The Infinite Zenith

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YuruYuri Ten: Tenth Anniversary OVA Review and Reflection

“Real love stories never have endings.” –Richard Bach

To commemorate YuruYuri‘s tenth anniversary for the manga’s release, Akari, Chinatsu, Yui and Kyōko of the Amusement Club decide to reminisce on events of the past ten years, but inadvertently end up including the prehistoric era. When Ayano and Chitose arrive, they decide to host a party celebrating ten years worth of manga. They decide to help set up decorations for the party, and Himawari decides to help Chinatsu bake some cookies for the party. Meanwhile, Akari and Chitose continue with the decorations after everyone’s left. The next day, the girls kick off celebrations, and play a variety of games. When Akari loses in a rock-paper-scissors variant several times in a row, she ends up passing out from exhaustion after being made to partake in the penalty. She dreams of the encouragement and support her friends have offered her, and after waking up, it turns out that they’d planned a second surprise: the tenth anniversary of YuruYuri happens to coincide with Akari’s birthday, and they’d planned this out for her, as well. In the post-credits scene, Akari wonders how Yui and Kyōko got the photos of her for the birthday slideshow, but Kyōko remarks it’s better not to know. With its combination of comedy and yuri situations, YuruYuri has remained quite consistent in providing good laughs for readers since it began running in 2008. The anime’s first season aired in 2011, and since then, there have been three seasons, plus a special OVA and a web mini-series. Following the life of Akari Akaza and the everyday antics at the Amusement Club, YuruYuri opens as a pure comedy, using its characters purely to drive moments that elicit a smile. However, as the seasons wore on, the series did begin showing a subtle shift as the characters matured. Rather than purely focusing on gags (often at Akari’s expense), YuruYuri began showing a more genuine, tender dynamic between everyone as they come to treasure the time spent together as students. Ayano slowly begins to take the initiative to spend more time with Kyōko. Sakurako demonstrates a more mature side to her personality. Akari becomes less prone to random ills. The sum of this showed that even when character dynamics in YuruYuri began shifting, the series lost none of its edge, and continued to entertain viwers while at once, adding new depth to the characters

By the time of YuruYuri Ten, the series has struck a masterful balance between the heart-warming moments and the hilarious moments. The OVA opens with an unexpected insertion into the prehistoric era, which sees the girls gather fish and wild edibles without any dialogue. This sudden shift in the environment reinforces the sense that YuruYuri is still able to create ludicrous moments for the characters to drive humour. The OVA shifts between more gentle moments where the characters spend time together in preparation for the coming party, whether it be Chinatsu learning to bake under Himawari’s watch (and somehow managing to create a monstrosity that isn’t fit for human eyes), or Akari and Chitose boosting the club room’s decorations. During the party, YuruYuri Ten appears to relapse into the series’ old ways when Akari constantly loses at rock-paper-scissors, but this segues smoothly into a dialogue about what Akari means to everyone. While the OVA could have performed a cruel joke on her in its ending, it concludes in a meaningful manner; per Kyōko’s promise, the OVA did indeed give Akari the focus that she was often denied in the series, showing that over time, people mature and learn as a result of their experiences and time spent together. This is the theme in YuruYuri, and while it is not apparent during the earlier seasons, over time, subtle differences in the characters show that viewers have been watching a very dynamic and changing cast whose adventures become worth following because they show that one’s present situation won’t necessarily always be thus, especially if it is unfavourable, and over time, it is encouraging to see everyone make the most of their time as students while improving their circumstances.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Ten years is a lot of time, and a lot has happened in the past decade. In fact, when YuruYuri first began running as a manga, I was still a secondary student, just getting into anime. When the anime began airing, I was an undergraduate student. That YuruYuri has found a way to keep the party going after all this time is nothing short of impressive, and while the anime might have slowed, the manga is still ongoing.

  • While many things have changed, some things also never change: YuruYuri Ten opens with the same hajimaru yo~! that the first and second seasons utilised. On the other hand, season three employed a much more conventional setup, starting each episode with the opening song. Seeing this introduction come back, together with Akari being interrupted, immediately sets the tone for the rest of the OVA.

  • The Palaeolithic segment of YuruYuri Ten brings to mind the antics of B.C. SpongeBob, which placed familiar characters in a prehistoric setting and similarly reduced the characters to short vocalisations. While B.C. SpongeBob was outright hilarious (it was made before the series degraded into the unintelligible drivel of the present), the YuruYuri Ten version is short, succint and adorable, showing the Amusement Club’s members working together to start a fire and prepare a meal.

  • The prehistoric segment draws to an end once Ayano and Chitose appear. While Kyōko and Akari are quite happy to see them, Chinatsu and Yui are embarassed to have been seen doing this sort of thing. The girls sit down to discuss what to do for the tenth anniversary of YuruYuri, and ultimately decide on a party. Ayano’s tsundere mannerisms have been dialed back during the OVA, but her uncommon talent for making bad puns remains, and she is one of the few people who can consistently make Yui laugh with said puns.

  • It’s quite rare that Himawari and Chinatsu spend time together: ever-driven to impress Yui and win her affections, Chinatsu decides to try her hand at baking cookies, but ends up creating a concotion not dissimilar to Bender’s cooking from Futurama. So appalling is this creation that the contents are blurred out, and from what is seen, Chinatsu’s cookies appear to contain swarms of things. Chinatsu asks Sakurako to try one, and it’s an indicator of how terrifying it is when even Himawari is worried about what will happen to Sakurako after.

  • While Sakurako may be more mature than she was at the start of YuruYuri, she’s still envious of Himawari’s bust and will not hesitate to make her displeasure known whenever something is against her favour. This reminds me somewhat of GochiUsa‘s second season, when an irate Sharo chases Chiya around after Chiya tries on her Fleur de Lapin costume and causes a button to pop off. Himawari’s look of embarrassment is priceless.

  • Subtly has never been YuruYuri‘s strong suit, and Chitose is fond of imagining her friends in various raunchy situations with one another. The dynamic between Ayano and Kyōko has been one that dates back all the way to the series’ beginning, and while Ayano is tsundere in these situations, Kyōko is blissfully unaware of Ayano’s feelings for her: she does all sorts of things that fluster Ayano in the series. YuruYuri Ten makes a call-back to this when Kyōko, seeing Ayano struggling to inflate a balloon, takes the same balloon and inflates it. Ayano blushes because of the implied kiss, but Kyōko is completely unaware of this.

  • After a day’s of work, the Amusement Club’s main room is properly decorated. If memory serves, Ayano met Kyōko while she’d been on a mission to eliminate the Amusement Club as a part of her student council president duties, but over time, came to tolerate and accept the club’s existence. At present, the Amusement Club is no longer a thorn in her side, and she participates with the aim of getting to know Kyōko better, planning to one day make a kokuhaku.

  • The next day, the Amusement Club’s party is under way, and opens with everyone sitting down to food. Chinatsu’s cookies end up scaring Yui, but beyond this, have no long-lasting impact on her health, suggesting they look much scarier than they taste. It is fortunate that such constructs are absent in reality: on top of providing sustenance, food exists to be enjoyed, and I’m always fond of a good meal. Yesterday, I returned to a Chinese bistro that’d I’d not visited in some years for their evening special, which is both tasty and inexpensive. On Saturdays, it’s a flank steak with Russian-style sauce on spaghetti, garnished with pumpkin and carrots.

  • Having seen the club room with the basic decorations, the special decorations Akari adds to it make things even flashier than before. The party starts out fairly relaxed, with much food and conversation, but this would admittedly make for a duller OVA. Once the last of the food is enjoyed and cleared away, the fun and games come out. This is where YuruYuri Ten gets knocked into twelfth gear. The wild antics of YuruYuri match those seen in Rick and Morty at times, and in fact, despite radically different premises and characters, Rick and Morty shares a great deal in common with YuruYuri, striking a balance between storytelling to drive home a certain message and providing no-holds-barred comedy.

  • To the uninitiated, there are two Yuis in this scene: Kyōko’s brought wigs for everyone and passes them out, allowing everyone to take on different appearances. This is a visual gag that is only possible because unlike a live-action work, the fact that hair only has one texture means that palette-swapping is trivially easy to accomplish. For the remainder of the OVA, I’ll only be showing some moments off, as they are best enjoyed in their original form.

  • I don’t recall Yui being quite so touchy about Kyōko’s antics in the original series: after the girls begin playing an imitation game, Yui grows angry and spins Kyōko round (like a record). Yui’s long been presented as the most level-headed of the bunch, and is usually the one who counteracts Kyōko’s wild personality. All of the characters in YuruYuri are likeable, but for me, Yui stands out from everyone for providing insight into how ordinary folk might react to the sorts of things in the series.

  • While soft-spoken and gentle for the most part, YuruYuri Ten also shows Chitose as becoming rather displeased with Kyōko during the imitation game. There’s actually a scene here that involves her overactive imagination painting an image of Kyōko looking after Ayano as a doctor: even in its shorter run, YuruYuri Ten manages to bring back many of the things that made YuruYuri particularly memorable, and while it’s been four years since I’ve watched YuruYuri‘s third season, my recollections of what made this series so hilarious came flooding back upon seeing the OVA.

  • Having taken a look around, I can say with confidence that this is the only complete discussion for YuruYuri Ten that exists on the internet that comes with screenshots. There aren’t any more substantial talks beyond reactions, and to the best of my knowledge, reception to YuruYuri Ten has been quite positive, being a trip down memory lane for most. I have also seen YuruYuri Ten being stylised as YuruYuri、. This is a pun on the fact that the enumeration comma (頓號, jyutping deon6 hou6, literally “pause mark”) in Japanese is pronounced ten.

  • It just wouldn’t be YuruYuri if Akari wasn’t made to suffer at least once: the rock-paper-scissors game that Kyōko suggests has losers act in a much more upbeat, high-energy level with each successive loss. The setup reminds me a little of the Tension Meter seen in Angel Beats!‘ OVA, and because Akari is intrinsically kind, she gets into the spirits and attempts to amp up the tension.

  • While it’s all fun and games initially, the others eventually grow nervous when Akari sustains several losses in a row. Something like this cannot be attributed to pure chance anymore, and as Akari’s efforts eventually has even Kyōko wondering when Akari will snap from being pushed too far. Eventually, Akari seemingly outputs enough energy to create a singularity and ends up in the void. Frightened and alone, she bursts into tears, but the spirit of her friends soon join her.

  • After ten years, YuruYuri has found its feet in being able to turn Akari’s suffering into something heartwarming. In the void, her friends remind her of all of the good she’s done and precious memories they’ve created during their time together. They wish her a happy birthday before Akari wakes up back in the club room. Rather than any Akira-level explanations, it is more plausible to suppose that as a result of having to become increasingly high tension, Akari passed out from exhaustion.

  • In the time that Akari is out, the other members of the Amusement Club prepare a cake and slide show to celebrate Akari’s birthday, as well as her contributions to everyone’s experiences despite being relegated into nonexistence in some cases. It was a bit of an unexpected but welcome twist: Akari’s birthday is given as July 24, which is when YuruYuri Reset began running, and the summer weather does seem to corroborate this, but this also creates a bit of an inconsistency in things, since YuruYuri‘s manga started its journey on June 18, 2008.

  • Of course, it is not my objective to pick apart minor inconsistencies like these, and I’ll let it slide since viewers ultimately end up with a fun return to YuruYuri. The OVA does everything well, capturing the full spirit of the original TV series over the course of its runtime, and as a result, I have no problem recommending this to anyone who enjoyed YuruYuri. 

  • In the post-credits, it turns out that the slideshow was made from photographs that Akari’s older sister, Akane had. Akane’s tendencies are questionable, and Kyōko worries about Akari finding out, so she simply opts not to tell Akari how they’d come to get the photographs. The Amusement Club then decides to figure out what their next activity should be, bringing the OVA to a close. This also brings my discussion to a close: we’re now nearing the end of November, and the only post on the plate is for Jon’s Creator Showcase.

Because the YuruYuri manga began its journey in 2008, 2019 technically is not the ten-year anniversary, and the OVA (along with this post) would be more appropriately labelled as being the eleventh anniversary. However, since the OVA was announced in 2018 as a celebratory project, the ten-year designation can be said to hold true. From what I’ve seen, production on YuruYuri Ten was delayed, and this is why the tenth anniversary special came to be a year later. Eleven years after the manga’s beginnings, and eight years since the anime adaptation first began running, YuruYuri has become a bit of a forgotten title: while reception to the series was quite positive, the reality is that the last YuruYuri finished running in 2015 with season three. Thus, the fact that YuruYuri received an OVA to celebrate its tenth anniversary at all is nothing short of miraculous, showing both the creators’ commitment to the series, as well as the fan’s dedication: the OVA was funded by a crowd-funding project that met its objectives in February 2019, and it was a few weeks ago when YuruYuri Ten released. Despite being produced by a different studio (Lay-duce handled this, whereas TYO Animations had done the earlier seasons), YuruYuri Ten retains all of the pacing, character designs and stylistic choices present in the series. Overall, the OVA is a welcome addition to the series, providing a reminder of a series that has done an excellent job of striking a balance between gag humour and meaningful character growth amongst the cast. YuruYuri Ten is therefore quite worth watching, bringing back many of the elements that made the TV series so enjoyable while simultaneously celebrating a well-deserved tenth anniversary.

Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? ~Sing For You~ OVA: A Review and Full Recommendation, Plus a Preview of Season Three

“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.” –Stevie Wonder

Cocoa and Rize’s quiet day at Rabbit House is interrupted when Maya and Megu carry a catatonic Chino in. As it turns out, Chino had been selected to perform the solo for her school’s choral concert. While Rize and Cocoa worry, Chino decides to go ahead with the performance and asks Rize to help her prepare for the part. Rize thus has Chino run through various exercises to boost her stamina, before giving her drills on voice training. It turns out that Chino’s inclination to perform the solo, despite her weakness in public speaking, was partly motivated by a desire to help Rabbit House become more popular. Later, Chiya hosts a karaoke night at Ama Usa An, and when Chino blanks out from nerves, Cocoa decides to encourage Sharo to perform. Under the influence of caffeine, Sharo delivers a spirited and energetic performance befitting of an idol. Chiya, on the other hand, performs an enka. The girls get fired up and sing for most of the evening, before having a short-lived fight as to which group Chino should sing for. Back at Rabbit House, Takahiro encourages Chino to simply perform her best and sing for those important to her. Chino looks at old photographs of her mother, who was once a Jazz singer in the same band that Takahiro and Rize’s father were in. Cocoa later sneaks off to prepare cheer implements for Chino with Chiya and Sharo. On the morning of the performance, Megu and Maya do their best to encourage a nervous Chino, whose spirits lift when she spots Cocoa and the others in the audience. She proceeds to deliver a performance that brings tears to Cocoa, Rize, Chiya and Sharo’s eyes. After the concert, she rushes off to Rabbit House to meet the others, only to find that the decorations Cocoa and the others had put up to root for her have only become gaudier and more outrageous. Later, Chino shares a moment with Tippy and expresses her happiness that things are so lively now, saying she enjoyed the concert. Announced a year ago, Sing For You is the second of the GochiUsa OVAs that saw a home release in late September and faithfully adapts the chapter eight of the fifth volume, bringing to life an arc that show’s Chino’s progression throughout GochiUsa. Sing For You runs for the length of a standard episode, but nonetheless has heart, successfully bringing the arc to life.

Character growth is the central strength in GochiUsa – the series made an impact with its unique setting, but over time, the characters became the centrepiece of the series. As Chino spends more time with Cocoa and her friends, she finds herself wishing she could one day smile and get along with others as well as Cocoa does. Gradually, Chino does become more outgoing, and while she may still find herself reluctant to partake in anything approaching that of a leading role in the performing arts, another part of her wants to take on the challenge and face them with a smile, the same way that Cocoa might. Sing For You thus comes to illustrate the extent of her growth: Chino takes the initiative to prepare for her solo in the concert, asking for Rize’s help and then coming to see that performing isn’t as difficult as she imagined. Further motivated by Takahiro’s words and her friends’ energy, Chino ultimately gives a highly moving song. Public performances and speaking is a skill that must be cultivated; only a quarter of people are naturally comfortable with public speaking, and Chino, who has been presented as taciturn and shy, does seem ill-prepared for the part. It is with stamina training, practising in a more familiar environment and encouragement from family and friends that allows her to overcome her initial fears – the sum of Chino’s training and support from those around her pay off in a big way in the end. Chino’s fears in Sing For You might be exaggerated for the sake of comedy, but her concerns are very much real, as are the methods that she uses to address her worries. For instance, I count myself as a weaker orator, which forms a part of the reason why I have remained in the realm of blogging as to reviewing anime in video format. However, while I may prefer writing to speaking, as a speaker, I have some experience, having given talks at conferences and defended a pair of thesis oral exams. My typical approach is unorthodox: my slideshows actually have no bullet-point text for me to read, and I write a script beforehand that I loosely follow when it comes time to give the presentation itself. The end result is that my presentations end up being more like improv conversations, and I am able to give a more fluid talk. This is helped by confidence in knowing my material, which allows me to recall both the contents of my talk and have faith in addressing any queries that follow. Like Chino discovers, there’s a method towards overcoming fear of public performance, and the results of taking this plunge can be quite rewarding.

When news of a GochiUsa OVA was announced, speculation suggested that music would be very much a major part of things. However, Dear My Sister did not have a substantial musical component, instead focusing on how Chino managed to summon the courage to invite everyone out to a summer festival and Cocoa’s return home for a visit with Mocha and her mother. Conversely, music is very prominent in Sing For You; despite its runtime being only a third of that of Dear My Sister, Sing For You features no fewer than five inset songs. Besides the choral piece Chino performs with her classmates, Sharo, Chiya, Cocoa and Rize sing a variety of songs in a karaoke party intended to help Chino practise, and the songs that Chino’s mother, Saki, performs, are also featured. From the elegant Jazz that Saki performs and Sharo’s delivery of an idol song, to Chiya’s enka, and even Cocoa’s nonsensical song about the joys of Rabbit House, music appears in many forms during the course of Sing For You, culminating in a gentle choral piece that showcases the cast’s versatility and talents for musical performance. Sing For You exemplifies the additional dimensionality that an animated adaptation can bring to a manga: whereas a manga leaves readers to imagine the songs being performed, anime can really bring different moments to life with movement and sound. The songs of GochiUsa are always lively, conveying a sense of joy and happiness that static images alone cannot convey. The end result is a large number of vocal pieces packed into a relatively short duration; while Sing For You might not have had the same opportunity for presenting visually impressive moments to viewers the same way Dear My Sister did with Cocoa’s hometown and the wood-framed town during a summer festival, it utilises aural elements in an incredibly effective manner that results in Sing For You being every bit as enjoyable as Dear My Sister. Coupled with the solid presentation of a relevant life lesson, Sing For You represents a triumphant inclusion in GochiUsa that I have no trouble recommending for anyone who enjoyed the first two seasons and the Dear My Sister OVA.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s a peaceful day at Rabbit House for Rize and Cocoa, who are sufficiently bored so that they are swaying their heads in unison to ward off the dullness. One of the more subtle themes of GochiUsa is that while tranquility is good, liveliness is better. However, if things remained this peaceful for the duration of Sing For You, then there wouldn’t be much for me to write about. This is definitely not the case, and with the events resulting, I have forty screenshots in this post, which remains the first and only proper English-language talk on Sing For You out on the internet. The lack of discussion on Sing For You is surprising considering the warm reception GochiUsa was met with, although I imagine it’s only a matter of time before more people check out this OVA.

  • When Maya and Megu carry Chino into Rabbit House, Rize immediately supposes things resulted from enemy action, while Cocoa immediately fetches some coffee to revive Chino. Sing For You actually opens with a flashback to Chino’s childhood, when her mother, Saki, was still around: the manga drops readers straight to Rabbit House, while the OVA takes advantage of its run-time to create a more fleshed out and emotionally-powerful story.

  • As it turns out, Chino was merely shocked from having earned the part of soloist in her school’s choral performance, and accepted the role.  While she and the others consider turning it down, Chino decides to go through with it. Chino has long been presented as being uncomfortable with crowds and speaks in a gentle, quiet voice, so her decision to take on the solo role shows that a part of her does want to grow. It’s a subtle development that long-time viewers of GochiUsa will enjoy.

  • In order to prepare for the performance, Chino asks Rize to help train her. I’m not a voice actor or singer by trade, but I am roughly aware that being able to project one’s voice does take training well beyond vocal practise and breathing. Rize’s exercises, while seemingly extraneous, are intended to develop stamina and endurance. The bunny-hopping that she has Chino do, for instance, is actually an exercise my dōjō uses to train lower body strength, and while it wipes out the younger students, I’ve been doing them long enough to make them look easy for the white and green belts.

  • Whereas the manga only shows Chino as going through a few exercises, the OVA has Rize put Chino through exercises that would defeat almost the entire population save for professional athletes or individuals with extensive strength training. It is therefore unsurprising that Chino can’t actually complete the exercises, although I imagine that Rize is employing these means to push Chino further. The exaggerations also create a bit of visual humour.

  • Those favoured with a keen memory will recall that the riverside park where Rize drills Chino is where the girls had gone to practise for various sports competitions and the like previously. In anime set in the high school setting, sports and culture festivals are often featured, but aside from brief mentions, GochiUsa has not done any sports festivals the same way Azumanga Daioh and K-On! have as of yet. Looking ahead, it looks like that both a sports event and culture festival will be shown: I forecast that the culture festival will make into season three.

  • Rize compliments Chino on having a marked improvement in projecting her voice. This is a combination of the exercises that Chino’s done, and also from her overall improvement from the time that she’d first met Rize. In Dear My Sister, a flashback shows that Rize had previously worked with Chino to improve her voice using the same caffè latte caffè mocha cappuccino routine, and Dear My Sister transformed this into a spell when Cocoa dreamt about meeting Mahou Shoujo Chino. The shift in lighting here shows that Chino’s been training all day, attesting to both her determination and Rize’s grueling routines.

  • After a day’s training, Chino and Rize return to Rabbit House, only to find a sign up front with a hand-drawn Chino that advertises her role in the upcoming choral performance. Chino immediately concludes that this was Cocoa’s doing, and upon entering Rabbit House itself, she finds the interior of Rabbit House decked out in decorations to celebrate Chino’s solo role. It turns out that even Takahiro is in on things, having given Cocoa and the others permission to spruce things up a little.

  • This screenshot really shows the scope of the decorations, a consequence of Chino leaving Cocoa in charge wiht help from Megu and Maya. An exasperated Chino breaks out shouting, surprising everyone with the amplitude of her voice. Even when irate, Inori Minase’s delivery of Chino’s voice comes across as being incredibly adorable, and there have been multiple roles now where I hear Minase play a character and are immediately reminded of Chino.

  • Rize’s training improves Chino’s form, but her nerves remain weak, as she is easily embarrassed. Feeling that Chino’s technique is solid, Rize suggests singing in front of others. At Ama Usa An, Chiya hosts a kareoke party, and everyone’s invited. Chino is initially asked to take the stage, but even in front of her friends, she’s unable to summon up the courage to put an introduction together. While this is doubtlessly adorable, stage fright is a very real phenomenon. K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama is similarly affected, overcoming it over the course of the series with support from her friends.

  • While Ritsu suggested to Mio that she should imagine the audience as potatoes or similar, Cocoa suggests that Chino imagine her audience as bunnies to take her mind off things, but Chino feels this to be even more distracting. Aoyama inexplicably shows up, as well, although her editor, Rin, is noticeably absent from the proceedings. I’ve long felt that the characters of GochiUsa resemble rabbits in nature and mannerisms – this is a sentiment that others of the community also appear to share, and I think that with this in mind, it could be quite entertaining to write a mini-guide on rabbit temperaments as GochiUsa‘s third season draws nearer.

  • Because Chino is unable to perform, Cocoa decides to take her off the stage and provide an example of how one might perform. She gives Sharo a coffee and then sends her to the front lines, where Sharo takes on the demeanour and energy of an idol. Sharo’s been said to be affected differently depending on the blend of coffee that she drinks, with some blends making her as carefree as Cocoa, while other blends bring her to tears. Insofar, no correlation has been provided as to what coffees have what effect on Sharo.

  • For her song, Sharo performs Hi Hi High☆, a lively and upbeat song: Sing For You lives up to its name in that there is plenty of singing, and this is probably why the decision was made to adapt it as an OVA rather than a part of season three. GochiUsa typically has one inset song during its regular season, and while plenty of supplementary albums have been released over the past few years, dedicated songs for the anime is not something we’ve seen. The increased production time afforded by the OVA format means that more effort was directed towards the music, and the quality of the end product is quite apparent.

  • After Sharo’s performance ends, Chiya takes centre stage and performs an enka. Being a Japanese ballad, enka is the fusion of traditional Japanese music with modern elements, and while their popularity declined in the early nineties as J-pop began gaining traction, the style continues to endure. Musical styles tend to cycle in popularity, although I note that contemporary pop music is pedestrian, unoriginal and jejune to the point of being unlistenable – all modern pop artists sound the same and favour repetitive elements to maximise catchiness at the expense of telling a good story or creating a particular atmosphere.

  • The sort of music that I listen to is varied in nature, from the fluffy and adorable songs of GochiUsa and K-On! to DragonForce and Lord of the Rings soundtracks. All of them share the commonality of telling a story or evoking in my mind’s eye specific imagery. As such, I have no problem with the music that Petit Rabbits’ performs: it far outstrips the indie pop that is so widespread here, sounding a lot more genuine and having a great deal more heart than the manufactured drivel that dominates the music scene.

  • Rize, Sharo, Cocoa and Chiya end up stealing the show when their enthusiasm for singing takes over, and the girls end up fighting over which group Chino should sing for.  The original objective of helping Chino overcome her stage fright is quickly forgotten, showing just how quickly things can shift in GochiUsa. The changes never come across as being unexpected, but rather, happen quite naturally as a result of the girls’ propensity to live in the moment.

  • Takahiro imparts some wisdom to Chino: her mother was once also nervous prior to any performance, but Saki would always remind herself that her singing would bring joy to those who were in the audience. Sometimes, it is these moments from family, even more so than friends, that can profoundly shift one’s perspective. With the promise of performing for him, Chino resolves to simply go into the performance and give it her best.

  • Chino recalls memories of her mother when going through a photo album with her mother, who was a jazz performer with Takahiro and Rize’s father. GochiUsa presents the Kafuus and Tedezas as being quite close to one another: in the second season, a conversation between Takahiro and Rize’s father imply that they’d also been brothers-in-arms. This background has resulted in all sorts of fanciful speculation on the nature of GochiUsa‘s world, but upon scrutiny, these speculations only remain thus.

  • Chino remarks that Saki was actually a lot more flamboyant in mannerism, being rather similar to Cocoa at times. Cocoa also reveals to Cocoa that she had wanted to turn down the part, but hearing Takahiro’s words and remembering her mother’s singing inspires her to at least give it a whirl to make him happy. From a technical perspective, Inori Minase is an excellent singer, being able to bring a variety of songs to life, but GochiUsa‘s setup means that she and the other voice actresses only really get to show off their singing in the opening and ending sequences, as well as supplementary albums.

  • Cocoa can be heard singing a song of her own composition while she cleans, and later sings the song for Chino while they bathe, leading Chino to comment on the song’s odd lyrics. This song is titled “ラビットハウスへ行こうよ♪” のうた (The “Let’s Go To Rabbit House♪” Song) and is delivered with Ayane Sakura’s typical bubbly and joyful manner. While Chino may not particularly like it, Takahiro certainly does, singing it to his father’s annoyance.

  • Once Chino falls asleep to rest up for the big performance, Cocoa sneaks off into the night and heads for Sharo’s place. The backyard behind Rabbit House is rarely shown, being last shown in the second season’s seventh episode, where the girls manually wash the sheets and laundry after Rabbit House’s washing machine malfunctions. One of the biggest joys about GochiUsa is simply seeing the different locations in the series brought to life, and while much of the wood-framed town is based off Colmar, France, the anime also makes use of other locations in Europe (the pool, for instance, was based off the Széchenyi thermal bath in Hungary), as well as seamlessly weaving in original locations where needed.

  • An old aspect of GochiUsa returns as the girls prepare props to help cheer Chino on. Sharo fears that they won’t be able to finish everything in time for the morning, and finds herself exasperated when Cocoa and Chiya begin deviating from their tasks and consider increasingly irrelevant things that they could make for Chino. Around Cocoa and Chiya, Sharo shows more of her true personality, being very goal-oriented and proper, always looking to do things correctly and efficiently.

  • Thanksgiving long weekend last year saw me travel out to Salmon Arm to see the salmon run. This two-day trip gave me a much-needed respite: after reaching the Adams River and watching salmon swimming about in droves, we arrived in Vernon. The second day was a journey back home, and we stopped at D. Dutchman Dairy just outside of Sicamous for ice cream. The ice cream was good enough for us to return just this summer, and overall, this was a much-needed break from the chaos of work, which was so hectic that I was contacted while in Vernon with the expectation that I resolve a newly posted work item immediately.

  • It turns out the “bug” in question stemmed from the testers being on an outdated version of the project, and the latest version, a release candidate, had satisfactorily solved the issue. On the project in question, I wrapped up my tasks and did a submission to the App Store a week later. We’re actually nearing the one-year mark of that upload, and I am planning on writing about HBO’s Chernobyl, whose unnerving atmosphere, and themes about the cost of lies and complacency made the series a highly riveting one. Chernobyl seems far removed from the gentle atmosphere of GochiUsa, so for the present, I won’t go too much further into the details of this upcoming Chernobyl post.

  • The schools in GochiUsa have ornate European architectural designs and look like private academies. This is the middle school that Chino, Megu and Maya attend: while the location’s been visited on a handful of occasions, starting with the day that Cocoa and Chiya met, there’s been precious few opportunities to actually check out the interior. Like Dear My SisterSing For You is produced by Production doA; they’ve done a phenomenal job with the artwork and animation, to the point where the two OVAs since the second season actually look and feel far better than the TV series.

  • This has me excited to see what the third season will look like: at present, the only thing that is known of the third season is that it will come out somewhere in 2020. Back in Sing For You, I’ve opted to feature additional screenshots showcasing Chino’s school. It would appear that the performance is being held at a concert hall adjacent to the main campus: the students’ parents have already begun gathering.

  • The performance venue itself is a surprisingly impressive one, resembling a professional concert hall. My old elementary, middle and high schools certainly never had a stage as ornate and elegant as the one found at Chino’s school – it was only the facilities at the university that approached this in scale and grandeur. I’ve attended a handful of performances and events at the Faculty of Art’s halls.

  • While Chino’s quite nervous on the day of the event, Maya and Megu feel more relaxed and do their best to encourage Chino. They decide to hug Chino and imbibe her nerves before reassuring her that things will be fine, cracking a lighthearted joke in the process. Some of the girls’ classmates can be seen in the background: compared to Megu, Maya and Chino, they look rather more ordinary in design, giving the sense that Chino, Maya and Megu were intended to stand out from other students.

  • Upon seeing the crowd, Chino begins to freeze, but in the corner of her eye, she spots Cocoa, Rize, Chiya and Sharo, decked out in rather flashy garb. Seeing their ludicrous appearance but equally ardent desire to support her, Chino realises that delivering her best now would make them happy. In effect, Chino now sees the performance as a chance to do her best for Cocoa and Takahiro. The latter is also in the audience with Rize’s father, but despite wearing the same jackets as Cocoa and the others, they are a lot more subtle in appearance and don’t stand out as much.

  • Ultimately, Chino puts on a strong performance, singing with sincerity and joy. The song they perform is called 木もれび青春譜 (Hepburn kimore bi seishun fu, “Sun-dappled Youth”), a calming and poetic song about youth using nature as the metaphor. It’s quite unlike any of the spirited, upbeat songs that Petit Rabbit’s and Chimame-Tai sing. Sing For You definitely lives up to its title, which is well-chosen, being about Chino singing for those important to her. Dear My Sister was similarly named, referring to the letter that Mocha wrote to Cocoa.  GochiUsa cycles between its different characters to liven the series up, which contributes to the series incredible success.

  • Sing For You (and GochiUsa as a whole) is meant to be a gentle slice-of-life whose core message is showing how people gradually mature and develop from their time spent together through Cocoa, Chino, Chiya, Rize and Sharo. There is a misconception that shows like GochiUsa have a single lead character: some folks have erroneously assumed that Chino is GochiUsa‘s main protagonist whom people gravitate around, but the reality is that none of the characters can exist in a vacuum. Slice-of-life series depend on the sum of character interactions to make their message clear. Back in Sing For You, Chino’s singing is so moving that Tippy dissolves in tears.

  • Being set entirely in the wood-framed town, Sing For You might not have the same sweeping panoramas and Southern France architecture of Cocoa’s hometown, but it does take the time to showcase the town in great detail, indicating that irrespective of the location, DoA is committed to maintaining a very high visual quality. This is especially encouraging, considering that there is going to be a third season: Chino and the others’ adventures will continue to be rendered in a consistently beautiful world.

  • With the concert over, Chino rushes on home for Rabbit House, wondering what the others thought of her singing. The high saturation and depth of field’s focus on Chino is meant to show the elation of having finished something difficult, as well as finding enjoyment in the moment.  Chino now understands why Saki was so immersed in singing, realising that it’s the ability to deliver emotions with the power of voices; music is one of those things that transcends linguistic barriers, and for my part, even though my Japanese is rudimentary, the emotions and feelings that Japanese songs convey are as clear to me as any Cantonese or English song, even if I do not understand the lyrics.

  • In the aftermath of the performance, Chino is surprised that everyone’s gone ahead and begun planning on making Chino a star of sorts, having recorded her performance for posterity’s sake. Even Sharo gets into things, and seeing this drives Chino to yet another outburst, her third of the episode. This recurring joke shows viewers that despite her usual quiet nature, Chino can be quite noisy when provoked, which is another reminder that the characters of GochiUsa are much more than their base archetypes suggest.

  • While Chino and the others are sharing a noisy, rambunctious moment together, Takahiro relaxes in the quiet of his quarters, listening to a record of Saki’s singing. The jazzy, bossa-nova music that she performs is very similar to the coffeehouse music that I listen to whenever I work. Saki’s voice is provided by Nana Mizuki, a veteran voice actress with roles in a vast range of anime, films and games.

  • Saki’s ultimate fate in GochiUsa has not yet been explored within the anime: while her absence is especially noticeable now that we’ve seen the anime bring her to life, one must also commend Takahiro’s efforts in raising Chino despite the emotional challenges he faced. With Cocoa and the others present now, Takahiro must also be relieved that Chino’s found friends to share her youth with.

  • On a sunny day some time after the concert, Chino speaks with her grandfather, reflecting on how her friends and father helped her to really seize the role. Chino’s grandfather remarks that he rather enjoys things this way, and asks Chino to pass this along to Cocoa and the others. The ending of Sing For You has Chino be the happiest I’ve seen her in the whole of GochiUsa, and she’s in a blue dress and sitting near some yellow flowers similar to the one seen in the OVA’s opening.

  • Chino does look somewhat similar to CLANNAD‘s Kotomi Ichinose here, and she tells her mother that she’s got some wonderful friends before a gust of wind brings the OVA to a gentle close. This is Sing For You, which earns an A+ (9.5 of 10, or 4.0): like Dear My SisterSing For You is remarkably enjoyable and a welcome addition to GochiUsa. Besides a fun story about Chino overcoming her fear of performing in front of the crowd, Sing For You also bridges the gap between Dear My Sister and season three, giving fans something to watch and lessening the wait.

With Sing For You now in the books, I turn my attention towards the third season, which is scheduled for airing somewhere in 2020. The second season ended with volume four, and Dear My Sister covered the fifth volume’s second to fifth chapters. Recalling that Sing For You adapts the fifth volume’s seventh chapter, a third season will likely begin with the summer arc in volume five, which deals with the girls looking for ways to deal with the summer heat that ends in a test of courage, and everyone’s interest in Lapin, a popular character from a children’s show, after Sharo plays the character at Fleur de Lupin. The fifth volume also sees Chiya train with Rize so she can keep up for track and field day. After Chino’s concert, the girls visit a flea market in town and pick up magic tricks. Megu and Maya do orientations of the two high schools in town, with Maya struggling to decide where to go, and when Cocoa’s high school hosts their culture festival, Chiya is made the class president. Despite her worries, she successfully hosts a beer hall. Previously, one season encompassed two volumes of material, so season three will also adapt volume six’s materials. After Cocoa learns to play the accordion, Rize announces her intention to become an elementary school teacher, being inspired by Maya and Megu. The girls later must chase Aoyama through town as she attempts to elude her editor, Rin, and a deadline, before celebrating Halloween. As the colder weather sets in, the girls help Maya and Megu study, while Cocoa and Chiya deal with their roles with the student council. Volume six ends with the end of another year. Season three is therefore looking particularly lively, and while it is a bit early to be making a decision, I am considering doing an episodic discussion of the third season. While GochiUsa may prima facie appear to be an ordinary slice-of-life series, the unique combination of its setting and visceral animated adaptation means that the series has definitely provided plenty of topics worth considering and writing about. With this in mind, I am greatly looking forwards to season three and the chance to delve deeper into a world that has accompanied me for the past five years, providing consistently good laughs and a cathartic atmosphere that proved an effective tonic against the stresses of life.

Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! – Whole series review and reflection

“As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those that are unable to accept what can be. They will resist.” –Thanos, Avengers: Endgame

Everyday life at base continues for the 501st, with the Witches butchering their celebrations for Halloween, do their best to give Mio a proper haircut, attempt to fix Francesca’s toothache, explore different ways to relax and prepare for their night duties. The Witches also attempt to stay cool under the hot summer weather, and even begin picking up basic first aid skills from Erica, but fail when they become distracted by their mannequins. When Mio’s execution of the reppuzan levels the base, the Witches are taken to a desert island while the navy engages the Neuroi hive. A stray blast from Mio’s sword destroys the distant hive, and Yoshika loses all of her magic attempting to absorb the reppuzan when Mio’s sword goes out of control. The Witches are forced to disband now that the Neuroi threat has been neutralised, and from the fact they have no base to return to. This brings the only anime I actively followed during the spring season to a close, and I imagine that readers would be surprised that I return to wrap up my thoughts about it, especially considering that Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! was a series of shorts of similar length to Yama no Susume, but unlike Yama no Susume, has no coherent theme to speak of.

While Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! may lack a central message, character growth and even serviceable artwork and animation, the series proved to be surprisingly entertaining by accentuating the outrageous interactions amongst the characters and placing them in ridiculous situations. In the near-total absence of a Neuroi threat, if the girls are allowed to come and go as they please, complete chaos reigns as a result of everyone’s different cultural backgrounds and personalities. Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! suggests that without the Neuroi unifying everyone’s efforts towards defending their countries and protecting what’s dear to them, the Witches themselves are simply ordinary people who may not always see eye-to-eye, creating moments of hilarity that far exceed initial expectations for a show of its type. It then stands to reason that Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is meant to show how extraordinary circumstances brought about by war really forces individuals to rise to the occasion and do what is necessary to protect their homelands and their people. As such, while appearing quite irrelevant and irreverent, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! actually sets the stage for what one can reasonably expect from Strike Witches: Road to Berlin – having provided viewers with an overt display of humour, it appears that the mood looks to darken as Strike Witches returns in 2020.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the time since my initial discussion for Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, very few have actively chosen to follow through with this short series which is certainly not known for being a logical or particularly useful addition to the Strike Witches world. One of the main challenges I had with Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! was figuring out how it fit in the Strike Witches chronology. Ultimately, seeing the Witches’ base as being the one shown in the second season suggests that Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is set during the events of Strike Witches 2. The manga The Sky That Connects Us acted as a bridge between the first and second seasons: while the second season was essentially a copy of the first, it began developing a more meaningful story.

  • The page quote is actually sourced from my more recent thoughts about the old anime community: a decade ago, shows like Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! would have been subject to all sorts of criticisms simply because viewers of that time period had a stronger need to find meaning in their works and saw shows like Strike Witches as being pointless, taking away from a studio’s ability to produce more “intellectually stimulating” works. I’ve long argued that the worth of a particular piece of fiction is not judged by its social relevance or how many obscure philosophical references it possesses, but rather, by its ability to immerse or amuse.

  • One adjective that I was not expecting to characterise Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! as was “adorable” – the character dynamics actually come across as being fairly endearing even though they are, from a more rational standpoint, more mischievous than what is tolerated in a normal setting. Here, the girls use a trap to try and catch Francesca so they can pull her tooth, but manage to ensnare Sanya instead. Continuing from earlier, the page quote is also applicable to recent events: I noticed an unusual trend of inbound traffic from Anime News Network this morning and was not able to find any referral links.

  • After looking around, it appears that anyone caught linking to my blog at Anime News Network’s forums, or commenting about this blog in a positive light, will immediately have their posts deleted and may even risk a ban. I knew ANN was rather intolerant of alternate perspectives, especially with respect to their actions of late, but this really hits home as to how adverse they are to any brand of thought contrary to their own. For my readers, I recommend being more cautious about how trustworthy certain articles from ANN are, and note that it’s a good idea to always exercise one’s own judgement before reaching a conclusion; while ANN might be well-known, their authority remains questionable, and their claims are not always factual. Back in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, after finding a way to enjoy the months-old mochi from home with the others, Yoshika prepares to write a thank you letter for her family.

  • Mio remarks that onsen are best piping hot to the point of pain, and Perrine agrees even though it causes her discomfort, when Gertrude comments on the heat. I’m particularly fond of this moment: Mio’s characteristic laugh makes a brief return, and the facial expression on Gertrude reminds me somewhat of Harukana Receive‘s Haruka. Gertrude ended up being my favourite character from Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! because of her uncommon affection towards Yoshika: here, she’s far more supportive and concerned about Yoshika than anywhere else in Strike Witches.

  • One of the few grievances I have about Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is that Lynette’s role was diminished. I vaguely recall mentioning this in my talk at the three episode mark, and I would hazard a guess that the reason for this is because Lynette is, compared to the other Witches, less remarkable in personality. Her main defining characteristic is to act as a peer for Yoshika, having somewhat more experience with the 501st while simultaneously being someone Yoshika could easily speak with. In Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Gertrude fulfills this role, and Lynette is rarely seen.

  • In Strike Witches‘ first season, Yoshika is depicted as having an uncommon fixation on the members of the 501st with a more substantial bust, but over time, this aspect to her character vanished. In Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Yoshika’s perversions are back, being presented as a minor part of the series’ comedy. However, even this is dialed back: Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!‘s comedy comes from situational irony rather than anything lewd.

  • Gertrude is seen whipping up some coffee for Charlotte and Erica, who find the concoction surprisingly bitter. While I’ve mentioned my preference for tea over coffee previously, the reality is that practicality, rather than taste, is the primary consideration. In my coffee, I prefer adding milk and sugar, which transforms it into a Café au lait. My favourite coffee beverage, however, is mocha: essentially espresso mixed into hot chocolate, it is sweet and packs a small wallop.

  • Hanna-Justina Marseille makes an appearance in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, showing up as a part of a publicity stunt. Like her Strike Witches incarnation, Hanna is bold and confident, but is shocked that no one even recognises her. What’s more, Erica has now perfected the art of sleeping with her eyes open, and fails to see their guest. Later, while Hanna is conversing with Charlotte about tricks performed during combat, Charlotte refers to the time when Minna destroyed a Neuroi with her backside, earning her a beat down from Minna.

  • While Hanna refuses to do autographs, this is actually a ploy: she is flattered when Gertrude asks her for one such that she may give it to Chris, her younger sister. The observant reader will note that Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! makes extensive use of characters in the background to accentuate the impact of the humour.

  • Mio’s use of a towel in Kanpu masatsu is a Japanese custom that is said to ward off disease and promote health. By rubbing oneself with a dry towel and using the friction to produce heat, the exercise has been found to have mildly beneficial impacts. I first learnt about this custom in Chibi Maruko-chan, and was quite surprised by this, since folk from Hong Kong, who are used to hot climates, have not developed an equivalent exercise for keeping warm.

  • Gertude is normally quite disciplined and stuffy about the rules, but when she accidentally renders their vehicle inoperable on an outing, she’s forced to employ the same trick that Erica used during Strike Witches with the hope of hitching a ride. To her mortification, the vehicle that pulls up when she uses this stunt happens to be operated by Erica.

  • In Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Gertude is even more physical in expressing her displeasure for the the antics of others. She throws Charlotte and Francesca out a window for dressing inappropriately when the weather turns hot, and the two end up writhing on the beach. Much of the humour in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! may come from ludicrous moments, but there are also points where things are funny because they are non sequiturs.

  • Eventually, to beat the heat, Charlotte and Francesca suggest lighting a hundred candles and telling ghost stories, extinguishing the candles one by one until a hundred stories are told. No one else participates, and Charlotte realises that the only reason this even works is because the candles themselves heat the room up, therefore, by blowing them out, the apparent temperature is lowered. Eyeballing the problem, a hundred candles could conceivably increase the temperature of a room to a noticeable extent.

  • One aspect of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! that proved unexpectedly funny was how open Eila was about her feelings towards Sanya. While this was always more implicit in Strike Witches, the manga was a bit more forward about this. Sanya, on the other hand, defies expectations by being a bit more violent about things. Despite appearing calm and quiet in earlier iterations, the Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! version of Sanya has no reservations about slapping Eila, such as here, when she makes a dummy of Sanya for medical training purposes.

  • Despite her efforts to train the others in basic first aid, and having studied diligently for her own future, Erica ultimately comes up short when everyone deviates from their original assignments. Perrine ends up making a dummy in Mio’s likeness, and when Lynette shoots “Mio”, Perrine loses her composure, with the assignment completely forgotten. Upon seeing this, Mio assumes that she’s a ghost now and speaks to Minna, who is shocked. The Mio of Strike Witches would never succumb to such capers, hence the amusement.

  • If I failed to provide context for this moment, one would be forgiven for thinking that Perrine and Yoshika were somehow responsible for Mio’s “death”. However, this is thankfully not the case, and a few laughs arise from how outrageous things are. Moments like these are why Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! ended up exceeding expectations: I entered with the expectation that the series would be almost entirely slice-of-life driven, was a little dissuaded by the art style, but then warmed up to the hilarity the series bought to the table.

  • The Witches end up being dropped off on a desert island for some rest and relaxation after Mio accidentally destroys half the base with the reppuzan. During their excursion, Mio manages to unintentionally stop a Neuroi hive on her own when her sword loses control, and it takes Yoshika’s intervention to save Mio. On the topic of excursions, my past weekend was no less exciting than the trip to the Okanagan, and with the Calgary Stampede in town, I had a chance to try some outrageous midway foods of my own. Last Friday, I visited the Calgary Stampede after work and opened dinner with a corndog poutine that was savoury and also was topped with a flavourful honey mustard. I also ended up having a grilled lobster roll, which was very tasty and together with the corndog poutine, constituted the evening meal.

  • Besides poutine and a lobster roll, I also had the chance to check out one of the more exotic offerings of the year. Dubbed the Flamin’ Frog Legs, this midway cuisine consists of seasoned and marinated frog legs breaded with hot Cheetos. The combination worked surprisingly well, and I loved the sweet, slightly-fishy taste and chicken-like texture of the frog meat. I declined to play any of the midway games, but I did end up seeing the fireworks from the cable car ride on the fairway grounds. Back in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Minna announces the dissolution of the 501st now that the Neuroi have been halted and their base destroyed.

  • In the end, Gertrude was the true MVP of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, acting as an elder-sister figure for Yoshika and looking after her, shielding her from the wackier personalities of the 501st. Overall, I ended up enjoying Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! much more than I thought I would, attesting to the value of keeping an open mind. With Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! now in the books, I proceed to the summer anime, and remark that I will be blogging about two series for the summer.

In light of what Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! has succeeded in doing, my impressions of this series overall are that it proved much more entertaining and amusing than I had initially thought. Coupled with creating a dichotomy of sorts for Road to Berlin, it appears that Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is meant to be a calm before the storm, providing viewers with a rambunctious and exuberant portrayal of what the Witches are like outside of their duties to remind them of how everyone would be were it not for conflict. Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! presents the Witches as caricatures of their typical selves, exaggerating all aspects to leave audiences with a stronger impression of what everyone is like. I ultimately found Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! to be a superb comedy, but I cannot recommend this series to anyone save the most dedicated Strike Witches fans simply because the series does require some requisite knowledge of what Yoshika and the others are like, as well as for the fact that the premise and art style demand acceptance that this is not Strike Witches as we would normally know. With this short comedy in the books, the path is set for 2020’s Road to Berlin, during which I am certain that the stakes will be considerably higher than anything we’d seen previously.

Yama no Susume OVA: Omoide Present Review and Reflection

“The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.” –Robert Holden

August is drawing to a close. When Kokona’s mother is asked to work over the weekend they’d originally planned to spend together, Kokona decides to take a walk around Hanno and rediscovers the places that she and her mother had previously visited. After coming across a lost child, she helps the girl find her mother, and discovers a herb garden nearby. Later, Kokona’s mother says that the weekend after, she’ll really have some time off to spend with Kokona and promises to make it an enjoyable experience. During October, while hanging out at Aoi’s place, Hinata comes across an acorn hairclip and recalls that prior to moving years previously, the two had made acorn ornaments for one another, promising they’d never forget their promise to reunite. However, Hinata begins to worry when she realises that she’s misplaced Aoi’s gift to her. She confesses this to Aoi, who tells Hinata not to worry. The two decide to make new acorn gifts for one another, and Hinata recalls that while she may have lost her old gift from Aoi, Aoi had outright forgotten her when they reunited during the first day of high school. The OVA for Yama no Susume, Omoide Present, is actually made of two separate acts rolled into a single title and released in October 2017, spanning the gap between the second season’s conclusion and the opening of the third season, which came out in July 2018. Omoide Present presents two simple stories that acts as a warm-up act to the third season. The first act accentuates Kokona’s open-minded view of the world and how this leads her to create wonderful memories of her own, while the second act details the friendship Hinata and Aoi share, from Hinata’s perspective. These serve to jolt the viewers’ memories of Yama no Susume: season three aired three and a half years after Yama no Susume 2, and quite a bit can happen during the course of this time.

Kokona’s story is an immeasurably warming, presenting her as being remarkably mature for her age. Rather than lamenting what time she cannot spend with her mother, Kokona makes the most of every day to enjoy what she does have. Memories of spending time with her mother come to the forefront of her quiet day out, from walking the same sidewalk in a costume to wondering what theatres were, each moment reinforces the idea that Kokona always makes the most of what she has. This is a wonderful way of looking at the world: people often are so focused on the what-ifs that they neglect to count their blessings in what they have. Happiness can often be found in being grateful for what is, and this gentle acceptance Kokona demonstrates allows her to spend a day making new memories, even discovering a new herbal garden. For viewers, Kokona’s outlook on the world is met with a blessing, when her mother reveals that the weekend after, she will definitely have time off. Hinata’s act has a different message for viewers and shows that, for her boisterous manner, Hinata is very mindful and appreciative of her friendship with Aoi, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye with any frequency. Insofar, audiences have seen a noisy, carefree Hinata, but it turns out that Hinata can also be sensitive and worried about her friendship with Aoi: it greatly troubles her that she’s lost a momento representing their promise, and of the two, she alone remembered their original promise where even Aoi had forgotten. This adds a new depth to Hinata’s character. Altogether, being able to see the depths of Kokona and Hinata’s characters shows that Yama no Susume‘s characters are very life-like, and going into the third season, it will be interesting to see which direction each of Aoi, Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka will take.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Kokona’s mother ends up busy for work, Kokona decides to make the most of her day anyways, enjoying a hearty breakfast before going out for a walk. Despite the sudden change of plans, Kokona shows no sign of being bothered, and sets about enjoying the last day of August in her own manner. There’s a joy about watching Kokona out on her own adventures: being a full year younger than Aoi and the others, there’s an endearing trait to everything that Kokona does.

  • Six years previously, on the first day of summer, the Bow River overflowed its banks and led to some of the most devastating flooding in the province’s history. After the dark, rainy skies gave way to the sun, the scope of the damage became apparent, and by Canada Day, officials were fervently working to bring the Stampede Grounds up to speed for the annual Calgary Stampede despite the flood damage. I remained at home during the duration of the flooding, since campus was closed, and while I attempted to work, the weather was as beautiful as it is here in Omoide Present: I ended up going out for a burger before spending the afternoon gaming.

  • While Kokona might just be walking the familiar streets of Hanno, there is no shortage of marvels to explore. Kokona stops by a temple, where a group of cats have gathered. One of the more unusual aspects about Kokona’s story in Omoide Present is the application of a fish-eye lens-like effect when the world is presented through Kokona’s eyes. This is likely done to show that Kokona is reminiscing, as well as suggest that the world is quite large from Kokona’s perspective, and therefore, always full of new things to discover and find.

  • The consistency of the artwork and animation in Yama no Susume is solid: while the first season had slightly simpler lighting and textures, by Yama no Susume 2, the series had hit is stride and scenes are beautifully portrayed. The colouring and tone give the sense of a hot summer’s day: passing under a rail bridge, the heat can be felt. Kokona is walking underneath the Seibu Ikebukero line along a small side street, and like countless anime, real world locations are reproduced in stunning detail.

  • Treading along familiar streets causes fond memories of the time that Kokona and her mother spent together resurface. As a child, Kokona was very fond of wearing various outfits: she’s decked out as an angel here, and has been seen in different costumes throughout Yama no Susume. Most notably, the one time Kokona had dressed up as a firefly was also the first time she met Aoi and Hinata, although neither seem to remember.

  • On her walk, Kokona encounters into Kaede and Yuuka, who are on their way to the public library to study. While Kaede is presented as mature and knowledgeable, it turns out that this does not extend to her desire to study: she was shown as being unable to help Aoi on her homework, having forgotten everything, and seems to depend on Yuuka to bail her out. While the Hanno City Library is a beautiful, clean and modern structure, locals also find it to be a bit too noisy to be a good spot for studying.

  • Kokona stops on a footbridge passing over Misugidai Street. After she finishes her lunch and resumes her walk, she encounters a small child who’s lost. Recalling a similar moment when she had gotten lost, and how she managed to find her in the end, Kokona accompanies the child through Hikari Park and runs into her mother after passing through a playground area: it would appear that this child had simply taken a wrong turn and gotten lost.

  • As thanks, the child’s mother gifts to Kokona some herbs. The buildings to the Hanno-Shiritsu Misugidai Elementary School are visible in the background. By my admission, I was not originally intending to go location hunting in this post, but curiosity got the better of me, and I managed to find the locations mentioned in this reflection. There’s actually a very simple process that I follow to hunt down locations using tools like Google Maps: after locating a landmark, it’s a matter of tracing possible paths that characters take to get to their next destinations.

  • Finding all of the locations in Omoide Present took around 15 minutes in total. Pushing on ahead, Kokona comes across the Yakkosoen Medical Herb Garden, located just across the road from Hikari Park. While Kokona only visits the park, there’s a store that sells the herbs, and this store doubles as a cafe with a pleasant selection of dishes for visitors to enjoy. In general, patrons are very pleased with the Yakkosoen Medical Herb Garden, and I note that visiting such obscure locations, if one were to really visit these locations for themselves, would confer an unmatched experience.

  • Kokona’s appreciation for what already is, rather than what could be, is admirable, as the day draws to a close, she reminisces about how she’d once come here with her mother, as well. At the end of the day, Kokona runs into Aoi and Hinata, who have some baumkuchen from the shop that Aoi works at. They spend time together before Kokona heads home, where she learns that her mother’s got next week off for sure.

  • The second half of Omoide Present follows Hinata and her quest to find an old keepsake. Yama no Susume had presented Hinata as being rather boisterous and happy-go-lucky, so to see a more contemplative, sentimental side of her character was a pleasant change of pace. I found that the depth of each character in Yama no Susume contributed greatly to the enjoyment factor, giving each individual a life-like feel and showing that despite their outward archetypes, everyone experiences a very broad and deep set of emotions. This is how to properly convey depth of characters: I was speaking with a friend earlier about how to best convey nuances in characters, and he cites Durarara!! as a series that was a little too aggressive in trying to show that everyone has a hidden side.

  • As the first day of the summer, today is the longest day of the year, and all days subsequent will begin shortening. However, while summer is typically associated with blue skies like those seen in Kokona’s story, the weather today greatly resembled the rainy conditions of six years ago, when the Great Flood devastated the city center and surrounding towns. While the rain was fortuitously nowhere near as intense, we still had a severe rainfall warning for much of the day. This didn’t stop me from celebrating the solstice with my first visit to a food truck since I was a university student: I ended up having a ginger fried chicken poutine that was a fusion of Asian and Canadian flavours.

  • Back home, Hinata is troubled by the fact that she’s lost the acorn figure Aoi had made for her. The nuts of Quercus trees, acorns are produced as a means of dispersing seeds and can also be consumed by humans, although having been displaced by grains, usage of acorns as food has decreased greatly. Looking around the intertubes, it’s somewhat of a surprise that Omoide Present has not received more coverage: I’ve only found one short discussion on the series.

  • Hinata’s doubt deepens when she speaks with her father, who’s kept a leaf that Hinata had found for him while they were walking when Hinata had been much younger. In the end, it is not the worth of the gift, but the intent behind it, that counts for something, and this is something that my parents are quick to remind me: the gesture of taking the time to think about someone and what they like is already a powerful show of compassion and care.

  • Aoi and Hinata are adorable as children: on the day that Hinata moves, it’s a tearful departure, but the girls hold their tears back long enough to give one another their gifts. Aoi’s made a stick figure out of acorns, hinting at her skills with crafts, while Hinata, be less proficient, carves her name into the acorn. The two go their separate ways here and reunite at Yama no Susume‘s beginning, when high school begins.

  • One thing I’ve not mentioned about Yama no Susume is the soundtrack: the music is composed by Tomohiro Oshima and Tomohiro Yamada, and the incidental pieces range from gentle, to encouraging and even chaotic at times, capturing different facets of the girls’ experiences, both on the trails and in their everyday lives. Omoide Memory has its own soundtrack, featuring orchestral pieces that create a majestic sense of wonder and also of nostalgia, for each of Kokona and Hinata’s stories.

  • Ultimately, Hinata decides to be forward with Aoi about having lost the little acorn figurine. Aoi only vaguely remembers and dismisses things, since it happened so long ago: the two decide to make new acorn ornaments for one another and head to the local park, where they search for new acorns. Here, the distinct red arch of Wariiwa Bridge can be seen: its colour makes it a distinct part of the Hanno cityscape, and the bridge is prominently featured in Yama no Susume.

  • As it turns out, while Hinata may have lost the acorn figurine, Aoi had outright forgotten Hinata and their promise: Yama no Susume‘s first episode made this clear, so the two are evidently even, and so, Hinata’s losing of a small memento becomes inconsequential. Here, the two friends share a joyous moment together amidst the beautiful autumn foliage: Omoide Present‘s second act is set in late October, a time when back home, all of the trees have long lost all of their leaves and a noticeable chill has crept into the air.

  • Omoide Present feels as though it foreshadows what is to come in the third season. Having finished the OVA, we’re also entering the final days of June. I actually have no more anime related posts planned for this month, although I am going to attempt to write about Battlefield V and the experiences I’ve had during the third Tides of War chapter, as well as my final thoughts on Valkyria Chronicles 4.

With Omoide Present in the books, I now advance into the final act of Yama no Susume: the third season came out last summer, and praises for this third season is actually what had prompted me to give Yama no Susume a go. Readers will have doubtlessly seen the procrastination that I am infamous for, and it was only now that I’ve finally had the chance to watch Yama no Susume. Despite being a series of shorts, Yama no Susume loses none of its potency and depth in its messages; the shorter length of each episode forces Yama no Susume to ensure that every scene contributes to the story. The result is an anime that is genuine, engaging and also concise: adaptations, such as for K-On!, protracted scenes to ensure they would fit into a standard runtime, and while this can be beneficial for things like performing concerts, it also results in some jokes that seem as though they last much longer than they should. Yama no Susume is built off a similar setup, but shorter episodes allow the series to really focus on their characters and their discoveries. The third season looks to be continuing on in this path, and I look forwards to beginning Yama no Susume‘s latest season. Readers will have my assurances that I will be finishing this series in an expedient fashion: as Aoi learnt, once one gets started, forward momentum makes it easier to continue moving forwards, one step at a time.

Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! – Review and Impressions After Three

“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” –Morty Smith, Rick and Morty

Strike Witches: Road to Berlin is coming out in 2020, and then Luminous Witches will air in 2021, it looks like the Strike Witches franchise has returned in full after a slow start in 2007 with its OVA – this series has been polarising for seemingly being an excuse to showcase female soldiers running around without any pants, but as the series progressed, it also matured deeply, showing that elements of world building can indeed far outweigh initial impressions that the series is merely for visual charm. Themes of camaraderie, trust and a determination to protect what one holds dear, plus minor themes about technological advancement, understanding and open-mindedness began making their way into a series to give characters credible growth. Strike Witches‘ 2013 movie, Operation Victory Arrow and Brave Witches represent a maturing series that began focusing more on the human side of the Human-Neuroi War, and of late, Strike Witches has become much more than being a flimsy excuse to fill a screen with crotches. It’s now been some two years since Brave Witches, and four years since Operation Victory Arrow; with new Strike Witches on the horizon, it stands to reason that fans have definitely earned something in the meantime to re-light their interest in the series.

Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! (Strike Witches: 501-butai Hasshinshimasu!) appears to be this “something”: on the surface, it deals with everyday life amongst the 501st. From Yoshika taking up cooking for everyone owing to their incapacity to cook (Minna, in particular, manages to harm her fellow soldiers more than the Neuroi do), to Gertrude’s determination to have Erica maintain a clean room, from Charlotte’s terrifying driving to Eila’s inability to properly express her feelings for Sanya, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!‘s comical portrayal of the 501st marks a far cry from the series’ typical features. In fact, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!‘s approach is so unexpectedly different that one would be forgiven if they were to mistake this for a bad joke: the animation and artwork appear as though it was produced by an algorithm that was designed to produce animation on its own, but was overfitted to a poor training data set. The insane premises and events suggest improvisation the same way Rick and Morty improvised the Interdimensional Cable skits. While inherently flawed, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! also seems to express different relationships amongst the characters: Gertrude acts as a mentor of sorts for Yoshika, while the slovenly Erica seems to be more at home with the lazy Charlotte and Francesca. The dynamics result in odd moments that show the members of the 501st in a caricature form of themselves, and this produces a unique brand of humour that is as outlandish as Interdimensional Cable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There is no discussion out there on Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! – I don’t mean that discussions are scant, or that they are light, because there simply is no one else talking about this series. This is unsurprising, given that this Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is meant to be a bit of a practical joke. The artwork is of a much lower quality than what I usually watch, although the vast blue skies of Strike Witches remain.

  • After becoming a part of the 501st, Yoshika is assigned to cooking duties because she’s apparently the only person on the team who can make anything edible. Gertrude feels badly for her and decides to help out. In Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Gertrude has a much closer friendship with Yoshika: she was initially distant, feeling Yoshika to resemble her younger sister, but the two get along quite well in Strike Witches proper.

  • Minna is the commander of the 501st, and while she’s normally gentle and kind, there are some conditions where her personality will harden, usually in regards to everyone’s safety. This will not manifest in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, and instead, Minna is presented as being a bit ditzy, as well as having a terrible sense of taste. Her cooking is as lethal as a M829 APFSDS, putting everyone on the floor: when she suggests cooking in place of Yoshika, everyone vehemently objects.

  • The events of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! are not so clearly determined: while everyone is located at the Britannian base see in the first season, Mio and Minna mention an infamous scene where Minna, concerned for Mio’s safety, holds her at gunpoint and demands that Mio stand down from active duty. This occurred later in season one, and the 501st leave the Britannian base after the season ends. The Sky That Connects Us shows that everyone is scattered around the globe, so Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! might not be really a formal part of the Strike Witches timeline.

  • Charlotte and Erica are perhaps two of the scummiest members of the 501st, if Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is anything to go by. When assigned to patrol duty, they simply lounge around in swimwear and suggest that Yoshika do the same. It’s a callback to the first episode when Charlotte is seen chilling, but unlike the series proper, the low level of detail means that contours and the like are rendered with a much lower fidelity.

  • Whereas Gertrude usually is content to deliver a verbal tongue-lashing in response to Erica’s slovenly ways, in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, she resorts to physical beatings that put everyone on the floor. Yoshika is made to suffer when she decides to do patrol duty properly and is given a heavy jacket that gives her heat stroke. With Yoshika out of commission, Minna cooks for everyone and manages to harm the 501st in ways that even the Neuroi do not.

  • When Gertrude’s patience with Erica’s mess reaches its limits, she enlists Yoshika to help her in clearing out a mess that would defeat even the Konmari Method™: Marie Kondo’s approach to reducing clutter is to use a simple metric in deciding what to keep and what to chuck. If something creates happiness or has sentimental value, it can be kept, and otherwise, it is to be discarded. My parents’ method is simpler and more effective – if something is actively being used, then it should be kept.

  • I would imagine that my parents’ approach, which I’ve adopted, would make for a much more boring approach. Back in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, the Konmari Method™ eventually results in a series of accidents that allow Erica’s mess to be cleared, but also causes her to lose a medal. While trying to find the medal, Erica reintroduces the mess, undoing everyone’s efforts. One wonder how such a mess is even possible.

  • I actually had no intentions of writing about Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, but the combination of wanting to give myself a challenge and the fact that there’s no other blogs talking about this series means a unique opportunity for me to see if there’s anything noteworthy I could say about what essentially amounts to a shoddily-prepared show for something like Interdimensional Cable: the events of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! are outlandish and zany enough so that they could fit within the realm of what is shown in the multi-verse.

  • Fanservice in is much lighter in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! than anywhere else in Strike Witches, which started out shoving everyone’s pantsu into the viewers’ faces. AS the series progressed, while such moments were still present, they became secondary to character growth. Here, Erica and Charlotte apologise after Minna kicks their asses for making fun of her dress.

  • The Interdimensional Cable atmosphere of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is why I’ve opted to go with one of the more famous quotes from Rick and Morty, where Morty presents a very bleak view of the universe to Summer and suggests that things are what they are, so one might as well enjoy themselves with the time and plane of existence they do have. This is one way of saying that folks should not be so invested into minutiae surrounding their entertainment and take things a little less seriously.

  • After Minna and Mio are invited to a party for officiers, Gertrude and Yoshika overlook duties at the base. They ren’t enough to rein in the undisciplined antics of Erica, Francesca and Charlotte, but it turns out that, in the absence of standards, Erica, Francesca and Charlotte actually have no goofing off to do. They decide to explore the rooms of their squadron mates, but find things that disturb them.

  • Francesca, Charlotte and Erica’s reactions mirror my reaction to the weather yesterday: we’re only a stone’s throw from May, but Winter evidently wasn’t through with us yet and dropped 15 centimetres of snow on the city, bringing everything to a halt. Back in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Yoshika and Gertude explained that nothing special occurred, while the lipstick marks on Mio and blood on Minna imply that something hilarious went down behind the scenes.

  • After Yoshika accepts her paycheque, which features a bonus because her cooking is single-handedly keeping everyone’s spirits up, Yoshika decides to go shopping for new cooking implements. Gertrude decides to accompany her, along with Lynette, but when Charlotte offers to drive, the mere suggestion is enough to strike fear into the hearts of all those who know of her driving. As far as I can tell, Charlotte was not that bad a driver in Strike Witches, and I don’t ever recall a moment where she’s driven anyone anywhere.

  • A part of the humour in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! stems from implicit moments, as well: leaving audiences to work out what occurred can be as funny as seeing things for oneself. While I’ve not very much to say about things in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, I can say that watching the incredible antics of the 501st does bring a smile to my face. One of the genuine criticisms I have of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! so far is that Lynette hasn’t had much screen time yet. Of the Witches, I’m rather fond of her character.

  • Back at base, Minna decides to make lunch, and Eila somehow gets pulled into things, reasoning that fermented stuff akin to the Japanese-style cooking Yoshika’s been doing must taste better. They whip up pickled herring and decide to add ammonia to it (which, incidentally, is toxic), scaring the living daylights out of Erica. She runs off to find Mio, in the hopes of putting an end to this nightmare. When Mio manages to cut the containers open, their noxious gases incapacitates her, reducing her to a trembling wreck. In any other series, this would be a pretty big deal, but in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, all injuries are temporary, and all damage sustained is quickly repaired. Hence, viewers may enjoy a laugh at Mio’s expense.

  • Later, Eila succumbs to a cold and is bed ridden: while Yoshika accompanies Sanya on a night mission, Gertude and Erica look after her. Eila’s feelings for Sanya have formed the basis for many a joke in-series: Sanya is near oblivious to Eila’s feelings even where everyone else is aware of them.

  • I’ve heard that summoning circles are all the rage on social media these days, and after leaving some of the Sanya cutouts so Eila won’t be lonely, the others allow her to rest. These props actually glow in the dark by some unknown mechanism, and actually look quite intimidating. When Sanya returns from her patrol and sees these, she’s a little put off, and once Eila recovers, she immediately hunts down Erica for the trouble.

  • If folks were looking for a proper slice-of-life with the 501st, then Operation Victory Arrow and the manga, The Sky That Connects Us, do a solid job of presenting what goes down between Neuroi attacks. I will be returning to write about Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! towards the end of the season: while nothing substantial, it is something that is fun in its own right. We are at the end of April now, and now is a good time as any to mention that, after a day of delayed flights, I am now in San José, California, where I will be attending Facebook’s Developer Conference, F8. I may work on a few posts here and there, but I expect to be quite busy until my return early May.

While Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! has numerous flaws and very little in the way of themes, its unusual brand of humour brings out the worst of all the characters and gives audiences something to laugh at – I imagine that this is a deliberate design choice to keep audiences busy, and presumably, to lower their guard ahead of Road to Berlin‘s release. Since Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! comes across as weak, Road of Berlin will stand in stark contrast and be more consistent with the increasingly detailed and mature themes that Strike Witches has trended towards. Fans of Strike Witches won’t gain much more than a few cheap laughs out of the characters’ misfortune in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, but it does act as somewhat of a reminder that each of Yoshika, Lynette, Perrine, Mio, Charlotte, Francesca, Gertrude, Erica, Minna, Eila and Sanya have come a long way since their initial appearances in 2008’s Strike Witches. The series is no longer dominated by needless pantsu, and there is a deeper, more enjoyable theme to the 501st’ exploits – if Road to Berlin is going to be more moody and reflective than the second season, then for the time being, viewers might as well watch everyone in unusual and strange conditions that exaggerate their characters far more than a proper season would.