The Infinite Zenith

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Her Blue Sky: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

Shinnosuke Kanamuro and Akane Aioi are members of a high school band; Shinnosuke is an aspiring musician and inspires Akane’s younger sister, Aoi, to become a bassist. When Akane and Aoi’s parents die in a vehicular accident, Akane is left to look after Aoi, turning down Shinnosuke’s offer to accompany him to Tokyo. Thirteen years later, Aoi has become a high school student, and Akane works at the municipal office alongside former drummer Masamichi Nakamura. As Akane and Masamichi work on a music festival to bolster the town’s tourism, Aoi encounters what she initially mistakes to be Shinnosuke’s spirit. When Aoi and Akane head to the train station to welcome enka singer Dankichi Nitobe, Aoi is shocked to see Shinnosuke present. She deduces that the younger Shinnosuke (dubbed Shinno) must’ve returned for a reason, and working with Masamichi’s son, Masatsugu, the pair learn that Shinno had been in love with Akane, and resolve to try and help the two fulfil a decade-long dream of getting them back together. Aoi’s intentions had been to leave town so as not to hold Akane back as soon as she graduated, and feels that doing this would allow Akane to live the future she’d once dreamt of. When two musicians performing in Dankichi’s band fall ill, however, Aoi learns that the older Shinnosuke is unfriendly and distant after she is asked to perform in their place. Moreover, things further become complicated when Chika Ōtaki decides to help out with the festival, hoping to get to know the performers better. As Aoi practises for the upcoming festival performance and contemplates her future, she struggles to put into words about why she’s chosen the path that she did. As it turns out, Aoi had long felt that she had been holding Akane back from her ambitions, and moreover, has begun to fall in love with Shinno. Aoi also learns that Akane had never once felt restricted in looking after her, and begins to wonder if she really should leave town after all. Amidst the preparations for the festival, Akane heads off to search for Dankichi’s pendant, but is caught in a landslide. Shinnosuke ends up heading to the temple where Shinno is and meets his younger self for the first time; when the older Shinnosuke is reluctant to act, his younger self manages to break free of the curse leaving him tied to the temple, and he takes Aoi with him. It turns out that Akane was unharmed, and he rescues her from the caved-in tunnel. Aoi decides to leave Akane with Shinnosuke and Shinno to share a conversation, and when Akane implies that her feelings for Shinnosuke remained after all this time, Shinno vanishes. Walking home, Aoi notices that perhaps, the sky was a little too blue. The music festival is a great success, and some time in the future, Aoi graduates from high school, while Akane and Shinnosuke get married. This is Her Blue Sky (空の青さを知る人よ, Hepburn Sora no Aosa o Shiru Hito yo, literally “To Those Who Know of the Blueness of the Sky”), a film that was announced in March 2019 and released in October later that year. With Mari Okada’s writing and Tatsuyuki Nagai directing, Her Blue Sky follows in the footsteps of AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, presenting a heartfelt coming-of-age story about pursuit of the future, regrets and their resolution.

At its core, Her Blue Sky speaks to the idea of appreciation and counting one’s blessings, and the idea that while dreams can change, people come to nonetheless find value and enjoyment in what they do; consequently, dreams are never really lost even as their form becomes different. In Aoi’s case, her single objective had been motivated by a desire to let Akane live her own life; after their parents’ death, Akane had taken care of Aoi every step of the way, and the neighbours began talking. For Aoi, she aimed to return Akane’s kindness by becoming self-sufficient and making it on her own, leaving Akane to direct her efforts at whatever future she desired. However, upon finding that Akane had made the decision to look after Aoi as best as she could, Aoi realises that she’s been so set on the future that she’d been oblivious to the fact that Akane had found new happiness. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinnosuke had reached the aspirations he had started out with and became a musician, but this came at a cost to his other dream of being with Akane. This desire manifests as a spirit; like AnoHana, Shinno is spirited, encouraging and uplifting, but also laments his older self’s lethargy and lack of drive. When he returns to town, his past memories prompt him to regard old friends with distance, but over time, as the older Shinnosuke learns of how some things didn’t really change since the day Akane turned him down, he begins to open up a little, as well; he plays a song for Akane and later shares a conversation with her about how he feels. Her Blue Sky shows that some dreams are never really forgotten, and that there may be a chance to recapture them if one were willing to reach out and take a chance. Bearing Okada’s signature style, Her Blue Sky is a poignant and turbulent film, pulling no punches in its portrayal of raw emotions that speaks to viewers about taking a hold of the moment, as well as how no matter how final some decisions may be, fate may be kind enough to offer second chances and give people a chance to follow their dreams, now that they’ve been given some time to consider their decision.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Her Blue Sky‘s lead creative team (Tatsuyuki Nagai, Mari Okada and Masayoshi Tanaka) is referred to as the Super Peace Busters and previously did both AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, both of which I’d watched and written about. Altogether, I found that Her Blue Sky was very similar to AnoHana in terms of themes, and followed the method used in Anthem of the Heart in terms of plot structure. While this renders Her Blue Sky somewhat predictable, the Super Peace Buster’s 2019 film is enjoyable in its own right, being a film whose journey matters rather more than the destination. In all cases, one of my favourite aspects about each film is that it takes some time to warm up to the characters, making the journey all the more rewarding.

  • Entering Her Blue Sky, I had no idea what to expect: I saw a fifteen-second preview indicating that such a movie was in production back in March 2019, but beyond this, had not otherwise read on any details surrounding the film. Discussions and hype had been next to non-existent, so without even a synopsis to go on, I watched Her Blue Sky completely in the absence of any a priori knowledge, and as a result, my experience was superbly enjoyable. In an earlier time, a band’s members spend their halcyon days together making music, setting the stage for the film’s events.

  • Her Blue Sky is produced by Cloverworks (SaeKano: The Movie and Aobuta: The Movie): it should be unsurprising that visually, the movie is a visual treat to behold. Compared to AnoHana, background artwork remains of a high standard, but it was the character designs I especially liked; they’re a cross between the designs seen in AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart. It’s been around seven years since I watched AnoHana, and five years since Anthem of the Heart: in spite of the time that’s passed, I still distinctly remember both series as having their own strong points that made them enjoyable.

  • In the beginning, Her Blue Sky indicates that music and community would form the bulk of the premise surrounding the film. Given that it’s Okada helming the writing, I imagined that past and present would also be a core element in the film. Finally, because of the track record AnoHana and Anthem of The Heart leave, I imagined that it was possible that some sort of supernatural element would be around, as well.

  • The existence of a supernatural piece in Her Blue Sky was soon affirmed when Shinno reappears. The film’s opening moments may come across as a little unrelated, but what’s happening here is a juxtaposition between the current Shinnosuke packing his guitar away, and the spirit form of Shinnosuke appearing at about the same time. In Japanese folklore, these living spirits are known as ikiryō, and their appearance indicates that there is some sort of unfinished busniess that needs to be attended to. Such spirits can be benevolent or malevolent, and Okada’s use of ghosts in her writings paint spirits as people who have past regrets they wish to sort out. By reappearing, they guide the living to a path that helps the individual to overcome their regrets. In doing so, they also have a tangible beneficial impact on the living.

  • Shinno’s reappearance shocks Aoi, who had been in the middle of practise. Aoi is the opposite of Akane: whereas the latter is personable, cheerful and capable, Aoi is sullen and moody. From what is seen of Aoi while she’s at school, she badmouths the other students in the music clubs, tends to keep to herself and doesn’t really appear to have much direction. In appearance, she’s resembles Anthem of the Heart‘s Jun. While Aoi concentrates on her own world, Akane is helping organise a special promotional event with the hope of increasing tourism to their area.

  • Like AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart, Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, Saitama: this city of 63 358 is located some 55 kilometres northeast of Saitama city, in a valley surrounded by mountains, and the Chichibu Park Bridge, with its distinct cable-stayed span, is an iconic part of both AnoHana and Her Blue Sky. The city’s economy is primarily based on silk farming and limestone mining, but has shifted towards tourism in recent years, taking advantage of the area’s beautiful scenic attractions to draw visitors in. Within Her Blue Sky, this exact sort of project is occurring, and the municipal staff decide to hire Dankichi Nitobe, a famous enka singer. to sing praises for their city.

  • Accompanying Dankichi is Shinnosuke, and this initial revelation creates bemusement amongst the characters, as well as the viewer. As soon as it is established that the younger Shinno is a ikiryōHer Blue Sky‘s themes fall into place very quickly: ghosts and spirits, being of a different plane, are typically presented as having uncommon wisdom and knowledge with which to guide the livnig. It becomes apparent that Shinnosuke had left behind something important on his pursuit of the future, specifically, pertaining to matters of the heart. Right out of the gates, there is a marked contrast between the younger Shinno and the current-day Shinnosuke.

  • While Aoi is initially irritated by Shinno, there is a kindness and energy about his character that makes him immensely likeable. Flashbacks reveal that he had encouraged Aoi to take up the bass and promised that they’d one day perform together. Conversely, Shinnosuke appears distant, detached and irritable. The gap between their personalities is not unjustified: youth are often optimistic and engaged, filled with hope about making it big in the world. It is with some apprehension that I remark I understand how Shinnosuke feels. Reality is cruel, unfeeling, and the path to one’s goals is often littered with broken promises and shattered dreams, which can render one cynical and unhappy.

  • While browsing through old yearbooks, Aoi finds entries from Akane, who’d poetically written about how the proverbial frog-in-a-well and suggested that while ignorant of the outside world, the flip-side was that this frog’s entire world could still be one of beauty, since its limited reach would force the frog to appreciate what others take for granted (and therefore, miss). The story of the frog-in-the-well has its origins as either a Sanskrit or Chinese saying: the Sanskrit phrase kupamanduka (कूपमण्डूक) is very similar to the Chinese phrase 井底之蛙 (jyutping zeng2 dai2 zi1 waa1) in meaning, referring to someone who is complicit in their knowledge. By taking this phrase and presenting a different perspective on things, Her Blue Sky challenges the viewer to consider how things can often be a matter of perspective, and this holds especially true for Aoi, whose motivations are driven by her existing understanding of things.

  • When the bassist and drummer for Dankichi over-indulge and succumb to food poisoning, the music festival appears to be jeopardised. Conveniently, Aoi and Masamichi are on hand to assist: having continued her dream of becoming a bassist since she had been a child, she’s become proficient with the bass guitar, and similarly, while Masamichi no longer performs or practises, his skill as a drummer remain reasonably intact. Dankichi decides to have the pair audition, and if their performance is satisfactory, then he would be happy to have them as substitutes.

  • It turns out there was never any doubt: sullen attitude aside, Aoi is a capable bassist, and Dankichi is convinced that she’ll get the job done for the music festival. Like Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Aoi is able to sing and play at the same time, although it goes without saying that her style is considerably different: if memory serves, Mio became a bassist because she prefers being away from the spotlight,

  • It turns out that Shinno can be seen by most everyone, so he hides when Akane shows up. Shinno’s spirit manifests as a corporeal entity whose only constraint is that he cannot leave the temple walls: whenever he tries to exit, an invisible force prevents him from exiting. Such a phenomenon must be vexing to experience: for much of the movie, Shinno is confined to this building, and while he has no need to eat, he does enjoy the food that Aoi (and Akane) brings him. A recurring theme in the film is Shinno’s wish to try mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri from Akane, but the latter insists on making kelp-filled onigiri for Aoi, symbolising what Akane’s priorities were at the time.

  • Shinnosuke’s remarks to both Aoi and Masamichi conveys a sense of elitism and unprofessionalism: this was done to really accentuate how different Shinno and Shinnosuke are. Shinnosuke is acting in such a manner deliberately to keep the distance between a former friend and his love interest’s sister, and I’ve noted that people will often be overly critical of others to cover their own insecurities in a workplace setting. Someone who is genuinely knowledgable and comfortable with the extent of their knowledge will be critical in a constructive manner, offering solutions in conjunction with pointing out a shortcoming – the simple act of proposing a solution (or even a suggestion of how to begin tackling a problem) is all that makes the difference in whether or not someone is being professional.

  • Because Her Blue Sky is set in Chichibu, its portrayal of the area is faithful to that of the original. With anime, it never fails to impress me as to how faithfully real-world locations are rendered. Here, Masamichi shares a conversation with Aoi and her classmate, Chika, concerning practise. Shinnosuke is disinterested, and Aoi leaves to practise on her own, while Chika manages to run into Shinnosuke and strikes up a conversation with him.

  • The next day at school, Aoi confronts Chika about her previous encounter with Shinnosuke – Chika had long expressed a desire to date a musician, and Shinnosuke is presented as getting along with the ladies, having gone to a nightclub earlier. I imagine that Shinnosuke is simply detached from his world as a result of his experience (primarily, when Akane turned down his offer to accompany him to Tokyo) and does what he does to dull the pain. However, being impulsive and brash, Aoi assumes that Chika managed to hit a home run with Shinnosuke and refuses to speak with her after that.

  • Masamichi had long had feelings for Akane, but never acted on them out of respect to her and Shinnosuke. Aoi never really felt that there was anyone for Akane other than Shinnosuke, but incensed that Shinnosuke supposedly got it on with a high school student, she decides to help Masamichi. Masatsugu, on the other hand, is more-level headed about things. Despite only being a mere ten years of age, he is mature and observant, preferring to advise and watch.

  • Chika is insistent that nothing of the sort has happened; while Shinnosuke might be an unscrupulous fellow, it is unlikely that he would do the sorts of things that Aoi imagine has happened. Viewers can take Chika’s words as truthful – she notes that Shinnosuke isn’t exactly what she had in mind about musicians, and there’s a hint of disappointment here that clearly indicates that Aoi is overthinking things. Further compounding the issue, Aoi herself has begun falling in love with Shinno and his boundless optimism for the future.

  • After a disastrous attempt at the hotel when a drunken Shinnosuke attempts to sweet-talk Akane, the two do not have a proper conversation again. The two meet again while Akane is breaking from event planning, and finds Shinnosuke playing his guitar. Without the effects of alcohol impairing his judgement, he properly articulates how he feels to Akane, implicitly expressing a longing for his old dream of being with her. Akane tactfully indicates that after all this time, things might not have changed, and asks him to sing for her his debut song, “Her Blue Sky”, which gives the film its title. The old Shinno begins appearing in Shinnosuke – he livens up his singing considerably, leading Akane to laugh and recall their old times together.

  • Upon seeing Akane cry after Shinnosuke heads off, Aoi begins to understand what Shinnosuke meant to her. However, one rainy day, while looking for ointment for an itch, she stumbles upon an old notebook Akane had been using to draft out things to keep Aoi happy. Realising that Akane had been doing what she did of her own choosing, and that Akane’s dreams were never really given up (just postponed), Aoi feels compelled to be truthful with how she feels about things, as well.

  • Earlier, Masatsugu had spoken with Shinno, expressing that he’d fallen in love with Aoi and intends to become someone who can support her. Masatsugu is very perceptive, and correctly deduced that Aoi had fallen in love with Shinno: once she realises the extent of what Akane’s feelings and dreams had been, she confesses her feelings for Shinno, as well. Kokuhaku and feelings in Her Blue Sky are raw, rough around the edges – AnoHana and Anthem of the Heart was similarly done to accentuate the idea that love is a messy business, never as elegant or neatly-structured as færietales would have us believe.

  • The rainy, moody weather of the day before had served to provide a backdrop for Aoi coming to terms with her feelings. The next day, it is beautiful and sunny, conveying a newfound sense of hope. Aoi apologises to Chika for having lashed out at her: overall, throughout Her Blue Sky, I never did get the impression that Chika was an unsavoury character. While perhaps a bit more carefree than others, she’s genuinely kind and gets along with Aoi. I imagine that until now, Aoi never really had a friend, and Chika had only begun speaking to her because she imagined Aoi was secretly dating and had been curious to find out.

  • Preparations for the festival are now in full-swing, but Dankichi laments that he’d lost his pendant, which is a sort of good-luck charm he uses in performances. Dankichi’s unusual demands and requirements probably speak to the eccentricities of creatives – they might possess approaches and methods that seem a little befuddling for others, but once they hit their stride, are capable of creating magic. This is why working with artists always requires understanding and patience: inspiration can come from anywhere, and giving artists the appropriate (and reasonable) amount of freedom allows for a product quality to result. After looking through Dankichi’s phone, the staff work out the location he’d likely dropped it.

  • Akane sets off for the pendant’s last known location to search for it: a remote mountain tunnel in a park nearby. However, in typical Okada fashion, unexpected calamity strikes when a small earthquake sets off a landslide, trapping Akane inside the tunnel. Undeterred, Akane continues looking for the pendant. Aoi cannot help but feel that Akane might be in danger, and with the staff only promising to assess the situation before sending out someone to look, Aoi decides to take matters into her own hands and seeks out Shinno. An unexpected setback right as things are on the right track seems to be Okada’s signature style, raising the tension ahead of the story’s climax.

  • Shinnosuke and Shinno finally meet for the first time, and predictably, Shinno is disappointed his older self has become so pessimistic and apathetic, while Shinnosuke feels his younger self is ignorant and naïve. Shinno decides that, if Shinnosuke will not help to search for Akane, he’ll do it himself. Spurred on by Aoi, Shinno manages to break free of the force holding him at the temple and takes to the skies with Aoi in two. Shinno’s being bound to the temple was a metaphor for his own being held back by old feelings: for now, with his eyes on the present, with someone who cares for him, he is able to take ahold of the moment.

  • Shinno and Aoi soaring above Chichibu acts as the film’s climax – in the skies above, Aoi comes to understand what she’d wanted to do for Akane and knows that helping her to find her happiness with Shinnosuke is going to be her way of saying thanks. On the ground below, Shinnosuke finally is pushed to chase his dreams in a very literal sense: chasing after his younger self represents a very tangible objective for Shinnosuke to catch. This final scene is rich in symbolism: in the deep blue skies above Chichibu, Aoi finally appreciates how beautiful her home is.

  • Akane is unperturbed to meet with Shinno: they briefly share a heart-to-heart conversation before Shinno extracts her from the collapsed tunnel. As Akane and Aoi embrace, Shinnosuke struggles to find the words for the scene, while Shinno smiles. With Akane confirmed to be safe, they inform the others and prepare to head back. Aoi decides to give Akane some private time with Shinnosuke: during the ride, Shinnosuke expresses to Akane that as a musician now, he’d only really reached half of his dreams, and still yearns to be with her.

  • When Akane says she’d like to make mayonnaise-and-tuna-filled onigiri, Shinno vanishes. The onigiri had come to symbolise where Akane’s heart was – after all this time, she’d been intent on looking out for Aoi, but now that she is aware of how much Aoi’s grown, she finally feels ready to pursue her own future. Making the sort of onigiri that Shinnosuke likes comes to represent how she’s now able to return his feelings in full, confident that Aoi will find her own path as well. Satisfied his regrets have been addressed, Shinno disappears, leaving Shinnosuke, Akane and Aoi to pursue their futures.

  • The sun thus sets over Chichibu as the day draws to a close, and this moment is only one of many that showcase the beautiful landscape artwork in Her Blue Sky. On an unrelated note, as yesterday was New Year’s Day, we did our annual 打邊爐 (jyutping daa2 bin1 lou4) – it’s a tradition I’m fond of, featuring fish balls, squid balls, beef, lamb, fish, prawns, fresh oysters, cuttlefish, lettuce and cabbage, rounded off with yi mien to absorb all of the flavours from the resulting broth. Hot pots originate from Mongolia and are common across Asia, being best for cold evenings. With this being said, the contents of a Cantonese-style hot pot are always delicious: yesterday night, a Chinook resulted in temperatures remaining a balmy 2ºC even after sunset, but this didn’t stop things from being delicious.

  • Her Blue Sky scores an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.5 of 10) in my books – it was an immensely satisfying and meaningful tale of appreciation and of what it means to properly pursue a dream. I understand that the home release for Her Blue Sky came out back in June 2020, but it was only now that I managed to find some time to sit down and watch this properly. Having managed to avoid all spoilers and discussions for the film, I ended up with the best possible experience of Her Blue Sky. With this review in the books, I start 2021 strong with a positive post, and before the winter season kicks off, I’ll aim to finish off my thoughts on Warlords of Sigrdrifa – my reason for kicking off 2021 with a talk on Her Blue Sky rather than Warlords of Sigrdrifa will soon become apparent. At present, I’m still working out the most optimal posting pattern for the anime I intend to follow this upcoming season.

Her Blue Sky thus ends up being a fine film to kick off a New Year with: with messages of second chances, and appreciation of what one has, Her Blue Sky suggests that life is a series of trade-offs and compromises. A mind in the proverbial well may be ignorant of the world, but is assured a view of the blue sky that busier minds may take for granted and consequently, miss. This film seeks to suggest that stepping back and taking stock of a situation allows one to better understand where things are headed, although in the heat of an emotionally-charged moment, people often forget this, leading to regret and longing. However, by employing a little help from the supernatural, Her Blue Sky provides Akane, Shinnosuke and Aoi with their happy endings; altogether, Her Blue Sky is a superb and moving film. In conjunction with Cloverworks’ technically excellence, Her Blue Sky is an experience for viewers, capturing hearts and minds with a compelling story and impressive visuals. Returning viewers to the town of Chichibu, Saitama, Her Blue Sky brings back memories of AnoHana, and like AnoHana, incorporates supernatural elements to convey a specific idea. While Mari Okada often receives flak for creating what is felt to be excessively melodramatic situations, I’ve long found that her works are always solid thematically: Okada’s use of emotion is always strong, and the tears are never really that far off as a result of how scenarios in her stories are presented. Consequently, I found in Her Blue Sky a particularly moving story for beginning the year with, encouraging viewers to grasp their dreams more firmly the first time around, or for folks (like myself) who miss an opportunity the first time around, realise that sometimes, second chances are offered, and more often than not, are offered with the same sincerity as they were initially.

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary and Other Remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hakubo: An Anime Movie Review and Reflection

“There’s no shame in saying you’ve lost a step. The only shame would be not admitting it until it’s too late.” –Gareth Mallory, Skyfall

Sachi Koyama is an first year high school student living in Iwaki. Ever since the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, she’s become distant from those around her, but having played the violin as a child, she’s come to pride herself on being a proficient player. Each day after practise, she enjoys a quiet walk down to the bus station for the long ride back home, where she admires the quiet countryside and striking sunsets. Sachi comes to notice a quiet boy boarding the bus a few stations later, and one day, is surprised to see him at her bus stop. It turns out he is a student from another school, and that he’d come to find a fantastic landscape to sketch for his club activities. After their first encounter, the boy introduces himself as Yūsuke Kijinami. Despite her best efforts, Sachi cannot stop thinking about him, and takes up his invitation to help him find a scenic location to sketch. Sachi and Yūsuke exchange contact information and, little by little, the two become closer. Sachi later learns that Yūsuke had lived in the region afflicted by the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011 and was forced to evacuate. Over time, Yūsuke became separated from his first love, regretting that he never got to express his feelings to her. Worried about her own feelings, Sachi nonetheless attempts to invite him to her school’s string recital. Having put in an earnest effort in practising, Sachi and the strings club put on a moving performance. In the aftermath, Sachi and Yūsuke head to the roof for a private talk, where Yūsuke explains that he’s come to fall in love with Sachi. She is moved to tears and responds that she returns his feelings. Hakubo (薄暮, Twilight) is a film that dates back to June 2019. Dealing with adolescent love, Hakubo was produced by Yutaka Yamamoto, a rather controversial director who had worked on the Tohoku Trilogy (of which Wake Up, Girls! is a part of alongside the five minute short, Blossom), a charity programme for relief efforts following the Tohoku Earthquake. Yamamoto announced that this would be his final project in animation, and Hakubo brought back character designer Sunao Chikaoka, who’d previously worked on Wake Up, Girls!.

At its core, Habuko represents a fitting conclusion to the Tohoku Trilogy, which had been intended to raise awareness of the Tohoku region and the devastation that resulted from the 2011 earthquake. The love story between Sachi and Yūsuke represents optimism towards the future, that from the destruction and endings, comes rebirth and hope. Yūsuke’s story acts as a metaphor for the Tohoku region. The earthquake uprooted countless lives and forced residents to relocate, driving them apart. Yūsuke’s first love, then, is analogous to his original home: much as he still regrets not expressing his feelings for her then, Yūsuke retains a nostalgia for his old home. When he meets Sachi, he explains that his love of painting and photography comes from a desire to preserve memories of a place. However, over time, the present and future begin to overshadow the past; despite him and Sachi both hitting a rough spot, a new love begins to blossom. In accepting Sachi’s feelings, Yūsuke also implicitly accepts his new home, as well: much as he’s moving on from his first love and pursuing a new relationship with Sachi, he’s also embraced the beauty of his new home. Hakubo thus suggests that for Tohoku’s residents, they’ve also begun to acclimatise to their lives, finding new meaning and connections amongst their community in spite of their losses – speaking to the resilience of people, both Yūsuke and Tohoku’s residents have adapted and found a way to continue against adversity, discovering new joys in the process.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right out of the gates, Hakubo creates a sense of longing and melancholy with its long stills of the sky at twilight (薄暮, Hepburn hakubo): Yamamoto uses the love story in Hakubo to serve as a metaphor for those who were displaced by the 2011 earthquake, and as such, feelings of yearning permeate the entire movie, which has a fifty minute runtime. Hakubo was originally announced in 2017 and set to release in 2018, but production delays pushed it back to June 2019. I’ve not heard much about the film, as excitement for it was scant, but nonetheless, the key visuals and premise caught my eye. For the remainder of this talk, I’ll refer to the film as Hakubo to avoid confusion with the English film series, Twilight.

  • The city of Iwaki, Fukushima, has a population of 337765 as of this April. With an economy rooted in agriculture, fishing and chemical engineering, the city is also a hotspot for tourists, who use the city as a hub for reaching some of Fukushima’s most scenic and beautiful spots. Hakubo lovingly presents the area to set the film’s mood as one of sentimentality, and throughout the remainder of Hakubo, the landscapes and scenery are of a consistently high quality.

  • Indeed, the background artwork is the most remarkable aspect in Hakubo, being photo-realistic at times. There is a calm sense as one day draws to a close, as the sunlight recedes and the skies turn a shade of deepest blue. This is known as Blue Hour, when Chappuis absorption creates blue shades as a result of the sun’s position below the horizon. This time of day is immensely peaceful, and during the summer months, marks the point in time when things begin cooling off for the evening.

  • Hakubo opens with Sachi (Hiyori Sakurada) narrating her life in Iwaki. She’d chosen her high school simply on the grounds that their uniform was appealing, and as a result, has a bit of a lengthy commute each day. While the background art in Hakubo is phenomenal, the characters themselves sport a much flatter, more rudimentary design. With Chikaoka helming the designs for characters, Sachi and the other characters have a striking similarity to their counterparts from Wake Up, Girls!, especially in their smiles.

  • The viewers’ initial impressions of Sachi, are that she’s a quiet and observant individual, but also lacking confidence (she remarks that her appearance isn’t anything special) and reluctant to open up to those around her: Sakurada delivers Sachi’s narration with a hesitant inflection that brings to mind the likes of Hibike! Euphonium‘s Kumiko Oumae, whose narrations were similarly introspective and tentative. In Hibike! Euphonium, Kumiko does become more confident over time, and this inflection eventually dissipates.

  • To the best of my knowledge, there are no satisfactory discussions of Hakubo on the internet: reviews of the movie are incomplete, knee-jerk reactions from viewers who’ve come to hate Yamamoto’s work on principle, or otherwise have missed the idea that the film is about discovering new love in the aftermath of a great disturbance. It is evident that the many reviewers out there, on places like MyAnimeList, have made no effort (or are simply unable) to understand Yamamoto’s intentions for the film. As such, it goes without saying that such poor reviews are not meritorious of consideration.

  • Wake Up, Girls! had suffered a similar fate with regards to its reception; Yamamoto’s objectionable reputation often precede him, leading viewers to swiftly (and immaturely) dismiss his works when in reality, his works are by no means unpalatable. Like Wake Up, Girls!, I found Hakubo to have enough merits that outweigh the negatives. While Sachi may not be confident in her appearance or her ability to connect with those around her, she states that the violin is the one thing she takes great pride in. Originally, she’d picked up the instrument because she loved the dresses performers wore into concerts, but over time, would become skillful enough to take pride in what she does.

  • While Sachi may not be the most open person in the world, she’s made a few friends with the strings club’s members: to the right is Hii-chan (Ayane Sakura), who has a spirited personality and laments being single, and center is Rina (Sora Amamiya), a quieter but friendly individual who looks out for both Hii-chan and Sachi. As they leave the school here, the conversation they share brings to mind a similar conversation between Kagami and Tsukasa from Lucky☆Star, which Yamamoto had directed four episodes of before being dismissed from the team for clashing with others.

  • At a casual glance, the road that Sachi walks down appears to be a photo: Sachi’s school is located a ways into the countryside, and one of her favourite things to do is to enjoy the walk to the bus stop as the evening sun sets in. Rina asks Hii-chan not to disturb Sachi’s peace, since everyone has something that’s important to them. In portraying Sachi’s enjoyment of a sunset that, in her words, she has entirely to herself, Hakubo emphasises the joys that can be had in something as simple as watching the sky fill with colours as the day draws to a close.

  • The sights and sounds of the countryside, the satoyama surrounding Iwaki are beautifully rendered, comparable to Makoto Shinkai and Studio Ghibli’s landscape shots in terms of detail. These visuals remind me of Little Forest, a two-part film that was also set in the Tohoku region about a young woman who returns to her home in the countryside to pursue a pastoral lifestyle. While I live in an urban setting, I am fortunate in that my city was built with numerous parks, and earlier today, after a delicious dim sum lunch (dai Zigaoshumai, beef balls, Phoenix claw, crispy Taro puffs, deep fried shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns, cheung fun, deep fried squid and fried noodles), I stepped out into the beautiful afternoon sun for a walk along a hillside path giving fantastic views of the city.

  • While Sachi describes a green band as being the most thrilling part of a sunset to watch, green wavelengths not scattered as widely as blue light, and therefore, under most conditions, sunsets feature warmer reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and purple hues that rapidly give way to deep blue. The phenomenon as described in Hakubo would be uncommon: while green light is scattered in the atmosphere, fewer wavelengths actually hit our photoreceptors. There are some circumstances where greener sunsets can be seen, usually, in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, which fills the atmosphere with particles that can scatter green light.

  • Hii-chan’s frequent and vociferous laments about being single are simultaneously pitiful and hilarious: the latter because Ayane Sakura does excellent voice work for tantrums, and pitiful because I completely empathise. While Hii-chan’s misfortunes in love seem tangential to Hakubo, and Sachi seems quite disinterested in romance, it does foreshadow what ends up happening to Sachi. Every day, Sachi notices a boy with a different uniform on the bus ride home.

  • This is an unremarkable sight, but as time wears on, Sachi begins to think about him, wondering if he’ll show up and which school he’s from. As the boy wanders into her thoughts, Sachi is surprised that this is happening, embarrassed that her thoughts strayed towards a boy she barely knows at random. If this is love, it’s something I’m a little ashamed to say I haven’t experienced in a while: in my waking moments, I’m preoccupied with work, and it is usually during my weekends that I head out for walks to clear my mind.

  • After a gruelling practise, Hii-chan complains about Matsumoto (Kana Hanazawa), their senior and speculates that her relationship going south might be the reason why she’s pushing them so hard. For Sachi, her mind is a parsec away from the gossip: she’s thinking about her playing and notes that she’s the most behind of everyone. Sachi’s narration is tumultuous and chaotic: despite being tangentially related to the overall story, they offer brief insights into her mind and give viewers a sense of what she’s feeling during trickier moments.

  • One evening, while waiting at the bus stop, Sachi comes face to face with the boy on the bus in a surprise encounter: it turns out he’s here in search of a perfect landscape to paint, and asks Sachi for directions to the nearest forest. These regions of Japan are known as the satoyama (里山), where the flat plains give way to foothills. The interface between fields and hills creates an immensely beautiful landscape, one that Hayao Miyazaki recreates in great detail in his films. They represent the Japanese ability to coexist with natural areas, and over the centuries, satoyama have acted as refuges for biodiversity, where humanity and nature come together.

  • Sachi learn that the boy’s name is Yūsuke, and while their initial conversations initially deal in art and music, things eventually open up as the two begin discussing other topics, both in the evenings as they head home together or via LINE, the Japanese instant messaging application. Watching Hakubo brought back memories of old: this was something I did during my time as a secondary and university student. Back in those days, I spent way too much time doing this, chatting with friends late into the night about topics of all manners. Some friendships did indeed progress in the way that Hakubo describes, although my ineptitude with recognising these sorts of things would cost me.

  • While Sachi does not know of the area’s forests, her frequently stopping to see the sunset means that she is able to share with Yūsuke a sight that she had to herself previously. Yūsuke is moved and decides that this is what he wishes to paint. From what is seen in Hakubo, Yūsuke appears to be painting the colours of the landscape, rather than going for realism alone: such paintings typically have a very bold feel to them. To help motivate him, Yūsuke asks that Sachi plays a piece for him, and she obliges.

  • As Yūsuke paints out his work, Sachi performs, creating an immensely majestic and peaceful setting. This was the magic moment in Hakubo, where the composition provides a unique experience from both a visual and aural perspective. As the evening light casts the land in a warm glow and accentuates the bright yellows of the grasses, Sachi’s violin adds an inviting sense to the whole moment. This is the moment that was used in the poster artwork, and the fact that Sachi’s playing and Yūsuke’s artwork complement one another so nicely suggests that the two’s friendship is progressing quickly towards the next level.

  • The vivid yellow of the fields under a swift sunset brings to mind the scenery of southern Alberta, where endless fields of canola dominate the landscape. Prior to World War Two, Japan produced its own canola, which was used in a culinary capacity, but since the war, importing Canadian and Australian canola meant that domestic production dropped sharply. However, there are still some fields around, and so, it is not so difficult to suppose that a few fields could exist near Iwaki.

  • If we suppose that Hii-chan and Rina’s definitions are commonplace, then yes, I’ve had my share of experiences in this particular arena. That’s a bit of a discouraging topic, so I’ll return focus to Hakubo: Hii-chan’s reaction to the idea of Sachi being in a relationship is hilarious, and hearing Ayane Sakura deliver her lines means hearing Cocoa complaining vehemently about being single, with the corresponding funny face to match. The character designs of Hakubo, although rudimentary, still have a unique charm to them, and it was a bit of a trip down memory lane to see smiles like those of Wake Up, Girls! again.

  • I relate to Yūsuke’s, having gone through similar experiences back in the day: there have only been a few cases where I was interested in someone, and despite my efforts, circumstances drove a wedge in those plans to move the needle. It is understandable that at this point, Yūsuke is feeling a little conflicted: he’s still got lingering feelings for his first love, but meeting Sachi changes things somewhat. I felt that Sachi could’ve probably handled things things with a bit more tact, but this is perhaps deliberate, indicating that she’s never dealt with falling in love before. That evening, when she gets home, she inexplicably strips down before trying to get some sleep.

  • In Sachi’s dream, the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station can be seen as Yūsuke’s bike rises above the ground, symbolising his desire to be anywhere else. For Sachi, she worries about her seeming inability to offer what he seeks. The Fukushima Disaster resulted directly from the tsunami, which knocked out power to the diesel generators that would pump water into the reactor core to cool it off. The first reactor ended up melting down, releasing radioactive material into the ocean and air in a disaster as severe as Chernobyl, forcing thousands to evacuate. Yūsuke was one of the evacuees, and his life hasn’t been the same since. While a calamity, the efforts of plant workers and emergency staff prevented Fukushima from becoming a worse disaster.

  • I do have plans to watch Fukushima 50 as soon as that becomes available, and back in Hakubo, after a practise concludes, Sachi, spurred on by her feelings and the knowledge that Yūsuke will be coming to watch, decides to push herself a little harder to put on a better showing. Rehearsal goes smoothly, and Sakamoto ends up feeling they’re ready to roll on the day of the culture festival: the club has evidently improved, having practised long hours to ensure their performance is top-tier. Hakubo does have a captivating soundtrack dominated by strings, and an image album was released back in January 2019, a full five months ahead of its theatrical première.

  • Perhaps because of Yamamoto’s previous involvement with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Kyoto Animation, Mikuru, Tsuruya, Haruhi, Yuki and Kyon are visible at the culture festival, and Kumiko can be seen walking the hallways, as well. It was a clever cameo that occupies a grand total of two seconds of Hakubo‘s runtime, and I’m rather surprised that no one’s mentioned this: perhaps in their haste to tear down Yamamoto and his work, the most vocal of critics forget what they’ve watched.

  • While nowhere near as intricate or detailed as Kyoto Animation’s presentation of concerts, Hakubo nonetheless does an admirable job of showing the results of the string club’s efforts. As the girls play, their performance is punctuated by stills of the nearby scenery and of Beethoven himself: the painting seen in Hakubo is a reproduction of Joseph Karl Stieler’s portrait, which was done in 1820 and is one of the best-known images of Beethoven.

  • Once the performance ends, Rina and Hii-chan are overjoyed at how smoothly everything went. While they’d intended to celebrate earlier, Hii-chan and Rina also realise that Sachi’s got a special opportunity here to take one giant leap forwards. Rina encourages Sachi to have faith in her heart: hesitating now might mean that Yūsuke may lose interest, and so, Sachi heads off to the school rooftop to affirm Yūsuke’s feelings. She deliberately chooses this location so if things should go south, at least her bus stop and the beautiful fields are not associated with rejection.

  • It’s a bit of a tense moment as Sachi and Yūsuke summon up the courage to make their feelings known – Yūsuke’s sketch of Sachi and her violin speaks volumes about where his heart is now. He’s moved on, and can also be said to have accepted his life following the earthquake. Sachi tears up, understanding how much she means to Yūsuke, and in the end, both Yūsuke and Sachi reciprocate the other’s feelings.

  • For Sachi, it’s still a little to be reaching for first base, as they say, and she declares that she’d like to get to know Yūsuke better before they kiss. This brings Hakubo to an end, and quite honestly, against the reception out there, I enjoyed this movie. The page quote, sourced from Skyfall, deals with Yukata Yamamoto’s declaration that he’ll never work in animation again after Hakubo. From my perspective, if this is indeed where Yamamoto decides to retire, there’s no shame in doing so: I believe Hakubo was a box office failure (the estimated gross was 1.4 million yen against a budget of five million yen), but the film succeeded in conveying a theme surrounding the Tohoku Earthquake, as well as the beauty of the Iwaki region and the importance of moving ahead. From a narrative standpoint, Hakubo has done its job, and this is why I am happy to give it a passing grade.

  • Altogether, I find Hakubo to be a worthwhile experience, one that merits an B+ (3.3 of 4, or 8.0 of 10): the film might have its flaws with respect to pacing and cohesion, but ultimately, the message is sincere and honest. This is Yutaka Yamamoto’s style; rough around the edges and unpolished, but also truthful. I believe that with this, I’ve got the internet’s first and only collection of screenshots for Hakubo, which showcases the level of artwork in the film. With this being said, I am by no means the first to have a positive review for Hakubo: Irina of Drunken Anime Blog has an insightful perspective on how the film’s therapeutic nature makes it worthwhile and charming, for those seeking a gentle, nostalgic love story.

Hakubo bears the characteristics of a work with Yamamoto’s involvement: like Wake Up, Girls!, it is rough around the edges and unpolished, but also sincere and direct with its messages and ideas. Wake Up, Girls! had inconsistent artwork and animation, but its characters were genuine and honest, striving towards a goal that viewers could root for. Here in Hakubo, the film has similar inconsistencies: there are stunning scenery stills that are breathtaking, and the colours in the movie are vivid. However, Sachi, her classmates and Yūsuke are somewhat uneven in animation and design. Further to this, there are a few moments where Yūsuke’s voice tears, breaking the immersion. Hakubo has its ups and downs, but ultimately, I count it to have succeeded for its simple but moving message. This film can therefore be thought of as a spiritual successor to Wake Up, Girls!; if the latter was a story of persistence and resilience in the people of Sendai to survive in the moment, then Hakubo shows the process by which people can come across new experiences that lead them to not only accept, but also embrace their present. For Yūsuke, he is ultimately able to let go of his first love and direct all of his focus on Sachi, mirroring how he’s managed to find new beauty and wonder in the world after the earthquake. If Yamamoto intends to retire from animation with the completion of Hakubo, this is a reasonable place to call it quits: Hakubo decisively wraps up the Tohoku Trilogy with a heartfelt conclusion, that out of the old, comes the new. For this reason, I found Hakubo to be a reasonably enjoyable film the same way Wake Up, Girls! was moving to me.

A Whisker Away: An Anime Movie Review and Reflection

“The mask is not for you, it’s to protect the people you care about.” –Bruce Wayne to Robin, The Dark Knight Rises

Amidst her parents separating, Miyo Sasaki encounters a mysterious Merchant who gives her a noh mask that transforms her into a white cat with striking blue eyes. Later, Miyo develops a crush on her classmate, Kento Hinode, after encountering him while she is transformed. Despite her best efforts to draw his attention at school, her efforts always fail. Miyo is unperturbed, since the noh mask she acquired allows her to freely transform into a white cat: she visits Kento every evening as a cat, and he comes to name her Tarō, his old dog who’d passed away. The two share numerous moments together, and with each visit, Miyo falls deeper in love with Kento, but also worries that, were he to discover Tarō’s true identity, he would outright reject her. When Miyo overhears some classmates badmouthing Kento, she leaps to intervene and injures her ankle. Kento and Miyo appear to get closer when he offers to share his lunch with her, and that night, Miyo overhears, as Tarō, that the Hinode family is closing their pottery shop. She decides to make her feelings to him known, but this fails, and in embarrassment, Kento rebuffs her. Her heart broken, Miyo decides it would be better to spend her life as a cat, and the Merchant appears, retrieving her human face and promising her a paradise ahead. With her human form gone, Miyo’s missing, prompting her parents and friends to go looking for her. As Tarō, Miyo discovers that Kento did not mean what he’d said to her after her botched kokuhaku and is seized with regret; she no longer wishes to be a cat. When she encounters Kinako, who’d been her stepmother’s cat, Miyo learns that Kinako wanted to extend her lifespan and spend time with Miyo’s stepmother: she’s the one with Miyo’s mask now. Miyo pushes in towards a special place for cats and discovers a vast island in the sky in search of the Merchant, hoping to persuade him to restore her to normal. She comes across a pub whose patrons were formerly human. Meanwhile, having seen how fulfilling her life had been, Kinako decides to help Miyo out, bringing Kento with her. Upon arriving on the island, Kinako and Kento locate the Merchant’s quarters but find themselves ensnared. Miyo manages to help them escape, but the Merchant is hot on their heels, eventually capturing them and bringing them to a special area where he can begin the transaction. The Merchant overpowers Kenta, Miyo and Kinako despite their combined efforts, but the other cats, resentful of their decision, intervene to stop the process. As Miyo and Kento express their feelings for one another, Miyo is returned to her human form.

Released on June 18 via Netflix, A Whisker Away (Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu, literally “Wanting to Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat”) is an anime film whose theatrical release was disrupted by the global health crisis, and instead, would see a digital distribution that made it much more accessible for overseas viewers. During its 104 minute-long runtime, A Whisker Away is a compelling and touching film about the nature of relationships, specifically, how they are necessarily built on truth if they are to thrive. At A Whisker Away‘s beginning, Miyo uses the noh mask to escape her reality, one that is characterised by a troubled family. This brings her to a chance meeting with Kento, whom she falls in love with. However, Miyo is unable to be forwards about the fact that she is Tarō, and similarly, typically forces herself to put on a smile to mask her own unhappiness. In this way, the noh mask and Miyo’s resultant transformation into a cat becomes a symbol of escape into blissful oblivion. Kento is depicted as having a similar problem, being unable to speak up about his love of pottery, which stands contrary to his mother’s wish for him to attend a good high school and enter a professional, financially secure occupation. Struggling with their own desires and attempting to conform to expectations around them, both Miyo and Kento discover, through the course of A Whisker Away, that their problems can only be confronted head-on. The sum of their experiences on the cat island and the realisation of what matters to them, lead both Miyo and Kento to be open about their feelings towards one another. In this way, Miyo and Kento both grow, coming to understand that unresolved problems must be addressed, not hidden away. Being forwards with their love for one another creates a tangible change in the pair: in the credits, it is shown that Miyo’s become more sociable at school and more accepting of her stepmother, while Kento decides to pursue a career as a potter. With Kento and Miyo both being able to properly express how they feel now, A Whisker Away leaves viewers on a strong note, indicating that the pair are in a better position to pursue a relationship than they had been entering the film.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • A Whisker Away was originally was set for a standard run in Japanese cinema on June 5, but the global health crisis eventually resulted in its release to Netflix. Instead of seeing A Whisker Away somewhere in 2021, this meant I was able to watch it more recently. Prior to the film’s release, some folks expressed that, because Mari Okada was involved in writing it, that viewers should go in with caution. I’ve never understood the beef people have with Okada: of her works that I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed all of them. Her impressive resume includes Maquia: When the Promised Flower BloomsThe Anthem of the HeartAnoHanaNagi no Asukara and even Koufuku Grafitti.

  • While it’s true that Okada’s True Tears was a Glasslip-level debacle, this one work alone does not define her career, and irrational hatred of a creator is something I find gratuitous, unnecessary. Out of the gates, the first song on A Whisker Away‘s soundtrack was a bit grating to the ears for its use of horns. I imagine that this was deliberate, to present Miyo as being very spirited and energetic. The remainder of the soundtrack is quite varied, capturing both the more sentimental moments alongside the surreal experiences Miyo and Kento have.

  • Miyo is referred to as Muge throughout A Whisker Away: rendered as ムゲ, it’s a shorthand for “無限大謎人間” (Hepburn mugendai nazo ningen, literally “endlessly mysterious person”). It’s an insult, to be sure, but one with a modicum of respect: Yoriko Fukase, Miyo’s best friend also refers to her as such, and Miyo never seems to take offense it. However, Netflix chooses to render it as the backronym “Miss Ultra Gaga and Enigmatic”. I found this backronym to sound more derogatory, and feel that a proper translation would likely have Miyo being called “Mysterio” instead.

  • For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to Miyo by her given name. I do this for consistency in my reviews, as well as for the fact that it is more respectful to the characters and their experience as the story progresses. In this case, my assumption is that as A Whisker Away continues, Miyo will become decreasingly enigmatic to viewers. However, initially, it does appear that her nickname holds true: once classes ends, Miyo rushes off into her room and locates the noh mask that transforms her into a cat with white fur and strikingly beautiful blue eyes.

  • Kento Hinode is Miyo’s classmate and is generally a quiet, reserved individual at school. However, it is shown that Kento is under a great deal of pressure: as the next male in the family after his father had passed away, he is expected to be the breadwinner. His mother constantly pushes him to excel academically so that he may enter a prestigious high school and university to secure his future, but Kento’s aspiration is to take on the family business and become a potter, the same as his grandfather.

  • While Kento’s mother continues to push him, his older sister, Yumi, has a much more blasé and lazy attitude towards life: throughout the movie, she’s seen lazing around, reading magazines and messing with her phone, only reluctantly helping out with minor household work when needed. Yumi does not play a substantial role in A Whisker Away, but the secondary characters all serve an important purpose in helping put Miyo and Kento’s actions in context. In this case, Yumi emphasises the sort of stress and difficulties that Kento faces, acting as a foil to his hard-working but quiet character.

  • Set in Tokoname (Aichi Prefecture, just south of Nagoya), A Whisker Away vividly portrays chimneys of the kilns in the town. Ceramics and pottery have been a major industry in Tokoname since the Heian period, and the distinct smoke stacks seen today date back to the Meiji Restoration. While many factories were closed following the Second World War, and less-polluting methods were introduced, a handful were preserved, becoming museums today.

  • When Miyo arrives, Kento greets her as Taro, the name of his old dog who’d passed away earlier. Miyo immediately takes a liking to this name, as it signifies how Kento views her cat form as being equivalent to his old pet. As Taro, Miyo visits Kento on a very frequent basis, enough so that Kento prepares fresh food for Taro whenever she visits. When Miyo recounts her experiences to Yoriko, the latter is taken aback and finds it difficult to believe that Kento could get along with her, having seen how coldly he regards Miyo. However, Miyo is referring to what happens when she’s Taro.

  • As Miyo transforms briefly back into her human form while dashing across the rooftops, the evening clouds can be seen in the background. Of late, all of the anime films I’ve watched have been of an excellent standard from a visual perspective; while not quite rivalling the distinct style of Makoto Shinkai’s films, many anime movies now are a wonder to watch for the artwork alone. A Whisker Away is no different: the film looks amazing, and the cloud here is photorealistic, bringing to mind the storm clouds that mass in my area by evening as hot days draw to an end.

  • Use of camera angles and spacing in A Whisker Away conveys the sense that Miyo is not accustomed to life with her stepmother: their interactions are brief, and Miyo’s lament that her stepmother’s cat, Kinako, seems cool towards her, mirrors this distance. Miyo is voiced by Mirai Shida, an actress best known for her roles in live-action drama series. Kento, on the other hand, is played by Natsuki Hanae, a voice actor I know best as Nagi no Asukara‘s Hikari Sakishima, Kōsei Arima of Your Lie in April and Aldnoah.Zero‘s Inaho Kaizuka.

  • Taro’s visits are always welcome, and Kento greatly welcomes them. Being fond of Taro, he remarks that she “smells like the sun”, a very strange-sounding phrase; after all, the sun’s electromagnetic spectra is something that is seen and felt, but the chemoreceptors our nose don’t have the ability to pick up photons. However, as it turns out, this is merely a metaphor, referring to the smell of something left outside in clean air. It’s a very fresh scent, a mixture of vegetation and water, that evokes a sense of happiness. Kento is therefore referring to the idea that Taro smells clean, comforting.

  • When Miyo overhears some classmates badmouthing Kento, she leaps off a sky bridge with the intent of lecturing them. Miyo begins to take on cat-like traits as a result of donning the noh mask so frequently, and therefore, can understand how to stick a landing as cats do. In real cats, the righting reflex, coupled with a cat’s low height-to-mass ratio, allows them to make safe landings from heights that would proportionally cause injury in humans. However, since Miyo is in her normal state, she counts on a tree to break her fall, and ends up spraining her ankle anyways.

  • In the aftermath of such a crazy stunt, Miyo shares lunch with Kento and his friend. Miyo finds the potatoes he’s brought to be quite tasty but has trouble wording it, causing Kento to break into laughter. It’s the first time that the two share a moment together: up until now, Miyo’s only interactions with Kento are as Taro. When she tells Yoriko of these, Yoriko finds it much harder to believe, since she’s not in on the secret yet. However, Kento notes that Miyo also smells like the sun here, foreshadowing both his eventual discovery, that Taro is Miyo, and his own feelings.

  • Kento’s grandfather is a professional potter, and having grown up learning this trade, Kento’s longed to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. However, with the financial situation at the Hinode household looking grim, Kento’s mother decides it’s a better idea to close the workshop and reduce expenses. Kento’s grandfather agrees, saying that he’s getting a little old to be doing his work, and Kenta finds himself unable to speak his mind as to what’s going on.

  • During her evening excursions as Taro, Miyo passes through the beautifully-rendered streets of Tokoname. With a population hovering around fifty-four thousand since World War Two ended, Tokoname today continues to be a ceramics producer, but also is supplemented by commercial fishing and business. The area was chosen for A Whisker Away because director Shibayama Tomotaka hails from the area, and his familiarity with the city means that local sights are reproduced with a stunningly high accuracy.

  • After hearing about Kento’s situation as Taro, Miyo decides to write a love letter to him, hoping to make her feelings to him known, as well as help to alleviate the pressure he must doubtlessly be feeling. I’ve never written a love letter before, and as such, can attest to how tricky it can be to properly put feelings into words. Of all the different reasons for written and verbal communications, declarations of love are the trickiest, made doubly so by the fact that there is so rarely the opportunity to practise this sort of communication.

  • Naturally, Miyo’s kokuhaku fail thanks to the immaturity and flippance of a few immature classmates. At their age, this is understandable, since romance is still seen as dubious rather than a natural part of life. Be that as it may, it absolutely humiliates both Kento, who harshly rejects Miyo, and Miyo herself runs off in tears, less so because of what others think of her, but more from Kento’s words. Yoriko takes off after her to look out for her, but not before dealing additional damage to the boys who’ve precipitated this turn of events.

  • August traditionally opens with the Heritage long weekend, and last year, I spent it building a new drawer and desk. This year, I kept things a little simpler, spending the first day of the long weekend writing blog posts and playing through Warlords of New York, as well as World of Warcraft. I also enjoyed a delicious dinner of Maggi soy sauce fried prawns, sweet and sour pork chop with mayonnaise sauce and peaches, crispy free-range chicken and satay beef on Chinese broccoli. Dinner was delicious, although owing to how warm it’s been, I wasn’t quite able to eat as much as I normally would: it’s the seventh consecutive day where it’s been above 26ºC, and the weather was warm enough such that there were thundershowers at eight in the morning on Saturday.

  • Rendered inconsolable after Kento’s rejection, Miyo finally lashes out, saying she’s tired of maintaining a façade in front of her stepmother and forcing a smile. In the aftermath, she grabs her noh mask, transforms into Taro and runs away, heading for Kento’s place. Here, she learns that Kento hadn’t meant his words, but also feels that after what happened, there’s no turning back. She falls asleep, and when she wakes up the next morning, realises that as a cat, she probably won’t have to go to school.

  • When the Masketta Merchant appears and commandeers Miyo’s human mask, she becomes stuck in cat form and is unable to return home. This is what the English title is derived from: Miyo is figuratively and literally a whisker away from both being a cat, and from her love. Her conundrum now has far reaching consequences: to her parents, Miyo’s gone missing. Yoriko and Kento are pulled from class to provide information on where Miyo might’ve gone.

  • Yuriko explains to Kento that she’d been friends with Miyo ever since Miyo drove off some classmates who’d been giving her a difficult time. Despite things beginning roughly for the two, Miyo and Yoriko would become friends. Yoriko feels duty-bound to look after her, and attesting to where his heart lies, Kento agrees to help search for her. The two are given permission to skip class for the day and canvas the nearby area in the hopes they may find her.

  • Pandemonium ensues when Miyo is no closer to being found: Miyo’s mother lays the blame squarely on her stepmother, and things devolve into a fistfight. The weather, which had been clear and pleasant throughout the events of A Whisker Away, turns grey and moody, mirroring the characters’ feelings. I’ve long felt that weather and time of day, two visceral elements that impact the lighting in a scene, are underrepresented in anime discussions:

  • When Miyo reappears, her family and classmates are shocked, but relieved. However, the Miyo here feels somewhat different than her usual self: Yoriko notices almost immediately, but to her classmates, the change is imperceptible owing to her typical propensities. It therefore speaks volumes to the depth of their friendship that Yoriko is this familiar with minute details in Miyo’s behaviour: when coupled with the fact that she genuinely cares for Miyo’s well-being, it shows that despite her reputation at school, Miyo’s never really alone despite feeling this way.

  • For Miyo, the dramatic irony is that while she does have people in her corner who genuinely care for her, she isn’t fully aware of this and attempts to forge ahead in her own way. It takes the revelation, that Kinako’s now got Miyo’s body and the process is irreversible, to really show Miyo of what she has to lose should she fully become a cat. Kinako explains that she wants to spend more time with her owner, and that having the lifespan of a human will allow this to become a reality.

  • However, par the course for films intending to provide a lesson about appreciating what one’s got, there is one way out of this situation. Kinako instructs Miyo to follow a red line, which will lead to a destination that may prove useful. In following this line, Miyo finds herself at a misshapen torii overlooking the city. She cautiously moves towards it, discovering a secret flight of steps leading towards what is one of the most visually impressive segments of A Whisker Away.

  • A Whisker Away thus steps fully into the realm of the fantastical with its introduction of the Cat Island, a gargantuan tree in the sky only accessible to cats. While viewers can’t be sure of what Miyo will encounter when she reaches the island, the use of warm lighting under a marvelous sunset suggests that the location isn’t really hostile or threatening. From the key visuals I’d seen of the series, I had been expecting there to be a more substantial summer festival piece to the film: one was shown at A Whisker Away‘s beginning, but other than that, yukata and the elements that define a summer festival are largely absent from the film.

  • Deciding that Miyo’s need outweighs hers, Kinako sets off to find Kento with the hope of having him help convince Miyo to return to her old body. In Miyo’s body, Kinako’s cat-like tendencies are apparent: A Whisker Away supposes that the transition between cat and human states is seamless, and some properties unique to each form carry over. This is similar to Your Name, where Mitsuha and Taki’s body-switching is a straightforwards process. In reality, body-swapping would be a remarkably tricky process owing to the fact that the mind and its memories are tied to the connections in the brain’s neurons. Because all individuals’ brains are wired differently, I imagine that changing bodies would result in the consciousness using the memories of the new body, and memories from the old body simply wouldn’t be accessible.

  • To this end, films that use such a mechanism usually suppose that there is some supernatural aspect behind it that bypasses the limitations imposed by reality to accommodate the story. Since Kinako was formerly a cat, she still retains some of her senses, enough to locate the torii and lead Kento to the island in the sky. It’s also the night of the summer festival, and although Kinako had originally intended on attending to enjoy things, learning of Miyo’s fate prompts her to reconsider.

  • Without any context, such a moment would seem ridiculous, and I’m certain that the animators had quite a bit of fun with this scene: it’s not every day one can have characters walking through the air without any visible means of support. The grey, overcast skies created a muted palette that pushes emphasis away from the scenery and onto the characters; with the landscapes and typically-beautiful sights around Tokoname given reduced emphasis, A Whisker Away signals to viewers that Kinako and Kento are about to enter a world that is far more colourful and fantastical than our own.

  • As Kento and Kinako approach the Cat Island, here is another angle, as well as the wooden bridge leading into its core. From a distance, the composition of this mysterious locale can be seen: city lights dominate the lower half, while the upper half is a massive tree. For me, this is the day of year to do two posts, and if memory serves, last year, I wrote about Valkyria Chronicles 4‘s beach mission, as well as Ano Natsu de Matteru. It suddenly strikes me that I still have yet to beat the Squad 7 addition to Valkyria Chronicles 4.

  • The scale and design of the Cat Island brings to mind the aesthetics of the massive bathhouse in Spirited Away: Miyazaki’s films are known for their intricate and detailed environments, as well as large constructs of a bewildering size. Few films have come close to matching the works of Studio Ghibli in creating such fantastical environments. A Whisker Away is able to create a very similar sense in its aesthetics: the verticality in the Cat Island is apparent, and there is an important reason for why Cat Island is as massive as it is.

  • Despite its vast size and labyrinthine layout, the use of yellow lighting creates a warm glow that illuminate the wooden walkways and street stalls. Red lanterns are used to create visual breaks, separating the different floors of the Cat Island. Owing to the welcoming lighting and the fact that the cats of the Cat Island have no qualms about Kinako and Kento wandering about their streets, this foreshadows at the origin of all the cats: that they were formerly human. Assuming this to be true, the scale of Cat Island then indicates that there were many who have tread the same path as Miyo did.

  • Miyo’s found her way to a small bar whose patrons immediately sympathise with her situation and explain that they were also once human, but made the decision to permanently become cats because of a desire to escape from their responsibilities. While they’ve accepted the consequences of their choices, they implore Miyo to take charge of the situation and set things right before her transformation is permanent. When the Merchant arrives, the patrons attack him, buying Miyo time to escape.

  • Miyo thus sets off to spring Kinako and Kento, who were trapped by the Merchant: here, it becomes clear that the Merchant’s goal is giving away noh masks with the aim of eventually permanently transforming the purchasers into cats, after which he may extract their lifespan for himself. While the Merchant can be seen as an antagonist in A Whisker Away, the Merchant is dependent on people being dissatisfied with their lives to the extent of wanting to escape their troubles. As such, I would argue that A Whisker Away is driven by character-versus-self conflict, and the Merchant then becomes an agent that enables a disruption to the status quo that allows Miyo to learn her lesson.

  • Kento’s efforts to save Miyo are met with resistance: the Merchant manhandles him as easily as Thanos does against Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-man and the Guardians of the Galaxy combined during the events of The Avengers: Infinity War. Kento’s spirit is that of Iron Man’s: despite being outmatched, Kento refuses to give up, and he does his utmost to keep the Merchant from completing the ceremony that will allow him to take up Miyo’s life force.

  • Moved by Miyo’s sitation, the other cats decide to crash the party and help out. Unlike Thanos, the Merchant does not possess the physiology of a Titan or any of the Infinity Gems: with their help in keeping the Merchant restrained, Kento recovers the orb housing Miyo’s life force and returns it to her: with her human mask, she is able to make the transformation back to her old self.

  • With this, A Whisker Away draws to a resolution as Miyo’s experiences show her that as Miyo, and not Taro, her world is one worth living in. Because A Whisker Away has a coherent message, I found that the film to be quite enjoyable. Contrary to remarks that the film was strictly average, or sufficiently boring that one should only watch the first fifteen minutes and final five minutes, A Whisker Away is a solid experience on the whole that delivers precisely what it set out to do.

  • I’m not sure why some viewers have a persistent, deep-seated hatred for anything that Mari Okada writes: this attitude has endured in some parts of the community since the True Tears era. While I agree that True Tears is an inconsistent story that meandered quite a bit more than was necessary, her contributions to series like Toradora!Hanasaku Iroha, and AnoHana demonstrate that she’s competent, capable of creating moving experiences. Okada’s career, in short, is one characterised by more excellent works than failures, and consequently, I reiterate that I. would find it instructive to hear the reasoning behind such perspectives.

  • At A Whisker Away‘s denouement, I remark that the page quote was chosen because Miyo’s use of her noh mask to visit Kento was initially born out of a desire to spend time with him without revealing her true self and causing hurt to herself. This is the opposite of the rationale that Bruce Wayne provides to Blake in Dark Knight Rises, where he explains to the latter that keeping his identity hidden was to keep those around him from coming to harm, representing a selfless way of thinking about things. In using the noh to keep herself from experiencing difficulties, however, Miyo precipitated the events of A Whisker Away, that would help her to appreciate herself and those around her more.

  • Overall, A Whisker Away proved enjoyable for me, earning an A- (3.7 of 4.0, or a 8.5 of 10): with a cohesive story, fantastic visuals and a decisive ending, A Whisker Away captured and held my interest during its runtime. Like Hello World, I have no qualms recommending this movie to folks looking for a romance-adventure with fantasy elements thrown in. With this, another anime movie talk comes to a close, and this post means that for the first time in two years, I have no active drafts. I’ll be stopping by to write about Hakubo! next long weekend, but in the meantime, August is just getting started. I think my next post will deal with the Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! movie, which came out last year – it’s high time I write about that, since no one else has done so.

A Whisker Away joins the ranks of anime films with a fantastical twist to it, and initially, and comes across as a bit of a busy movie since there are quite a number of moving parts. However, at its core, A Whisker Away is very forwards with its message. The movie’s pacing and progression captures the tumultuous nature of relationships – particularly in youth, whose decision-making process are driven by pure emotion, relationships are fickle machines that are desperately tricky to understand. Similarly, the problems people face in their lives can often appear overwhelming, to the point where one might wish to be a cat, rabbit or other small animal with a much simpler life. However, to be human is to have the resolve, and courage, to take on problems and solve them. Running away from one’s problems, as the cats in the pub demonstrate, results in a different sets of problems being created. With a simple, but meaningful message that is well-presented through the characters and symbols, In conjunction with the high visual quality, most evident in the island in the sky, whose lanterns and branching infrastructure create a mystical setting, I found A Whisker Away to be a superbly enjoyable film to watch. Besides being a solid film, A Whisker Away could also represent an interesting precedent for anime films in general: while a theatrical release creates the most immersive experience, trends in cinema attendance, exacerbated by the current pandemic, has meant that for studios, it might be more viable from a financial standpoint, to bypass theatres outright and sign licensing agreements with streaming services. While it is projected that cinema attendance will swiftly rebound once the pandemic is contained, market forces suggest that until things are resolved, more films will be released digitally for the foreseeable future, and that means, in the short term, anime films might just see a markedly shorter gap between the theatrical première in Japan and when overseas viewers have a chance to watch them.