on yuri, they’re largely referring to “shipping wars”, in which they assessing whether or not the characters are a good fit for one another. My own approach towards yuri, then, would be considered sacrilegious: I care very little for these so-called “shipping wars”, since I am of the mind that the author’s intentions, through the characters they pair together, speak volumes about the larger message. Disregarding this and going off on exercises in the hypothetical leaves me no closer to appreciating what a work is about. At Kyoto Tower, Alice wonders if something’s bothering Shinobu: it turns out Shinobu’s a little antsy about missing a travel programme she’s recorded, but beyond this, would be happy to go anywhere in the world, so long as Alice and her friends are with her. It is here that plans for a trip to England are laid down, but before any of these plans can be considered, exams now loom on the horizon.

  • Upon returning home, Isami greets them, only to be disappointed by the lack of souvenirs: it turns out she’d given Shinobu a large list of things to pick up. I’ve always had a fondness for Isami: as it turns out, unlike Shinobu, who’d been head-over-heels with foreign cultures, Isami saw herself as being content to make Shinobu happy. Since then, she’s gone on to pursue post-secondary studies and models on the side. Like Mocha, Isami is portrayed as the reliable older sibling who dotes on her younger sibling, although unlike Mocha, Isami can be a bit blunt about what she wants.

  • Shinobu appears to have crossed a line of sorts after she pulls a stunt similar to Pretty Days, where she brings back “love” as a gift of sorts for Alice and Karen after a cake run: she remarks that this time around, she’s returned an armful of memories to cherish. However, what follows is even more hilarious: Shinobu apparently also captured some sacred air from Kiyomizu-dera in a bag. This moment reminds me of a souvenir one of my relatives had: a bottle with a cork stopped labelled “Fresh Air from Ottawa”. As the story goes, after I began learning how to walk, I somehow found the bottle and uncorked it, resulting in much laughter from said relatives.

  • Moments like these are why I’m so fond of Kiniro Mosaic: in disgust, Isami punches out the bag to show Shinobu her dissatisfaction. With air from any location, I imagine that short of vacuum-sealing something, the molecules will eventually diffuse over time, so even if a container were to remain sealed, it would mix in with local air whether I’d opened the cork or not. Consequently, such souvenirs are usually meant as a joke, and one’s only really paying for the price of the container and any branding it has, rather than for the air itself. Conversely, I do have a few bottles of fresh sand from my Cancún trip for an academic conference some six years earlier.

  • With the Kyoto and Nara trip now over, Shinobu, Alice and Aya return to class. For their third year, Akari’s their homeroom instructor, while Sakura, who’d previously been their homeroom instructor, is now Karen’s homeroom instructor. Thank You!! drops viewers into the middle of their third year, and in adapting content from volumes seven through eleven of the manga, skips over many of the secondary moments (such as another class play, and a Christmas party). In spite of this, Thank You!! fully captures the most emotional of the moments to create a worthy finale to Kiniro Mosaic.

  • After classes end, when the topic of entrance exams and admittance interviews come up, Aya pulls Yōko aside to practise, even though their schools of choice won’t have an interview: Aya is hoping to gauge whether or not Yōko returns her feelings, and although the conversations proceed in typical Kiniro Mosaic fashion, Aya soon finds her answer. Yōko sees Aya as irreplaceable, a comforting constant in her life. It is not lost upon Yōko that Aya’s been putting in additional effort to maintain their friendship, and this is what motivates her to do her best, as well. A look at the calendar finds that Thank You!! premièred in Japanese cinema last year, on August 19. According to the blog archives, I was playing through DOOM Eternal and watching Magia Record‘s second season at this point in time.

  • I’ve long been interested in watching Thank You!! once I found out about the existence of a film – the project was announced back in March 2020, and by January 2021, the theatrical première date was known. However, discussions on the series has been limited every step of the way, and aside from folks excited to see Nao Tōyama back as Karen, there hadn’t been much buzz about Thank You!!. Ordinarily, such films would lead folks to speculate on whether or not the film would adapt manga chapters or feature all-new content, among other topics, but owing to the gaps between releases, I imagine that excitement for Thank You!! was limited to the most die-hard of Kiniro Mosaic fans (which is natural, considering the second season of Kiniro Mosaic finished airing seven years earlier).

  • Shinobu’s room is a very clean space, free of clutter. The only hint of any personalisation from this angle comes from Alice: a glass case containing a pair of Japanese dolls, and a Kakemono can be seen, but beyond this, the room feels more like something out of a realty listing. It’s always interesting to see how anime portray interior spaces; most series have minimalist environments so that focus is kept on the characters, and as such, personal spaces are kept in excellent order. By comparison, Makoto Shinkai and Studio Ghibli fill their spaces with clutter to create a more lived-in environment.

  • While Shinobu’s mother is looking through an old album, Shinobu’s practically beside herself with excitement and is reduced to a squeaky mess; it turns out that Shinobu’s mother had met Alice’s mother back when she’d been studying abroad, but after the former had finished her programme and returned back to Japan, they began drifting apart. Noticing Shinobu’s interest in foreign nations, Shinobu’s mother would later send her overseas after getting in touch with Alice’s mother. This bit of a story shows how some things can seem like they happened by fate, and it adds additional depth to the friendship that Shinobu and Alice share.

  • After Shinobu’s mother shares this bit of history, she and Shinobu head off to pick up some groceries. While Shinobu feels like she’s got a full heart, her mother begins sulking a little and considers skipping dinner for one evening. After the jokes pass, Shinobu finds herself with a newfound determination to see her dream of studying English overseas fulfilled; her mother’s confident that Shinobu can achieve whatever goals she sets her mind to. When Alice witnesses this, she becomes filled with a desire to have a conversation with her mother, too, and thank to the powers of FaceTime, are afforded such a conversation.

  • Back in class, Shinobu notices that Alice seems a little down: and it turns out that Alice has plans to return back home to pursue her post-secondary. However, she’s worried about how Shinobu will take the news, and in attempting to explain her future to Shinobu, Alice ends up reverting back to English. I’ve heard that multi-lingual people tend to revert to their native tongue whenever they’re stressed: Tom Clancy slides in such a detail in the novel Locked On, and I read a paper titled “Why do bilingual code-switch when emotional?” that explains this phenomenon in more detail.

  • It turns out emotional intensity decreases cognitive control and spontaneously causes code-switching. In my case, I tend to think and curse in English, primarily because it’s the language I’m most comfortable with, and because I don’t know any Cantonese expletives. Conversely, when things get exciting, I do occasionally transition into Cantonese. Alice’s voice actress, Manami Tanaka, speaks English in an accented, but perfectly understandable fashion, and I have no trouble understanding what Alice is saying. After hearing this, Shinobu voices her concerns with Aya, Yōko and Karen.

  • Aya immediately jumps to the conclusion that Alice must be lovesick: in Thank You!!, Aya’s fixation on romance becomes increasingly visible. However, far from taking away from her character, this makes her more endearing. Kiniro Mosaic had shown Aya as being studious and perceptive, possessing a serious streak that occasionally gives way to embarrassment whenever Yōko was concerned. By the events of Thank You!!, Aya’s become a little more open and assertive, even if she does still struggle with her feelings from time to time.

  • Worried about Alice, Shinobu decides to hit the library and makes an attempt to look up what Alice has said so she can find a way of reassuring Alice and respond properly. I imagine that despite her weaker command of English, Shinobu would still be able to match enough patterns to get the gist of what’s being said, although a large part of competency in a language is vocabulary. This is something I’ve noticed, even when I watch Cantonese films – I’ve got a solid idea of what’s going on, but I’m missing a few words here and there, and when I get those clarified, my understanding of a given scene improves considerably.

  • While Shinobu attempts to do things the old-fashioned way, appropriate given her aspirations, Aya and Yōko decide to do things in a manner more befitting of Kiniro Mosaic: they imagine that what Alice needs is the reassurance that Shinobu still loves her, and to this end, have kitted Shinobu out with a kimono, as well as a kokuhaku script. Such moments are typical fare for Kiniro Mosaic: the series is driven by the classic manzai routine, in which humour is created between a joker and stooge. Their interactions create misunderstandings that lead to comedy. For the most part, Yōko provides the tsukkomi lines.

  • Excitement leads Aya, Karen and Yōko to watch from the bushes: initially, everything appears to proceed to plan as Shinobu reads from the script. However, the tranquility in the moment soon leads Alice to be more truthful about how she feels, and she’s finally able to voice her concerns to Shinobu. Once the truth is out, Shinobu replies that she’d actually been thinking the same thing: after giving her future some thought, she feels it best to travel and study abroad for her post-secondary. When things start going off-script, Karen, Aya and Yōko break cover.

  • Although Aya and Yōko are relieved that Alice is her usual self again, Karen becomes disheartened; whilst heading home from school, she suddenly disappears. The manga has this happen a few pages later, occurring under a completely different context. Thank You!! manages to weave these moments together seamlessly and create a smooth transition, allowing for the manga’s most poignant moments to come together for the film. Within the manga, things are split up, and this breaks up the flow of things in a different way. Whereas the film places an emphasis on how diverging paths can be difficult to accept when one initially hears about them, the manga utilises the same moments to create gentle humour.

  • The group splits up to search for Karen, who’s hiding in a cardboard box that Alice readily spots. It turns out that Karen’s feeling a little left out after learning of Alice’s plans. The two had been together for as long as Karen can remember, and while ordinarily, Karen would simply have done as Alice has done, she’s now come to greatly treasure her time here in Japan, as well. She’s torn between staying in Japan with her friends, and returning home with Alice. Alice feels as though she’s directly in competition with an entire nation, but once she hears Karen out, she’s able to offer her own suggestions.

  • Alice believes that separation isn’t going to be a problem because they’ll always be together in their hearts, and moreover, the fact is that everyone is closer than they think because of the internet. In this moment, Thank You!! makes clever use of lighting to show how Karen and Alice are feeling. Since Karen is down, she’s shrouded by shadow, whereas Alice is in the light. When Karen is able to see the point Alice is making, the shadows suddenly clear, and Karen’s old spirits return to her. Visual effects in Kiniro Mosaic are nowhere nearly as vivid as those of a Kyoto Animation work, and even GochiUsa is more detailed. However, the subtler use of visual effects here in Kiniro Mosaic are to the series’ advantage, allowing one’s eye to remain on the characters while the background gives a hint of they’re feeling in the moment without overwhelming the viewer.

  • With Karen back to her cheerful self, she announces that she intends to stay in Japan, plans on visiting England as often as she can, and moreover, has been eying the same university that Yōko and Aya had been planning to apply for. Given that Karen’s able to outline her future so clearly, it is likely the case that she’d already given her future some thought, but had simply been doubting whether or not she wanted to follow her heart and stay in Japan, or do as she’d previously done. Thank You!! overcomes this particular barrier in a manner befitting of Kiniro Mosaic: talking it out with people close to oneself.

  • During Hello! Kiniro Mosaic, in response to the antics Alice and her group were engaged in, Akari had remarked that this particular group of students were just like primary school students, and the conversation subsequently went towards how pets show a truer side of one’s personality. Manga Time Kirara series have long placed emphasis on adorable characters that exude the same aura as that of a small animal, creating a sense of catharsis amongst some viewers, including myself. This approach does not work for everyone, and some folks steer clear of Manga Time Kirara series because the characters can come across as unrealistic.

  • In a few heart-to-heart conversations, each of Aya, Alice, Karen, Yōko and Shinobu’s respective futures suddenly take on a newfound clarity. This gives everyone a clear target to focus all of their energies towards: Shinobu is especially motivated, and even Karen is psyched about working towards a future where she can be with everyone. However, Yōko’s long been weaker in her studies, and while she’s determined all the same, she ends up becoming exhausted much more quickly than the others even as they study together.

  • In particular, seeing Shinobu study with such concentration is a sign of the times: Kiniro Mosaic had presented Shinobu as scatter-brained, with an eye for making extremely intricate and well-crafted outfits, and not much of a mind for studying. However, with a promise to Alice to fulfill, Shinobu has all of the motivation she needs to prepare ahead of admissions to a post-secondary in England. Seeing this, Isami recalls how she’d been quite worried about Shinob Hu when the latter decided to do a homestay in England. After Shinobu returned home, Isami was impressed with how she’d always given her passions her all, no matter what they were. To support Shinobu, Isami’s whipped up some homemade fish-and-chips for her with help from their mother to show her support. Fish-and-chips would be a bit heavy to eat at night, but the gesture shows Isami’s kindness all the same.

  • Although Shinobu is surprised, she finds the fish and chips delicious and is thankful Isami is looking out for her. This dish is an iconic English food: originally, fried fish was inspired by immigrants who prepared fish by coating it in flour before frying it in oil. By the mid-1800s, fish and chip shops became widespread in England, and gained widespread popularity because it was an inexpensive by hearty meal the working class loved. I’ve not had fish and chips for some years now, but luckily, a good plate can be had at virtually any pub in the city.

  • The seasons begin passing in the blink of an eye, and soon, the new year is upon everyone. With exams on the horizon, even Akari and Sakura are a little nervous about their charges: for their New Year’s Shrine visit, Sakura and Akari show up to pray for everyone’s successes. Akari is especially stressed and is prepared to offer ten thousand Yen per student in her class. This corresponds to a hundred Canadian dollars per student at the current exchange rates. Of late, high interest rates in American banks has resulted in a weaker Yen, whereas the previous exchange rates had been closer to 120 Yen per Canadian dollar.

  • The weaker Yen makes it especially attractive to pick up merchandise from Japan now, and recently, I placed an order for both Violet Evergarden: The Movie and Hello! Kiniro Mosaic‘s TV animation guidebooks to capitalise on the weaker Yen, as well as to see how shipping works after I’d moved. Both books were sold out and could only be resolved via proxy shipping at CD Japan, but the weaker Yen is softening up the costs (otherwise, I’d be paying about 20 percent more). Back in Thank You!!, after making their offerings, Sakura shares with Akari the trick she used for passing exams: a dance of sorts.

  • While such a dance might seem hokey, there is actually merit in dancing: it increases circulation, and physical activity also generates endorphins, which in turn helps with concentration and focus. Slice-of-life anime often employ unusual behaviours to drive comedy, but some actions do have a scientific basis. However, dancing out in public could seem unusual: Yōko’s siblings, and Kana’s younger sister, immediately spot Akari and Sakura and feel it’s best not to look. They then begin discussing their own new year wishes. Both Kōta and Mitsuki pray for Yōko’s success.

  • Shortly after writing down their wishes (Akari wishes for her students to be constantly smiling, or, as I know it, 笑口常開), Akari and Sakura run into Yōko and Karen having a snowball fight. Here, Shinobu can be seen with an adorable hood with flaps that make her resemble a lop-eared bunny. The dance had been showcased on Kiniro Mosaic‘s official Twitter channel last year, and while this can be counted as a spoiler, it turns out this moment happens mid-movie. One of the biggest challenges associated with watching trailers is that folks who are movie-savvy can inevitably put two and two together from moments in a trailer.

  • I feel that a good trailer, and good promotional materials shouldn’t show content from the final third of a given film. Fearing that Karen could catch a cold, Akari immediately shuts down the snowball fight and gives Karen additional layers when the latter sneezes. It goes without saying that Thank You!! is basically 80 minutes of non-stop warmth, and moment such as these serve to accentuate that no matter what happens in these anime, everything is going to turn out okay.

  • This is why, even when Yōko picks up a fortune marked “terrible”, viewers don’t really need to worry too much about her exam performance: such stories are always written in a way as to ensure a happy outcome for all characters. Some folks contend that this is “predictable”, but I counter that slice-of-life series tend to worry more about the journey than the destination, and as such, “predictable” is an invalid criticism because such anime are, by definition, written around showing how a good outcome is reached. As an aside, drawing misfortune is a common enough joke for New Year’s shrine visits in anime, but as Akari states, fortunes are secondary to one’s own determination and skill.

  • Since Alice and Shinobu are studying abroad, they’re not taking the same exams that Yōko, Aya and Karen are. However, Alice is plenty worried about them and prays that they’ll be successful. The moment brings to mind the feeling my classmates and I had after we’d finished exams: amongst the health science students, we had the post-exam ritual of “press F5 in the student centre every five minutes” as we waited for the results to come out. This speaks to how strong the bonds are amongst this group of friends.

  • To lighten the moment up, Shibobu appears with a video camera belonging to Isami – she’s filming Alice for kicks and had imagined that Alice was trying not to hit the bathroom. For the class trip to Nara and Kyoto, Shinobu had borrowed Isami’s camera, and it suddenly hits me that Isami has a lot of recording devices. This brings back memories of YuruYuri‘s Akane Akaza, whose love for Akari is next-level. While Isami dotes on Shinobu, she’s also a bit strict and will not hesitate to nudge Shinobu back on course, but inwardly, she loves Shinobu very much.

  • The girls’ first exam leaves everyone defeated: the first test is always the toughest, and I recall my first-ever MCAT experience. During mid-June, I had my first-ever simulated full-length exam, a four hour experience that took an entire morning. I scored a 14 on it and, while I was rendered exhausted after the fact, I was immensely grateful that a part of MCAT preparations includes the test itself. Taking simulated exams allowed me to prepare myself mentally for the exam format and structure: as the MCAT preparation course wore on, I took several more simulated exams, scoring 22, 27 and 33 on the subsequent exams.

  • After their first exam, Yōko appears as though her very spirit is being drawn from her, much as how I’d felt after my first full-length practise exam (I would’ve been in the seventh percentile). Karen finds this hilarious, to Yōko’s displeasure: outwardly, Karen seems quite unfazed by the exams. However, on closer inspection, her bun’s on the right side (where it’s normally to her left), and her socks are mismatched. This can actually be seen as the three walk out of the exam venue; for me, one of the joys in watching anime come from catching these small details, which serve to tie different scenes together.

  • To help Karen settle her nerves, Alice lends her a pencil and promises that when it’s time to return said pencil, Karen will have passed already. Karen immediately considers using it as a die of sorts. Yōko gets in on the good luck charms: she’s still got the hairpins Aya had lent her from middle school. When Aya begins feeling a little left out, Shinobu gives her a homemade kokeshi hairpin. Although the hairpin was made in goodwill, Aya gets bad vibes out of it, as though it were a Sith artefact. Kokeshi dolls are given to children as a good luck charm, and in Kiniro Mosaic, Shinobu’s resemblance to a kokeshi doll is mentioned on several occasions. Because they’re iconic, I decided to buy a keychain-sized kokeshi while in Japan five years earlier.

  • After hearing Kana’s been accepted into her school of choice, Sakura is overjoyed. Akari is worried for her students, feeling that some of their aspirations might not have a happy ending. In fact, Akari has been so concerned that she’d forgotten that this is the same day Karen’s set to take her exam, and to take her mind off things, she’s made a bunch of plushies of her students, including Karen, Aya, Yōko and Honoka. While Akari initially appears to be a strict, no-nonsense instructor, it turns out that she is just as caring and considerate as Sakura was, but simply had a tough time showing her students her true self.

  • If memory serves, Akari had actually been Sakura’s junior when they’d been students, and while she had intended to be a proper teacher for her students, Sakura’s example leads Akari to try and strike a balance between strictness and kindness. Out of stress, Akari even begins talking to the Karen doll. In reality, something like this would be indicative that one would need to unwind and decompress. In anime, however, such actions convey an adorable sense of helplessness, akin to watching ducklings attempt to clear a flight of steps.

  • On the morning of their next exam, the tension is palatable in the air: everyone’s done everything they can to achieve their aspirations, and after a group hug, it’s off to the examination centre. Since I’m a Canadian student, I’ve never had to take entrance exams – instead, when secondary school wraps up, my province administers standardised exams for us to take, which impact whether or not we’re admitted into the institute and faculty of our choosing. I’d actually been quite nervous about my English exam: the Faculty of Health Sciences requires a minimum grade of 80 percent to gain admittance, and I was barely holding onto an 80 average in that class.

  • In the end, effort would carry the day, and the next truly terrifying exam I stared down would be the MCAT. This exam was a foe of a proportion I’d not seen previously, and while preparations for said exam would be gruelling, it left me better equipped to deal with all exams in the future. I’ve never had a head for memorisation, so I approached the exam from a first principles standpoint: know enough of the basics to quickly re-derive whatever I needed to solve a problem. Memorisation is not a sign of intelligence, and while I imagine a few classmates from my secondary school’s IB program would disagree, I can say this with authority because nothing I do in my day-to-day involves memorisation.

  • Yōko, Aya, Karen and Honoka thus sit down to take on the exam that determines whether or not their aspirations for the future will be realised. Thank You!! shows glimpses of the exam questions themselves, including geometry, Japanese literature, English and chemistry. The me of twelve years earlier would have been able to trivially solve everything without trouble, although since then, my knowledge has become highly specialised towards software development. Although I retain a fundamental level of knowledge in biology and chemistry, I am no longer able to delve into stoichiometry and predicting organic reactions as I could during the MCAT: it is fair to say that, while I am a moderately competent software developer, I’m no longer smarter than a fifth grader.

  • Upon returning home that evening, Yōko, Karen, Honoka and even Aya look completely defeated; Aya had been looking forwards to post-secondary life with her friends, and she states that if anyone should fail, she’ll fail alongside them so they can be together. This remark is made in jest, but interpreted from a certain point of view, one might see Thank You!! as suggesting friends are more important than one’s future. I’d strongly disagree with this sentiment: to draw a parallel, I’ve known folks who’ve gone to university so they could continue hanging out with their friends, but this four years would not be productive: rather than pursue the education that aligns with their career interests, these individuals were motivated simply by old friendships, and the cost can be high, as one ends up with a skill-set that may not be consistent with their passions.

  • However, I am aware that this is not what Thank You!! is going for, and just because there comes a point where Aya might be considering such a route does not mean Kiniro Mosaic is intending this to be a part of its themes. This is a critical part of being a fair viewer: unfairly dismissing a work because one was jumping to conclusions is to be insincere. Back in Thank You!!, exam results become available: Aya, Yōko and even Karen are anxious about the results. To this end, they’ve brought Alice along as moral support, and Shionbu’s kitted her out with an adorable færie costume.

  • The large crowds mean Alice initially has trouble getting to the board where successful applicants were posted, but she ends up reaching them in the end. Here, she spots Karen’s number and hastens to report back to her friends, who immediately dissolve in tears of joy. However, Alice has only found Karen’s number, and it takes Yōko and Aya some courage to look for themselves. To their immense relief, they’ve also passed, and in her exuberance, Aya decks Yōko.

  • Once the tension gives way to relief, Aya, Karen and Yōko can relax a little, with Karen joking that Aya has staved off being turned to the Dark Side of the Force. More so than passing and getting into the school of their choice, the joy in this moment comes from the fact that, for the next four years, everyone will get to be together with one another. This is quite touching, and a well-deserved outcome for each of Karen, Yōko and Aya. While everyone’s majors are never stated, it is sufficient to go to the same university because in between classes, one can still hang out with their friends during breaks and in various events.

  • Of all the people in my graduating class, I was the only one to have entered the Health Sciences programme: none of my classmates joined me, and I ended up making all-new friends as a result. However, enough of my old friends had also gained admittance to the university, so we always had a chance to hang out during lunch breaks, and on some occasions, we even ended up on the same classes. To Yōko, Aya and Karen’s surprise, Honoka and Kana are also around; Honoka had arrived earlier to check for her number, and she’d made it in, as well.

  • As the moment sinks in, large cherry blossoms suddenly begin flying through the air. This seems fitting for the moment, being a bit of pleasant symbolism to show that something new is beginning, at least until one realises that everyone’s still wearing their winter coats, and that it’s a bit early for hanami: Aya is the first to notice these “blossoms”, and it turns out they’re coming from Alice’s dress. It turns out that, perhaps when Shinobu had been sewing the outfit together, she might’ve not made it up to her usual standards because she’s distracted both by her friends’ successes, and her own studies.

  • However, one other possibility is because Alice had made her way through such a tight crowd, the movements may have loosened the threading. In the ensuing chaos, Aya implores the others to quickly retrieve the bits of Alice’s skirt that’s fallen off. While this is happening, Karen and Honoka are too busy enjoying the moment to help, and the scene switches over to Akari and Sakura, who’ve shown up to see how their students are doing, as well. Both are reduced to tears of happiness at the sight before their eyes.

  • The page quote was chosen because effort is ultimately what underlies everything in Kiniro Mosaic: whether it be Aya and Yōko putting in their best effort for a school play, Karen and Shinobu hitting the books to stay afloat, and Alice learning to express herself more openly, everything that’s happened in Kiniro Mosaic happens because everyone makes the effort to realise their goals. While efforts may sometimes fall short, there is no penalty for trying, and seeing what happens when one applies oneself is always rewarding. As a result, even if one’s best “isn’t good enough”, one at least knows where their limits lie and can look back on things without regret.

  • A few weeks have passed, and spring approaches, bringing with it cherry blossoms, and graduation. On the day of their ceremony, Alice and Shinobu are very nearly late because the latter is having trouble waking up, but with some help from Alice, the pair get out the door just in time. Thank You!! supposes that this is Shinobu being her usual self, but in the manga, everyone had taken a graduation trip over to England to visit Alice’s family and check out London’s sights. Thank You!! skips over this entirely because the film had been focused on Shinobu, Alice, Karen, Aya and Yōko finding their way: going to London, as fun as it would be, wouldn’t directly contribute to this particular story.

  • I would imagine that bringing the graduation trip segment of the manga to life would’ve entailed doing some location scouting to ensure that the animated adaptation of London was true-to-life, and recalling that Thank You!! was produced during the global health crisis, travel might’ve been trickier, hence the decision to keep the story in Japan. There is a sufficient amount of material that could result in another OVA later down the line if Studio Gokumi and AXsiZ do end up picking up Kiniro Mosaic again, but for the present, the girls’ graduation marks the end of the series.

  • En route to their graduation ceremony, Alice, Shinobu, Alice, Karen, Aya and Yōko run into Honoka and Kana: in a bit of a clever callback to the second season, Honoka’s doing her balancing act to relieve her nerves, causing the others to comment that this scene is probably going to be burnt into their minds forever. Curiously enough, I only have the vaguest memories of the days I attended my graduation ceremony, and assuming this to hold true for the characters of Kiniro Mosaic, I imagine that Honoka’s balancing act will not endure.

  • Anime typically present graduation as an emotional event: it marks the end of one era and time spent with people one would’ve become very close with. However, my own experiences with graduation were dramatically different: there were no tears to the best of my recollection, only excitement. Having said this, the portrayal of graduation in anime feels a lot more tearful than their counterparts over here in Canada – classmates appeared more interested in partying it up after the ceremony, and so, there never felt like there was much weight behind walking across the stage and shaking faculty hands.

  • The gap in reactions is symbolic, as Shinobu is quick to point out: those who smile at graduation are happy with the memories they picked up, whereas those who cry enjoyed themselves and wish they could live in the moment for longer. One touch I particularly liked was how Karen hands Aya a full roll of toilet paper, almost as though she’d foreseen that Aya would cry during the principal’s speech. Sure enough, when even a handkerchief fails to cut it, Aya falls back on the toilet paper.

  • For me, graduation never represented the end of something, but rather, a new beginning. Separation from friends never was much of a bother because even during my time as a secondary student, electronic communications like instant messaging had already been quite mature, and social media was slowly taking shape, allowing me to keep in touch with people more readily. Kiniro Mosaic‘s manga began running in 2010, a time when these technologies were present, so I imagine that the reactions harken to a more romantic era when communications were slower.

  • For Alice, her yearning to spend more time with everyone outweighs her desire to push forwards into the future, and when Shinobu replies how she’s smiling for all the good times they had, Alice is torn between smiling and crying at the same time. The last time I saw an anime graduation this emotional was Azumanga Daioh, which saw Chiyo dissolve into tears during the singing of Aogeba Tōtoshi. Conversely, in K-On!, Yui and her friends crossed the stage, all the while worrying about whether or not Sawako would find out about the farewell surprise they had planned for her; it wasn’t until Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi perform for Azusa where the waterworks begin.

  • The sharp-eyed viewer will probably find everyone wearing their uniforms in the default setup to be unusual: two seasons and an OVA, over nine years, has seen to it that viewers have acclimatised to Yōko’s messy style, Karen’s Union Jack coat and Alice’s pink cardigan. For viewers who’d been around when Kiniro Mosaic‘s first season aired, all the way back in 2013, their journey would have been even longer. When an anime runs over such a long period of time, it can feel as though the series has accompanied them through their own experiences, too.

  • For me, the anime that accompanied me through university was Gundam Unicorn: I didn’t come upon Kiniro Mosaic until late 2014, and in retrospect, it would’ve been nice to have watched this series while it had been airing during the summer of 2013. Back then, a historic flood had ravaged my province, and I was left in a depression after my summer plans dissolved. Watching the gentle comedy of Kiniro Mosaic might’ve proven to be the panacea I needed to get back on my feet a little more quickly: I had finished my Health Sciences degree that year and was still deciding on what my own future would be at the time.

  • After the graduation ceremony, the students return to their classroom to receive their diplomas, and Akari is so overcome with emotion that she’s struggling to remain coherent. Karen’s sudden appearance surprises her, and it turns out Karen’s here to receive her diploma from her a second time, feeling it appropriate considering how much she’d been bothersome to Akari. Thank You!! does a wonderful job of showing what it must feel like from the instructor’s perspective, to watch students start in their class and then go through all of the trials and tribulations that lead to graduation.

  • It speaks volumes to how effective Kiniro Mosaic is, that even a full five years after Pretty Days, it feels like only yesterday that I finished writing about Aya and Yōko preparing for their culture festival. Despite a half-decade passing, all of the characters still feel as familiar as they did when I first watched the series, and in a manner of speaking, Akari and Sakura’s tears mirror the viewers’ own feelings at the fact that Kiniro Mosaic has drawn to a close. The manga itself ended back in 2020, and while the title had been given to Yui Hara by an editor, over time, Hara came to try and shape her stories to fit with this title.

  • In the manga’s afterword, Hara hopes that she’s managed to convey what a “Golden Mosaic” is. I would contend the manga and anime have both succeeded in this. The colour gold is associated with prosperity and success, but also could refer to the blonde-haired girls in the story (Alice and Karen). In coming to Japan and brightening up everyone’s lives, Kiniro Mosaic can be seen as a mosaic, or collection, of these moments. As the graduation ceremony rolled, moments from both seasons, and the Pretty Days OVA, are shown, each of them being positively radiant and providing a golden mosaic for viewers.

  • Thank You!! ends with Karen, Aya and Yōko meeting up with Alice and Shinobu in a gentle field somewhere in England. This spot feels like the verdant fields and rolling hills in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire, and in this moment, it is clear that even though everyone’s graduated and is pursuing their own futures, they still have the means and opportunity to hang out together again. We’re getting close to the end of this post now, and here, I will note that this is probably the largest post I’ve written this year: at 11151 words, this reflection took over ten hours to write, and once I’m done, I plan on taking a short break before continuing on with regularly scheduled programming come June.

  • Because Thank You!! offers such a satisfying and conclusive ending to Kiniro Mosaic, issuing this series a final grade of A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.5 of 10) was a straightforward decision: this film acts as a final send-off to the series, bringing back everything that originally made Kiniro Mosaic so enjoyable while at the same time, indicating to viewers that everyone’s on a good course for the future. I hope that all fans of Kiniro Mosaic will have a chance to watch this movie when they get the chance: it is the capstone entry in a series that has been around for twelve years, and represents a swan song that brings things to a definitive close.

Overall, Thank You!! acts as the fitting swan-song for Kiniro Mosaic, bringing back all of the things that had made Kiniro Mosaic so enjoyable. While Thank You!! does not up its visuals (background artwork remains simplistic, much as it had in the TV series), where the film excels is the character animation, voice acting and use of inset music to really accentuate the emotional tenour of a given moment. Rather than attempting to go big with its visuals, Thank You!! places its emphasis on the characters, counting on their motions and dialogue to deliver how everyone is feeling as they push towards graduation. From stress and joy, to sorrow and defeat, every aspect of Thank You!! goes towards showing viewers how the characters are feeling, to the extent that by the time Shinobu and her friends pick up their diplomas, viewers are likely to be crying alongside Alice, Aya and Akari. The use of inset music to serves to further augment the emotional punch of these moments; the songs’ lyrics speak This particular aspect has always been a strength in Kiniro Mosaic: in the TV series, the hilarious moments everyone shares together, and Shinobu’s often non-sequitur train of thought, all come together to create humour and punctuate quieter scenes with laughter, bringing Shinobu and Alice’s world to life. In bringing these aspects into Thank You!!, the film becomes a love letter to fans of the series – it is aptly named, thanking viewers for having accompanied them after all this time and giving them one final set of memories to smile about before Kiniro Mosaic concludes. For folks who’ve not seen Kiniro Mosaic, on the other hand, Thank You!! would become a little more difficult to follow, and its emotional payout is diminished: Thank You!! is dependent on a priori knowledge of the series and its nuances, being meant for existing viewers who’ve been following Kiniro Mosaic since its initial airing nearly nine years earlier. With Thank You!! in the books, Kiniro Mosaic reaches its ending, wrapping a heart-warming and emotional journey up in a conclusive manner, leaving no doubt in the viewers’ minds that Shinobu, Alice, Aya, Yōko and Karen are ready to embrace what lies ahead in their respective futures.

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 and 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.