The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tag Archives: Movie

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.

Pure Pwnage Teh Movie: Review and Reflection

“Maybe one day, I’ll inspire so many people to help so many other people suck less, there will be no suck left in the whole world.” —Jeremy, aka teh_pwnerer

With the occasional Pure Pwnage reference I make here and there in my other reviews, it should come as no surprise that I would take an interest to the Pure Pwnage film, dubbed Pure Pwnage Teh Movie: announced back in September 2012 and released in January 2016 (I was in Kelowna assisting with a The Giant Walkthrough Brain performance for UBC Okanagan the night the movie première back home), Pure Pwnage Teh Movie aspired to be the gamer movie that captured the spirit of gaming. Originally a web-based mockumentary on gamer culture, Pure Pwnage‘s earliest videos were characterised by over-the-top, hilarious takes on what life as a gamer is like: captured through Kyle (Geoff Lapire)’s perspective, Pure Pwnage follows the misadventures of Jeremy (Jarett Cale) and Doug (Joel Gardiner) as they interact with both the gaming and real worlds. A TV series was also created but was later cancelled: the web universe generally was met with greater acclaim, so in filming the movie, the creators decided to capture the spirit present in the web series as best as they could, and Pure Pwnage Teh Movie winds up meeting expectations: its been some ten years since Jeremy and Doug have last picked up a controller or pwned someone with a keyboard and mouse. Both are working, but when Kyle decides the time is ripe to produce a film and wishes to bring back the Jeremy and Doug of the web series, he finds out that Jeremy has settled in to life in the real world. However, not everything as it seems: it turns out that Jeremy’s been longing to do something beyond accounting. Rejoining the world of gaming, Jeremy’s surprised at how much games have changed in the past ten years. Things are more team-oriented now, and Jeremy must learn to be an effective team player. While he is able to lead a team to the world championship for a League of Legends tournament, Jeremy discovers that it’s ultimately not about winning, money or fame, but rather, it’s the spirit of friendship, cooperation and being true to oneself that truly matters.

Pure Pwnage Teh Movie rightfully earns its place as a comedy film about gamers: this movie is characterised by outrageous imagery and dialogue, whether it be Jeremy applying his über-micro towards working more effectively at his desk job or Doug smashing up a keyboard in frustration when he dies in Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The movie consistently delivers humour throughout its run, and fans who are familiar with Pure Pwnage will note that many of the elements that made Pure Pwnage‘s web series make a return in some from or another in Pure Pwnage Teh Movie (at one point, when Jeremy takes off, Doug chases after him but grabs a kitchen knife first, reasoning that “you run faster with a knife”). Similarly, in preparation for the competition, Jeremy decides that, given that the South Koreans are the greatest gamers on the planet, the only way he will reach their level of proficiency is to “breath the same air” and “eat the same food” as they do, dining on Korean cuisine and training as he imagines Koreans would. This particular aspect mirrors the legendary training scene during the web series where Jeremy trains under teh_masterer to further his skills after losing to a n00b. This is a movie that will bring smiles to gamers at all turns. While it is a fantastic caricature of gaming culture and non-gamers may find some of the jokes or references difficult to follow at times, but the film is reasonably friendly towards audiences as a whole, presenting a coherent story about Jeremy’s journey to understand what he really wants from life.

In spite of its prominent comedy aspects, Pure Pwnage has always managed to fit in life lessons into its seemingly frivolous narrative. The web series suggested that one must be willing to work hard in order to succeed (“it’s those people who are better than you that make you get better, you know? You gotta just put your nose down, you gotta work harder, you gotta train harder, you know? And you gotta think about that guy so, next time you meet, you’re gonna walk up to him and say ‘you know what? I’m gonna kick your ass!’, and then you do!”), be humble about one’s ability and never become complacent (“you don’t wanna be like all pro up in people’s faces, right, ‘cuz sometimes, you start thinking that you’re probably better than you actually are, and when that happens you start to lose focus, right? Next thing you know, you’re losing to a n00b”) or to be multi-disciplinary in order to adapt to different situations (“If one is to truly pwn, one must pwn in all games”). Pure Pwnage Teh Movie brings these subtle messages back in different forms. The one of major themes in the movie is that a team is only successful if its members cooperate: Jeremy, having played independently for such great lengths, is unfamiliar with working with his teammates to win, but with some tips from Doug, manages to be a better team player. Similarly, when Jeremy’s stubbornness nearly costs him the world championship, it’s Doug, understanding what friendship means, who returns to help Jeremy out. Overall, the main theme in Pure Pwnage is that happiness arises from being true to oneself: Jeremy is not truly happy with his job and returns to gaming, but when he goes pro, he realises that teamwork is a challenge for him. When given a chance to lead a team and sponsor a product, Jeremy decides that in the end, he merely wants to be true to himself, doing what he’s good at under his own terms. He tells Kyle that the film should happen on Kyle’s term’s (rather than the studio’s), and decides to play in the championships, because he wants to, not because he’s here to showcase a new piece of technology. In the end, this is the main message that Pure Pwnage Teh Movie truly seeks to convey: more often than not, people follow paths and careers because it’s what others want, losing sight of what they themselves want in the pursuit of satisfying someone else’s ideals. However, for those who are bold enough to remain faithful to themselves (and put in the effort to make their dreams a reality), the end results can be very gratifying. In Jeremy’s case, he wins the tournament with Doug’s help and goes on to use the winnings to start his own gaming school, where the goal is to make the world suck less and inspire others to do the same.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This is my first time doing a full-sized review of a live action feature film in the blog’s entire history: the Skyfall review I wrote back in 2012 was smaller in scale and scope. Boasting thirty images, I encountered some difficulty in distilling out which moments to feature in the talk, since the entire movie, from start to finish, was one hell of a riot.

  • From the writers, the movie is a direct follow-up to the web series: by this point in time, both Doug and Jeremy have full-time employment at an unspecified firm. Jeremy is working s an accountant of some sort, and Doug seems to be involved in various jobs around the office, ranging from mail delivery to window cleaning (both tasks, he performs with the zeal of someone who is one with the first person shooter).

  • Jarett Cale admittedly resembles our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in physical appearance. Pure Pwnage Teh Movie is a Canadian-produced film, although through the movie, it should be clear that not all Canadians are hockey experts who live in igloos and eat copious amounts of maple syrup: here, Doug and Jeremy have bacon-and-kale salads for dinner while discussing technical tax terms that I have no understanding of. As Doug says, the bacon offsets the kale, making for a perfect (“strange” seems more appropriate, though) combination.

  • A parody of modern augmented reality devices, the XOBO is leaps and bounds further ahead than anything that currently exists: it’s supposedly able to read neural impulses and use those to control the UI. The closest we have at present is the Microsoft HoloLens, and my old research lab has acquired a device for development purposes. I’ve used the HoloLens, and it is an incredible experience.

  • Throughout the earlier scenes, Jeremy is taking an inordinate number of pills, and although their effects are never specified, it appears that they slow down Jeremy enough, allowing him to focus on the present. So, when Kyle takes the pills away, Jeremy suddenly realises that everything around him seems to suck, causing him to create a ruckus at his workplace and becomes fired in the process.

  • Jeremy and Doug later return to their old lifestyles and habits: here, they bring back the old RTS vs FPS debate while taking a stroll around the neighbourhood. In the web series, Jeremy and Doug have their differences with respect to which genre of game requires more skill. Jeremy argues that RTS requires more skill in demanding players keep track of multiple events and actions at once, while Doug contends that FPS is superior, boiling down to how well one knows the environment and tools needed for victory.

  • Anastasia (Miranda Plant) makes a few cameo appearances in the film here and there. In the web series, she briefly dated Jeremy but the two broke up near the finale. Jeremy and Anastasia appear on amicable terms in the movie and here, she remarks that Jeremy quitting his job might allow him to begin pursing the things he loves.

  • So, for the first little while, Jeremy and Doug spend their days playing games: a few modern titles, including Street Fighter IV and Counter Strike: Global Offensive make an appearance. Bringing back old memories of Doug smashing his keyboard in a rage after dying to lag, Doug tears up a keyboard after losing in CS:GO. Long accustomed to Doug’s outrageous actions, Jeremy calmly hands Doug a new keyboard.

  • Gaming in and of itself is a hobby, but there are professional competitions that result in payouts for participants who are successful. Jeremy is surprised to learn that competitions are team-based; this stands in contrast to his background as a gamer, as he is most comfortable with playing and winning on his own. This would suggest that Jeremy’s instructor, teh_masterer (a mysterious gamer clad in ninja attire), does not place particular value on teamwork and therefore did not cover it in Jeremy’s training during the web series.

  • Thus, while trying to recruit members for his team, Jeremy runs into considerable roadblocks and constantly tears down his teammates for not playing flawlessly to his standard. It’s ultimately Doug who provides Jeremy some suggestions and pointers for being a more effective leader. With this, Jeremy finally manages to work with his team and train with them in preparation for their first tournament.

  • I personally value self-sufficiency to a very high extent, but in my professional life, I understand the importance of good teamwork and communication: a large majority of humanity’s greatest achievements arise from the result of teamwork, and working independently (such as my graduate work) presents numerous obstacles that might be handled more effectively while working in a group of people.

  • This screenshot captures a sizeable crowd at one of the competitions: such crowds were never depicted in the web series, and the largest competition was the Lanageddon event held in Calgary’s Bowness Community Center during 2005. I visited the venue for myself a few summers ago during the Omatsuri festival (a redundancy, but that’s what it’s called), taking in some of the Japanese community’s cultural events and food in the area.

  • When Jeremy discovers that Kyle’s taken his pills (directly precipitating the movie’s events), he tears up the scrip and resolves to get his job back. This scene remains one of my favourite in the entire movie: Jeremy lectures Kyle on how his actions are for drama, prompting Kyle to go with it. Kyle suggests that Jeremy continue where it’s brighter, so Jeremy counters by moving to a darker spot. When Kyle says he’ll turn up the ISO, Jeremy retorts that he’ll turn down the ISO, even though this is not possible on his end.

  • ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor, and turning it up results in camera gain, but as Jeremy predicts, his actions result in camera lose: it turns out that the movie’s gone overbudget, lost its main protagonist and failed to deliver the romance component. As a result, the company backing the film takes the rights to production and filming.

  • This is perhaps the only R-rated moment in the entire film, when Jeremy decides to expose himself on camera in protest that someone else is filming Pure Pwnage Teh Movie. The TV series had a few moments that were censored, while the web series was careful to ensure that everything remained 14A. I encountered some difficult in capturing screenshots for the movie because, unlike anime or games, there’s a great deal of motion blur, but I did manage to get a good spread of screenshots that capture some of the movie’s spirits.

  • Another director, Mike, is assigned to look after the movie.Here, Kyle and Mike fight over filming Jeremy, slinging insults at one another about notions of pedestrian and the F-stop. It turns out that Jeremy is not conducive to having someone else film him.

  • With some encouragement from Dave, and Jeremy’s background in accounting, Kyle agrees to Jeremy’s request that Pure Pwnage Teh Movie should not involved anything scripted, and simply, “just let stuff happen”.

  • With this new take on the movie, another aspect from the web series is brought back to life in Pure Pwnage Teh Movie: in the first season, Jeremy loses to a n00b and seeks teh_masterer for additional training. After succeeding in convincing teh_masterer that he is indeed ready, he trains in a variety of unorthodox ways, ranging from practising his micro in an empty room with nothing but a keyboard, jogging and executing shoryuken in real life, or eating rice with a Nintendo controller in a scene mirroring that seen in Kill Bill.

  • I love the shots of Jeremy walking down the streets of Toronto, showcasing the different areas of inner Toronto. Here, Jeremy steps into a Korean restaurant and explains that in order to best a Korean at video games, he must immerse himself in their ways. Scenes of him learning to eat (and eventually mastering) Korean food are interspersed with training scenes and Jeremy’s infamous monitor dance.

  • I watched Pure Pwnage Teh Movie on my flight back nearly two weeks ago, and found it to be the polar opposite of When Marnie Was There: whereas the latter is emotionally charged, Pure Pwnage Teh Movie delivers nonstop humour, and I could not stop smiling on my flight back home. The evening I got back, I had dinner at a Cantonese restaurant that served excellent dishes, including sweet and sour pork that was clearly grilled. The next day, I visited the Stampede for the free admissions and pancake breakfast, then walked the midway before having a smoked meat poutine, plus a deep-fried whole onion with chipotle sauce for lunch. Carnaval food is absolutely delicious but also ridiculously unhealthy.

  • Jeremy’s infamous victory dances are a critical part of Pure Pwnage, and it was most definitely welcome to see them (taking the form of Jeremy humping and spanking the monitor or controller of whatever device he’s using to pwn) make a return in the movie. I intend to upload a .gif of this happening somewhere and use it as my default response to whenever something hilarious happens (such as when a certain onee-sama got banned at an anime forum I frequent).

  • Like the web series, whether or not the training actually happens is left ambiguous: in the web series, Jeremy is found sleeping a most uncomfortable sleep on the floor after seemingly overcoming teh_masterer in a micro battle as the final phase of his training, and in the movie, he’s asleep at the keyboard at the internet café he’s training in. In both cases, I imagine that the training did indeed happens, since the sessions do appear to have a non-trivial impact on improving his performance.

  • Jeremy meets Charles, the CEO of the company behind the XOBO. A collected, laid-back businessman, he convinces Jeremy to be the face of XOBO and participate in the international competition. He assures that by backing XOBO’s branding, regardless of how the actual tournament ends, he will be paid handsomely for his troubles, and Jeremy agrees.

  • It turns out that the team he will be playing with is the same team that he had won with in the local tournaments, and in the competition’s opening stages, they proceed to demolish all teams they go against on virtue of skill in League of Legends. I’m not sure how well I’d fare in League of Legends, myself, given that I’ve never been able to motivate myself to play the game and learn its mechanics closely. Like Doug, I prefer shooters.

  • Like Anthem of the Heart, it would be quite vapid if Jeremy and his team waltzed through the tournament without any drama: similar to how Takumi’s revelation that he does not see Jun in a romantic light threatens to derail their performance, Jeremy’s remarks about Shawn being “friendzoned”, leading Emma to leave the team. This particular aspect of social interactions is one that is remarkably complex and therefore, difficult to discuss in a single figure caption (or several), so I will not explore it in greater detail in this post.

  • The new XOBO is lighter than the older model, and Jeremy has an epiphany here, realising that after everything he’s seen, it’s not really about cool stuff or money bringing people together, but rather, it’s about people coming close to one another because they share a passion (for gaming, in this case). Understanding that he’s made a mistake, he accepts that he might lose the competition and proceeds to begin the final match against the South Koreans.

  • Disappointed at Jeremy’s decisions, Doug decides to leave the tournament and return home. However, he has a change of heart, and right as Jeremy’s team is about to fold, he returns to fight in Emma’s place. When Jeremy asks him why he’d made this decision, Doug replies it’s simply because they’re best friends. This marks another theme of the movie: friends don’t expect favours to be returned, but rather, are simply there for one another when things get difficult.

  • Their combined offensive allows Jeremy to win the tournament and the associated prize money, and in the process, Jeremy and Doug reconcile. This has been a longstanding theme throughout the web series, and to see it reinforced again in the film is a reminder that despite their differences in beliefs and preferences for games, Doug and Jeremy exemplify the sort of bond that best friends have with one another. Of course, it wouldn’t be Pure Pwnage without comedy: while the message here is profound in the aftermath of Jeremy’s triumph, the writers mange to work in another moment for laughs.

  • It turns out that Kyle forgot to load fresh batteries into his camera for the tournament and runs out, leaving Jeremy to explain what’s happened. In contrast with the Harekaze sinking for no apparent reason in Hai Furi‘s finalePure Pwnage Teh Movie appropriately uses an unexpected twist to further reinforce an idea: here, it’s that the movie is supposed to be comical in nature. With his prize money, Jeremy decides to open a gaming school and make the world suck just a little less. He’s also back together with Anastasia now, and remarks that many things also happen off-camera that didn’t make it into the film, mirroring reality.

  • As such, when the end credits begin to roll, I found Pure Pwnage Teh Movie to meet expectations for what I had been looking for in the movie: it brings back the elements that made the web series entertaining and scales the narrative up to work in a movie format. In fact, although this might be an “apples and oranges” comparison for some, I would tend to think that Pure Pwnage Teh Movie succeeds in presenting a larger story on the silver screen more effectively than Girls und Panzer Der Film did: unlike Girls und PanzerPure Pwnage Teh Movie manages to keep anticipation high and suspense palatable throughout its run, leading me to constantly ask myself “what will happen next?” Overall, this movie was superbly enjoyable, and I have no trouble recommending this film for gamers. For those wondering how this movie relates to those interested in anime, there is a model of Char’s Sazabi somewhere in the movie, and I’ll let interested viewers try and find it (hint: it’s not featured in any of the screenshots).

While it’s been more than ten years since Pure Pwnage first was posted to the internet, Pure Pwnage Teh Movie has lost none of its efficacy in both conveying a sense of humour, as well as integrating a rather compelling reminder about being true to oneself. It’s a film that I enjoyed immensely, bringing Pure Pwnage into the modern age, complete with Jeremy’s transition from an older gaming culture to one that’s more widespread and occurring at a greater scale. In Pure Pwnage Teh Movie, some of the moments served to remind me of why the old web series was such a phenomenal watch, while at other points, one must marvel at the scale at which some things happen, especially with regards to the tournaments themselves. The web series was done with a much smaller budget, at a much smaller scale, but the different tournaments and competitions in Pure Pwnage Teh Movie illustrate that the writers can effectively tell a bigger story with a bigger budget. In spite of this increase in scale, however, Pure Pwnage Teh Movie remains true to its own theme and true to its origins: it is a comedy about gamers, first and foremost, providing a humourous take on a hobby and community that’s only really begun to become more widely known. Pure Pwnage Teh Movie easily earns a strong recommend from me (I am a gamer and relate fully to all of the jokes), and even for audiences who are not gamers, this movie still earns a strong recommendation for being able to weave in a solid narrative and theme together with consistently good comedy.

 

When Marnie Was There: Movie Review and Full Recommendation

“When you grow as old as I am you can’t any longer say this was someone’s fault, and that was someone else’s. It isn’t so clear when you take a long view. Blame seems to lie everywhere. Or nowhere. Who can say where unhappiness begins?” ― Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There

Released two summers ago, When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mānī, literally “[My] Memories of Marnie”) is a film adaptation of Joan G. Robinson’s novel of the same name. Twelve-year-old Anna Sasaki is uneasy with the fact that her foster parents receive government compensation to raise her and is afflicted by asthma. After a particularly debilitating asthma attack, she spends her summer at a coastal town to live with her relatives with the aim of easing her asthma. While she’s here, she becomes enamoured with a seemingly abandoned seaside manor. She encounters Marnie, an enigmatic girl who asks Anna to keep her existence quiet from others, and as the two spend more time with one another, Anna comes to learn more about her past and eventually, accepts her foster parents fully. Produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli, I believe that this is my first shot at reviewing one of their films: their movies masterfully weave a narrative that holds the viewer’s interest. They further capture the subtle and plain emotions in its scenes, making full use of audio and visual elements to convey a particular mood or atmosphere to strengthen the story, and each of their films have rendered me speechless. This is partially why up until now, I’ve not written about any of the Ghibli films, but When Marnie Was There succeeded in changing that: I watched this film on the first leg of my flight to Cancún, and was failing in all attempts to stem the tears at the film’s conclusion. In being able to capture the strength of Anna’s realisation of who Marnie is, as well as her acceptance of her foster parents and their love for her, When Marnie Was There prompted me to wonder: what about the film makes it so powerful?

So I answer myself, the magic of When Marnie Was There lies entirely within Anna’s journey of self-discovery and how this is intimately tied to her friendship with Marnie. Marnie presents herself as simultaneously being quite similar and different to Anna: Marnie is envious of Anna’s freedom, while Anna longs for a family. As Marnie and Anna spend more time with one another, the once-introverted Anna begins to open up and grows to appreciate Marnie’s companionship, learning of the joys and frustrations that accompany friendship. However, one aspect critical to any friendship is trust, and as Anna attempts to learn more about Marnie, she finds herself encountering inconsistencies: the shore mansion is in fact becoming the new home for Sayaka and her family. Sayaka and Anna are brought together by Marnie’s diary, and its entries suggest that Marnie pre-dates their current time period. Conversation with Hisaki, a painter in the area, finally clarify that Marnie would go on to marry Kazuhiko and had a child, Emily. After Kazuhiko’s death, Marnie was institutionalised and Emily was sent to a boarding school; Emily would grow to resent Marnie for never acting as a proper mother and later had a child of her own. When Emily and her husband perish in an accident, Marnie looks after the child until her death. It turns out that this child is Anna: in perhaps a rather strange fashion, Anna’s grandmother can be seen as looking after her even from beyond the veil, helping her learn the value of friendship and understand her foster parents’ circumstances. By the time Anna is set to leave the town, she’s befriended Sayaka and resolves to get along better with some of the girls from the area. These changes in Anna’s character are profound and quite moving, illustrating the extent that friendship can induce growth in individuals.

While Marnie’s impact on Anna is undeniable, one of the largest questions that doubtlessly remain is whether or not Marnie is indeed interacting with Anna together. Throughout the movie, the narrative keeps the audience guessing: is Marnie a benevolent spirit, a doll brought to life by magic or merely a figment of Anna’s imagination, brought on by the seemingly boundless tranquillity of the seaside town? The answer can be derived with a little bit of thinking (and mine is provided below in the figure captions), but because When Marnie Was There chooses to leave this facet unanswered, the implications are that how real Marnie is less relevant to the narrative: the story is about Anna and how her time in a quiet town leads her to discover friendship. By all definitions, this excursion is successful, and ultimately, Anna leaves her summer accepting who she is, understanding her foster parent’s situations and looking forwards to returning to spend time with Sayaka in future summers. In doing so, When Marnie Was There further aims to show that a rustic, quiet region far removed from the hectic, manic environment of the city can play a substantial role in helping individuals journey within themselves. As an increasing proportion of people now live in urbanised regions rather than rural areas, people are gradually losing their appreciation for the quiet of the countryside. In providing an incredibly detailed depiction of the town that Anna stays in, When Marnie Was There paints an idyllic picture of what life in a rural area can be like: far removed from the bustle of a city, the countryside is quiet and the perfect place for adventures that can shape the course of one’s life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As a movie review, I’ve opted to go with the larger format with thirty images, although it was difficult to succintly capture every detail in When Marnie Was There in such a small space. Anna is seen here after a particularly nasty asthma attack: it’s a condition characterised by inflammation of the airways, resulting in coughing and a shortness of breath. Although there is no cure, milder cases can be easily managed.

  • To help Anna recover, she’s sent to live with Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa, relatives of her foster parents’. As they reside in a remote seaside village, the air here is cleaner. This form of treatment is reminiscent of the approaches used during the late 1800s and early 1900s to treat tuberculosis: at the time, it was thought that mountain air would slow the disease, resulting in the construction of secluded sanitoriums. These were shut down following the development of antibiotics. In the case of asthma, while bronchodilator medication is available, trigger avoidance is in fact a commonly-used form of management.

  • The Oiwas welcome Anna into their home; they have a daughter of their own but she’s pursuing studies elsewhere, leaving her room free for Anna to use. Cozy and inviting, the interior of the Oiwa residence and numerous other locales in When Marnie Was There are rendered in great detail: Studio Ghibli’s latest films are among the few that stand toe-to-toe in comparison with the incredible level of detail seen in Makoto Shinkai’s films.

  • There’s a balcony outside of Anna’s room that overlooks the area. The town is said to be located somewhere between Nemuro and Kushiro of the Hokkaido prefecture; Anna is from Sapporo. Incidentally, ALIFE XVI is set to take place in Japan next year, with Sapporo and Tokyo being two of the cities under consideration for where the conference is to be hosted.

  • Shortly after arriving, Anna finds an old mansion on the edge of a cliff, across a salt marsh. At low tide, she’s able to traverse it quite easily, making her way through the shallow waters to reach the mansion on the other side.

  • Upon arriving, she finds that the mansion is deserted, as quiet as Wayne Manor during the events of The Dark Knight Rises, but nonetheless feels that the location seems familiar to her. As the afternoon wears on, the tide returns, trapping her. She’s rescued by Toichi, a fisherman and a man of few words: during her transit back to the mainland, she sees the mansion occupied and in fine condition for the briefest of moments.

  • I’m always fond of watching the small details in any given anime directed at the rendering of food. As the Oiwas and Anna settle down for dinner, I recall last week; I attended the Calgary Stampede and woke up at 0600 despite having just gotten home from the ALIFE Conference the previous evening. This year, the cooler and rainy weather reduced the attendee count, but last week was still reasonably lively. After walking the grounds, I stopped for lunch: a Montréal smoked meat poutine (which never ceases to impress me how they use large chunks of smoked meat rather than slicing it thinly), a colossal fried onion with chipotle sauce and later, deep-fried cheesecake.

  • Monday was the start of my work week. I’ve been working part-time since May began, but now that my defense is done, I’m working full-time. This accounts for why I’ve not put out more posts since I’ve returned; I’m presently still trying to settle into (read “optimising”) my schedule, so it’s been a little difficult to figure out when I can blog.

  • The Tanabata Festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month (by the lunar calendar) in Japan. Besides festival events, making wishes is a tradition: they are written on strips of paper and hung on bamboo known as “wish trees”. Unlike The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, which was significant in-universe because this is when Haruhi technically meets Kyon for the first time, Tanabata in When Marnie Was There serves as the backdrop for Anna’s first real meeting with Marnie after the former leaves the festival following a heated exchange with Nobuko Kadoya.

  • Anna’s self-loathing derives from her total lack of understanding of her origins: her blue eyes stand out and constantly remind her that she has no family. Blue eyes in East Asians without a Caucasian ancestor are possible but incredibly rare (someone would probably have albinism if they do not have any Cacucasian ancestry whatsoever), and from a genetics perspective, the allele for blue eyes is recessive, whereas darker coloured eyes are dominant.

  • The next day, under one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in any movie, Marnie and Anna go for a picnic under the evening light. Here, Marnie teaches Anna to row properly. Voiced by Kasumi Arimura (Airi Katagiri of Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, which I’ve yet to watch but have heard good things about), there’s a quality about Marnie’s speech that makes it appealing to listen to. Kasumi’s voice here is somewhat similar with Akari of Five Centimeters per Second, who was voiced by Yoshimi Kondō.

  • In a scene reminiscent of the “I’m Flying” scene from James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, Marnie climbs to the bow of the boat and stands up, extending her arms  in the same fashion as Rose does. In most large vessels, the bow is deliberately cordoned off for the passenger’s safety, so couples won’t be able to re-enact the scene as shown in Titanic.

  • Later in the evening, Marnie and Anna share a conversation under starlight, asking questions about one another. When Marnie asks about life at the Oiwa residence, Anna blanks out for a few moments, and to Marnie, appears to have fallen through the space-time continuum. This is the first occurrence that suggests the flow of time and the consistency of reality in When Marnie Was There is not that it seems to be.

  • After Anna returns, Marnie decides to take her to a party hosted at the mansion, where folks are ornately dressed in evening attire, conversing about whichever topics are befitting of society’s upper echelons. Anna plays the role of a flower girl at Marnie’s request, but shyness overtakes her and she flees. She downs a glass of wine here, initially unaware that it’s wine. During the course of my travels in Cancún, I discovered that I’m okay with cocktails, so perhaps there’s something about beer that I’m not able to process.

  • Marnie and Anna share a dance under the moonlight following Marnie’s dance with Kazuhiko. After the party, Anna is found asleep near the post office with no recollection of how she got there. The reality of Marnie’s existence remains a question throughout When Marnie Was There, although it is my opinion that this aspect is not explored further because it’s not directly important to the main story.

  • Differentiating what is reality in When Marnie Was There can be a bit of a challenge, but some scenes plainly happen in reality: here, Anna has breakfast with the Oiwas. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was eyeing the NVIDIA GTX 1070 as a replacement for my aging card (mainly so I can play DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided The Way It’s Meant To Be Played™), but I later learned that mid-range, more affordable GTX 1060 will be releasing in two day’s time. I’m sticking to 1080p gaming for the foreseeable future, and on second thought, I don’t think I can justify buying a 600 dollar video card just for two games, so I’m now going to try and purchase the GTX 1060. The smaller price point and (near) 980 performance means this card should be more than enough for what I’m looking to do with it.

  • This interior shot of the Oiwa’s kitchen provides yet another example of how detailed interiors in When Marnie Was There are: the only other animated features with this level of detail comes from Makoto Shinkai’s movies. His latest film, Kimi no na wa, is set to release on August 26. The film was shown in advance at Anime Expo on July 3, but for the time being, it seems that discussion has been fairly limited at my usual haunts. The lack of spoilers is welcome, and I look forwards to checking this one out for myself in a little more than a month.

  • Hisako is an elderly lady living in the area who paints the landscapes around the town. She’s impressed with Anna’s sketches, despite Anna’s own dissatisfaction: from an external perspective, Anna is quite skilled with a pencil and manages to produce some excellent artwork of the mansion, as well as profiles of Marnie.

  • Sayaka is a girl who movies in to the Marsh House with her family. She wonders if Anna is Marnie, given the diary she’s found, and in a strange twist, the diary’s contents line up totally with everything Anna’s experienced up until now. Sayaka’s addition to the narrative throws an additional wrench into things, making it difficult to ascertain how Marnie is interacting with Anna, but because Anna and Sayaka both are intrigued by Marnie, their shared curiosity allows Anna to befriend Sayaka.

  • On a particularly fine day, Anna and Marnie hike through the woods: Marnie’s versed in outdoorsman skills to some extent and is munching on a wild mushroom here after ascertaining which of the two are safe to eat. As per Les Stroud’s Survivorman, mushrooms can be a bit of a gamble, so if one isn’t totally certain of a mushroom’s identity, it’s safer to not eat it. The mycotoxins are metabolites that have a range of effects, ranging from gastrointestinal discomfort in the mildest cases, to death.

  • Anna opens up fully to Marnie on their walk, explaining that she hates how her foster parents are being paid to look after her, and how she’s never really known her real parents. In turn, Marnie reveals that she makes her own life a little more fun than it is; her parents are hardly ever home, leaving the nanny and maids to frequently mistreat her, threatening to lock her in an abandoned grain silo near the mansion.

  • Thus, Anna resolves to help Marnie overcome her fear of the silo, and the two set out together. The skies darken, resembling the weather we’ve had for the past week. According to family and friends, the weather in Calgary’s been unpleasant since I left for Cancún, with frequent downpours, thunderstorms and even the odd funnel cloud recorded. The weather’s been so poor that the Calgary Stampede has offered reduced admission prices on consecutive days, although so far, they are still reporting that attendance has been down 80 000 people compared to last year.

  • Reality seems to distend here as Marnie flashes in and out of existence. Anna later finds her trapped and offers to walk her down, but Marnie is rescued by Kazuhiko. Feeling betrayed, Anna rushes home but succumbs to the storm’s ferocity and her own exhaustion. By this point, I personally think that the tranquility of the landscape and region, permeated with the strong memories from the Marsh House, creates a psychological landscape that imprints Marnie’s memories and experiences into Anna, who sees things from her dreams.

  • After locating the missing pages of the diary, Sayaka is able to deduce that Anna’s accompanying Marnie to the grain silo and locates Anna, collapsed along the path and sporting a fever. Sayaka and her brother help bring her back to the Oiwa residence, where she can recuperate. In her dreams, she meets with Marnie again, and in spite of herself, she manages to forgive her.

  • The next morning, Sayaka drops by to visit Anna. Thanks to Marnie’s memories, the two are able to meet and become friends, helping Anna overcome her mistrust of people. Sayaka and Anna share a conversation with Hisako, who tells the full story of the Marsh House and Marnie. Because Hisako seems to know Marnie well, I imagine that she’s the other girl that Marnie mentions in her diary.

  • It turns out that Anna is Marnie’s grand-daughter, which could account for why the area leaves such an impression on Anna. In a manner of speaking, When Marnie Was There is ultimately about how a grandmother helps guide her granddaughter along the path to understanding and recovery, as well as to help her discover friendship. Supernatural elements are completely absent from When Marnie Was There, but the final message remains a very moving one.

  • I imagine that Anna is able to experience particularly vivid dreams about Marnie as a consequence of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the area; coupled with the knowledge that Marnie told her numerous stories when Anna was a child, the combined sensory aspects would trigger her memories, resulting in Anna being able to experience things like the party and Marnie’s sojourn to the silo as though she was there for herself. Since I’m two years too late to the party, though, I wonder what folks who’d watched the movie back during 2014 have to say about this particular assessment.

  • Thus, with all loose ends resolved, Anna finally understands and accept that her foster parents love her as dearly as they would their own child: Anna calls Yoriko “mother” for the first time in the film, and becomes at peace with her situation. As the summer draws to a close, Anna bids farewell to Sayaka, promising to return again next summer and also makes amends with Nobuko.

  • I love the ending song (“Fine on the Outside” by Priscilla Ahn), as I completely relate to it. Now that I’m drawing close to the end of this review, it seems that I’ll probably be doing most of my blogging on the weekends as time permits. Coming up next will be a talk on Pure Pwnage Teh MovieAmanchu! after three episodes, the last of the Aria: The Avvenire OVAs and, when I finish, Yuuki Yuuna Is A HeroPure Pwnage Teh Movie will be fun to write about, and I’m looking forwards to seeing what happens next in Amanchu!

  • I’ve seen that the latest installment in Strike Witches (this appears to be the third season), Brave Witches, is set for release in October 2016. With around three-and-a-half months between today and then, I will have settled into my schedule for sure by then, and there might just be time for episodic reviews. For now, though, the weekend’s just about over, and it’s time for another work week to begin. I spent most of it working on the revisions to my thesis, but nonetheless, I’m now feeling (mostly) rested and with that being said, let’s get it!

Altogether, When Marnie Was There is a fantastic film from a narrative and technical perspective: this is a movie that earns a strong recommendation. I’ve heard from unverified sources that When Marnie Was There is going to be the last film that Studio Ghibli will produce; on the infinitesimal chance that this holds true, When Marnie Was There is a film that can act as a proper send-off for Studio Ghibli, weaving a wondrous story that remains grounded in reality. This film has motivated me to go read through Robinson’s original novel, which is set in Norfolk, England rather than Sapporo, Japan, but the overall plot is supposed to be quite similar. I will reiterate that this film is definitely worth watching for audiences of all ages and interests: there’s not much more I can really say about this spectacular film that proved to be a fantastic, if somewhat tear-inducing way of passing time during a flight. Next time, I’ll be a little wiser and watch a Studio Ghibli film from home on a large HD screen, although back on the ground, I doubt I will be able to use the excuse of air pressure differences as the reason for my tears.