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Regardless, Adolescence Doesn’t End, and Youth Continues On: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru Kan OVA Review and Reflection

“It’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.” –Louisa May Alcott

Some time after the prom, Hachiman and the remainder of the Service Club are unwinding. Komachi has become a student at the same secondary school and hangs out with them, and while Iroha is irate that the prom has given the student council no shortage of trouble with their budget, Hachiman has a dinner appointment with Yukino’s mother and sister. Yukino reassures Hachiman that the venue is casual, so a school uniform will be acceptable, but Komachi has the foresight of bringing a necktie along, just in case. During the dinner, Hachiman’s candid and blunt answers to the questions that Yukino’s mother impresses her, but when he hesitates in answering Haruno’s question about whether he and Yukino are dating, he unintentionally hurts Yukino in the process. Quite separately, Yui, Iroha and Komachi go out, and it turns out that Yui’s still got lingering feelings for Hachiman. During their conversation, Yui decides to stick it out and see if any chances present themselves in the future. After the seemingly disastrous evening that leaves Hachiman and Yukino dejected, Yui ends up asking Hachiman for a date of sorts. The two visit an aquarium, and Yui later admits that she still loves Hachiman, flaws and all. The next day, Hachiman picks up some sweets at Komachi’s behest as an apology to Yukino; Yukino states that actions like these are necessary the next time he and her mother will meet, and after Yukino hands out the sweets, she’s surprised when Yui takes a bite of the one she’s holding. Yui explains that she’s not given up yet, and that Yukino had better be prepared to fight to keep what’s hers. When the new club advisor arrives, the Service Club members arise to greet them. This is the Oregairu Kan OVA that accompanies the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch game; being a sequel to the third season of Oregairu, it portrays life in the Service Club following the new status quo that was established after Yukino returns Hachiman’s feelings, and beyond representing a chance to simply see all of the characters again, the Oregairu Kan OVA also takes opportunity of this time to show how much of a positive influence Komachi’s been on her older brother: now a student at Sōbu High School, Komachi is able to directly offer advice to Hachiman and also pushes Yui along. From having the foresight of bringing a necktie for Hachiman, to compelling Hachiman into buying sweets as an apology for having being tactless during a meeting with Yukino’s mother, it’s clear that now that Hachiman has accepted youth and all that it entails, he is making missteps, but fortunately, still has someone in his corner to guide him along as he explores new directions as a result of his nascent relationship with Yukino. In this way, the Oregairu Kan OVA gives viewers additional reassurance that he will have support moving into the future.

Within the Oregairu Kan OVA, the question of how Yui handles Hachiman’s decision is also shown. Yui had spent much of Oregairu trying to win over Hachiman, but Hachiman had initially turned her down, believing that Yui had misunderstood her feelings of gratitude towards him for saving her dog to be romantic interest. Since then, Yui has continued to persist, only to slowly realise that Hachiman had fallen in love with Yukino, and by the end of Oregairu Kan, she reluctantly accepts this outcome. In the OVA, however, Yui continues to hang out with Hachiman as a result of her request for the Service Club, and she ultimately reveals her game plan: if Yukino should ever reach a point where she and Hachiman are no longer viable, Yui intends to swoop in. Although there is a certain romance in this mode of thinking, and it is something that seems to keep Yui’s spirits up, Oregairu Kan‘s OVA also indicates that Yui is likely doomed to failure and disappointment if she persists down this road; Yukino’s feelings for Hachiman are such that she can forgive him for his mistakes, and with Komachi guiding her older brother so he acts accordingly, Hachiman’s clearly in good hands. The relationships in Oregairu have been a point of contention since the series’ beginning, with some people feeling that Yui was suited for Hachiman, and other suggesting that Yui was a home-wrecker. From a narrative standpoint, Yukino and Hachiman are the ideal couple simply because it is Yukino that imparts positive change in Hachiman. Yui, in spite of her personality, never does the same for Hachiman. For Yui, it will doubtless be difficult to let go of Hachiman and cling onto the hope that she still has a chance yet: the writing has long been on the wall, and denying the truth will only make the outcome more difficult. However, it’s not all pessimism, either; with Komachi a regular member of the Service Club, and Iroha’s frequent visits, having two reliable individuals to communicate with on a regular basis may also help Yui to find her footing and eventually move on; I do not doubt that someone of Yui’s temperament will remain eternally unlucky in finding love, and with the right encouragement, Oregairu Kan hints at how, because she has legitimate friends now, there will probably come a point where she will be able to find her own happiness, as well: unlike the original clique Yui previously hung out with, she’s now in the company of people who genuinely care for her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before I delve further into my own thoughts of the Oregairu Kan OVA, I will remark briefly that of the discussions I’ve seen, I have the distinct impression that the negativity surrounding the OVA comes from taking things at face value and misunderstanding that Yui’s feelings are still fresh; it is unreasonable to expect her to have gotten over losing Hachiman so quickly. One does need to read between the lines in order to see what the OVA says about Yui, and while I concede this can be hard to spot, the OVA does do a clear job of explaining why Yui will eventually make peace with what’s happened.

  • When Oregairu Kan concluded back in September 2020, I found myself immensely satisfied with the series’ outcomes: for me, the central aim had never been about who Hachiman would end up with, but rather, how his interactions with classmates, catalysed by Yukino and Yui, would push him in a direction where he would come to enjoy his youth, in spite of himself. This change in his perspective is central to Oregairu, and since the series presented this change as a positive, the outcome for Hachiman winds up being a satisfying one.

  • By the Oregairu Kan OVA, Komachi’s become a student at Sōbu High School, and she’s settled into life as a member of the Service Club to the point where she gets along well with everyone. When Komachi brings up cats, Yukino suddenly becomes very interested to see the photo, and this somehow ends up with Yukino petting Komachi. Komachi’s friendliness with the other members of Hachiman’s social circle, coupled with her social sense and willingness to guide Hachiman, means she’s able to get along with the others well. The fact that the OVA establishes this so early on is meant to show that, between his sister’s presence and own experiences, Hachiman’s future is going to be a little less hectic than it’d been previously.

  • While Oregairu is ultimately a positive series that shows how social interaction can improve one’s outlook on life and help them to open up to other people around them, there is a longstanding misconception that Oregairu is a psychological and sociological study of Japanese youth. This misconception originates from one “KirtZJ”, who believed that Oregairu was “some type of social, psychological genre” because it shows “the ability of teens forming social groups as a means of protection and sense of worth”. I disagree with this assessment because social structures and identity are not unique to Oregairu – any time a story involves more than two persons, social interactions are present.

  • Because of KirtZJ’s misunderstanding, the Wikipedia episode summaries for the first two seasons gives the impression that Oregairu is an impenetrable fog to anyone outside of sociology. The reality is more friendly: there is nothing intrinsically academic or inaccessible about Oregairu. This is because Oregairu is intended to act as a commentary on sociological models, rather than a case study; Hachiman’s journey is characterised by his own internal assumptions slowly being proven wrong over time as he interacts with others. As his time with the Service Club continues, it becomes clear to him that there is decreasing merit in what he’d once thought, and this change leads him to turn around and accept youth more wholeheartedly.

  • Consequently, academic models of things as varied as shunning, group cohesion and social judgement theory cannot be used to reliably analyse Hachiman’s choice of actions; while Hachiman originally believes that he is able to observe people and make decisions accordingly, his decisions occasionally have unintended side effects, and club advisor Shizuka wished that he would also think of himself before actioning something. As Oregairu continued, the people around him eventually persuade Hachiman to solve problems in a more tactful way, and along the way, Hachiman would develop a stronger bond with his peers, one where he would try to consider the consequences of a choice before acting. When conveyed in this fashion, Oregairu isn’t overwhelmingly complex or challenging at all from a thematic perspective.

  • The appropriate course of action here would be to remove all of the internal links in Wikipedia’s Oregairu episode summaries to their corresponding sociological and psychological articles, rendering the episode summaries easier to understand. While this would doubtlessly benefit readers, I imagine that such an action would be met with fierce resistance – even today, some folks still believe that anime only has legitimacy when one can ascribe academic principles to its story or characters. I’ve long heard from readers who disagree with this as I do, and as such, I occasionally find myself curious to hear from folks who believe otherwise, that academia should necessarily be present in discussions about a given show. Back in Oregairu Kan‘s OVA, Komachi clings to Iroha, who’s trying to leave and get some work done: Komachi is worried that Hachiman might ditch his upcoming date with Yukino, which entails meeting her mother in a more formal setting.

  • Iroha, on the other hand, is concerned that, since Hachiman tends to be quite blunt, he may get into a verbal altercation, but Yui is confident that at worst, things will simply become awkward between the two. The fact that Yui knows Hachiman and Yukino so well impresses Iroha and Komachi, who remark that she’s practically a goddess in this regard. During this whole scene, it was quite nostalgic to see Nao Tōyama (Yui), Ayane Sakura (Iroha) and Aoi Yūki (Komachi) present: Oregairu has an all-star cast, and while I didn’t really appreciate this back when I first started, years of watching anime has meant that over time, I’ve picked up my own personal favourites.

  • Oregairu had marked the first time I saw Takuya Eguchi (Loid Forger) and Saori Hayami (Yor Forger) together in lead roles. Because of the choice of casting, I can imagine that for Eguchi and Hayami, it’d be just like old times when it comes to voicing Spy × Family‘s lead characters: Loid and Yor play the role of a married coupled with the intention of enrolling Anya into the Eden Academy for Operation Strix in Spy × Family, and the chemistry between Eguchi and Hayami was spot on. Both Hachiman and Loid are logical, capable people, and Eguchi performs both exceedingly well, conveying an air of cool detachment in these roles.

  • On the other hand, Hayami’s range is shown in how differently she plays Yukino and Yor: Yor is a badass assassin on the job, but otherwise is as adorable as GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain in her everyday role as Anya’s mother. The sharply contrasting roles allow Hayami to experiment with different character types, and she plays all of these roles with confidence, breathing life to her characters. Here, when Yukino helps Hachiman to tie his tie, my eyes see Hachiman and Yukino, but my ears hear Loid and Yor. Of course, being a master of disguise, I imagine that Loid wouldn’t need any help in getting his ties done correctly, and here, I remark that, although I’ve had little opportunity to tie ties in the past while, the half-Windsor knot that I learnt from my parents still comes quite readily to me.

  • The fact that Yui’s still a little dejected after Hachiman begins dating Yukino was only natural. Iroha and Komachi end up having a spirited conversation about what they’d do in Yui’s place, and while their suggestions are more whimsical than helpful, Yui does spot that she could still come in and take back Hachiman if Yukino’s heart ever wavers. This moment paints Yui in a poor light to her detractors, and for me, while it’s clear that Yui still doesn’t have a strong sense of identity (since she’s so easily influenced), recalling that Komachi and Iroha are in her corner, one can also suppose that the two could similarly influence Yui in a positive manner, encouraging her to find her own path anew.

  • I couldn’t help but smile after Yukino had remarked they were going to a “casual” restaurant, only to see Hachiman react in shock at all of the silverware on the table. This scene parallels a moment in James Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, where Jack Dawson is being introduced to high society and finds himself surprised by the cutlery. I picked up the knowhow for handling formal dinners from my parents: one always starts from the outside and works their way inward. The knife above the plate is typically for butter, and depending on the meal, a spoon may also be present, being intended for dessert or a cheese course. In this way, one can quickly work out how many courses there are to a meal, as well.

  • During the course of the dinner conversation, Hachiman says a few things that irritate Yukino enough for her to kick him from underneath the table, but Yukino’s mother and Haruno seem to take things in stride. In these situations, I am more inclined to treat it like an interview and pick my words accordingly, as well as using pauses and breaks accordingly. Hachiman, on the other hand, walks in with a very casual attitude, and later, when asked about things, he replies it’s because Yukino’s mother feels so much alike that he can’t help but converse with her the same way he usually does with Yukino. While this is disrespectful to some extent, a bit of extrapolation also finds that this might be a form of flattery: Hachiman is suggesting that he is comfortable around Yukino.

  • While seeing the relationship between Yukino and Hachiman was quite amusing (Hachiman clearly has a long way to go before he can demonstrate himself as worthy partner for Yukino, but Yukino loves him enough to accept his flaws and give him the time to improve), the Oregairu Kan OVA was also a little more sobering where Yui was concerned. I hold that Yui’s way of managing her own feelings is quite normal; even after one realises their crush is unlikely to reciprocate their feelings and is seeing someone else, there is a natural inclination to hope that things could be different. Rather than pressuring Yui to drop it, Iroha and Komachi take on a more supportive approach – Yui’s feelings are still quite hurt right now, and while there will be a time to push her into finding something else, it is still too early for that at this point.

  • In the end, although Hachiman appears to have survived Yukino’s mother’s questions, he unintentionally embarrasses Yukino when he replies to Haruno’s question of whether or not they’re dating with a noncommittal and nervous “are we?”. Yukino’s mother defuses the situation, but Yukino is hurt since Hachiman has not shown any commitment to her. I am reminded of a tip I picked up for interviews: “always answer decisively”. In this case, by showing hesitancy, Hachiman indicates to Yukino that he might not be interested, whereas if he were more confident and answered with a decisive “yes, we are dating”, then he’d show Yukino that he was wholly committed to her. In this moment, I thought back to something my parents had strove to instil in me; I can’t fault Hachiman for answering in the way he does, since I would’ve probably done the same, and a part of me also knows that Hachiman is still green here.

  • In the aftermath, Yukino ends up being quite distant towards Hachiman, who feels like he’s blown his chance with Yukino. Yukino leaves to tend to a few things, and Hachiman decides to head home. Luckily for Hachiman, Komachi is remarkably perceptive, and she is able to give him the right advice: Hachiman clearly knows he must apologise to Yukino but doesn’t quite know how to go about doing so, so Komachi helps him reach a suitable answer. Moments like these are a callback to Hachiman’s old ways; he has a rough idea of what needs to be done, but his assumptions mean that his methods might not always be correct.

  • By leaning on others, Hachiman grows and matures. Of course, his growth isn’t going to be perfect, and the Oregairu Kan OVA shows that there are cases where he may still misstep. Mistakes are a natural part of learning, and it is with support and advice from others that one goes from misstepping often, to making fewer missteps. This is what I like about Oregairu: its honest portrayal of its characters mean that people who’ve experienced similar things as Hachiman and the others can relate to how they feel in a given moment. Hachiman decides to settle on getting Yukino some specialty cookies from a place in Chiba, the students’ equivalent of apology flowers, but before he and Komachi can head off, Yui appears.

  • Under most circumstances, the choice would be clear to take off and tend to Yukino, but Komachi’s spotted something here. She knows that Yui would, if given the chance, still try to steal Hachiman from Yukino, and so, rather than allowing these thoughts to linger, letting Yui hash things out with Hachiman seemed more appropriate. Thinking on one’s feet like this is what makes Komachi such an asset, and even though she’s a fellow junior classmates only in the Oregairu Kan OVA, her impact on the Service Club is so strongly felt that it feels as though, were she present earlier, Hachiman’s growth would be accelerated to the point where everything could’ve been resolved in as few as six episodes. At the same time, this also gave me the impression that having Komachi present means that Hachiman and the others will always have a reliable source of support in their presence.

  • Thus, while Komachi takes off to buy the apology gift for Yukino, Yui and Hachiman go on a date of sorts, allowing Yui to share some time with Hachiman and work up the courage to speak her mind. In Oregairu Kan, I believe that, after the signs became apparent, Yui had simply given up and never gave voice to her feelings, so it was logical for this OVA to deal with things in a more conclusive manner. Here, I remark that, although Yui is all smiles, the pain she feels at losing Hachiman is still quite noticeable, creating a sort of juxtaposition between Yui’s outward appearance and the situation at hand.

  • The choice of date Yui picks out, an aquarium, stands in stark contrast with the formal dinner that Yukino had taken Hachiman to, speaking to the differences between Yukino and Yui’s backgrounds. Although this afternoon does have the same feeling as a date, the choice of exhibits the two check out were also carefully chosen to act as a metaphor for how Yui feels; at one point, the pair head out to check out the touch pools, and upon feeling the course skin of a shark, Hachiman comments on how he agrees with the sentiment that sometimes, words alone don’t adequately describe something.

  • While this “date” proceeds nominally, there are moments where it’s clear that Yui knows that things won’t last – Yui and Hachiman eventually wind up at the penguin enclosure, and here, Yui reads a sign that indicates how Cape Penguins remain together until their deaths. Seeing this sign fills Yui with a feeling of longing, and this is something that Hachiman notices. As the afternoon turns to evening, Yui chooses this moment to lay how she feels about the current status quo out in the open: she’s still very much in love with Hachiman, flaws and all, and is frustrated at the way he and Yukino have done things. Although Hachiman tries to find the right words to console her, they won’t come, and Yui remarks it’s fine, that she’s not going to stand down until it’s clear that her race is run.

  • Traditional love stories would indicate that there is romanticism in Yui’s approach, but from a practical standpoint, holding onto lost love also prevents one from being open to new opportunity around them. This is what motivates the page quote: the size of the world means that, even if Yui can’t be with Hachiman, there are numerous others out there who might be able to help Yui find happiness anew. By constantly thinking about Hachiman, Yui is not only denying herself this possibility, but she could also be shutting out people who are suited for her. This is merely one outcome, and I am hard-pressed to believe that this would be how things unfold: Oregairu Kan‘s OVA shows that one way or another, Yui will eventually be spurred on in a new direction.

  • This ultimately got me thinking: given Yui’s disposition and background, what kind of individual would be suited for her? Yui is someone who tends to be cheerful and spirited, but also tends to try and fit into a situation. As a result, she doesn’t speak her mind often, and this means that she would clash with Hachiman from a personality perspective – Hachiman also struggles to be upfront about how he feels. Conversely, Yukino has no problem being direct when appropriate, and this is ultimately why Yukino is able to force Hachiman to grow. On the other hand, Yui would be unable to drive this same change in Hachiman owing to her more agreeable manner. Oregairu had shot down any possibility of Yui ending up with Hachiman, and despite her own efforts, it should be quite plain that she never had a fighting chance.

  • For Yui, her ideal partner is someone with a very firm sense of identity and is secure in who they are. Such an individual might not always be the most communicative and prefer shouldering problems on their own, but they would be sensitive, kind and caring. The reason why these traits suit Yui is because she’s unsure of herself, and someone who is simultaneously compassionate and confident would create a sense of comfort, encouraging Yui to be herself and setting her best foot forward. Knowing that this individual wouldn’t judge her, and would always be solidly, reliably present to support her, Yui would grow in new ways. Hachiman meets most of these criteria, but his weakness is an unwillingness to confront his true feelings because he’s not secure in himself, and since Yui is similar, she would benefit from someone who is more comfortable with who they are, so that she can be comfortable in opening up to them.

  • Someone like Yui would be able to bring much joy and spirit into the life of someone who’s accustomed to routine – Yui is quite spontaneous and fun-loving, and she could help to bring her partner out of their shell, in time allowing them to enjoy living in the moment a little more. This is ultimately the reason why I favour Yui even though from a narrative standpoint, Yukino was better suited for Hachiman; someone with Yui’s traits would be the sort of person I could see myself falling love with. I’m very strict, disciplined and value reliability above all else, but at the same time, this also means that I don’t actively seek out spontaneity. I also tend to solve problems on my own because I have reasonable faith in my ability to get things done, and since I prefer not troubling others.

  • Although I am aware of my shortcomings and strive to improve, having someone like Yui in my corner would probably accelerate that process. I am drawing conclusions based on what is seen in Oregairu, and I appreciate that in reality, relationships have enough moving parts so that it’s easy to consider what would could do on paper, but then when the chips are down, it boils down to a matter of experience and social know-how. With this being said, such exercises are always fun, as they allow me to explore different territories from a more personal, subjective standpoint.

  • Although I do not know the precise English word for it (despite English being my working language), in Cantonese, Komachi’s social know-how is informally called “識 do” (jyutping sik1 do), literally “knowing (how to) do (something)”. It is characterised by a knowledge of how to respond to a social situation and act in a manner that is respectful and tactful. For having hurt Yukino, Komachi knows that an apology must be on order, and that this apology must be reinforced by a gift, rather than just the use of words. Despite being younger than Hachiman, Komachi has excellent emotional intelligence.

  • “識 do” isn’t a skill that can be acquired overnight, but rather, it comes as the result of experience and making mistakes, then knowing how to do better next time. When I reflect on my own actions in the past, there are a multitude of things that I certainly could’ve done better. The irony, of course, is that now that I know how to handle things appropriately, there is no opportunity for doing so. Once tensions between Yukino and Hachiman defuse, things in the Service Club liven up again as Yukino passes out the sweets. This is where Yui shows that she’s not quite ready to give up on Hachiman yet.

  • Stealing a bite of the biscuit that Yukino is holding shows that Yui is, at least for now, not admitting defeat. While seemingly immature, I continue to maintain that it does take a bit of maturity and life experience to see why it was important to show this – Yui’s actions here will likely spur Yukino to put in a fuller effort in keeping Hachiman, and thanks to support from Komachi and Iroha, Yui will gradually accept things and move on. Accentuating this is the fact that, after Yui gives her thoughts to Yukino, Iroha and Komachi immediately step in and break up the mood with their banter. Although subtle, it is sufficient to show how they’re ready to ensure that Yui doesn’t wander down a difficult path, and this allows the OVA to conclude on a good note.

  • Once the club instructor returns, the OVA draws to a close, and with this, I’ve once again completed my journey Oregairu. It is surprising that almost three years have elapsed since Oregairu Kan finished airing, and the series originally began running in 2015. Over the past eight years, Oregairu has walked viewers through a touching story about how a change in perspective can help people to learn and mature, and along the way, perhaps even discover love. I expect that, barring another surprise, the Oregairu Kan OVA will be the last time I write about Oregairu, unless either readers express an interest in my revisiting Oregairu Zoku and its OVAs, or if the anime receives a surprise continuation.

An epilogue OVA for Oregairu was quite unexpected – when the third season concluded back in September 2020, it had done so in a decisive manner. Hachiman and Yukino begin going out after an awkward but sincere kokuhaku, and Yui accepts that she’s lost, even though her feelings for Hachiman continue to linger. Hachiman himself has changed wholly, believing youth is enjoyable after all. In this way, the Oregairu Kan OVA was not strictly necessary to fill in any holes within the story. However, I will not begrudge the existence of a continuation that reaffirms a few more things that the original series had left implicit, and with the Oregairu Kan OVA in the books, one can definitively say that Oregairu‘s events leaves each of Hachiman, Yukino and Yui in a better place than they’d been when the series started – in particular, while Yui is not explicitly shown as having made peace with what’s happened, seeing her conversations with Komachi and Iroha clarify that, unlike the superficial connections she had while she’d been in Yumiko’s clique, she now has genuine friendship with people who will be there for her when thing get tricky. While Yui’s lingering feelings prima facie appear unhealthy, it’s only been a short amount of time since the events of Oregairu Kan, and therefore, it is unreasonable to expect Yui to have gotten over her old feelings so quickly. The process requires more time than the few weeks that have passed, and so, the Oregairu Kan OVA instead chooses to portray how Komachi and Iroha have both settled into life with the Service Club. In this short time, Yui’s still hurt by the knowledge she likely won’t be with Hachiman as she would’ve liked, but at the same time, Yui’s own growth therefore becomes more implicit, a possibility that becomes more likely when one considers how the two are willing to talk things over with her. In particular, Komachi, as supportive as she is of her brother’s relationship with Yukino, also cares about Yui and knows how to help her out, as well. With this, I expect Oregairu to be completely finished at this point: short of the decision to adapt anything from the original light novels that was condensed out or omitted, Oregairu‘s animated adaptation has told a satisfactory story of Hachiman’s journey towards gaining a new outlook on youth and performed well enough to promote interest in the light novels, so from a functional standpoint, the anime has fulfilled its objectives in whole.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby OVA: Road To The Top Review and Reflection

“It’s horse racing. If you can’t beat him one way, try to win another way.” –Bob Baffert

Narita Top Road is a horse girl who shows great promise as a racer, but because of misfortunes on the race track, hasn’t won any major titles yet. She’s excited to run in the Satsuki Sho for a Triple Crown title and, seeing her excitement, Narita Top Road’s trainer agrees to register her even though she’ll be squaring off against Admire Vega again. After classes, Narita Top Road has a chance to speak with Admire Vega and indicates that the latter’s running is what inspired her, although Admire Vega appears to regard Narita Top Road coldly. In a flashback, Narita Top Road’s trainer recalls how while she lacked finesse as a young racer, she’d also shown promise and therefore, agreed to train her. During the first race of the Satsuki Sho, Narita Top Road and Admire Vega face off against TM Opera O, a boisterous horse girl who ends up winning the race and leaving Narita Top Road feeling as though she’d let her trainer down. After this shock wears off, Narita Top Road continues training. Quite separately, Admire Vega pushes herself to win the next race; it turns out that her sister’s passed away and had donated her heart to Admire Vega, so she now desires to succeed for her sister. The next race in the Satsuki Sho is on a straight course, which is Narita Top Road’s strength, and while she manages to maintain a lead over TM Opera O, Admire Vega, spurred on by thoughts of her sister, manages to overtake Narita Top Road, dealing her a crushing defeat. In the aftermath, Narita Top Road accompanies her friends on a training camp. Her trainer asks her to regroup by having her coach some younger horse girls, and later, Narita Top Road reveals her biggest fear in a race now is letting down those who support her. Her trainer replies that her fans support her precisely because there’s no quit in her, and while she later loses another race, Narita Top Road decides to keep trying anyways. During the final race of the Satsuki Sho, Narita Top Road manages to take first place and treating everyone supporting her to a fine performance along the way. This is the latest series of OVAs for Uma Musume Pretty Derby: titled Road To The Top, this short series streamed online back in April and provides yet another glimpse into how expansive the world of Uma Musume Pretty Derby is.

Like its predecessors, Road To The Top emphasises how each and every horse girl in Uma Musume Pretty Derby has their own reasons for running, and how, provided that all other things are held constant (such as training and skill), what determines the outcome of a race boils purely down to what drives each individual horse girl in that moment, and split second decisions made during the course of a race itself, which in turn are related to what the story in Uma Musume Pretty Derby is intended to convey. Here in Road To The Top, the focus is on Narita Top Road. Unlike TM Opera O, who’s racing for the thrill of victory, or Admire Vega, who’s racing for her late sister, Narita Top Road is racing for those who’ve made it possible for her to come this far, whether it be her trainer or her fans, who’ve come to adore her never-give-up attitude. While Admire Vega’s story is also a poignant one, and her motivation is powerful, Road To The Top also portrays her as being completely alone. She camps on academy grounds rather than sleeps in the dormitories, and whereas Narita Top Road is fond of hanging out with other horse girls (she’s frequently seen with Rice Shower and Haru Urara), Admire Vega seems to shun company, even when Narita Top Road attempts to express her gratitude for being able to compete on the same arena as someone of Admire Vega’s calibre. In this way, Road To The Top seems to speak to the fact that no horse girl is an island, and how important it is to be able to fight for those in the present. By giving each of TM Opera O, Admire Vega and Narita Top Road a win here in Road To The Top, Uma Musume Pretty Derby shows how important it is to have an eye for potential and invest in this possibility: although Narita Top Road is not exceptionally skilled or uncommonly talented, her persistence and desire to express thanks to those who support her is what ultimately gives her the ability to compete and stand alongside horse girls like Admire Vega and TM Opera O. Here in Road To The Top, Narita Top Road’s story is mirrored in the title (it is a story of Narita Top Road’s road to the top), and even in spite of the fact that Narita Top Road would eventually find her victory, one way or another, Road To The Top still finds a way fo keeping things suspenseful and exciting every step of the way.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Over the past three years, readers will have noticed that I’ve become a fan of Uma Musume Pretty Derby and along the way, I’ve written my share of posts about a series that certainly surprised me in a pleasant way. The Road To The Top has Narita Top Road as its lead, and this particular Horse Girl reminds me a great deal of Lycoris Recoil‘s Chisato Nishikigi and RDG: Red Data Girl‘s Mayura Sōda. Narita Top Road is voiced by Kanna Nakamura, and here in The Road To The Top, she plays the spirited horse girl who, despite her occasional doubts, still manages to find it in her to befriend those around her.

  • Although P.A. Works and Studio Kai have helmed Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s first and second seasons, respectively, and different studios handled Umayon! and Uma YuruThe Road To The Top is produced by CygamePictures, Cygame’s in-house production studio. The Road To The Top lacks the same finesse and polish that were present in the earlier titles – facial expressions are inconsistent at times, and the artwork is slightly less detailed than it had been previously. However, visuals alone do not make an anime, and The Road To The Top does stand of its own merits.

  • I was a little surprised that The Road To The Top would be a four-episode OVA, but having now completed things, I’m glad the series had the time that it did to flesh things out. Even thought there isn’t the same amount of time to fully explore all of the details among the characters, having more episodes gave enough space to provide a satisfactory amount of exposition behind everyone’s background. Right out of the gates, it’s clear that Narita Top Road is quite cheerful and does her best to get along with everyone, even the aloof and distant Admire Vega.

  • The other major player in The Road To The Top is TM Opera O, a confident and somewhat vain horse girl with a taste for theatrics. TM Opera O reminds me a great deal of Brave Witches‘ Waltrud Krupinski in both manner and appearance – both TM Opera O and Waltrud talk big game but also have what it takes to back up their words. During the first big race of The Road To The Top, it is TM Opera O who ends up taking the win. Throughout these OVAs, it becomes clear that while Narita Top Road is a skilled horse girl, she actually had humble beginnings, and the OVAs establish that she still has a few missteps, even during training.

  • The races in The Road To The Top are similar to those seen in the remainder of Uma Musume Pretty Derby with respect to quality goes – from wide-angle shots that show the entire group of racers, to close-ups that highlight the facial expressions of each individual horse girl, Uma Musume Pretty Derby does its best to ensure that all parts of a race are captured. I hold that more variety in camera angle, using panning and over-the-shoulder, or top-down shots (akin to what was seen in John Wick: Chapter 4‘s Dragon’s Breath scene) would be a nice way of livening up the races even further.

  • Despite losing the first of the Satsuki Sho races, Narita Top Road retains a loyal collection of supporters who greatly enjoy her racing. Narita Top Road doesn’t have the same natural talent that Special Week had and isn’t afflicted by the tragedy that struck Tokai Teio, but what makes her standout is her never-give-up attitude in spite of her lack of standout traits. This is something that Narita Top Road struggles with in The Road To The Top – viewers would be confident that she will find a way to win eventually, but per the OVA’s naming, there is a journey to get to this point.

  • Having seen both seasons and the OVAs, I am familiar with both Haru Urara (a cheerful horse girl whose lack of victories is offset by her ability to brighten a room up) and Rice Shower (a quiet horse girl with a track record of dethroning other horse girls from achieving records on occasion). Both play a more minor role here in The Road To The Top, but it becomes clear that Narita Top Road does have some close friends in her corner.

  • A long time ago, I had a classmate in the year below mine who bore a similar manner to TM Opera O, and we got along just fine. Said classmate was very knowledgable about bioinformatics, spoke very politely, but also had a very grandiose way of addressing people and ideas. I got the distinct feeling that this classmate was very passionate about the material, and he had a knack for conveying ideas in a manner that excited those around him without ever coming across as arrogant. I rather enjoy the company of people like these, and in the case of The Road To The Top, TM Opera O’s presence serves as a foil to Admire Vega, who’s all gloom and wholly focused on her own internal goals.

  • Through their portrayal of characters, it appears that Uma Musume Pretty Derby treats the stoic, quiet horse girls as being mildly antagonistic – even though racing is a competitive sport, Uma Musume Pretty Derby takes care to show that the horse girls demonstrate good sportsmanship for the most part, and even the horse girls who don’t communicate much are fighting for reasons as valid as those of the more expressive horse girls. However, even though Admire Vega seems quite cold and unreceptive towards Narita Top Road’s friendship, it’s hard to hold this against her, and I found myself wishing that here in The Road To The Top, there had been a chance for Admire Vega to eventually open up.

  • During the second of the Satsuki Sho races, TM Opera O takes a lead towards the final leg of the race, but since long straights are Narita Top Road’s speciality, she ends up pulling ahead. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, each horse girl is shown as having certain kinds of races they tend to excel in and therefore favour, but in each series, upset victories occur when a horse girl loses in a type of race they were the favourite to win in. While this is a common storytelling technique in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and therefore one I’ve come to expect, it doesn’t take away from the emotional impact in any way.

  • Admire Vega ends up taking the second of the Satsuki Sho race: she runs purely for the memory of her sister, who had donated her heart to Admire Vega. In a longer series, Admire Vega’s reasons for running would be better explored, and this would allow Narita Top Road to get to know her rival and role model a little better. The Road To The Top establishes that Narita Top Road admires Admire Vega and had sought to improve to the point where she could one day race against her on the track. Given Narita Top Road’s trainer’s remarks, she’d come a very long way from the days of when she started out, and the very fact she’s now at the Satsuki Sho, squaring off against TM Opera O and Admire Vega, is an achievement in and of itself.

  • However, this doesn’t stop the sting of defeat from being any more painful – after losing this race by a thin margin, Narita Top Road loses her composure and is now struck with the thought of what will happen if her best isn’t nearly good enough. The timing of things is something that ends up helping Narita Top Right; almost right after the second race, the horse girls are set to go on a training camp, and it is here that Narita Top Road is given a chance to regroup and see things from a fresh perspective. Although it was tough to see Narita Top Road on the verge of tears, it was quite clear that she was going to stumble before seeing any victory.

  • When it comes to problem solving, taking a step back and returning to a problem after a break is a successful approach. This is why as one gets older, problems no longer seem quite so insurmountable; someone with experience knows that no problem is unsolvable, and even if one approach is not feasible, alternate solutions exist. Recently, I was tasked with sorting out a web application’s CSS to improve visibility, and although I’d spent almost a week trying to hunt the code down (JavaScript is, unlike most Object Oriented Languages, an incomprehensible mess and should be retired immediately), I had no solutions. During one stand-up, I was explaining my thought process, when one of the other team members mentioned we had other ways of expressing state to users. Inspired, I decided to try another solution, and this worked well enough that I decided to go with it.

  • Although Narita Top Road had fully intended to spend the training camp practising, her trainer pulls her aside and tasks her with coaching some younger horse girls. After walking them through the basics, the horse girls ask Narita Top Road to show them her technique, and while Narita Top Road might not be the fastest or most impressive horse girl around, she impresses them nonetheless. I remember an old memory of when I was helping to teach a karate class, and one of the students had been quite unruly, so the instructor for the class pulled the student aside and asked me to demonstrate a kata for him. After I finished, the student was paying attention and following the instructor much more intently, evidently excited by what learning the basics could lead to.

  • Moments like these are always welcome in anime because they parallel the reality of how being given a chance to teach and impart knowledge unto others also helps one to understand something a little better. During the day, Narita Top Road’s old worries are set aside as she trains the younger horse girls and does her best to encourage them and smile for their sakes. Of course, when the day is done, and Narita Top Road meets up with her trainer, she reveals that something has been bugging her – if her best isn’t good enough, where does this leave her? This is a longstanding question that people ask, and the trainer’s answer is simple: Narita Top Road’s greatest asset isn’t her innate talent, but rather, her perseverance.

  • Despite having come a long way, Narita Top Road worries about letting down everyone who’s been supporting her – it becomes clear that Narita Top Road doesn’t race for herself, but rather, for those around her, from fellow horse girls and her fans, to her trainer. The choice to have TM Opera O and Admire Vega as Narita Top Road’s rivals is fitting because they act as a foil to her; both race for themselves, and while they are remarkably skilled racers in their own right, the idea in The Road To The Top is that someone who fights for something bigger than themselves will want a win enough to make it a reality. Before this can happen, though, Narita Top Road still has a few hurdles to overcome.

  • However, at the end of the training camp, Narita Top Road is invited to an event with her fellow horse girls; the whole neighbourhood’s come out to cheer her on, and while Narita Top Road is a little embarrassed, she hears out the others and soon finds herself partaking in the festivities, enjoying the grilled carrots that are part of the evening’s spread. Food’s always been an integral part of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and the horse girls are, without exception, fond of eating everything from carrots, to ramen and sweets; in fact, the promise of sweets was how Team Spica’s trainer managed to persuade the others to train harder.

  • Longtime readers are familiar with the fact that I’m very fond of enjoying various foods, and all too often, I’ve found that there are local places that fall under the radar. This past weekend, I sat down to dinner from two such places. On Saturday, I had been volunteering to shoot a video at an event where the premiere of Alberta was speaking and ended up swinging by a Japanese restaurant by the university, where I enjoyed their takoyaki and curry katsu don – this dinner out had been unexpected, and having spent the previous weekend indulging, I figured something simple, home-like would be appropriate. Then, on Sunday night, my parents became curious to try out a place called Chicken On The Way, a Calgary institution that dates back to 1957 and lays claim to the title of “Best Fried Chicken and Corn Fritters in the city”.

  • Having now tried their fried chicken, thick-cut fries and corn fritters (which go extremely well with maple syrup) for myself, I believe that Chicken On The Way absolutely lives up to their reputation – even the chicken breast was juicy and flavourful, and their corn fritters brought to mind the tastes of a fairground midway. Excellent food becomes something to savour in the moment, and something to look forwards to. As a bit of a gastronomer myself, I’ve come to add travelling about and trying different foods out to my list of hobbies. Back in The Road To The Top, after the training camp concludes, Narita Top Road ends up running and losing in another race.

  • The latest results disappoint Narita Top Road and leaves her deep in thought, so much that she forgets to take her drink from the vending machine. When TM Opera O shows up, Narita Top Road is shocked, and her tail stands up in surprise. Small details like these act to defuse the tension in a moment, and seeing Narita Top Road’s surprise face was quite funny – even though P.A. Works (a studio known for their funny faces) is no longer helming Uma Musume Pretty Derby, the character designs have remained fairly consistent. Some folks have complained about how the animation quality appears to have dropped between the first and second season, but if this is the case, I’ve not noticed.

  • On the other hand, the animation and consistency in The Road To The Top do look a smidgen rougher than the previous two seasons. I do not hold this against The Road To The Top, since it is an ONA, an anime made for web broadcast, and overall, this series still remains engaging for its characters. Here, running into TM Opera O shakes Narita Top Road from her reverie, and the former’s pompous manner ends up breathing some life back into her. It’s almost impossible to dislike TM Opera O, and having a character like her around helps bring Narita Top Road back to form.

  • To this end, Narita Top Road speaks with her trainer and asks him to let her race in the manner of her choosing. From a viewer’s perspective, it’s quite difficult to actually get a bead on the different horse girls’ different styles unless the racers’ thoughts, and additional commentary from spectators are present. However, a priori knowledge of horse racing isn’t necessary to enjoy Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and in-show, there are plenty of cues to keep viewers informed of what’s happening. Here, I would expect that, by asking her trainer to let her run with an approach different than what she’d previously done, she also hints at the fact that she’s become confident enough to use her own methods.

  • Narita Top Road’s optimism and friendliness is ultimately what makes her so easy to root for – even though both Admire Vega and TM Opera O have beaten her in races, Narita Top Road continues to demonstrate utmost respect for her rivals, citing that they’re the reason she was able to advance and improve. One aspect of The Road To The Top that I would’ve liked to see was having Admire Vega open up to Narita Top Road. This would’ve helped to accentuate the fact that, even though horse girls race for their own reasons, they can still share in one another’s company and, when things get tough, there is always someone to talk to. However, owing to constraints with the runtime, this ultimately did not happen.

  • As the final race of the Satsuki Sho, Narita Top Road is prepared to give it her all, run in the way she feels to be most natural and at the very least, put up a good showing for all of her fans in the stands. Throughout Uma Musume Pretty Derby, races are thrilling events that draw considerable crowds, and the energy of a moment is quite tangible. For the horse girls, however, all they are worried about now is giving their best, and while Narita Top Road is a little nervous, a quick tap to the rear shakes her out of her doubts. For this post, I originally was planning to make it an extended post, but readers will have noticed that this month, posts have been longer on average.

  • There’s always a great deal of moments in a given work that are worth covering, but at the same time, I also appreciate that readers would prefer more concise posts. As a blogger, striking a balance between the two is something that isn’t an easy task: on one hand, I strive to ensure posts capture my most important thoughts without stretching out and causing readers to lose interest, but at the same time, posts must also be long enough to let me walk through the reasoning and evidence that drives my conclusions. Summary and reaction posts are, at least for me, inadequate, and I do not find any value in reading blogs who do little more than cheering the characters on because they don’t offer me with a different perspective on what’s happening.

  • Midway through this final race, the spirit of Admire Vega’s sister manifests, and unexpectedly, Admire Vega finds herself slowing down in the race. It turns out that she’s also suffering from an injury of sorts, one that isn’t acute enough to prevent her from running now, but will someday end her ability to competitively race. The spirit of Admire Vega’s sister suggests that just being able to see her run is enough, and I would imagine that in this moment, Admire Vega realises that if she pushes herself in a bid to win, her career will end here and now. Subconsciously, self-preservation kicks in, and Admire Vega is no longer able to put her all into this race.

  • In this way, Admire Vega must give up this race so she can properly fulfil her sister’s wishes – the idea of winning being secondary to enjoying running is a recurring theme in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and the fact that Uma Musume Pretty Derby is able to do more with things in the anime format speaks volumes to how significant it is to have a good team of writers on board. By creating stories that help viewers to connect to the characters, the anime becomes an excellent starting point for encouraging viewers to potentially pick up the game, as well. In my case, if Uma Musume Pretty Derby ever becomes available, I’m going to build my team around Special Week.

  • With Admire Vega out of the running for first place, the last of the Satsuko Sho races comes down to Narita Top Road and TM Opera O, and to no one’s surprise, Narita Top Road takes the title. With this, each of Narita Top Road, TM Opera O and Admire Vega have one win each: the three are worthy rivals for one another, and in the aftermath, Narita Top Road is overcome with emotion at being able to finally show her trainer, fellow horse girls and supporters that their efforts contributed to this moment. One final show awaits viewers – it just wouldn’t be Uma Musume Pretty Derby if The Road To The Top didn’t feature at least one victory concert. Narita Top Road performs as the centre, accompanied by Admire Vega and TM Opera O.

  • With this post, I’m done The Road To The Top in full, and I very much look forwards to the third season. When it was announced, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s third season was only stated to release in 2023, and at present, we’re about to enter the summer season. This leaves fall 2023 as the only season for Uma Musume Pretty Derby to air in; assuming this to be the case, it means that this series will air alongside Hoshikuzu Telepath and Spy × Family‘s second season, both of which are shows I am looking forwards to watching. I remain hopeful that said third season will materialise, since by this point in time, I’ve become enough of an Uma Musume Pretty Derby fan to say that I would be interested in playing the mobile game should it become available on the North American App Store.

  • The final concert is lovingly animated and quite enjoyable to watch. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s approach works because the series has lovable characters, so when combined with generally solid technical elements and an opportunity for the voice actresses to sing, the combination produces a winning combination that accounts for the franchise’s continued success – positive reception means media are selling, and this indicates a continued interest in the series that allows for continuations to be produced. For now, though, there’s still a ways to the fall season, and that means my eyes return to the present: the blog continues to be an active place, and in the immediate future, I’ve got a talk on the Oregairu OVA lined up, along with a special topics discussion on Crysis Remastered.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby has had two full seasons of content, several spinoffs and a handful of OVAs with which to expand its world. Road To The Top adds upon this further and demonstrates that, despite the apparent predictability of the story (the lead character will always find a way of winning in accordance with what the story needs), each iteration of Uma Musume Pretty Derby still manages to remain engaging because so much effort is given towards ensuring that the different horse girls have unique motivations and desires. Seeing what drives everyone creates uniqueness in each tale: in the first season of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Special Week had been a newcomer who wanted to race for her mother and stand alongside her idol, Silent Suzuka. The second season had Tokai Teio struggling to manage a series of injuries and fulfil a promise to race alongside her friend and rival, Mejiro McQueen. BNW’s Oath dealt with getting Biwa Hayahide, Narita Taishin and Winning Ticket back together for a race. There is no ceiling of what stories could be told among the horse girls, and so, even if Uma Musume Pretty Derby does not do anything particularly innovative, it is a fantastic show for those who wish to see their favourite horse girls in the animated format, bringing another dimension to the popular mobile game. With lovable characters and a low-stakes premise that promotes themes of effort, sportsmandship and friendship, Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s simplicity makes it a series that can continue to expand upon the different characters available in the series and drive interest in the mobile game – I’ve heard (unverified) rumours that Cygames will be releasing an English version of the mobile game at some point in the future. There had already been faint discussions of an overseas release for Korea and China, but assuming that these rumours point to an English language release, Cygames can thank the anime adaptation of Uma Musume Pretty Derby for piquing my interest in their game. The anime’s successes in creating a compelling world and appealing characters allows the series to succeed to the point where there will be a third season of Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Moreover, said third season will air later this season and focus on Satono Diamond and Kitasan Black. Fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby have been quite excited by this news, and the continued success of Uma Musume Pretty Derby speaks to the excellent presentation and execution of things in this franchise.

Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku: Remarks on Responsible Budgetting as an Anime Fan and An Introspection on Twenty-Five Years of Otafest

“Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.” –Warren Buffett

While watching television, sisters Hikage and Hinata Miyakawa converse about how difficult it is to drop a great deal of money on food, only for Hikage to complain about how Hinata’s otaku propensities cause them to always be short of funds every month. Later, after Hikage tearfully admits to having accidentally tossed one of Hinata’s dōjins, Hinata ends up buying a new copy to replace it at the expense of their food budget, to Hikage’s chagrin. Thus begins Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku (“The Miyakawa Family’s Hunger”), a spin-off of Lucky☆Star that is also written by Kagami Yoshimizu and follows the Miyakawas as they navigate a challenging life that comes about as a result of Hinata’s compulsive spending on otaku goods, causing their family to become impoverished. An animated adaptation of Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku aired in 2013, portraying the challenges Hikage faces. As a result of the low funds, Hikage is shown to be very resourceful and knows how to make the most of the food she has available to her, but at the same time, her desires are very simple – to her, nothing is more important than being able to put meat on the dinner table. Throughout Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, the primary conflict between Hikage and Hinata lies in how money should be spent: Hikage believes that it should be used for necessities and otherwise saved, but Hinata’s interests and seemingly irrational desires cause the family finances to constantly be squandered, creating situations where Hikage looks towards others for improving the family finances, whether it’s asking her instructor, Kazuhiko Ōsawa, for suggestions, trying to take advantage of supermarket sales where possible and even buying lottery tickets with the hope of scoring some money. Although Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku possesses the same art style and comedic premise as its predecessor, Lucky☆Star, utilising situational and dramatic irony resulting from Hinata’s spending in evoke humour and pity, there is no denying that Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku is a bit more grim than Lucky☆Star. The Miyakawa family’s poverty parallels difficulties that people face as a result of the increased cost of living. Inflation drives up the price of necessities, from food to gas, and wages have not increased to match inflation, creating a situation where one gets less out of their dollar. Since it’s not feasible to get by without the necessities, people have looked towards more thrifty and financially prudent habits, from dining out less, to keeping an eye on sales at supermarkets, finding creative ways of sprucing up dinner with more cost-effective ingredients or even growing their own vegetables. The disciplined and resourceful have found that being more mindful of one’s budget has allowed for some folks to save a bit more, speaking to how a bit of creativity can help people out.

The same can’t be said for Hinata, whose fiscal irresponsibility is the cause of the Miyakawa’s suffering: although she tries to justify her expenses to Hikage, these excuses are remarkably feeble. Although I am familiar with the collector’s mindset, practicality trumps all else – as nice as it is to have limited edition anime merchandise, often times, these items are little more than collector’s items that do little more than sit in a shelf or stowed in a box somewhere, even if they do have utility value. For instance, when Hinata purchases anime-themed stationary or clothing, those purchases are consigned to remain in storage and never fulfil their purpose as an article of clothing or stationary. Hikage is, quite understandably, unable to understand why this is the case – a notebook is a notebook, irrespective of whose visage graces it, and being unable to use it normally results in something that is deprived of any utility. In this way, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku ends up speaking to the consequences of being a devout otaku; it is one thing to watch anime and play games, but when one ventures into the realm of merchandise, expenses can skyrocket. This is because corporations know that customers are willing to pay top dollar for themed merchandise, which are Veblen goods that collectors take pride in possessing (owing to their perceived value and rarity). While there is nothing wrong with occasionally buying anime-related merchandise, Hinata does so at the expense of her sister’s well-being, and as a result, Hikage’s indignation with her is warranted – Hinata’s job at a local otaku store is enough for her to buy anime merchandise at a whim, and considering the price of these items, it is clear that she could afford to buy properly nutritious food for Hikage. The gap between Hikage’s conventional thinking and Hinata’s unusual logic is one of the reasons why the otaku subculture remains quite difficult to understand: given the choice, most people would rather put a few hundred extra dollars towards eating a better-balanced diet and saving for a rainy day. With this being said, there is such a thing as moderation, and although this was never seen in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku‘s animated run, a meaningful story development would be seeing Hinata balancing her own interest with Hikage’s well-being; with the right budget, one can ensure they eat well and properly look after their financial obligations, save for a rainy day and put an amount into a retirement savings account, and still have enough left over for the periodic treat. Seeing this would have been a rewarding part of following Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, but for the present, seeing Hinata try to do right by Hikage, as seen in the final vignette, where Hinata cooks a tofu steak for Hikage. Although this might not be a steak that Hikage dreams of eating, the gesture from Hinata means the world to her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Although Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku possesses the same art style and character designs as Lucky☆Star, it was produced as a collaboration between Ordet (Wake Up, Girls!) and Encourage Films (GochiUsa BLOOM). There is a bit of a story behind Ordet: it was founded in 2007 by Yutaka Yamamoto after he was dismissed from Kyoto Animation, but by 2016, Yamamoto was also fired from Ordet. Yamamoto himself has a colourful history that leads him to be quite reviled in the anime community. For me, I care little for his incendiary attitudes and judge him purely on the merits of his work: while some of Yamamoto’s works are an incomprehensible fog (Fractale comes to mind), things like Hakubo and Wake Up, Girls! were satisfactory.

  • Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku bears all of the hallmarks of its predecessor, and it feels distinctly like a Kyoto Animation production: the same visual style is present in Lucky☆Star would ultimately be reused in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Kyoto Animation is best known for their incredible production values, vividly bringing worlds to life, but even in series where the visuals are simpler, the studio nonetheless has done an excellent job of ensuring things are fluidly animated. Ordet originally had some staff from Kyoto Animation on board, and this is probably why the aesthetics in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku are familiar.

  • Right out of the gates, it is evident that Hinata is an otaku with an unhealthy habit of buying merchandise on impulse. Unlike Konata, who is a bit more detail-oriented and only buys what she’s absolutely a fan of, Hinata seems to spring on everything she comes across, and this puts a great strain on the Miyakawa finances, in turn causing Hikage to suffer unnecessarily from lack of food. However, while Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku describes the Miyakawas as being poor, they still have a home to live in, and despite struggling, still appear to be able to make ends meet minimally.

  • Further to this, there’s no sign that Hinata is in any sort of consumer debt, so if one supposes they live in the family home (and the mortgage has been fully paid off), then it means that, while perhaps not having a great deal of savings, the Miyakawas can still get by. This in turn lightens the mood up; since the characters aren’t in any serious trouble, it’s possible to relax and allow the show’s antics to unfold. When taken to its logical conclusion, Hinata’s habits can be quite harmful, but in the context of Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, it appears that on her income, Hinata just cuts corners on essentials so she can satisfy her otaku desires rather than omitting it outright.

  • Kazuhiko Ōsawa is Hikage’s primary four instructor, and while he presents as a competent teacher who looks after his students well, students do not always find his advice useful. Watching all of the characters bounce off one another in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku was no different than Lucky☆Star: like Lucky☆Star, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku isn’t going to be an award-winning story about the human condition, but instead, acts as another gentle way of poking fun at the otaku subculture.

  • During its run between April and June 2013, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku consisted of ten short segments that aired weekly, each running for about four minutes. This series is not dependent on a priori knowledge of Lucky☆Star, but its niche topics and narrower focus meant that some viewers, who were fans of Lucky☆Star, found the jokes dull and unremarkable because of its simple premise. The setup in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku does suggest the series might be unsuited for full-length series, but at the same time, with a bit of creativity, it may have been possible to do a little more.

  • A meaningful narrative can be written around Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku‘s premise: in the Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku viewers got, both Hikage and Hinata are static characters. Their personalities do not change, and no major disturbance happens that forces them to learn and grow, as is the case for most stories. While this is commonplace in comedies (Konata and Kagami don’t change in Lucky☆Star, and similarly, all of the characters in Joshiraku remain the same throughout the series), there is a chance here in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku to show how Hikage’s unconditional love for her sister and constant desires to see Hinata be more financially responsible may eventually, in conjunction with a disruptive experience, help Hinata to change for the better.

  • All of this, of course, assumes that Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku was intended to be more than just a series of comedic shorts. In its current form, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku is still engaging and fun to watch. For anime fans of 2013, watching four-minute episodes each week would’ve been a fair way to pass the time, but for me, watching Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku in the present meant blocking out some forty minutes and then going through all of the episodes all at once. Here, while Hikage looks at lottery numbers, a Miku Hatsune figurine can be seen in the background.

  • At some level, I do understand Hinata’s desire to buy otaku merchandise and simply enjoy the state of having something, but at the same time, certain objects, like notebooks, pencils, keychains and the like all have utility value, and it feels wasteful to not put them to good use. When I was a university student, I bought a few K-On! and Girls und Panzer keychains, but those sit in a box. I occasionally took them out of the box to appreciate them, but they feel a little too nice to use. Realising this, I don’t really buy anime merchandise, save artbooks: since they’re books, their utility is to be read, and this makes them a little more practical.

  • On the other hand, when some relatives bought me limited-edition Gundam t-shirts from Japan, I simply wore them because that’s a shirt’s intended function. The struggle between utility and keeping something in mint condition is quite real, so I would hold that moderation is the answer. Having a few collectible items isn’t unwise, but Hinata’s practises are overkill. This is ultimately what causes most of the comedy in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku: viewers cannot help but pity Hikage for her situation, as well as admire how she’s able to come up with creative solutions of getting more out of what she already has.

  • Thus, despite her temperamental and touchy nature, Hikage still comes across as being adorable. Besides her everyday life with Hinata at home, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku also depicts Hikage’s experiences at school. She gets along reasonably well with her classmates, and like Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Mikyuki had in Lucky☆Star, she shares similarly mundane, ordinary conversations with her closest friends. Unsurprisingly, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku also presents her friends as having distinct hair colours: Erika has blonde hair, and Yukina has green hair.

  • Daisuke occasionally joins in on the conversations, and while he’s fond of poking fun at Hikage’s financial situation, I got the impression that he’s not malicious about it. Hikage seems to take things in stride, and here, when Daisuke laughs about how it’s unlikely for Hikage to have played the latest games, Hikage ruefully thinks to herself that she actually has, because of the fact that Hinata’s keeping up with the Joneses at great expense. Later in this episode, Hikage gets into a fistfight with an unseen classmate after some money goes missing, and when she explains herself to Hinata, it turns out that Hikage hates people who are wasteful or deceptive about money, especially when there are people in the world who aren’t as well off.

  • Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku is written in a way that emphasises comedy above all else, and for most viewers, the nature of this humour determines whether or not this series was enjoyable. From this point of view, I’d expect that a moderate fan, someone who enjoys Japanese media but isn’t wholly consumed by their hobby, would gain the most entertainment from things: Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku pokes fun at the more devout otaku, so some background in the subculture is helpful, but at the same time, someone who does subscribe to Hinata’s way of thinking may feel the anime is unnecessarily harsh.

  • I would be considered a moderate as far as enjoying Japanese media goes; while I write extensively about anime here, I also lift weights, hike, game, partake in gastronomy, amateur photography, and do martial arts. I cannot say I excel in any of my hobbies (I’m an inferior writer to most dedicated bloggers, I’m only an intermediate lifter, and I’m terrible in most competitive games, for instance), but these activities all represent a different way to unwind from my daily routine of software development. Thus, while I don’t always keep up with the latest anime or have the largest merchandise collection, I find that watching and writing about anime is one of the many activities I enjoy.

  • Of late, I’ve found that volunteering is also something I enjoy doing; lending my time to helping out with events as varied as science fairs, anime conventions and most recently, the local photography club, has proven to be a fulfilling activity that allows me to simultaneously learn something new, partake in an activity I enjoy and give back to the community. Over this past long weekend, I’ve been out and about doing precisely this: after nearly three years of spending the Victoria Day long weekend at home, it’s been exhilarating to be back out and about, and to the observer, I may even appear to have gone overboard this time around.

  • That’s because, besides volunteering for Otafest, I also spent Saturday morning out at a walkathon fundraising event: the photography club has helped the walkathon organisers with photography in the past, and since I joined, I’ve become the videographer of sorts, allowing for video to also be produced. I’m still very much a novice in this role, but having picked up a DJI Osmo 6, I’ve slowly started to familiarise myself with the gear and techniques. My long weekend began with a day off on Friday – I woke up at the crack of dawn to deal with the laundry and headed out bright and early to walk around the convention before my shifts began.

  • My first stop was the exhibitor’s hall: while I typically order anime merchandise online, seeing all of the merchants and their wares makes it easier to pick something up. I spent about an hour browsing around the different vendors and wound up purchasing a Fūka Miyazawa Nendoroid. My best friend was also in attendance, and shortly after, I got a message indicating he was interested in meeting up. Said friend had decided to come this year to speak with Gunpla modellers, and in previous years, one of the local clubs had come to speak with visitors about painting Gundam models. Although they were not in attendance this year, my best friend still capitalised on the opportunity to hang out.

  • We subsequently stopped by an Irish Pub a little further along Steven Avenue for lunch. Although the morning had been a smokey one, by noon, most of the smoke had cleared, and so, we were given patio seating. Here, I ordered their bangers and mash, a delightful British dish with sausages and mashed potatoes doused in gravy. After eating under clear skies, I set off for my first pair of shifts (three hours each, for a total of six hours). This year, as a part of policy enforcement, my roles were to patrol the venue and ensure all cosplay props had been properly checked, as well as keeping the peace and answering any questions people had.

  • It’s a far cry from my previous role in the programming assistance position four years ago, where I’d been stationed outside of the panel rooms to help manage lines and (if needed), help panelists with their AV equipment: rather than staying in one place for three hours, policy enforcement volunteers have the opportunity to visit all corners of the venue, and this proved quite fun. In this way, my first day passed quite quickly, and nothing particularly noteworthy happened during my shifts, although after six hours, I was rendered quite exhausted. After checking out, I met back up with my best friend, who’d found a panel on improv comedy he particularly enjoyed, and we left the venue for a restaurant in a quiet park just to the north. A fried chicken ramen rounded out the day, and I returned home shortly after.

  • The next morning, I was scheduled to shoot videos at an event for the Chinese community walkathon at the Chinese Cultural Centre and so, I headed back downtown with only five and a half hours of sleep, as well as a mild headache. In spite of this, the filming went reasonably well, and I was able to capture footage of all of my assignments, as well as some of the walkers beginning their route. The smoke had returned, and I found myself hoping it could clear, making it easier for the participants. I also had been tasked with filming the performances, so after the attendees had all begin, I returned to the Cultural Centre and began recharging my phone ahead of the performances. This part had proved unexpectedly hard on my shoulders, and I resolved, there and then, to buy a new tripod ahead of my next filming event. Reviewing the video, most of the footage came out okay, so I hope the event organisers will be able to make use of the video I shot.

  • Once this event wrapped up, I headed to the convention centre to begin my next set of shifts for Otafest. In pure coincidence, I ran into my best friend, and after switching out my videography gear for Otafest gear, I decided to swing by the exhibitor hall one more time. A pair of Nendoroids had caught my eye, but in the interest of keeping within my budget, I decided it was prudent to only buy one – I’d been eyeing the Anya Forger Nendoroid, but there was also one of Megumin, as well. With advice from my best friend (Megumin is a bit more iconic, and being an older Nendoroid may make it harder to buy in the future), I had my answer: I would buy the Megumin Nendoroid.

  • My best friend had also been interested to attend another comedy-related panel and had wondered if this would affect dinner and transportation plans, so I reassured him that we more or less had unlimited flexibility – since Otafest only comes once a year (and we can hang out at our leisure), he should check the panel out. I thus began my next set of shifts, helped the exhibitor hall in closing down and escorted a few more patrons to their destinations. During my shift, a ceiling tile had come down and hit an unsuspecting patron. It was most fortunate that the patron was unharmed, and was even laughing about things in the minutes after. Medical staff on-site ascertained he was fine, and the section of the hallway was briefly cordoned off.

  • Yesterday, my last set of shifts began. In previous years, I always sat out Sundays as an attendee simply because I’d already seen everything I wished to see, and consequently, I never did attend the closing ceremonies. Because my shifts this year extended into the evening, however, I was able to see the crowd build-up leading into the closing ceremony, and as a part of my duties, I helped manage the lines and point folks in the right direction, as well as cordoning off a section of the event hall so people wouldn’t camp in certain places. Once the closing ceremony began, the policy team lead determined that there probably wouldn’t be a need for the remaining volunteers to stick around, and we were free to go. Since I was much earlier than expected, many restaurants were still open, and I wrapped up the day with a piping-hot and flavourful ebi-don with prawns fresh from the fryer.

  • With this, my time at Otafest 2023 draws to a close, and altogether, this was a remarkable event that was a worthy way of celebrating twenty-five years. Questions inevitably abound of whether or not I’ll be returning to help out next year, and for the present, nothing is written in stone, so for now, I’ll unwind in the aftermath of what was a successful anime convention and return the conversation to Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, where Hinata is seen buying a cake at a café while Konata, Tsukasa and Kagami can be seen conversing in the background. Although Lucky☆Star‘s main cast are featured prominently in the opening sequence, they only make cameo appearances throughout Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku.

  • Back home, Hikage reveals that she’d spent most of the day preparing a special dinner for Hinata on account of it being her birthday. Hinata herself had forgotten and felt that she’d been buying a cake for kicks, and steels herself for another lecture from Hikage, but Hikage interprets this as desert to round things out. In the aftermath of Otafest, it turns out there are more folks who think along Hinata’s lines than I’d known, and in fact, during conversation with some of the other volunteers in policy management, they were surprised I limited myself to “only” two Nendoroids. I joked that having a mortgage to deal with really puts the brakes on things, and in reality, I also needed to budget well, since there were a few other things I needed to pick up (e.g. a new shelf for clothes and a tripod to improve my videography)

  • I don’t begrudge people for lightening up during Calgary’s biggest Japanese popular culture event – if one generally manages their money well, then it’s perfectly okay to spend a little more (again, within reason) during special events like Otafest. I did hear of my fellow volunteers spending hundreds of dollars, and even wondering if they’d hit their credit card’s limit: to help keep myself away from the red, I decided that I would bring in a pre-determined amount of cash, and once that pool was gone, I was done. This makes it much easier to know how much I’ve spent and how much I’ve left; coupled with my approach of picking up stuff only from the series I wholly adore, it becomes much easier to keep a check on spending.

  • There’s a lot of financial tricks for balancing one’s interest with ensuring one has enough funds for a rainy day, but the two most tried-and-true approaches I use are to only buy merchandise from franchises that have tangibly impacted me in some way, and then for certain kinds of merchandise, if I still want something after a time period, then I’ll know I can get it. In the case of Nendoroids, I’ve been curious about them since I saw the K-On! ones in 2011, but their price tag was always a little dissuading. Considering the amount of time that’s passed, since I still figured it’d be nice to have a Nendoroid (or two), I decided to pull the trigger during Otafest.

  • One cannot help but feel pathos for Hikage whenever things transpire in a way that make it more difficult for her to get by – although Hikage is not adorable in a traditional sense owing to her blunt mannerisms, she’s actually quite endearing in her own way. Cuteness is something with a bit of science behind it, and while experts universally agree that certain aesthetic traits create a strong response in most people, I’ve also found that moments of pity can do the same thing (my heart always melts when a baby scrunches up their face in response to teasing).

  • One day, Hikage tries to pick up bean sprouts when they’re on sale, only to learn that they’ve all been sold out. This sort of phenomenon is one I’ve not experienced at the supermarket before – every week, prior to going grocery shopping, I always look through the flyers to see if there’s anything in discount, and then if so, I plan my meals around those items. However, discounted items are never so popular they sell out before I arrive, and so, I’ve been fortunate to never experience what Hikage’s seeing here. The cost of groceries is no joke, and I’ve watched as food prices steadily increased over the past year and a half; even when some supermarkets claim their prices are frozen, they get around this by giving reduced portions and quantities.

  • As it turns out, Kazuhiko had ended up buying some bean sprouts and fried them with meat, causing Hikage to shun him. While Hikage is quite touchy about money, it suddenly hits me that the Miyakawas aren’t so impoverished that Hikage is actually going hungry, and from the looks of it, Hinata is still able to pay for utilities and cable. Further to this, Hinata and Hikage, at the minimum, have a place to live and do not have the additional costs associated with rent or a mortgage. It appears that in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, Hinata simply cuts corners when it comes to food so she can fuel her otaku hobby, and this is the source of Hikage’s suffering.

  • Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku uses pity (similar to Anne Happy and Bocchi The Rock!) to drive some of its humour. Anime of this sort are almost always written in such a way so that the scenarios don’t outright put the characters in a perilous situation, and so, viewers can laugh at their situations in the knowledge that the characters won’t come to any harm. Here, Hikage creates an improvised dish with leftover ingredients, and upon hearing Hinata’s praise, remarks that if Hinata would simply buy food and save her money, this situation wouldn’t happen.

  • Towards the ends of Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, Hikage briefly takes in a stray cat, and while she does enjoy its company, she also wonders if the cat will be able to find a new home since Hinata may not be willing to take on a pet. Raising a cat, at least in Canada, is estimated to cost about 1300 dollars a year (or 108.33 per month). This cost entails veterinarian bills, food and other provisions. However, since this is a stray, Hikage and Hinata would also need to get the cat registered, licensed and given an initial checkup to ensure it’s healthy. This can range anywhere from 960 to 2000 CAD, and considering the Miyakawa’s situation, this isn’t advisable.

  • In a heart-melting moment, Hinata believes that Hikage is going to eat the stray cat and forbids them from having one, although this turns out to be a misunderstanding. The scene reminded me of why Megumin prefers to keep Chomusuke with her at all times, rather than at home, where she believes Komekko may actually end up eating him. This thought is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying, bringing to mind a story my grandparents told about how some people did in fact carve up stray cats as dinner during tougher times. Since then, legislature has been passed, making it illegal to consume cats: violations of this are subject to six months in prison and/or a fine of no less than five thousand Hong Kong dollars.

  • In the end, Hikage is unable to keep the stray, and Daisuke reluctantly agrees to take the cat in at Hikage, Erika and Yukina’s behest. However, he reveals in an inner monologue that he actually doens’t have permission and now needs to beg for it so he can save face in front of Hikage. With this, we enter the final moments of Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku and Victoria Day Long Weekend’s final hours. After a full three days of Otafest, I had originally intended on taking today as a day to remain at home and do nothing. However, after a morning spent doing some housework and processing the videos I shot from the walkathon for upload, I ended up swinging by the IKEA to pick up a new shelf for my bedroom.

  • The latter part of the day was spent building the self and moving stuff over to it: with this, I will have more storage for clothing, allowing my room to be a little less cluttered (and also leaving me with a bit of space for my new Nendoroids). Back in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, after Erika turns down Kazuhiko’s efforts to hear out her problems, he finds himself dejected. This is a recurring joke in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, where the other instructor, Marina, ends up giving Kazuhiko some reassurance. Marina’s presence in Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku is limited, but her manner is similar to GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain and ARIA‘s Alicia.

  • In the end, although Hinata’s habits don’t change, viewers are still treated to a heartwarming moment where Hikage dreams of having steak, only to wake up and finds herself chewing on her blanket. However, upon waking up for real, Hikage finds that Hinata’s whipping up a Hamburger Steak, albeit one made of tofu. Although it might not be real meat, the gesture alone is touching for Hikage, who enjoys breakfast. In spite of Hinata’s outwardly self-centred mannerisms, she still cares greatly about about Hikage.

  • Tofu is a nutritionally valid alternative to meat, offering similar levels of protein without the same levels of sodium; while folks may count it as being less tasty and prefer things like Beyond Meat, the reality is that to achieve a similar taste as real meat, Beyond Meat and similar products have extremely high levels of sodium – any health benefits offered by meat alternatives may be offset by their sodium levels. At the end of the day, tofu is still a healthy alternative, and one can reason that Hinata likely knows how to ensure Hikage eats well enough, and then meat becomes an occasional treat.

  • In this way, I finally cross the finish line for Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku a decade after its airing, and I found it to be a rather enjoyable series of shorts that provides another portrayal of the otaku culture. In its negatives, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku suggests that otaku are fiscally irresponsible people who prioritise the wrong things, but at the same time, this spin-off also suggests that otaku can be resourceful people who can find creative means of balancing their interests with other aspects of their lives. Despite Hikage’s disapproval of Hinata’s practises, the two clearly love one another.

  • With this post and the Victoria Day long weekend in the books, it will be a return to routine. The preparations leading up to Otafest and the busy nature of this long weekend has meant that I spent less time on this blog than I usually would, but with the local anime convention in the books, I resume my regularly scheduled programming. I have a talk on AnoHana lined up for the near future: ten years earlier, I began watching this series, but I always found it difficult to write about. In the present, I am curious to see whether or not a decade’s worth of life experiences will change this and allow me to better articulate my thoughts on this nuanced and moving series.

Having just finished the past long weekend volunteering at Otafest, the local anime convention, the topic of financial responsibility as an anime fan is an appropriate topic to consider: as tempting as it is to spend and buy things that catch my eye, budgeting and planning ahead makes it much easier to reign in spending and at the same time, still walk away with a great experience without feeling like one’s spent too much later on. Life is a game of moderation, and there is a fine balance one must maintain. If one is so tight-fisted as to never spend on their interest and hobby, existence becomes very colourless and dull. On the other hand, frivolously spending one’s income is irresponsible and will result in difficulties tending to one’s financial obligations. Unsurprisingly, there is a happy medium here: if, after all the books are balanced, the bills are paid and a sum is sent into a savings account for the future, one still has a bit of extra left over, then there is no harm in indulging every so often. Thus, while Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku initially appears to be merely a Lucky☆Star spinoff motivated by comedy, it turns out that the setup also acts as an effective means of conveying a thoughtful remark about the otaku subculture: it’s okay to be invested into a franchise, but one must also be mindful of those around them. Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku‘s approach is significantly gentler, using humour to convey this message – when a given work softens up a message by using hyperbole and situational irony to convey the consequences of certain mindsets, rather than directly preaching a given idea, viewers are more receptive to the message because they are able to take the theme and then apply it to their own context. By having Hinata’s outrageous actions impact Hikage in a manner that is more pitiful than harmful, viewers can draw their own conclusions about what the consequences of mismanaging money are. There doesn’t appear to be a better setting than Yoshimizu’s Lucky☆Star universe to sell this idea: although otaku being highly passionate and devoted to their interests is something to be celebrated, a modicum of moderation must also be observed so one can partake in a hobby in a healthy and sustainable manner. In the end, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku hints at how, despite her otaku interests, Hinata greatly cares about Hikage, and similarly, while Hikage finds herself exasperated by Hinata’s lack of money sense, she’s aware that Hinata genuinely cares about her, too.

Umayon 2: An Anime Short Reflection and Remarks on Upcoming Uma Musume Pretty Derby Projects

“Be wary of the horse with a sense of humour.” –Pam Brown

Everyday life at Tracen Academy continues at a leisurely pace for the Horse Girls, who participate in everything from enjoying sweets and experimenting with new techniques for winning races, to telling scary stories and changing up their appearances through fashion. Umayon 2 is a continuation of the series of shorts that accompany Uma Musume Pretty Derby, and similarly to its predecessor, consists of unrelated vignettes that bring to life the nonsensical, but adorable moments that act as highlights to some of Tracen’s Horse Girls lives outside of their competitions. Although shorter than its predecessor (Umayon 2‘s episodes have about a minute of content, versus the three minutes in Umayon episodes), these short episodes still remain quite entertaining and remind viewers that there is much that can be done with Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Animation studios are evidently thinking along similar lines – announcements for a new OVA, Road to the Top! and a third season, were made recently, and this has generated considerable excitement amongst fans of Uma Musume Pretty Derby: the series’ main stories have been generally met with positive reception, and the Uma Musume Pretty Derby universe has been unexpectedly well-presented, combining the large cast of the mobile game and its mechanics with a meaningful story that gives viewers incentive to root for the series’ respective protagonists. The first season saw Special Week rising to the occasion on her quest to become the best in Japan, while the second season portrayed Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen’s struggles with injuries, as well as their unwavering determination to be their best for the other’s sake. According to the Uma Musume Pretty Derby website, the third season will follow Kitasan Black and Satono Diamond, and is slated for a release later this year. If previous seasons are a precedence, then it is expected that this third season will be quite compelling to watch, as well.

Although Uma Musume Pretty Derby appears to be little more than a glorified track-and-field sports anime at first glance, closer inspection finds a series that brings the roster management elements in the mobile game into an animated format that focuses on specific characters to give viewers more insight about members of the cast that the game itself cannot convey. To this end, elements unique to the world in Uma Musume Pretty Derby are depicted with a high level of detail. The Horse Girls are treated with respect and have access to top-of-the-line facilities for training, and their competitions draw a considerable amount of interest. The world itself is lived-in, giving a sense of energy and enthusiasm for the Horse Girls and their race events. However, beyond this, every individual Horse Girl is shown as having their own stories and motivations for being their best. Beyond merely being an animated incarnation of their game forms, the Horse Girls have unique struggles, friendships and reasons for wanting to be at the top of their game on the track. Setbacks only spur them to fight harder, but encouragements from both friends and rivals also drive individual Horse Girls to push their limits further still, resulting in a surprisingly gripping and emotionally-rivetting experience. In short, Uma Musume Pretty Derby is successful because the anime is able to simultaneously give viewers reason to root for a season’s protagonists while at the same time, showing the world of Uma Musume Pretty Derby as one that’s been thoughtfully laid out. Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s first season had been enjoyable, but the BNW’s Oath OVAs and second season definitively demonstrated that the Horse Girls’ stories could have a considerable weight behind them, as well, and with the sheer number of characters in this world, the potential for exploring this universe, and the Horse Girls’ stories further, remains limitless.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Traditionally, discussions of chibi spin-offs are difficult to write for, since these are meant purely for comedy rather than advancing the stories. However, the short format and lack of an overarching story hasn’t taken away from my enjoyment of these spin-offs: it is always fun to see the characters bouncing off one another in an environment removed from the gravity that accompanies a full-length anime series.

  • In Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season, Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen had both been put through an emotional grinder – Tokai Teio’s numerous injuries had prevented her from racing at her best, and although Mejiro McQueen had dominated their races, she herself would suffer from a condition that limits her days as a racer. I had admittedly been a little skeptical about shifting the focus over to Tokai Teio and Mejiro McQueen from the first season’s Special Week and Silence Suzuka, but the end result had proven to be solid.

  • Seeing the format in Uma Musume Pretty Derby would actually lead me to draw a new conclusion about series like Strike Witches and Girls und Panzer: in Uma Musume Pretty Derby, after a satisfactory story has been told about a group of characters, in any story where world-building is solid, it is possible to change the focus over to different characters and explore things for other characters. This approach allows an anime to continuously build upon the world while at the same time, ensuring that every season is a self-contained unit that does not leave viewers hanging.

  • In Girls und Panzer, for example, once Miho and Ooarai had won their championship, from a narrative and thematic standpoint, Miho had completed her journey of growth (or at least, almost, but this will be a discussion for another time), so there is technically no need to revisit Ooarai in future runs. Since Girls und Panzer shows the presence of numerous other schools, the story could show Panzerfahren from a different school’s perspective, and in turn, present different challenges and experiences.

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby has done precisely this, and this leaves viewers with self-contained stories in every season that are not dependent on a priori knowledge. This allows people to watch Uma Musume Pretty Derby in any order of their choosing and also lowers the barrier of entry to the series: if one entered Uma Musume Pretty Derby through the second season and Tokai Teio’s struggles, for instance, they are not dependent on having seen the first season and Special Week’s aspirations to follow along.

  • Although Uma Musume Pretty Derby might be an anime adaptation of a game, the series has found its footing and tells compelling stories that connect viewers to the characters. In this arena, Uma Musume Pretty Derby succeeds in doing what Kantai Collection could not: the anime has piqued my interest in the mobile game. Despite its popularity, Uma Musume Pretty Derby remains unavailable to overseas players and has not been internationalised, which is a shame because the game actually looks fun to play.

  • Umayon 2‘s episodes are shorter than those of its predecessors, and as such, there’s only enough time to build up for one joke per episode. In spite of this, Umayon 2 still manages to be funny in its own right, counting on non sequitur humour to drive things. The chibi designs are adorable, and I am reminded of both Kaginado and Strike Witches: Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, which had similarly adopted a distinct art style to convey the sort of light-heartedness their original series did not.

  • Because of the very large cast, Umayon 2 does viewers the courtesy of naming all of the characters that appear so one can immediately get a refresher on who’s who. Traditionally, in any series with a large number of characters, I don’t make any effort at learning the names of anyone outside of the core group. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, I only learnt the names of Special Week, Silence Suzuka, Tokai Teioi, Mejiro McQueen, Gold Ship, Daiwa Scarlet and Vodka so I could discuss Team Spica. As the need arises, I’ll look up the other characters and subsequently try to associate names with faces.

  • Besides its first episode, all of Umayon 2‘s episodes released all at once in December 2021. According to blog archives, I began watching Uma Musume Pretty Derby four months earlier, then became exceptionally busy ahead of preparing for the move. By the time I sat down for BNW’s Oath, it had already been six months later, and I would reach the second season a month after settling in. During last July, I wrote about Umayon, and here in the present, I’ve finally wrapped up Umayon 2.

  • My timing couldn’t be better because a few days ago, one of my long-time readers had informed me of the fact that Road to the Top! and third season would come out this year. The former is scheduled for release on April 16, and while there’s no known date for the third season, the official website for Uma Musume Pretty Derby has indicated that this will release somewhere this year. Uma Musume Pretty Derby is one of the anime series I took up on recommendation from a reader, and I’ve found that nine of ten times, any recommendation that I do decide to pick up ends up being something I will come to enjoy.

  • It is only in a place like Umayon 2 where unorthodox training techniques like these can be utilised: Haru Urara is shown to be experimenting with a plan for improving her racing by attaching a popsicle treat to Silence Suzuka and then keeping pace in hopes of winning the prize. In Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Haru Urara is a poor performing who never wins any races but is allowed to remain at Tracen Academy owing to her cheerful presence. The real Haru Urara similarly saw zero wins throughout her races, but remained popular enough so that she made enough income to continue racing, and after retirement, continues to live her days out peacefully in Chiba.

  • One of the major appeals about Uma Musume Pretty Derby is the fact that every Horse Girl in the show is modelled after their real-life counterparts in some way, similarly to how Kantai Collection‘s Kan-musume. Small details like these allow Uma Musume Pretty Derby to give each of the characters depth, and when these elements are bought together into a story, there’s an opportunity to tell something especially meaningful. Prior to Uma Musume Pretty Derby, I’d never been interested in horse racing – generally speaking, people aren’t anywhere nearly as interested in the sport itself as they are in the gambling aspects.

  • Conversely, Uma Musume Pretty Derby focuses purely on the thrill of the race itself, and why the different Horse Girls push themselves further every time they step out onto the track. By eliminating the gambling aspect outright and choosing to highlight the mental fortitude behind each race, Uma Musume Pretty Derby shows the positive aspects of horse racing that is far removed from the negative connotations surrounding the sport. I remember a lesson I picked up as a student – a talented instructor will be able to make even the most reluctant student appreciate the worth of a given subject.

  • Although Tokai Teio’s plight in Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s second season brought me to the verge of tears on more than one occasion, Umayon 2 has her restlessly bouncing on the couch in the student council office as she tries to persuade Symboli Rudolf to race her. Anime tantrums are somehow always so adorable to behold – Japan has managed to find ways of making cute even things that wouldn’t otherwise be seen a such, and what would normally be considered a nuisance in reality somehow evokes the same feeling one might get when cuddling with a stuffed animal.

  • In the end, Symboli Rudolf decides that Tokai Teio can race her if she meets a challenge: “out-eat Oguri Cap”. This was ultimately a ruse to get Tokai Teio out of her hair, and the latter ends up being destroyed in a challenge. Vignettes like these might not give any more insight into the characters of Uma Musume Pretty Derby, but for fans of the series, they remain highly entertaining. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Umayon is not for folks who’ve never seen Uma Musume Pretty Derby previously – the spin-offs are dependent on some prior knowledge of the characters, their traits and place in the Uma Musume Pretty Derby universe.

  • Admittedly, I don’t pick up on all of the jokes in Umayon, and the vignette where Agnes Tachoyon and Manhattan Café discuss fashion was a little out of my depth – things end with Vodka bringing out some chains and suggested Agnes Tachoyon would look better with chains. While I may not fully understand all of the comedy in Umayon, I find that for the most part, Umayon 2 is more enjoyable than incomprehensible.

  • Besides Umayon, there’s also a series of shorts called Umayuru. Similarly to UmayonUmayuru presents the world of Uma Musume Pretty Derby from a light-hearted and comedic perspective. At this point in time, I’m not too sure if there’s merit in writing about Umayuru – I do have plans to watch it, but since the premise is quite similar to Umayon, I’m not too sure if there’s any merits in writing about things.

  • I do, however, have plans to write about Road to the Top! and the third season. With this, my final post of February is complete, and looking ahead into March, the biggest posts I have lined up will be for Girls und Panzer – since October, Girls und Panzer have been celebrating their tenth anniversary, and while the promotional teams have counted the tenth anniversary from the series’ original airing point, whenever I think about Girls und Panzer, I think about March 2013. To commemorate this milestone and share some of my thoughts on what is now a decade-old series, I’ve got some posts planned out.

  • Beyond this, things have also settled down enough for me to begin watching The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House. Assuming my current rate of progression, I expect to finish the series and share my thoughts on this series mid-month. March also will see Mō Ippon! conclude alongside Itsuka Ano Umi de (whose final episode was delayed all the way to March 25, coinciding with the date Girls und Panzer‘s finale aired ten years ago), and as a result of production issues, Bofuri 2 was delayed by two weeks, so I anticipate writing about its finale somewhere in April.

  • If there is interest in a discussion on Umayuru, I will write about it at reader’s request. However, I imagine that the next time Uma Musume Pretty Derby graces this blog will be somewhere in late April or early May, after the Road to the Top! OVA becomes available. In the meantime, I’ve been making my way through 2016’s Girlish Number. I appreciate that some readers have been interested in my thoughts on last season’s Do It Yourself, and while that series is on my radar, I’ve also been meaning to go through some of my older series, too.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s success is an instance of how roster management games can translate gracefully into the animated format. Kantai Collection had been a forerunner in this regard, and in the aftermath, animated adaptations of miltary-moé games, like Girls’ Frontline, Arknights and Azur Lane followed. However, these anime are met with mixed responses from viewers: owing to the nature of the games, if a story is told around game-specific mechanics, then it becomes difficult for viewers to follow along. Moreover, the incongruity between the aesthetics and story results in a disconnect; humourous moments can seem out-of-place, and serious moments often appear excessively so, giving viewers the impression that the characters are overthinking things rather than acting with conviction. This is a non-issue in Uma Musume Pretty Derby. Races are emotionally charged and gripping, but off the track, the characters are free to be themselves. Further to this, the spirit to compete and improve is one that is universally appreciated, giving Uma Musume Pretty Derby more opportunity to draw in viewers. Through its successes, Uma Musume Pretty Derby demonstrates that roster management games don’t necessarily need to be military themed or focused on thriller elements. Sincerity and an emotional connection with the characters and their struggles are often more successful. Creating this connection with the characters is why spin-off shorts like Umayon and Umayon 2 are enjoyable for fans of the main series, acting as a means of sustaining anticipation for the upcoming Uma Musume Pretty Derby projects: it is anticipated that both Road to the Top! and the third season will be excellent additions to the Uma Musume Pretty Derby franchise, and I’m rather looking forwards to both watching and writing about them as they become available.

Planetarian: Snow Globe – Reflections and A Professional’s Remarks on The Rise of Artificial Intelligence

“If we succeed in building human equivalent AI and if that AI acquires a full understanding of how it works, and if it then succeeds in improving itself to produce super-intelligent AI, and if that super-AI, accidentally or maliciously, starts to consume resources, and if we fail to pull the plug, then, yes, we may well have a problem.” –Alan Winfield

When Yumemi Hoshino is unveiled at Flowercrest Department Store’s planetarium to assist with presentation, attendant Satomi Kurehashi wonders what point there is in having her provide instruction to a robot. Ten years later, Yumemi has become an integral part of daily operations at the planetarium, but Satomi becomes worried when she finds Yumemi leaving the premises on a daily basis. Diagnostics finds nothing wrong with Yumemi’s hardware, and Yumemi herself states she’s performing normally. The IT specialist, Gorō, promises to investigate and determines there’s no abnormalities in Yumemi’s hardware or software, and one evening, while discussing Yumemi’s programming, the staff at the planetarium share a laugh after Yumemi misinterprets one of Satomi’s coworker’s remarks. Over time, the attendance at the planetarium begins to decline. The staff consider ways of driving up visitor count and consider selling snow globes, news of anti-robot riots begins to appear. On a snowy day, Yumemi wanders out to a nearby park, and Satomi decides to follow her after picking up a snow globe. While at a park, Satomi spots a young girl hitting Yumemi before her mother shows up; the girl tearfully remarks on how robots have resulted in her father to lose his job. Yumemi subsequently enters a power-saving mode but comes back online to share a conversation with Satomi, revealing that her coworkers had asked her to listen to Satomi’s concerns. Satomi later realises that Yumemi’s wandering out everyday was in response to a promise she’d made to a boy shortly after she joined the planetarium’s staff. The boy, now a young man, returns to the planetarium and remarks that he’s unable to keep his promise to Yumemi, having fallen in love with someone else. He ends up sticking around for the show, a tenth anniversary special. Satomi promises that she will continue to work with Yumemi at the planetarium unto eternity, and later, the staff provides Yumemi with an upgrade. Some three decades later, the world has fallen into ruin, but unaware of the changed world, Yumemi reactivates and begins to set about her original directive, of looking after the planetarium and its guests. This prequel story to Planetarian was originally part of a special edition of the game that tells of how Yumemi and the planetarium’s staff worked together prior to the war that decimated humanity. While it’s a touching story that shows how Yumemi came to become a beloved part of the planetarium she worked at, Planetarian: Snow Globe also touches upon issues that impact contemporary society. In the past year, the topic of machine learning and artificial intelligence was thrust into the forefront of discussion as Stable Diffusion and OpenAI’s ChatGPT reached increasing levels of sophistication. The former is a deep learning model that converts text prompts into images. Having been trained on a massive learning set, the tool is capable on running modest hardware and produces images of a high quality. ChatGPT, on the other hand, is a chatbot capable of producing life-like responses. Using a combination of supervised and reinforcement learning, ChatGPT can be utilised to generate stories and essays, identify bugs in computer software and even compose music.

The functionality in these new technologies is accentuated by the speed at which content can be generated; with a few prompts, tools like Stable Diffusion and ChatGPT can effortlessly output content at rates far outstripping what humans can generate, while at the same time, producing content that exists in a legal grey area regarding copyright and ethics. The existence of these technologies have created concern that they can eliminate occupations for humans and create a scenario where creativity is no longer something with any merit. Snow Globe presents hints of this – the little girl that confronts Yumemi, and the off-screen anti-robot riots are hints of how people are resistant to the idea of disruptive technologies that may potentially take away their livelihoods. At the same time, however, Snow Globe also suggests that AI and other technologies possess known limitations, and as such, while they might become increasingly powerful, they won’t fully displace people. Yumemi acts as support for the staff at the planetarium rather than replacing the other attendants, and limitations in her programming means that she has certain eccentricities that make it difficult for the management to decisively rely on Yumemi over her human counterparts. Similarly, in reality, machine learning still has its limitations. Stable Diffusion artwork lacks the same stylistic elements as human-created art and can create results that land in the uncanny valley, and ChatGPT lacks the ability to verify the factual value of content, producing answers that are obviously wrong to humans. Although there are concerns that increasing the training will eventually iron out these shortcomings, the AI itself is still a tool, one that cannot produce an output without a human hand guiding it. Clients and customers will similarly see a need for humans to ensure that a result is satisfactory. While concerns over AI replacing people in a range of creative occupations is a valid one, history finds that it is something that people might not need to worry about. When automation was introduced in manufacturing, people protested that their jobs were being taken away. However, automation also created new jobs requiring different skills, and over time, society adapted to the usage of automated production lines. With respect to AI, something similar will likely take place: although production of content might be automated, people are still required to provide inputs to these systems, and similarly, creative skill is still necessary, as the outputs from AI will not always match a client or customer’s requirements. When the technology reaches a point where it can supplant people, it will likely be the case that people will simply create other occupations and positions to utilise the technology. Snow Globe illustrates this as occurring: Yumemi is an asset at the planetarium that she works at, but she still has some limitations; these shortcomings are overcome when she’s working with human staff, and it is together that the planetarium finds the most success.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to blog archives, the last time I wrote about Planetarian was some six years ago. At that time, I’d completed my graduate thesis and had been working with my first start-up. My post about Planetarian indicates that I had spent some time on campus cleaning up my old office space and, in the comments, I had promised one of my readers that I would check out the movie once it became available. Unfortunately, this, never materialised: as memory serves, after seeing the film’s runtime, I decided to put it aside for a rainy day, and I subsequently never got around to watching the movie in full.

  • When I finished Planetarian‘s ONAs, I concluded that the series had exceled in showing how humanity retains its love of beauty even when our societies have crumbled, as seen with the Junker’s decision to collect Yumemi’s memory card. Here in Snow Globe, which is said to have been set three decades earlier, the world shown is a familiar one. Yumemi lacks her signature ribbon, and ten years into her service at the planetarium, Satomi’s grown accustomed to her presence despite initial reservations about working with a robot.

  • Satomi’s role in Snow Globe is to represent the individuals who are initially reluctant to accept a new technology, but over time, come to acclimatise and value what said technologies bring to the table. Her remarks about having spent ten years with Yumemi but still occasionally misunderstanding her speaks to the idea that the constructs and tools humanity has developed are of immense complexity. Even simpler iOS app has a large number of moving parts. For instance, while Twitter looks like a relatively easy app to implement, there’s a networking layer, infinite scrolling, AVPlayerViewControllers for video playback, a side menu and other elements that provide features users are accustomed to.

  • A system as complex as Yumemi’s, then, would be even more difficult to explain. Snow Globe has Yumemi serve as a capable presenter at the planetarium, but almost ten years since her inauguration, she begins to behave unexpectedly; Yumemi wanders off premises, and while acknowledging that this behaviour goes against planetarium protocol, she does not find that these actions conflict with her directives. Gorō indicates that Yumemi’s instruction stack seems normal, but here, I will note that strictly speaking, the terminology isn’t correct and moreover, using a stack isn’t appropriate for Yumemi. A stack is useful for solving problems that involve recursion (e.g. backtracking in pathfinding). A queue, on the other hand, is the better choice for sequential processing: it’s a data structure in which the first object put in is the first object to be used.

  • Since Yumemi works based on the instructions given to her, I’d expect that a priority queue underlies Yumemi’s functions: every instruction she’s been given is assigned a priority value, and then depending on parameters, Yumemi would pull the item with the highest priority to execute. Queues are a fundamental data structure, one that all aspiring developers must learn, and for me, queues are the easiest to explain since they’re modelled after examples like lines at a supermarket. Here, both Gorō and Yumemi are looking for abnormalities in her programming, suggesting a debug of the decision-making algorithm that assigns priority. Since nothing is found during their investigation, Gorō and Satomi are both baffled.

  • Unusual behaviours in software are not uncommon; a software developer deals with these sorts of issues on a daily basis, and there have been times where it is difficult to identify a problem because the reported issue is not sufficient to crash an app (and in turn, produce a stack trace). Instead, tracking down these behaviours requires an understanding of the underlying code. This is why any good software developer will insist on producing clean code: if the logic is too convoluted, this impedes clarity and precludes easy debugging.

  • To give an example of this, suppose that I wished to call a method if four conditions were met. Basic programming would call for an if-statement (e.g. “if A and B and C and D”). However, if the app grew in complexity, and now I had six conditions, one of which could always result in a method call if true, common sense would suggest adding these additional conditions to my predicate (e.g. “if A and B and C and D and E or F”). However, the verbosity of this statement would make it difficult to debug if it was found that the method was being called incorrectly: was it conditions A, B, C, D or E causing the problem, or is it the “or” operator with condition F?

  • In Swift, the response to this would be to use a guard clause after computing the variables. Suppose that the Boolean groupA is true if all of A, B, C, D and E are true. Then we could do something like “guard groupA || F else { return }” prior to calling our method. Because we know there is two distinct groups to look after now, debugging this becomes significantly easier. In this case, the solution Gorō proposes, to add tighter constraints on Yumemi’s behaviours, might not work given that at this point in Snow Globe, the cause of Yumemi’s actions is not precisely understood.

  • If what I’ve just said appears too verbose or dense, that’s completely understandable; this is the world of software development and clean code. I deal with these matters daily, and as such, have some familiarity with it, but it is unfair for me to expect the same of all readers. With this being said, having walked through what would be considered a simple example, one can swiftly see how when things like machine learning come into the picture, at least some background is required in order to understand how current systems work, and by extension, what the limitations of different methodologies are.

  • Topics of computer vision, natural language processing and machine learning have been widely debated as tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion continue to mature. However, I’ve found that a lot of discussions about the social implications do not take into account the constraints of machine learning; although concern that these tools can destroy what gives artists and creatives value, the reality is that these technologies are still restricted by the size of their training sets. An AI could easily produce an image of Yumemi, for instance, but that interpretation would not have the subtle attention to detail a human artist could produce. In this case, if I wanted a commission of Yumemi, I would still favour asking a human artist over producing one through Stable Diffusion.

  • In graduate school, I briefly studied machine learning through my courses on Multi-Agent Systems and Swarm Modelling: while things like supervised learning and reinforcement learning are well-characterised, these courses also make it clear that machine learning has its limitations. One could ruin a model by overfitting it, for instance; a model can be made to perform flawlessly against training data, but the model would still prove useless for data it is unfamiliar with (the easiest analogy is the student who memorises exam questions rather than learning the principles and gets wrecked by an exam whose questions are slightly different). Because of constraints in the learning process, there is nuance in training a model, and while these processes are constantly evolving and improving, they’re not at a point where they can threaten human equivalents yet.

  • Having studied some machine learning in my time, and because of the fact I constantly deal with technology as a result of my occupation (I’ve written wrappers to work with natural language processors and have added sentiment analysis algorithms to some of the apps I’ve worked on previously), I believe that there is at least some weight to my remarks that we are not yet at the stage where AI-generated content can displace human-made content owing to constraints in learning models. A large number of creatives is concerned about where the technology is headed, but the reality is that we’re still many years out from possessing AI that can generate content with the same deliberateness as people do.

  • Snow Globe‘s portrayal of Yumemi and her relationship with the planetarium’s other coworkers speaks to this reality: although Yumemi was programmed to be kind and attentive, she lacks emotions as we know it. Had Yumemi been such a game changer, the planetarium could’ve simply hired Yumemi and then dismissed the remaining staff, save Gorō. This didn’t happen, and the reason is simple enough: despite Yumemi’s capabilities, there remain things only people can do. For instance, Yumemi isn’t designed to help with things like marketting and sales, so when attendance drops, the staff begin considering what else they can do; Satomi wonders if ordering custom snow globes might be of use.

  • While it is a worthwhile exercise to consider how things like copyrights and other legal aspects should be handled in the event that technology does reach a point where machine learning can produce works matching or surpassing what can be produced by human hands, I hold that such a discussion and any policy-related proposals should be conducted as a multidisciplinary effort amongst domain experts; conversations on social media, and as presented by journalists, do not always provide a complete or fair picture of what’s happening, especially given the nuances in the technology. Keeping a step ahead of the technology and implementing policy is meaningful: if social media had seen regulation before it became as ubiquitous as it was today, then it is less likely that bad-faith actors would have been able to use social media to undermine government, for instance.

  • Snow Globe never actually portrays the social unrest that arises as a result of the increasing use of robots within society, but news reports and comments the characters make suggest that it is a growing issue within the context of Planetarian. This is reminiscent of the human response to things within The Matrix: when a humanoid machine murders its owner, riots break out globally demanding that all machines be deactivated and destroyed. Since said machines were programmed with a basic survival instinct, they fled to their sanctuary, manufactured increasingly powerful machines and waged a terrible war on humanity.

  • Topics of this sort have long been popular in science fiction, but in the present day, events relating to technological singularity remain improbable because computing power, while impressive, is still limited. Computers are characterised by their speed, rather than their flexibility, and things like “desire” in a computer is presently measured by means of a function built on equations and input parameters. These functions strive to maximise some sort of goal, but beyond this, have no incentive to go above and beyond as humans might.

  • This is what motivates the choice of page quote: for any sort of AI-related disaster to happen, humanity would need to willfully and purposefully create the conditions necessary for its own destruction, similarly to how Chernobyl was the result of a series of deliberate, willful decisions. With this being said, an AI need not be intrinsically malevolent to wreck havoc with society. My favourite example is the Paperclip Problem: in 2003, Nick Bostrom proposed a simple thought experiment involving an AI whose sole purpose was to manufacture paperclips.

  • If this AI was given the means of producing said paperclips, it may come to realise people may one day impede its goals, or that at some level, atoms within humans could be repurposed for paperclip production, and to this end, annihilate humanity on its quest to produce paperclips. Less macabre variants of this thought experiment exist: if said AI could be instructed to not harm humans directly, it could still mine the planet to its core, resulting in an environment that is decidedly unsuited for human life. Intended purely as a thought experiment, Bostrom uses it to show how important it is to define constraints and rules so that they do not pose a threat to humanity.

  • In the present day, it is a joke amongst computer scientists that the average computer will often ask for a user’s permission, even several times, before it runs a program. Since computers are so subservient to their users (as a deliberate part of their design), an AI would produce a window, with an “okay” and “cancel” dialogue, asking a user if they would like for the AI to visit harm upon them. This attitude may come across as irreverent for some, but the reality is that machine learning and AI still have a long ways to go before they reach a point where they pose an existential threat to humanity.

  • Overall, Snow Globe does a touching job of showing Yumemi’s world prior to the apocalypse that sets her on path to meeting the unnamed Junker in Planetarian‘s storyline, suggesting that Yumemi had been surrounded by people who did care a great deal about her. After the planetarium staff’s time passes, one interesting observation is that Yumemi seems quite unaware of what’s happened, and she continues to try and carry out her original directives. For me, this was one of the biggest signs that Yumemi was what is colloquially referred to as a “dumb” AI in the Halo universe, named because they cannot synthesise information or produce creative solutions for problems.

  • In Halo, “smart” AI possess intuition and ingenuity, capable of mimicking the complex neurological pathways in an organic brain, but owing to their complexity and ability to form their own neurological networks, they place a strain on the hardware and have a short lifespan. “Dumb” AI, on the other hand, can be used for long periods of time. Because Yumemi does not appear to synthesise information or form new connections based on input from her environment, she’s not a true AI. I believe that one of the reasons behind why author Yūichi Suzumoto chose to present Yumemi as a “dumb” AI is because this renders her with a child-like naïveté then forces the reader to consider their own actions and beliefs, rather than having the story give readers a conclusion through a “smart” AI, and this in turn compels viewers to connect with the Junker, who feels a strange connection to a robot that dates back before his time.

  • After Satomi finds Yumemi, the latter enters a power-saving mode until Satomi’s remarks causes Yumemi to reawaken. Yumemi comments on how Satomi’s coworkers had asked her to listen to anything on Satomi’s mind, and in this moment, Satomi is able to add two and two. Here, Snow Globe reinforces the idea that even if one is simply voice their thoughts aloud, talking out one’s problems might be able to help one work out something. Yumemi is not able to directly help Satomi out, but giving Satomi the impression of being listened to gives the latter an understanding of things, enough to help her reason out what is behind Yumemi’s actions of late.

  • Seeing the change in Satomi’s attitude towards Yumemi was Snow Globe‘s highlight: as a junior attendant with the planetarium, Satomi had not seen any merit in training Yumemi, believing that the latter was already preprogrammed to be effective in her role. In the present day, Yumemi’s become an integral part of the staff, and Satomi even wishes she could marry Yumemi. Yumemi’s reply is similar to Siri’s, and she remarks that she’d made a similar promise in the past, leading Satomi to finally spot why Yumemi has been leaving planetarium grounds daily. With this being said, I imagine that this was something Yumemi’s manufacturer had added in as a default response, much as Apple threw this in to Siri as a bit of an easter egg of sorts.

  • As it turns out, the reason for Yumemi’s excursions come from a boy she’d met a decade earlier. He’d promised to marry her one day, and this instruction was processed. However, because there was a date value assigned to this instruction, Yumemi did not prioritise said instruction until the date of the promise drew nearer, whereupon it began impacting her actions. Since this was a valid instruction whose priority was influenced by a date value, diagnostics would not have caught this. One of my readers had suggested to me that this is an emergent property, but from a computer science standpoint, this is not correct.

  • Emergence is the manifestation of complex behaviours (e.g. swarming) from simple rule sets, with Craig Reynolds’ BOIDS and Conway’s Game of Life being two notable examples. Yumemi’s still acting within the realm of her programming at this point in time, and while she’s quite lifelike, there are numerous points in Planetarian where her the limitations of her behaviours are seen. As a result, I’m reluctant to say that Snow Globe illustrates emergence. Emergence in the context of Snow Globe would take the form of Yumemi display humanlike compassion and reassuring Satomi as another person would.

  • Celebrating a decade’s worth of service, Satomi’s coworkers give Yumemi a bouquet before preparing for Yumemi’s signature show. It’s a fitting conclusion to a glimpse into what the world had been like prior to the apocalypse, and I’m glad I was able to capitalise on this long weekend to watch Snow Globe: I had originally wondered if I’d have to wait for April or later to begin owing my schedule, but upon learning Snow Globe was only thirty-six minutes long, I found time enough to sit down for this experience. In Canada, the third Monday of February is a statuary holiday, a break in the month.

  • A massive snowstorm and cold front has swept into the area, and I spent much of today unwinding after enjoying a homemade burger with a side of potato wedges while snow fell. On Saturday, the weather was still quite pleasant, and I ended up taking the family to visit the local farmer’s market. Besides exploring the locally-sourced vegetables, I sat down to a delicious lamb wrap with Greek salad; it turns out that it is possible to taste the difference in having fresh ingredients, and after lunch, I swung by IKEA to buy a new reading lamp. For the past eleven months, I’ve been itching to have a reading corner in my bedroom, and the NYMÅNE fits the bill perfectly: I now have a cozy space to read books in during evenings.

  • Admittedly, the topic matter in Snow Globe has allowed me to express my thoughts on the recent media and online characterisation of a topic I’ve some familiarity with. I am aware of the fact that this is an issue some folks feel very strongly about, but at the same time, I am happy to discuss the ramifications of machine learning from a technological and social perspective, provided that folks are not importing the doomsday narrative the mainstream media is peddling: machine learning’s been around for quite some time, and while it is indeed improving at a dramatic pace, known limitations in its present form prevent AI becoming a plausible means of bringing about a dystopia as some have suggested.

  • In Snow Globe‘s post-credits sequence, the planetarium’s staff gift to Yumemi her trademark holographic ribbon, and later, she reawakens in the post-apocalyptic world. With Snow Globe in the books, time will tell if I actually manage to watch and write about Storyteller of the Stars in the future, but in the foreseeable future, I did promise readers I’d take a look at Do It Yourself! now that the hype surrounding the series has passed. For the remainder of February, however, quite a bit is going on, so I’d also like to knock out some lingering items on the backlog before beginning anything new: I recently finished Metro: ExodusSam’s Story, and have finally cleared Montuyoc in Ghost Recon: Wildlands ahead of a milestone, so I’d like to write about those before the month’s over.

The idea of machine learning and its applications in areas like computer vision or natural language processing is not new: while both ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion were released in 2022, the fields of AI and machine learning have been of interest since the 1990s, and principles like supervised or unsupervised learning are a core a part of courses at the post secondary level. The limitations of these approaches are well-characterised, and while the mass media tends to overplay advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as their implications, experts are aware of the fact that what makes computers so powerful is their speed. With a large enough dataset, computers can emulate humans in terms of problem solving, drawing upon incredible amounts of data and analysis of probabilities and past outcomes to draw a conclusion. In order to train a computer to recognise a square, for instance, thousands of images are required. However, a child will be able to identify what a square is after a few tries. Similarly, the concept of emotions is one area where humans continue to excel over machines. While emotions can be characterised as as fitness function, so far, no model exists for describing things like empathy or compassion – a fitness function will likely make decisions benefiting whatever task is at hand, while people are more likely to make choices that factor other individuals into the decision-making process. The complex interplay between man and machine, then, is a field that’s still ongoing, and while tools like Stable Diffusion or ChatGPT have definitely become powerful, some concerns about them are also exaggerated. Disruptive technologies have historically caused a change in society, rather than destroying it. The rise of phones reduced the need for letters, but letters remain a human and personal way of keeping in touch. Although virtual teleconferencing calls provide unparalleled convenience, people still make time for in-person meetings. Owing to historical trends, as well as known constraints on the learning models that power machine learning and artificial intelligence, then, it is fair to say that some concerns that are being shared regarding these tools are exaggerated. Similarly, it is worth noting that fears regarding the hypothetical possibility of computers displacing and plotting to eliminate humanity are a product of our own vivid imaginations. Although doubtlessly powerful, computers are not yet so creative that they entertain establishing dominion over our species yet: consider that our computers still ask users for permission before it runs an update or installs a new program.