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Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari (Napping Princess: The Story of the Unknown Me): A Review and Reflection

“I think it matters whether someone has a good heart.” ―Elon Musk

The Kingdom of Heartland is entirely driven by vehicle manufacture, and the heiress, Ancien, is given a magical tablet that allows her to bestow life into mechanical creations. She encounters a pirate named Peach when a Colossus attacks, helping him drive off the Colossus when the nation’s war machines, the Engineheads, fail. It turns out that this is a dream that Kokone has – she is a high school student who lives with her father, Momotarō, a skilful but taciturn mechanic who draws the attention of agents from the corporation Shijima Motors, who accuse him of stealing company secrets. Watanabe, oneof Shijima’s advisors, arrives to retrieve the tablet, and when Momotarō refuses, he is taken in for questioning. Kokone manages to recover her father’s tablet with help from Morio, an old friend. After dozing off and dreaming that her motorcycle can fly, Kokone awakens to find herself in Osaka. She makes her way to Tokyo with the intent of meeting with Isshin Shijima, the chairman of Shijima Motors, and while sleeping along the way, Kokone realises that her father’s story about Heartland was inspired by her mother, Ikumi. Upon meeting Isshin, Kokone learns that her mother had developed self-driving software but was denied permission to continue with the project. In Heartland, the Colossus attacks again, but Ancien manages to upload a spell into the remaining Enginehead, which Bewan (the King’s advisor and the parallel to Watanabe) had planned to use to usurp the King. In a pitched fight, the Colossus is destroyed, but Bewan attempts to destroy Heartland. Peach flies the Enginehead into lower orbit to eliminate the remains of the Colossus, and back in reality, Kokone finds herself saved from certain death when her self-driving motor cycle arrives, fulfilling Ikumi’s promise to be there for her family. The company’s contribution to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics later progresses smoothly, and Isshin spends more time with Kokone and her father. Released in March 2017, Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari (Hirune Hime for brevity) is an unusual fantasy-adventure whose draw is its seamless transitions between Heartland and reality, resulting in a highly unique film that ended up being remarkably enjoyable to watch.

Beautifully rendered and presented, Heartland is a fantastical world of great scale that emphasises its fictional nature. Sequences set in Heartland were a thrill to watch, capturing a setting that is simultaneously familiar and different to reality. That Hirune Hime flits between the two suggest that for their initial differences, the Heartland that Momotarō created for Kokone and the real world are not so dissimilar. The blending of the two worlds means that, while there are some gaps within Hirune Hime, the overall thematic elements are never disrupted; Hirune Hime presents its themes when the narrative is set in the real world, and in the film, two messages stand out. The first is that familial love comes about in different ways, evident when Kokone realises that, contrary to her initial resentment towards her father for not reflecting on what Ikumi was like, he’d created an entire world to capture Ikumi’s character. This suggests that, while he is greatly impacted by Ikumi’s death, he nonetheless loves Kokone and thus, designs a story, a fairy tale of sorts to both give Kokone an idea of what kind of person her mother had been, without forcing himself to recount his painful experiences. The second aspect of Hirune Hime deals with the importance of accepting and valuing technological advancements – Ikumi had long foreseen a future with self-driving cars and wishes to pursue it, but when her father, Isshin, rejects her proposal, his company ultimately finds itself at the edge of a PR disaster years later, when Shijima Motors is tasked with showing the world how far Japan has come during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Because their own developments had not been fruitful, Watanabe resorts to unethical means of fulfilling his goal, with the aim of taking over the company. Technology is an ever-present part of Hirune Hime, as seen through Ancien’s (and Momotarō’s) tablet: that much of the film’s progression is driven by what has become a commonplace technology is a reminder of how much things have advanced, and illustrates that a refusal to accept and adopt new technology can have detrimental consequences in the long run.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The soundtrack of Hirune Hime and the unusual combination of flatter character colouration creates a compelling opening; the music in Hirune Hime is composed by Yoko Shimomura, whom I know best for her video game soundtracks. The soundtrack in Hirune Hime features a predominantly classical component reminiscent of Beethoven and Chopin, which is par the course for her usual style, although Shimomura also utilises different styles in her game soundtracks for a diverse aural experience.

  • It’s been around seven years since tablets became popular: when Apple introduced the iPad back in 2010, the gadget was regraded as a curiosity, a bigger iPhone. However, seven years of progress has turned the tablet into a powerful productivity and entertainment platform. In Hirune Hime, Ancien receives a tablet that she uses to bring life to mechanised creations, although for her actions, she’s imprisoned in a glass tower.

  • While trying to retrieve her tablet, Ancien is spotted and is forced to navigate the exterior of the glass tower. It typifies the scale of construction in Heartland, and one can only imagine what it would have been like to experience this film in the theater: the movie originally released in Japan in March, and American theatres screened this during September this year. In spite of this, discussions on this film have been minimal, and I imagine that while I may view the film favourably, not everyone will feel the same way about it.

  • The film will switch between the real world and Heartland. Initially, these come across as being quite disjointed and seemingly unrelated, but as the film progresses, the events happening in one space begin correlating with the other in a clever manner. The connections are not explicit, forcing viewers to draw the connections themselves. Even early on in the film, similarities in things such as Joy (Kokone’s stuffed animal), the tablet and the motorcycle “Heart”, audiences are reminded that the worlds are more closely related than they appear.

  • Kokone is voiced by Mitsuki Takahata, an actress who primarily performs in live-action television dramas and has done some voice work in animated movies previously. She brings to the table a much more natural-sounding voice (as opposed to the likes of Ayane Sakura, Inori Minase and Mai Fuchigami); there’s a right time and place for different voices, and having the sort of voices from GochiUsa or Kiniro Mosiac in a film would be quite off-putting.

  • The Colossus and Engineheads bring to mind Pacific Rim: I saw the film only quite recently, and have heard that Pacific Rim: Uprising will be screened somewhere in 2018. There are a lot of elements that Hirune Hime cover, from the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and self-driving vehicles to consumer electronics. All of these aspects are touched on briefly, and some folks consider them to be shoehorned in; Hirune Hime covers quite a bit of turf, but I never found these to be too distracting from the film overall.

  • In Heartland, Peach and Ancien meet for the first time when Ancien decides to assist. Peach is using what appears to be the M79 grenade launcher, and manages to blow off the Colossus’ limb, which it starts regenerating. While conceptually similar to a kaiju, the Colossus is perhaps more closely related to Peter Jackson’s interpretation of  J.R.R. Tolkein’s Balrogs, fire spirits that were corrupted Maiar: in The Fellowship of The Ring, the Balrog Durin’s Bane appeared as a gargantuan being composed of magma, roars like an erupting volcano and emitted molten rock when struck.

  • In the film’s synopsis, Kokone is described as someone who can “fall asleep at will”, but Hirune Hime suggests otherwise. After returning home to find it deserted, Kokone decides to kip for a bit, returning to Heartland in the process. When she reawakens, she recongises Watanabe and makes to hide after realising what he’s after. Interior details in Hirune Hime are of a generally high quality and convey that lived-in sense.

  • Back in Heartland, Ancien introduces Peace to Heart; given life long ago, Heart can transform into a humanoid vehicle on command, and here, the vivid blue of a summer day can be seen. I’ve long found myself being drawn to anime with vivid blue skies, and this is actually what prompted my decision to watch Strike Witches; similarly, the reason why Yuyushiki reminds me of summer lies in the fact that the anime effectively captures what summer feels like.

  • Bewan arrives to requisition Momotarō’s tablet, the source of the rising action within Hirune Hime. In Heartland, it’s the source of Ancien’s power that he seeks to control, whereas in the real world, Watanabe is seeking to take control of the software that Momotarō had helped complete. Either way, Peach/Momotarō are arrested and held for questioning. From his manner to his appearance, Watanabe and Bewan is designed to be unlikable.

  • Back in the real world, Kokone manages to make off with Watanabe’s bags before he can check into his flight, escaping into the night with Morio’s assistance. The airport sequence brings back memories of when I was at the Rennes International Airport, which was a smaller airport that only opens at five in the morning. We had arrived early that morning, and I had temporarily managed to fight off a stomach bug at the time. The flight back from Paris was a long one, and I subsequently fell ill again after returning home, but the conference itself was quite fun. As of now, I’m still getting paper invitations in my old university inbox.

  • Morio himself enters the dream and pilots Heart through the night sky. Fantastical and visually stunning, both Heartland and the real world are rendered in a spectacular manner. The suspension bridge seen near Kokone’s home becomes a vast structure rising above the clouds; their night flight brings to mind the most famous scene from the 1982 film ET: I’ve not seen this film despite its renown, but even I’m familiar with the oft-parodied scene where Elliot and the alien fly across the night sky.

  • Upon arriving in Heartland, the vast cityscape is visible below. In this fictional world, the entire economy is directed towards vehicle manufacture, and bumper-to-bumper traffic is an epidemic. Economies in reality exist because of the need for commodities and skills to be exchanged, so a world where all expertise is invested in vehicle manufacture for a local population is not one that is sustainable for the long term. With this being said, such issues can be ignored in the context of evidently fictional worlds.

  • The next morning, Kokone and Morio find themselves in Osaka; in the real world, Heart had engaged an autopilot and safely delivered the two to Osaka, but ran out of gas. While audiences initially are left wondering just how Heartland and the real world are connected, it turns out that the transitions between the two are really just narrative elements, and quite unrelated. Later, Kokone and Morio realise they’re short on cash, but seemingly through magic, the necessary resources are provided for her to travel back to Tokyo.

  • It turns out that some staff from Shijima Motors have been assisting Kokone, as they have access to the same message board that Kokone’s been typing into. Here is a close up of the bento that train staff provide for her and Morio. Even at lower resolutions, the Japanese aesthetic is visible here, including a piece of haran: these plastic strips of grass are seen in boxed lunches and while mistakenly assumed to be for decoration, the actual purpose is to prevent some foods from coming into contact to preserve their flavour and longevity.

  • Morio is seen operating a VR headset throughout Hirune Hime, and unlike the full-dive headsets of Sword Art OnlineHirune Hime more conservatively suggests that VR headsets will remain bulky and cumbersome, similar to products available on the market, albeit in a more sophisticated format (Morio’s fingers suggest a virtual keyboard). En route back to Tokyo, Kokone falls asleep: the ride on the shinkansen is two and a half hours, with tickets starting from 13620 Yen (roughly 150 CAD) for a one-way trip.

  • Ancien manages to infiltrate one of the Engineheads and uses her magic to automate it, allowing it to perform much more effectively than previously possible, although the operators soon catch on and order the engines to be shut down. Ancien’s tenacity comes through; she exits the vehicle and sets off to manually re-light the engines. While she’s successful, she falls off the Enginehead, and is caught at the last second by Momotarō.

  • Through this particular dream, Kokone learns that Ancien is actually based off her mother, rather than herself, and the story suggests that Momotarō had tried to save Ikumi but failed, damaging his tablet in the process. This realisation leads Kokone to appreciate her father’s efforts to take care of her, and with renewed resolve, she sets off for Shijima Motor’s headquarters in Tokyo.

  • Kokone’s attempts to speak with Isshin fail when secretaries do not believe her identity. I note that for this review, I’ve opted to stick with thirty screenshots for brevity’s sake – I have not covered every conceivable topic that can come of this film to keep the post manageable in size. One of the aspects of Hirune Hime that I found to be an indicator of the film having focus is the fact that familial love is one of the main themes within the movie, and Kokone’s friendship with Morio remain merely thus, leaving the film free to focus on its central messages without unnecessarily introducing complexity.

  • The locations of Hirune Hime are likely accurate to their real-world counterparts: Chairman Shijima looks out at the scenery surrounding Rainbow Bridge on Odaiba Island. Odaiba Park and the Sixth Daiba are visible here: the latter was the setting for Koji Suzuki’s Solitary Isle, a short story in his Dark Water anthology. I’ve found that horror stories in written form tend to be a lot easier to enjoy, if only for the fact that there are no visual or audio cues that impact my internal sense of unease or dread.

  • In spite of Kokone not having introduced herself properly, Isshin begins telling her the story of Ikumi and her role at Shijima Motors. His resemblance to Heartland’s King is no coincidence, and I imagine that he recognises the doll in Kokone’s hands immediately, hence being able to recognise her as his granddaughter.

  • Passionate, devoted and brilliant, Ikumi was the first to propose Shijima Motors in exploring self-driven vehicles, but when turned down, she left the company and later married Momotarō, helping him work on a perfected version of the software. This is what Watanabe has been coveting, since he intends to replace Isshin as the chairman of Shijima Motors, and his success with self-driving vehicles at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will pave the way for his succession.

  • The final incursion into Heartland is done without warning and the revelation that Bewan was planning to betray the King roughly correspond with events of the real world. The chaotic nature of things hints at the climax of Hirune Hime arriving, and with the Colossus arriving to wreck havoc, the King resolves to step out onto the battlefield. Bewan’s betrayal is dealt with, after he reveals his intention to replace the King by using a special Enginehead to defeat the Colossus. Here, Kokone appears as herself, no longer seeing herself as Ancien.

  • Peach pilots the Enginehead and destroys the Colossus once and for all in a titanic battle, but Bewan manages to run a curse that threatens to destroy Heartland. This final battle seemed quite disjointed from the remainder of the film: it’s the one place in Hirune Hime that does not seem to relate to events in the real world.

  • Ultimately, Peach realises that there is another direction he can take to defeat the Colossus’ remnants; the remaining Enginehead engages a flight system and launches into the atmosphere, taking the Colossus’ fragments with it. This section is likely imagery for Momotarō coming to an understanding with his internal struggles about whether or not he should give up the algorithms for the self-driving vehicles concept that he and Ikumi had previously developed.

  • The outcome of whether or not Kokone is able to rescue Peach is left ambiguous, and while the messages behind the imagery of the final scenes in Heartland elude me, I cannot deny that they are not visually impressive, especially with respect to the swarms of what remains of the Colossus.

  • Owing to how chaotic things are towards the ending of Hirune Hime, how Kokone got into this situation is likely an exercise left to the viewer’s imagination. The gravity of this situation brings to mind Rick and Morty‘s Concerto, where Rick and Morty find themselves tied to a massive piano and facing certain death. While no Jaguar comes to save Momotarō and Kokone, the autonomous bike, Heart, makes a timely arrival, sparing the two from death.

  • It is this moment that led me to pick a quote from Elon Musk: a well-known entrepreneur and engineer, Musk has been leading developments in sustainable electric vehicles and autonomous systems for his Tesla line of vehicles. A firm advocate of innovation, Musk’s quote definitely applies to Momotarō and his continued love for Ikumi leading him to both continue her vision and care for Kokone in her stead.

  • After the Olympics, Isshin spends more time with his granddaughter and son-in-law on a peaceful summer’s afternoon. Momotarō continues working in his shop, declining Isshin’s offer for a position with Shijima Motors, and with this, Hirune Hime comes to an end. This marks the end of yet another anime film I’ve written about this year, which has seen the likes of Kimi no Na WaKoe no KatachiKono Sekai no Katasumi ni and Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale. It’s been a fantastic year for anime movies, with each film delivering enjoyment in a unique manner.

  • With this post at an end, I leave readers with another beautiful screenshot of summer in Japan, and will conclude this post by looking into the future: Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter begins this week, and I will be doing an episodic review of this anime. Tomorrow is a bank holiday, so I’ll also be looking to catch up with Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! and present my thoughts at the halfway point. In addition, I’m moving quite swiftly through Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and I’m locking in plans to pick up The Division once the Steam Black Friday sale is live.

The sum of a curious story that combines a fantastical setting with the real world, current issues and ideas, solid animation and artwork, and a fantastic soundtrack results in Hirune Hime being an entertaining watch. While it’s definitely not perfect (especially closer to the ending, where some leaps exist in the story as things pick up), the film overall presents a well-crafted story and solid thematic elements that kept me wondering what is to happen next with both Ancien and Kokone. Altogether, Hirune Hime earns a recommendation; it is impressive of how Heartland was presented to correspond with both people and events in the real world. Only by watching both does one gain a sense of who Momotarō, Ikumi, Isshin and Watanabe are within the context of Hirune Hime, and it was immensely rewarding to put these pieces together as a consequences of the two narratives being woven together to augment the viewer’s understanding of what is going on, even fi there are some shortcomings with this approach towards the film’s end. In conjunction with the humour arising from Kokone’s transitions between Heartland and reality, as well as how her friend, Morio, comes into Heartland, Hirune Hime is quite simply, fun; I was immersed for the whole of its runtime, and such films exemplify that stories can definitely be enjoyable and thought-provoking even if their setting is that of a colourful, vividly-portrayed world.

Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In This Corner of The World): A Review and Full Recommendation

“Human beings are remarkably resilient. When you think about it, our species has been teetering upon the edge of the existential cliff since Hiroshima. In short, we endure.” —Rick Yancey

A young Japanese girl with a keen eye for sketching, Suzu, marries a man named Shūsaku after he arrives in Eba, Hiroshima, to propose to her. She moves to the town of Kure with him and begins living with his family as the Second World War rages on. When American bombers begin conducting bombing raids Japan, forcing the construction of air raid shelters and rationing, Suzu continues to live her life to the best of her ability, spending time with Keiko and her daughter, Harumi. She is visited by Tetsu Mizuhara, who had run into Suzu back when they were students. He had fallen in love with her, and later is assigned to serve on board the Aoba. As the air raids intensify, Suzu sees Harumi die in front of her when a delay-action bomb detonates. She survives but loses her right hand, grows depressed and longs to return to Hiroshima to be with her family. One day, while speaking to Keiko, she and Keiko notice a bright flash and a mushroom cloud coming from Hiroshima. She dissolves into tears upon learning of the Japanese surrender. In the aftermath, American soldiers arrive to assist the citizens, and Suzu visits Hiroshima, learning that her sister, Sumi, is suffering from radiation sickness: their mother and father perished in the atomic blast. She runs into Shūsaku while in Hiroshima and find a little girl orphaned by the atomic bomb; they agree to take her in, and Suzu slowly rediscovers her love for life, raising the little girl as her own. When the United States dropped Little Boy in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the world had been at war for nearly six years: the Axis powers had fallen, but Imperial Japan had continued to fight. Faced with the possibility of an extensive land invasion, the American leadership decided to put their faith in the atomic bomb, which had been successfully tested for the first time twenty-one days earlier. Three days later, the second atomic bomb, a plutonium implosion weapon code-named Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki, and Japan surrendered on August 15. The history books and documentaries I’m familiar with present the story from the Allied perspective, and the actions of the Imperial Japan’s military forces remain unjustifiable (especially considering their atrocities in Manchuria and Southeast Asia); it seems that the old phrase, that victory is written by the victors, very much hold true. Consequently, In This Corner of The World becomes a wonderfully moving film about the civilian perspective of the war and their struggles to survive as the war turned against Japan, presenting a perspective that is quite unique and illuminating.

Resilience and perserverence in maintaining a positive spirit underlies the messages of In This Corner of The World. In this film, the depiction of Suzu’s life before, during and after World War Two is broken up into snapshots into the more memorable moments of Suzu’s life. It is largely gentle, humourous and ordinary in nature, only shifting in tone as American bombers begin hammering Japan later into the war, and even then, Suzu’s efforts to maintain routine and find happiness in everyday things continue. Reduced rations lead her to cook more creatively to keep her new family in good spirits, and even when the air-raid siren sounds, she maintains a structured process to maintain her home’s safety before retreating to a shelter. Through it all, Suzu continues sketching and drawing, providing her a means of expression and escape even as American forces intensify their raids. Remarkably, these simple things in Suzu’s life confer upon her a considerable degree of stability and focus, allowing her to remain strong during difficult times. It is not until she loses her right hand in an explosion and watches Harumi die in front of her that her optimistic disposition is shaken, and at the movie’s climax, she bawls her eyes out after learning of the Allied victory. However, with unwavering support from Shūsaku and the fact that the occupying American forces prove quite friendly, she slowly regains her old outlooks, to the point where she takes in an orphan and raises her as family, suggesting that resilience is in part a result of having support from family on top of being individually-driven. With the support of those around her, Suzu comes to find happiness again in the days after the war has ended.

Aside from its concise thematic component, In This Corner of The World presents a distinct art style that brings to mind the approaches taken in The Tale of Princess Kaguya: gentle colours and clean character designs dominate In This Corner of The World, which has a very timeless feel to it. From the vividness of colours in the landscape to minor details inside the Hojo residence, In This Corner of The World illustrates the seeming normalcy and resilience in residents amidst the war. The entire film feels like a moving watercolour, allowing for boundaries between Suzu’s drawings and their reality to be blurred: the movie’s events are told with Suzu’s narration, and her imagination is woven seamlessly with her recollections of what’s happened. I’ve long held that a simpler art style with lower saturation really allows for the film’s visuals to focus on character motions and dialogue; this certainly holds true in In This Corner of The World. Aside from natural-sounding voice acting, one of the elements that In This Corner of The World captures in its characters are their facial expressions, which do much to convey how Suzu and the others are feeling even in the absence of words. I’m especially fond of how Suzu tilts her head whenever she’s embarrassed or hesitant, for instance. The combination of aural-visual elements in In This Corner of The World are of an exceptional standard and adds a sense of realism to the characters that serves to further draw in viewers into the story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before delving into this post further, I note that there will be forty screenshots rather than the usual thirty for In This Corner of The World owing to the amount of content that can be discussed, and further to this, I won’t be placing an emphasis on the Imperial Japanese Army or Navy hardware simply because, aside from a minor role, they do not figure too much compared to the human side of things. The film opens with Suzu riding a boat and recollecting her encounter with a monster of sorts to Sumi, her sister, and provides a vivid sketch of what she’s seen, including a boy close to her age when she falls into the monster’s basket by mistake.

  • Suzu’s family business is involved in the gathering and picking of nori (海苔), an edible seaweed of the genus Pyropia. The Japanese have a profound understanding of the cultivation and harvesting of nori, which is used widely in Japanese cuisine for wrapping sushi and onigiri, as well as garnishing soups. In her childhood, Suzu is close to her sister, Sumi, but neither of them are fond of their older brother, Yōichi, who constantly belittles Suzu. Yōichi is later killed in action and supposedly was so mangled, authorities send back a stone in place of his ashes, although Suzu and Sumi don’t appear to express much in response to news of his death.

  • By her own admission, Suzu is prone to daydreaming, but her tendency to daydream and vividly recall them probably led to the development of her art skills. Suzu’s enjoyment of sketching is a pivotal part of her character, and the extent of her skills are seen when Tetsu appears one evening to give Suzu a pencil, also asking her to help him with a class assignment. She creates a beautiful reproduction of the ocean, describing the froth of waves as rabbits. As it turns out, Tetsu is going through a difficult time upon learning that his older brother died in a ferry accident.

  • The Urano family hails from Hiroshima, specifically the Eba area. Located three kilometers from the epicenter of Little Boy’s airburst, Eba is a part of the Naka-ku (lit. “central ward”) district. Suzu is said to be extraordinarily ordinary, and is voiced by Rena Nōnen, an actress. One of the joys about films such as In This Corner of The World is the fact that female characters have realistic voices, standing in contrast with the squeaky voices seen in things like Girls und Panzer or GochiUsa.

  • Tetsu runs into Suzu one day, and in dialogue here, it appears that Tetsu has some feelings for Suzu, feeling irritated that Suzu is to marry someone she’d not met, and when Suzu remarks that Sumi will be more beautiful, Tetsu refutes this. He is assigned to the Aoba, a heavy cruiser that participated in combat at the Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Savo Island. Heavily damaged by the submarine USS Bream, the Aoba would return to port and was sunk in Kure’s harbour in 1945.

  • It turns out that the boy in the monster’s basket was Shūsaku. His recollections of the day are different than Suzu, who has a tendency to daydream and so, remembers things differently. Suzu agrees to marry Shūsaku and finds in him an honest, stoic and devoted husband who’s always there to support her. Originally working in a civilian court, he is transferred into the military and later made to fight as the war intensifies.

  • In the eternal struggle between showers and baths, I’m still firmly on the side of #TeamShower, even after my experiences in a Japanese onsen a half-year ago. Granted, it is immensely comfortable to be completely immersed in hot water, which gives a sensation akin to having all of one’s stresses and worries evaporate, but ultimately, a shower conserves more water and is more effective at removing dirt and debris from one’s body. This is why onsen mandate that people wash up before entering the waters.

  • The unique art style in In This Corner of The World means that the characters look much younger than they are, and standing in sharp contrast with the art styles of anime I am wont to watching, have a much more classical, timeless feel that brings to mind the approach of The Tale of Princess Kaguya. While not a Studio Ghibli work, In This Corner of The World is nonetheless animated and presented with finesse: it is a film that will withstand the test of time.

  • Shūsaku’s family is generally accepting of Suzu: San is Shūsaku’s mother and bears a compassionate disposition, helping Suzu look after the hosue, while Entaro is Shūsaku’s father and is an engineer for Hiro Naval Arsenal. Shūsaku’s sister, Keiko, is initially quite hostile towards Suzu, regarding her in a negative light and clashes with her, but in spite of this, Suzu takes things in stride and does her best to get along with her.

  • Suzu carries a sketchbook with her and occasionally takes the time to sketch out the scenery around her. She runs into a woman named Rin Shiraki while walking through a part of Kure she’s unfamiliar with and strikes up a fast friendship with her, using her sketching skills to draw out a watermelon and some sweets. Because Suzu’s sketches closely match with the art style seen in In This Corner of The World, one can imagine that she is remarkably talented with her craft. The ages have changed substantially, and these days, one can create highly intricate drawings on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil.

  • There’s a certain charm in watching Suzu cook for her new family with the ingredients available to her. In her narration, she explains in detail the process behind her cooking methods, during which she takes whatever is accessible and does her best to create dishes that drive a sense of normalcy. Devising a routine and trying to do things as normally as possible is Les Stroud’s main suggestion for survival during difficult situations: in Survivorman, he explains that this is the reason why he takes the time to plan things out and attempt to do things as he would back home, and one of the first things he does is usually to create a fire from which he can warm himself and cook with.

  • Suzu’s setup here, with the dandelions, violets and sardines further brings to mind Les Stroud’s survival experiences in the Colorado Rockies, where he managed to catch some fish and coupled it with greens to make a survival meal, cooking it to mirror how one normally eats while at home. While Les Stroud is out in the wilderness, simulating survival situations in Survivorman, Suzu is living in wartime Japan. Despite the differences in their scenarios, very similar mindsets are utilised to maintain morale: Suzu’s cooking does much to keep the Hojo family happy even as resources begin dwindling.

  • The Hojo family settles down to dinner here, and despite the moody lighting, the atmosphere is a peaceable one. Things change shortly after Keiko’s arrival. Numerous scenes of the family during dinner are shown throughout In This Corner of The World, emphasising that meal times form stability amidst trying times. While In This Corner of The World released in theatres around a year ago and only became available back in September, I finished this movie just this week with what is known as the “Notorious PIG” poutine, which is an offering from the Big Cheese Poutinerie. Described as a concoction of pulled pork with BBQ sauce, maple-smoked bacon and Italian sausage, the poutine I bought was not merely topped with the meats, but packed with an inch-thick layer that proved both delicious and enduring: it took nearly ten minutes of eating my way through the wall of meats before I reached the poutine underneath.

  • Keiko’s daughter, Harumi, is only six, but remarkably well-versed on Japanese naval vessels. She greatly enjoys spending time with Suzu, who introduces to her the cumulonimbus clouds form of atmospheric instability and bring about thunderstorms. I’ve heard that when I was much younger, I could memorise the phone numbers of various companies and services that I’d seen on TVB commercials, so this must be a part of the developmental process when children take on a keen interest in a particular topic. I’m now characterised by an inability to memorise something as simple as a 4-digit code and have taken to writing down whatever I need to recall.

  • After Suzu is caught sketching naval vessels and accused of being a spy by the kenpeitai, a secret police akin to the Nazi’s SS, she is let off with a warning. When the kanpeitai leave, the whole of the Hojo family burst into laughter at the ludicrous situation; Suzu’s nature is unbefitting of that of a spy, and how seriously the kanpeitai presented themselves was also mocked. In particular, Keiko spent most of the afternoon fighting off a fit of laughter while the secret police had been present, only erupting in hysterics after they depart.

  • The landscape around Kure is beautifully departed, and the harbour, with its warships, is just visible in this still. The verdant blues and greens are a world apart now from local scenery: I took advantage of the fading-but-still-pleasant weather yesterday to hike the Ink Pots in Banff National Park. The trail through Johnston Canyon was covered in a thin layer of snow, and despite the ergonomics provided by new hiking shoes, the path was quite slippery. In the mountains during this time of year, snowfalls are not uncommon, but fortunately, the weather warmed up as the day progressed. The ink pots are reached by a 5.9 kilometre hike with an elevation gain of 335 metres and takes around two hours to complete one-way.

  • One afternoon, Suzu decides to visit Shūsaku, but before heading off, is treated to a hilarious lecture from Keiko that is sped up for great comedic effect: Keiko finds it appalling that Suzu is considering going into town as unkempt as she is and forces her to clean herself up. The increased pitch comes from the fact that the sound waves making up the audio track are shortened into a higher frequency ƒ, defined in Hz, is described by the relationship ƒ = 1/T, where T is the period in seconds. We are shortening the period T, so frequency increases, resulting in a higher-pitched sound. In In This Corner of The World, one imagines that Suzu regards Keiko’s manner in a light-hearted manner, and this is reinforced by the expression on Suzu’s face.

  • Described as a moderately difficult, the hike up to the Ink Pots was a bit tricky since the snow and ice made the inclines slippery. However, when we arrived in the meadows where the Ink Pots are, we were treated to a beautiful sight: there are five mineral water pools here, each coloured slightly differently because of their sediment content, and while a few had frozen over, one remained unfrozen, with its blue-green waters brilliant under a clearing sky. Another pool with darker waters also had yet to freeze, underneath a mountain in the distance whose upper slopes were covered in snow. Back in In This Corner of The World, Suzu meets up with Shūsaku at his workplace and the two set off after a friendly exchange when Shūsaku asks about Suzu’s health; owing to the makeup she’s donned, she has a distinctly pale appearance.

  • Suzu and Shūnsaku reminisce about how they’d met in Hiroshima years previously. It is a stroke of fate that Shūnsaku remembers their original meeting here, which Suzu only recounts in a dramatised account. After exploring the meadows around the Ink Pots, we turned around and returned back down the trail. Snow-covered during the chillier morning, warming temperatures cleared the trails, making the journey back down much easier than the ascent. We returned home late mid-afternoon and stepped out for dinner at a local Cantonese restaurant, which encompassed 沙拉骨 and 金沙蝦, along with a stir-fry known as 小炒王, which includes beef, chicken, scallops, shrimp, celery, beans, peppers and thinly-sliced Lotus rhizomes (蓮藕, Cantonese lein ngau), as well as crispy chicken – perfect after a long day’s hike.

  • Tetsu comes to visit one day, drawing Suzu’s irritation. Despite his brusque manner drawing Suzu’s annoyance mid-dinner, Shūnsaku allows him to stay in a storehouse on the family property and encourages Suzu to spend time with him, understanding that Tetsu’s time is likely short on account of his transfer to the Aoba. He admits to falling in love with Suzu and the two reminisce briefly before he departs.

  • One of the scenes I’ve not mentioned yet is when Harumi and Suzu notice a column of ants getting into their sugar jar; sugar became a highly valued ingredient, and to keep insects from it, they decide to place it in a bowl floating in a bucket of water. However, an accident results in the sugar being knocked into the water, leading to a dejected Suzu and Harumi. It is possible to recover the sugar using crystallisation, but considering the amount of water it was dissolved into, such an endeavour would have been tricky. One day, while sharing a conversation about Harumi’s everyday experiences at school, American planes appear. Their attacks were intended to damage military installations here, and in In This Corner of The World, F4U Corsairs are depicted firing rockets at ground targets. These are likely the HVAR “Holy Moses”, capable of punching through 1.22 metres of concrete and saw extensive use in the Pacific Theatre against transports, pillboxes and other stationary ground targets.

  • Suzu visits Entaro, who was injured and went missing after an American bombing raid on the Hiro Naval Arsenal, but is shown to be treated for his injuries at a hospital. Suzu brings Harumi along for the visit, and Harumi immediately wanders off, speaking with other sailors. After the visit ends, American raids begin yet again. At this point in the war, America had begun targeting Kure, as remaining IJN vessels were still harboured here, and owing to the harbour’s depth precluding the use of torpedoes, variable time-fused bombs were used, instead. During the raids, the Aoba is hit by four bombs and, with almost every ship in the IJN disabled save the Nagato, the Japanese naval presence was almost completely eliminated by this point.

  • Suzu hears warnings from firefighters nearby about the possibility of unexploded munitions making the area unsafe. At least one of the special bombs dropped by B-29s land in a seaside path, and detonates right beside Harumi, killing her instantly. In the aftermath, Suzu is critically injured and loses her right hand. During the course of In This Corner of The World, American fighters are shown strafing civilians, including a near-miss that very nearly kills Suzu. I did not find any records that indicate deliberate strafing of civilians during my brief search, but numerous accounts of US aircraft strafing airfields are found.

  • In the aftermath of Harumi’s death, Suzu reels from both the loss of Keiko’s child, whom she had grown very close with, and her right hand, which had allowed her the one escape and release from the difficulties she and her family faced during war. Keiko feels Suzu to be responsible for Harumi’s death, and wrought with guilt, Suzu falls into depression. She slowly recovers from injury, but the effects on her mental health are much more deep-seated.

  • Suzu’s depression is occasionally offset with a sense of anger and helplessness: when another firebombing leads to a bomblet landing in her house, Suzu attempts to put the fire out in a fit of desparation. To see an ever-optimistic character succumb to despair is always painful to watch, even in the context of fiction. One of the aspects in In This Corner of The World was seeing how the characters respond to the constant threat of air-raids, and one of the worst aspects about air raids are psychological: not knowing when the bombers will appear would have been emotionally taxing, and while the Hojo family develop a procedure to safeguard themselves, the US air attacks were somewhat unpredictable. By comparison, The Blitz in London failed to have any psychological effects on Londoners, who had grown accustomed to bombs falling as though it were rain and reacted accordingly.

  • In the account of P-51 pilot Captain Jerry Yellin, he mentions that his and his fellow pilots’ primary concern was carrying out their directives during the war. From the skies above, he never gave much thought to the people below, at the receiving end of the weapons, or their suffering. However, when he visited Japan some years later, he was astonished with their culture and feels that it is possible for formerly bitter enemies to become friends. Propaganda on all sides of World War II’s participants presented their enemies as monsters and animals to motivate the fighting spirit – allowing empathy and compassion would have eliminated this willingness to commit to the war effort, attesting to the unpleasant tendency in war to dehumanise one’s opponents.

  • Suzu and Sumi share a laugh when Suzu prods into the latter’s love life, when Sumi mentions that she’s eying an officier in the armed forces. Suzu has long felt Sumi to be more beautiful – this is not immediately apparent in the art style of In This Corner of The World, and indeed, Sumi bears great resemblance to Suzu, especially when embarrassed or flustered, barring the fact that Suzu has become more pale since she lost her right hand. Even so, Suzu occasionally finds joy in the small things in life and attempts to live to her fullest anyways.

  • On the morning of August 6, Suzu and Keiko are sharing a conversation, where Keiko apologises for having blamed Suzu for Harumi’s death, when a bright flash fills their room, followed by a shockwave. Kure and Hiroshima are separated by a distance of 18 kilometres as the mole digs; when the shockwave reaches the Hojo residence, the entire family steps outside to find a vast mushroom cloud filling the sky where Hiroshima is. When Little Boy was deployed at Hiroshima, Japan’s leadership were befuddled at what could have happened; as the atomic bomb’s presence was secret at the time, no one was sure as to what weapon this was. In This Corner of The World chooses to not depict the horrific effects of the blast, only showing its aftermath.

  • With an estimated blast yield of 15 kilotons, Little Boy flattened everything within 1.6 kilometres of the point of detonation, and started a firestorm 3.2 kilometres across. The airburst detonation reduced the radioactive fallout on the ground, but the gamma radiation emitted led to radiation sickness in exposed individuals in a 1.3 kilometre radius around the blast. People would have been vapourised by the intense heat, leaving nothing but shadows baked into the ground, and survivors further away would have suffered horrific burns and injuries, as well as the effects of acute radiation poisoning. Later, a black rain fell in Hiroshima, but this would have offered limited relief in halting the firestorms.

  • After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, American propaganda aimed to minimise reports of the atomic bombs’ effects on civilians, instead, showing only the mushroom clouds and the possibility of deploying additional atomic weapons to bring the war to an end. At this point in time, American sentiments leaned towards the total elimination of the Japanese, and a film such as In This Corner of The World would be unthinkable. At present, our society has been more open about the horrors of warfare, and seeing the lives of fellow human beings subject to these horrors have inspired folks to promote peace. While the events of In This Corner of The World are fictional, the film strives to maintain realism in depicting the lives of the Japanese during the war.

  • At noon on August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito released a recording announcing Japan’s intention to open dialogues with the Allied powers and accept the Potsdam Declaration. Delivered in Classical Japanese, most listeners were not certain of whether or not Japan was intending to surrender. In In This Corner of The World, the Hojo family meets the news with resignation and sorrow, wondering what Japan under American occupation would be like, and Suzu is driven over the edge, demanding that the country can continue fighting on much as she did. It’s the strongest expression of emotion from Suzu in the whole of In This Corner of The World.

  • Suzu’s anger gives in to sorrow; at the film’s climax, she cries her eyes out for everything that has happened since the war begin, from the death of Harumi and the loss of her right hand (by extension, her hobby), to all of the destruction and losses she’s seen around her. The end of an era, however, marks the beginning of another: in the aftermath of Japan’s surrender, Americans quickly arrive to help the citizens, and began driving the country towards political and economic reform. When the American occupation ended in 1952 with the San Francisco Treaty, control of Japan was fully returned, and the nation would become a major economic power in the world, characterised by their exceptional economic growth and high technology.

  • I’ve seen remarks that In This Corner of The World is a love story, although I hold that it is not a love story in the traditional sense – In This Corner of the World deals with love for a family and love for life itself rather than romantic love, and the conflict in the film stems from Suzu doing her utmost to retain a love for life during the most trying of times. The romantic elements in this movie are secondary, and as such, I’ve chosen not to delve into this particular topic at all; it is simply eclipsed by other elements within the movie.

  • In This Corner of The World made extensive use of photographs and accounts from the period to accurately reproduce damage locales seen in the film. Incendiary bombs were particularly effective in Japan owing to the wooden construction of buildings, and some of the worst casualties came from firestorms that arose when fires merged into conflagrations of gargantuan proportion. While wooden buildings were popular in North America, great fires in major cities prompted officials to rebuild with sandstone.

  • Suzu offers Keiko some food given by American soldiers and are surprised at how flavourful it is, compared to their seemingly-tasteless cooking. Later, Suzu will extract salt from seawater and use it to season their food, bringing back some life to her cooking; this simple act signifies the gradual return to normalcy following the war. By this point in time, Keiko is no longer resentful towards Suzu.

  • Save Suzu and Sumi, the whole of the Urano family perishes from the atomic bomb and its effects. Here, Suzu visits Sumi, who is afflicted with acute radiation poisoning. My first exposure to Hiroshima and the atom bomb was when I was in my second year of primary school: in Canada, reading Eleanor Coerr’s “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” is a mandatory part of our education, being a fictionalised account of Sadako Sasaki, who survived the detonation at Hiroshima. She later developed leukemia (a cancer of the bone marrow) and was brought in for treatment, encountering a roommate who encouraged her to fold a thousand paper cranes for a miracle, but succumbed to her cancer and died at the age of twelve.

  • Today, the Peace Dome in Hiroshima remains a reminder of the risks and dangers associated with nuclear weapons. In this post, I continued to refer to the bomb as an “atomic” device rather than a nuclear device: the reason for this is that a nuclear bomb can either be atomic or hydrogen. Atomic bombs operate purely by fission, where the nuclei of a large, unstable atom (usually Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239) are split, creating a chain reaction. Hydrogen bombs generate their destructive power through fusion: a fission device is used to generate high temperatures that allow hydrogen fusion to occur, and while hydrogen fusion itself is clean, these bombs generate fallout because of their initial fission components.

  • I managed to last most of In This Corner of The World with only the ol’e sand in my eyes, but the film’s final moments proved to be sufficient to change that. A woman and her daughter are seen wandering the ruined cityscape of Hiroshima. The former has sustained severe injuries, with her arm blown off and has large glass shards embedded in her right leg. She later succumbs to her injuries, and her daughter clings to her, even desperately fighting off the flies and maggots resulting from decomposition. There is something about the implications of this scene that hit me in ways that even the climax of the film did not. This sort of footage of atomic bomb victims was outright banned, and the American public was thus unaware of the extent of what atomic weapons were capable of: most Americans felt that it would be acceptable to continue using atomic bombs against Japan.

  • The world has changed dramatically now, and I’m thankful that for the most part, the world is aware of the importance of nuclear disarmament. While visiting Sumi in Hiroshima, Suzu runs into Shūsaku, and they encounter the orphan, who’s looking worse for wear. They decide to take her in, and after giving her a good bath, the credits show her as growing up in the Hojo household, while Suzu herself has found another reason for happiness.

  • This review finally reaches an end, and I would count In This Corner of The World a masterpiece, a 10 of 10. Even among the giants released in 2016, including Kimi no na wa and Koe no Katachi, I feel that Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni stands ahead for its overall execution and delivery: while perhaps not quite as impressive from a visual perspective, the narrative and messages are of a very high quality. This post was completed quite quickly by my usual standards for its size, taking a total of five hours to complete from first draft to hitting the publish button. With this post finished, October is very nearly over, and there are only a handful more posts on the horizon for this month, including a talk for Girls’ Last TourWake Up, Girls! New Chapter! after three, and a talk about Battlefield 1 a year after I bought it.

My verdict for In This Corner of The World is simple: it’s a strong recommendation to anyone interested in seeing World War Two from a different perspective, one without any propaganda or political undertones. The story is entirely focused on Suzu and her everyday life prior to, during and after the war, and although simple from a thematic perspective, nonetheless presents an incredibly moving story that is as powerful as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Whereas Dunkirk conveyed an overwhelming sense of unease and suspense as Allied soldiers prepared to evacuate ahead of advancing German forces, In This Corner of The World presents the Suzu and the Hojo family as ordinary people. As viewers see more of their daily lives, they come to empathise with them; by the film’s end, I dissolved in tears. Ultimately, while I’ve always been a staunch proponents of the Allied Forces, I find that in modern warfare, the efficiency that humans can cause harm to one another means that there is not always a victor, and moreover, war is certain to lead to suffering. As In This Corner of The World demonstrates, civilians are unfortunately made targets of undue suffering, brought on by their leaders’ decisions. In spite of the horrors of warfare, In This Corner of The World demonstrates the nature of human resilience, and ultimately, our desire to survive and endure also brings about acts of great good in helping one another out during difficult times. I am immensely grateful to have watched In This Corner of The World: the film originally released in October of last year, only coming to home release back in September, but the wait was well worth it, and I would think that folks will find this film enjoyable the same way Dunkirk is enjoyable, regardless of one’s familiarity with anime.

Wake Up, Girls!: Beyond The Bottom Movie Review and Reflection

“This is just the beginning!” —Darth Tyranus to Yoda, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Released in December 2015, Beyond the Bottom is the second half of the two Wake Up, Girls! movies. After returning to Sendai, WUG begins regrouping and preparing for their next major challenge at the Tokyo Idol Festival. However, armed with Tasuku’s composition, the girls are excited to participate, even though they will require one other song in order to consider participating. In order to elevate their publicity, the girls take a trip around Japan, garnering the attention of folks around the nation, who begin to take notice and cheer them on. Meanwhile, Junko gets in touch with an old friend who, after watching WUG perform, is moved and decides to write a song for them. When returning from their trip, Nanami’s father picks her up and questions her desire to become a Hikarizuka performer. Left with lingering doubts, the tenants of WUG lead her to follow her original plan to be a Hikarizuka performer, but realising the connection she has with Mayu and the others, she decides to perform with WUG, having felt the most at home with this group. The I-1 club also undergoes a disruption when Shiho is ejected for having failed to exceed Megumi in sales numbers, and sent to a small-time idol unit. Understanding how Mayu felt when she had bested her earlier, Shiho resolves to put her current unit on the map. When the Idol Festival arrives, WUG meets with the other idols, and it is remarked that this meeting feels like a class reunion. WUG reforms their practise to account for Nanami’s arrival, and when the time comes for them to perform, the girls put their heart and souls into singing and dancing. Seeing the solid performances from the different teams leads I-1 Club’s manager, Tōru Shiraki, to smile and acknowledge Tasuku’s speculation that creating distinct idol groups was a part of his plan to further the popularity of idols in Japan. In the post-credits scene, WUG stands triumphant, having taken first place at the competition.

The second Wake Up, Girls! movie, Beyond the Bottom continues with following WUG’s journey as an idol unit. Having demonstrated their resolve to make an impact even in a world fraught with challenge and resistance, their determination has earned the respect of those around them to give them a chance, and even though the different members each face their own challenges, as a whole, the group’s overall cohesion and team spirit prevail. Beyond the Bottom also carries over its predecessor’s tendency to deal with multiple sub-narratives — while coming across as a little busy, these plot lines come together in a satisfying manner in time for the conclusion. Nanami’s conflict between her idol work and dreams to perform in Hikarizuka theatre underlines how individuals’ goals can shift over time, and how a group of closely-knit individuals sharing a common goal can be instrumental in helping one come to understand what they seek. For Nanami, her realisation comes when she’s alone at the station awaiting her Hikarizuka exam: the empty concourse halls are in contrast to the high spirits WUG are in prior to their travels to Tokyo for the Idol Festival, and it is this unity that leads her to settle on a decision. The other sub-narrative follows Shiho in the aftermath of falling behind on her sales target. Now experiencing the same as Mayu years before, she immediately picks herself up and resolves to pound I-1 for having discarded her as a center. While seemingly a demotion, Shiho is given a chance at a new start and understands this, motivated to demonstrate her own skill as an idol in leading a smaller unit. Curses and setbacks can be a blessing in disguise, and sometimes, a new perspective is what one needs to realise this. By the time of the Idol Festival, Shiho is ready to deliver a heartfelt performance worthy of the stage. These elements both add a bit of urgency to the Idol Festival, showing that each group has their own reasons in striving for the top spot, but ultimately, with WUG’s overall victory, it would suggest that there is a magic amongst WUG that allow them to perform exceptionally and stand out even in a market place saturated with talent.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like the previous Wake Up, Girls! movie review, this post will have thirty screenshots such that more elements can be explored. My extensive command of Google-fu has yielded a conclusion — with this post, I lay claim to the internet’s only discussion with an extensive collection of Beyond the Bottom screenshots. Here, Kouhei announces WUG’s latest assignment back at their headquarters on a hot summer’s day, and Minami is seen talking into a fan with amusing results.

  • I’ve long abbreviated the group “Wake Up, Girls!” as WUG (not the Steyr AUG bullpup rifle) and refer to them collectively as such because it is both consistent with how they are known in-universe, as well as for the fact that it saves me a few seconds in typing out the name, and also has the further advantage of minimising confusion as to whether or not I am referring to the show or the idol unit. The girls are also assigned to sell merchanise to promote their presence here, exhibiting a degree of excitement in doing so.

  • In their first performance of the movie’s second half, WUG realises that they’ve come full circle and are now performing at the same venue where they first started their journey on a cold December’s evening. This time, rather than the occasional passerby as their audience, they’ve accumulated a small but dedicated following who genuinely enjoy their perfomances.

  • While on break at another performance, WUG encounter the group of lead performers who remain in character as Japanese Samurai; they are impressed with the resolve that each of the members exhibits, and the leader advises the girls in trusting their own decisions in order to move forward, which foreshadows later events.

  • I’ve made mention of Shiho Iwasaki in earlier posts, but have not gone into much details or even presented her visage. To rectify that, here she is: I-1’s former centre, she was dismissed after her sales were eclipsed by another rival’s. It is in Beyond the Bottom that she experiences what Mayu went through, but whereas Mayu was dismissed entirely, Shiho is reassigned to a smaller idol group, dubbed “Next Storm”. To demonstrate that she has what it takes, Shiho resolves to compete in the Idol Festival and take her team to the top spot.

  • Here, Junko meets with an old friend who performed alongside her when they themselves were part of an idol unit, Saint 40, many years back. Her friend is presently an office worker of sorts but still sings at a local club; Junko remarks she’s lost none of her singing talents in the times that have passed, and for everything that’s occurred between them, they remain close friends.

  • Kouhei and Junko plan a trip around Japan to bolster WUG’s presence that takes up much of August. According to my site’s archive, during this time, I was involved in bringing my Unity cell model into the CAVE and Oculus Rift as part of my graduate research. The summer students were wrapping up their own projects, and a major forest fire burning over in British Columbia blanketed the area in a heavy smoke. Exiting my last full summer as a university student, I entered my final year of graduate school refreshed and ready to roll.

  • Upon learning that their ride around Japan is a dirty-looking van, the girls take to cleaning it, and by the time they finish, though they cannot alter the van’s performance attributes or design, the van looks revitalised. This action is a subtle hint at WUG’s modus operandi: they are able to find the positives and make the most out of whatever situation is presented to them. This attribute becomes invaluable for the team moving forwards.

  • While travelling around Japan, message boards begin lighting up as locals begin watching their performances and interactions with people. The messages transform from pleasant surprise to genuine well-wishes as the girls move the audiences’ hearts and minds, and here, after Kouhei manages to stop the van for an elderly lady who’d dropped her apples, the girls step out to help her. By giving those around them a personal touch, WUG projects an image that they are a more personal, more relatable group than the manufactured, machine-like nature of much larger idol units.

  • A part of being a small idol unit means the willingness to participate in a variety of jobs; one of the reasons that I tend to view Wake Up, Girls! favourably is because its depiction of WUG’s formation and growth is surprisingly similar to that of a start-up company, where the small team size means that staff are required to perform a variety of tasks in order to keep the company operational. In my experience, this is one of the main joys about a start-up: there is the opportunity to do new things each and every day, keeping things fresh.

  • While in Hakata, Mayu decides to pay Shiho a visit. Located in the Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyūshū island, the city has a population of 216728 as of 2012 and is a marked difference from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. It turns out that while Shiho is not here by choice, she nonetheless embraces the idea of a challenge in bringing a small-time idol group against the giant that is I-1. This stands in stark contrast with Mayu, whose life fell apart when she was dismissed as I-1’s centre. However, thanks to WUG, Mayu’s rediscovered her passion, and the two’s interactions are cordial.

  • The numerous performances take their toll on Yoshino, even as WUG continues to leave a profound impact with their concerts and manage to place first in a regional competition. Mayu notes that songs that they’ve sung have had an impact: I particularly enjoyed First Rate Smile, which sounds best in its WUG incarnation, and Yoshino adds that being able to participate in so much has allowed them to begin discovering their own identity, even if their identity has not been fully defined as of yet.

  • When Nanami is challenged about her future, she begins doubting her time with WUG. Although considered to be an “illogical” addition to Beyond the Bottom, I counter that things can come out of left field at any given time in reality — life is not as straightforwards as the structured proceedings of a fictional work, and the difficult questions can arise at the most unexpected of times. As someone who has held interests in health and computer sciences, I struggled to decide which field was more befitting of me, coincidentally during Wake Up, Girls!‘ original run.

  • Ultimately, with graduate school admission and scholarship offers appearing much earlier than the results from my medical school applications, I felt that it was perhaps a higher power suggesting to me that software development and application design would be the career I would be most at home in. I accepted my graduate school offer and set out on a journey to further my experiences in writing programs. While I’m now a little more certain as to what I need to do to improve as a developer, Nanami has a bit more trouble determining her own fate.

  • My personal comings-and-goings in conjunction with the events of Wake Up, Girls! is the reason why I view the series favourably, even against lukewarm reception that pointedly outline the different flaws in the anime, ranging from its inferior animation quality to characters that were not memorable. I appreciate effort: while Wake Up, Girls! may not be as fluid as a Kyoto Animation show or have the same emotional impact as something like ARIA or Tamayura, it makes an honest effort to follow a small-time’s group journey into the big leagues, and this sincerity shows in the anime.

  • Junko’s long-time friend agrees to write a song for WUG after visiting: when she watches them rehearse, she is reminded of her own time as a performer. This is indicative of the fact that she sees a bit of herself in the new idols, and thus, feels that her feelings can be properly conveyed by WUG. These elements together lay down the framework for a fantastic song that allow WUG to define their own identity.

  • These folks are the Idol Otaku who support WUG’s every step, running the hidden cyber-operations that garner online support in message boards and forums, fighting to direct the discourse away from negativity and provide a non-trivial degree of contributions to WUG’s success. While seemingly trivial, the prevalence of the internet means that electronic communications have equal relevance with the actions executed in meat-space: as per Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector, armies now march on their bandwidth, as opposed to on their stomachs as they did back in Napoleon’s day.

  • Armed with the new song from Junko’s friend, WUG become excited to begin practising for the Idol Festival — the girls get the sense that this song manages to capture everything about them, which arises as a consequence of Junko’s friend’s experience. Junko has one more surprise for everyone: new uniforms. However, Nanami is a little more apprehensive about her situation, being caught between a rock and a hard place concerning her need to reach a decision soon.

  • While I’ve always regarded the animation and artwork in Wake Up, Girls! to be of an acceptable standard, improving in the movies over its predecessors, one of the things that continue to bother me slightly even in Wake Up, Girls!‘ latest incarnation is how the characters smiles are rendered. Appearing forced, or even a little strained at times, they impart a sense that the characters are not fully happen even when their words, actions and thoughts suggest that they are happy. I’ve learned to compensate for this discrepancy by making use of the dialogue and vocal tones, although in this particular scene, while Miyu is pumped, the others are a bit more concerned.

  • After lifting weights this morning, I spent most of the afternoon playing Battlefield 1: the Winter Patch has arrived, and I’ve got a bit to talk about on that, but it’s a long weekend in my province, the first of the year. The skies turned grey as the day wore on, snow began falling and it’s quite foggy right now. However, the bit of time afforded by a long weekend means that I was able to get this talk out, coming right after a fantastic dinner with the family: besides lobster and white sauce on a bed of crispy noodles as the pièce de résistance, we had a whole steamed fish, chicken, shrimps and mixed vegetables, fried rice, pea shoots, sweat and sour pork and shark fin soup. With the snow beginning to increase in intensity as we settled down for dinner, it proved to be just the thing for keeping spirits high even as winter makes a comeback after a week of warm weather.

  • Nanami speaks with Airi about her predicament: it is her dream to perform at a Hikarizuka theatre, but she also feels a commitment to WUG. Despite being the most unremarkable of the WUG members, Airi also is the most committed, valuing the group’s tenants and understanding them deeply. She suggests being forward and honest about her situation to the others so they’re aware of what’s going on.

  • Thus, Nanami explains her situation to the others and receives support for her decisions. Of the blood, sweat and tears (an expression originating from the Bible and popularised by Sir Winston Churchill) that the WUG put into their work, sweat is in the greatest quantity, followed by tears. There is quite a bit of weeping in Wake Up, Girls!, and while facial expressions can become hilarious on subsequent inspection, whenever I behold the characters crying for the first time, it is quite moving, enough to get dust in my eyes.

  • To emphasise that Nanami has grown close with her peers and friends in WUG, her departure towards the examination location for a Hikarizuka institute is a lonely one. Nanami is depicted as the only passenger at this terminal, and there is not another soul in sight. As her thoughts turn to the memories she has with WUG, the tears begin flowing freely. Nanami’s decision about her future is set at this pivotal moment.

  • While setting off on the first leg of the journey towards their competition venue, WUG encounter Nanami, who reaffirms that WUG is the place she wants to be. With the entire team back together, they rehearse again with Nanami in order to ensure that their performance is a solid one. Time and time again, Nanami finds herself drawn back to WUG, rather similar to how the computer science side of my BHSc eventually became the dominant aspect of my career choice: this suggests that even against the challenges Nanami faces, her dreams have become more concrete with her time amongst this tightly-knit group.

  • Prior to the competition, Mayu and Shiho meet up once again. Despite it being a fight for the top, in their own words, I sense no hostility in this scene. It’s a professional rivalry now, to do one’s best and strive for the top position, but there is also a great deal of respect for one’s competitors. This sets the tone for the remainder of the movie, allowing it to conclude on a high note.

  • With Nanami here and ready to do her utmost, the others wonder if Nanami will have a costume available. Some forward thinking from Kouhei and Junko tend to that, and with this small matter resolved, the girls get set to rehearse. They do so in the same location as they had for the previous year’s competition, and have vivid recollections of their last practise here under the evening skies, during which Yoshino suffered an injury. A great deal has happened since then, and WUG gears up for their performance.

  • Attired in light colours, the latest WUG uniform brings to mind the Peplos dress of the Ancient Greeks, although it appears much simpler in design and is modified with a large golden belt at the waist. The ornaments in the girls’ hair accentuate the Greek inspired designs, and the song they perform here is “Beyond the Bottom”; it has some very unusual acoustic properties that give it a much more ethereal nature compared to the purely upbeat songs they’ve performed previously.

  • Their dancing and singing are very nearly in perfect synchronisation, WUG’s performance is captured in high detail. Back in one of the stands, Tasuku and Tōru share a conversation where the former speculates that Tōru’s methods in dismissing his top idols through competition are motivated by a desire to seed talent and spread the popularity of idols in distant corners of Japan, which in turn would bring further revenue to his company while realising his dream of making idols into a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry.

  • Beholding the whole of the audience waving white glowsticks around in unison while cheering WUG on is an awesome spectacle; between the crowd chanting WUG’s name, the girls moving onto the runway as their performance ends and Junko’s friend agreeing to join Green Leaves Entertainment, the closing of the movie is a crescendo of activity that ends with a still showing the girls with a trophy, having placed first at the competition.

  • The page quote comes from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, where towards the film’s end, Count Dooku retorts to Yoda that their showdown hasn’t ended yet before leaving, after being outmatched by Yoda in a lightsabre duel. A continuation set to come out somewhere this year, I’ll likely be following that in some capacity, and this knowledge means that Beyond the Bottom is not yet the conclusion, motivating the page quote. For the time being, however, the latest of my Wake Up, Girls! posts comes to an end. Upcoming posts will include a talk on my initial impressions of the winter patch for Battlefield 1 and Sora no Woto‘s eighth episode. If time permits, I will also aim to write a brief reflection on Croisée in a Foreign Labyrith before the month is over.

The end result of Beyond the Bottom is a rewarding one for WUG; well-earned, befitting of the movie’s title — with their performance at the Idol Festival, WUG has moved beyond the bottom of the barrel and have made enough waves to become recognised as the small idol unit that could. However, in keeping with the themes of Wake Up, Girls!, their success is not the end-all. Their journey is ongoing, and in December 2016, at the Wake Up, Girls! Festival 2016 Super Live event, it was announced that there will be a continuation to Wake Up, Girls!, dubbed Wake Up, Girls! Shin Shō (New Chapter). The new anime is set to air somewhere in 2017, and features new character designs that give each individual a more distinct appearance. While reception to Wake Up, Girls! generally remains lukewarm at best amongst English-speakers, with some folks regarding the series as “lacklustre” or “illogical and emotionally weak”, I disagree on the virtue that life itself can proceed in unusual ways. The harsh experiences and sudden reversals of fortune can indeed happen, and this series resonated with me in presenting a story where a group slowly makes their presence felt through a combination of teamwork, determination and resilience. Overall, I would give Beyond the Bottom a recommendation for all fans of Wake Up, Girls!, although this film is not for individuals unfamiliar with or else disinterested in Wake Up, Girls!. With the knowledge there is a continuation in the works, set for release later this year, I am quite interested to see what lies in store for the raggedy-ass band of idols known as Wake Up, Girls! in the upcoming anime.

Wake Up, Girls!: Shadow of Youth (Seishun no Kage) Movie Review and Reflection

“And why should such songs be unfit for my halls, or for such hours as these? We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it? Then we may feel that our vigil was not fruitless, though it may have been thankless.” —Denethor II, Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King

It’s almost been three years since I’ve written anything related to Wake Up, Girls! — my last post on the entire series was at the anime’s conclusion, where, despite their loss at a national-level idol competition, WUG is signed to produce an album. By December 2014, a two-part movie for Wake Up, Girls! was announced, acting as a sequel to the anime series. The first half is dubbed Shadow of Youth and follows WUG as they attempt to make an impact in Tokyo to sell their first-ever album. Struggling to promote their music in Shadow of Youth, the girls turn to Hayasaka with the goal of having him write another song for them, but he declines. Resolute on selling their albums, WUG also take dedicated lessons in Tokyo to further hone their skills, and despite the difficult training sessions, each member of WUG resolves to stick it out, deciding that the effort to make it big in Tokyo is preferable to returning to Sendai. WUG also participate in an idol performance, but their group’s relative obscurity means few of the attendees stick around to watching their show, and in a bid to boost their album’s sales, the group resort to selling CDs in person in the streets of Tokyo. With things looking bleak, Hayasaka returns at the last moment and decides to write one more song for WUG. Screenings of this film began in October 2015 and grossed around 115 000 Canadian dollars: in a somewhat ironic twist, the obscurity that WUG faced in Wake Up, Girls! is mirrored by the relative lack of interest in the movie amongst English-speakers. I’ve only had a chance to watch the movie recently despite its release more than a year ago, and discussion on the film is non-existent.

While other venues for anime discussions have skated over Shadow of Youth, watching Wake Up, Girls! again is reminiscent of my old remarks in my earlier discussion, where I note that everything must start from somewhere. The anime captured this exceptionally well, showing just how much sweat, tears and blood goes into making something worthwhile At the time, I was wrapping up a year of open studies and gearing up to enter graduate school. I was also enrolled in my supervisor’s iOS course, and had sat through a guest speaker’s presentation on start up companies and the effort involved in making one survive. While intriguing, I wondered if I was the right sort of person for a start-up and figured that working a larger company would be more stable. In a strange turn of events, I’m now working at a start up company. Like Shadow of Youth, it’s been an illuminating experience as I learn about both the business end of things, as well as furthering my own knowledge of software development: far from the idyllic path that folks have in mind when they begin, working at a start up is filled with uncertainty and demands one’s absolute best. Wake Up, Girls! captured this in its anime, and continues to succeed in doing so with Shadow of Youth. Whether it be encountering an audience completely unfamiliar with their music and a market unsympathetic to their situation, Shadow of Youth reminds audiences that nothing worth accomplishing ever comes easy. It is WUG’s spirit and determination to stick it out, to make the most of a situation in the hopes of achieving something much greater than any one member, that has gotten them this far, and with the first movie wrapping up, the girls are set for that second wind. It’s a surprisingly fitting parallel for working at a start up: requirements of working hard, making the difficult decisions and determining what’s best for the entire team apply to new companies the same way they apply to WUG.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the three year span since I first watched Wake Up, Girls!, so much has happened that it’s almost dizzying, and in that time span, I’ve forgotten all of the characters’ names, save Mayu. In this post, there will be the customary thirty screenshots, although I note that the image distribution is a little uneven, so some scenes are covered in more detail than others. With this in mind, this talk on Shadow of Youth is geared to be about the big picture rather than more minute details.

  • While it’s likely an exercise in futility to remember everyone’s names again over a fifty-minute timeframe (the runtime of Shadow of Youth), for reference’s sake, from left to right, we have Miyu Okamoto, Airi Hayashida, Nanami Hisami, Minami Katayama, Kaya Kikuma, Yoshino Nanase and Mayu Shimada. While their names elude me, I still recall each of the characters’ defining traits (works at a maid cafe, has no special skill set, is the youngest of the group, has an Adam Richman level appreciation of food, is the oldest of the group, is the leader of the group and has the most experience of anyone, having performed for I-1 Club previously).

  • An anime whose characters are memorable for their traits is one I’ll tend to remember, so even after all this time, I’m able to drop right back into the heat of things without necessitating too much revisitation of the original anime. Here, WUG are negotiating the group’s future with a spirited representative who appears quite interesting in watching their progress: he aims to give them assistance, likening it to bringing an M1A2 to a fight, although the analogy flies over Minami’s head.

  • Entrepreneurs and salespeople have a remarkable talent for making it sound like the impossible is merely improbable to accomplish: the polar opposite of my personality, these folks are exceptionally good at reading people and communicating. The positive energy is a very powerful motivator, and I’ve found that high energy is a powerful motivator for me; if I know where things are going and what needs to be done, I’ll do my best to get it done. Such is seemingly the nature of the individual helping WUG: he promises to help them promote their brand, but also counts on WUG to deliver.

  • Wake Up, Girls! was criticised during its original run for having poor quality animation, but by the time of the movie, the studios producing Wake Up, Girls! have found their groove: the artwork is of a high standard, and here, the group is in the streets of Tokyo speaking about their futures. Miyu feels that they’re closing the gap between themselves and I-1, but that’s akin to a small start-up saying that a giant like Google or Amazon should start sleeping with an eye open.

  • Kouhei and Junko have some additional business to tend to, leaving WUG free to explore Tokyo. They find themselves in amazement at how hectic things are, but also enjoy the sights and sounds. Here, Mayu stops to admire a handbag in the shape of a baby chicken. From what I’ve heard, the voice actors for Wake Up, Girls! were sourced from ordinary folks in an audition, and each of the anime’s characters take their given name from their respective voice actor’s name.

  • This here’s the Kaminarimon, the outermost gate at the Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa. It’s famous for its large lantern, and the present structure is not the original: the original Kaminarimon was constructed in 941 at a different location and moved in 1635. The structure has burned down on at least three different occasions, and the modern-day structure was constructed in 1960. The lantern itself is 4 meters in height and has a mass of 670 kilograms. Despite its size, it is surprisingly fragile: the most recent restoration was done in 2003.

  • This past week saw one of the more intense cold spells of the year, with a daily high of around -20°C before windchill (-4°F for my Imperial system-using readers), and coupled with snowfall, made for the worst driving conditions I’ve seen for quite some time: commutes took upwards of twice as long to complete, and roads remained quite icy throughout the week. Arriving home later in the evening from work every day of the week meant I’ve not the energy to blog, accounting for why there’s been a few posts for this month so far. However, the temperatures began rising again yesterday, and road conditions have returned to normal now, just in time for the first full moon of the new Chinese lunar year. I celebrated with family today at the Café Hong Kong, where fresh scallops and crunchy shrimp noodles were among the things we had for dinner, perfect for a chilly evening.

  • Tasuku Hayasaka is a top-tier songwriter who is occasionally contracted to work with I-1 Club. Despite his harsh methods and blunt words, he grows to care for WUG over the course of Wake Up, Girls!, and is genuinely happy that they’ve made so much progress during the course of their careers. By the time of the movie, he refuses to lend his talents to the group: playing in a different field, he is gauging whether or not the raggedy-ass band that is WUG has what it takes to truly play in the big leagues. This forms one of the overarching conflicts throughout Shadow of Youth.

  • Back in Sendai briefly, the girls prepare for the next leg of their journey: Kouhei arranges for each of the girls to take special lessons to further their skills, working with the organisation bvex. Mayu returns home briefly, and it is plain that by this point, her relationship with her mother has improved dramatically since the anime.

  • On average, a train ride from Sendai to Tokyo is around two and a half hours in length: it is by no means a trivial commute and so, WUG will lodge at accommodations in Tokyo during the course of their training. While the topic of trains is floating about, I note that Canada’s own passenger rail network is ill-suited towards serving the nation owing to the size. The largest rail company in Canada is Via rail, and there are actually no trains from Calgary to Toronto, the nation’s largest city: one must drive up to Edmonton first, and from there, it’s a three-day journey by train. The only viable option to get across Canada is by air, and even then, the distances are non-trivial: flights between Calgary and Toronto have a duration of around four hours.

  • It seems that Airi’s training has gone modestly well: the weakest of the girls in her singing and performance, she’s assigned to the entry-level classes that give her a chance to learn and master the basics. In spite of her lower skill level, she is highly dedicated towards her training so that she’s not holding the group back as a whole. Back during Wake Up, Girls!, she came close to the verge of being dismissed by Tasuku, but the group’s overall resolve towards helping her, coupled with her own efforts, led Tasuku to reconsider.

  • While the others are getting on alright, Kaya and Miyu are utterly spent from their training. I’m brought back to memories of the first several times where I lifted weights, and was so sore from the regimen that I could not move my arms or walk straight for at least three days following a session. It’s been some seven years since I started lifting, and these days, while I still become a little sore after a lift, the soreness usually goes away within a half day or else can be dispersed with a cool-down day, where I lift much lighter weights to get the blood flowing (and remove any remaining lactic acid buildup).

  • By evening in their hotel room, the girls converse on how they’d like to perform for WUG: Yoshino suggests that it’s ultimately about the execution of their music, rather than the music itself, that makes the difference to audiences. The lighting in this scene seems to mirror the emotional tenour amongst WUG: it’s light where the girls are, and dark everywhere else. Note that Minami is absent from the proceedings; she’s fallen asleep in the bath from exhaustion.

  • “7 Girls War” is the opening song for Wake Up, Girls!, and also doubles as the final song that they performed during their competition during the anime. Upbeat, simple in composition and earnest, it’s a song that captures the entire essence of WUG, along with each of the eccentricities and uniqueness for the members. It’s also a song that, when loaded into AudioSurf, matches most of the songs from DragonForce in terms of intensity; playing 7 Girls War in AudioSurf creates a downhill, high-energy track.

  • When Miyu wonders if they’re dreaming, Kaya pulls her face to ascertain that this is reality. Kaya’s appearance is reminiscent of Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Fū Inubōzaki and Yanagi Takiyama of Glasslip, befitting of someone who projects a more mature air relative to that of her peers.

  • Whether it be on a small stage or a great venue, WUG continues to perform with their sincerity and fullest effort. This lends itself to the page quote, which is sourced from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King (rather than the movie): it is fitting for Wake Up, Girls! in the knowledge that even in light of the difficulties that everyone faces, music speaking to happiness and resilience is precisely what is needed to lift people up during troubling times.

  • When I’m asked about what I look for in a good song, I respond that a good song is one that evokes a very clear set of emotions or imagery in my mind’s eye, or otherwise tells a phenomenal story. A song that is successful in doing this is a solid one in my books, and it is for this reason that a lot of North American pop music does not cut it for me: speaking about the superficialities of life, it would be an insult to consider such cacophony as music. “Where Are Ü Now” and “Shake It Off” come to mind, being repetitive to a fault and doing very little in crafting a story or mood.

  • Junko’s strongest attribute is her ability to set folks straight whenever things look ugly for WUG: she deduces that the fellow responsible for promoting WUG was in it for Tasuku’s music rather than genuinely helping WUG and yells at him here after learning that WUG’s falling short of their sales expectations. Owing to how multi-layered things are in reality, the situation that WUG find themselves in cannot be easily defined in terms of black and white. In order to rectify this, Kouhei decides that they will have to move the thirty thousand albums on their own.

  • Kouhei’s conversation with Tasuku for assistance proves fruitless: when asked why the latter had agreed to help them previously, he only replies that he has no answer. From an external perspective, the rationale was that he was providing the girls a chance to prove themselves and get their foot in the door. Now that they’ve begun, he reasons that they must depend on their own determination and resourcefulness in order to continue.

  • Things continue to fall for WUG: their reception is tanking, and producers are seeing dwindling interest in their performance. Nowhere else is this more obvious than at their latest performance: WUG are slotted into an intermission period and the performance venue empties out, leaving only a handful of viewers to watch. In the aftermath of the performance, the atmosphere is gloomy, and the girls are dejected in spite of their efforts to remain optimistic.

  • Even when faced with failure, WUG promises to endure: following Yoshino’s lead, the girls pick themselves up again and attempt to sell of the remainder of their albums. The single is titled “Kiss me honestly”, and from my perspective, it almost seems hypocritical to say that I wasn’t too fond of that song even after I note that I’m behind WUG. It sounds very generic, and the lyrics don’t speak well to me, lacking the same earnestness as “7 Girls War” and “First-rate smile”.

  • I do not have “Kiss me honestly” in any of my music rotations, and that Wake Up, Girls! manages to capture the difference in style and quality to this extent even out of their universe is an indicator of the effort that went into making Wake Up, Girls! plausible for the audiences: I may not like the song itself, and this is mirrored in-universe, but the group as a whole is one that I want to root for.

  • As a character-driven anime, Shadow of Youth continues in Wake Up, Girls!‘ approach in reinforcing the idea that it’s the characters’ unity, rather than where they are, that makes a difference, and so, whether it be Sendai or Tokyo, much of the group’s dynamics remain unaltered. This particular element also means that my screenshots are focused on the characters rather than the setting: in shows like Sora no Woto, the setting can be utilised to speak volumes about what the characters are feeling far beyond facial expressions and body language, hence my decision to include them.

  • Despite their difficult situation, WUG take a moment to consider everything they’ve done so far, and begin singing Taichiagare, the first song they’d ever performed as a team. In a cold venue with few viewers, this song is where it all started for everyone. Unlike in Wake Up, Girls!, live performances of this song were done in front of a large audience who enjoy it. The girls’ smiles show that even now, there is hope.

  • In the eleventh hour, Tasuku arrives. Impressed with their persistence and determination even in the face of adversity (he likens them to rabbits who’ve not been chased off by the intensity in Tokyo), he makes an announcement. There is a song for WUG that will give them a second chance and asks them to perform at the Festival of Idols. Titled “少女交響曲” (lit. “Girls’ Symphony”), the song is a return to the style that WUG is most suited for performing at this Festival of Idols, set for August 18, 2015.

  • A cursory glance at my site’s archive shows that at this point in time, I pushed out a post on Non Non Biyori Repeat and tracklists for a pair of then-upcoming Locodol albums that I’ve not had a chance to listen to. My motivation for picking up Locodol actually stems from watching Wake Up, Girls!: after this anime ended, I was interested to see another idol group start their journey, and in the end, I found an immensely enjoyable journey that represents a completely different take on idols than the one that Wake Up, Girls! presented.

  • In this festival, I-1 will be competing for the first time, having previously acted only as the hosts for the event. It brings to mind a joke I shared with the senior black belts during the kata tournament back in December: I was set to help out with the tournament, but one of the black belt participants were not able to attend. I said that I’d be happy to participate as a “hidden boss”.

  • With the first half of the film over, I need to hustle on watching Beyond the Bottom; strictly speaking, there is no rush, since it seems that there are no other reviews of either movies out there on the intertubes for the present. However, owing to my schedule, it is probably prudent to enjoy these movies now before things get any crazier: I’ve got several milestone posts lined up for March, and outside of this blog, there will be a plethora of things to do once the weather warms up and I am able to make full use of that complementary parks pass. Regular programming will resume on Wednesday with the next Sora no Woto post.

As Shadow of Youth serves as the exposition for the two-part series, there is not much in the way of new music or performances. Instead, Shadow of Youth accomplishes the vital goal of setting the stage for what is to occur in the second half: while Wake Up, Girls! aims to present the more realistic, gritty side of things with the challenges and set backs WUG faces, all of the accumulated effort the girls have made in the first movie will have been for something useful. Coupled with the second movie’s title, Beyond the Bottom, the implications are that these efforts will pay off. Reality, in spite of being renowned for its unforgiving nature, can also provide some uncommon luck for those who work hard: WUG was given a new opportunity to produce an album despite having lost the competition, and here, have another opportunity to prove their great worth to the market. I am quite curious to see where the second half of the movie will go — it should be no surprise that I will be providing a talk on that here once I cross the finish line for Beyond the Bottom.

The Hunt For Red October: Review and Reflection

“Once more, we play our dangerous game, a game of chess against our old adversary — the American Navy. For forty years, your fathers before you, and your older brothers played this game, and played it well. But today the game is different; we have the advantage.” —Captain Marko Ramius

Dubbed by Ronald Reagan as the “perfect yarn”, Tom Clancy’s The Hunt For Red October (1984) began his career as a techno-thriller novelist and was adapted into a movie starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in 1990. While some minor differences arise between the film and novel, the general plot in the film is consistent with its novel counterpart. Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius (Connery) plots a defection from the Soviet Union while commanding the Red October, a Typhoon-class equipped with a revolutionary magnetohydrodynamic drive that renders it nearly silent to sonar. CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) successfully deduces Ramius’ intentions and struggles to convince his superiors that Ramius is planning to defect before the American and Soviet forces engage one another in combat. The Hunt For Red October was a superb novel, characterised by its matter-of-fact writing style and incredibly detailed explanations of some of the technologies utilised on board submarines. The film, although different from the novel in some places, manages to capture the atmosphere and technical details of the novel: despite the plot’s slower progression compared to contemporary movies, all of the moments are integrated well with one another to create an ever-present sense of suspense that would doubtlessly permeate submarine operations.

Tom Clancy’s The Hunt For Red October marks the beginning of the Jack Ryan universe, and my first Tom Clancy novel was Threat Vector: by this time, Jack Ryan Sr. is the President of the United States, having defeated Ed Keatly in elections. However, in The Hunt For Red October, Ryan is a CIA analyst working in London. While Ryan has training as a marine, he is not a sailor and therefore finds himself uncomfortable at sea once he is tasked to prove that his theory holds true. Throughout The Hunt For Red October, Ryan is presented as a dedicated academic in search of the truth with the aim of halting a war. By comparison, the government and military officers are more set in their ways, and find themselves bemused by Ryan’s tenacity. However, even then, there are exceptions: sonar technician Petty Officer Jones of the USS Dallas is a bright mind, devising a clever means of tracking the Red October: his actions are instrumental in helping Ryan locate the Red October and convince his superiors that Ramius is indeed planning to defect. Through Ryan and Jones, Clancy suggests that the military’s capabilities are closely tied to the quality of the intelligence that they receive. While Ryan encounters some resistance to his theory from senior US officials, Commander Mancuso of the USS Dallas is willing to take a chance on Jones’ ideas. It is therefore unsurprising that the USS Dallas does manage to find the Red October, while Ryan is given limited help to demonstrate that Ramius is defecting until he boards the Dallas. This contrast suggests that unorthodox conclusions can still have some relevance, and that solid intelligence is necessary for a plan to execute well: in general, Tom Clancy held the view that the worth of good intelligence acquisition and analysis should never be underestimated, and this theme returns in his novels quite frequently.

A superb movie on all counts, The Hunt For Red October is also said to have inspired for some of the events seen in Hai-Furi. This led some viewers to develop unrealistic expectations for Hai-Furi, and some individuals spent the anime’s entire run complaining about every conceivable element when their expectations were not fulfilled. According to the staff, Reiko Yoshida drew elements from The Hunt For Red October to guide some of the narrative elements seen in Hai-Furi. While long-held to be significant amongst those who watched Hai-Furi, it should be abundantly clear that The Hunt For Red October and Hai-Furi share only similarity in the fact that it is set on the high seas: there are no strong indicators that specifics from the former’s narrative entered the latter. The Hunt For Red October is firmly guided by the narrative, whereas the flow of events is much looser in Hai-Furi. While The Hunt For Red October deals with Jack Ryan’s adventures to prove that Ramius is defecting, Hai-Furi is about the growth the the Harekaze’s crew as they encounter one misadventure after another. The former places a great deal of emphasis on technical accuracy and even allows the military hardware to shine ahead of the cast on some occasions, whereas Hai-Furi was first and foremost about Akeno and her crew. Similarly, there is a very real suspense and sense of urgency in The Hunt For Red October: had Ryan and the USS Dallas failed, hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union may have resulted in a shooting war. In Hai-Furi, limited world-building prevents the implications of the Totalitarian Virus from being a true threat; this was acceptable in Hai-Furi for the reason that the anime never was intended about a larger perspective about the dynamics between two superpowers. Taken together, while Yoshida and the remainder of Hai-Furi‘s staff may have watched The Hunt For Red October as a reference for Hai-Furi, the similarities between these two disparate works remains superficial at best, and consequently, I hold that it is unreasonable to approach Hai-Furi with the same mindset and expect that the anime satisfy the requirements that made The Hunt For Red October such an enjoyable film.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sean Connery is Marko Ramius, a Lithuanian submarine commander whose father was a high ranking Soviet officer. A highly competent strategist, Ramius is highly adaptive to situations and is counted as one of the USSR’s best minds on submarine warfare, having written the Soviet doctrine on it in-universe. I remark that the screenshots in this post are of an unusual aspect ratio owing to the original: my image capture software crops out letterboxes automatically, resulting in narrower images.

  • In The Hunt For Red October, Jack Ryan is portrayed by Alec Baldwin: this role goes to Harrison Ford in The Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and while Ford does an excellent job in conveying Jack Ryan as a highly earnest, devoted analyst, one downside is that Ford’s dialogue can sometimes be difficult to hear. Baldwin, on the other hand, presents Ryan as a wide-eyed but competent analyst who’s just starting out on his journey.

  • The interior of the three submarines in The Hunt For Red October are coloured differently to ensure that they are easy to differentiate from one another: much of the film is set within submarine interiors, and according to production notes, actual filming inside a submarine would have been remarkably difficult, so in the film, large sound stages were created instead with special apparatus to simulate the motions of a submarine.

  • After Ryan obtains some photographs of the Red October in dry dock, he notices the presence of unusual doors on its superstructure. The images are sent to submarine expert Skip Taylor, who suggests that the Red October is equipped with a magnetohydrodynamic drive. Such a propulsion system would make use of magnets to draw in water and expel it to create thrust, but such technologies remain experimental for the present.

  • Ramius takes full control of the Red October after disposing of political officer Putin. He announces that their mission will be to conduct missile drills off the US Coast, and then sail to Cuba for recuperation once their assignment is complete. Carefully planning each move, Ramius betrays nothing to the other crew: impressed with the mission orders, the bridge crew begin singing the Soviet national anthem.

  • The sonar operator on board the USS Dallas, Jones is presented as being highly attuned to his equipment; he is able to differentiate between submarine signatures and the movement of whales in the ocean. In the novel, he states that he was a Caltech student with aspirations to complete his Master’s and Doctorate dissertation, but created an accident that led to his dismissal. In the meantime, he’s joined the navy, and his expertise with electronics play a vital role in helping the Dallas track the Red October.

  • Ryan is asked to present his findings to US government officials after he discusses the theory behind Ramius’ defection to Vice Admiral Greer. Played by James Earl Jones (who had supplied Darth Vader’s voice in the original Star Wars trilogy), Greer is shown to be open to whatever ideas Ryan has, and furthermore, is also quite fond of coffee. The Red October is described as being an immense threat to US security: being able to move undetected would have allowed it to position itself anywhere along the US coast for a nuclear strike.

  • Ryan describes the Soviet fleet’s movements as an indicator that Ramius had intended to defect, reasoning that as a high-ranking officier, Ramius would be able to hand-pick his staff, making it easier to defect. Coupled with the fleet’s deployment is in response to Soviet fears that the Red October will indeed defect based on a letter, and orders the Soviet fleet has received, this leads Ryan to his conclusion. The officials fear a full-on war in light of the risk that the Red October may be “in the hands of a madman”, but nonetheless ask him to investigate such that a war might be avoided.

  • The novel, more so than the film, gives ample exposition for all of the characters that play a significant role; Tom Clancy is meticulous in detailing even some of the secondary characters’ backgrounds in order to illustrate that they are highly competent for their occupations. This style carries over to his final novels, Threat Vector and Command Authority, and serves a powerful function in ensuring that there is no doubt that the characters’ actions are motivated by their experience and expertise in their given field. This stands in stark contrast with Hai-Furi (or even Girls und Panzer), which leads some viewers to challenge the appropriateness of the characters’ actions in their respective universes.

  • Adding to the realism factor in The Hunt For Red October is the fact that shots are not fired for the sake of action. As a thriller that strives to maintain some factual realism, there is a very rigid structure that ensures shots are not fired out of anger. Much of the fun aspects in the movie come from suspense resulting from close encounters, and watching the different characters draw upon their expertise in response to difficult situations.

  • One of the things about The Hunt For Red October that I initially found a little surprising was that the Russian characters started out speaking Russian, and halfway into a conversation between Ramius and Putin, the language switches out to English. This was done to aid the audiences in viewing and reduce the need for subtitles; when the Russian sailors and Americans are in the same scene, the Russians speak Russian again. In Hai-Furi, there are no Russian characters; Wilhelmina is German, but like Ramius, she is bilingual, being able to communicate with Akeno and the others in fluent Japanese.

  • The Red October’s situation is obfuscated by the Russian ambassador, who claims to know little beyond what Moscow has told him and later settles on the Soviet fleet’s activity as being part of a major rescue operation.

  • The Red October’s voyage is not smooth: a ways into their trek across the Atlantic, their magnetohydrodynamic drive, known more simply as a caterpillar, develops a malfunction arising from sabotage. The identity of the saboteur is not known until later in the film, but Ryan’s remarks earlier, that the senior officials on board the Red October must have been handpicked, would suggest that one of the lower-ranking crew must be responsible for things.

  • Moody grey skies and rough surface conditions define the Atlantic ocean. Ryan is not particularly fond of flying: he states that he’s never slept soundly on a commercial flight before, but the rough ride over the Atlantic makes any discomforts of a commercial flight trivial by comparison. Ryan is sent to make contact with the USS Dallas. Running low on fuel, the helicopter makes to return to the carrier after failing to insert Ryan into the Dallas, but driven by determination to see his task through, Ryan cuts himself loose, falling into the frigid Atlantic.

  • Once Ryan is on board the Dallas, he exchanges messages with Ramius and confirms that the latter is indeed intending to defect. With this knowledge in mind, Ryan boards a rescue submarine (explicitly given as an Avalon-class in the novel) and meets with Ramius for the first time. The comparisons between Hai-Furi and The Hunt For Red October first appeared on April 21, two days before the third episode aired and brought to attention of the anime community courtesy of one Myssa Rei. Discussions at Tango-Victor-Tango proved nonexistent, and it’s more than likely that none of their members have watched The Hunt For Red October in full.

  • Returning to The Hunt For Red October, after establishing contact with the Americans, Ramius is surprised that they have guessed what he was seeking. I find that Ramius resembles Chino’s grandfather of GochiUsa. If folks are tossing around wild theories about how Hai-Furi and The Hunt For Red October are related, then I get to throw an inane theory of my own into the mix. I posit that after landing in America, Ramius takes on a new name and lives in the US for several years before moving to Colmar, France, where he starts his own coffee shop, calling it Rabbit House.

  • The US Navy drops a torpedo in the water, but it is self-destructed by Vice Admiral Greer. In order to quickly evacuate the other crew, Ramius stages an emergency with the Red October’s nuclear reactor, and once the surface, Ramius will remain with the other officers to scuttle the ship. Shortly after this news became known, some folks later would claim the staff drew from The Hunt For Red October, models for the characters’ roles.

  • Continuing on from the above bullet, the only character who could have been inspired by The Hunt For Red October‘s characters is Akeno, and even this is a weak claim, as the only commonality the two share is an uncommonly good eye for overcoming adversity. Beyond this, the two characters are as different as night and day. Further to this, sonar does not play as substantial a role in Hai-Furi compared to The Hunt For Red October, and complex political elements are absent in the former. Back in The Hunt For Red October, once Ryan is on board the Dallas, he exchanges messages with Ramius and confirms that the latter is indeed intending to defect. With this knowledge in mind, Ryan boards a rescue submarine (explicitly given as an Avalon-class in the novel) and meets with Ramius for the first time.

  • The action-heavy sequences begin in the movie’s final act: besides Ryan, Mancuso and Jones also boards. Ramius speaks with Ryan about asylum in the United States and also asks about Ryan’s role. Ryan is asked to help with operating the Red October, and Ramius remarks that he’s doing a fine job for someone who’s operating a submarine for the first time. Ryan surprises the others when he reveals that he’s a CIA analyst.

  • It turns out that Ramius’ motivations for defecting arise from a combination of factors: his dissatisfaction with the Soviet Union stem partly from the death of his wife at the hands of an incompetent doctor. Because the aforementioned doctor was related to high-ranking party officials, he was allowed to continue operating without any consequences. Furthermore, upon being assigned the Red October, Ramius realised that such a weapon was built purely for a first strike mission, growing disillusioned with serving the USSR.

  • We’re now approaching the autumn season, and this year’s September has been something of a different one compared to previous years. However, while I no longer return to classes, the ceaseless flow of the season continues along: trees are beginning to turn a deep golden colour, standing out against azure skies. In another week, it will be perfect to go for a stroll in the aspen groves nearby: the temperatures now are ideal for an afternoon stroll.

  • It’s a little bewildering as to how quickly time’s flown by; this is likely a consequence of work, although this also means that I now look forwards to weekends with double the appreciation as I did during my time as a student. Yesterday, I had a chance to attend the Illuminasia festival at the zoo: under a cool and clear evening skies, I was able to watch several Chinese performances and see the meticulously-constructed paper lanterns around the zoo. A piping-hot cup of hot cocoa rounded off the evening, and today, I spent most of it going through DOOM.

  • Back in The Hunt For Red October, the sabateur, revealed to be Loginov, a cook, opens fire and wounds Borodin before fleeing into the missile bay with the intent of launching a missile and sinking the Red October in the process. During a tense standoff in the labyrinthine quarters, Ramius is wounded, but Ryan manages to kill Loginov before the latter could destroy the missiles.

  • I have no doubt in my mind that, had the submarine crews of The Hunt For Red October been assigned to immobilise the Musashi of Hai-Furi, they would have succeeded within a much shorter period than the Harekaze and its allies during the final battle. The logistics of how exactly the Blue Mermaids work in Hai-Furi notwithstanding, I found that the relative lack of world-building meant that numerous elements were poorly-expressed: I recall a particularly awful set of Tweets where someone claiming to be staff attempted to explain away modern aerodynamics and heavier-than-air flight.

  • The Red October faces one final threat: the Konovalov and its captain, Tupolev. One of Ramius’ former students, Tupolev both admires and despises Ramius, making it a point to personally sink the Red October to demonstrate the might of the Soviet system. By capitalising on the arming distance for the Soviet torpedoes, however, the Red October escapes destruction from a direct hit.

  • A second torpedo fired from the Konovalov is set with no arming distance in order to avoid a repeat of the first torpedo, but skilful maneuvering from the Red October results in the second torpedo impacting the Konovalov, sinking it. In the novel, Red October rams the Konovalov broadside, suffering damage to its hull but otherwise sinking it all the same. Either way, the final threat is ended, and thus, the stories enter their denouement.

  • Back on the surface, the rescued Soviet sailors watch as an explosion breaks the surface, leading them to believe that the Red October has been destroyed. The Red October’s fate is not mentioned in the movie or in the novel, but Tom Clancy makes an aside in The Cardinal of the Kremlin, where it’s revealed that the Red October was analysed extensively. Its technology was reverse-engineered, and the vessel was then sunk in a remote ocean basin to minimise the odds of its wreck being discovered.

  • Like my Pure Pwnage: Teh Movie review, one of the greatest challenges faced during the acquisition of photographs for this post was to find those that were not blurred. Live action photographs can be quite difficult to capture when movement is involved, in comparison to anime screenshots, and I needed to go through some sections, frame by frame, to pick those with the least amount of blurring.

  • Despite the vast disparities in terms of emotional tenour and technical detail between Hai-Furi and The Hunt For Red October, I nonetheless enjoyed the former for the elements that it was able to execute well. Even at present, I’m not sure why some individuals are so vociferous about an anime when such a wide selection of more technical, fully fleshed out stories are available for enjoyment.

  • When Ramius cites Christopher Columbus, Ryan responds with a cordial “Welcome to the New World, sir”.This brings the movie, and this post, to a close: intended to partially be a discussion of the movie and, partially be a rebuttal to dispel any remaining notions that it is reasonable to expect Hai-Furi to match the same standards as The Hunt For Red October, it marks the second time I’ve done a review for a live-action film. Upcoming posts will include my impressions of DOOM after the halfway point, and later this month, a talk on New Game! once its finale is out. As well, I’m planning on reviewing Rick and Morty‘s first season at some point in the very near future, now that I’m only one episode from finishing (consider that I started watching during May 2014).

Hai-Furi will likely be consigned to oblivion within a year’s time, but The Hunt For Red October remains immediately recognisable and has been counted as a timeless film: its narrative and capacity to keep audiences guessing is masterfully executed even some twenty six years after its release. Coupled with a fantastic soundtrack from Basil Poledouris (whose Prokofiev-esque “Hymn to Red October” summarises the entire tenour in The Hunt For Red October completely), The Hunt For Red October was an absolute joy to watch. With its wonderfully detailed presentation of the hardware and depiction of competent naval staff for both sides, The Hunt For Red October is able to connect the significance of every character’s actions with respect to the bigger picture. These aspects result in a film that remains quite memorable and definitely worth watching, and on a similar note, Tom Clancy’s novel is likewise a solid read. With both the novel and film finished on my end, I’ve set my sights on reading Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, which is set outside of the Jack Ryan universe and deals with a third World War fought entirely with conventional weapons. I’ve heard that there is a fantastic section dealing with armoured warfare and that the novel satisfactorily captures old Soviet military doctrine such that Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy was motivated by Tom Clancy’s works to some extent.