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Top Gun: Maverick – A Reflection and Review, Flying into the Danger Zone With A New Generation

“Fight’s on. Let’s turn and burn.” – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

Three decades after the events of Top Gun, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has become a test pilot, and after a test flight ends with the destruction of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky sends Maverick over to train TOPGUN graduates for an upcoming assignment to destroy an illegal uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. After meeting his students and defeating them in dogfighting exercises, including Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Maverick reunites with Penny Benjamin and reveals that Rooster’s mother had asked him to keep an eye on him and guide him away from being a pilot. Torn between allowing Rooster to fly and respecting his mother’s wishes, Maverick decides to speak with Iceman, who’s afflicted with terminal throat cancer. Iceman suggests that Maverick must let go of the past. When Iceman dies from his illness, and after a training accident, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson relieves Maverick of his role and resets the mission parameters, making the initial flight to the target longer. However, Maverick seizes an F/A-18 and demonstrates the flight is possible against orders. Cyclone determines that the assignment must be completed, and with the time constraints, decides to entrust Maverick with flying a part of the mission. Although the strike is successful, Maverick is shot down, forcing Rooster to save him, and in the process, Rooster himself is shot down, as well. The pair end up stealing an F-14 and destroy the pair of Su-57s intercepting them, but run out of ammunition and flares. At the last moment, pilot Jake “Hangman” Seresin saves the pair, and they return safely to their carrier. Later, Rooster helps Maverick work on his P-51 and, while looking at a photo of their mission’s success, watches as Penny and Maverick take a sunset flight in the latter’s P-51. Releasing over three decades after 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick (Maverick from here on out for brevity) is a phenomenal sequel that has earned its praises and accolades in full – in a rare occurrence, Maverick is an instance where the sequel surpasses the original. Maverick is a superior emotional and visual experience over its predecessor, fully capturing Maverick’s character growth as he learns to promote teamwork and entrust the future to youth. This sentiment is shared by professional critics and movie-goers alike; besides a tepid romance between Maverick and Penny, the remainder of the film hits consistent home runs, with a gripping story, solid thematic elements and authentic aviation sequences making the movie a masterpiece to behold.

Over the course of its runtime, Maverick is a film about the dynamic between older and younger generations. On one end, Maverick speaks to putting one’s faith in the next generation, and allowing younger minds to step into roles of responsibility. At the same time, Maverick also indicates that youth should not be so hasty in dismissing experience – it is to general surprise when Maverick schools the TOPGUN graduates in exercises, surprising even the cocky Hangman and defeating him in a dogfight. Even Natasha “Phoenix” Trace makes the remark, wondering who’s going to be teaching the best of the best. While youth often believe that they’re ready to handle anything and are eager to jump straight in, an experienced professional will hang back, assess a problem and then draw upon their prior knowledge to decide how to best approach a problem. Although the TOPGUN pilots have more vigour and faster reflexes than Maverick, Maverick makes up for this in being able to anticipate his student’s actions and plan accordingly. By impressing the TOPGUN graduates, Maverick shows them that learning is an ongoing process, and learning never really stops. On the flipside, because of his promise to Rooster’s mother, Maverick is afraid to let Rooster fly to his full potential, and even interfered in his application process. It is only upon hearing Iceman’s advice, “let go”, that Maverick is able to see Rooster as a full-fledged pilot and select him for the mission. In reality, veterans often can have a tough time entrusting tasks to youth: it’s natural to feel protective of the people one is asked to look after, but there comes a point where it’s important to let youth test their own strength, and have faith in their ability to get things done. Maverick demonstrates this best when Rooster, on an unexpectedly impulsive act, flies back and saves Maverick from being blasted by a Mi-28 Havoc. After he’s shot down, when Maverick demands to know why Rooster flew back, Rooster retorts that Maverick had taught him to “don’t think, just do”. In this moment, Maverick is completely taken aback, but recovers – evidently, Rooster is competent and capable. Maverick thus suggests that young and old minds, contrary to what internet articles suggest, can get along – young people should be open to learning something from old minds, and old minds should have more faith in young people, trusting them to get things done in a mix of old and new ways.

Maverick is also a visceral show of what leadership looks like. While Maverick himself has had a history of insubordination, which had prevented him from advancing to flag rank, viewers are shown that this insubordination occurs because, since Goose’s death, Maverick has become more mindful of the people around him. This is made clear to viewers right out of the gates during the Darkstar test: when Maverick learns the Darkstar program is about to be scrubbed, he decides to go on a test flight anyways and comments on how, if he doesn’t defy orders to stand down, the program will go under and take the team with it. Maverick is willing to put himself on the line to ensure everyone else is safe. A good leader is someone who puts others ahead of themselves, and while from a command perspective, Maverick is appropriately-named, those who work with him are willing to do so precisely because Maverick is not a glory-seeker; he just wants to make sure everyone succeeds. This is seen again when he designs the mission parameters for the canyon attack – Maverick’s insistent on the fact that the flight be short so that the attacking aircraft have the most opportunity to evade the enemy defenses and return home. Maverick’s experiences with Goose ended up shaping him into a leader, and while this makes him appear very unreasonable, to the point where Cyclone is all too happy to dismiss Maverick after an incident during training, Maverick has one other trait that makes him a valuable leader: he is able to walk the walk, on top of talking the talk. Maverick’s test run impresses all of the TOPGUN graduates, and even Cyclone begrudgingly admits that the mission, as Maverick defined it, is technically possible. A good leader always leads by example, and can do the things they expect of their subordinates, and by showing the TOPGUN graduates that this mission is achievable, the mood suddenly changes, as a formerly impossible mission suddenly becomes a challenge that the candidates are curious to see if they can overcome. Throughout Maverick, Maverick shows that Iceman was right; the other admirals and leadership may not see Maverick as an asset, but Maverick’s traits actually make him invaluable, and it is these leadership qualities that ultimately make the mission successful. In this way, Maverick is a highly inspiring film, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that leaders are people who can do the things they expect of their subordinates, put their subordinates first, and are able to inspire subordinates to better themselves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the 2000s, the top film experiences were the Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight trilogies. Avengers: Infinity War and EndgameFirst Man, Dunkirk and Interstellar were my top picks for the 2010s. Here in the 2020s, things start off strong with Top Gun: Maverick, and ahead of the film’s release, I watched the original Top Gun so I’d be familiar with things. The original film is a fair experience, but things do feel a little less cohesive. In spite of this, the film was still enjoyable, and the music was especially good. Maverick, on the other hand, is on a whole different level.

  • The film actually opens similarly to 2018’s First Man, which had Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) piloting an X-15 and struggling to get it back into the atmosphere during a test flight. From there, the remainder of the film was a powerful portrayal of Armstrong’s journey to being the first man on the moon. Maverick starts with Maverick (Tom Cruise) testing the experimental “Darkstar”, a hypersonic ramjet aircraft intended to reach speeds of up to Mach 10. Although Lockheed Martin representatives vehemently deny Darkstar is based on any real aircraft, it does resemble the SR-72 prototype.

  • Maverick features numerous callbacks to the original Top Gun: as Maverick reaches the stipulated speed of Mach 10, he whispers to himself, “Talk to me, Goose”: in Top Gun, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) had been Maverick’s WSO, but died during an accident when their F-14 suffered a flameout. Both Maverick and Goose had ejected, but Goose broke his neck on the canopy, and since then, Maverick regretted not being able to save his friend. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a military court, Maverick continues to be haunted by this failure.

  • As Darkstar reaches Mach 10, Admiral Cain arrives with the aim of shutting the programme down, disappointed by its failure and anticipating that unmanned drones would soon replace human pilots. This concept is not explored in greater depth in Maverick, but Ace Combat 7 delves into the topic in great detail and suggests that drones or no, human pilots continue to be relevant since they can make decisions automaton cannot. On the topic of Ace Combat 7, the Top Gun: Maverick DLC set was released to accompany the film, and I’ve been eying it precisely because it lets me to fly the Darkstar aircraft, along with Maverick’s custom F/A-18.

  • When Maverick pushes Darkstar past its operational boundaries, its airframe disintegrates. Viewers have been very critical of this scene: ejecting conventionally at Mach 10 would liquify the human body, and Tango-Victor-Tango’s John “Fighteer” Aldrich claims that, because this one scene isn’t survivable, the entire movie was undeserving of its praises. In the story, the Darkstar aircraft was likely equipped with an ejection capsule, similarly to the F-111 Aardvark; it’s always amusing to see people like Fighteer taking themselves so seriously, when they lack the ability to reason through things and properly walk others through their thoughts.

  • For someone who still moderates Tango-Victor-Tango to this day, while I appreciate Fighteer’s devotion to a meaningless pursuit (conversation at Tango-Victor-Tango has intellectual value the same way Spontaneous Generation is a valid scientific theory), it is a little surprising to see someone with a complete lack of literary knowledge take such an interest in fiction. I have previously argued that works of fiction like Maverick don’t need to be realistic, but rather, internally consistent: so long as the rules of the fictional world are not broken, and so long as a work can convey its message, it will be successful.

  • The only aspect of Maverick that didn’t work quite as well was the romance between Maverick and Penny: in the original film, Maverick’s attempts to impress instructor Charlotte Blackwood was a part of the story’s way of fleshing out Maverick’s character, but here in Maverick, Penny feels like she came out of the blue. Had the film omitted this piece, I feel that its themes and messages would not have been diminished in any way.

  • On the other hand, the rocky relationship Maverick has with Goose’s son, Rooster, is a central part of the film. On their first day, tensions already run high – Rooster holds Maverick accountable for Goose’s death, and Maverick wishes that Rooster would’ve chosen any other profession besides following his father’s footsteps, a wish his mother had made. The other pilots are shocked to see Maverick as their instructor, having watched him get thrown out of Penny’s bar the previous evening after he made a gaffe and wasn’t able to pay the tab, per house rules.

  • Owing to these initial impressions, the TOPGUN graduates are pretty confident that they can hold their own against Maverick, and during the first day of exercises, Payback suggests upping the stakes after hearing Maverick’s exercise conditions: the graduates must work together to shoot him down before he decides to shoot back. Two hundred pushups is a lot, and the young aviators are confident that they’ll have no trouble besting Maverick.

  • This scene was set the The Who’s iconic song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Like its predecessor, Maverick has excellent music, but unlike Top Gun, the film uses existing music – Top Gun had several pieces written specifically for the film, including Kenny Loggins’ iconic “Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys” and the Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. My favourite piece on the original soundtrack, however, is Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” because its iconic opening riff inspired the theme to Ken’s stage in Street Fighter II.

  • Were I in the TOPGUN graduate’s shoes, I’d be nervous to hear Maverick casually accept the terms of the wager: he quickly disappears off the radars and flies between the two F/A-18s from underneath, timed perfectly to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”‘s iconic YEAH moment. Maverick is all business, but the movie has moments of levity to remind viewers that while the TOPGUN graduates are all skilled aviators, and their assignment is deadly serious, they’re still human at the end of the day. It’s a clever way to lighten the film up in the early stages.

  • Maverick uses the F/A-18E Super Hornet, a twin-engine multi-role fighter that entered service in 1999, replacing the F-14 Tomcat, which featured in Top Gun. The Super Hornet was chosen in the film, over the F-35 Lightning, on the grounds that the newer aircraft and their high-tech suite of electronics wouldn’t be suited for the mission, but in reality, the F-35 is a single-seater, and this wouldn’t allow the film to have been filmed with real pilots. Further to this, the F-35 was designed to launch its ordnance from high altitudes at a distance, so using them would’ve simply meant hanging back and launching missiles, rather than going in for a high-octane low-altitude run.

  • Rooster’s “Not this time, old man!” is one of my favourite lines in the film: having just prevented Maverick from getting behind Payback and Fanboy, Rooster attempts to engage Maverick, but ends up being “shot down” in the exercise. Moments like these are a great way of showing why it isn’t a good idea to underestimate anyone: while Maverick’s reflexes and physicality aren’t what they were thirty years ago, he makes up for this by knowing his aircraft and knowing how other pilots react in certain situations, allowing him to act accordingly.

  • There are a large number of TOPGUN candidates in the beginning, but seeing which characters got more speaking roles hinted at who would be selected to participate in the mission. Among the characters is Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). I was very pleased with how her role was handled in the film – she’s presented as a confident and skilled pilot in the skies, and she’s also got a good sense of humour, even when under stress. Phoenix’s WSO is Bob (Lewis Pullman), a quiet fellow whose call-sign’s meaning is left open to interpretation, and whose name might be a clever callback to the Bob Hoover story.

  • As the story goes, after being shot down behind enemy lines, Hoover was taken as a prisoner of war, escaped during a prison riot and then managed to find a pistol. After reaching a German airfield, he held a mechanic at gunpoint and forced him to start up a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, then proceeded to fly it over to the Netherlands. This actually lines up with how the end of Maverick goes, so a part of me wonders if Bob was named after Bob Hoover. Here, watching the other TOPGUN graduates taking a selfie while Rooster is doing the pushups was an amusing sign of the times; smartphones didn’t exist back in 1986.

  • More amusing was what happened after Maverick bests all of the arrogant and brash airmen, prompting Bernie “Hondo” Coleman to remark that “it was all fun and games in that selfie”. A chief warrant officer who worked with Maverick on Darkstar, Hondo joins Maverick in the TOPGUN programme. The whole point of the dogfighting drills here is to test how pilots and WSOs work together as a team under pressure, and also to prepare them for the sort of flying they might be up against when in the air over hostile territory.

  • When it’s Phoenix and Bob’s turn to go up against Maverick, they’re paired with Hangman (Glen Powell). Hangman is easily the cockiest of the bunch, being the only pilot with a kill to his name, and his first act is to ditch Phoenix and Bob, leaving them to be shot down. Hangman’s remarks to Bob and Phoenix are mildly disrespectful, speaking to his character and reminding viewers of a younger Maverick. Again, speaking to Maverick’s experience, he comments on how “leaving your wingman” is something he’d not seen in some time.

  • While Hangman proves a formidable pilot capable of some skillful manoeuvres, without a wingman to help him spot, Hangman is surprised by Maverick, who ends up shooting him down. The importance of this moment is to show that individual skill only takes one so far – having been around the block for some time, I can speak to this. As a developer, my skills lie in mobile platforms, and while I am capable of doing a few things with backend and web client code, I count on other members of the team to ensure those aspects are working smoothly.

  • Once the initial exercises are done, the story in Maverick steps up when Rooster goes up against Maverick a second time. Maverick’s up to his old tricks, and decides to fly inverted, daring Rooster kick the party off. In the original Top Gun, Maverick and Goose had done this to an enemy combatant, taking their photo with a Polaroid camera before flying off. The scene really serves to show the sort of animosity between Maverick and Rooster: it turns out that Maverick had intervened and delayed Rooster’s application to the naval academy.

  • The resentment in the moment causes the normally-cautious Rooster to begin flying much more recklessly, and the pair are locked in a spiral down to the hard deck. The hard deck refers to a preset altitude in which aircraft during training are not permitted to go below, otherwise, it counts as an impact with the ground. This element had been a point of discussion during Top Gun, when Maverick had dipped below the hard deck to get the kill on Jester – strictly speaking, if Jester was below the hard deck, this would be counted as a ground collision, and the exercise would end. Thus, there was no need for Maverick to continue pursuing.

  • The tense exchange between Rooster and Maverick suggests that both are having trouble dealing with their respective pasts; Rooster is more open about things, whereas Maverick attempts to talk Rooster down from things even as he himself struggles to deal with what had happened to Goose. Conversations like these give a bit of insight into the characters and, when they’re set during a tense moment, such as a dogfight, it allows a film to show, rather than tell: the way Rooster and Maverick fly and move both reflect on their internal turmoil, with the small difference being that at this point, Maverick is experienced enough to identify things are going bad and is willing to pull out before anything can happen: he breaks from the dive moments before Rooster does. In the end, Rooster is unable to outmanoeuvre Maverick and is shot down yet again.

  • Maverick (and Top Gun) remain highly dramatised accounts of what being a naval aviator is like, but as a work of fiction, one must allow for the presence of creative liberties to be taken in order to facilitate the plot. I’ve previously discussed this before; as long as a work is internally consistent, then even if there are overt elements of fantasy one knows to be impossible in reality, they can still accept it because it remains within the bounds of what the writer has defined. However, even when a work is internally consistent, there remain some people who adamantly insist on analysing it for flaws.

  • As it turns out, if a work of fiction fails to engage with an individual at the emotional level, one will instinctively attempt to rationalise why. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence to do this, and where one cannot readily explain why they are unable to relate to a work, they will fall back on picking at the small details. This would explain why Fighteer immediately picks apart the Darkstar scene as “unrealistic”, and why Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review griped about K-On! The Movie: the respective films simply don’t appeal to them, but because it takes maturity to do introspection, neither Reckoner or Fighteer are able to articulate why a work didn’t click with them personally. Their displeasure thus manifests as gripes about trivial details that have no bearing on the story.

  • I have stated before that it’s perfectly normal not to like something, and this stance hasn’t changed. However, when people use realism as the reason for why, I now know that they’re probably having difficulty in expressing themselves. I concede this isn’t easy to do: for instance, Stella no Mahou didn’t work for me, and it took a few days for me to determine that the payoff at the end of the journey wasn’t consistent with what I’d previously experienced. At a personal level, the anime didn’t succeed, but I simultaneously note that some folks might like it anyways. Back in Maverick, Maverick spends a bit of time with Penny, and while I will hold the story could have worked without the romance piece, Maverick courting Penny does have a nontrivial impact on him by showing him there is a world outside of his career.

  • The Su-57s in Maverick are referred to as “fifth-generation fighters” exclusively. The ambiguity of the foreign power with the illegal uranium facility in Maverick was a brilliant way of avoiding any political controversy, and shows that writers can indeed keep politics out of their work without impacting its quality. Here, the enemy nation is irrelevant: what matters is the presence of an assignment that drives Maverick and Rooster’s growth. While some people insist that all fiction is political by definition, I disagree. At their core, works of fiction are about individuals within a given system, and depending on the story, politics may or may not be relevant.

  • One of Maverick‘s most moving moments was the return of Val Kilmer as Iceman; now an aging admiral with terminal cancer, Iceman is unable to speak, but still retains a very healthy amount of respect for Maverick. The pair had been rivals in Top Gun, but developed professional and mutual respect for one another following their first combat sortie together. Having seen what Maverick can be like at his best, Iceman had kept Maverick around, knowing he could do the things that needed to be done. Maverick treats Kilmer and Iceman respectfully: Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 and has found it difficult to speak since then, and this was woven into the film to create a very poignant meeting.

  • The fact that Maverick seeks out Iceman for advice shows how he’s changed: no longer cocky and self-assured, Maverick occasionally acknowledges that he needs help from others, and similarly, when his conversation with Iceman ends, and Iceman asks, “who’s the better pilot” in jest, Maverick simply smiles and embraces his old friend. Maverick is best known for its aviation sequences, but interpersonal moments act simultaneously as callbacks to the original film, as well as giving Maverick a way to acknowledge the older actors and their contributions.

  • Despite knowing the stakes, the training exercises aren’t going well: the mission entails flying through a narrow canyon to evade enemy surface-to-air missiles, popping up and delivering a pair of precision strikes with laser-guided munitions, and then escaping before enemy Su-57s can engage them. During one drill, Payback passes out from g-LOC and nearly crashes, while Phoenix and Bob both are forced to bail following a bird strike. No matter how many times the pilots try, they seem unable to fly the stipulated route in under two minutes and fifteen seconds.

  • The turning point in Maverick comes when Rooster confronts Maverick over the latter’s decision to impede his application into the naval aviation programme. Maverick had done so to honour his word to Rooster’s mother, but now finds himself at a crossroad; if he sidelines Rooster on this assignment, Rooster will resent him for the remainder of his days, but if he chooses to select Rooster as one of the pilots and Rooster is killed, then he’ll have to live with the guilt of having seen both his best friend and his son’s deaths.

  • According to interviews, when Val Kilmer was shown the sections of Maverick he appears in, he was moved by how things were done, and director Kosinski, upon seeing Kilmer’s reaction, felt that they’d gotten right such a critical moment in the film. After Iceman dies from his illness, Cyclone removes Maverick as the instructor and changes mission parameters in light of the incidents during training. If Maverick were to be entirely faithful to reality, this would be the end of Maverick’s time in the film: an instructor dismissed from an assignment won’t be returning.

  • However, assuming that viewers accept Maverick as a work of fiction, they’d be treated to one of the most thrilling moments in cinema this side of the 2020s: after Cyclone explains the updated mission parameters, the TOPGUN graduates suddenly hear a transmission from Maverick, who’s taken a Super Hornet and is now flying the course. When the range controller informs Maverick he’s not scheduled for a run, Maverick’s reply, “I’m going in anyways”, earns him a “nice” from Phoenix. As Maverick pushes his F/A-18E to the limits, the students, along with Cyclone and Warlock, suddenly find themselves cheering Maverick on internally.

  • I’ve heard that Maverick’s breathing during the whole sequence is actually deliberate, a means of forcing air into the lungs and stave off hypoxia. From a cinematography point of view, these moments really emphasise how taxing flying is on the body. To put things in perspective, we feel our heads spin when a commercial aircraft banks more than ten degrees, and in science fiction works, technologies like G-force dampeners are supposed to nullify the extreme forces that occur as a result of the demanding manoeuvres pilots engage in.

  • As Maverick nears the simulated target, the entire room waits with bated breath, hoping that Maverick will successfully hit the target. For this exercise, Maverick is using the laser module on his F/A-18E to designate the target, making a successful bulls-eye strike all the more impressive. For the actual run, the aircraft will fly in pairs: a front aircraft will drop the bombs, and a supporting aircraft will provide the laser. When the training bombs, characterised by their blue colouration, strike their target, the entire candidate group is impressed.

  • Warlock’s silent fist pump says it all, and in the aftermath, Maverick’s demonstration the mission could be done changes the tenour of the film. Of course, Maverick’s actions are not without consequence; his career’s been dotted with reckless acts of insubordination, and this latest stunt earns him yet another reprimand from Cyclone, who comments on how Maverick’s choices have left him in a difficult position. On one hand, following protocol means discharging Maverick dishonourably, but on the other, Maverick’s actions here show that the mission is doable.

  • In the end, because the consequences of allowing a rogue nation to achieve nuclear capabilities far outweighs the need to discipline Maverick, Cyclone’s decision ends up being a relatively simple one. He assigns Maverick to fly the lead aircraft and asks him to pick his pilots. Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy are selected for the mission. With the mission now set, the fun and games in Maverick ends as the film becomes deadly serious. For the viewers’ benefit, the mission outline is given to viewers again: the supporting fleet will launch Tomahawk cruise missiles at the enemy airfield to cripple their aircraft, and Maverick’s team will fly in and destroy the target before the patrolling Su-57s can intercept them.

  • Maverick and Rooster share one more personal conversation before taking off from the carrier: Maverick promises they can chat after everyone comes back in one piece. Throughout Maverick, Maverick had emphasised the importance of coming back alive, and this mindset had stemmed from his own experiences. While this meant making the mission requirements seemingly unreasonably demanding, it’s Maverick’s way of expressing how he values life following Goose’s death. With these personal thoughts set aside, it’s time to get all of the aircraft in the air.

  • Upon seeing the mission for myself, I was immediately reminded of Ace Combat 7‘s Cape Rainy mission, which required players to fly through an extremely narrow canyon to evade enemy radar, while at the same time, avoiding searchlights placed throughout the canyon. Viewers familiar with Ace Combat immediately saw the similarities, and after watching Maverick, immediately went about recreating the film’s most iconic moments in-game. Project Aces saw these similarities and released the Top Gun: Maverick expansion for Ace Combat 7, adding six new aircraft, ten Maverick-themed emblems and twelve call-signs.

  • The DLC ordinarily retails for 26 CAD, but past sales have seen prices drop as low as 13 CAD. At this price point, I feel that it would be worthwhile, and I am now waiting for the Steam Winter Sale before I add the Maverick set to my library; during the Winter Sale, purchases also give players event cards, and since I do enjoy jazzing up my Steam profile, I feel that I can wait a few more weeks before I fly Darkstar or Maverick’s custom F/A-18E for myself. Having said this, I am quite excited to do so: Darkstar equips pulse lasers and can reach a maximum speed of 5000 kilometres per hour.

  • Mach 4 is only 40 percent of what Darkstar in Maverick is capable of reaching, but even this renders the aircraft brazenly overpowered: the AIM-9 Sidewinder has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, so in theory, if an enemy aircraft fires on Ace Combact 7‘s Darkstar, evading the missile would simply be a matter of opening the throttle and accelerating. In fact, this is how SR-71 Blackbird pilots were taught to deal with missiles: after surface batteries detected the aircraft, it’d be too far away to hit by the time the missiles were ready.

  • Back in Maverick, the Tomahawk missiles impact the airfield, and this causes the patrolling fifth-generation fighters to immediately divert and head back to defend the uranium site. Although Maverick and Phoenix are on track, Rooster begins falling behind after spotting the surface-to-air batteries. The unnamed enemies in Maverick use S-125 Neva/Pechora missiles, which are Soviet-era weapons that were designed to hit smaller, more mobile targets. I imagine that the missiles seen in Maverick are the V600 variant, which have a fifteen kilometre range and carries a sixty kilogram warhead. V600s have a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, so F/A-18E/Fs are not outrunning them.

  • Maverick’s experience allows him to reassure his fellow pilots: when the fifth-generation fighters begin diverting, Maverick remarks they’re headed to defend the uranium plant, and the S-125 batteries remain on guard. After taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Rooster opens his aircraft’s throttle, allowing him to make up lost time. According to the air speed indicator, Rooster begins reaching 800 knots. This corresponds to roughly 1400 kilometres per hour, an impressive speed considering how narrow the valley is.

  • The computer imagery used to brief the pilots had made the canyon seem narrower, and the mountains look steeper, than they did in reality. This doesn’t mean that the flight was a walk in the park, but for me, seeing the actual terrain itself helped to put things in perspective. While Rooster, Payback and Fanboy follow from the rear, Maverick, Phoenix and Bob prepare for the first strike. They pop up over the ridge, invert their aircraft and bring their planes into a dive. Having dug around, there’s more to this manoeuvre than the cool factor; it’s done to maintain positive loading and prevent the airframe from failing, as well as allowing the pilot to maintain consciousness.

  • Here, the GBU-24 Paveway IIIs can be seen on Maverick’s pylons: these laser-guided munitions carry a two ton warhead and require a beam from a designator to lock onto their target. In reality, the Paveway III is indeed accurate enough to be guided down a ventilation shaft so long as the laser is not lost. Military tacticians comment on how a single B2 Spirit carrying the BLU-109/B bunker buster would’ve completed the mission more readily, and while this is true (I would’ve probably recommended a Tomahawk strike), it is akin to wondering why the Eagles didn’t just carry Frodo and Sam to Mordor.

  • Common sense causes fiction to break down, and while this is important in reality (I favour simple solutions over complex ones), it also takes the fun out of a story and diminishes its ability to convey a specific message. Taking a more convoluted route allows for characters to grow, and this is one area where Maverick did unexpectedly impress in. Being the most soft-spoken and low-key of the TOPGUN graduates means that Bob has my respect: although he’s a skilled WSO, he lacks the same bravado and swagger as the other pilots, preferring to do his work in the background. By having Maverick select him as a part of the strike team, Maverick acknowledges that the quiet folks can walk the walk even if they choose not to talk the talk.

  • The more subtle lessons about teamwork, trust and humility are present in Maverick, even if they can occasionally be buried by the more bombastic, thrilling moments, and having now taken the time to give thought to both Maverick and the Yuru Camp△ Movie, I can see why there might be a case where the two films might be compared against one another, especially since both were quite successful. Both movies deal with people coming together to achieve something against the odds, persevering and overcoming both external and internal challenges.

  • Such themes are hardly unique to either Maverick or the Yuru Camp△ Movie, but the films do share quite a bit in common despite being in totally different genres. This has led Hinataka, a writer for the blog Netorabo, to claim that when compared side-by-side, the latter is a movie that “surpasses” the former as being the best film of 2022 without any additional explanation or context. Since Hirakata never elaborates, I conclude that this remark was probably an off-hand comment; Hirakata is free to enjoy movies however he wishes.

  • Film opinions can and will vary from individual to individual, but things become trickier when Centcom08 repeated this statement at Wikipedia. To the casual reader, it would set the expectation that the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a technically superior film or possesses a message that’s more cohesive and meaningful than what Maverick presents. In reality, neither film is better than the other; the Yuru Camp△ Movie excels in presenting an incremental tale of perseverance and making the most of the hand one is dealt, while Maverick is a story of trust, teamwork and learning to let go of the past.

  • Between this and the radically different premises (Maverick never goes camping with Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy, and Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena aren’t about to take on fifth generation fighters), I don’t feel that such a statement should be taken as anything more than a personal opinion. While a valid opinion, it should be common sense that this is by no means the end-all. While I am tempted to sign up for a Wikipedia account and strike that particular line from their Yuru Camp△ Movie article with due haste, I am aware that users like Centcom08 spend every waking moment monitoring the page – any changes I make will be reverted within minutes. I have better things to do than drop to Centcom08’s level, but I will remark that the Wikipedia article on the Yuru Camp△ Movie is unreliable and filled with factual errors.

  • Back in Maverick, after Bob provides the laser that allows Maverick to hit his target, Rooster follows up so he can drop his Paveway IIIs down the hatch. When Fanboy reports that his laser is malfunctioning, Rooster decides to drop the bombs blind. As luck would have it, both bombs find their mark, and seconds later, the entire uranium enrichment facility collapses. The moment this happens, the enemy forces are now aware of their presence, and all of the S-125 sites come to life, filling the air with missiles. In the chaos, it’s all the pilots can do to evade the missiles, dropping flares in a bid to throw them off.

  • When Rooster runs out of flares, Maverick sacrifices himself to keep Rooster alive. In the process, one of the V-600 missiles hits him. The moment brought to mind the likes of the 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines (starring Owen Wilson) as Chris Burnett, although flares and missiles behave a little more plausibly here in Maverick: the missiles in Behind Enemy Lines switch between heat-seekers and radar guided modes at times, allowing them to turn around and ignore flares, and they appear to fire buckshot, whereas real missiles carry an explosive warhead.

  • However, viewers generally agree that despite the lack of realism in Behind Enemy Lines, the scene where Burnett and his pilot, Jeremy Stackhouse, evade the surface-to-air missile does capture the intensity and terror that accompanies air combat. Since Behind Enemy Lines captured this well, it can be said to be authentic, even if it isn’t realistic. I have found that a lot of folks who demand realism in their fiction oftentimes are conflating lack of realism with a story they can’t relate to or connect with at an emotional level.

  • Despite being a solid story from a narrative perspective, Maverick cannot be said to be realistic by any stretch. After Maverick is shot down, he survives and finds himself face to face with a Mi-28 Havoc. He manages to somehow evade 30 mm rounds from its Shipunov 2A42 autocannon and survives long enough for Rooster to show up and shoot it down. In the process, Rooster himself is shot down, and he manages to eject. In another situation, the odds of survival would be quite slim, but viewers must set this aside and accept that, if Maverick were realistic, the film would’ve probably ended an hour earlier.

  • It is necessary that some aspects of a story be contrived such that one can be granted a satisfyingly experience. Here, Maverick manages to catch up to Rooster, and after their initial shock wears off, Maverick devises a plan for getting them back home. The lighting and tone surrounding the moment is evocative of how Behind Enemy Lines had felt after Burnett and Stackhouse were shot down, but in that film, the story had been about how Burnett evades capture in the Balkans, and here, both Rooster and Maverick are only shot down late in the game. Maverick’s plan is as bold as it is daring: see if there’s any airworthy planes left at the airfield their forces just took out and use one of them to get back into the skies.

  • At this point in the film, the reasonable viewer accepts that this is the only route Maverick and Rooster have for getting back home, and spots that, given how an earlier briefing had mentioned that F-14s might be present, opens the floor up to an exciting possibility: seeing Maverick and Rooster fly an F-14 as a clever, well-written homage to the original Top Gun. Indeed, this is exactly what Maverick has in mind, and after sneaking up to a hangar unseen, he and Rooster get one of the F-14s online. For Maverick, it’s the return of an old friend, but for Rooster, who’s accustomed to the F/A-18 and its glass cockpit, the F-14 feels ancient.

  • This scene in Maverick was reminiscent of the Yuru Camp△ Movie‘s finale, which had similarly seen the return of an old piece of hardware from the originals; when Rin’s motorcycle develops a fault, her father suggests that she fall back on her original ride, the Yamaha Vino, and it ends up playing a big role in the film’s climax. Having seen Maverick first, it was nice to see echoes of Top Gun in Yuru Camp△ Movie, although here, I note that an appreciation of the similarities between the two movies despite their drastically different premises is about the extent of my wish to compare the two films.

  • In typical Maverick fashion, both aviators are airborne after a harrowing takeoff: Maverick has used the F-14’s variable sweep wings to generate more lift and accommodate for a very short takeoff, surprising Rooster. To emphasise this, the F-14’s front landing gear is knocked off, but for the present, Maverick and Rooster are aloft, to the surprise of the command staff back on the carrier. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Top Gun movie without dogfighting in a live environment, and now that they’re in the skies, the patrolling fifth-generation fighters intercept the pair.

  • Any experts or fans of military aviation will immediately recognise the Su-57, a Russian multi-role fighter that began development back in 2010 and entered service in 2020. Although widely considered to be inferior to the American fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the Su-57 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the F-14 owing to superior avionics. In an engagement, what would likely happen would be that the Su-57 would simply fire a missile from outside visual range and score a kill before the F-14 could even flinch. Moreover, even though the Su-57 lacks the same the same thrust vectoring that the F-22 possesses, it still has an impressive turn rate and would easily overcome the F-14 in a dogfight.

  • The idea of an F-14 going toe-to-toe against an Su-57 is the sort of exercise that military fans love thinking about (experts are more concerned about how their hardware stacks up against hardware that’s presently in service, versus against older hardware), and in fact, reminds me of the thought experiments I did regarding hypothetical matchups like pitting a single M1A2 against twenty Tiger Is, or a head-to-head battle against the Panzer VIII Maus. For the most part, comparing technology from different periods is akin to comparing video cards more than two generations apart: the newer technology comes out on top every time.

  • When the Su-57s show up, Maverick reasons that at least for the moment, the pilots don’t really know what’s going on and attempt to hand signal to them. While pilots do know hand signals so that they can continue to communicate in the event of a radio loss, or during an exercise, it is possible that the Su-57 pilots operate on a different set of standards, ones that Maverick and Goose are unfamiliar with. Some folks with a background in aviation translate the pilots’ signals as requesting them to “divert to heading 3-3-0”, suggesting that they’re to defend the facility from further attack.

  • Thus, when Maverick signals he’s not understanding the message, the other Su-57 prepares to engage the F-14, which they now interpret as being under hostile control. The setup here is a bit of writing that allows Maverick to shoot down one of the Su-57s and take it out of the fight: in a prolonged dogfight, the F-14’s odds are extremely slim, even with a good pilot at the stick, but since the F-14’s M61 Vulcan is simply an older version of the M61A2 that newer generation aircraft carry, it’s not inconvincible for an F-14 to disable an Su-57 with a well-placed shot, the same way a Tiger I could score a mobility kill against an M1A2 that was standing still.

  • Much as Top Gun had previously done, the hostile pilots wear helmets with tinted visors. Protagonists wear clear visors simply so we can see their expressions: in reality, all helmets have tinted visors, but this is another instance of how being realistic would diminish the film’s impact, similarly to how portraying the combat performance differences between an F-14 and an Su-57 would prevent the film from telling its story. Once Maverick and Rooster realise their ruse isn’t going to work, Rooster persuades Maverick to give this fight everything he’s got.

  • Spurred on, Maverick uses the element of surprise to disable one of the Su-57’s engines, and immediately breaks off. In a moment of pure savagery, Maverick manoeuvres his F-14 so that the damaged Su-57 shields him from the other fighter’s missiles, and this results in the first of the Su-57s being taken out of the fight. With the second pilot dead-set on taking the rogue F-14 out, it’s an all-out fight. The entire scene is set to some of the tensest music I’ve heard throughout the whole of Maverick: with Hans Zimmer listed as a composer, there is no surprise that the incidental cues in the film are well-suited for the moments they accompany.

  • While motion blur means that it’s difficult for me to get good screenshots in a live-action movie, some of the stills for this post turned out quite well. This is the biggest challenge I face whenever writing about live-action; in anime, this isn’t a problem since everything is smooth. I don’t mind admitting I had a bit of difficulty in writing this post; cutting down the screenshots to a manageable number was probably the biggest challenge, and originally, while I have had the pool of screenshots and an idea of the post’s contest ready since late October, it’s taken some effort to distill everything into a post that isn’t the size of a graduate thesis.

  • One of the most thrilling moments during this dogfight happens when the Su-57 suddenly executes what appears to be a flat corkscrew. Immediately, viewers are reminded that Maverick and Rooster are dealing with a highly skilled pilot who isn’t just depending on his aircraft’s technology to get by. Maverick spots this and decides that it’s time to go for a lower altitude, claiming that the terrain will confuse their adversary’s targetting system. Assuming that the Su-57s in Maverick is carrying the R-77, this holds some truth: the R-77 is a radar-guided missile, but some versions are outfitted with infrared seekers that use radar to acquire an initial lock. By flying closer to the ground, the Su-57’s radar system is prevented from quickly acquiring its target.

  • Maverick ends up getting behind the Su-57 and uses his guns to damage its engine, causing it to crash. Only in a film could such an old aircraft stand any chance against a current-generation fighter, but it is a thrilling show of skill. In fact, the mindset of going up against a fifth generation fighter with an F-14 is equivalent to watching Graham Aker fighting the Exia to a standstill with a Flag, or seeing Char Aznable giving Amuro Ray’s RX-78 II trouble. The idea of skill being able to overcome technological disparity is a staple in fiction, offering a satisfying experience.

  • Rooster cheers after seeing the second Su-57 crash into the canyon’s ledges. Moments later, he’s able to get the radio on. Having Rooster act as Maverick’s WSO is a direct callback to the original Top Gun and shows how Maverick and Rooster have both overcome their pasts to be able to work together as a team, much as how Maverick and Goose originally had. For Maverick, Rooster has become a full-fledged pilot in his own right, while Rooster now sees why his father was able to work well with Maverick. However, even after getting in touch with the carrier, the fight’s not over yet.

  • A third Su-57 appears on their nose, and with their F-14 out of missiles, guns and countermeasures, it’s all Maverick can do to keep the fighter off them. During the dogfight, the F-14 takes a few hits. The portrayal of aircraft guns in Maverick is one of the few gripes I do have about the portrayal of things: the M61 Vulcan fires with a distinct buzzing noise rather than the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, while the Su-57 is armed with the 30 mm GSh-30-1, which is a slower-firing autocannon that can destroy enemy aircraft in as few as three shots. The fifth generation fighters appear to fire the same guns as the F-14, and moreover, despite taking three hits, the F-14 continues to fly.

  • This is yet another moment created to maximise dramatic effect, and it is actually quite rare for movies to correctly depict aircraft guns, so I will clarify that the guns have no bearing on my overall enjoyment of the movie. Realising that there’s no other way, Maverick orders Rooster to eject, but the ejection handles are damaged and fail to fire. Having come so far, Maverick is filled with regret at not being able to protect Rooster. However, moments after the Su-57 fires one of its missiles, it’s blown out of the sky. Hangman has come to the rescue, and while he was chosen to be a reserve pilot, he ends up being given permission to sortie and cover Maverick and Rooster.

  • Although Hangman is portrayed as being arrogant and self-assured, at the end of the day, all of the TOPGUN graduates are on the same side and work towards the same goal. The rivalries between the candidates is secondary to the fact that everyone is fighting on the same team, and this is a piece of Top Gun I’ve always loved seeing: a healthy rivalry encourages growth, but when the chips are down, everyone has one another’s backs. On the topic of Hangman, Glen Powell had previously appeared as a trader in Dark Knight, and he will be starring in Devotion, which portrays naval aviators in the Korean War.

  • I’m suddenly finding myself excited to watch Devotion: the Korean War isn’t portrayed all that often in film, but it’s also a critical part of the Cold War. The film opened a week ago in North America, and I might just go catch a screening if time allows (I do have a fair amount of vacation time banked up). Failing this, I imagine that Devotion will be available for streaming in the new year. Back in Maverick, after ensuring Maverick and Rooster are okay, Hangman breaks off and heads back to the carrier for a landing. Since Maverick had broken the nose landing gear while taking off earlier, his landing will be a little trickier.

  • As a bit of a clever callback to Maverick’s tendency to buzz the tower after a successful flight, he ends up doing exactly this, causing Cyclone and Warlock to duck for cover. Previously, doing this has landed Maverick in hot water, but here in Maverick, the successful operation means that this is probably the last thing on Cyclone’s mind: all that matters is that their hit was successful, and everyone’s come back in one piece. I’ve heard that carrier landings are one of the hardest parts of being a naval aviator, and things only become more tricky if the carrier is bobbing up and down in rough waters.

  • Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector captures the details that are involved in touching down on a carrier, and through reading the novel, I became aware of the fact that aviators will prefer to increase power when touching down. This is because if the aircraft misses any of the arresting wires on deck (I think this is called a “bolter”), it has enough power to climb back into the air and try again. Of course, this beats coming in too low. Since Maverick’s experienced, and since the oceans seem quite calm, the technical aspects of a carrier landing aren’t shown; Maverick and Rooster’s return to the carrier has the same feel as returning home after a difficult drive.

  • Overall, I found myself immensely satisfied with Top Gun: Maverick, as it tells a solid, self-contained story, is respectful to its predecessor and is accessible to both old and new viewers alike. The story isn’t something that demands familiarity with the original Top Gun, but folks who’ve seen the original film will immediately appreciate all of the references made to the original movie. Moreover, despite being a film about the navy, Maverick manages to elegantly handle the matter of politics: for this movie, the biggest enemy is actually within oneself (fear and doubt), with the hostile nation and pilots acting merely as the driving force for Maverick and Rooster to overcome their inner dæmons.

  • While Maverick has been criticised for glorifying the American armed forces and acting as propaganda promoting the military’s actions, I’ve always felt that war films are simply just a highly visceral way of portraying a given theme, the same way that first person shooters are simply a game of resourcefulness and being observant. The healthy mind is able to make a distinction between fiction and reality, and here, I would argue that the themes of Maverick are actually not too different than the themes from 2015’s Creed, which saw Adonis Creed enter the ring and fight to create his own legacy with help from Rocky, who had similarly been reluctant to train Creed initially.

  • The ending of Maverick does prompt the question of whether or not Top Gun will continue in any way: Miles Teller has expressed interest in a follow-up film, and given the quality of Maverick, I am curious to see what such a film would entail. On the flipside, Maverick is successful mainly because it tells a self-contained story that respectfully wraps up elements from the original Top Gun, and a continuation is not strictly necessary simply because Maverick closes things off on such a decisive note.

  • Observant readers may have noticed that in my screenshots, letterboxes appear in some stills, but are absent in others. This is because the action scenes were filmed in IMAX, which allow more to be shown. For dialogue scenes, the aspect ratio is a standard 21:9. The hybrid approach allows a film’s most critical moments to completely immerse viewers, and admittedly, this can make for some inconsistencies in a screen-shot heavy review: when I wrote about Dark Knight Rises back during the summer, I elected to go purely with the IMAX stills.

  • However, this had also been because that particular post was an unconventional discussion. For Top Gun: Maverick, a more ordinary review, I utilise a mixture of stills so I have a chance to cover all of the thoughts on my mind. I admit that my talks can be on the long side, but this is primarily a consequence of a given work providing a lot to consider. For readers in a rush, reading the paragraphs will give a complete insight into what I make of something; the figure captions are meant to provide various thoughts, trivia and asides.

  • With this in mind, I’m not about to change the way I blog: I believe that celebrating fiction and what one enjoys is best achieved by being thorough. While lengthier posts can be discouraging to readers, I contend that this is a matter of UX. This is why my posts are structured the way they are. Everything important, I provide up top, and then I use the screenshots and figure captions to talk about details that are not relevant to the more important topics. The conclusion at the end then sums up my personal thoughts and allows me to speculate on what future directions look like, or otherwise address elements that aren’t quite as important to readers.

  • It goes without saying that Maverick was a superbly enjoyable film for me, and having now written about the film in full, I am filled with an inclination to go back and revisit both Project Wingman and Ace Combat 7. I am glad to have taken the time to lay down what made the movie so entertaining for me, and while Maverick does seem far removed from my typical predisposition for slice-of-life anime, it is always fun to branch out and explore different forms of media every so often.

  • Since Maverick opened with Maverick working on his vintage P-51, I’ll conclude this post with a screenshot of him taking it out for a flight with Penny. This just about brings this talk on Top Gun: Maverick to a close. This is going to be my last post of November; I was originally planning on writing about Itsuka Ano Umi de, but production issues shook things up somewhat. Entering December, readers can expect more posts on Yama no Susume: Next Summit, a few special topics posts, and my thoughts on Itsuka Ano Umi de once the fourth episode airs. Before any of that, however, I do have a talk on Battlefield 2042‘s third season lined up. The game’s come a very long way since last year, and the latest additions make the game feel like a proper Battlefield title.

There is a reason why Top Gun: Maverick is 2022’s top movie – the themes are inspiring, the flight sequences are phenomenal, and elements from the original Top Gun make a return. Unsurprisingly, it is 2022’s highest grossing film, and the film is nearly universally acclaimed. However, when Netorabo’s Hinataka suggests that the Yuru Camp△ Movie surpasses even Maverick in terms of enjoyment in their review of the former, eyebrows are raised – Hinataka doesn’t explain what specifically about the Yuru Camp△ Movie makes it the superior film. Both films, despite their radically different premises, actually share quite a bit in common. The Yuru Camp△ Movie and Top Gun: Maverick both are set some time after their original, deal with an ongoing assignment that requires Maverick, Chiaki and their respective teams to pull through and get things done in creative ways, and similarly see the return of an iconic piece from their original works (in the Yuru Camp△ Movie, Rin’s Yamaha Vino makes a comeback, and in Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick and Rooster steal an F-14). However, whereas the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a highly cathartic experience which gently reminds viewers of what it means to be an adult, Top Gun: Maverick is meant to be a thrilling and inspiring adventure that shows viewers what leadership and trust look like. The two films are quite different in this regard, and where the Yuru Camp△ Movie is meant to portray its story in a relatable context, Top Gun: Maverick uses a much more dramatic story to convey its themes in order to fire up viewers. As a result, Top Gun: Maverick is endlessly quotable, and scenes from the film are endlessly rewatchable. The Yuru Camp△ Movie reminds me of the fact that I’m probably conducting myself in a reasonable manner, but Top Gun: Maverick shows me one vivid example of what leadership looks like. In conjunction with the fact that I’m rewatching moments like Maverick flying the course in the two minutes and fifteen seconds, or managing to take on a pair of Su-57s in an F-14, on a daily basis, and making bad jokes about real life situations with lines from Top Gun: Maverick, it is clear that the two movies cannot be compared side-by-side as Hinataka does. Consequently, in response to Hinataka’s comment, I would counter that Top Gun: Maverick isn’t “surpassed” by the Yuru Camp△ Movie in any way, and in fact, I would suggest to readers that both movies are worth watching on the basis of their own distinct merits.

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.