The Infinite Zenith

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Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – A Reflection After The First Half

“What would you do if you know you could not fail?” –Eleanor Roosevelt

As Suletta settles in to life at the Asticassia School of Technology, she continues to try and fill her list of things she’d like to do. Suletta eventually befriends Earth House, and after making a name for herself upon defeating both Guel Jeturk and Elan Ceres with the Aerial. The Aerial’s performance eventually catches notice of the Benerit Group, who move to confiscate the Aerial owing to its status as an illegal Gundam. Miorine ends up making a bold proposal during the Incubation Party – to form a company with the aim of purposing the GUND Format for safer applications. Lady Prospera makes an appearance, and while Miorine ends up securing funding for such a company from her father, Prospera informs Suletta that Aerial is technically a Gundam. Miorine kicks her company, Gund-Arm Incorporated, off, and determines that medical applications of the GUND Format will most likely succeed – she’s discovered that this is what the technology had originally been used for, and remaining faithful to the original applications would allow the public to learn the benefits of the GUND Format prior to its usage in military systems. Although Gund-Arm Inc. is successful in building their prototype, Suletta becomes distant when she begins to feel that Miorine is ignoring her. Meanwhile, Shaddiq’s interest in the Aerial leads him to try and duel for it: Suletta and Earth House manage to beat him, but in the aftermath, Shaddiq contacts an Earth-based terror group, Dawn of Fold, to assassinate Delling after learning that Vim and Sarius intend to take over the Benerit Group. In order to demo their prototype to stakeholders, Earth House and Miorine head over to Plant Quetta in order to pick up the Aerial, and along the way, Miorine and Suletta reconcile. However, Dawn of Fold choose this as the location and time to execute their attack. Delling is gravely injured in the process, Guel accidentally kills Vim, who had sortied to fend off Dawn of Fold, and ultimately, Suletta ends up fighting Dawn of Fold’s Gundams before the defensive fleet arrives, forcing Dawn of Fold to retreat. Suletta ends up locating Miorine, killing a lone terrorist in the process and frightening Miorine. This is where The Witch from Mercury sits after its first half has concluded – while the series had initially given the impression that it would be a Gundam series with elements from Revolutionary Girl Utena, which similarly had an emphasis on the “battle high school” elements, the moment Dawn of Fold appear and strike at Plant Quetta, it becomes apparent that The Witch from Mercury is decisively Gundam as concepts of right and wrong, the nature of warfare and the dangers of new technologies swiftly return.

The use of Utena elements in The Witch from Mercury is a particularly innovative means of storytelling: for most of The Witch from Mercury‘s first half, traditional elements associated with the “battle high school” genre are seen, with youth slugging it out in arenas while enjoying their halcyon days and jousting for dominance both within their cliques and for social supremacy. Discussions for these sorts of shows gravitate towards analysing character traits and interpersonal dynamics as people strive to figure out how duels and story progression may unfold based on how characters act around others, and their internal thoughts. However, all of this falls away once Dawn of Fold begin their attack; this has far-reaching consequences on the remainder of The Witch from Mercury and reiterate the idea that reality is dramatically different than the environment that schools provide their students with. This is where The Witch from Mercury‘s genius is – up until now, Miorine’s world had been defined by a rocky relationship with her father, and a chance to earn his approval through Gund-Arm Inc. Guel had similarly wanted to maintain his status and restore his honour through duels, and Suletta herself yearns for a fun-filled life with classmates. Disagreements between students are settled in a structured and relatively safe manner, and students are more concerned with things typical of youth, whether it be coursework or social status. However, in reality, all of these assumptions evaporate; schools abstract out many of the difficulties in reality to instruct on a concept, and while one may perform well in a classroom or arena, reality is different because it will introduce situations where there are multiple, often conflicting variables. In The Witch from Mercury, for instance, duels at the Asticassia School of Technology are initiated by pilots who know one another, and battles end when the v-fin on an opponent’s mobile suit is destroyed. In actual combat, the only rule is to survive. Enemy combatants won’t have a full-fledged knowledge of one another’s capabilities, and instinct matters as much as skill and one’s machine. All notions of honour and fairness quickly disappear; while in a duel, pilots don’t aim for their opponents’ cockpits, a live combat situation demands one must be prepared to shoot to kill. Suletta seems to adapt quickly to this, allowing her to save Miorine in the final moments to The Witch from Mercury‘s first half, but at the same time, Miorine, being completely unaccustomed to the harshness of reality (and the fact that had Suletta not acted, she and Delling would be corpses), panics in response to Suletta’s actions. By having a terror attack force Suletta’s hand, viewers are reminded of the fact that the real world isn’t as black and white as textbooks make things out to be, and similarly, Guel’s accidentally slaying Vim in combat following a misunderstanding shows how things won’t always be cut and dried. In this way, The Witch from Mercury shows that there is a dramatic difference between school and real life. In the latter, the horrors of warfare leave none unscathed, and that extraordinary situations may demand people act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Similarly, one’s identity and beliefs matter little once the bullets and beams start flying – who one believes themselves to be is irrelevant next to how one acts; the choices that on Suletta, Miorine and the others make will will doubtlessly have far-reaching consequences as The Witch from Mercury enters its second half, and excitement mounts to see what exactly goes down now.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before delving any further into this post, I will remark that I had been following The Witch from Mercury with regularity since its airing, even if I haven’t otherwise been writing about it. Gundam series are inherently difficult to write for in an episodic fashion because episodes only show more pivotal moments, and it is the sum of narrative progression over several episodes where one begins gaining an idea of what a given series aims to convey. Here in The Witch from Mercury, the first half is almost entirely set at school and apparently deals with business, with a side of duels.

  • However, in the first half’s final moments, The Witch from Mercury completely blows away everything from earlier and sets the expectations for what’s possible. Admittedly, the use of war machines in settling what are otherwise petty squabbles between students felt immature, a waste of the vast potential behind mobile suits, and in particular, Gundams. Here, Suletta fights Guel, who’s rocking the MD-0064 Darilbalde from Jeturk Industries. These mobile suits seem to emphasise close-quarters combat, and the Darilbalde comes equipped with an AI that helps a pilot react to changing situations on the battlefield.

  • I found that the duels in The Witch from Mercury limits the show’s ability to showcase a mobile suit’s combat capability – students might be going all-out in a duel, but parameters are turned down so pilots don’t vapourise one another or damage their school grounds. In this way, seeing the result of a duel, while impactful for the students, don’t give viewers an accurate look at what the mobile suits can really do, or the greater implications of one’s actions. The Witch from Mercury is not impressive in its earlier episodes for this reason, but on the flipside, the reason why the mobile suits are given less emphasis is to give the characters more shine time. Suletta initially feels like the most unlikely Gundam pilot with smiles and mannerisms more befitting of the lead character in a slice-of-life anime, but this also endears her to viewers.

  • The first bit of The Witch from Mercury also gives viewers a glimpse of the discrimination and mutual dislike between Earthians and Spacians (basically the Earthnoids and Spacenoids from the Universal Century). Among the students, this sort of dislike manifests as sabotage of other student’s work, disparaging comments and the like. Miorine tends to take the high road and avoids involving herself in these things – she prefers to focus on her garden, and while other Spacians make life difficult for the Earthians, she handles things with maturity; during one drill, she continues to walk Suletta through things until the latter passes in spite of some other students’ actions.

  • For now, I’ve not bothered learning all of the different factions that exist at Asticassia School of Technology, and instead, I’m mainly interested in Earth House because they represent Earthians, whereas the remaining students are Spacians. Because the conflict between these two groups define Gundam series (such as the Universal Century’s Spacenoids and Earthnoids, or Cosmic Era’s Coordinators and Naturals), seeing how the conflict is portrayed gives insight into how extensive conflicts are. In the environment of a school, things seem restricted to bullying, but later down the line, news clips also show that the divide is much more severe than The Witch from Mercury initially shows.

  • The Aerial’s performance, a product of the GUND Format, is prohibited technology, and from what The Witch from Mercury has shown viewers so far, it allows for the mind to interface with hardware more readily. In practise, the Permet System is most similar to the Pyschoframe from the Universal Century with one important caveat – it only converts thoughts into motion and cannot otherwise create extraordinary phenomenon. Use of the Psychoframe in Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Narrative had made it so that mobile suits could perform otherworldly feats, such as travelling at speeds faster than that of light, and even turning time back.

  • With the GUND format, it would appear that here in The Witch from Mercury, the definition of a Gundam-type machine is that any mobile suit capable of using the GUND format is counted as such. Suletta had spent most of the series convinced that the Aerial was not a Gundam and that she just was attunemed to its systems. The definition of what makes a Gundam varies from series to series: Universal Century Gundams are powerful mobile suits with a special kind of armour that make them quite resilient to damage, and in the Cosmic Era, Gundams have a special OS. On the other hand, Anno Domini’s Gundams are equipped with GN Drives, which offer nearly limitless energy.

  • Gundam-type mobile suits in The Witch from Mercury are especially powerful because they allow pilots to run remote weapons, but duels have shown that mobile suits also equip counters for them. Peil Technologies’ FP/A-77 Gundam Pharact uses the same technology as the Aerial, and some mobile suits have jammers that prevent the GUND format from working. This renders the mobile suits balanced against one another, a sharp contrast with how Gundam 00 had presented its lead machines. The GN Drives in Anno Domini were said to be up to twenty years more advanced than anything the rest of the world had, and for the first half of Gundam 00‘s first season, Celestial Being carried out armed interventions without any resistance.

  • On the other hand, Gundam SEED had Gundams be constrained by their battery life, which forced pilots to use them strategically. Kira had to work within the Strike’s operational time until he became responsible enough of a pilot to utilise the Freedom, whose internal reactor gave it a limitless operational time and increased performance over conventional mobile suits. In every Gundam series, the mobile suits themselves speak to the pilot’s intentions and aims. The Freedom represents Kira’s maturation as a pilot and gives him the power he needs to fight on his terms, while in Gundam 00, the Gundams symbolise a tool for opening a path to the future. Here in The Witch from Mercury, Suletta’s Aerial appears to represent family and protecting what’s important to oneself.

  • With this being said, it’s still a little early to say if this holds true, but what is known is that Suletta has a perfect record with the Aerial. When Elan decides to challenge Suletta to a duel, he does so with the aim of securing the Aerial for Peil Technologies to study. The corporations of The Witch from Mercury are competitors even though the operate under the Benerit Group, and this is what motivates corporations to use any means necessary to gain the leg up. Having had limited social interactions, Suletta assumes that Elan wants to be friends with her, and while she makes an admirable attempt to do so, corporate interference means that the Elan Suletta knows ends up being discarded.

  • The “profits ahead of everything” mindset in The Witch from Mercury is a criticism of contemporary views on capitalism: companies out there have increasingly put profit over all else. What’s seen in The Witch from Mercury might be an exaggeration, but it does speak to how such a world can rapidly devolve if corporations are allowed to operate outside regulation and government oversight – pursuit of quarterly growth means that people are inevitably sacrificed. Elan’s fate is a tragedy in this sense; the relative seamlessness of his replacement by another iteration speaks to how little regard there is for his well-being, and Suletta’s efforts come up to naught.

  • While a majority of the community seems to be quite interested in the possibility for a yuri relationship here in The Witch from Mercury, I’ve chosen to skate over this because for me, the core of any Gundam series is the complex interplay between man and machine. How the Gundams are used, and how their pilots respond to warfare inevitably drive the story, and while romance plays an ancillary role in how characters may act in a given moment, the type of relationship doesn’t matter. Instead, other elements in The Witch from Mercury take centre stage, and I find these aspects to be significantly more noteworthy.

  • During a start-up gala, Miorine ends up making a proposal to both show up her father and save Suletta’s Gundam: given the Cathedra Agreement’s terms, a weapon that kills its operators is unfit for use, and the Gundams have done this. However, Miorine demands that the underlying technology be investigated further before it should be dismissed, and to this end, she suggests the Gund-Arm Inc as a company for proving that the GUND Format is safe to use. Surprisingly, Delling ends up acting as an angel investor, and his actions give the other investors confidence to follow suit, giving Miorine 240 billion dollars of starting capital.

  • In the aftermath, Lady Prospera congratulates Miorine and clarifies that the Aerial is in fact, a Gundam. I’ve never actually seen a Gundam series deal with start-ups before, so this was actually a refreshing approach to the story. For the next few months, Miorine sets about trying to prove her concept, and upon reviewing enough videos, learns that the GUND format was actually once intended for use in medicine. Because medicine is the study of human health and healing, it is universally regarded as a benevolent field, and associated discoveries always draw interest in their applications.

  • The early days of Gund-Arm Inc. brings to mind the humble beginnings that start-ups usually go through, reminding me of when I had worked for my first startup. The excitement is real, and Miorine’s natural talent for leadership means that under her, the Earth House members begin trying to figure out what their value proposition will be in earnest. However, Shaddiq develops an interest in Gund-Arm, believing the Benerit Group will benefit from the study of the GUND Format. His efforts to take control of the company fails thanks to Miorine’s iron resolve, and Shaddiq eventually resorts to altering school regulations in classic Utena-style student council meddling to shut things down with the hopes that Miorine will transfer everything to him to keep Gund-Arm alive.

  • I’d been worried that The Witch from Mercury would derive more elements from Utena than Gundam when things started out. Utena is counted as a classic for its surreal imagery and encouraging themes: viewers agree that Utena is about accepting one’s identity and learning how to deal with internal conflict. Although well-suited for describing a youth’s journey of self-discovery, Gundam‘s dealings with the real world beyond school means that Utena‘s themes are better suited as a starting point here in The Witch from Mercury. Since Gundam series have long shown how people change and respond to drastic things like warfare, characters are usually thrown onto the battlefield and pushed into a situation that draws out their best (or worst).

  • While it is important to find and accept oneself, and a school environment is oftentimes suited for this because it abstracts out many complexities of reality, what matters in life beyond school is how one acts, and what motivates one’s choice. The Witch from Mercury therefore has the chance to build upon this and separate itself from Utena: I would argue that one does not truly understand themselves until they’ve been put in a situation where they’re compelled to make a difficult decision using their existing experiences and whatever knowledge and facts are available to them. The arena, being a contained environment, simply cannot offer this, and so, even when Shaddiq challenges Miorine to a six-on-six duel for Gund-Arm Inc., the stakes aren’t too high for this reason (and I remark that having people comment on the course of a battle diminishes the weight behind the combatant’s actions).

  • Shaddiq himself wants Gund-Arm, but his lackeys from Grassley House only seek to prove their superiority to Earth House. Conversely, Earth House, Miorine and Suletta are fighting to protect that which is dear to them, and in their arrogance, Grassley’s pilots underestimate Earth House. Even though Suletta is eventually boxed into a corner, a well-placed shot from Chuatury brings the match to a close. The outcome of this duel was never in the question because at this point in The Witch from Mercury, Gund-Arm Inc. hasn’t even built anything of note yet, so the story must proceed in a way as to allow for some tension as the company gets further along with its development.

  • Of all the groups at the Asticassia School of Technology, I am most fond of Earth House because Chuatury, Nika and the others feel the most authentic, down-to-earth, standing in contrast with the arrogant and conceited members from the other, wealthier houses. In past Gundam series, whether or not viewers aligned themselves with the Earthnoids or Spacenoids depended greatly on the series. I found that in the Universal Century, the EFSF are more sympathetic than Zeon, and similarly, ZAFT was easier to root for than LOGOS. In Gundam 00, however, it’s Celestial Being versus the world, so rooting for Setsuna and his team of Gundam Meisters was the obvious choice. Of course, in classic Gundam fashion, not all Earthians are agreeable, and not all of the Spacians are arrogant in The Witch from Mercury.

  • The prosthetic legs that Gund-Arm Inc. develop under Miorine’s leadership is a solid prototype that shows that the concept of using the GUND Format is viable, and during a test run, Suletta proves that their first draft is able to secure various medical certifications. Unlike Theranos’ Edison machines, Gund-Arm Inc. actually has a prototype that Miorine is willing to show to authorities; while Miorine briefly gave off Elizabeth Holmes vibes early in Gund-Arm Inc.’s history, the gap between Gund-Arm Inc. and Thernaos is massive: Miorine isn’t motivated by anything beyond a desire to show the Gundam as a safe, legal technology and stick it to Delling. However, with a good team in her corner, progress is made within the space of two months.

  • Suletta is, for the lack of a better word, adorable – she’s unlike Gundam pilots that come before her. Previous Gundam pilots have varied greatly: Amuro Ray and Kira Yamato both were civilians who eventually accepted their duty and found a way to fight for what mattered without inflicting wanton destruction, and Setsuna F. Seiei came to realise that there was more to his life than being a soldier. However, each of these earlier characters took time to become the pilots they’re best known as, and it is appropriate to give Suletta this same opportunity. With this being said, Suletta’s resemblance to the average military moé protagonist is what makes her unique, and one hopes that the battlefield won’t change her into a Heero Yuy or Setsuna F. Seiei.

  • As The Witch from Mercury progressed, I got the distinct feeling that Delling, despite his Darwinist viewpoints and cold treatment of Miorine, was someone who is distant with his daughter because of something that happened in his past. He acknowledges Miorine’s successes and indicates that as long as she can continue to maintain her course, he’ll keep backing Gund-Arm Inc. The Gundam wikia at present lists him as the main antagonist of The Witch from Mercury, but traditionally, Gundam series have always introduced the actual antagonists later on – Gundam 00, for instance, didn’t unveil Ribbons Almark as the true antagonist until the final episode of the first season. After Alejandro Corner is defeated, Ribbons comments on how everything’s fallen into place and that he’ll inherit the world Ribbons created.

  • I imagine that the real antagonist will be made known in due course, and if anything, I feel that Grassley could be the real foe: following his own failures, Shaddiq hires a group of Earth-based terrorists with the aim of shaking things up and securing his own position amongst the Benerit Group. Shaddiq is motivated by a desire to prove himself, and the constant power struggle amongst members of the Benerit Group means that greed could be a motivating factor. Of course, with how Gundam series unfold, I expect to be surprised as things unfold. Here, members of the Dawn of Fold discuss their latest assignment, which sets in motion The Witch from Mercury‘s rising action: as soon as Dawn of Fold are introduced, The Witch from Mercury finally begins to feel like a full-fledged Gundam series.

  • On paper, multiple sparring corporations had the potential to create some complex conflicts and provide writers with a chance to portray the dangers of unregulated capitalism, as well as corporate interference with democratic systems. While this is a topic that is often ignored, the Universal Century’s Anaheim Electronics and Luio & Co. both played instrumental roles in supplying arms and armour to both the EFSF and Zeon alike, as well as engineering under-the-table deals to provide both sides with increasingly lethal weapons with the aim of prolonging the conflict between the Federation and Spacenoids for maximum profits.

  • The Benerit Group and its internal conflicts would have represented a great way of showing another side to things, and in The Witch from Mercury, glimpses into these elements are shown from time to time. However, most of the first half was devoted to building up the characters, and over the course ten episodes, Suletta and Miorine both receive solid development to establish their traits. Suletta is still quite unsure of herself, and after a full episode of miscommunication, Miorine finally confronts Suletta and reassures her that she matters. Once the character growth is firmly established, The Witch from Mercury can finally step towards that which makes Gundam so enjoyable.

  • The halfway point of a given Gundam series is when things tend to get exciting: in Gundam SEED, the Archangel suddenly find themselves under fire from both the Earth Alliance and ZAFT after arriving in Alaska, while in Gundam 00, the world lures Celestial Being into the Taklamakan Desert in a massive operation to capture their Gundams, which in turn led to the Throne Gundams appearing. Here The Witch from Mercury, once Dawn of Fold appear, they bring the Lfrith Ur and Thorn to the party. These Gundams are based off the Lfrith, which was developed into the Aerial, and far outstrip any of the mobile suits that Jeturk and Peil produce.

  • Dawn of Fold’s Gundam pilots, Sophie Pulone and Norea Du Noc, are polar opposites in temperament. Sophie is brash and impulsive, while Norea is more reserved and focused. Despite differing personalities, the pair get along well enough, even if Sophie’s nature occasionally jeopardises missions. I imagine Sophie and Norea’s names are references to Gundam 00: Sophie’s family name is similar to the GNY-004 Plutone, predecessor to the GN-005 Virtue, and Norea’s name might be a callback to Sumeragi Lee Noriega, Celestial Being’s tactician and the de facto captain of the Ptolemios. Once Norea and Sophie start firing on Plant Quetta, prompting an evacuation.

  • While evacuating, Miorine runs into Delling; she’s surprised he’s here, and even more so when he asks her to accompany them. With this, The Witch from Mercury suddenly begins to feel a great deal like Gundam Unicorn: in the first episode, during a transfer to hand off Laplace’s Box and the Unicorn Gundam, the Sleeves (Zeon Remnants) attempt to infiltrate and capture the Gundam for themselves. Students find themselves among the carnage, and like Gundam Unicorn, The Witch from Mercury also portrays the belligerent forces as dealing collateral damage to their surroundings.

  • Earth House’s response to the unexpected incident is a natural one, and everyone wonders if they’ll make it out, especially as the Dawn of Fold Gundams begin firing on the docks. Norea makes to neutralise all of the vessels present, but at the last second, notices a light signal from one of the ships. It turns out Nika was able to transmit something that saves them, and the implications of this are that she knows something about Dawn of Fold. Beyond this, viewers will have to wait for The Witch from Mercury‘s second half to learn more.

  • Meanwhile, both Vim and Guel have sortied with the aim of taking out Dawn of Fold’s other machines. Unbeknownst to each other, they end up clashing when assuming the other is a hostile, and Guel inadvertently kills Vim. There is a degree of dramatic irony in this scene, and viewers are now reminded of the fact that in warfare, many things cease to matter. Guel had spent much of The Witch from Mercury as the punching bag, losing status and prestige after Suletta had defeated him. All of this feels trivial now; while Guel probably disliked Vim to some extent, no part of him had wished for this outcome.

  • Female pilots that aren’t sound of mind are a longstanding element in Gundam series – from Louise Halevy and Quess Paraya, to Nena Trinity and Stella Loussier, the Gundam franchise is littered with pilots that deserve pity more than dislike. In this knowledge, I have a feeling that Sophie probably has a background that contributed to her becoming the person she is presently. Sophie has the same temperament as Nena, but in terms of story, is doing what Marida Cruz had done at the beginning of Gundam Unicorn.

  • Dawn of Fold fighters enter Plant Quetta’s interior and prepare to slaughter all in their path, but Lady Prospera guns them down, saving Suletta in the process. She explains that in this moment, acting allows her to save Suletta. The line “gain one by running away, gain two by stepping forward” is reiterated at several points in The Witch from Mercury, and this mindset is ultimately what led me to suggest that The Witch from Mercury is building on top of elements from Utena: knowing yourself is only the stepping stone, and it is ultimately how one acts that defines them. Suletta has always thought about this line, and even when frightened or confused, tries to act with the aim of bettering her current situation.

  • Much as how Banagher uses the Unicorn after Cardeas Vist entrusts the Gundam to him before perishing, encouraged by her mother’s words, Suletta sorties in the Aerial. The entire sequence was a homage to Banagher’s first sortie as the Unicorn’s pilot: after activating the Unicorn, he uses it to drive the Kshatriya out of Industrial Seven. In The Witch from Mercury, Suletta uses the Aerial to push the Ur out of Plant Quetta. Out in space, the two Gundams separate and clash with their beam sabres, similarly to how the Unicorn draws its swords after the NT-D kicks in.

  • The fact that Dawn of Fold have access to Gundams brought to mind Hathaway’s Flash; traditionally, a Gundam is a mobile suit that comes to represent something more than just warfare, and so, when terrorist factions gain access to them, this sullies the notion of what a Gundam is meant to symbolise. Looking back, both Gundam SEED and Gundam 00 had done this: Cosmic Era Gundams are any mobile suit with a special kind of OS, while in Anno Domini, Gundam-types possess a GN Drive and a specific head design. The mobile suits thus become secondary to the beliefs that their pilots hold, and indeed, this was a secondary story in 00: once the world begins to gain access to GN Drives, Setsuna must re-evaluate what Gundam means to him.

  • With this as precedence, what Suletta ends up doing as the Aerial’s pilot will shape its image and legacy within The Witch from Mercury: while the arena-style duels haven’t been able to convey this, throwing Suletta and the Aerial onto the battlefield will. One aspect I’ve not yet covered in my discussion too deeply is the Aerial itself. So far, Suletta has had a pretty solid performance with it, and looking at the Aerial’s GUND Format and GUND Bits, it feels decidedly like a combination of the 00 Qan[T] and its Sword Bits from Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer, which could assemble into a large sword, with a plausible version of the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam’s psycoframe, and as a result of the GUND Bits being able to configure themselves into a rifle or shield, the Aerial has the GAT-X105 Strike’s versatility.

  • This combination of functionality makes the Aerial a contender, and in discussions where fans compare what different Gundams can do, I would hold that the Aerial is an excellent suit capable of performing well both against individually powerful units and groups of mass production units from other universes (in fact, it would probably give even the 00 Raiser and Freedom some trouble). To keep things balanced, The Witch From Mercury has jammers for the GUND Format, and this means that as a pilot, Suletta would have room to improve and maximise what she can do with the Aerial. Here, after Suletta uses her GUND bits to form a powerful rifle and forces both the Ur and Thorn to make distance, Plant Quetta’s defensive fleet finally arrives, forcing Dawn of Fold to retreat.

  • Although Delling is still alive as far as Dawn of Fold can tell, a single terrorist manages to survive. Before he can do any damage to the already-injured Delling, Suletta arrives and pulverises him with the Aerial, turning a former human being into a pile of blood, flesh and bone. In the aftermath, Suletta is all smiles, since she’s just rescued Miorine, but all Miorine sees is a blood-splattered Suletta. Graphic violence is not foreign to Gundam, speaking to the horrors of warfare; Gundam SEED had shown in vivid detail what happened when people were hit with the Cyclops System and GENESIS weapon, while Cucuruz Doan’s Island had Amuro trample a Black Tri-Star pilot with the RX-78 II.

  • In the case of Cucuruz Doan’s Island, Amuro’s expression had been one of regret and revulsion – he clearly did not wish to kill the Black Tri-Star pilot, but the moment had demanded it. Suletta, on the other hand, sees things quite differently, a consequence of realising that saving Miorine is more important than trying to sort out the terrorist with a non-lethal approach. The community’s been quite divided as to whether or not this moment breaks Suletta’s character. On my end, I find that it’s appropriate because an indecisive Gundam pilot tends to be ineffective; Gundam series often portray a pilot who’s reluctant to fight, but once they find their resolve, they go on to contribute towards protecting what is dear to them. Here at The Witch from Mercury‘s halfway point, my main remarks are that the series has laid down the groundwork for what could be an excellent series.

  • If The Witch from Mercury decides to focus on warfare and its implications in the context of corporations and their actions, this series will meet expectations and be enjoyable. If the series wishes to return to the school environment and fall back on exploring identity over actions and their consequences, The Witch from Mercury will become a disappointment. Innovation and trying to tell a story in a different way is an admirable pursuit, but in a given story, what makes for a worthwhile experience is whether or not something can leave viewers with a definitive message to walk away with. For the present, my thoughts on The Witch from Mercury‘s first half draw to a close. The second half is set to continue in April, and I’ll be following this one with interest. While the break does break the momentum up (Gundam series typically ramps things up after its halfway point), it also gives viewers a chance to pause and reflect on what’s happening.

  • I’ll admit that writing this post was difficult: The Witch from Mercury is quite unconventional in its execution, and while things were quite slow to start, once the series hits its stride, it has its moments. It took me some time to figure out which topics The Witch from Mercury were the most noteworthy, and this is why my thoughts on the series comes out nearly a month after the first half concluded. I remark that not everyone is going to agree with how I approach things or the conclusions I reach, but at the same time, I’m also not going to agree with the notion that using a Revolutionary Girl Utena setup in Gundam makes the series more revolutionary, either. A revolutionary Gundam series explores the implications of technology, warfare and society in different ways, and here in The Witch from Mercury, the corporate piece, coupled with how novel technology is presented, is what’s innovative and in turn, holding my interest.

With The Witch from Mercury raising the stakes, elements from past Gundam series return. Gundam has always raised the question of whether or not taking a life is justified, and different Gundam series handle things differently. Gundam SEED, for instance, has Kira learning how to shoot precisely enough to take an enemy pilot out of the fight without harming them, and in Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro reluctantly accepts that taking a life is a necessary evil in war. He shoots to kill where needed but otherwise doesn’t go out of his way to kill his foes. Similarly, Celestial Being’s Gundam Meisters typically aim to disable rather than kill unless circumstances force them to do so otherwise. The gap between right and wrong is a narrow one, and over the years, Gundam series suggest that the answer to this question is situational. At the same time, the series also reminds viewers that passing judgement may not always be feasible: although Suletta probably will have a difficult time explaining things to Miorine once The Witch from Mercury resumes, the fact is that the blurring boundaries between right and wrong, and making decisions that are consistent with one’s beliefs will be a core part of this Gundam series, as it has with previous instalments. Learning to set aside one’s judgement of others, and instead, focusing on doing what one can, is a core part of the Gundam franchise. Although The Witch from Mercury is slower than its predecessors to reach this point, the fact that the series is beginning to step up and expose both Suletta and Miorine to the horrors and desolation of warfare means that the second half is going to be an interesting journey to follow. Beyond stepping into the realm of what makes Gundam stories so engaging, The Witch from Mercury also has begun to hint at how mobile suit combat looks. Until Dawn of Fold’s appearance, the arena environment greatly limited what the mobile suits in this universe could do, but outside of the constraints that is school, viewers are given a chance to see what mobile suits can do. The combat sequences outside of the duels are of a respectable quality, and as the conflict extends well beyond the boundaries of Asticassia School of Technology, optimism for thrilling, well-animated mobile suit combat scenes is not misplaced. Changes to anime production in the present means that viewers won’t be continuing with things until the spring, and while this may dampen some of the momentum the first half had built up, if The Witch from Mercury can present a meaningful message about how there is merit in doing what one can by learning and adapting to the moment (versus clinging to things like the past, social status and the like), the series will make for an excellent addition to the Gundam franchise. At this point in time, however, it’s anybody’s guess as to how things will unfold, and this means that entering The Witch from Mercury‘s second half, one will need to enter with an open mind.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: Clearing The Heart Of Bolivia and The Road To New Challenges

“In our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” –George Orwell

Flying over Bolivia, the dense jungles beneath suddenly give way to a rocky desert. All attention turns towards a convoy of trucks driving along one of the craggy roads, and I move ahead of the lead vehicle before setting down the helicopter. I equip my drone, manoeuvre it just in front of the truck carrying medical supplies, and fire off a crippling EMP blast, stopping the convoy cold in its tracks. Switching over to my BFG-50A, I disable the escort vehicles and pick off stragglers, finally securing the truck. Nomad Team comments on how the supplies will help the rebels out, and for my troubles, I gain more points to spend on an increasingly large library of skills that will make the journey towards apprehending El Sueño possible. With this goal done, I turn my attention to the evening’s next task: picking up a new weapon attachment located in a remote hut perched on the side of a mountain. Ghost Recon Wildlands has proceeded in this manner for the past few months, and outside of the story missions, my time spent in game has proven to be immensely cathartic as I gambol around the countryside, exploring to my heart’s content. It suddenly strikes me that, while Wildlands‘ main story and premise meant that the game invites political discussion, the open world environment and ability to proceed at my own pacing has meant that, outside of the tense moments during story missions and the dialogue that Nomad team exchanges with handler Olivia Bowman, the verdant jungles and remote mountains of Wildlands‘ Bolivia feels remarkably removed from the endless debates and discussions that characterises political discourse. The sharp contrast here in Wildlands offers credence to the idea that not all art and media is necessarily political; one’s thoughts are unlikely to be about how their actions may impact a policy-maker a continent away when they’re sneaking through a village by a tranquil-looking pond in search of Santa Blanca medals or weapon attachments.

Where Wildlands does have Nomad team conversing with Bowman about mission objectives, or the implications of the latest successful assignment, insight is given into Santa Blanca and how the player’s actions are affecting the bigger picture. Taking out a contingent of Santa Blanca submarines will cripple their ability to smuggle narcotics, while capturing a social media influencer stymies Santa Blanca’s ability to spread propaganda. Nomad’s actions yield a tangible change and slowly pave the path towards capturing El Sueño. It is important to note that it is through the player’s actions that advance things, and in this way, Wildlands (or any other game with a large political component) speaks to the fact that all change is the consequence of tangible action, rather than words. To this end, Wildlands shows that it is ultimately through the player’s actions and decisions that Santa Blanca’s hold over Bolivia is lessened, and to drive this point home, Bowman is operating in the field alongside Nomad, rather than directing the team from the comfort of an air-conditioned office in Langley. This is the case in reality: although the media gives the impression that politicians are getting material work done while in office, more often than not, the average politician accomplishes very little. Wildlands therefore acts as a show of how it is the people down in the weeds who get the most useful work done, even if they won’t be recognised for their contributions later. During one assignment, one of Nomad team comments on how it’d be nice to have a statue erected in their honour for what they’ve done to make the world a better place, only for another squad member to reply that as Ghost Recon units, they’re not supposed to exist, much less be remembered. The situation Nomad team’s members find themselves in is a mirror of reality: the people who get the work done and are deserving of the credit are also those whose contributions are forgotten as politicians and the media scramble to occupy the limelight. However, in spite of this, seeing that one’s work has a tangible, positive impact makes it worth doing, irrespective of whether or not one is credited, and virtue is its own reward. For me, it is sufficient to know that I did something that was of value to someone else, and it was therefore pleasant to see Wildlands mirroring this notion.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’ve been recently sidetracked by Modern Warfare II, still have yet to make my way through Metro: Exodus‘ DLC content and recently picked up a complementary copy of Star Wars: Squadrons through a promotion on the Epic Store, I’ve not forgotten my commitment to finish Wildlands to the best of my ability. Since last time, I’ve cleared out all of the three-star difficulty areas in Bolivia and have made some progress towards acquiring enough skills so I can take on the four and five star areas.

  • The four and five star areas don’t feature tougher enemies that can take more damage or hit harder, but instead, are more heavily patrolled. Santa Blanca and Unidad bases have more guard towers, alarm systems and generators, and they’ve got a more extensive network anti-air missiles. In these situations, having additional skills means being able to better identify where foes and points of interest are, before taking them out without being detected.

  • The EMP drone becomes an incredibly valuable tool in a player’s arsenal, since it can fly undetected into the heart of hostile territory and trigger an EMP that disables alarms. Once alarms are disabled, the patient player can then pick off snipers and methodically move into the base to complete their objectives. Three-star areas are the perfect place to practise one’s techniques, since the bases here are reasonably secure, but not so secure that any misstep will result in enemy helicopters being deployed to one’s area.

  • At present, I’m still currently using the MDR as my primary weapon, with the BFG-50A being an excellent secondary weapon – I’ve not made enough progress in Wildlands to begin the Fallen Ghosts expansion content, but the weapon unlocks this DLC provides are top tier. Although any other assault rifle could fulfil a similar role as the MDR does, there’s something about the MDR that makes it an especially appealing to use.

  • With the right gear and skills, Wildlands settled into a very relaxing pattern for me – I would go into a region in a helicopter and scout around to find all of the places where intel were, then pick up said intel. After I had an idea of where all of the campaign missions, skill points and weapon cases were, it was time to collect everything and finish the missions off. The variety of missions continued to impress, and there is actually more challenge in the missions where the objective isn’t to eliminate a target.

  • Beyond this, Nomad team’s objectives in Wildlands felt very cut-and-dried: in fact, listening to the exchange between the AI squad gave the distinct impression that for Nomad team, lighting up Santa Blanca cartel and Unidad alike was just another day at the office for these operators. While the dialogue is purely meant to create additional immersion, it did get me thinking, and this is what eventually led to the choice of topic for this post.

  • From the sounds of things, Nomad team is simply carrying out an assignment. While they’re special operators that act in the interests of the United States, despite being given near total freedom in how they go about finishing their work, their goal is simply to serve their nation by following orders. For Nomad team, politics is unlikely at the forefront of their thoughts when they’re sneaking through the jungle to avoid detection, or flying over from one spot to another. Being professionals, Nomad team is more worried about getting their job done, and while some moments do have them asking questions, for the most part, Nomad team sees their work the same way the typical person sees their own occupations.

  • This got me thinking: on a day-to-day basis, I’m not worried about politics or current events. Instead, I’m concerned most about what my tasks are, and how to get those done. While I do think about the bigger picture where required (e.g. ahead of meetings), for the most part, my focus on the typical day is implementing a given feature or sorting out a bug. This is partly because after a hard day’s work, the mind is in need of some rest and relaxation. Talking about current events is the polar opposite of this: political discussions can become very heated, and arguing with people is very draining, so the well-exercised mind tends to avoid these sorts of things .

  • There’s little time to be worried about what’s happening halfway around the world, and at the end of the day, I only read the news so I’ve got basic awareness of what’s happening. I’ve never understood why some people are so insistent on making their opinions of current events known to others, but after looking around, it turns out there’s one combination of traits that makes it seem like politics is a bigger deal than it is.

  • People without a focus or tangible objective in their lives may latch onto perceived problems and devote themselves into voicing concern for said issues. This happens because the human mind is inherently wired towards problem-solving and overcoming difficulties, so where there are no challenges to face, the mind may fabricate challenges to keep busy. This is the origin of the axiom, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”; individuals with nothing to do might channel that restlessness into unproductive or harmful activities.

  • Coupled with the fact that social media makes it possible for most anyone to have an audience, the elements are in place for a social problem. While social media is not inherently evil, the problems it brought to the table resulted from the fact that ordinary people could suddenly become someone of note through virality. Traditionally, anyone who came to prominence did so because they were exceptional in their field and had the right amount of luck. On the other hand, social media algorithms pick content that elicits the most reactions, and since people tend to investigate the most emotionally charged content, polarising, shocking and misleading materials tends to be promoted. It is no joke when I note that a lot of folks out there don’t deserve their followers or audience.

  • The end result of this is that social media, far from being a meritocratic platform where the most useful content becomes visible, ended up becoming a place where extremist rhetoric and misinformation dominated. Those who post such materials do so not because they wish to legitimately inform, but because they believe they are owed an audience and validation. The combination of extreme opinions and a desire for attention results in an endless stream of online vitriol, one where there is no room for moderation. Perspectives such as mine are inevitably drowned out, and there is little opportunity to learn about sides to an argument that isn’t my own.

  • This phenomenon isn’t limited to social media, as online forums see disagreement of similar proportions. At TV Tropes, for instance, some members believed that the presence of like-minded individuals who enjoy writing lists of media tropes should have meant that any discussion on politics and current events at TV Tropes would automatically “[leave] one intellectually simulated, knowing [the users] had a productive and entertaining conversation”. In reality, the idea of any conversation at TV Tropes being intellectually stimulating is dubious at best because a vast majority of TV Tropes’ userbase lacks any real-world experience. As a result, most of the political and current events topics rapidly devolve into pandemonium as a result of users pushing their worldviews over others, versus making a sincere effort to communicate and understand other perspectives.

  • Similarly, over at AnimeSuki, political “discourse” isn’t very helpful. One “mangamuscle” operates under the belief that intelligent discussion consists of calling political leaders names and constantly reiterating that certain nations are evil. While those mangamuscle and similar-minded people believe themselves to be engaged in legitimate discussion, people like these are why I hold that a disinterest in politics most certainly doesn’t render one less intelligent or knowledgable: I hardly consider name-calling to be a hallmark of a “productive and entertaining” conversation.

  • Generally speaking, whether individuals participate in internet discussions about politics or current events, unless there is a clear desire to listen and learn from all parties, I’ve found that it’s best not to participate at all. Avoiding those who aim to shock and anger, and those who presume to lecture, isn’t especially difficult – most of the time, people post extreme content in the hope of driving engagement and validation, so if one isn’t going to reply, retweet or vote, then it would show both the originator and viewers that a given idea simply isn’t worth even the simple click of a mouse. At scale, the originator may eventually lose interest in the topic if they aren’t getting the desired reaction from posting about things.

  • More tricky to handle are those individuals who have an agenda to push and a formal background in political sciences or similar – one user who frequents both TV Tropes and AnimeSuki has made it a point of posting news articles that denigrate or are highly critical of one of the world’s nations. While I’m no stranger to this behaviour, the individual in question has stated that they’re currently pursuing a Master’s of Strategic Studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and plan on a career in defense intelligence, with the hope of joining the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) one day. Given their career goals, I get the feeling that one of their goals is to try and influence forum members into sharing their own beliefs.

  • Because individuals like these appear to look like they know what they’re talking about, one may be tempted to agree with them: someone enrolled in strategic studies will constantly be working with military and security issues, and therefore have a strong knowledge of the area. Unfortunately, if one also possesses a very firmly-held set of biases, this can be highly detrimental – their background allows them to be confident in their knowledge, but at the same time, they would also refuse to hear out other opinions, especially from those outside of the field. Individuals like these are therefore ill-suited for any sort of decision-making role at CSIS; if their decision-making is guided by ideology rather than fact, the public will inevitably come to harm.

  • As a result, I cannot say I’m inclined to see this individual succeed in their aspirations. It is admittedly frustrating that some people strive to make a career of promoting untruths, but at the same time, I also acknowledge that there are simply not enough hours in the day to concern myself with these sorts of things. Posts like these are about the extent that I’ll write about outside of my area of interest – my typical modus operandi is to look at the shows and games I like, but occasionally, I find that it is helpful for me to get my thoughts on topics like where I stand on talking about politics and current events here.

  • The short of it is that no, I won’t be sharing my thoughts on the things that go on in the world, and when I do write about politics, it will be strictly within the realm of whatever work I am discussing. For instance, I am willing to share my thoughts on the narcotics trade and government responses to it in the context of Wildlands, but I won’t delve into my thoughts on the Canadian government’s legalisation of cannabis. I do not believe I can offer a vigorous, satisfactory account of why I hold the beliefs that I do in the blog post format, and for this reason, I tend to avoid bringing up current events.

  • When it does come to something I am knowledgable about, I am much more willing to explain myself. For instance, I am a major proponent of the delegation pattern in iOS development because it allows me to pass information between view controllers sharing a common navigation controller, and the approach, when done correctly, results in clean code (in turn improving maintainability and readability). This is something I can defend because I have experience in the area. Thus, in order to avoid troubling readers with ideas I’m not an expert in, I choose not to mention about real-world politics and the like within my posts.

  • With this, I hope to have given readers a satisfactory account of why I don’t talk about politics here. In my twelve plus years of blogging, this approach has served me well enough, and I therefore see little incentive to change things up. It’s more fun to talk about the things that I enjoy doing, and here, I will remark that Wildlands has a considerable amount of activities in it. Even in the regions I’ve cleared, there are plenty of secondary missions to complete, and they offer rewards that help with gameplay. Completing all of them will take a considerable amount of time, and I’ve determined that it is probably more time-effective if I were to complete enough of the secondary missions to get at the skills best suited for my style and move on to the tougher regions.

  • On several occasions, I have previously ventured into the four and five star regions unintentionally – this happens when I’m pursuing a convoy, and while I usually end up capturing my target, the problems would show up if I foolishly decided it’d be a good idea to also raid a nearby Unidad or Santa Blanca base. In this way, I would get my face pasted into the ground, and while at this point, I’ve dumped enough skill points into the AI squad tree so that I can get two revives, dying in a place where it’s not feasible to be revived and safely get out has left me wishing for a “skip revive” option at times.

  • Outside of these most harrowing of moments, I am free to explore Bolivia at my own pace. Previously, the game had looked amazing on a GTX 1060, but with everything maxed out on an RTX 3060 Ti, the visuals look almost photorealistic. Over the past few months, NVIDIA’s Lovelace high-end GPUs have launched, and more recently, news of the RTX 4060 Ti have reached my ears. Assuming the rumours are correct, the RTX 4060 Ti is supposed to perform similarly to an RTX 3070 and sell for the exact same price point of 499 USD. In this case, the RTX 4060 Ti would be completely underwhelming – the RTX 3060 Ti had retailed for 399 USD and is almost as performant as the RTX 2080 Super, an impressive leap in technology.

  • Similarly, the GTX 1060 had been impressive because it had around 90 percent of the GTX 980’s performance for half the price. As such, when it is possible that the RTX 4060 Ti will only match a RTX 3070 in performance and demand the same cost, there is little incentive to wait for the Lovelace series. All of the news means that my decision to pick up my current video card back in September was a good decision, and the RTX 3060 Ti is expected to last me a very long time. Out of curiosity, I took a gander to see if the MSI Gaming X variant of the card I had was still available, and it seems that they are completely sold out now.

  • Weather patterns do impact Wildlands, and one can find themselves in the midst of a rainstorm even from perfectly clear skies like these. I remember that during my time spent in the open beta, rain had hit me almost immediately after clearing the first mission, and Wildlands had been detailed enough to render players’ clothing becoming wet from the rainfall. For my screenshots, however, I prefer taking them under clear skies: Bolivia looks wonderful, and the deep blue skies evokes a summer-like feeling. While playing under full daylight means that stealth becomes trickier, they do make for easier screenshots. On the other hand, if there’s a high-stakes mission, I will reset the map and wait for nightfall before beginning an assignment.

  • Side-missions in Wildlands are fun, and give players a chance to let loose: on most missions, having a suppressor is mandatory to preserve stealth and avoid alerting foes to one’s presence. There is a skill upgrade that results in suppressed weapons dealing identical damage to unsuppressed weapons, and by this point in Wildlands, I’ve unlocked it, so there’s actually no need to ever remove my suppressors. With this being said, there is something satisfying about going loud. Some of the rebel-related missions do entail fighting off waves of Santa Blanca enforcers, and it is here where I find the most use for an unsuppressed LMG.

  • When free-roaming, I tend to run the BFG-50A without a suppressor: the gun is the hardest-hitting rifle in the whole of Wildlands, and its report when firing reflects the sheer amount of damage this weapon can do. This gun has been a game-changer, and coupled with the fact I’ve maxed out my anti-vehicle damage, air vehicles are no longer a problem for me. Similarly, I can leave an entire convoy of foes as a smouldering ruin without much difficulty.

  • In a manner of speaking, the Fallen Ghosts DLC has allowed me to play Wildlands with increased flexibility, and this has, in turn, allowed me to progress at a smarter pace. With this being said, however, my map indicates that I’ve actually yet to deal with any of the higher-ranking Santa Blanca members. I imagine that for some of the buchons, some of the missions won’t entail any shooting, so I am curious to see how things turn out once I clear out the rest of Bolivia’s tougher areas. I have a feeling that it is better to clear out all of the buchons, versus just taking down enough to force El Sueño’s hand.

  • The takeaway from this jumble of a post is simple enough – I don’t like participating in online discussions of current event owing to the overwhelming ignorance and prejudices out there (as mangamuscle of AnimeSuki has been kind enough to demonstrate), and I see no reason to mention my own opinions regarding current events in a given blog post because they are neither here nor there. Beyond this, I do appreciate how Wildlands does suggest that politics or not, it is ultimately individual action that makes the difference, and as such, I find myself excited to continue on with this game.

  • The missions ahead will certainly be trickier than anything I’ve faced up until now, but at the same time, I’ve also got access to a wide array of skills and a better understanding of my arsenal. With this being said, these are interesting times – Battlefield 2042 has reintroduced the class system and implemented something in line with what I’d been hoping for, while Modern Warfare II just announced a new Japan-themed DMZ map, and while I’ve no previous DMZ experience, the map is intriguing enough for me to give it a go. I’ve also reached the halfway point in Sam’s Story in Metro Exodus‘ expansion content, and things have kept me quite engaged. I am, in short, very busy, but I should definitely make some time to push further in Wildlands – I’ve been itching to go back to Montuyoc, and it does look as though I’ve got the weapons and skills needed to survive there.

Longtime readers will likely wonder why I do not discuss current events, specifically, federal policy and foreign affairs here, even where some of the topics I write about are more conducive towards such conversations. The main reason behind this is that as a blogger, I have a responsibility to readers. My aims are to be truthful and fair, and political discourse stands contrary to these goals because, in the absence of any vigorous evidence, anything I state is strictly opinion. This blog’s core focus are anime and games, and while I may occasionally offer some of my thoughts on the systems anime and games present, stepping into things like foreign affairs is outside the scope of my discussion: readers come here to see what I make of a character and their place in a given story, or perhaps pick up trivia on the differences between a Barrett M82A1 and an M95. Beyond this, it is not my place to rattle off my personal beliefs and demand viewers listen to said beliefs, especially since I am no expert in many of the things I hold an opinion in. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some hold that they have an obligation to talk about politics because these matters impact them in some way. While is true to a limited extent, talking about things on social media or forums won’t change anything, and instead, my only obligations are to keep abreast of things and respond accordingly. I find that folks who spend a considerable amount of time writing about their beliefs online are doing the least amount of useful work while at the same time, making the largest effort in an attempt to look relevant. Simply put, people who do not spend time on forums, Reddit or Twitter trying to persuade others of their beliefs or spreading a certain brand of thought, have more time to get legitimate work done. As Wildlands suggests, those who prefer maintaining a low profile and fulfilling their obligations are the folks who will affect positive change most effectively, and even if they’re not going to be recognised or celebrated for their contributions, the importance of their actions cannot be understated.

Bofuri 2: Review and Reflection After Three

“The beast’s hide is too thick to be pierced from the outside. I must cut through it from the inside!” –Drax The Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

With Christmas Break over, the Maple Tree guild work towards clearing the fourth world. Maple herself is out with a cold, so she ends up resting. After she recovers, she returns to New World Online (NWO) and solos the boss while helping Frederica’s party; while she’d previously ended up fighting another named elite, Maple ends up with yet another powerful skill. She later meets up with Yui and May and help them defeat a named elite gaining access to the sixth level. This horror-themed space overwhelms Sally, who’s too frightened to even set foot in the world, and Maple decides to accompany Sally when the latter expresses a want for some loot from a haunted house landmark. Although they end up failing, Maple will later return and solo the haunted house. While Sally explores other levels, Maple hangs out with Mii; after they defeat foes giving Mii some trouble, the pair hang out at a café, where Mii wishes she could be herself in-game. Later, the developers start another in-game event, and despite the challenge specifically surrounding the instance Maple and Sally are given, the pair manage to clear three floors within the tower despite initially struggling with foes that were custom-made to give Maple a tough time. This is where Itai no wa Iya nano de Bōgyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu‘s second season (Bofuri 2 from here on out for brevity) lands after three episodes. After doing a special pre-airing prior to Christmas, Bofuri is set to continue on in the same manner as its predecessor, following the RPG novice Kaede Honjō (Maple), and her best friend, Risa Shiromine (Sally) as they explore NWO and its unusual mechanics. Along the way, thanks to Maple’s near-total absence of knowledge surrounding gaming, and her propensity to go with what works, she ends up having a wonderful time in the game, frustrating the developers, who appear to be at their wits’ end when it comes to handling Maple and her now-infamous guild.

After the first season had ended, I concluded that Bofuri had been an excellent example of an unusual optimisation solution in some multi-agent systems: in the typical RPG, players pick from a wide range of statistics to build characters suited for their class and play-style. Because Maple had lacked any gaming knowledge, she maximises her defensive capabilities and instead, draws upon a very unusual set of skills to advance her experience, and in the process, she ends up having a fantastic time. The lessons seen in Bofuri (and doubtlessly, Bofuri 2) is a simple one: having a varied skill set and an open mind leads to a good experience. This particular theme is general enough such that it could apply to all walks of life, and mirrors the easygoing tone in Bofuri; NWO isn’t a death-game like Sword Art Online, the competition between the different guilds are friendly, and Maple has a tendency to befriend those she meets. In the absence of high stakes and interpersonal drama, Bofuri isn’t going to tell any inspirational stories, nor is it likely to change my worldviews on a given subject. However, the series is relaxing and fun: a part of the enjoyment stems purely from seeing what outrageous solutions Maple applies towards a given problem, and watching the developers squirm as they realise nothing they propose is working. Not every series needs to compel viewers to think, and Bofuri is an excellent example of how important it is to simply focus on having fun every so often: Maple herself isn’t worried about the in-game meta or about playing the game a certain way, and as a result, she is able to have extraordinary experiences. While this means I won’t be discussing the series’ themes and their implications as I am wont to doing, as a bit of a gamer myself, I do relate to the idea of purely having fun in a game without concern for playing something “the way it’s meant to be played”.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As it turns out, the Japan-themed world in NWO was only one step of the journey, and by the time Maple has a chance to play through things following Christmas, her friends have already cleared it and are exploring higher level spaces. One thing I’ve never understood about Japanese games is why open levels are referred to as “floors”: in older RPGs where the setting is a dungeon or large building, floors make sense, but when it comes to wide open spaces, the nomenclature is misleading. Calling them “worlds” or “levels” is more appropriate a descriptor.

  • All of the RPG games I play are completely open-world, being set in large maps subdivided into large biomes, and there’s no need to clear a boss fight in order to enter new biomes. In World of Warcraft, regions do have a level requirement to dissuade low-level players from rushing ahead, and Skyrim is completely open for players to explore, as enemy difficultly scales with the player level. Japanese games are built on different philosophies than Western games, and while elements from the former have strongly influenced the latter, cultural differences result in dramatically different experiences.

  • For me, both games have their merits (I’ve found things like Valkyria Chronicles and Street Fighter just as engaging as Sim City and Battlefield), but on the whole, I generally prefer games that don’t demand a large time investment in them. The idea of spending hours upon hours levelling up and picking up usable gear isn’t something that appeals to me, and so, when games take a fair approach towards things (anything worth earning should take some effort, but not demand more effort than work), I find myself more inclined to enjoy things.

  • From what I’ve seen of NWO throughout Bofuri, the game’s biggest draw seems to be a dynamic skill system that allows players to pick up any skill and use them in conjunction with one another. Maple uses them in unorthodox ways to trivially solve most of the challenges she encounters, and I am reminded of the classic game, Magicka, a satirical game that allows players to combine magic in different ways to solve puzzles. Most RPGs don’t allow players to combine skills in an unusual manner (for instance, a World of Warcraft mage can’t use spells to bring the dead back to life, and shamans can’t use powerful frost spells to control crowds) with the aim of preserving balance.

  • Maple’s first adventure after returning to NWO from a cold is to solo the boss in the Japanese level, and then she joins her friends in the subsequent world to mop the next boss. Her overwhelming power leads the others to wonder if there’s anything left to do, and I am left to feel that Maple is similar in Donnie Yen’s portrayal of Ip Man in Ip Man – Yen’s Ip Man always finds a way of winning the most important fights and tends to draw in fights of lesser significance. While an indestructible protagonist is generally counted as being dull to watch because there’s no struggle and payoff, stories can still make such characters work.

  • This happens when the protagonist is made to learn that power isn’t going to be the answer. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is a fine example of this – although Yuna is exceptionally powerful, she finds that jumping into the middle of a problem and solving it with her fists or magic won’t cut it all the time, and in doing so, she slowly learns to listen to the world’s inhabitants. Here in Bofuri, it appears that Maple’s state in the game is such that she’s able to purely focus on having fun, but I do find myself wondering if the story is set to go further than this.

  • Bofuri‘s ability to vividly render every region is impressive: Silver Link has spared no expense in making sure every world is vividly rendered and packed with detail. The animation and artwork in Bofuri is of an excellent standard, and this shouldn’t be too surprising – Silver Link has an impressive repertoire, ranging from Non Non Biyori and Brave Witches to Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow and Kokoro Connect, and most of their shows have been well-presented.

  • The sixth world, a horror-themed space, might hint at what’s upcoming in Bofuri 2 – although Sally is a remarkable player who built her character around agility and has a reputation similar to Maple’s, her fear of all things horror means that she’s left conflicted as to whether or not she wants to play on. On one hand, Sally doesn’t do well with ghost stories, but on the other hand, she’s tempted by some excellent gear that’s said to drop in this region.

  • Using game spaces to help characters grow as individuals wouldn’t be a bad idea, and having spent the whole of the first season showing how Maple’s able to visit all sorts of spaces without worrying about being defeated, it would be nice if Maple could spend more time with her friends and help them with various in-game objectives, in time, coming to learn more about their real-world traits and potentially using the game to help them overcome an individual shortcoming. In the present, Maple agrees to accompany Sally into a haunted house where some interesting gear is set to drop.

  • If I had to guess, once players acquire a skill in NWO, the skill’s performance probably scales as one levels up. This would allow Maple to continuously use her old skills in higher levels without worrying about them becoming obsolete. The Division and The Division 2 had a similar mechanic in play, allowing seeker mines, explosive drones and remote turrets to do more base damage as one levelled up, so that they would remain useful as one hit the endgame. By using her Machine God ability, Maple carries Sally through the haunted house, both literally and figuratively.

  • Maple’s firepower actually does tangible damage to whatever ghosts are in this world, and as such, it stands to reason that, had Sally simply stood her ground and fought back, she’d be able to hold her own. However, since her fear of ghosts and spirits surpasses her confidence in NWO, she ends up being ineffectual during the exploration. I recall a similar scene in Metro: Last Light, where during the mission to save Pavel, Artyom has a frightening vision where hands of the damned protruded from the walls while he follows the Dark One. Back then, I only had a GTX 660, but I was still able to run the game at high settings and maintain 60 FPS with the 1080p resolution.

  • When Sally gets separated from Maple, her ensuring reaction is adorable. This was a somewhat unexpected side to her character, and although I vaguely remember Sally being uncomfortable with ghost stories and the like, seeing moments like these really accentuate her dislikes. Admittedly, it was also quite amusing to see the otherwise cool-and-collected Sally reacting in such a manner. In the end, she does manage to link up with Maple, who uses her latest ability to give Sally a chance to regroup, and when some other adventurers enter the house, they draw the spirits off the pair, allowing Sally and Maple to escape.

  • Sally’s original quest of gaining some new items ends up unsuccessful, but for their troubles, she and Maple both gain access to a new skill. While I’ve never had an experience quite like Sally’s in a game before, I have had times where I entered a mission thinking I had what it took to complete it, only to get stomped. This most often happens in games like The Division – after I completed my six-piece Classified Striker’s set, I foolishly thought I was capable of handling Incursions solo and found myself hopelessly outmatched; this activity had been scaled for four players with good gear. Similarly, in The Division 2, I’d imagined that the Hunter’s Fury would be an asset when I tried to solo the raids, but during the airport level, I couldn’t even make it off the tarmac into the terminal.

  • As a predominantly solo player, I definitely wouldn’t make it very far in NWO unless I managed to make a Maple-like build. Back in Bofuri, after logging out, Sally is surprised to find her home empty; her parents are working late, and she’s still a little jittery following the excitement of having just escaped a haunted house. The real world is rarely shown in Bofuri, but I am fond of its portrayal, since it does remind viewers that this series isn’t an isekai, strictly speaking, and as a result, the stakes are much lower. A few months ago, I would’ve been a little envious of Sally’s home setup, but post move, I’ve put together a setup of my own that has suited my needs.

  • Luckily for Sally, Maple’s on hand to talk her through things. Moments like these speak to what’s really important in gaming, and while Bofuri doesn’t have the same high stakes as the typical isekai or something like Sword Art Online would, the change of pacing makes this a relaxing series to follow. Understanding this about Bofuri means managing my expectations accordingly: I’m not here looking for a world-class, life-changing tale, but instead, it’s sufficient to see characters learn and grow alongside one another in a world where the only aim is to have a good time, something that many streamers and gamers in the present seem to have forgotten.

  • In the end, Maple ends up soloing the haunted house and secures all of the stuff that Sally had been looking for. In the time that has passed between Bofuri and Bofuri 2, I’ve managed to finish The Division 2 fully – seeing the excitement in Bofuri 2 about loot brings back memories of when I’d spent my downtime after work running through Washington D.C. doing various things for exotics. In The Division, I ended up joining random groups in order to complete legendary missions, but with the presence of exotic crates in The Division 2, I was able to amass a reasonably extensive collection of exotics without needing to play the toughest content.

  • My old Hunter’s Fury gear set, paired with the Chatterbox and Ninja Bike kneepads, allow me to trivially beat missions in PvE – the fact I get health and armour back on each kill, coupled with the fact that every kill also returns a third of my ammunition, and the Chatterbox’s ability to increase its firing rate when near enemies, renders this the perfect setup for PvE. On the other hand, against individually strong opponents, the Hunter’s Fury loadout I have now is quite ineffective. My approach towards The Division 2 was partly inspired by Bofuri, and since I have no intention of playing PvP or the game’s tougher content, things work out well enough for me.

  • The main reason why I’ve not returned to The Division 2 since finishing the Faye Lau manhunt had been because for most of 2021 and 2022, the game went on a bit of a hiatus as no new content was added. Ubisoft had launched a roadmap indicating that new content would be added, along with a new free-to-play title, but having felt I’d gotten my money’s worth from The Division 2, I ended up moving on. Back in Bofuri, after receiving a request from Mii, Maple joins her and uses her newfound defensive buffs to give Mii a chance to use her powerful, but slow-to-deploy AoE skill. This particular spell brings to mind Megumin’s ex~PLOSION~!, which similarly was damaging but was stymied by a high magic requirement and long charge time.

  • On the topic of Megumin, it turns out that next season, Konosuba: An Explosion on This Wonderful World is going to be released. This spinoff will deal with Megumin and show her life prior to meeting Kazuma, and I’m rather looking forwards to seeing how things turn out. During the start of the global health crisis back in early 2020, I found myself with an abundance of time at home, so I spent most of it powering through anime I hadn’t had time to watch. Konosuba was one of them, and in this series, I found comedy of a consistently good quality. Besides KonosubaKuma Kuma Kuma Bear is also going to get a second season.

  • While I don’t typically watch or write about isekai anime, there are a few series that do catch my interest from time to time – I prefer to watch the more relaxed and comical series over the serious ones. Back in Bofuri, Mii and Maple swing by an in-game café following their adventure, and the conversation switches over to something on Mii’s mind; she’s been wanting to be herself, but obligations to her guild means she must maintain a more serious persona. Hanging out with Maple allows her to relax and show her true self, and I am hoping that at some point, seeing Maple doing what she does best will also help Mii to relax around others.

  • When conversation turns to hanging out with folks one otherwise normally wouldn’t, I am reminded of how slice-of-life anime are able utilise their casts and have different characters interact with one another, in turn creating new experiences that may differ in tone and outcomes compared to what is seen with the lead characters. GochiUsa had done an especially good job with this: while Cocoa and Chino carry most of the show in earlier seasons, later on, episodes give the other characters a chance to shine. Episodes of Bofuri around other characters in the Maple Tree guild, or even the other guilds, could act as a fun way of showcasing more of NWO.

  • Bofuri is wasting no time on pushing ahead – by the game’s seventh major event, Maple and her friends are fully ready to take things on. This time around, rather than a large-scale event involving multiple guilds, small groups must take on instanced areas. The idea of an “instance” originates from World of Warcraft, where small groups were given their private copy of a dungeon to take on. The term itself comes from Object-Oriented Programming, where an instance of an object is a occurrence of an object that can be acted upon. The easiest way to describe this is with physical entities: supposing that Person is a class describing people, then Maple would be an instance of the Person class. The term stuck, and since then, private dungeons have been referred to as instances.

  • Maple and Sally end up taking on their instance together, but unbeknownst to them, the developers have altered theirs so the pair end up with far tougher foes than necessary. As Maple and Sally destroy their opponents, the developers watch in horror; nothing they have seem to work. However, their conversations also suggest that these foes were designed to be challenging, but not unbeatable. The problem NWO’s developers have stem from a fundamental design problem in their game: caps to skill power and statistics, coupled with limiting what combination of skills can be equipped and earned, would’ve eliminated most of their headaches.

  • Game balance is eschewed in Bofuri precisely to accommodate Maple’s outrageous adventures, and as such, the developers find themselves on the backfoot. Battlefield 2042 had suffered from this – originally, the class system was abolished, and this reduced the incentive for teamwork. The reintroduction of classes is intended to ensure that players are locked to a specific role, increasing the need to work as a team. Here, Maple equips her Wooly skill: this one is one of my favourites because Maple’s response to using it is always adorable. While outwardly envelopes Maple in wool, she is able to utilise it in a creative way.

  • Writing for Bofuri is admittedly a bit of a challenge: since the anime’s objective is simply present a fun experience, there isn’t much to do in the way of speculation, either. As such, Bofuri is one of those series where it’s easiest to kick back and watch things as they unfold. With this in mind, while I’m writing about both Bofuri and Mō Ippon! in the same manner, the latter does provide more opportunity for the sort of discussion I’m partial to; I’m not sure how many readers here follow my references to games, for instance.

  • Back in Bofuri, upon fighting their first foe, Maple and Sally initially have a tough time damaging its exterior. Once they spot that the monster’s mouth might be a weak spot, Maple decides to cut it up from within. This is the inspiration for the page quote, sourced from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, during the opening fight against a multi-dimensional monster known as the Abilisk. When Drax determines that the only way to deal damage to it is from the inside, both Gamora and Peter Quill are perplexed, since skin is supposedly the same thickness from the outside as it is from within. However, there is merit in Drax’s argument – the fleshy interior is probably not as tough as the exterior, so more damage can be done.

  • In this way, Maple and Sally conquer the first floor without too much trouble and move onto the second, where they fight a foe that takes the form of a large book and utilises Maple’s own skills against them, while at the same, preventing Maple from using any skills it’s taken. This enemy is actually pretty cleverly designed and brings to mind the likes of Aaron Keener, who had access to the same plethora of skills as the player’s Agent. Against Keener, I found the best way to handle him was to continuously push the offensive – staying behind cover isn’t too effective, and I found that it was by getting up close and personal that let me do effective damange.

  • The visual quality in the second floor’s fight is degraded somewhat, as the character models become more blocky in terms of appearance. The darkness in the room somewhat masks this, but it was still noticeable. Silver Link generally has a solid history of producing visually consistent works, but there have been cases where things have seen slippage (such as 2016’s Brave Witches). However, if their record is anything to go by, Bofuri 2 shouldn’t see any delays to its schedule: it is possible that some shortcuts were taken to ensure that episodes aired in a timely fashion.

  • The fight against the second floor’s boss ends with Sally using her speed to overcome it, and the two advance to the third floor, which is controlled by an elemental golem. Initially, the environment resembles World of Warcraft‘s Molten Core, but after Sally begins using cold spells against it, the golem switches over to cold-based attacks. Maple ends up using her Atrocity form and consumes the golem, defeating it instantly and giving the developers more headaches. At this point in time, it almost feels like Maple and Sally would be better served as play-testers brought on before a game ever hit alpha stage: their unconventional play-styles would expose problem areas of a game that can then be fixed.

  • Having said this, with the way Maple plays, one might be inclined to consider fool-proofing certain things, and this approach towards development does have its detriments. One longstanding axiom in software development is that users will always find ways of breaking something no matter how well-guarded something will be. For NWO’s developers, it may not be a meaningful exercise to keep up with Maple, so here in Bofuri 2, I am curious to see how they react as the story continues. Viewers will likely have an excellent ride ahead, and I look forwards to seeing what the second season will present. In the meantime, it’s time to call it an evening: I’ve returned from my first dinner out with the extended family to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and after an exquisite menu, which included a whole steamed fish and fresh lobster, I’m inclined to do as Maple does and enjoy some time in a game.

The ability to play a game in any manner of one’s choosing is a topic of debate amongst those who partake in video games. On one hand, game mechanics may lead to certain tactics being more effective than others, and in PvP environments, this can result in heated exchanges regarding whether or not said tactics are fair. For instance, the practise of camping in a first person shooter is regarded as dishonourable because it gives the camper an advantage over their foes. By staying in one spot and remaining hidden, one can defeat unsuspecting foes with ease. There is, however, one legitimate use of camping: if one has just exited a firefight and needs to regenerate their health, it is perfectly acceptable to hide behind cover or somewhere safe while awaiting recovery. If one is ambushed in the process, there’s nothing unethical about defending oneself. In PvE games, play-styles are irrelevant, and one can choose to have fun in any manner of their choosing. The whole point of gaming is to have a good time, and this is why for me, single-player experiences are my preference. I can do something in my own manner of choosing, in an environment where my mistakes won’t harm any teammates or allies. Similarly, when I play PvP experiences now, I enter a match without any expectations: the goal isn’t to help my team win or maintain a positive KDR, but rather, to have a blast, and I’ve found that when approaching games with this mindset, I tend to do better and have a better time of things along the way. Bofuri celebrates this approach towards gaming. With all of the streamers out there trying to engage their audiences by using meta loadouts and strategies exclusively, as well as viewers who try to emulate them, the spirit of video games is somewhat diminished, so Bofuri acts as an amusing counterargument for this in suggesting that even using the so-called “off meta” methods and equipment can still be viable so long as one has an open mind, and above all else, a willingness to have fun in the process.

Mō Ippon! – Review and Reflection After Three

我係精武館最水皮嘅徒弟, 我想試吓日本拳頭嘅味道!” –陳真, 精武門

After suffering a devastating defeat during the middle school judo competition, Michi Sonoda enters secondary school with her heart set on having a bittersweet romance. However, it turns out that her opponent, Towa Hiura, had longed to get to know Michi better and to this end, ended up enrolling at the same school as Michi and her best friend, Sanae Takigawa. In spite of herself, Michi ends up swinging by the judo club and, at Sanae’s behest, decides to pick up judo again: the judo club is in danger of being disbanded from lack of members, and Towa had been so excited to join. Seeing this, Michi decides to return; she reveals that she’d been disappointed that she hadn’t improved despite having practised judo since primary school, but seeing everyone’s spirits spurs her on. Meanwhile, Sanae struggles to convince her parents to sign her permission form, and Towa finds it difficult to approach Michi, worrying that she might still be upset with the manner of her defeat. As it turns out, Michi’s not concerned with things and looks forwards to training alongside Towa. Later, Sanae and Michi are shocked when they physical education instructor turns out to be a hulking, no-nonsense man. However, when his comments go too far, fellow instructor Shino Natsume steps in and subdues him. She reveals herself as the judo club’s advisor and, after flipping Towa during training, remarks that she trained alongside her students to reach her current level of skill. Encouraged, Michi and Sanae begin preparing for a competition, but after Towa runs into her previous club’s members, she reveals to Michi and Sanae that with her previous judo club, she’d become disliked after her skill allowed her to be selected for competition over a senior. On the day of the competition, with Michi’s encouragement, Towa decides that she’ll compete in the middle slot to face off against her senior. This is Mō Ippon! (Ippon Again!), an adaptation of Yu Muraoka’s manga which had begun running in 2018. Since then, twenty-one volumes have been released, and Mō Ippon!‘s anime opens with the tried-and-true idea of people returning to an activity despite their yearning for a fresh start.

The premise of being drawn back into an activity is not new, and stories have previously employed this as a means of motivating their characters to see things from a new perspective. It is difficult for people to make sweeping changes to their habits or traits, and the expression “a leopard cannot change its spots” mirrors this: Michi may desire to do something else with her time as a secondary student, but she inevitably finds herself pulled back to judo. In the process, she’s now able to meet Towa, who promises Michi that this time around, training won’t be as brutal as Michi had known it, and with this, a fateful encounter sets Michi back along the path of jacket wrestling. With Michi’s participation in judo assured, the remainder of Mō Ippon! can therefore be devoted towards giving Michi a chance to learn and grow, as well as experience the things she otherwise had not thought possible even though she’d been participating in judo. The smallest hint of this is seen in the second episode: when old habits return, Michi and Sanae begin practising while they’re tasked with returning the tatami mats to the storage room, and this ends up drawing a crowd of impressed onlookers, including several of the male students. While Michi’s path is just beginning here in Mō Ippon!, that she’s committed to judo again means the series is able to explore different aspects of the sport, things like sportsmanship and discipline, and the importance of maintaining an open mind. These are mainstays in anime, but what’s exciting is that there is no real limit or constraint to what messages can be portrayed within Mō Ippon!: so far, beyond returning to judo and competing to improve herself, Mō Ippon! has not defined a concrete goal yet, and this means that over the course of the anime, I rather look forwards to being pleasantly surprised.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’m not a judoka, I am a nidan practitioner of the Okinawa Gōjū-ryū (hard-soft style) school of martial arts, and I’ve been training since I was nine. If memory serves, my parents enrolled me in the class because the dōjōchō had been a combat instructor with the Hong Kong police force and knew one of my relatives. When I started, I remember being quite casual until reaching green belt, after which I began having fun with taking things more seriously. Although I have troubles with memorising everything, the things I do know, I know enough to help teach. However, since it has been some time since I’ve been to the dōjō (on account of the global health crisis), I’ve become very rusty, and now I understand how my senpai feel when they comment on having forgotten the shishochin kata.

  • Judo is the focus in Mō Ippon!, and unlike karate, which emphasises strikes, judo is all about grappling and throws. As a karateka, if I were facing off against someone like Michi or Towa, my first inclination would be to keep my distance, strike swiftly and retreat even more hastily before I can be grabbed. In the event I am grabbed, Gōjū-ryū does provides its practitioners with a variety of techniques for escaping and maintaining distance, but beyond this, I’d likely be in trouble if the judoka knew what they were doing, since they have access to a wider range of techniques for the ground. Of course, the whole point of martial arts and self-defense is recognising how to get out of a bad situation first – a martial artist knows when not to throw a punch.

  • In Mō Ippon!, things open with judoka Michi participating in her final competition of middle school. Having given up a great deal of her time to the sport of judo, Michi wants to explore other aspects of life, and so, she’s decided that after this competition, she’s hanging up her gi. Before then, however, she wanted to score an ippon (一本) – in judo, this is a full point, awarded for throws, holds and pins. However, her opponent is the skillful and powerful Towa. Unaware of her opponent’s prowess, Michi is defeated and humiliated.

  • Towa reminds me a great deal of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto and Love Hina‘s Matoko Aoyama – she’s a severe-looking girl and is voiced by Chiyuki Miura, a relatively new voice actress. On the other hand, Michi is voiced by Ayasa Itō, who had previously played GochiUsa BLOOM‘s Miki and Slow Start‘s Tamate Momochi. In the aftermath of her loss, Michi’s best friend, Sanae, is mortified to learn that Michi’s funny face during her loss was captured and uploaded onto the internet for the whole world to check out.

  • Despite the loss dampening Michi’s desire to end her time in judo with a bang, she’s still in fine spirits and expresses to her friends that she’s rather looking forwards to secondary school, where she’ll have more time to really experience youth in all of its glory. Her reaction surprises Anna, a classmate who’s in kendo: Anna’s constantly trying to pry Michi and Sanae away from judo into kendo, and a recurring joke in Mō Ippon! is that Michi and Sanae constantly leave Anna in the dust.

  • Anna resembles a slightly more haughty version of Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi and Blue Thermal‘s Tamaki Tsuru. Curiously enough, Blue Thermal had Tamaki looking to enjoy her youth in post-secondary. When one’s been around anime for a non-trivial amount of time, similarities begin to appear in the shows one watches, but I’ve never been too bothered by this because every story has its own distinctions that make them unique. Even though a premise or outcome might feel familiar, the most important part of any series is how the characters end up at a milestone or conclusion, and how their learnings along the way help them to be better people.

  • Sanae, being Michi’s best friend, had been there with her throughout middle school and judo. While she’s not quite as experienced as Michi and had previously sustained an injury, she remains a steadfast presence in Michi’s life. Sanae’s appearance suggests someone who is a bit bookish, and she’s voiced by Yukari Anzai, whose breakout role was as Cue!‘s Miharu Yomine. I still have yet to check Cue! out – an adaptation of a mobile game, Cue! began airing a year ago and is said to be a reasonably enjoyable watch.

  • Had Mō Ippon! allowed Michi to do her own thing, the series would end here and now. One thing I appreciated was how the anime wastes no time in pulling her back into the world of judo: had the series spent an inordinate amount of time portraying Michi being conflicted by things, there’d be less time for the highlight. Instead, circumstances nudge Michi back into judo swiftly, and she ends up recalling why she’d trained so hard – the thrill of a good throw or hold had captivated her, and nothing was more satisfying than hearing the judge yell out, ippon.

  • This is where Mō Ippon!‘s namesake comes from: Michi had always longed to score them in competition, but she became discouraged after realising she hadn’t improved despite spending all that time in judo, and seeing people out in the world excelling despite having trained for a shorter period than herself probably accelerated her wish to do other things. When exploring the clubs at their new school, Anna decides to make another attempt to recruit Michi and Sanae, but owing this school’s circumstances, the judo and kendo clubs share the same space.

  • To Michi’s surprise, Towa has also enrolled in the same school, and she’s quite adamant about breaking out the tatami so they can begin training immediately, even though the judo club is on the verge of being disbanded on account of a lack of members. Towa immediately tries to pull Michi over to join her, prompting a jealous Anna to tug Michi back and join the kendo club. Seeing what’s about to happen, Sanae gives Anna a gentle nudge, and Michi ends up flipping Towa. Sanae might have a quiet personality, but this moment shows that when the chips are down, she knows how to give her friends a nudge.

  • In this case, recalling the old thrill of a good throw reminds Michi that she was being dishonest to herself about quitting judo, and what’s more, with the right people in her corner, it is possible to push herself further and improve. Michi thus agrees to join the judo club, and with Sanae accompanying her, the judo club now has its requisite three members to become reinstated. I’ve noticed that in anime and manga, the minimum number of club members tends to vary, and while this can be explained away as a result of different schools having different regulations, I wonder if it’s also done for the author’s convenience – the character count can affect a story’s ability to help readers connect to the characters, and depending on the story and character backgrounds, having fewer characters initially allow their relationships to be fleshed out to a greater extent.

  • While Towa is brutal when participating in judo, off the tatami mat, she’s quite shy and finds it difficult to speak up. Her original motivation for attending the same school as Michi was because she’d been drawn in by Michi’s never-give-up attitude and spirit, and while she lacked the resolve to approach Michi back at the tournament, she has since wanted to befriend the boisterous judoka. Martial arts is often touted as an aid in confidence, but in fiction, it’s often portrayed as a silver bullet that can make an extrovert out of an introvert. To see Mō Ippon! depict characters as being shy despite martial artists was a refreshing nod to reality.

  • For the second episode, the focus is on Sanae as she tries to convince her parents to allow her to continue participating in judo; since Sanae had suffered several injuries previously, and since secondary school is a time of study, her parents believe that it is in Sanae’s interest to quit judo and wholly devote herself to securing a spot in her post-secondary of choice. I can see where Sanae’s parents are coming from: one must be focused in order to do their best, and I recall how in both my final year of secondary school, and in my final year of undergraduate studies, I sat out my extracurricular activities where appropriate.

  • The advantage of participating in extracurricular activities anyways actually outweighs the disadvantages, and with the right time management, balancing both allows the mind to regroup and rest from the other activities. If one tires of studying, extracurricular activities act as a break. Similarly, when extracurricular activities begin to become difficult, one could always resume their studies. As Michi and Sanae take the tatami mats back to the storehouse after Towa’s latest attempt to bring them back out, Michi becomes lost in memories of old.

  • Soon after, Michi and Sanae end up actually practising judo out in the open, drawing the interest of some onlookers. As it turns out, Sanae was actually quite keen on rejoining, but finds it difficult to convey to her parents this desire. Character traits like these normally take whole seasons to iron out, so when Mō Ippon! addresses this right out of the gates, it may foreshadow that the story’s going to continue advancing at a good pace. I am reminded of Tari Tari, which had done something similar: Konatsu manages to assemble a choir so she can perform after the second episode, but having achieved her goal so early, the story has this choir dissolve shortly after, leaving her to explore other avenues later.

  • The infamous “bread rush” in anime is something that some shows have portrayed vividly – K-On! and Azumanga Daioh have both shown how chaotic lunch hour is for students who wish to buy bread from the school store. As a freshmen, Towa is unprepared for things, but the attendant staffing the store was kind enough to let her buy something once the other students finish their orders. In K-On!, the “bread rush” was only mentioned briefly, when Jun mentions that the senior students’ being away on a class trip means it’s finally possible to buy a chocolate baguette.

  • It turns out Towa had been trying to get a chance to speak with Michi for the whole of the day and ends up treating her to the bread she’d managed to pick up earlier. She reveals that she’s only at her most confident when wearing her gi, and after donning it, she properly apologises to Michi, who’s simultaneously conversing with Sanae and Anna. Despite her haughty manner, Anna hangs out with Michi and Sanae quite a bit, and while she’s always always trying to sell the merits of kendo and being given the short end of the stick, I do get the feeling that the three are on fairly friendly terms despite their bickering.

  • Because Michi is not one to hold a grudge, she immediately welcomes Towa into things. Seeing Towa overcome her shyness compels Sanae to do the same. Once Sanae ends up convincing her father to sign the form, the judo club has enough members to become reinstated, and this allows for Mō Ippon! to really begin focusing on its area of specialisation. Early in the game, Mō Ippon! is all about getting the club back together, but through solid writing, Mō Ippon! simultaneously uses the beginning to give some insight into the series’ characters and their traits, as well as showing how each of Michi, Towa and Sanae already have an intrinsic drive for self improvement.

  • Here, I will explain the origin of the page quote: it’s sourced from Bruce Lee’s 1972 film, Fist of Fury. After Chen Zhen (Lee) swings by a Japanese dōjō to return a sign that reads “Sick men of the East”, he challenges the students and destroys them in a fight. Prior to the fight, Chen Zhen introduces himself as “the weakest student of the Jingwu School”, declaring that he wants to get a taste of Japanese martial arts. While the Japanese martial artists initially laugh at him, Chen Zhen ends up surprising them with his uncommonly brutal fighting techniques. This sort of thing makes for an excellent movie scene, and while Fist of Fury is not known for its deep plot or nuance, it has become treated as an iconic part of Hong Kong cinema.

  • Mō Ippon! isn’t a story of revenge and injustice – it’s a tale of self-improvement with a gentle dose of humour and slice-of-life. I’m not expecting any Yuen Wo Ping levels of choreography here in Mō Ippon!, but this isn’t going to stop me from drawing on my own martial arts experience to see how well this anime can deliver its story, and I did feel that Bruce Lee’s desire to see what Japanese martial arts was about is no different than Michi’s own desire to improve in judo, even if the circumstances vary dramatically. Shortly after the judo club is reinstated, Sanae and Michi end up having a spirited disagreement about whether or not they were revived or restored. Sanae asks Towa to hang onto her glasses so she and Michi can settle things out of doors.

  • After a harrowing few moments when Mō Ippon! leads viewers to the impression that the hulking instructor is the advisor for judo, Shino appears and flips him, before proceeding to warn Michi and Sanae about the importance of training under supervision. As it turns out, she’s the judo club advisor. Earlier, Sanae had been fantasising about what their advisor would be like, and the moment gives another bit of insight into Sanae; it appears that she likes otome games.

  • When the first session begins, Shino promptly flips Towa with such finesse and power that Michi and Sanae are blown away. Although a part of Michi had been disappointed by the fact that she hadn’t improved, her optimism is boundless, and now, she realises that being in the same club with someone as skilled as Towa, and an instructor who understands judo on top of what it takes to improve, means that there’s plenty of room for growth. The three thus begin training in earnest for the first competition of Mō Ippon!‘s run.

  • With a competition coming up so quickly, it becomes clear that Mō Ippon! is pulling no punches; although there’s been plenty of slice-of-life moments, the series also gives viewers a clear idea of where it’s intending to go. Hitting the ground running means there’s more time for sports, and along the way, viewers are given an overview of the different techniques and rules surrounding judo. These elements come together to make for a series that looks very promising.

  • After a training session, Towa, Sanae and Michi swing by a family restaurant that is modelled after Denny’s. Mid-meal, Towa runs into her old classmates and fellow judoka, who come about after a mistake leads a parfait to be delivered to Michi. The moment shows that Michi is an extrovert and more than capable of joining any conversation, but her biggest shortcoming, in Sanae’s words, is that she’s quite oblivious to the emotional tenour. The arrival of said former classmates creates a sense of seriousness that Michi misses, and she presses on even after being told to cool her jets.

  • The severity of the conversation brought to mind memories of Girls und Panzer, where Miho had similarly run into her older sister, Maho, at a café. As it turns out, Towa had been a skilled judoka, and in middle school, she’d been selected to compete over a senior. This created a rift between Towa and her old classmates, who felt that she’d waltzed and taken all of the glory. The situation here reminds me of Hibike! Euphonium, where considerable drama had occurred when Reina had dazzled the instructors with her trumpet skills and was chosen to play the solo, even though a senior was originally slated to do so. The idea of seniority is an integral part of Japanese culture, where juniors are expected to observe etiquette and defer to their seniors.

  • This stands in stark contrast with North American values, where people are encouraged to put their best forward and excel. The cultural differences are why, when Hibike! Euphonium aired, viewers found it perplexing that choosing Reina was such a big deal to the rest of Kitauji’s senior band members. The idea of individualism versus collectivism is one of the largest points of contention in anime – what may be trivial to Japanese viewers may cause a controversy for foreign viewers, and similarly, the Japanese may emphasise something that seems inconsequential to foreign viewers. At the end of the day, it is worth comparing and contrasting both viewpoints, although I will remark that attempting to say one is better than the other isn’t going to be too productive.

  • Back in Mō Ippon!, while one may see Michi as being unaware of the mood in a room, she does have a talent for bringing people back on their feet. Shino’s spotted this, and Sanae comments this is how Michi is – after seeing Towa down after she ran into old classmates, Michi ends up encouraging her during training in her own manner. The light-hearted moments in Mō Ippon! appear to be quite dominant, and the overall tone of this series suggests that, even if some moments do become more serious, the series will retain a more easygoing aesthetic about it.

  • From a visual standpoint, Mō Ippon! isn’t exceptional in artwork and background detail, but things are rendered in a consistent manner, and the animation during judo sequences is of a high standard. The technical aspects of Mō Ippon! are satisfactory, and I expect that the best choreography will be observed during judo-focused moments. Mō Ippon! is produced by Tatsunoko Production. This studio’s got a lengthy history, but a quick glance at their list of work finds that I’ve only watched one of their previous titles before: Wake Up, Girls!.

  • Discussions on Mō Ippon! elsewhere on the ‘net is very limited at the present: outside of brief reactions, I’ve not seen any further conversation on martial arts and the like. Series like Mō Ippon! admittedly tend to generate very little excitement and are more likely to interest folks who enjoy slice-of-life, or possess a particular knowledge in an area. In my case, while I don’t do judo, I am a martial artist, and I am a proponent of slice-of-life anime, so watching and writing about this one wasn’t a particularly tough decision.

  • We are therefore set to see what happens during the tournament. At present, my expectations for Michi and her friends aren’t high because this early in the game, it makes little sense to have them be powerhouses, even though everyone does have judo experience. Instead, what matters during this first competition will be seeing how each of Michi, Sanae and Towa handle things. Three episodes in, Mō Ippon! has my attention, and in a relatively quiet season, this anime represents one of the two series I will be actively following, with the other being Bofuri‘s second season.

Having practised martial arts for most of my life, I’ve found that the most valuable takeaways from learning martial arts isn’t the self-defense or improving one’s physical prowess. Instead, it is the cultivation of discipline and mental fortitude that make martial arts so valuable. The way I practise is quite different than what makes for an interesting story; I do not compete actively, and instead, partake in martial arts for self-improvement in both physical and spiritual terms. However, martial arts extends well beyond this, and works of fiction emphasis the combat aspect of martial arts for the sake of entertainment. So far in Mō Ippon!, judo acts as the metaphor and tangible activity that brings Towa, Sanae and Michi closer together, helping them to discover their best selves and in the process, overcome their individual shortcomings. However, in addition to the more visceral act of throwing people, Mō Ippon! has also begun exploring the mindset behind judo: once instructor Shino begins advising Michi and the others, Michi is surprised to learn that there is more to judo than being physically stronger than her opponents, and that there is also a mind-body connection. This is what allowed her to throw Towa without effort, and even take on the significantly larger male physical education instructor who’d been intimidating Michi and her friends. Because martial arts is traditionally seen as being very Japanese, I am curious to see how the physical aspects of judo are presented in Mō Ippon!, alongside the mental and spiritual aspects. This anime is off to a strong start, and with Michi, Towa and Sanae already at their first tournament of the year, I am left in anticipation of seeing where everyone’s efforts end up taking them.

Kaginado: Reflections After The Second Half and Welcoming The Year of The Rabbit

“I don’t think it’s possible to have a sense of tragedy without having a sense of humor.” –Christopher Hitchens

After Yuri and the SSS arrive at the school festival, she announces her intention to destroy this world and its god, feeling that the idyllic life here must be a ruse. To this end, Yuri tasks her force with capturing mascots from the other storylines to force the god’s appearance. Later, Yuri tries to hijack the buses taking the others to a summer trip, but when Yuzuru develops trauma from being within a tunnel, the SSS’ ploy fails, leading them to be buried in the beach as punishment. Back at school, Yuri next tries to put on a concert, confident that god will show up if they create some noise. Over time, the SSS begin settling into life with the other characters, and Yuri herself becomes excited about the student council president elections, feeling she can become god-like in the role. When the nail-biting election campaign begins, countless candidates join, and Yuri decides to sabotage the votes in her favour. For her actions, Yuri is thrown into solitary confinement, and meets Ayu, who’s confined for having stolen taiyaki. On the day of the election, it turns out that votes were evenly distributed, and when Ayu arrives, the other students pursue her so she can vote and break the tie. After elections end, the characters reflect on how being together has helped them to gain a better understanding of one another. The show thus draws to a close, and while Ushio is sad to see things end, planetarium attendant Yumemi reassures her that the show will continue so long as she remembers it. Nagisa and Tomoya arrive and pick up Ushio, while the Junker thanks Yumemi for another excellent performance before the pair set about preparing the planetarium for the next showing of Kaginado. With this, Kaginado‘s second half draws to a close, and with it, a wonderful parody of the worlds within Key’s impressive compendium is done. Kaginado was a part of the twenty-first anniversary project, and as a crossover, this series of shorts wound up being a very gentle and entertaining way of celebrating Key’s most iconic characters in a respectful, but cheerful manner: Key’s visual novels have a reputation for bringing tears to the player’s eyes, and anime adaptations have been similarly touted for their emotional impact, so being able to see the characters bounce off one another and parody their own past experiences shows that, while Key may excel at poignant stories, their writers also have a sense of humour.

The highlight of Kaginado‘s second half lies with the introductio of characters from Angel Beats!. After Kaede, Yuri, Yuzuru and the SSS join the party, Kaginado becomes even livelier as Yuri and the SSS do their utmost to cause a disturbance such that Yuri may draw out the world’s god so she can have a throwdown with them. To this end, the SSS embark on the same activities they had originally carried out within Angel Beats!, and while Yuri is certainly trying to take her work seriously, the fact that Kagonado is a parody with no regard for emotional tenour means that unexpected events thwart her every attempt. Kaginado shows how Yuri’s original plan within Angel Beats!, despite being motivated by rightous feelings of resentment and a desire for vengence, was ultimately one that couldn’t succeed. Angel Beats! would ultimately have Yuzuru approaching things with heart rather than bullets, leading the characters to make peace with their pasts, and here in Kaginado, Yuri similarly fails as those around her begin accepting the outlandish would that is Kaginado. That Angel Beats! premise works with both a dramatic and comedic environment speaks to how there are cases where how a story unfolds is dependent on the author’s intentions. Since Angel Beats! had been meant to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings and create a story of making a sincere effort to make peace with one’s past, things were more serious as Yuruzu strove to understand the world he found himself in. On the other hand, Kaginado is simply meant to parody these stories and give them a humourous twist. Yuri’s plans seem out-of-place, ill-conceived and unnecessary. However, despite the gap on intentions, the outcomes end up being the same after Yuri realises that within the other worlds, there were other characters who share her feelings. By hanging out with Kyou, Nayuki, Komari and Kotori, Yuri realises there is worth in this world, and ultimately decides to live life to the fullest, while at the same time, choosing a path most consistent with her desires. Because of the implications that Kaginado brings to the table, the parody series also reflects on the strength of the writing in Angel Beats!, a series that, after over a decade, still remains immensely enjoyable to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The last time I wrote about Kaginado was near the end of August, and back then, my original plan had been to watch the second half shortly after: Kaginado‘s second half had begun airing during the spring of 2022, shortly after my move, and I had been settling in then, leaving little time for my other pursuits. Once things had settled down during the summer, I began watching Kaginado, but my usual propensity for procrastination meant that once I’d finished the first half, I found little time to continue as the fall season began, and Yama no Susume: Next Summit kicked off.

  • However, within moments of starting Kaginado‘s second half, it immediately returned to me as to why I found the first half so enjoyable. The characters in Kaginado are largely faithful to their portrayals in their respective series, but additionally possess a modicum of awareness about how they were treated. This drives some of the humour; watching Ryou hand Botan to Ooyama, seemingly in order to spite Kyou, only for Ryou to betray Ooyama and alert Kyou to Botan’s position, was hilarious.

  • Classic elements from Angel Beats! make a return in Kaginado, with details like Yusa’s role as Yuri’s intelligence officer being faithfully brought over. Yusa’s story in Angel Beats! is that of a tragedy, but owing to Angel Beats! runtime, most of the characters’ backgrounds actually aren’t explored, and it is not lost on me that two twenty-five episode seasons would probably be required. In place of this, Angel Beats! ended up receiving a visual novel, but after the first volume was released, no more news of the project was heard.

  • Yuri’s plan to cause disruption in this world mirrors her old actions, and right out of the gates, I was reminded of the original Angel Beats! – as the story goes, I decided to pick the series up eleven years earlier because one of my friends had sent me Lia’s My Soul, Your Beats, and curiosity led me to watch Angel Beats!. After finishing Angel Beats!, I was greatly moved and proceeded to give CLANNADKanon and Air a go. Each of these series were characterised by the balance of comedy and drama, as well as an overwhelming feeling of yearning.

  • In Kaginado, the drama and tragedy is entirely discarded, leaving the entire focus on the comedy. Much of the humour is dependent on a familiarity with Key’s other works, and as such, folks who’ve not seen a handful of Key’s shows or played through the visual novels will find some of the moments in Kaginado difficult to follow. For instance, when Kaede shows up in the SSS headquarters, this is outrageous because originally, Yuri had gone to great lengths to keep Kaede at a distance, including setting traps. Here in Kaginado, Kaede is able to saunter freely into headquarters without any resistance, and playing on her love of the Sichuan dish, mapo tofu, she’s always seen with a bowl in hand.

  • Although short, every episode of Kaginado is packed to the brim with hilarious moments; when Yuri’s initial plans fail, she decides to pull something during the big class trip to the beach. Her efforts end up failing, since her SSS are not equipped to deal with people possessing extraordinary combat prowess. The unexpected moments that occur in Kaginado means there is never a dull episode, and the series utilises its new additions from Angel Beats! to great effect.

  • Kaginado‘s irreverent and whimsical presentation of elements from Angel Beats! serves to put things in perspective – although Angel Beats! had its share of comedy, a consequence of Yuzuru’s initial attempts to adjust to life in the Afterlife world, once Yuzuru began empathising with Kaede and began making efforts to make amends, the series became increasingly poignant as it became clear that every last person in the Afterlife had come in because of their own regrets, and this world had become a place for everyone to overcome said feelings of longing.

  • Moments like Yuzuru’s sacrifice in Angel Beats! are brought back in irreverent but hilarious ways, ones which do require a priori knowledge of Angel Beats!. After the bus enters a tunnel, he develops a panic attack – his original story was that in life, he’d been a bit of loser, but ended up turning his life around and aspired become a medical doctor as a promise to his sister. En route to the entrance exams, a rock slide trapped his train, and Yuzuru ended up organising a survival effort, but died from dehydration and exhaustion moments before rescuers came through. In the absence of this background, Yuzuru’s outburst would not make much sense.

  • Kaginado‘s first half had a swimsuit episode, so for kicks, the second half has a beach episode, and for good measure, both the idea of rendering the girls with a higher level of detail, and the battle between two pairs of siblings, make a return. Here in the second half, meta-humour remains present, although it is the SSS that drive most of the comedy – as punishment for their antics, they’re buried in the sand and forgotten wholly.

  • The Chinese New Year always creates an interest in horoscopes, although here, I note that people take an interest in horoscopes because they are way of comforting those who are facing uncertainty in their lives. Where tried-and-true methods fail, people look for patterns and hope in anything they can find, and astrology offers this. For instance, my own horoscope for the Year of the Rabbit is that, if I work hard and manage my finances well, I’ll have a good year. At first glance, this does sound like my financial fortunes will improve, but it is, in fact, contingent on my putting in an effort to improve things. My horoscope is therefore fully accurate, provided I take the initiative to make it so.

  • Similarly, if I receive word of incoming bad luck, it’s simply just a caution to not overdo things – receiving poor fortunes simply means that one should be more observant of their surroundings, and more mindful of themselves. Back in Kaginado, things switch over to a concert that Yuri organises; she hopes things will be noisy enough for the gods to appear. Unfortunately for Yuri, while the concert is a success, and Masami disappears after performing the ballad she always wanted to perform, the gods don’t appear, and instead, attendees are treated to Lia’s Aozora, one of her most iconic songs that was used as Air‘s ending theme.

  • Later, for no apparent reason, the characters across the different Key universes are pitted in a one-on-one against one another, and the characters in the show I watch end up winning against their opponents. Mai’s sword technique destroys her foe, while Kanna overwhelms her foe when she flies into the skies and loses all of the clothing in the process. On the other hand, when Matsushita squares off against Kotomi, I had expected Matsushita to win owing to his martial arts skill, but Kotomi cheats by breaking out her violin, which returns as a weapon of mass destruction.

  • As a callback to the first half of Kaginado, Kyou had already foreseen this happening – here she sits, with a smug little smile on her face and her pockets full of cash, ready to enjoy the show. Little details like these weren’t necessary for Kaginado, but their inclusion serves to accentuate the humour. The resulting pandemonium is befitting of a show like Kaginado, and once Kotomi’s done her beatdown on Matsushita and everyone in the stadium, judge Kaede break out her “Harmonics” guard skill in retaliation, lamenting how her mapo tofu is destroyed.

  • Later, while a pair of sleepovers are happening, the secondary characters who were shafted by their respective stories commiserate together in what is visibly a miserable time. It’s easy to laugh at them, but of everyone, I feel most pathos for Nayuki and Kyou – I’ve experienced precisely what the pair have gone through before, and it deals one’s confidence a crushing blow. One thing that I would’ve liked to see, even though this is strictly unnecessary from a storytelling perspective, was seeing how Kyou and Nayuki found their footing after losing their respective love interests.

  • On the other hand, the heroines’ get-together is set in a neatly-organised room, and the lights are on. Conversation is spirited, but once it turns out Riki isn’t a heroine (despite being voiced by the legendary Yui Horie), the others pull him aside for “research” purposes. This was one of those moments that I don’t have any background in, and as such, the moment flew over my head. However, it also suggested that perhaps now is the time to get into Little Busters.

  • Towards Kaginado‘s end, Yuri ends up deciding that she wants to take on the role of a student council president, having seen how much power the role entails. Originally, Yuri had sought the power to help those around her after losing her siblings and her own life during an armed robbery that went bad – she most regretted being unable to protect them, and since then, had sought vengeance against the god of a cruel world. Angel Beats! had left the existence of a god ambiguous and suggested that any higher powers in their world did not intervene in the world of humans, but was benevolent enough to give people a second chance.

  • Admittedly, seeing Yuri’s determination in Kaginado was adorable because of all the characters, she feels the most unable (or unwilling) to accept Kaginado‘s world – she retains all of her old resolve to destroy this world, and this comes across as being immensely out of place, leading to humour. With CLANNAD and the other characters, their comedy comes from being placed into ridiculous situations or what’s known as meta-humour, in which the characters critique or challenge the writing that created their circumstances.

  • However, even Yuri begins showing signs of desiring a normal life: after her latest tantrum, Yukine passes her a cup of tea, and Yuri loosens up a little. Here, I remark that discussions on Kaginado have been limited despite the series’ entertainment value, and this time around, I do have a guess as to why this is the case – CLANNADKanon, Air and Angel Beats! are older than a decade, and the constant stream of anime means that older titles can be forgotten. Interest in Kaginado is understandably diminished, although it’s worth reiterating that folks who have previously seen Key’s works will find Kaginado worthwhile.

  • To Yūichi, Tomoya, Yuzuru and the others, seeing their worlds collide in a hilarious way leaves them without words – as the student council president race heats up, smaller groups form as the campaign for different things, and this creates a multi-way race. Seeing this leads Yuri to employ under-handed techniques to win the election, and while Angel Beats! may have accommodated this because of the Afterlife’s unique setting, the other characters eventually intervene and chuck Yuri into solitary confinement for some self-reflection.

  • Seeing Ayu and Yuri together is something that was only possible in a crossover like Kaginado – Ayu’s here for stealing taiyaki repeatedly, and is apparently a repeat offender. This room was seen in Angel Beats!, used to confine students engaged in misconduct. It speaks volumes to how memorable Angel Beats! had been; even eleven years later, I still recall smaller details within the anime. While I’ve watched many series since then, the fact that Key adaptations still stand out speak to their staying power.

  • Although the so-called losers end up bemoaning their fate and even coughs up blood, the four of them pull their act together and try to encourage Yuri to simply do her best. Things turn around after the SSS appear, having rounded up the traitors within their ranks. Seeing this returns Yuri to her old self, and she resolves to campaign with all of her heart.

  • Going through Kaginado is a far cry from my usual anime experiences: since episodes are only four minutes each, it was possible to watch the whole of Kaginado in a single sitting, and this in turn made the series very easy to go through. Normally, I watch one or two episodes of a given series in a day, and it takes an average of two weeks for me to complete an anime if it has fully aired. While some people prefer watching their shows all at once, I’ve found that this can be an exhausting process. I personally enjoy going through things more slowly so I have time to take in something and give some thought to what I watched.

  • There is no right or wrong way of watching anime, and different people will find different processes better suited for their schedules. Back in Kaginado, after the campaigning comes to an end, and the results are in, it turns out Ayu was absent from the vote, making her Key to a tiebreaker. The entire school ends up pursuing her across Japan to secure her vote, and in the end, it looks like the new student council president’s identity is a mystery. However, with the elections over, everyday school life returns to normal for the students, who welcome the routine and enjoyment of an ordinary life.

  • Throughout all of Key’s works, it does feel that the ordinary as something to cherish is another common theme. In keeping with tradition, Kaginado also presents this, albeit in a more roundabout way as the series parodies every aspect of the works the characters featured in. Overall, because of its presentation, I count Kaginado to be an enjoyable experience that is worthwhile for anyone who is a fan of Key’s works. Since Key series tend to be emotionally charged, it is nice to see everyone interact in an environment where there is no tragedy.

  • Kaginado features six of Key’s works, and here, I’ve featured stills from the four series I’ve previously watched. At present, I feel that my next Key adaptation is going to be Little Busters; this anime is actually quite lengthy, running as long as CLANNAD did. With my schedule, assuming I start next month, I could be done by the time summer arrives. On the other hand, I’ll probably look at Rewrite at a later date; I’m still on the fence about this one owing to the more dramatic portrayal of the supernatural, but again, Kaginado has shown me there may be merit yet in keeping an open mind and giving this one a go.

  • Once Kaginado comes to a close, Ushio expresses a desire to see more of the world, and Yumemi explains that while the show’s done, it will continue living on so long as she remembers it. Kaginado was one of the projects done to celebrate Key’s twenty-first anniversary, and over the years, this developer studio had accrued a reputation for creating works of emotional impact. With their extensive history, Key continues to produce visual novels and kinetic novels (essentially digital picture books), and their company also produces their own music through Key Sounds Label.

  • With both halves of Kaginado in the books, and the appearance of Planetarian‘s Yumemi, I am reminded of the fact that while I have watched Planetarian in full some six years earlier, I never got around to watching the Planetarian movie despite having promised one of my readers I’d do so. Because it’s been so long, I don’t think said reader is around, but there probably is merit in my going through the Planetarian movie at some point in the future so I can finish things off.

  • We’re now a shade over two thirds of the way through January, and with Bofuri and Mō Ippon!‘s third episodes past, I plan on writing about them. Both series have impressed me enough to warrant a discussion. In addition, word has reached my ears that Maiko-san chi no Makanai-san‘s live-action Netflix adaptation has become available. Titled The Makanai: Cooking For the Maiko House, this series will present Kiyo and Sumire’s experiences from a different perspective and looks promising. I look forwards to writing about this along with, Lycoris Recoil and a revisit of Kokoro Connect come February.

Having now completed Kaginado, I am reminded of the fact that amongst Key’s works, I’ve yet to take a look at Little Busters! and Rewrite. The Key adaptations I’ve seen so far (Air, Kanon, CLANNAD and Angel Beats!) have been remarkable experiences, masterpieces, because of their ability to strike a balance between comedy and drama, using moments of levity to build a connection to the characters such that when tragedy struck, the impact was felt ten-fold. However, Key works have also accrued a bit of an unfair reputation amongst some viewers, who feel them to be inconsistent and incomplete. These sentiments come from the storytelling approach Key works tend to take; because Key stories are rooted in themes of longing and regret, their resolution is reached when the protagonist is able to overcome their past regrets and make peace with what’s happened. Because different protagonists have different backgrounds and regrets, it can be a little tricky to definitively tell when a resolution does occur, and this in turn creates a situation where a given story’s ending can come across as open-ended or inconclusive. However, this mode of storytelling is consistent with the idea of transience, and folks who approach Key’s works aware of this have typically found moving stories. With this in mind, Kaginado acts as encouragement for me to give Little Busters! and Rewrite their fair chance: these series have initially not drawn my interest, but seeing all of the characters here in Kaginado, having a ball of a time with folks from Air, CLANNAD, Kanon and Angel Beats! has piqued my curiosity. As such, I do see merit in taking the plunge and giving the remainder of Key’s animated adaptations their fair chance. In the meantime, today is the Chinese New Year, and I’d like to wish all readers a Happy Year of the Rabbit!