The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: personal reflection

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!!, Appreciating Everyday Life at After School Teatime and The Road to Graduation At the Nine Year Anniversary

I would like to give you every ounce of my gratitude
And send it to you through this song
This is a feeling I will never, ever forget

–U & I

With third year in full swing for Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi, the light music club focus on getting new members so Asuza won’t be alone when they graduate. Their efforts come to naught, and the girls’ days in high school continue as they clean out the clubroom, go on a class trip while Azusa remains behind with Ui and Jun, struggle to deal with the rainy season and perform for the Mio Fan Club, which Nodoka had inherited when Megumi Sokabe graduated. Besides keeping up with their practise, the girls also must find time to study for their exams and decide on their career paths for the future. Yui is able to pass her exams and decides to become a teacher, being inspired by Sawako. Summer soon arrives, and the girls spend time together at a summer music festival with Sawako. While the girls turn their attention towards studying for their entrance exams, Azusa worries about the light music club’s future. The school’s cultural festival draws near: Mio and Ritsu manage to master their leading roles in the school play, Romeo and Juliet, and later put on a spectacular concert for their classmates. The concert also brings to light the fact that this is everyone’s last year together, and as graduation draws near for Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, the girls work to bring Azusa a farewell gift in between their own preparations for graduation. On the day of graduation, after the ceremony ends, the girls perform one final time for Azusa with Tenshi no Fureta Yo!, a special song dedicated to her being with them throughout their time as members of After School Teatime. K-On!‘s second season, K-On!! comprises of twenty-four episodes that detail Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s final year of high school and their appreciation for Azusa’s membership with a much finer granularity than the first season: while both the first and second seasons cover two manga volumes, the extended runtime of K-On!! provides a much greater insight as to how close Azusa and Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi have become during their time together. During its run, K-On!! deals with two overlapping themes. The series’ length means that everyday moments are shown in great detail to denote an appreciation for the everyday, and this time creates memories that ultimately can make it difficult to part ways: as K-On!! continues, Azusa’s desire to spend one more year with Yui and the others becomes increasingly evident.

More so than even the first season, K-On!! accentuates the importance of everyday moments. Whereas the original manga had created humour from the brevity of its moments, the anime extends these moments, depicting every subtle detail and placing focus on elements that would otherwise be ignored. Ordinary things like drying off after the rain, or working to get a working air conditioning unit in the clubroom are presented as an integral part of K-On!!, no different than watching the girls discuss their future plans and concerts over cake and tea, or performing on stage. While some feel that the focus on the mundane detracts from K-On!!, especially in the form that the second season takes, the protracted and frequent focus on everyday life serves a critical purpose for the series – K-On!‘s first season saw Mio compose most of the music that After School Teatime performs, and so, most of the lyrics were sappy, sentimental. By K-On!!, Yui is also involved in writing some of the songs. While Mio’s songs are composed from her feelings, which are decidedly more abstract, Yui is more straightforwards, and so, K-On!! can be said to be giving viewers insight into the sorts of things that Yui and the others experience, which feed into the energy and optimism of their performances. Despite their songs speaking to ordinary things, whether it be the joys of curry rice, strawberry parfaits or how rice can be a main course on its own, After School Teatime presents their music with a carefree, happy-go-lucky approach that perfectly reflects their lives. This is an indicator that the music of K-On!! doesn’t come out of nowhere, and that almost anything, with the right mindset and composition, can be turned into music: After School Teatime’s music is definitely a testament to Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Asuza’s love for simple but treasured moments spent with one another, and in a chaotic, hectic world, there is most certainly meaning in stopping to smell the roses.

The culmination of these simple but heartwarming memories during their time as high school students creates a sense of belonging, of happy days spent together. However, nothing is truly infinite, and like all things, high school draws to a close; Azusa, being the junior member of After School Teatime, has grown very much accustomed to the eccentricities and antics that Yui and the others participate in, and while she may put on a tough, serious front to focus on music, the reality is that she’s come to greatly appreciate everything the others have done for her. As K-On!! wears on, Azusa begins to wonder about the hand-off in the light music club: once Yui and the seniors graduate, she’ll need to take over and run the club. Besides searching for new members and becoming familiar with the responsibilities of being the president, Azusa also will miss her friends greatly. This worry for the future slowly creeps into K-On!! – as she spends more time with each of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi, Azusa realises that she doesn’t want any of them to leave. Following the culture festival, the entire band sheds tears as they realise this. For Azusa, these feelings come out in full during the finale: having long masked her doubts, Azusa finally comes into the open with respect to how she feels about Yui and the others, begging them to stay. While Azusa has definitely been grateful for seniors who looked after her, it turns out that Yui and the others feel precisely the same way, counting it a great blessing to have had Azusa accompany them on their journey. While it is goodbye for present, graduation is not really the end; each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi capture this in a song they perform for Azusa, and in its lyrics, they thank her from the bottom of their hearts. Just because they are due to separate for the present doesn’t mean that the memories will be lost, and so, K-On!! shows that the ending of one journey simply is the beginning of another one: while moments are transient and fleeting, memories have a much stronger endurance and will remain with one unto eternity. The second season definitely takes its time in presenting these messages, but the extended run-time really allows K-On!! to vividly portray the strength of friendship and then capture this anew in the form of music, showing how there is magic in the mundane.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Compared to K-On!K-On!! (differentiated with a second exclamation point) has twice the runtime and therefore, progresses at an even slower pace than its predecessor. This works to the series’ advantage: K-On!! is about an appreciation of things in life that we often take for granted, and showing seemingly unrelated events that Yui and the others experience encourages viewers to slow down and live in the moment, enjoying moments spent with people important in one’s life.

  • K-On!! also sports upgraded artwork and animation compared to that of K-On! – lighting is much more detailed, and the settings have more depth to them compared to the flatter, simpler designs of the first season. Character movement is also more fluid, and consistently animated. The techniques and style used in K-On!! would eventually be applied to Tamako Market and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid, giving their respective characters a beautiful world to interact in and explore.

  • While K-On! had been about Azusa’s entry into the light music club, K-On!! also begins to entertain the idea that with Yui and the others about to graduate, there also is a need for a successor. Azusa is well-suited for the role, and in the manga, she does eventually accept the mantle of responsibility that being the light music club’s president requires. To hint at this, Azusa is shown spending more time with Ui and Jun: such moments establish that outside of Mio, Mugi, Yui and Ritsu, Azusa does have friends with whom she is close to.

  • In a given day, After School Teatime lives up to their name and is rarely seen without tea and some sort of cake or pastry close at hand. The kind of tea the girls are seen drinking is never specified, since K-On!! isn’t about the tea, but I would guess that Mugi typically brings in an Earl Gray or even Rooibos: the former is paired with the deserts nicely, and Rooibos tea is a very healthy option, as well. I personally prefer Chamomile or peppermint tea in the midday, and Rooibos in the late afternoon.

  • Moments such as Mugi helping Yui dry off during the rainy season might add nothing of note to the overall story in K-On!!, but it shows that the series is very much committed to bringing the manga to life and bringing out the joy in each moment. The manga is actually a lot more concise than the anime: the first season adopted the first two volumes, and the second season is an adaptation of the second two volumes. The final two volumes of K-On! never received adaptations.

  • Animating Yui, Mio and Azusa playing their instruments was no easy feat, and lessons learnt from bringing bass and guitar to life in K-On! would feed into the techniques used in Hibike! EuphoniumK-On! might be seen as a lesser essay in the craft, a warm up act, since Hibike! Euphonium‘s instruments are animated and presented with an even greater level of detail. Their latest movie is set to release in November, and I’ve been able to keep my distance from the spoilers surprisingly well.

  • During the course of K-On!!, the light music club finds itself in a memorable trip to Kyoto, deals with cleaning up the clutter in the club room and even performing for the Mio Fan Club, which spawned as a result of Mio’s accident during their first-ever performance. Mio reluctantly participates, being prone to embarrassment whenever recalling the incident, but warms up to the Fan Club, who dedicate to Mio a slideshow of her best moments with After School Tea Time.

  • A part of K-On!! is the lingering and impending doom that is examinations. Exams in Japan are of a much greater importance than the exams I sat in Canada, as they determine which institutes one can apply for, and then one must also pass the entrance examinations to attain admittance into their school of choice. Conversely, my experiences were that I wrote standardised exams during my final year of high school and spanked those, scoring near-perfect scores on everything and then was admitted to the university’s Health Sciences honours programme.

  • I still remember the days I spent studying for those exams, and in university, found that my old approach of studying for exams alone began to feel ineffectual. When I watched K-On!!, I was going through the toughest term I’d experienced in my undergraduate programme, and ultimately overcame this particular hurdle by studying with others. Watching K-On!! helped me to accept my peers’ requests to study with them: here, Mio and the others prepare for an exam. It is actually quite fortunate that I found K-On! when I did: I had came across the series by pure chance when looking up parodies of Gundam 00, and then took a liking to the music in K-On!.

  • After hearing Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!, I knew I would need to complete the whole journey of K-On! to get a better context for what made the song so stand-out. Here, Azusa and Yui spend some time together in preparation for a talent show that an elderly lady suggests that Yui participate in. A few of the episodes in K-On!! are spent showing how Yui prepares for this show while simultaneously studying for her exams.

  • In the end, Yui passes her exams with a strong performance, and then proceeds to perform in the talent show. Although she and Azusa do not win, Yui offers their consolation prize to the elderly lady as thanks for always looking after her. Such gestures are what makes K-On! a strong series, and while Yui might not possess the characteristics of a focused, purposeful protagonist, her kindness more than offsets any shortcomings she may have.

  • When the girls overhear Sawako on the phone planning meeting an unknown individual, they imagine Sawako’s managed to find a significant other. Deciding to tail her with field-craft that would make John Clark proud, it turns out that Sawako was meeting with Norimi, an old friend from Sawako’s time as a student. It turns out that Norimi was asked to perform at a friend’s wedding but was unable to convince Sawako to play alongside them, so Yui is asked to step in. Watching Yui’s performance prompts Sawako to step back in.

  • The last summer for everyone soon arrives, and the club’s attention turns towards securing a new air conditioning unit when it turns out their club room actually lacked one. Once this is done, Sawako invites everyone to a music festival in the mountains. K-On!! made use of a diverse colour palette during its run: the choice of saturation, hues and lighting are far more sophisticated than those of the first season, giving backgrounds much more depth and life. However, the improved visuals do not detract from the characters themselves, and the visual aspects of K-On!! would continue to improve, culminating in the movie.

  • Despite a rough start to the summer music festival thanks to the crowds and heat, the girls manage to enjoy things nonetheless. They promise to perform together at the next summer festival in a touching moment; viewers will know that such a moment will never materialise since, besides Azusa, everyone is entering the endgame for their high school career. Subtle reminders such as these gently remind viewers that all things must come to an end. This year’s summer is similarly approaching its end, and yesterday was the Mid Autumn Festival, which I celebrated alone with homemade fried pork chops and moon cakes. Today, I went out into the badlands of Alberta to explore a ghost town and also took a short walk amongst the cliffs of the Red Deer River Valley.

  • The evening ended at the Last Chance Saloon in a semi-ghost town of Wayne, where I sat down to their Evolution Burger, a six-ounce prime rib burger with cheddar cheese, bacon, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, and their special house sauce on toasted bun with a massive side of fries. This burger was well worth the hour-and-a-half drive it took to get to Wayne, being tender, juicy and flavourful: the inclusion of onion rings added a crunchy and rich flavour to the burger. I’d actually been interested in visiting the Last Chance Saloon since January, and it was only now that a weekend opened itself for this short excursion out into the badlands of Alberta, making an enjoyable end to this year’s summer. Back in K-On!!, a whole episode is dedicated towards Azusa spending time with Jun and Ui in a mixture of events and dream sequences to accentuate their friendship.

  • Focus on the girls who would later become Wakaba Girl (literally “fresh leaf girl”, after the leaf stickers given to newly-minted drivers in Japan) sets up the notion that after After School Teatime, the light music club is in excellent hands: Azusa is a skillful player, Jun has jazz background and Ui is able to excel in almost everything she puts her mind to. Even without an adaptation or knowledge of the manga, K-On!! did an excellent job of showing how the torch was passed on.

  • Unlike K-On!‘s first season, which was met with polarised reception, K-On!!‘s second season was not subjected towards the same treatment: no dissertations arguing the series’ perceived flaws from the internet’s more vocal critics were found, and it appeared that the original criticism pieces were (thankfully) not regarded as having any degree of value. My counterarguments remain simple enough: K-On!! was never meant to be about the music, but rather, a journey of discovery, appreciation of people one becomes close to and what farewell means. Claims that K-On!! was “wasted potential” or similar is akin to wondering why one cannot carry large volumes of cargo in an aircraft or ship designed for passengers.

  • As most second seasons are wont, K-On!! explores alternate dynamics amongst group members when other characters are absent. One episode has Ritsu spending time with Mugi, and Mugi becoming more intent on learning about the friendship that Ritsu shares with Mio. It’s rare that the characters are seen hanging out alone when they have been presented as being rather inseparable, and this particular pattern gives more insight into each of the characters, as well as provides for moments that would otherwise not occur when everyone is together. The approach is applied in series where few new characters are introduced as time wears on.

  • Another episode had Azusa spend time individually with each of Mugi, Ritsu, Mio and Yui: while she starts out with the goal of pushing everyone to practise harder, various circumstances preclude this, and so, Azusa is able to learn about her seniors in a much less turbulent setting. She ends up teaching Mugi the basics of guitar, learns that Ritsu has a younger brother and helps Yui read the sheet music to Mugi’s new song after cleaning Ton-chan, the soft-shell turtle’s, tank. Ton-chan was purchased using surplus funds from the club with the aim of keeping Azusa company after everyone had graduated.

  • When the club room is closed for maintenance work, the light music club finds themselves without a place to practise. They spend an afternoon attempting to secure a new location, before renting out a studio and slacking off during their slot. The lyrics for Mugi’s new composition remains unfinished, and it typifies how After School Teatime always seems to struggle with completing a task when time is sufficient to do so because of their tendency to wander and live in the moment. In exchange for scrambling towards a deadline, the girls’ are able to really feed their experiences into whatever they do, whether it be composing lyrics or putting on performances for their classmates.

  • I’ve mentioned that I credit K-On! with helping me weather a difficult term during my second year of university, and was part-way into the second season when exams finished. When I finished K-On!! fully, the summer was already well under way. I had been offered a scholarship for summer research, and I was a month into my new project, to build an agent-based model of fluid flow in convoluted passageways. As I learnt more about the Bullet Physics engine and built increasingly powerful agents that could navigate any closed mesh, I also enjoyed lunches at the then-new Korean BBQ joint on campus, attended several LAN parties and travelled into the mountains, all while listening to the vocal songs and incidental pieces in the series: one of my favourite memories of that summer was visiting my supervisor in Canmore and having lunch at the Crazyweed Kitchen with the lab, having driven in while listening to Mio’s Seishun Vibration and Mugi’s Diary Wa Fortissimo!.

  • Thanks to all of the commotion about their club room, Yui makes very little progress in crafting the lyrics for their latest song and turns to Ui for help. While near-infallible, Ui ends up catching a cold, prompting Yui to look after her in a reversal of roles. Throughout K-On! and K-On!!, Ui has been shown to be a dependable younger sister who dotes on Yui in every way. It turns out that Yui is well aware of this and having seen just how much she’s come to rely on Ui, Yui crafts the lyrics into what would be known as U & I, one of my favourite songs from the series for its honest and heartfelt lyrics. It forms the page quote, since the lyrics also apply to a general sense of gratitude that the second season conveys.

  • When Mio and Ritsu are assigned the leading roles in the school play, they initially find themselves ill-suited to perform their parts until during one practise, they begin to mock one another in frustration, only to learn that they can indeed embrace their roles. Mio and Ritsu subsequently put their fullest efforts into making the play a success, while Mugi and Yui continue to help support the play in their own capacity. The play is a success, and even when Juliet’s tombstone goes missing prior to the play’s climax, the girls improvise by borrowing a replica Rosetta Stone from the occult club.

  • K-On!!‘s moments are numerous, but each of them remain highly memorable, showing how After School Teatime operates outside of their club activities. While they prima facie appear disorganised, unfocused and undisciplined, this raggedy-ass bunch has plenty of heart and sincerity. The girls’ greatest strengths are being able to make the most of a moment and putting their best into something when it matters, resulting in something that’s genuine. Here, they gear up for the school concert, spending a night at school and taking in the unusual atmosphere that accompanies a culture festival. For their performance, Sawako’s managed to make custom T-shirts that work well for the club, as well as giving one to each of the students in a surprise move.

  • The culture festival is also a great success: like its predecessor, K-On!! dedicates an entire episode towards the musical performance. These shows never drag on, and with Yui emceeing the concert, it feels very organic and very much alive. I immediately fell in love with the songs that After School Teatime performed, and also greatly enjoyed the character songs: I am not alone in this assessment, and while bumptious music reviewers turn their noses up at the acoustical properties of K-On!!‘s music, the songs themselves are excellent from a technical standpoint and further to this, have an honesty in their lyrics that almost all modern pop music lack.

  • In the aftermath of the culture festival concert, everyone is exhausted from putting their hearts into performing. During the course of the performance, the girls also realise that this is the last time they’ll be performing together and dissolve into tears. It was here, at the sunset of a journey, that I realised K-On!! was much more than an ordinary slice-of-life anime: the emotions associated with the thought of having to part ways, that the days of enjoying tea and performing together are drawing to a close were superbly captured. The decision to set this moment at the end of a day accentuates this: things inevitably come to an end.

  • By the time Nodoka and Sawako reach the club room to congratulate Yui and the others on a successful concert, everyone’s fallen asleep from exhaustion. While K-On!! is often thought of as a pure moé series, the animated adaptation adds a considerable emotional piece to the story: the girls clearly are saddened by the prospect of having to part ways. In the original manga, the girls simply share a conversation and fall asleep. With Naoko Yamada directing K-On!!, the series presents a very relatable, very human story that extends the humour seen in Kakifly’s original manga. These were the aspects that all critics missed in their assessments.

  • With the concerts over, Yui and the others turn their fullest attention towards studying for their entrance exams. The remainder of K-On!! switches between Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s preparations for exams, and Azusa’s day-to-day experiences with Ui and Jun. Even though such moments are subtle, it is quite clear that a passing of the baton is occurring, and that even though Yui and the others are on the verge of graduation, Azusa still has great companionship in Ui and Jun.

  • The second season ultimately is very faithful to the original manga, differing chiefly in how it chooses to present different moments: what took only a few pages in the manga are covered over several episodes in K-On!!, examinations and the endgame, which took up three quarters of the last manga volume, make up a comparatively meagre four of the twenty-four episodes in season two. Another clever touch to K-On!! is gradually giving Ui and Jun more screentime: Jun and Ui both make more appearances to show Azusa’s friendships outside of the light music club. Indeed, Ui does end up joining the light music club once Yui graduates, and Jun, after being jealous of hearing about Azusa’s adventures, also decides to participate.

  • Towards the end of K-On!!, the warmer colours and more saturated scenes are displaced by cooler, more faded out colours, giving a sense of melancholy as the end of one journey approaches. While it has been nine years since K-On!!‘s original airing, seven years since I finished the series and three years since I last took an exam of any sort, the sense of unease prior to an exam remains a highly vivid experience for me. On the day of their exams, Yui worries about forgetting a critical fact or detail: while I stuck with a brute-force approach in high school and my early undergraduate career towards studying, after the MCAT, I took on a new method that saw unqualified success: I had not gotten any grade lower than a B+ since the MCAT.

  • While it’s a tense moment, there was never any doubt that Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Yui would get into their school of choice: everyone applies for the same women’s university that Mugi had initially chosen, and all are accepted. I personally don’t recommend applying for a university purely because one’s friends are doing so, since everyone ultimately has their own career paths and life choices, but ultimately, this decision is up to the individual, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who goes to a particular institution for this end.

  • Azusa has come to worry greatly for her friends: Mio and Mugi have always been reasonably hard-working students whose grades are solid, but Ritsu and Yui are more scatter-brained. Thus, when everyone is accepted, Azusa is elated. The ending of K-On!! captures a certain melancholy and bitter-sweetness that accompanies the closing of one journey, and it speaks volumes to the execution that such emotions can be presented so tactfully: this feeling is ever-present, but never displaces the everyday cheer that Yui and the others bring. With their exams over, the girls get their yearbook photos taken and spend their days in idle happiness while awaiting graduation.

  • Looking back, there’s a sort of nostalgia I get from watching K-On!!: besides helping me relax during a difficult term, after I finished, I decided to give The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi a whirl out of a curiosity in checking out the remainder of Kyoto Animation’s works. This series is a predecessor of sorts to the light novel style adaptations that we’ve come to see in the present (convoluted universes and rules, cynical but sharp-witted male leads), and while the anime was a moderately enjoyable experience, the film proved itself a worthy masterpiece that I watched as my summer research progressed.

  • With K-On!! being similar to its first season in style and execution, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the incidental music in the second season. However, the vocal inset pieces are of an excellent standard: the second season introduces Gohan wa Okazu and Pure Pure Heart, which are representative of the two different styles that After School Teatime perform. Most of their songs are either sappy love songs with lyrics by Mio, or Yui’s down to earth and direct songs about food and life experiences. While the TV series only showcases a number of songs, some of the songs that would be featured on the inset albums would later be used in the movie (e.g. Samidare 20 Love and Curry Nochi Rice).

  • With their exams over, Yui and the others set about crafting a more enduring legacy of their time as members of After School Teatime by compiling a mix tape of their best hits. These songs would later be included in the Houkago Teatime album, which features both the sharper, more polished studio recordings of the girls’ performances and a special “cassette” edition that mimics the rougher, grittier quality of a cassette recording. The cassette recordings act as an extension of the girls’ experiences and add depth to their dynamics, even though many of the songs in that album (e.g. Honey Sweet Time, Tokimeki Sugar and Ichigo Parfait ga Tomara nai) were never performed at the girls’ concerts. The album therefore becomes an indispensable and highly enjoyable listen for any fan of K-On!.

  • On the day of graduation, it’s a bittersweet one as the girls look forwards to their future, while at the same time, wishing that the days of high school could last just a little longer. Looking back on my time as a high school student, I enjoyed the relatively straightforward flow that each day offered: go to school, learn things, chat with friends about various things, go back home, finish whatever assignments I had and the spend the rest of the evening in Ragnarok Online or World of Warcraft. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily miss high school, but I do concede that things were fun back then.

  • Yui decides to give Sawako a card signed by everyone in their class as a thank you gift, and spends much of the ceremony trying to conceal it so it’s a surprised. Sawako is worried about Yui, but is later happy to receive this gift from the class. When I watched K-On!! for the first time, I was quite a few years younger than Sawako and closer in age to Yui and the others. Now, I’m actually older than Sawako, and having served as a teaching assistant at the university during my graduate studies, I can say with confidence that as a teacher, I tend to remember the high-performing students and the rowdy students the best. As such, there is some weight to my supposition that Sawako will remember Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi for some time after they’ve graduated.

  • When the ceremonies conclude, and farewells are bade, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi turn their attention towards saying the most important goodbye of all: Azusa’s been holding back tears all day, and now that the moment has come to part ways, she finds herself unable to do so, tearfully begging the others to stay. Yui offers Azusa a flower and gives her a special thank you card and prepare to play a special song they’d written just for her. Titled Tenshi ni Fureta yo! (“Touched by an angel!”), this song represents the sum of everyone’s gratitude and appreciation for Azusa’s joining the club and for having made such a major contribution to their activities, whether it be through her technical skill with a guitar or for encouraging everyone to practise.

  • Easily the most emotional and personal song in all of K-On!!, it is no surprise that this is my favourite of all the songs that After School Teatime performs. The song comes out of the blue, and K-On!! suggests that it was hastily written with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi’s thanks feeding into the lyrics, but the truth is even more heartwarming: the melody and lyrics were actually composed while the girls were in London, having agreed to do a graduation trip to cover the fact that they were working on something for Azusa. Knowing this gives the song even more weight: in K-On! The Movie, London ended up being secondary to the film’s centrepiece about giving Azusa a suitable gift.

  • While nine years have passed since K-On!!‘s finale aired, the series itself is timeless and remains every bit as relevant and enjoyable now as it did nearly a decade previously. The second season may drag in places, but every second of the anime is carefully crafted to feed towards the series’ thematic elements, bringing the manga to life. The success of K-On! as a whole is very well deserved, given that the series excelled in delivering the idea that people gain much by cherishing the moment and making the most of the present, and for the folks who’ve not seen the series yet, it is definitely worth taking a look.

Like its predecessor, K-On!! aired to mixed reception surrounding its narrative and near-universal acclaim for its technical all-around excellence – perspectives vary from the series being very humourous, to being a protracted, derivative version of the first season. I’ve long held that K-On!! is successful in subtly showing character growth over time, and the second season’s length serves to fully build out Azusa’s relationship with Yui and the others. Over time, viewers appreciate the sorts of things that make the After School Teatime club so memorable, and viewers will similarly feel the sorrow of departure when graduation approaches. The immensely relaxing atmosphere of K-On!! is interspersed with moments of humour, and overall, serves to act as a reminder that for the hectic chaos in the world, it is worthwhile to take a step back and really stop to smell the roses. This is where K-On!! truly excels, and I’ve long held that detractors simply approached the series with a mindset that wasn’t what K-On!! was intended to be about: Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa’s experiences are about the joys of spending time together and appreciating everyday miracles, rather than purely setting up situations to elicit a laugh or provide insight on music. Those who remark that “nothing happened” did not look for events in the right places. The gentle outlook on life that K-On!! takes is cathartic, and for me, acted as a tonic that ultimately helped me get through a difficult time during my undergraduate programme. Together, K-On! and K-On!! changed my outlook on the world, and this is why the series as a whole merits being considered as a masterpiece. I have no trouble recommending the second season to anyone: the only real prerequisite for enjoying K-On!! is that one has already seen the first season, which establishes how the light music club came to be. Beyond this, with animation and artwork that stands up even today, plus a host of upbeat and fun songs, K-On!! remains as enjoyable as it did nine years ago. While a third season was never produced, folks looking to continue the K-On!! story further can look to the manga, which retain all of the spirit and charm as Azusa takes over as president of the light music club while Yui and the others acclimatise to life in university, as well as the film, which stands as a masterpiece amongst masterpieces for giving emotional weight behind Tenshi no Fureta Yo! and how this song came into being.

Air: A Reflection At Summer’s End

“Isn’t that a romantic thought? That your true self is in the sky!” —Misuzu Kamio

Yukito Kunisaki is a wanderer with an unusual talent: the ability to use limited magic in animating a puppet. He travels from town to town with the aim of supporting himself, while at once seeking out a “Girl in the Sky”, a function he inherited from his late mother. Upon arriving in the coastal town of Kami, and after failing to impress the local children, he falls asleep on the seawall, only to encounter Misuzu Kamino. Enticed by her offer of a free meal, Yukito soon becomes friends with her and manages to convince Haruko Kamio, Misuzu’s foster mother, to allow Yukito to sleep in the garden shed. Yukito also meets Kano Kirishima and Minagi Tohno, coming to learn of a legend from a thousand summers previously. Borne of a curse from the Heian period, when the ancient winged being Kannabi no Mikoto (Kanna) escapes from captivity with the help of Ryūya, a member of her guard, and the Force-sensitive Uraha. While their escape was successful, priests soon caught up to them and cursed Kanna to eternally die and resurrect whenever she discovered love. It turns out that Misuzu was the latest reincarnated form of Kanna, and so, after kindling a friendship with Yukito, she fell in love with him. Misuzu’s story is later recounted from the perspective of a crow named Sora, and it turns out following Yukito’s mysterious departure, Haruko and Misuzu spend more time together as mother and child up until Misuzu’s death. This is Air, the first of the Key adaptations and the second series the Kyoto Animation produced: dating back to 2005, Air nonetheless has a timeless feel to it thanks to Kyoto Animation’s technical prowess, which was apparent even this early in their career, as well as the unusual and riveting story from the source materials itself.

From a narrative standpoint, Air is predominantly about how even if love is a transient state, the treasured moments that two individuals spend together are well worth the pains because they create a unique bond. This love is represented in Air both in terms of familial love, as well as romantic love. Despite their short time together, Yukito grows to care greatly for Misuzu not merely because of her being the individual he was fated to seek out, but because of her kindness. Similarly, in accompanying her and showing her friendship, Misuzu comes to love Yukito. While their time is cut short, their emotions and experiences remain genuine. Following the Summer arc, the bonds between Misuzu and Haruko are developed: having long regarded Misuzu coldly for fear that she would forget her, Haruko decides to make up for the lost time. While building a bond with Misuzu does end up causing Haruko great pain when Misuzu does eventually die of the curse, the pain is offset by Haruko having creating priceless memories and making the most of Misuzu’s remaining days. Then, no matter how short-lived love might be in some cases, it by no way diminishes its authenticity when it does manifest, and that the cost of love is far outweighed by the worth of having had the experience. This imagery is vividly presented in Air, augmented by extensive use of the summer season as a visual backdrop: like love, summer is a beautiful season occasionally marked with inclement weather, and is finite in length. However, it is in this brief period where things are truly magical, and while summers inevitably end, the memories they wrought remain with one forever.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Misuzu Kamio is Air‘s heroine. She is very similar to CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa and Kanon‘s Nayuki Minase in terms of personality, being kind and gentle, with a somewhat immature predisposition at times. While Yukito initially grows tired of her seemingly boundless optimism, her persistence in befriending him leads him to come around. Misuzu was voiced by Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011 and also played Aria‘s Athena Glory, The Girl from the Illusionary World of CLANNAD and Sayuri Kuruta of Kanon.

  • Air is set in the coastal town of Kami, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The choice of location, a quiet town with a small population with a lack of activity, creates a deliberate sense of solitude that forces focus to be on Yukito and Misuzu. Anime taking this approach tend to feel very lonely and melancholy, creating a sense of yearning and wistfulness, and for me, there’s an appeal to series with this particular aesthetic.

  • Yukito comes from a line of sorcerers with the ability to manipulate objects to a limited extent. While is puppeteering skills are initially weak, his time with Misuzu helps him appreciate what his audience seeks from his plays, and over the course of Air, he is able to impress audiences to a greater extent. Of the male protagonists in a Key adaptation, Yukito has the least development of everyone in comparison to Yuuichi and Tomoya, since he’s supposed to represent the player character.

  • A short walk in Kami leads one out of town into the rural areas. The gentle quiet of the countryside amplifies the feeling of isolation, although Yukito is not without good company. He encounters Kano, an unusual girl who wears a ribbon around her wrist to seal her “magic”. It turns out that after coming into contact with a cursed feather, Kano manifested an unusual condition, and the ribbon was meant as a means to help her cope.

  • Aside from setting the standard for Kyoto Animation’s visuals, Air also would set the precedence for the quality of music that would go into its works. Air‘s soundtrack is a timeless collection of vocal pieces from Lia, which capture the empty majesty of the sky, and Jun Maeda’s incidental pieces serve to both set the mood of a moment, as well as convey additional aspects of a character. In particular, Misuzu’s theme, Natsukage, has become a favourite of mine: if there was a single song that captures how the summer feels, then this would be it.

  • Out of the gates, Air makes extensive use of supernatural elements to capture the idea that human emotions, both good and bad, sometimes defy known understanding and therefore can only be captured by means of magic. This is a recurring theme in Jun Maeda’s works – the way things works out in reality sometimes can appear to be the work of a higher power. In Air, the lack of contemporary implements such as phones give the setting a timeless feel, making it feel more plausible for magic to exist as a natural part of the world.

  • Hijiri Kirishima is Kano’s older sister, and after running into Yukito, decides to offer him work. In Kami, Yukito also runs into Minagi and Michiru; the former shares many unusual conversations with Yukito, while the latter is fond of pranking him. While the characters initially appear disconnected, they are all related to an ancient story from a thousand years earlier. Elements of reincarnation and rebirth are present in Air, although it is presented as a curse rather than a blessing.

  • While initially appearing dull and lifeless, Yukito’s background from a family of sorcerers and his connection to the “Girl in the Sky”, coupled with a kind disposition despite his cold appearance, means that he’s an integral part of the story. Over time, he grows to care for Misuzu even as her condition fails: the curse of a thousand years means that when she discovers love, her health and memories fade and condemn her to death.

  • The wide open skies above Kami are deliberately presented as vast: Air itself makes extensive use of imagery associated with birds, flight and feathers to signify a longing to soar into the expansive sky and explore. Society’s rejection is then a refusal to explore what could be, and how despite a laggard society’s effort to suppress curiosity, it will always linger. I imagine this to be a secondary theme in Air, and admit that it took me three revisitations to really get a handle on what the series was about: unlike Kanon and CLANNADAir is a bit more abstract in its presentation.

  • The mysteries in Air are indicative of the notion of curses being extremely long-lived, to the point where for future generations, they simply become something that they adapt to. Yukito and the others are not fully aware of the story, but bits and pieces of it are told over time, filling in the mystery. The feathers will occasionally manifest, and these snow-white feathers of purity speak of bygone times, of something unspoilt and untarnished.

  • Misuzu holds the rather romantic belief that one’s self exists in the skies above, unfettered by worldly concerns and untroubled by the comings and goings of the world. A long time ago, I had a friend who shared similarly romantic beliefs, and although time resulted in our drifting apart, these thoughts remain behind. One wonders what it would be like to have the sort of freedom a bird might, and it attests to humanity’s incredible resourcefulness that we’ve both been able to soar into the air as a bird might with aircraft, as well as replicate the experience with microprocessors and LED screens.

  • Minagi’s story was perhaps the most rushed in Air; after events of her past, Minagi’s own mother forgot about her existence, but Yukito ultimately helps to set things right when he speaks with the irreverent Michiru and determines on how to reach a solution. With things settled, Minagi departs for an unknown destination, and Misuzu collapses unexpectedly, setting in motion the final events of Air.

  • The origins of the thousand-year-old curse is found in the Heian Period, which spanned from 794 AD to 1185 AD. This period was characterised by a substantial Chinese and Buddhist influence, and is known for its artwork. It turns out that long ago, there were winged beings of great power, and society’s fear of them led to their extinction. Samurai Ryūya and Force-sensitive Uraha strive to protect Kanna from the pursuers after they manage to fulfill Kanna’s wish of locating her mother, and eventually, after Kanna is cursed and killed, Ryūya and Uraha conceive a child together with the aim of breaking this curse.

  • The third segment of Air follows things from the perspective of a crow named Sora. Here, Misuzu stands outside on a hot summer’s day. The alternative perspective offers new insight into Misuzu’s world, and that despite her lack of friends, her world is one of optimism and making the most of things. Her appearance in this moment here is the anthropomorphism of what I’ve come to long for in the summer: an encounter with someone like Misuzu or Nagisa in a verdant field and endless skies. Of course, this is just a dream, and given the geographical setting of where I am, such a dream is unlikely to come to fruition.

  • Following Yukito’s disappearance, Haruko resolves to look after Misuzu, whose health worsens by the day. Eventually, Misuzu’s father comes to pick her up, and while the old Haruko would have no objections, over the past while, she’d come to bond with Misuzu and sees her as a daughter. Misuzu’s father reluctantly allows Haruko to look after her for a few more days. With her hair short, Misuzu resembles Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya. Having covered two of Key’s biggest titles, my sights are now set on writing about Kanon: I watched it after finishing CLANNAD and felt it have less of an impact, but the series remains exceptional, worthy of being counted as a masterpiece.

  • While I’ve referred to the town of Air as Kami, the real Kami actually does not have a hill overlooking the sea and is quite flat. Contrasting her initial cold treatment of Misuzu, Haruko comes around and begins regarding her as a proper daughter. Despite their short time together, the memories they share become priceless: each of the three arcs of Air appear to be unified by the idea of how transient and fragile relationships can be, but still have great importance and worth nonetheless. Air covers numerous other themes, as well, but at a very basic, broad level, the theme I’ve found Air to be most forward with is thus.

  • In this post, partially a reflection of Air and partially me reflecting on the last day of August, I’ve featured moments that predominantly have the blues and greens of summer. Air, however, also makes use of other times of day: like KanonCLANNAD and virtually the rest of Kyoto Animation’s works, the colouring and time of day become critical in conveying a certain mood. Intense saturation during the evenings, for example, indicate emotional distress or troubling times.

  • Misuzu’s death is inevitable, and one of the most difficult moments was watching her struggle to stand and walk over to Haruko. Misuzu eventually dies on the beaches she loved, in Haruko’s arms. While the curse appears to claim yet another life, the combination of time, Yukito’s befriending of Misuzu and willingness to return as a crow to retain the lost memories, and Haruko’s accepting of Misuzu as her own daughter, the sum of these actions allows the curse to lift. In this case, Air is really about showing how compassion and kindness has a nontrivial impact in ending even something as powerful as a curse.

  • In the end, the children at the end don’t have any significance to the story. Air is regarded as being somewhat difficult to understand, but in spite of this, still retains a moving story. With Air done, I will be turning my sights towards Kanon at some point. We now enter September, and I’ll be doing reflections on both Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell nan Kilo Motteru once their finales air. Beyond this, I am pushing through Metro Exodus at a high rate and will be looking to finish before mid-month, so there will be posts on this. Finally, Battlefield V will be getting a post, as well: while the game has seen numerous setbacks, there are still a few things to consider, especially as I pass the one-year anniversary of Battlefield V‘s open beta.

Whereas I’ve actually finished Air some years ago, I encountered considerable difficulty until a recent re-watch of the series that led me to consolidate what I had to say about things. Being the earliest of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations, Air bears all of the hallmarks of later series, featuring exceptional presentation of the different stories, and initially, I appreciated Air purely for its technical aspects. The story itself came across as being more challenging to follow, but after revisiting the series and its persistent use of endless blue skies along a quiet coastal town as a backdrop made it explicitly clear that the summer was very much a core aspect of Air. Besides representing a season of life, exploration and possibility, summer also ends more abruptly and noticeably than any other season. It is the season whose presence is most strongly felt, and whose temporal nature is most apparent. As Air is set in the summer, it stood to reason that the choice of season was almost certainly to augment the themes in Air. This connection, on closer inspection, seems very natural: the love portrayed in Air, while transient and short, is very poignant, moving and powerful precisely because it is not endless. Thus, Air seems to also indicate to viewers that the ending of summer is not something to dread or despise, since the finite nature of summer gives more value to the memories created during its course. This is appropriate, given that August now draws to a close, and while winter may approach with a tedious inevitability, there is always the consolation that the days will grow warm again.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Your Lie in April, A Journey in Vanquishing Past Dæmons and Discovering the Colour of Love

“Maybe there’s only a dark road ahead. But you still have to believe and keep going. Believe that the stars will light your path, even a little bit. Come on, let’s go on a journey!” –Kaori Miyazono

After his mother died, child pianist Kōsei Arima withdrew from competition and consigned himself to an ordinary life with his best friends, Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. However, when he encounters Kaori Miyazono and her wild, free-spirited violin performance, his world is flipped outside down: despite claiming to have developed a crush on Ryōta, Kaori hauls Kōsei to be her accompanist. Kōsei’s skill at the piano had decayed, and he suffers from an inability to hear his playing, causing his performance to suffer, but the won’t-take-no Kaori continues to push and encourage him, even forcibly signing Kōsei up for a competition. Spurred by her boundless energy, Kōsei gradually realises that irrespective of what had happened in the past with his mother, her spirit endures within him, and that for all of the bad moments, there were an equivalent number of treasured moments, as well. Kōsei’s return to piano also inspires Takeshi Aiza and Emi Igawa to step their game up: after seeing Kōsei’s phenomenal performances years previously, both sought to surpass him and reach the standard that they believed Kōsei had set. While Kōsei continues to suffer, constant support from Kaori and Hiroko Seto (a renowned pianist and friend of Kōsei’s mother) allows Kōsei to rediscover his style and express his gratitude through his music. While he does not progress in the competition, Takeshi and Emi realise the extent that he’s matured. Kōsei later agrees to be Kaori’s accompanist again, but she falls ill, leaving Kōsei to perform on his own. Through an emotional performance, Kōsei comes to terms with his mother’s decisions and is able to cast off the spectre haunting him. However, Kaori’s illness begins taking its toll on her, and Kōsei struggles with his growing feelings for Kaori and fear for her well-being, while at once agreeing to mentor Takeshi’s younger sister in piano. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is forced to deal with her own feelings for Kōsei: she dates a senior to take her mind off things, but her mind never strays far from Kōsei. An ailing Kaori decides to accept a highly experimental surgical procedure, gambling her life with the hope of playing alongside Kōsei one last time, but the operation is unsuccessful. She dies on the same day that Kōsei is set to compete, and midway through the competition, Kaori’s spirit provides Kōsei with encouragement. He puts his fullest effort and feeling into this song as a farewell of sorts for Kaori, and in the aftermath, Kaori’s parents leave Kōsei with a letter that reflected on her heartfelt enjoyment of their time together, as well as how she had been in love after all this time. Tsubaki catches up to Kōsei and reminds him that he’s not alone, promising to be with him from here on out. This is Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Kimiuso for brevity), which was adapted from Naoshi Arakawa’s manga as an anime that ran from October 2014 to March 2015, and over the course of its twenty-two episode run, viewers found a series that was profoundly moving and meaningful.

Using music and Kōsei’s initial inability to perform with a piano, Your Lie in April integrates multiple themes into its story. There are two central elements that stand out: Your Lie in April‘s first half deals with the idea that the dæmons one faces are largely self-created. Moreover, these spectres can only be solved by oneself, but encouragement and support from others is absolutely critical in starting this particular journey. Time and time again, Your Lie in April presents Saki, Kōsei’s mother, as a cold and unforgiving parent determined to craft Kōsei into a flawless pianist in her own image, fulfilling her own wish of becoming a pianist where she suffered illness and being so focused on this objective that she is willing to physically punish Kōsei for any mistake. Kōsei subsequently grew to resent this and wished Saki to die; when Saki’s illness finally overtook her, Kōsei was devastated and held himself accountable, feeling that his ill-will ultimately cost Saki her life. The resulting trauma manifests as Kōsei’s inability to hear himself play. When Kaori appears and begins forcing Kōsei out of his comfort zone, Kōsei is made to confront his past dæmons. Your Lie in April portrays this as a gradual journey, one that is filled with pain: Kōsei initially succumbs to his guilt when playing the piano and loses his composure, but undeterred, Kaori pushes him forwards anyways. As he begins to appreciate Kaori’s actions and willingness to stay with him, Kōsei begins to play the piano with more conviction and resolve, putting his feelings for her into each keystroke. By taking up piano once more and rediscovering what music meant to him, Kōsei also comes to see his mother from a different perspective. It turns out that Saki was not as cold and unfeeling as viewers are originally led to believe: between learning more about “Love’s Sorrow” and speaking with Hiroko, Kōsei discovers that Saki had always intended for him to grow into being a pianist, demanding the best from him so his fundamentals were strong enough for him to develop his own style. Kōsei recalls that there were cherished memories, as well, and ultimately, is able to come to terms with both the good and bad. With his past no longer haunting him as a result of Kaori’s inspiration and his own decision to do something for her sake, Kōsei is able to overcome his dæmons and return as a pianist.

Entering Your Lie in April‘s second half, the leading theme switches over to how contrasting personalities play an integral role in changing one’s world views, to the extent that one cannot help but fall in love with the agent that catalyses this change. When Kōsei starts his journey to rediscover piano, his world is devoid of colour and joy. Kōsei is content to live life out without taking charge, but a fateful meeting with Kaori throws his world into disarray. The juxtapositions between Kōsei and Kaori’s manner are apparent: whereas he is quiet and low key, Kaori is brash and expressive. The fantastic energy that Kaori brings to the table, manifesting from her desire to live life as fully as possible, is infectious, and a reluctant Kōsei slowly comes to enjoy the joy she brings into his life, even when Kaori will happily thrash Kōsei for any slights, imagined or otherwise. Not a day goes by without some sort of excitement, and Kōsei begins realising that there are things in the world to live for and work towards. His improvement is mirrored in his ability as a pianist: the more time he spends with Kaori, the more he experiences happiness, which translates to playing the piano with more emotion and intensity. The right individual and the right level of persistence ultimately is what breaks Kōsei out of his rut, and ultimately causes Kōsei to fall in love with her. While most stories are content to end here, with the idea that opposites in personality are able to offer one with a different perspective and help them grow, Your Lie in April cruelly cuts things short with Kaori’s illness. This additional factor suggests that nothing is to be taken for granted: the time Kōsei spent with Kaori is priceless beyond measure. Despite being so fleeting, its impacts were very tangible and genuine, showing that true love can exist in all forms and durations. During the short time they spend together, Kaori is glad to have had met Kōsei, who similarly is grateful that someone with such wild abandon could remain in his company and help him into the next, more colourful chapter of his life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Your Lie in April was airing, I was busy with graduate studies and therefore did not have time to watch the series. While I’d heard nothing but praise for the series, a full schedule precluded any chance to watch it while it was airing. However, after I finished watching Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s second season, I noticed that many familiar names (Risa Taneda, Ayane Sakura, Inori Minase, Saori Hayami and Ai Kayano) were present in the cast. Between the positive reception and half of GochiUsa‘s cast, I entered Your Lie in April intending to enjoy seeing the characters in a different role than the happy-go-lucky world that is GochiUsa.

  • What happened next should not come as a surprise: I went through Your Lie in April, enjoyed it thoroughly and found that Kōsei’s experiences were superbly written, challenging my views on love and pushing me towards introspection. Your Lie in April is as much of a journey of self-discovery as it is about falling in love, and openly gives the impression that both events are interconnected, dependent on the other. In other words, Kōsei falls in love with Kaori because she helps him accept his past, and his return to piano leads him to fall in love with Kaori.

  • Kaori is voiced by Risa Taneda (Rize Tedeza of GochiUsa and Aya Komichi of Kiniro Mosaic, to name a few). Here, Taneda presents Kaori as being superbly energetic, bold and rowdy, contrasting the shy, reserved manner of Rize and Aya. Kōsei is voiced by Natsuki Hanae, whom I know best for his roles in Nagi no Asukara as Hikari Sakishima and Aldnoah.Zero‘s very own Inaho Kaizuka. An all-star voice cast convinced me to check out Your Lie in April, but even just a few episodes in, it became apparent that Your Lie in April‘s cast was but one of its many strengths.

  • While I’ve opted to focus on Kōsei and Kaori for my own reflections, the supporting characters play a much greater role in giving weight to Kōsei and Kaori’s stories, far more than I’ve gone into detail in this post. Even early in the game, Kaori’s insistence on hanging with Kōsei suggests that she’s been longing to spend time with him, and while they get off to a rough start (with Kaori making her best effort to paste him into the ground with naught more than a recorder), Kaori’s positive energy means that Kōsei has little choice but to go along with her.

  • The artwork of Your Lie in April is of an exceptional quality: the anime was done by A-1 Pictures, who are known for their incredible series. Colours in Your Lie in April are especially vivid and like series before it, they often serve to tell the true story of how the characters are feeling in a given moment even when their dialogue is unclear or in contradiction with their feelings. Having been in the anime game for a shade over a decade now, I’ve come to count on visual metaphors in helping me read a moment – colour and lighting usually speaks volumes about things, being a typically reliable way of ascertaining how everyone is feeling in a given scene.

  • Particular detail is paid to concerts, with every key and cable of the piano animated as Kōsei performs on stage. His early performances are marred by a sense that he’s drowning in an ocean, and occasionally, the spectre of Saki appears to haunt him. Saki comes to represent Kōsei’s own guilt and regret: while Your Lie in April is no horror series, these manifestations are nonetheless terrifying in their own right and convey to viewers the horror and desolation that Kōsei experiences.

  • Kaori’s diving off a bridge into the river below is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of her free-spirited manner. I was originally intending to write about Your Lie in April during April, but a busy schedule precluded that. I’ve encountered considerable difficulty in putting a proper discussion of Your Lie in April together because this series had a very strong emotional impact and it was challenging to coherently explain what appeals make Your Lie in April a masterpiece.

  • While Kaori is ostensibly in love with Ryōta, Kōsei ends up spending a great deal of time with her as the two gear up for concerts and competitions. Kaori’s approach borders on the insane, and one of her most outrageous acts was to scatter sheet music in impossible quantities throughout locations that Kōsei frequents. However, in spite of all the fighting the two engage in, they also share quieter moments together, such as when they return to the school by night.

  • I’ve not featured too many moments in this reflection, but one of the aspects in Your Lie in April that stood out was the over-the-top degradation of facial features and animation at certain moments. These are deliberately utilised to convey a particular emotion, whether it be shock, frustration or even joy in a comedic context: of note is whenever Kaori believes Kōsei to be acting inappropriately, as seen in their first meeting. Like CLANNAD, the juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy is used to great effect in Your Lie in April, bringing the characters to life.

  • Takeshi and Emi are two accomplished pianists whose remarkable skill and devotion to piano can be traced back to being inspired by Kōsei’s playing. Both view Kōsei as a role model, and are also absolutely determined to best him, having failed time and time again previously, but when they encounter him and learn that he’s in no shape to compete, find themselves disappointed. As Your Lie in April progresses, their view of Kōsei shifts: he goes from being an unbeatable competitor to a fellow human being.

  • At his best, Kōsei is a masterful pianist known for his precision. Despite still being plagued by an inability to play all the way through, Kōsei’s recovery is marked by his resolve to continue performing, even if it means starting again from the beginning of a piece. I am no pianist, and my musical ability is nonexistent despite my having played the trumpet and clarinet back in middle school. As a result, I’ve opted not to discuss any of the technical elements behind the music in Your Lie in April: besides the area being outside the realm of my knowledge, the main messages in Your Lie in April are thankfully not dependent on musical theory.

  • The changes in Kōsei, and the resulting shift in the interactions he has with Takeshi and Emi are one of my favourite secondary stories in Your Lie in April, as they reinforce sense that Kōsei is maturing because of his time spent with Kaori. I recently watched the live-action adaptation of Your Lie in April and found it an equally enjoyable experience. With only the core narrative present, the live-action film is much more focused and concise, succeeding in delivering its emotional impact. I count the film to be a conference publication: short and succinct, while the anime is a thesis paper, with the time and space to explore more.

  • Where I live, there are no fireflies, but their symbolism is evident enough, representing illumination and gentle support in most cultures. In Japan, fireflies also signify love. After a competition, while Kōsei did not make the cut for stopping play, he spends time with Kaori and remarks that she was why he was able to regroup and continue in spite of himself. It’s a tender moment that indicates Kōsei’s feelings for Kaori.

  • Love’s Sorrow (Liebesleid) is the second part of Alt Wiener Tanzweisen, a series of three pieces written by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano. While the exact date that Kreisler wrote them is not known, they were published in 1905. Saki enjoys Love’s Sorrow most of the three parts because of its transition from the minor to major key: I previously noted that I am no expert in music theory, but I do know enough to say that songs written in the minor key sound sad, while passages in the major key are happier. Thus, Love’s Sorrow can be seen as sorrow giving way to happiness.

  • Shown as an eyeless spectre up until now, it turns out that Saki had wanted the best for Kōsei and her resorting to physical punishment whenever Kōsei failed to play flawlessly stemmed from a desperation to see him realise the dreams that she could not. As time goes on, Saki’s illness worsens, and with it, comes the desire to see Kōsei play piano where she was unable to. However, when she was well, Saki genuinely loved Kōsei and the two have as many happy moments together as they did the more painful memories that Kōsei vividly recalls.

  • Understanding that he is drawn to Kaori, Kōsei agrees to be her accompanist for a performance. Even when Kaori falls ill, Kōsei takes to the stage and plays with his heart, delivering a moving performance that shows his acceptance of his past. His playing is sufficiently moving that he is asked to perform an encore despite the performance being centred around violins. With his past no longer an issue, the second half of Your Lie in April moves towards Kōsei and his growing feelings for Kaori, which are tempered by his fear of getting closer to her.

  • This fear comes from the fact that Kaori suffers from a terminal illness of unknown nature: she was unable to make the performance earlier because she’d collapsed, and the illness is likely fatal. Hence, Kōsei worries that if he allows himself to fall in love with her, the inevitability of Kaori’s death would leave him hurt. Kōsei thus occasionally fails to visit Kaori unless otherwise hauled in, drowning himself in piano once more.

  • Tsubaki is a central character in Your Lie in April, and while I’ve not mentioned her much, she is Kōsei’s neighbour and has known him since their childhood. Tsubaki is constantly feeling conflicted: Kōsei rediscovering his love for piano also means his falling in love with Kaori. While Tsubaki wants Kōsei to be happy, she’s been in love with him for a long time, and fears that he may forget about her in the process. Ayane Sakura voices Tsubaki, with the inevitable result that Tsubaki sounds identical to GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and VividRed Operation‘s Akane.

  • Nagi, Takeshi’s younger sister, also comes into focus during Your Lie in April‘s second half: after a chance encounter with Kōsei, she reveals some skill with the piano and attempts to get Hiroko to become her instructor so that she might keep an eye on Kōsei. Hiroko instead assigns Kōsei to instruct Nagi, wherein he begins picking apart her playing, and while Nagi is initially resentful towards Kōsei, she comes to see him as a proper mentor and develops a crush on him in time, as well.

  • Your Lie in April‘s use of colour is exceptional, but nowhere is the choice of palette more apparent than with Kaori’s hair – ever since her hospitalisation, her normally golden hair takes on a faded shade of yellow, indicating that she’s unwell. It’s a very visceral reminder that Kaori’s time is limited, but in spite of this, her spirits remain: she surprises him with a visit to their school. While Kōsei seems to be headed down the route of the oblivious protagonist, the carefully-tuned writing in Your Lie in April makes it clear that Kōsei’s heart lies only with Kaori, and ultimately, budding feelings elsewhere never take away from the central story in the series.

  • As it turns out, Nagi picked up the piano to impress Takeshi, and it is here that Kōsei openly admits that he is in love with Kaori. The progression of love in Your Lie in April is rather different than that seen in CLANNADAngel Beats! and Tora Dora!, series that I’ve found myself thoroughly impressed with for their genuine portrayal of how people come to fall in love. They’re a rather different beast than romantic comedies, which chronicle the mishaps and chaos that surround falling in love. Of course, I am open to both approaches, but the more natural-feeling love stories invariably have a much greater emotional payoff when I watch them.

  • The realisation that Kōsei is actually quite similar to her leads Nagi to develop nascent feelings for him, as well. This particular aspect was absent from the film, and I imagine that it’s meant to show audiences that Kōsei has a great deal of impact on those around him. Truthfully, Your Lie in April has enough moving parts so that writing about this series in an episodic manner would be warranted, as there’s a great deal going on; because of the complexity in Your Lie in April, this post has not covered every noteworthy matter that is relevant to the anime. Similarly, forty screenshots is actually an inadequate amount of space to cover every scene or moment that holds a high emotional impact.

  • While Kōsei is instructing Nagi and asks to perform with her in a school festival, Tsubaki struggles with her feelings for Kōsei. Having done her utmost to stem them, these feelings have only strengthened. The fellow she was dating notices this and decides to break up, feeling it unfair to himself, Tsubaki and Kōsei to continue what was essentially a sham. Tsubaki’s best friend, Nao, has been looking after her during this time and offers advice. While seemingly knowledgeable in the realm of relationships, like myself, Nao’s understanding of relationships is entirely theoretical.

  • The song that Nagi and Kōsei perform is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano arrange of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, a four-handed piece that requires two players simultaneously. During their performance, Nagi senses the emotional intensity of Kōsei’s playing and attempts to match his performance, resulting in a thoroughly impressed audience. Takeshi is moved, as well, and demands to face off against him one day in competition.

  • Towards the end of Your Lie in April, the buildup that resulted from the earlier arcs and episodes create a sense of connection between viewers and the characters: having taken the time to develop everyone’s stories gives every individual a raison d’être that gives audience members reason to root for and care about them. The moments of comedy and friendship come together to create individuals that are lifelike. Thus, entering Your Lie in April‘s endgame means that viewers must now confront the harsh reality that Kaori is not going to recover.

  • In spite of this, Kaori is in sufficient condition to compliment Kōsei’s playing and remarks that his actions have inspired her to take up music again. She reveals that she’s agreed to a highly experimental operation that may extend her life expectancy long enough for her to play alongside Kōsei once more. The framing provides a subtle hint as to how things will turn out: Kōsei and Kaori are in the distance, foreshadowing the reduced probability of a successful operation. The odds notwithstanding, Kaori feels that a chance of hope is better than no hope, and she elects to go forward with it.

  • It is not difficult to imagine that under different circumstances, Kōsei could have ended up friends with Emi and Takeshi much earlier: as he plays piano increasingly for those around him rather than purely for the sake of playing, his heart opens up, and both Emi and Takeshi would’ve seen a human being behind the stoic and seemingly-distant pianist. While late in the making, the three get along as friendly rivals and fellow pianists would late in Your Lie in April.

  • Throughout Your Lie in April, Hiroko’s child, Koharu, can be seen accompanying her. Voiced by Inori Minase (GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu), Koharu deeply enjoys Kōsei’s piano performances and is often seen clinging to Hiroko, being quite bewildered and amused by the events around her. Small children are rendered in a very distinct manner in Your Lie in April, and as CLANNAD had done so vividly with Ushio, Your Lie in April similarly captures the innocence and wonder that children have of the world. Minase does a spectacular job of playing Koharu, adding to her impressive repertoire as a voice actress.

  • Kaori is such a memorable and distinct character that when I saw the initial trailers for Violet Evergarden, I identified Violet as Kaori to one of my friends by mistake. Because Your Lie in April carries the distinction of creating such noteworthy characters and giving viewers reason to root for them, as well as for covering themes of love, recovery and discovery with a masterful balance of breadth and depth. Because of this, the series was able to appeal to a very wide range of audiences, and the only real criticism I have to level at Your Lie in April is that the first half proceeds a bit more slowly, before things accelerate wildly towards the end. This is a very minor complaint, as it does not diminish the impact that the series ultimately has.

  • As the day of the competition nears, Kōsei fears that with Kaori’s imminent operation, playing the piano will be bound to the loss of two people he greatly cared for and loses the will to play. Kaori insists that he proceed, and when Kōsei is set to compete, he wonders if he can continue. Hearing Tsubaki sneeze in the crowd, Kōsei is reminded that for his losses, there will always be people in his corner, and regrouping, Kōsei begins to perform. His world fades away, and he becomes enveloped in his music, deciding to give this performance everything he’s got for the girl who’d given him so much.

  • At the same time as Kaori’s performance, Kaori’s operation is unsuccessful, and she dies. However, her spirit endures for a few moments: she plays alongside Kōsei and is able to appreciate his music one last time. The visual impact of the final performance is beyond words, creating a feeling of longing, hope and finality that brings Kōsei’s music to life, as well as making tangible his feelings for Kaori that would otherwise have been remarkably difficult to put into words.

  • As a series that utilises music to drive its characters forward, the soundtrack in Your Lie in April is unsurprisingly of a solid quality. From highly emotional vocal inset songs, to a varied collection of incidental pieces that capture the light-hearted and emotional moments in the series, each song in Your Lie in April serves a purpose. Of note are are the main themes and original songs that project a melancholy sense of longing.

  • Besides the soundtrack and vocal pieces, Your Lie in April also makes extensive use of classical pieces. From Beethoven, to Chopin, Kreisler and Tchaikovsky, classical piano music is also provided in a dedicated album. Folks with a background in classical music and musical theory will doubtlessly be able to tie the meaning of each song and draw on symbolism inherent in the music itself to appreciate what Kōsei is experiencing at a given time. For me, while I appreciate classical music, my background is not extensive, and therefore, I’m not able to make these connections quite so readily.

  • After Kaori dies, her parents give Kōsei the letter Kaori’s written for him. Even at its dénouement, Your Lie in April manages to hit viewers with another poignant moment. Viewers are already aware that Kaori had been in love with Kōsei, but hearing the contents of the letter was particularly rending. While mere words on paper, each character carries a weight to it that really emphasises the extent that Kaori had reciprocated Kōsei’s feelings. I was forcibly reminded of the letters I’ve received over the years and recall with a striking clarity forgotten promises of old. This is why it was so tricky for me to write for Your Lie in April: I did not wish to impose upon readers irrelevant recollections as I explored what made Your Lie in April work.

  • I’m not sure if this post can be considered to be hopelessly sentimental to the point of foolishness, but I do hope that I’ve been able to capture what made Your Lie in April so enjoyable for me, and also what aspects led it to change my world views on love, namely, that falling in love can compel individuals to rise above their problems in a spectacular fashion. It was through Your Lie in April that I appreciated why falling in love was akin to jumping into a colourful world from one that was previously monochrome, and also reminded me that for everything else I’ve done so far, my world is still very much monochrome.

  • As a child, Kaori had been so moved by Kōsei’s performance that she immediately wanted to drop piano and take up violin with the sole objective of being able to play alongside him. This scene was adorable, and A-1 Pictures flawlessly captures the excitement of a small child whose world was unequivocally moved. For all of the sorrow in Your Lie in April, there is also great joy, and it makes it very plain that Kōsei has done many things for those around him, even if he does not know it.

  • Kaori was thus overjoyed when she learnt that she was going to the same middle school as Kōsei, but wondered how to best approach him. She decided to re-imagine herself and then make a single lie with the goal of getting closer to Kōsei. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is often compared to Your Lie in April, with the former being a streamlined version that does away with music in favour of purely focusing on the relationship between the two central characters. This is true to an extent, as the series even share a central theme, but Your Lie in April is much more comprehensive and utilises its secondary characters in a much greater capacity, as well as music itself to tell its story. At the end of the day, both series are enjoyable, and my verdict is that if an individual finds one enjoyable, the other will also be worthwhile.

  • The image of Kaori walking into the distance is a striking one: her remarks on life being a journey and that one should trust to hope is an uplifting way to approach the world. The gentle optimism of her words remind me of CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa, and while Kaori is rather more animated than Nagisa, the two ultimately share a great deal of similarities in being able to motivate a brooding male lead and help them come to terms with who they are, as well as embrace their respective futures.

  • It may seem cruel to say so, but Tsubaki’s unwavering feelings for Kōsei also indicate that, while there is indeed loss in life, there will always be people willing to provide support. Tsubaki had been present throughout Your Lie in April to support Kōsei in her own way, even when it meant risking losing him to Kaori. As it turns out, Tsubaki does make another attempt to make her feelings known to Kōsei, and his original desire to learn the piano was actually to cheer up Tsubaki when her grandmother died. It can therefore be reasoned that Kōsei and Tsubaki could find happiness together.

  • The photograph here shows that Tsubaki and Kaori had known one another for a long time, and Kōsei’s decision to frame this picture shows that he is able appreciate everything Kaori and Tsubaki have done for him. This brings my talk on Your Lie in April to a close, and I hope that this talk was of a satisfactory standard. This Your Lie in April is now in the books, marking the first time I’ve written with a dual-monitor setup. With a pair of monitors, I’ve cut the time it takes to make a post down by a third, and with this, I am shifting my attention next to Metro Exodus and HBO’s Chernobyl. It is not often I write about live actions, but the themes and subjects explored in Chernobyl hit very close to home and merit consideration.

Your Lie in April has many moving parts beyond Kōsei and Kaori; his exceptional skills as a pianist means that Kōsei’s acted as inspiration for Takeshi, Emi and Nagi. His gentle nature and longtime friendship with Tsubaki means that she also loves him dearly. The complexities of each character in Your Lie in April shows that for what Kōsei sees his world as, he ultimately is in a place where there are many people who care for and respect him. Being able to accept Kaori’s friendship means Kōsei is able to mature and open his eyes to the world that he previously ignored, allowing him to rediscover joy anew. These elements together transform Your Lie in April into a masterpiece that touches viewers. Giving Your Lie in April this particular honour was a relatively easy call, but what was not easy was summoning up the resolve to write this post: I finished Your Lie in April three years earlier, but the series touched upon matters of the heart, and long have I lacked the maturity and strength to write about this series without my thoughts straying back to my own inexperience. I admit that even now, writing this post was a challenge, but for thoroughly exploring the role that each of the secondary characters play without compromising the focus on Kōsei and Kaori, breathing life into their world through stunning visual metaphors (such as Kōsei’s feeling of drowning in an ocean of silence when he attempts to play the piano earlier on), the exceptional audio engineering that went into the series, heartfelt voice performances from the cast and a top-tier, emotional soundtrack, Your Lie in April represents a milestone series that illustrates how love can manifest and what miracles might occur as a result, a series that is definitely worth sharing. Watching Your Lie in April was a very emotionally-charged experience, and with the series covering such a wide range of ideas, well beyond what’s been discussed here, it is evident that there is something in this series for everyone, whether it be love, persistence, perspectives or even just the complexity of animation that went into the performances. With this in mind, I can confidently recommend Your Lie in April for all viewers irrespective of their backgrounds.

Ano Natsu de Matteru: Reflections on the Infinite Skies and Wistfulness of a Past Summer Day

“Summer break was about to start, one we’d never be able to forget. I’m sure everyone felt the same way. Happiness and sadness, even pain, all of it put together in one package. There’ll never be another one like it.”

Kaito Kirishima is a high school student who enjoys recording with an old 8mm video camera belonging to his late grandfather. While out filming one evening, he encounters a extraterrestrial craft that crash lands nearby. The next day, Ichika Takatsuki transfers into their school. Drawn in by her beauty, Kaito invites Ichika to join him and his friends, Tetsuro Ishigaki, Kanna Tanigawa and Mio Kitahara in a summer project. Ichika’s classmate, Remon Yamano also joins in. Under the long summer days, the group work on their film, which Remon claims will have the same quality as a Hollywood production with her helming the script, and also struggle to come to terms with their feelings: Kaiton begins falling in love with Ichika, and Kanna feels increasingly left behind. Meanwhile, Tetsuro also deals with his unreciprocated feelings for Kanna, while Mio longs to make her feelings for Tetsuro known. As the summer progresses, Ichika’s background as an extraterrestrial is revealed. Kaito and his friends have no issue with this, but Ichika protests that her people’s government have begun searching for her, and explains that she arrived on Earth to find an important location. With her time on Earth limited, Kaito and his friends, with help from Remon and her connections to government assets, aid Ichika in finding this location. She ultimately is retrieved by her people, leaving the others with an incomplete film. Some years later during graduation, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio reminisce about the past and watch the now-completed film, suggesting that Ichika had returned at some point to complete it. Airing during the January of 2012, Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer) is counted as the spiritual successor to Please Teacher!, which was also written by Yōsuke Kuroda: it is therefore unsurprising that both works feature similar elements and themes surrounding adolescent relationships and how these impact a group of closely-knit friends both by bringing people closer together and further apart simultaneously, as well as making the most of a moment because of how transient and fleeting experiences can be.

While Ichika, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio’s dealing with their feelings forms the core of Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s conflict, and the sci-fi aspects add an additional dimension of intrigue to the dynamics between Ichika and the others, there is an oft-overlooked component in Ano Natsu de Matteru: similar to its predecessor, Please Teacher!, the anime is set in Nagano, a prefecture known for its mountains and beautiful landscapes. The vast verdant fields, distant mountains, towering clouds and endless blue skies capture the feeling of summer, of openness and opportunity of a long day, but also creates a sense of melancholy. Without the hustle and bustle of a city, or the excitement of a coastal town, the landscape of Nagano paints a simultaneous picture of possibility and of wistfulness. This unending desire, this longing to be with someone. These are unsurprisingly the very same feelings that are experienced during the nascent stage of a relationship, and the choice of a landscape allows Ano Natsu de Matteru to visually represent how each of the characters are feeling. Indeed, the beautiful weather offered by the summertime creates a natural inclination to explore and capitalise on what a long, warm day has to offer. Longing and wistfulness permeate the whole of Ano Natsu de Matteru, and when coupled with the impermanence of certain moments, really adds to the sense that falling in love is a matter of great happiness, as well as of sadness. The use of a landscape to augment the thematic elements is nothing new: Please Teacher! and Yosuga no Sora have both made deliberate use of their respective settings to create another avenue to explore what falling in love feels like. However, in taking after its predecessor, Please Teacher!, Ano Natsu de Matteru uses a rural setting to present longing, rather than loneliness and isolation as Yosuga no Sora had done. Whereas Yosuga no Sora‘s setting allowed the series to convey how lonely the couples were outside of one another, Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please Teacher! both use the long days of summer and a remote setting to present a more positive, if still somewhat melancholy outlook on falling in love.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This first screenshot sets the precedence for what the remainder of the screenshots of this summer-themed post will look like: I’ve chosen to only showcase moments with the endless blue skies of Nagano, and here are the principal characters: from left to right, we have Tetsuro, Kaito, Mio and Kanna. Their entry into the summer season is marked by a sense of longing and of new experiences, especially for Kaito, who encounters Ichika one evening while filming near a pond.

  • Ichika is Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s Mizuho Kazami: this time around, their age gap is much smaller, the concept of “Standstills” is absent, and the difficulties of concealing a marriage is replaced by a much more gentle awkwardness between Kaito and Ichika. Without distinct aspects in Ano Natsu de Matteru, the whole of the story is focused towards those feelings that arise in the summer as a result of long days spent together – compared to Please Teacher!Ano Natsu de Matteru is less comedic and more natural.

  • Four summers ago, I wrote about Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s OVA, which I found to be superbly enjoyable and also a trip down memory lane: this time around, we return to the original run of Ano Natsu de Matteru, which aired during the winter of 2012. During this time, I was in the throes of biochemistry, bioinformatics and cell and molecular biology: while I’d been watching Rinne no Lagrange, and held an interest in Ano Natsu de Matteru, my goal at the time was surviving all of my courses and ensuring I did not drop below satisfactory standing in any of them.

  • Thus, watching Ano Natsu de Matteru was something that ended up being deferred into the late spring and early summer, when I had finished the physics course I had taken to replace the course I’d withdrawn from earlier, and had also made substantial headway into studying for the MCAT. Looking back, it turns out there was a lot more than just CLANNADK-On! The Movie and various Discovery Channel programmes that kept me motivated: watching a host of anime and shows helped me to relax and regroup.

  • There is a beauty about the Japanese inaka (countryside) that is found nowhere else in the world, creating a sense of melancholy and yearning. This is captured especially well in Ano Natsu de Matteru, where the framing creates a sense of distance – the rest of the world seems far away, seemingly a part of the sky itself. This gives the impression of isolation as the characters work out their own feelings: everyone has their own experience with relationships, and the imagery suggests that in the end, it is up to the individuals to determine a solution.

  • While both Ichika and Kaito reciprocate the other’s feelings, an awkwardness surrounds the two that make it difficult for both to be honest and forward with their feelings. To compound things, Kanna also has feelings for Kaito, and Mio has feelings for Tetsuro. Remon, on the other hand, acts as the amused observer, pushing the characters ahead with wisdom that is clearly beyond her apparent age. Remon is the counterpart to Ichigo, who was similarly mature for her physical age as a result of her “Standstill”. Remon lacks any of these problems and ends up playing the role of facilitator, catalysing many of the events that bring Ichika and Kaito closer together.

  • Ever since I received my complimentary Oculus Quest, I’ve only made use of it to play Superhot VR and use Wander, the VR version of Google Street View. The latter has actually been remarkably fun to use, allowing me to truly immerse myself in another location in the comfort of my armchair: I am now able to visit locations such as the fields and valleys of Nagano simply by putting on a headset, forgoing the need to drop a considerable amount of coin and time for flights and accommodations. While VR has advanced in a big way, however, there is no substitute for the real experience, and Wander will not allow me to experience the wistfulness and melancholy of summer love.

  • Kaito ultimately decides to film a movie, which puts his videography skills to use while simultaneously bringing everyone together in such a way so that they spend more time around one another. Remon claims that she’s done work for George Lucas previously and therefore has the qualifications to write a script, which is surprisingly accurate with respect to Ichika’s status as an extraterrestrial. Her easygoing manner implies that she knows a lot more than she appears to, and she maintains a very calm, mischievous demeanour.

  • Kaito’s use of an 8mm video camera to film scenes for the movie creates a sense of nostalgia and timelessness in Ano Natsu de Matteru, rather similar to how Please Teacher! has a very timeless feel to it. A full seven-and-a-half years after its initial airing, Ano Natsu de Matteru still feels current. The absence of contemporary instruments like smartphones has no impact on the story, leaving viewers to focus purely on the relationship challenges and filming process.

  • Mizuho brought the biological terminal, Marie, with her in Please Teacher, and Ichika is similarly accompanied by Rinon, who serves a very similar purpose. Besides managing Ichika’s vessel, Rinon also can teleport Ichika to specific spots and remotely manage Ichika’s gear. While Kei worked hard to conceal Mizuho’s extraterrestrial origins, Kaito’s friends take Ichika’s background in stride once they learn about it, and do not appear too surprised at Rinon’s appearance.

  • While the plains and valleys of Nagano already project a summer atmosphere, the beach and ocean are noticeably absent: the nearest coast is around a hundred kilometres away as the mole digs. By a turn of fate, Tetsuro’s older sister acquires some tickets for a trip to Okinawa and suggests that he use them. Thus, Kaito and the others find themselves on the shores of a beach in Okinawa, enjoying the beautiful weather and beaches in a summer fashion.

  • While Kaito and the others are filming, they run into Kaori Kinoshita and Chiharu Arisawa: Kaori’s known Kaito since childhood, and is overjoyed to encounter him again after all this time. It turns out that she’d come on a trip to Okinawa to escape feeling of despair after she was rejected, seeking a change of scenery to help her forget. There’s definitely a sense of loneliness in Kaori’s story, and because she was not initially forwards with what happened, both Kanna and Ichika get the wrong impression.

  • Despite her own feelings, Kaori agrees to help Kaito and the others out with their movie, showing that at the end of the day, she’s still a kind person at heart. On the other hand, Chiharu is much more aggressive and immediately takes a liking to Tetsuro, who is put off by how forward she is. When he steps away to retrieve something from the cabin, Chiharu immediately confronts him and overpowers him. Intervention from Mio prevents anything from getting out of hand, but also reveals that she’s a nudist.

  • The misconceptions that everyone brings with them to Okinawa are washed away on the shores of the island’s warm, inviting beaches – Kaori and Ichika come into the open about how they feel, Ichika and Kaito sort out some doubts between them, and the conflict between Mio, Tetsuro and Chiharu are rectified after Tetsuro rejects Chiharu’s advances before reassuring Mio that there’s nothing wrong with her nudism. For Kaori, she remarks that while she went to Okinawa to escape from her troubles, it turns out that Chiharu’s heart was broken in the process, showing the tumultuous nature of romantic love.

  • As a result of what’s happened in Okinawa, it becomes clear that the distance between Kaito and Kanna widens, and Mio becomes more confident – having spent most of their time in a jacket, she boldly decides to discard her jacket on their last day on the beaches. One of the points about Ano Natsu de Matteru that I enjoyed thoroughly was that all of the characters proved to be relatable in their own way, showing just how complex and messy love can be.

  • After returning home from Okinawa, Ichika and Kaito draw closer. Remon’s been manipulating things behind the scenes and suggests that everyone visit a local summer festival together, where she’s got a “Test of Courage” planned out. These are common in anime, playing on the individuals’ fear of the dark to get closer to one another. While there is nothing to be feared from the darkness itself, there are dangers associated with running around the forests at night with naught more than a flashlight. It is here that Kanna realises the depth of Kaito’s feelings for Ichika, and where Ichika’s extraterrestrial origins are revealed to everyone.

  • This time of year is marked by the Heritage Day long weekend, and is one of the reasons why I’ve been able to get two posts out on the same day in previous years. This year, I spent the whole of the long weekend constructing new furniture, which includes a new wall unit for hanging onto clothes and a corner desk, which allow me to run a dual-monitor setup. A two-screen setup would have been superbly useful for my university and today, two screens simply increases my efficiency when it comes to blogging. I presently feel that dual monitors might be cool, but otherwise wouldn’t confer much of an advantage in my other tasks. I also spent most of today building a wardrobe closet to replace an ancient one that was falling apart.

  • With Ichika’s revelation, and the fact that the rescue probe was destroyed, Ichika worries that her time on earth will be cut short – her original goal was to find a special spot in her memories, and so, with the clock ticking, the pacing in Ano Natsu de Matteru amps up as the entire group strives to help Ichika complete her goal, while simultaneously finishing their movie before the inevitable moment where Ichika must leave the others.

  • As the drive to finish the movie and find the place in Ichika’s memories increases, so does the emotional intensity surrounding the relationships amongst everyone in the group. Kanna makes her feelings known to Kaito, who gently rejects her, and she in turn rejects Tetsuro. Both Tetsuro and Kanna demonstrate exemplary courage for being open and truthful about their feelings, believing it is better to at least have made an effort than to never attempted at all. Mio is devastated to know of Tetsuro’s feelings, but after his failed kokuhaku with Kanna, she consoles him in her own manner.

  • In relationships, hurt feelings and pain are often inevitable if multiple individuals are involved. Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s outcome is such that Kanna ends up with the short end of the stick: Mio and Tetsuro end up deciding to enter a relationship to see if things could work out, while Katio retains his feeling for Ichika, who reciprocates his feelings. One review I recall reading for Ano Natsu de Matteru, which was written shortly after the series’ finale, making the heartwarming wish that their readers will eventually find their own happiness, as well.

  • Because today is special, I have an inclination to also impart some wisdom that can only accompany the inevitable process of growing older. I feel that this happiness can extend to beyond just relationships, encompassing fulfilment with one’s station in life regarding career and health. A rejection, or several, is not the end of the world, and as much as I say this to my readers, I also say this for myself: there will always be another way. Happiness comes in many forms, and ultimately, a life spent making others happy, no matter what approach one takes, is a life well-spent.

  • After the distress signal is sent, Ichika’s older sister arrives on Earth and immediately sets about trying to bring Ichika back. As it turns out, Ichika’s people are highly evolved and regard humanity as being at a level of technology sufficiently low as to not warrant intervention. Given their ability for FTL and teleportation, it stands to reason that Ichika’s people are at least as advanced as Halo‘s Forerunners.

  • While content to simply manipulate things from behind the scenes, Remon comes out to help Ichika and the others once the extraterrestrials show up. As it turns out, she’s a member of the Men In Black (whose membership also include Will Smith, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson), an organisation that specialises in dealing with extraterrestrials. They possess a range of high-tech equipment that seem moderately effective against the droids that Ichika’s people send to retrieve her.

  • With the feelings between Ichika and Kaito apparent, and remaining conflict between Kanna and Ichika resolved, the final segments of Ano Natsu de Matteru deal with the rush to locate the spot Ichika was originally looking for. The science fiction elements come to play here: having been subtly present throughout the series, space aliens and technology exceeding that of human comprehension are openly employed here to create a memorable climax.

  • For folks wondering, I have indeed finished Please Teacher! by now: having been intrigued by Ano Natsu de Matteru, I decided to check it out. The similarities are very visible, although the latter is much gentler in mood and features more humour than the former, which is more serious by comparison. Despite their similarities, the thematic aspects of Please Teacher! differ from those of Ano Natsu de Matteru, showing the importance of constantly moving forwards and making the most of the hand one is dealt, as well as how there are limits to persistence.

  • My original interest in Please Teacher! actually stemmed from the fact that Mizuho is voiced by Kikuko Inoue, who provided the voice to Ah! My Goddess‘ Belldandy. At the time, I was still relatively new to anime and was curious to know what other series Inoue appeared in. However, a combination of a busy schedule resulting from making the transition from high school to university meant that Please Teacher! fell to the back of my mind, and it was only with Ano Natsu de Matteru in conjunction with time that I managed to finish the series some seven years after I started.

  • Ultimately, Ichika and Kaito are able to reach the coordinates that the former had been searching for: it’s a tree by a nondescript pond bearing an ai ai kasa carved onto a tree. It turns out that the extraterrestrials had been to Earth previously and presumably found the spot worth remembering. In the present day, the extraterrestrials receive memories of this location, as well, and with this, Ichika is retrieved, parting ways with Kaito.

  • With Ichika gone, Remon transfers back to the Men In Black. She leaves Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio with the incomplete film, but some time later, the group of friends decide to show the now-completed film at a school festival shortly before their graduation. The memories of a long-distant summer remain as vivid as though they’d happened yesterday, but the film’s completion indicates that Ichika was able to return again.

  • While I’ve been reiterating that wistfulness and yearning permeate Ano Natsu de Matteru, folks with more familiarity than myself have also described this series as nostalgic. They refer to the exploration of Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s thematic elements, which, while nothing innovative or novel, nonetheless comes across as being authentic, genuine and sincere. However, the timeless setting of Ano Natsu de Matteru also brings about a wish to revisit the older days, when things were simpler. In this sense, nostalgia is very much a part of Ano Natsu de Matteru.

I’d actually been meaning to write about Ano Natsu de Matteru for quite some time: a few summers ago, I wrote about the OVA, which was an epilogue of sorts for the series. When I picked Ano Natsu de Matteru up, it was the summer of 2012, a time when I was preoccupied with studying for the MCAT, and upon finishing the series, I found it an enjoyable coming-of-age story that showed how awkward love matures into something more full-fledged and meaningful through persistence. Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s setting contributed greatly towards accentuating the different emotions that each of Ichika, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio felt and correspondingly, the enjoyment factor. However, in addition to the setting, Ano Natsu de Matteru also possesses a cast of relatable characters whose actions and emotions are plausible, the appropriate dose of science fiction, a balance between the dramatic and comedic, and finally, excellent opening and ending songs that fully convey the different emotions that Ichika and the others experience throughout the series. Ray’s Sign captures a very Kotoko-like tenour akin to that seen in Please Teacher’s opening, which had a very upbeat but distant feel, while Mami Kawada’s In The Forest of The Sky and Yanagi Nagi’s Bedoro Moyo share a slower, more melancholy pacing. The similarities between Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please Teacher! resulted in my eventually checking out the latter, and I found a very similar series with its own unique merits when I finished: Ano Natsu de Matteru is much lighter in tone and can be seen as being more approachable. Overall, I credit Ano Natsu de Matteru with establishing my association of the summertime with the juxtaposition between exploration and longing: for the longest time, I struggled to put these thoughts into words, accounting for why I’ve not fully reviewed Ano Natsu de Matteru. With this in mind, I have no trouble recommending this series for viewers seeking a romance-comedy with a science fiction flair and hope that anyone who’s seen this, or are planning on seeing it, find (or found) it as enjoyable as I did.

The Giant Walkthrough Brain: Revisiting a Presentation with Jay Ingram at the Five Year Anniversary

“Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Please take your seats, and welcome to The Giant Walkthrough Brain. Introducing your tour guide…Jay Ingram!”

Three years after Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, neurophysiologist Joseph E. Bogen, MD, published A Modest Proposal, or The Planning, construction and use of a giant brain for the edification and entertainment of us all to the Bulletin of the Los Angeles Neurological Society. This “giant walk-through brain” was intended to be a museum of gargantuan proportion, standing some 150 metres in height. Bogen’s proposal was never taken seriously, and his vision faded into obscurity. Fortunately, in 2014, science communicator and host of Daily Planet, Jay Ingram, adopted Bogen’s concept of a brain museum and approached the LINDSAY Virtual Human lab at the University of Calgary with a proposal of his own: to construct and implement a giant walk-through brain show that would truly bring Bogen’s vision to life. Part musical performance and part science communication, The Giant Walkthrough Brain covers the essentials of brain function, from major structures to the electrochemical reactions that allow neural impulses to travel through the brain, and explores major figures in the history of neurophysiology. Whether it be Phineas Gage, who survived impalement from a tamping rod during an accident and his pronounced personality change, to how Alois Alzheimer came to diagnose Auguste Deter with what is known as Alzheimer’s disease, the whole of Ingram and The Free Radical’s presentation in The Giant Walkthrough Brain created an incredibly accessible, and successful performance that provides the public with a memorable and catchy introduction to the complexities of the human mind. Ingram and the Free Radical’s performance was accompanied by a virtual Giant Brain, implemented by the LINDSAY Virtual Human lab, which provided a highly viseral and immersive visual experience that brought Ingram’s performance to life. After opening to a sold-out crowd at the Banff Arts Centre during its début opening, The Giant Walkthrough Brain would go on to give critically-acclaimed performances at the Telus SPARK Science Centre in Calgary during Beakerhead 2014, two sold-out showings at the Timms Centre Edmonton during April 2015 and finally, two more sold-out performances at the Kelowna Community Theatre in January 2016.

Spanning an hour, The Giant Walkthrough Brain took audiences on a vivid journey through the brain’s major regions and presented pivotal figures in brain research. However, unlike a traditional lecture with its slideshows and dry presentation of the material, Jay Ingram and the Free Radicals bring each aspect of the brain to life by making use of the Unity project’s visuals in conjunction with a highly accessible, humourous and instructive talk. Each segment is broken up with a creative and clever song: from upbeat pieces that discuss dopamine and free will, to more sombre songs that explore Alzheimer’s Disease and Henry Gustav Molaison’s memory disorder. The wide spectrum of information gave audiences a glimpse of how complex the brain truly is. When it functions well, it functions exceptionally well and is counted as one of the most sophisticated constructs known to humanity. When any part of the brain malfunctions, the results are devastating and tragic. While neuroscience is something that is not always at the forefront of everyday thought, it is important to be aware of the highly complex machine that exists in all of us. In between the exceptional feats and sobering fragility of the brain, Ingram also discusses trivia about the brain, from how we perceive optical illusions to concepts of free will. A great deal of material is covered in an hour, bringing neurological research much closer to audiences in an accessible, informative and fun manner. This speaks to Ingram’s talents as a speaker, and also the creativity of those involved in the project’s development: while I am an alumni of the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme and have a some background in biology and medicine, The Giant Walkthrough Brain presented aspects of the brain in a different, novel perspective that led me to make new discoveries about the organ that makes us distinctly human. I learnt more about the brain by participating in the project than I did during the whole of my undergraduate degree. My involvement with the project also marked the first time that Jay Ingram and the Free Radicals had utilised a 3D, interactive visualisation in their performances before: a smooth implementation here contributed to the show’s successes.

While concepts surrounding a virtual brain museum predate my involvement with the project, The Giant Walkthrough Brain as I knew it began in the April of 2014. The LINDSAY Virtual Human lab was looking for an environment that was capable of supporting a virtual brain museum, and the in-house game engine, despite its extensibility, did not have the performance needed to render a model of the brain with satisfactory visual fidelity. In a curious turn of fate, the Unity game engine had been made free just a month earlier: having been employed in games such as Kerbal Space Program and Wolfire’s Receiver, the engine was a contender capable of handling the visual requirements The Giant Walkthrough Brain would need. The question remained: was Unity suited for creating an on-rails, scripted experience that could be timed with Ingram’s presentation and the Free Radical’s musical performance while at once providing traditional mechanisms for an image and video slideshow? The extent of Unity’s capabilities had not been tested at the time, and after successfully putting a similar brain model onto an iPad for coursework, I was tasked with determining whether or not Unity would fit the bill. After the first week of May had passed, I had ascertained that the component-based structure of a Unity project was flexible enough for the requirements outlined by The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and moreover, the use of C# scripting would allow for reuse and easy configuration of components that would allow any on-rails presentation to be easily reconfigured to synchronise with the performance. After my report to the team, The Giant Walkthrough Brain began development at full speed: I was made the lead developer in the project, becoming involved with implementation of the entire pathing and movement system, coordinated transitions between the brain museum, neurons and synaptic gap scenes, built the slide-show viewer that would allow images and videos to be displayed on the screen, and completed the minimap solution that translated the user’s location in world space to a 2D map on screen space to provide real-time feedback for viewers as to where in the brain the show was at any given time. Two full months of development later, and after rigorous testing of the Giant Walkthrough Brain Unity project itself, the software and the show were ready at last for a public performance at the Banff Centre.

Commentary and Personal Reflection

  • I only wish that my readers would have had the chance to view The Giant Walkthrough Brain for themselves: part science lecture and part musical performance, with a vivid and detailed visual component, the performance is a fantastic overview of different areas and functions of the brain, explaining each aspect in a highly engaging manner. As a reminiscence about the project, this post can also be seen as a “behind-the-scenes” of sorts, providing a bit more of a visual account as to what the The Giant Walkthrough Brain I’ve previously mentioned really is.

  • Jay Ingram treats the The Giant Walkthrough Brain as a tour on a bus, except instead of visiting the mountains or coasts in a motor coach, one is travelling through a vast virtual brain museum. The model itself is around 230 MB in size, and when I started the Unity project to test the engine’s viability, my first exercise was to determine what sort of frame rates could be achieved on a lower-end MacBook Pro.

  • I ended up averaging around 30 FPS on a 2012 MacBook Pro, which demonstrated that despite the model’s size, the game engine was suited for the task. One of the main challenges I faced throughout the project was that the brain model itself was constantly evolving: the platforms, walkways and exhibits inside are all custom made, and importing a new version of the model always took anywhere from a half-hour to an hour.

  • The component-based architecture in Unity was very similar to the architecture I used in our in-house game engine for my undergraduate thesis, and after I worked out how to set up the interactive pieces of The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s Unity project, I began to experiment with a splines as the means of pre-defining paths for the guided brain tour. Placing the knots (points that govern where the spline must pass through) was the trickiest part, but within a week, I had a rudimentary walkthrough of the brain based on Ingram’s script, and after showing this to the team, they were convinced that we had our toolset, methods and developers to really bring the project to life.

  • The presentation opens with a talk on the frontal lobe, an area of the brain that controls for cognitive functions such as problem solving, reason and emotion. I’ve never been too fond of mid-twentieth century approaches towards neuroscience, where it was found that lobotomies could be used to impact one’s temperament. The process is fairly macabre, involving sticking an ice-pick like implement into one’s nose and then swirling the instrument around to dislodge brain tissue.

  • Phineas Gage is a well-known figure in neuroscience: a railway worker who was caught in an accident and ended up with a rebar through his brain, he survived the accident and was noted to be no longer his old self. Prior to the accident, Gage was friendly, professional and punctual. After the accident, he was less approachable, swearing more frequently. Textbooks often cite Gage as an example of what the frontal lobe’s function is, but neglect to mention that he eventually accepted a job as a stagecoach driver in Chile, where it is hypothesised that the rigid schedule and mental demands of negotiating mountain roads allowed some of his neurons to re-develop.

  • The “Retina Ride” was one of the trickiest parts of the spline to insert: I had to precisely place the path between two knots so that they entered a small passage in the eye and then navigate the optic nerve into the occipital lobe. There’s a small crimp in the path owing to how the splines were calculated in the first iteration that I subsequently fixed, and my challenge was controlling the journey so that the thirty seconds it took was not wildly out of control. One emergent property that resulted was that the camera would slow down at tight turns before speeding up on straighter trajectories.

  • In most images of the brain visualisation, a pair of orthogonal brain projections are visible. These mini-maps were for the viewers’ benefit, indicating where in the brain model the show was. I was initially worried that the minimap should be in 3D, which would have required that I take a smaller projection of the full model, scale it down and give it a transparent mesh, and then use a smart camera to track the user’s active location, but the requirements were fortunately more simple: with two projections, I ended up obtaining the camera’s (x, y, z) coordinates in world space and then computed the equivalents on screen space.

  • Even from this distance, the size differences from the Ebbinghaus illusion can be plainly seen. This is the slideshow system I worked on: capable of supporting both video and images, the implementation of this feature allowed Ingram to discuss certain aspects in more detail using traditional media. I was able to put this viewer together quite easily, but at the time, Unity’s free version did not support video, so my supervisor promptly picked up the Pro license, allowing me to finish building the slideshow viewer. The original version used assets hard-coded into the compiled project, while later, I wrote a more dynamic system that allowed users to drag and drop .jpg, .png, .mov and .mp4 files into a directory, and the program them picked these files up and displayed them in order of file name.

  • One cool feature afforded by Unity Pro was that I had access to emissive materials that could be used to create a glowing effect on the corpus callosum, a band of nerve that divides the left and right brain in two. I experimented with a wide range of lighting effects and textures: while one configuration had a diffuse light around the corpus callosum, it also negatively affected lighting elsewhere in the model. The simpler, LED-like approach proved acceptable, and I ended up keeping things this way for all subsequent builds.

  • My participating in The Giant Walkthrough Brain made me feel as though I were a part of a Discovery Channel special. During my third year’s second, three days of the week saw my classes ending at eleven, so I always ended up heading home for lunch. While waiting for my food to cook, I would often flip the television on and watch Discovery programmes, then eat my lunch and proceed towards reviewing whatever I had covered in lecture that day.

  • Later that year, I squared off against the MCAT, and turned to Discovery Channel’s programmes to relax during lunch, in between breaks from MCAT review and my physics class. While I’ve not mentioned it, watching shows like MythBusters Survivorman and Mighty Ships helped me relax to the same extent as K-On! The Movie. Discovery Channel ended up being an incredible inspiration. By the time of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, I had watched all of the Survivorman episodes.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s world space consisted of three main levels: I handled the implementation of features at the brain museum level, and also coordinated with the other developers on the lower levels to ensure that their work functioned as expected. Here, we are looking at a network of neurons placed within the scene. The original plan was to fly through this space, but this introduced new complexities to the presentation, so in the end, I ended up placing a stationary camera here that allowed one to look around the space and watch the impulses travel. Each neuron was painstakingly placed by hand, since the algorithmic approach to generate them had not been implemented yet.

  • Delving in even closer to the molecular level, this was The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s depiction of a synapse, where electrical impulses through the neuron created an action potential that released neurotransmitters (the glowing yellow and green spheres). When an artificial compound is introduced (the pink spheres), a neuron will keep firing. While the show only spent a total of five minutes in the neurons and synaptic cleft, it took upwards of two months to set these views up properly. One of the biggest challenges was importing these scenes: until I had designed the procedure, importing from the other developers’ projects into mine always caused objects to be misplaced. This problem persisted for a month until I worked out how to properly export supporting projects and then import them into the main application.

  • The mouse inside the green sphere represents the pleasure centre of the brain. This particular segment of The Giant Walkthrough Brain stands as one of my favourites: Ingram discusses an experiment involving mice hooked up to electrodes that would stimulate their pleasure centres when a switch was hit. These mice ended up forgoing food, sleep and even copulation to hit the switch, simulating a drug addiction, and while we may laugh at the mice for their simplicity, the reality is that addiction is a non-trivial problem.

  • The chemical at the core discussion surrounding the reward system is dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in directing a behaviour towards pleasurable experiences and away from undesirable experiences. Recent studies have suggested that rather than directly triggering pleasure, it is more of a salient motivational agent in medical terms – while medical definitions are a bit more stringent, for everyday purposes, dopamine can be thought of as one of the central agents in pleasure.

  • Discussion of the pleasure centre of the brain segues into my most favourite song in The Giant Walkthrough Brain: “Press The Lever”. This highly upbeat song speaks of the pleasure centre and its function, as well as how addiction is purely a consequence of brain chemistry, and brings to life the experiments that were conducted in 1954 by Olds and Milner. More recent studies have reproduced the results of the old experiments.

  • The animation in the background is actually sourced from a predecessor to The Giant Walkthrough Brain, which was a pure scientific communications lecture with a traditional slideshow and no musical accompaniment or 3D brain walkthrough. The latter was made possible by advances to game engine technology, and in particular, Unity’s well-timed decision to make the engine freely-usable. While a 3D visualisation would have been possible with the LINDSAY Lab’s in-house engine, the resulting show would have had a lower frame rate and lacked features such as the minimap and built-in slideshow display.

  • Because of the unique setup of The Giant Walkthough Brain and its ability to engage the audience, the project saw tremendous success wherever it was presented. Each and every showing was to a sold out audience, and in Kelowna, interest was so great that Jay Ingram and the Free Radicals were asked to put on a second, encore presentation. Even two years after its debut in Banff, the 3D brain visualisation was still-considered cutting-edge, attesting to the sophistication and elegance of the design that went into the original application: for 2016, I made minor adjustments to the Unity project for Kelowna to improve its flexibility, but the codebase and Unity build had remained untouched since the summer of 2014.

  • If memory serves, this is The Giant Walkthrough Brain‘s hippocampus, a structure responsible for short and long term, as well as spatial memory. Defects in the hippocampus impair memory, and one of history’s most well-known figures was only known as “HM” until his death. Because HM suffered from seizures, period science suggested brain surgery. During the operation, a piece of his hippocampus was removed to control the seizures. While the operation was successful, HM developed anterograde amnesia: he could not create new memories and was unable to recall something like what he had for breakfast, even though his older memories appeared to remain intact.

  • HM’s name was posthumously revealed as Henry Molaison, and his brain was taken to California to be sliced for analysis and imaging. After imaging, the full set of images was made available in 2014. Alzheimer’s disease was also covered: the accompanying song and talk was sobering, subdued in mood. As one of the more prevalent neuro-degenerative diseases, its causes and mechanisms are still not well understood, and there are no treatments for it.

  • Discussions turned towards free will in The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and the Free Will song is another one of my favourites. While determinism and free will have been the topic of philosophical discussion, a study done by Benjamen Libet in the 1980s asked participants to decide when they would stop a clock. During the process, their brain activity would be measured, and it was found that brain activity began even before the individual consciously knew they were about to stop the clock.

  • The Libet experiment remains controversial in its validity, and the matter of free will is still unclear from a scientific perspective. One curious outcome of free will is that individuals who are more likely to be unfaithful if they did not believe in free will. The gap between determinism and free will from a philosophical perspective is not in the scope of this reflection, so I won’t pursue the topic further or delve into which side I personally believe in.

  • In this post, I’ve only shown a few areas of the virtual brain model: its cavernous interior was modified to feel more like a museum, featuring walkways, benches and exhibits. The finished virtual brain that I worked on actually has numerous features and functions that were present but never used in The Giant Walkthrough Brain itself. The most prominent one was that the skybox could be changed, so that when the show started, it would be daytime, and at the show’s end, the sun would set. This was intended to give a sense of the passage of time but ultimately was deemed unnecessary to the show, so it was never used.

  • I’ve alluded to this previously, but during the Banff Centre performance, a lighting storm had actually knocked out power to the area. All of the audio-visual equipment powered equipment was knocked out, and Ingram began improvising. The transition was so smooth I did not notice the power was out until a technician had stepped onto the stage and informed him the power was lost. It was restored, and as the 3D virtual brain was run on a laptop with its own internal power supply, once the power returned, it was a matter of continuing the show.

  • The Giant Walkthrough Brain notes that most of our knowledge of the brain comes from situations where the brain is not operating normally, and towards the end, mentions that after Albert Einstein’s death, his brain was studied. While some researchers claimed that certain attributes of Einstein’s brain made him uniquely capable of developing the Theory of Relativity and other contributions, it turns out that his brain was actually quite unremarkable from a structural perspective.

  • As the performance ended, Jay Ingram concluded with a series of myths about the brain, including how the notion that “ten percent of the brain is actively used at a given time” is totally and utterly false; no other organ in the body has a high oxygen and energy requirement as the brain, and it stands to reason that our brains are always operating at full capacity. This brings The Giant Walkthrough Brain to a conclusion, and at the end of the show, all of the contributors, myself included, walked onto the stage. I’ve chosen not to include that moment in this discussion.

  • With the first successful performance in the books, The Giant Walkthrough Brain officially opened at Beakerhead 2014 at the Telus SPARK Centre. On the evening of the first presentation, I was invited out to dinner with the entire team and we ended up going for pizza in a community near the performance venue. In a curious turn of fate five years later, I returned to the same community to celebrate a successful Otafest with some of the volunteers. The weather was beautiful and allowed for activities long associated with summer, such as grilling hamburgers and hot-dogs, playing with a Frisbee and going on a scavenger hunt (that I lost interest in).

  • I spent the past weekend watching Spiderman: Far From Home and with a delicious crab-topped salmon bake in the books, we’re now passing through the halfway point of the summer months: in a few days, we roll into August, my favourite month of the year. The summer this year’s been quite enjoyable: while a ways cooler and rainier, we have had some nice days and with them, the attendant opportunity to enjoy the sunshine. For August, I have a few posts lined up, including a special talk for Your Lie in April and Ano Natsu de Matteru. This summer season’s also been reasonably solid for anime, and a preview of the upcoming season shows a handful shows that look interesting, as well.

  • The first run of The Giant Walkthrough Brain ended with an electric violin performance from Jay Ingram and a promise to do the “Giant Walkthrough Gut”. While this project became a bit of a running joke in each performance, the giant walkthrough gut materialised in my time. In the years following, Jay Ingram published several new books, including The Science of Why (and three sequels) and The End of Memory. A sequel is very unlikely, although with the sophistication of game engine tools and the groundwork laid down, I can see future students taking these older projects and building on them to create more complex, powerful and exciting projects.

July 30, 2014 was opening night. I had sat through no fewer than three dress rehearsals, and had spent the day working from an iMac from the LINDSAY lab to make continuous adjustments to the Unity project’s configurations. I was admittedly nervous: even though the project had been tested extensively to ensure it was functional, Murphy’s Law states that anything unexpected could happen. After sharing dinner with the LINDSAY team, my supervisor and Jay Ingram’s team, we headed over to the performance venue as the skies began darkening. The show began smoothly enough, but when we reached the part on dopamine, the power suddenly went out: a thunderstorm had hit the area. Within ten minutes, the power was restored, and I breathed easier. The remainder of the performance continued smoothly, wrapping up with an electric violin performance from Ingram himself. No matter how many times I had seen the performance in rehearsals, Ingram and the Free Radicals were refreshing, engaging and immersive each and every time. Ingram’s masterful storytelling captured the audiences’ attention fully, being simultaneously entertaining, amusing and instructing. In the background, the Unity virtual brain ran seamlessly. After walking across the stage as a part of the development team, we left Banff and returned to Calgary under darkened skies. I spent the next day off, sleeping in, and after a debriefing with the team, it was decided that the remainder of August was to be spent tuning up the Unity project: because the initial build had been assembled in two months to meet the July 30 deadline, some best practises had not been observed, and it was important to refactor the project. A week ahead of the Beakerhead performance, the work was done. The Giant Walkthrough Brain Unity project had become extensible, easy to configure and sleeker than ever, just in time to be put on the planetarium screens at Telus SPARK. While there have been no more presentations of The Giant Walkthrough Brain since Kelowna, the project left a large legacy in its wake: for one of my colleagues, The Giant Walkthrough Brain would become the centrepiece in their Master’s Thesis, and the discoveries I had accrued as a result of the project led me to decide on the topic of my own Master’s Thesis. While The Giant Walkthrough Brain is no Apollo 11, and comes a mere five years later where the Apollo 11 moon landings have reached fifty, the project for me remains highly significant for having helped me come to terms with who I am, rediscover what it means to have a goal to reach towards and ultimately, for reminding me that even if unrequited love happens, I can still find my own happiness in lending my skills and knowledge towards the happiness of others. While not reaching anywhere near the same number of people or involving the same level of resources it took to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon, The Giant Walkthrough Brain ultimately came to represent what the journey towards self-discovery look like – for me, this was one small step for me, and one giant leap for the future.