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Shikioriori (Flavours of Youth): A Review and Full Recommendation, and Insights into Chinese Culture

浪奔 浪流 萬里滔滔江水永不休
淘盡了 世間事 混作滔滔一片潮流
是喜 是愁 浪裡分不清歡笑悲憂
成功 失敗 浪裡看不出有未有

—上海灘 (The Bund, opening song, 1980)

Flavours of Youth is an animated anthology that is directed by Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing and Yoshitaka Takeuchi and produced by Noritaka Kawaguchi. Releasing internationally on August 4, Flavours of Youth (spelt Flavors of Youth in The United States, known in Japan as Shikioriori (詩季織々) and Si shi qing chun (肆式青春) in China) follows the stories of three youth in China. The first act, Sunny Breakfast, follows Beijing salaryman Xiao Ming (小明, jyutping siu2 ming4), who recalls fond memories of enjoying noodles with his grandmother. As he grows older, and the world changes around him, the things he liked greatly become more distant. One day, after eating the noodles in a Beijing eatery and missing those of his youth, Xiao Ming receives a call from his parents, prompting him to return home, where his grandmother passes away. Devastated, Xiao Ming nonetheless feels that time will heal the hurt, and that his memories of his grandmother will endure because some things never change. The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou. As the story starts, model Yi Lin (依琳, jyutping ji1 lam4) misses celebrating her birthday with her younger sister, Lulu (璐璐, jyutping lou6 lou6). She explains that she wants to both be a good sister and a successful model. However, in order to retain her physical appearance, Yi Lin exercises regularly and maintains a watchful eye over her diet. The stresses of her work, and fear of being replaced by a younger, more attractive model leads her to succumb to an eating disorder: while working on a modelling event, she collapses. She reawakens in the hospital with Lulu by her side, and contemplates quitting modelling. After a fight with Lulu, her manager, Steve(史蒂夫, jyutping si2 dai3 fu1), convinces her to give modelling one more go, and she is surprised to learn that she will model the clothes that Lulu designed. Finding that balance between work and family, Yi Lin continues modelling, with Lulu designing many of the clothes that she wears. The final act is set in Shanghai and appropriately titled Love in Shanghai. It opens with architect Limo (李墨, jyutping lei5 mak6) moving into a new apartment to focus on his career with help from Pan, his friend. He finds an old cassettes from Xia Xiao Yu (夏小雨, jyutping haa6 siu2 jyu5) and rushes off to his grandparents’ home located nearby, which is scheduled for demolition. Listening to the cassette, he relives his friendship with Xiao Yu, a studious girl who had plans to attend a prodigious high school. Determined to follow her, Limo puts his full efforts into studying for the entrance exam for the same school. Although he is accepted, Xiao Yu is not. Over time, their paths separate, but upon hearing the cassettes’ content, he is encouraged to follow his dream of running an inn. Some years later, he encounters Xiao Yu while running his inn, when she checks in as a guest. In the post-credits scene, Xiao Ming, Yi Lin, Lulu, Limo, Xiao Yu and Pan cross paths at an airport, separately setting off for their next great adventures.

Similar to Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres per Second, Flavours of Youth is a three-part anthology animated by Comix Wave, and as such, shares the incredible visual fidelity with Makoto Shinkai’s movies. However, this is where the similarities end. Set in China, Flavours of Youth deals with a completely different set of thematic elements: love and distance are fleeting elements, overshadowed by themes of change. Whether it be the fading and rediscovery of memories through the taste of homemade noodles, changes in one’s career that also reinforces family bonds or how a changing cityscape sees people separated and reunited, Flavours of Youth illustrates, through each of its three acts, the transience and fleetingness of life itself. Things change, become replaced, forgotten, and occasionally, are found again: nothing in life is absolute, and each of Xiao Ming, Yi Lin and Limo live their lives out, making new discoveries and learnings with each passing day. While their experiences are steered by circumstances around them, all of the characters have agency – they learn to take ownership of their decisions and own the moment with their experiences. In doing so, Xiao Ming comes to terms with his grandmother’s death, Yi Lin finds new life in her family and career, and Limo ends up following a dream he’d lost sight of. These seemingly disparate stories ultimately act as dramatically different representations of dealing with change in one’s life, and in China, a country known for its radical change (in the past five decades, China has gone from a backwater nation to a regional power), the pace at which things advance can be quite dizzying. Through Flavours of Youth, it is shown that people embrace change in their own way, being focused in their own livelihoods. As such, the changes to Chinese society and China as a whole, do not seem so overwhelming to individuals who are simply working their hardest to better their own situations.

On Chinese Culture

While Flavours of Youth may sport the same visual style as a Makoto Shinkai film, its cultural aspects are completely different, and admittedly, it is a bit surprising to see Chinese people display the occasional mannerism typically seen in anime. However, this is a very minor element in Flavours of Youth, and I am more impressed with the cultural elements that the film does portray. I can say this with authority because I am of Chinese heritage (specifically, Cantonese Canadian): it was quite striking to see the things I see every day (and occasionally, take for granted) in an anime film that is a collaboration between Japanese and Chinese people. There are three separate cultural elements, one for each act. Sunny Breakfast is an ode to the San Xian noodles (三鮮麵, jyutping saam1 sin1 min6): noodles are as widespread as rice in China, and the importance of food in Chinese culture is such that asking if one’s eaten (“你食咗飯未呀?”, jyutping “nei5 sik6 zo2 faan6 mei6 aa1”) is a common salutation amongst Cantonese speakers. Far beyond a means of sustenance, the preparation and sharing of meals is a core part of our culture, with eating together being a big deal for the Chinese. It is not uncommon to spend hours for people to spend time at the dinner table, partaking in food and conversation, so while it may seem excessive for Xiao Ming to describe San Xian noodles in such detail, the truth of the matter is that the Chinese greatly value food, the inventiveness of making use of anything available to cook, and sharing time together as a result of meals. In A Small Fashion Show, family is core: traditionally, families figured prominently in Chinese culture, with youth raising their families and looking after their parents. However, with the rapid industrialisation of China, and with more people seeking higher education and stable careers, traditional values are upheld with less frequency as people focus on their work and a good income. Yi Lin is a model trying to hold onto both – a part of Chinese culture is that there are more expectations placed on the older siblings, and Yi Lin initially struggles to be the responsible older sister for Lulu, but the competitiveness of her occupation makes it difficult to keep up. In the end, it is a creative and inventive solution that Lulu helps Yi Lin see, that allows her to strike a balance between making it as a model and also being a good older sister for Lulu, showing that a merger of traditional and new ways is the norm as the Chinese continue to advance.

Finally, Love in Shanghai deals with notions of parental expectations and collectivism versus individualism. Seemingly a story about separation and reunion, the “love” in Love in Shanghai also refers to love for a career path and a dream. While longing to run his own inn, looking after the small details and the happiness of those around him, Limo follows a more traditional path, studying hard to gain admittance into good schools in preparation for a corporate job that he’s unable to fit into. The Chinese are rather (and perhaps unfortunately) well known for its focus on high grades and higher education – parents, having seen the power of education and the potential career stability it may bring, push their children to excel in school. This creates a culture where rote memorisation and test taking is valued above creative thinking and ingenuity. Successful individuals may not be happy, and it is the case where this drive to be the best places extreme stress on students. Limo is able to succeed with his education but works in a career at odds with his own interests. His first love, to run an inn, is rediscovered, and Limo is able to do something that seems quite easy for North Americans: he ends up following his dreams with the right spark. I mentioned earlier that I am Cantonese Chinese, but my parents ended up imbibing Canadian values into my upbringing – at a young age, my parents emphasised that effort and the determination to do well matters more than the result itself. So as long as I gave an honest effort into what I did, the results would follow if it were something I enjoyed doing. As such, I never had the pressure of needing to score perfect on everything I did and was free to discover what I enjoyed doing. At the same time, my parents stressed finding something that I could make a career out of while at once doing it – when my aspirations for going into medicine shifted, they accepted my decision for going into software so as long as I could make it work. Finding the middle of the road between traditional and contemporary approaches in education and careers is something that the older generation still struggle with; in a world that is ever-changing, I feel that, again, striking a balance between the old and new will be essential in raising a generation of forward-thinkers ready to handle whatever the world throws at them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Reception towards Flavours of Youth have been polar opposites – either viewers will like this film, or they will not. Right from the start, I will note that Flavours of Youth is not the place for a cohesive, life-changing narrative about anything in particular. It is a series of snapshots, momentary glimpses into a world that audiences rarely see, and as such, one should not enter the film with the expectations that they will see a Makoto Shinkai-style love story.

  • For this post, I’ve gone above the usual standard number of screenshots, and feature a grand total of sixty images from the movie. Further to this, I’ve included the jyutping pronunciations for everything in this post to give readers an idea of how to read everything in Cantonese. Like Makoto Shinkai’s films, there are a large number of highly spectacular moments in Flavours of Youth, whether they be landscapes, such as the rice paddies of Hunan province here, or closeups of common everyday items, such as the richly depicted bowl of San Xian noodles above: every detail, from the fried egg, to the pork, seaweed and shiitake (冬菇, jyutping dung1 gu1), is shown vividly.

  • Xiao Ming is the central character of the first act. The story is told from his perspective: he is precise and detail-oriented, poetically describing his favourite noodles and memories in his youth. For anyone who studied Chinese, they will immediately be familiar with the name Xiao Ming, which is akin to “John Doe” in English with respect to usage. Before diving any further into Flavours of Youth, I remark that Netflix spells “flavours” with the American spelling, Flavors of Youth, but I retain the Canadian spelling by muscle memory. In order to make this post visible to search engines, which I am guessing will be aggregating the film by American spelling, I make it a deliberate point to mention the original American spelling.

  • The Chinese countryside is not a setting that is often depicted in fiction outside of Chinese dramas and epic films: smaller villages remain as they have since the Qing or even Ming Dynasty, and here, snow falls over Xiao Ming’s home village. Because of its humid, subtropical climate, it is generally quite warm in Hunan, although there are four distinct seasons, and winters are surprisingly cold: snow is not uncommon, so seeing snow fall in Xiao Ming’s village is not implausible.

  • Hunan province is so-called for being literally south of Lake Dongting. Being the seventh-most populated province in China, and tenth largest, Hunan is strategically located on the Yangtze River and its warm climate is conducive towards agriculture – Hunan’s grain production was historically high, and this is why wheat noodles are such a staple of the area. Despite a few peasant uprisings in its history, Hunan remained relatively peaceful until the Qing dynasty collapsed.

  • One aspect of life that Xiao Ming notices changing around him are the noodles: as he grows older, and spends more time away from home, he feels that the craftsmanship that goes into each bowl of noodles is lessened. This is a consequence of the fact that Xiao Ming fondly remembers the time spent with his grandmother. Rather than the food itself, the taste of the food reminds him of specific, happy moments in his childhood, and this is why things seem to be diminishing with time, as Xiao Ming becomes busier. The operative word here is “seem” – in his monologues, Xiao Ming mentions that the noodles themselves aren’t necessarily bad, just different.

  • Love stories are subtly present in each act of Flavours of Youth, although they are so fleeting that they might better be characterised as a tertiary aspect: each protagonist deals with their feelings of love slightly differently, but it never becomes so persuasive as to define their narrative. Xiao Ming develops a bit of a crush on a girl with short, brown hair that passes by the noodle shop he frequents every morning, although neither make an effort to talk to one another. Many potential romances come and go in life: it’s possible to develop a bit of a crush on someone without ever feeling compelled to act on these feelings.

  • I note that while I enjoyed Flavours of Youth, there are many who find the film quite unwatchable. The reason why this is the case is simply because Flavours of Youth takes a highly unstructured, fragmented approach to its stories. It is trying to capture instances in the lives of three individuals, and as such, moments are disjointed, disorganised. While not particularly conducive for a moving narrative as Five Centimeters per Second, which took three milestones and presented them in a structured manner, the approach taken in Flavours of Youth is meant to suggest the idea that life’s moments can be fleeting and unorganised. It is contrary to what makes stories rewarding to watch, since one cannot empathise readily with the protagonist by seeing the situations they find themselves in.

  • Because Hunan is the birthplace of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in September 1976, Hunan openly supported his policies and the Cultural Revolution. I consider the Cultural Revolution one of the worst calamities China has faced in its history, surpassing even the tragedies of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Mao’s lack of understanding in disciplines from industry to agriculture, meant that under his rule, China suffered: more people died in the famines resulting from the Great Leap Forwards and the Cultural Revolution than were killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and it was not until Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms that China really began to recover.

  • In the present day, Xiao Ming eats a bowl of noodles at a chain shop. Food eaten hastily alone is unmemorable: this is the consequence of living a high-paced life, and the comparison Xiao Ming strikes is meant to say that shifting values in China means that living in the moment and savouring something is slowly being lost. I get being in a hurry: when I’m in the need of something to keep me from keeling over, I won’t give much thought as to what I eat. However, when the moment allows it, I will savour what I eat, whether I’m eating on my own or with others.

  • Grievances about the film’s ability to capture Chinese culture, on the other hand, is not so easily justified – I count myself as being quite connected to Chinese culture despite my upbringing in Canada, and I find that many Chinese Canadians are quite disconnected from subtleties of their Chinese heritage. As such, when someone attempts to pass the film off as “forced drama, emotional manipulation, mindnumbing[sic] boredom, and…cheap shock factor”, I am inclined to think that such individuals lack any real understanding of what Flavours of Youth aims to convey, have no interest in Chinese culture as a whole and are instead, spewing negativity for the sake of sounding more relevant than they are. One thing should be for apparent: Flavours of Youth is most certainly not a waste of time as some purport.

  • We’ve seen the inaka, the Japanese countryside, countless times in anime, so to see the Chinese countryside in the quality of a Makoto Shinkai film was quite enjoyable. The Chinese countryside is truly vast, and has a distinctly different feel than that of the inaka as seen in anime. Here, after Xiao Ming receives word that his grandmother’s health is failing, he rushes back to his home town to see her. Flights between Beijing and Hunan take roughly two-and-a-half hours, similarly to the flight time between Calgary and Denver.

  • Xiao Ming arrives home to find it more or less as it always had been. While the urban centres of China have dramatically changed in the past two decades and matching the West in sophistication, the countryside appears to have been left behind by the times. Electricity and running water are not universal, and villages may look as they did during the Qing Dynasty. The vast size of China has made modernisation difficult, although in recent years, the government has invested in agriculture and rural infrastructure with the aim of improving opportunity in rural China.

  • I find it disingenuous to pass off the comings and goings of life as “forced drama” – it pre-supposes that only some stories are worth telling, and disregards the fact that everyone will experience challenges and successes in their life. For Xiao Ming, his challenge comes when his grandmother dies in old age. Death is a natural part of life, and I do not see Sunny Breakfast as using death for drama: instead, it is presented as an occurrence, an instrument of change, in Xiao Ming’s life.

  • As it stands, the interpretation here is more appropriate for Flavours of Youth – Xiao Ming mentins that time will heal the wounds, and he finds renewed happiness in eating a bowl of San Xian noodles while eyeing another girl in the area. Things invariably change, but other things remain the same, and with this, the first act to Flavours of Youth comes to an end.

  • The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou, which has a population of 14.5 million people as of 2017. Located in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Guangzhou is, together with Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan and Zhongshan, part of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, which has a total of 44 million people. Located just north of Hong Kong, the ultra-modern, sleek and vast Guangzhou has played a major role in modern Chinese history, being the site of foreign trade. The majority of Guangzhou’s residents are Cantonese Chinese, although their reduced contact with the Western world compared to the likes of Hong Kong means that their Cantonese is noticeably different than the Hong Kong variety.

  • I watched Flavours of Youth in Mandarin – since I could catch some of it, I concluded that it was probably Taiwanese Mandarin, which I have the least trouble understanding of all the different varieties of Mandarin. Having said this, if I were to watch Flavours of Youth in a completely authentic environment, then Sunny Breakfast would have everyone speaking Mainland Chinese (Putonghua), Love in Shanghai would see Limo and Xiao Yu speaking Shanghaiese, and Yi Lin and Lulu of A Small Fashion Show would speak Cantonese. Of all the acts, then, A Small Fashion Show would be the one where I would not need any subtitles at all to understand: despite minor differences in colloquial Cantonese with respect to slang and the like, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Cantonese are the same (similar to differences between American and British English).

  • Tall, slender and beautiful, Yi Lin is a model working in Guangzhou. With much sharper facial features than other characters, there’s no doubt that Yi Lin is supposed to be a model. One challenge in anime is the portrayal of above-average looking characters: since a lot of imperfections seen in real people are eliminated, all characters tend to look quite similar. As such, animated characters must count on exposition and interactions with other characters to convey beauty (or the lack thereof), when the visuals themselves alone cannot fully convey this.

  • Yi Lin celebrates her birthday with her coworkers: she’s presented as having a sharp tongue and is quite mindful of those around her, but is never seen as being arrogant or conceited. With this being said, Yi Lin is very much into her career, and so, when she celebrates here, the scene shifts momentarily to back home, where Lulu, her younger sister, is waiting for her with a home-made cake. Yi Lin suddenly remembers her promise to be with Lulu, whose patience has run out.

  • When a man that Yi Lin appears to hold feelings for introduces her to a younger model and remarks that this new, younger model might just be what the market is looking for, Yi Lin’s confidence takes a hit. Modelling is a highly difficult, arduous career: requiring not only a very particular set of skills, but also exceptional attention paid to one’s appearance. There are some aspects of one’s appearance that simply cannot be overcome, such as aging, and so, one might no longer be suited for modelling even if their skills remain intact. This is a very sobering thought, and acts as a constant reminder that each and every occupation has its own enjoyable aspects and drawbacks. When Yi Lin is faced with this prospect, she grows frustrated and downs an entire glass of red wine.

  • Returning home hammered, Yi Lin shares dinner with Lulu and her manager, Steve. Yi Lin is a lot more casual at home, and Steve remarks that this is an unexpected side of her he’d previously not seen. Lulu is still a student and has a profound interest in fashion design. It is clear that the two sisters are very close – Lulu is quite understanding of the difficulties that Yi Lin faces, being very patient of Yi Lin’s more unruly, lazy side and doing her best to support her nonetheless. The next morning, the linger effects of a hangover results in Yi Lin very nearly being late for work.

  • Yi Lin explains to audiences that she wants to both be successful in her career and simultaneously be a reliable, respectable older sister for Lulu. This want for everything places a tremendous amount of pressure on her, but it also shows that Yi Lin is very ambitious and committed to the things that drive her. As a consequence, I do not feel that greedy, at least in English, is the most appropriate term to describe Yi Lin.

  • Here, Steve and Li Yin share a conversation after Yi Lin fails an audition. Steve decides to slot Yi Lin into another show, and also relays a message from Lulu. Remarking that Lulu’s asking him because she doesn’t answer, the moment also reveals that Yi Lin’s bothered by her job to a nontrivial extent. With thoughts of growing too old to model on her mind, Yi Lin’s eating habits begin to shift, as well, foreshadowing the agent of change in Yi Lin’s life.

  • I remarked earlier that I was abroad for software development work, which is why this week’s Harukana Receive post is a little delayed. I’m a little surprised at how quickly this week’s passed by, and while it’s been very busy, I’m also forcing myself to slow back down outside of work hours to regroup. Besides exercising and gaming, one of my favourite ways of unwinding is to enjoy my meals: I haven’t lifted or opened an FPS all week, but I did have a chance to try the food of Denver. My first evening, I sat down to a crunchy and tasty tonkatsu with rice, tempura and California rolls. On evening two, I had a three course meal, with crab-stuffed swordfish and blackened prawns as the entrée. I’ve not had swordfish in quite some time; it’s got a sweet and slightly oily flavour to it that proved enjoyable.

  • Finally, on my final evening, I had a Mexican-style steak with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and rice. This was absolutely delicious, being an explosion of flavours. I suppose that with all three of my dinners having rice in it, I must be subconsciously missing home. Having a good meal is a major morale booster for me, and having something to look forwards to allows me to focus and regroup to face the tasks of what the next day entails. On more ordinary evenings back home, I usually game or watch movies, but I will note that unlike Li Yin, who seems to find horror amusing, I never watch horror movies if I can help it.

  • I relate to each of the Flavours of Youth stories in a unique way, in part because of my heritage and in part because I empathise with the shows that I watch. I get the importance of food as seen in Sunny Breakfast, appreciate the work-life balance shown in A Small Fashion Show, and later, in Love in Shanghai, I vividly recall my own experiences as a student, pushing to both realise a future, work towards a dream and pursue romance where I could. Of course, my own stories here can only be “how not to do it” – there are no happy endings so far.

  • When Yi Lin finds that a fellow she seemed interested in is going out with the younger model, her world shatters. Romance can end, or never reach the starting point without anything being said, and whether it be through seeing it happen in real life or from behind a screen, no words can describe how much such moments hurt. It would seem strange, even contrived that I can draw so many parallels between my own experiences and what is seen in Flavours of Youth, one may feel. However, my experiences predate Flavours of Youth, and I should note that this is a consequence of living, being mindful of one’s surroundings and being appreciative of the small things in life.

  • I’ve never visited Guangzhou before, but I’ve been to Hong Kong frequently, and every time I visit, it’s like a completely different city. With this being said, I would love to visit Guangzhou at some point: it is even busier and glitzier than Hong Kong, although because Cantonese is the de facto main language, I expect that I should not have too much trouble getting around (minus the fact that my slang might be a little difficult to get). I’ve long felt Hong Kong to be a second home, feeling very familiar even though it is a world apart from the wide open spaces and laid-back feeling that is Calgary, Alberta.

  • The desire to remain competitive forces Yi Lin to extreme measures to keep her figure within a certain standard, and Flavours of Youth implicitly shows that Yi Lin may have a mild eating disorder: she is seen forgoing meals and during a fashion event, collapses on the catwalk after exiting a bathroom visibly weakened. Refusing to yield to the younger model, Yi Lin stubbornly decides to go forward and the sum of her stress, exhaustion and inadequate nutrition catch up to her.

  • Every occupation has its own unique hazards; while those living a sheltered existence and have limited exposure to the real world might call it “forced drama”, I counter that Flavours of Youth‘s second act also is meant to show the effects of overworking and overexertion in a highly visceral manner. Yi Lin’s collapse and admission to hospital forces her to re-evaluate her priorities, and she begins wondering whether or not modelling is a career she can continue to do.

  • I’m certain that many people out there have wondered at some point in their careers, as to whether or not what they were doing was right for them. I’m still considered young by all counts, and I absolutely love software development and engineering, but even I have the odd moment or two where I wonder if this is a career I can continue to do for the decades upcoming. Just this week, I was sent out to Denver for work. The end goal is to deploy a project, which is something I am comfortable with, and while the week was very productive, there were a few points in the past week where I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “what did I get myself into?”.

  • When Yi Lin considers doing what Lulu is doing for a career, Lulu responds negatively, feeling that Yi Lin is giving up her own career on whim and at the same time, is diminishing her own aspirations. All siblings fight from time to time, and after Lulu storms out, Yi Lin comes across one of Lulu’s sketches of a dress. She realises here that Lulu is very serious about being a fashion designer. The next day, she talks to Steve about the fight, and Steve is relieved, saying that Li Yin’s at least recovered, if she can summon the energy to have a fight with Lulu.

  • As far as careers go, having a good team and mentor in one’s corner goes a very long way. Having people to confide in, or even gripe to, sometimes is all it takes for one to put things in perspective, and often, I will voice doubts out loud simply to get them out in the open. For instance, I am very unfamiliar with implementing user interfaces, much less in an environment I’ve never used before, but after outlining this in my reports, I feel as though, provided I can finish other goals and put in an honest effort to learn to do the basics, things might not be so bad. Similarly, Yi Lin is convinced to see if modelling is something she will continue with when Steve asks her to meet him at a warehouse later.

  • It turns out that Lulu’s crafted the dresses that Yi Lin remembers from their youth: their parents are implied to have passed away by this point, explaining why Yi Lin pushes herself so hard for Lulu’s sake. The reason why “forced drama” is not a valid criticism for Flavours of Youth is because real life encompasses so much, and that people have a wide spectrum of experiences, that the events seen in Flavours of Youth can hardly be said to be implausible. Instead, what I see in A Small Fashion Show is a journey of rediscovery, one that gives Yi Lin a newfound perspective on her life and career. Sometimes, it takes extreme examples for people to see problems differently, and what Yi Lin goes through is not particularly outrageous.

  • By the end of A Small Love Story, Yi Lin and Lulu have found their new equilibrium: with Lulu designing clothes and Yi Lin modelling them, the siblings have discovered the balance that allows them to enjoy one another’s company and concentrate on their careers. It’s a satisfying ending that shows that even in the high-paced world that is Guangzhou, a middle way can indeed be found, if individuals are willing to compromise and keep their eyes open.

  • We now enter the final act of Flavours of Youth, which sees Limo moving out of his parents’ apartment to an apartment of his own, overlooking an old district in Shanghai. In a flashback, Limo is performing poorly at work, with his concepts rejected as being too unsuited for the current market. The stresses of work negatively impacts his temperament, and he snaps during a conversation with his parents. I am guilty of this on occasion, too, and one of my personal goals is to always find a way to relieve my stress without making someone else’s day a bad day. To this end, I usually aim to leave work at work, and crack bad jokes often to lighten up.

  • Limo runs through the streets of Shanghai towards the old town, where his grandparents lived, after discovering an old tape containing messages from an old friend and love interest. On the day that I went through Flavours of Youth to gather screenshots, I was also packing to go on this excursion, and was listening to the song, 上海灘 (jyutping soeng5 hoi2 taan1, literally “Shanghai Beach” and translated to “The Bund”), in the process. The song expresses that everything is transient, and that things troubling people, like success, failure, love and hatred, are all temporal, being washed away with the waves of time. It is a very famous song, and back in 2010, while visiting Shanghai, I heard the song being blasted on loudspeakers while I was eating 小籠包 (jyutping siu2 lung4 baau1, steamed buns famous in Shanghai) on a shop located in The Bund.

  • Of the three acts in Flavours of Youth, Love in Shanghai has the greatest emphasis on romance. In his youth, Limo had a crush on Xiao Yu, who reciprocated his feelings. Together with Pan, the three friends spend their days peacefully together. In this scene, the subtleties of using cassette players are shown: tapes are notorious for unravelling like this, and it takes patience to wind them back together. Xiao Yu (literally “Little Rain”) resembles Makoto Shinkai’s earlier female protagonists, being very pure of heart and kind in disposition, while Pan reminds me of Tessie from Your Name.

  • Bikes are everywhere in China, and their presence in China dates back to the 1890s. An inexpensive means of getting around quickly, their popularity took off, and the use of bikes soared when factories began manufacturing bikes as a result of the Communist Government’s degree that bikes were to become the choice of transport for the masses. The mode of transportation is effective in most places in China, but back home, the cold weather and car-centric cities means that cyclists often have a tough time getting around: between icy conditions for over half the year and roads ill-suited for bikes, I simultaneously feel bad for cyclists and wish that they would stop occupying the roads that I am driving on.

  • While Limo is familiar with every crack and protruding brick in the sidewalk surrounding his home, Xiao Yu is less versed and hurts herself, prompting Limo to carry her. As the third act progresses, it becomes clear that of the three friends, Xiao Yu is the most studious, although Limo himself is no slouch, either. By comparison, Pan is a bit more carefree in nature. However, Xiao Yu also has a more playful side to her character: unlike Akari of Five Centimeters per Second, who exuded an ethereal presence, Xiao Yu is shown to be more multi-dimensional.

  • Calendars with 福 (jyutping fuk1, “blessing” or “good luck”) written at the top are very commonplace in China, and I say with confidence that many Chinese families will have at least one of these calendars in their homes. Here, Xiao Yu studies as the evening light fades; watching Love in Shanghai brings back many memories for me, and although it’s been quite some time since I’ve actually sat down and studied for an exam properly, the process remains quite fresh in my mind.

  • Of all the exams I’ve done, the most difficult remains the MCAT: I gave up an entire summer to study for it, with the aim of getting into medicine, and considering that I ended up choosing software development over medicine, I occasionally wonder if the MCAT was little more than a waste of money. With this being said, taking the MCAT did impart on me a unique approach in test-taking, and in the years following, I studied for written exams much more effectively. In addition, having scored what would be today’s 517, which isn’t terrible, I do suppose that it’s one more conversation topic that I may bring up for fun.

  • The troubles that affect Limo and Xiao Yu seem a world away now that I am the age that I am. Looking back, I have no regrets about all of the various experiences and accomplishments to my name during my time as a student save one: that I did not attempt to pursue a relationship with the same intensity and focus that I have everything else that I’d done. I typically manage fine on my own, preferring to solve my own problems and divulging little about the things that trouble me to others, but at the same time, I wonder what it would be like to have someone to lean onto, and someone who can rely on me, as well.

  • Limo’s parents are rather strict, wondering if it’s plausible for him to get into the same high school as Xiao Yu. Limo thus resolves to study his best with the aim of following her, although when asked, he flatly states that he wants to push his limits and see what is possible. This is how I’ve long lived my life: I wonder what the furthest that an honest effort can take me is, and this is why I always strive to give it my all, regardless of how challenging some things are. The outcomes of this way of living are reasonably straightforwards – either I fail and learn something in the process, or I succeed and pleasantly surprise myself.

  • For her efforts, Xiao Yu ends up failing her entrance exam and earns herself a beating. While audiences are left to wonder what really happened, it is implied that, not knowing the path that Limo was taking, Xiao Yu deliberately fell short so that she could remain with him. Romance stories always present this as admirable, but in reality, I consider it nothing short of folly to give up one’s own dreams and aspirations to pursue a romance that may or may not work out. It boils down to a simple matter of probability: if one works hard for their future, they will likely end up finding what they sought. If they pursue romance in its place, they may end up losing their partner and then be left worse for wear afterwards. Naturally, there are cases where people may succeed, but for me, lacking any finesse in the realm of romance, I am predisposed pursue my own future, first.

  • Flavours of Youth depicts the Oriental Pearl Tower during the fireworks heralding the start of a new millenium. This TV tower is a distinct part of the Pudong skyline adjacent to The Bund, and it was completed in 1994, remaining as the tallest building in Pudong until 2007, when the Shanghai World Financial Center Tower was completed. The Pudong New Area was formally established in 1993, and intended to be a financial hub. As a result, Pudong has since become the home of Shanghai’s most recognisable skyscrapers.

  • Watching Limo study for his entrance exams amidst the New Year’s Eve Celebrations brings to mind my own studying for the MCAT. I still remember that one evening where I had opted to stay home and do a practise verbal reasoning section while the Stampede 100th Anniversary Fireworks were going in full force. I’m told that I missed the fireworks show of the century, and considering that the sum of my efforts was getting a 10 in verbal reasoning, I’m not too sure if it was worth missing the best fireworks that Calgary will likely see until the point where Canada turns 200.

  • As time wears on, a distance grows between Xiao Yu and Limo; Xiao Yu’s path in life is depicted as being less clear than that of Limo’s, as a deliberate decision to show that Limo’s decided to focus on his future in full. A part of this transformation is seen when Xiao Yu remarks on Limo’s shiny new CD player: lacking the same romance as do cassettes, CDs are largely read-only media that can hold higher-quality sound files in an easier-to-access format, signifying his own intents to push towards the future.

  • Xiao Yu and Limo see one another off after Xiao Yu visits, and this conversation was marked by a marked change in tone: whereas the two had been very close previously, there is a distinct distance and a sense of formality between the two at present. Shortly after, Xiao Yu leaves to study abroad, and a traffic jam means that Limo and Pan miss her departure.

  • Construction on Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge finished in 1991: with an overall length of some eight kilometers and a main span of 846 metres, Nanpu bridge is the fourth largest cable-stayed bridge in the world (it is eclipsed by Hong Kong’s Stonecutters Bridge, which holds the title of second-largest cable-stayed bridge in the world). The most distinct feature about Nanpu bridge is a large spiral: owing to the surroundings, it was necessary to compact the approach road leading up to the bridge, and here, bumper-to-bumper traffic is depicted on the bridge in both directions.

  • When Limo has a chance to listen to Xiao Yu’s final message, it turns out that Xiao Yu wanted to grow and stand out like a sunflower. In his mind’s eye, Limo pictures Xiao Yu, in a dress of purest white, standing amongst a field of sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. As youth, it is important to have dreams and an intent to follow them – this much was missing from Limo’s life after his entry into high school, and ultimately, listening to Xiao Yu’s voice served to remind him of his original dream, to create a three-story house where he, Xiao Yu and Pan could spend their days together. In the time following, Limo had attempted to pursue his dream in a much more conventional manner, and so, experienced pushback because his dreams do not necessarily align with market forces.

  • Both Xiao Yu and Limo find themselves in a world where their own dreams and aspirations do not align with the expectations of those around them. Limo realises this at the act’s climax, because Xiao Yu had expressed her feelings years earlier. Had Limo listened to Xiao Yu’s message earlier, he might’ve found his happiness a bit earlier, but an important message Flavours of Youth conveys is that it is never really too late to begin making one’s dreams a reality.

  • Some time after his epithany, Limo has become the owner of an inn, the well-kept and beautiful three-story building of his original vision. Outside, a pot of sunflowers is seen, showing that he has not forgotten Xiao Yu’s words to him. I admit that sixty screenshots is far too few a space to adequately discuss every noteworthy moment in Flavours of Youth, but for brevity’s sake, I’ve cut out many moments to ensure that I could get this post out: blogging immediately after getting off a plane is not an easy task, so I’ve decided to keep this post relatively short.

  • One day, after showing guests to their rooms, Limo comes face to face with Xiao Yu, who is in the area. From the looks of it, Limo’s inn is built in the same area that he once lived in, and although the area has changed, Limo has evidently adapted, making the most of the new while remembering the old. His inn is a sure sign of this, featuring traditional design elements and modern features, as well. Xiao Yu’s appearance at the end of the final act shows that because Limo acknowledges Xiao Yu’s contributions in helping him realise his dream, his gratitude is returned to him in a most pleasant manner. It’s a far cry from the messages of Five Centimeters per Second and is likely intended to show that “好心得好報” (jyutping hou2 sam1 dak1 hou2 bou3, literally “good heart results in good returns”, closely resembling the English phrase “what goes around comes around” in that kindness returns to the originator).

  • Flavours of Youth‘s final act shows The Bund and Pudong under a double rainbow, with sunshine breaking through the clouds after a rainfall to show a new start for Limo and Xiao Yu. The skyline shown here is likely the Shanghai of 2007-2008: the Shanghai Tower, currently the tallest building in Pudong (with a height of 632 meters and began construction in November 2008), is not visible in this image. This is one of my favourite stills from Flavours of Youth, and on the whole, the cityscapes of Flavours of Youth are absolutely stunning. One wishes that the studio would do an authentic coming-of-age story set in Hong Kong.

  • Flavours of Youth might be seen as being equivalent to a game made in the Frostbite Engine that isn’t part of the Battlefield franchise: while it has the same stunning visuals of a Comix Wave film, the narrative approach and themes are completely different. In the post-credits sequence, all of the central characters from each act are seen at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (known for its distinct interior), setting out on their own unique journeys.

  • Each of the characters have found their happiness by this point in time and are gearing up to travel for an unknown destination. The precise nature of their destination is not known, nor is it important: no one knows what the future will bring, but for the present, what is important is that each of the characters have seized the moment and are seeking to make the most of the future, as well.

  • It is actually quite amusing that I wrote out sections of this review while at the Denver International Airport – having cleared US Customs and eaten a light dinner, I was sitting at the gates, waiting to board my flight back home. I admit that I am not very fond of flying, but I do not take it for granted: it is still very much a luxury for its price (yes, even for economy-class tickets!) and so, it is an infrequent experience for me. Moreover, ever since I bought Patrick Smith’s Cockpit Confidential, my respect for all of the staff involved in making air travel possible, from the pilots themselves to the baggage handlers, increased ten-fold.

  • With Flavours of Youth in the books, I will be returning to my regularly-scheduled programming soon, and write about Harukana Receive‘s sixth episode on short order, with the aim of publishing it by no later than Sunday. With my first week in Denver over, and my initial assessment of my assignment largely complete, my schedule is slowly falling into place: there will be periods upcoming where I simply won’t be able to get Harukana Receive posts out on the same day anymore. On top of the remaining Road to Battlefield V events and another Battlefield V closed alpha, August is outright insane, so blogging will have to happen when it does.

  • For the present, however, it’s been one heck of a week, and my first priority, now that I’m back home, is to get some sleep. I think that, despite my delays in getting this discussion out, this particular Flavours of Youth talk remains the first on the ‘net to feature a sizeable collection of screenshots and moreover, a fair assessment of the film. Releasing on August 4, Flavours of Youth coincides with my favourite day of the year, and I watched it late in the day. It is my intent that with this discussion, I have covered some of the more subtle and out-of-the-way aspects about Flavours of Youth in my own way. Of course, these are merely my thoughts, and I’d love to hear what others thought of the film.

Broken up, disjointed and inconsistent are words that very much describe Flavours of Youth – there is no denying that the lack of a single, cohesive narrative in Flavours of Youth make it quite unconventional as a film. However, this tumultuous set of stories also is a reminder of reality – although we prefer our stories to be structured, with a distinct exposition, rising action, climax and denouement, the truth is that our lives our chaotic, uncertain and mutable. The strength of Flavours of Youth, then, is its ability to capture out and distill some moments in the lives of three different individuals, slow it down and encourage audiences to appreciate the small details and moments in our lives that can have dramatic impacts on what one does or becomes later. In short, it is a rather artistic film that resembles Momordica charantia, commonly known as the bitter melon. I helped my parents cook this unusual squash for the first time a few weeks ago, and they immediately told me that the bitter melon was a fantastic analogy for life: behind the melon’s bitter flavour, lay a slightly sweet and rewarding flavour. Life is very much like this: the challenges that we face sometimes hide a silver lining, and once we notice, it changes the way we look at things. Flavours of Youth can similarly be a bitter film to watch, being quite unconventional in its presentation, but once one takes a bit of time to think about what Flavours of Youth wants its audience to take away, and also takes a bit of time to consider Chinese culture, this sixty-minute long anthology suddenly takes on a new meaning. With all of this in mind, I strongly recommend watching Flavours of Youth for all viewers; there is great worth in looking at this film and its glimpse into the merger of old and new in Chinese culture, as well as how change figures in a nation that has come a considerable ways in the past fifty years.

Revisiting Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words): A Review and Reflection five years after the 2013 Alberta Floods, and insights into mental health in a garden of words

“We’re heading into tough times. As people get into their homes and their home is in trouble, people will feel despair…we have to lift them up with our love and support.” –Mayor Naheed Nenshi, The City of Calgary

The home release to Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words came out five years ago today, right amidst the Great Flood of 2013: I was watching the film even as a heavy rainstorm swept through the region, dropping upwards of 200mm of precipitation in the Rocky Mountains that, in conjunction with saturated lands and snow on the surface, overwhelmed the waterways that flowed through my city: by the morning of June 21, the university had emailed its staff, saying that campus would be closed. Throughout the day, the media showed the whole of the city center covered with waist-high water, and having left my laptop on campus, I was unable to work on my simulations. The only other pursuit was to watch The Garden of Words, which a colleague had informed me of while we were out for lunch at an Indian restaurant. Sure enough, The Garden of Words turned out to be a highly enjoyable film: fifteen-year-old Takao Akizuki is a high school student and aspiring shoe-maker. Fond of skipping his morning classes whenever it rains, he frequents Shinjuku Gyoen and one morning, encounters the enigmatic Yukari Yukino, who happens to be skipping work. Amidst the problems that both face in their respective lives, the two strike up a friendship. When the summer break draws to a close, Takao learns that Yukari is a literature instructor at his high school who had been subject to harassment from students. The attendent anxiety led her to skip work, and Yukari began losing her way until she’d met Takao. She subsequently resigns, and later runs into Takao at Shinjuku Gyoen. After a storm hits, they return to Yukari’s apartment, where Takao confesses his love to Yukari. Taken aback, she notes that she’s moving back to Shikoku, leaving Takao heartbroken. He makes to leave, but Yukari catches up with him and tearfully admits that it was through his kindness that she’s managed to find her way again. In the epilogue, Takao continues with his dreams of becoming a shoemaker, while Yukari has resumed teaching.

Despite its short runtime, The Garden of Words manages to condense into its narrative an exceptional degree of symbolism, evident in the tanka that Yukari recites and shoes as a metaphor for life experiences. Shinkai himself makes it clear that the central theme of The Garden of Words is loneliness, captured in Yukari and Takao’s interactions with the individuals around them. Both characters share the commonality of being isolated: Yukari is withdrawn from her colleagues and family, being limited to dealing with her troubles on her own, while Takao receives little support from his family while he pursues his career. While this overarching theme applies to The Garden of Words, Shinkai also manages to bring about another, emergent theme through the decision to feature a noticeable age gap between Yukari and Takao. The companionship and understanding that the two find in one another, amidst a garden of both greenery and the literal garden of words they craft together, form very naturally. In a place where age, background and station are hidden away, Shinjuku Gyoen acts as the perfect sanctuary for two individuals brought together by the seemingly-mundane occurrence of rain, to begin opening up with one another and drive forwards the events in The Garden of Words. Shinkai intended for The Garden of Words to capture love in a traditional sense: Yukari and Takao’s time together, caring about and helping one another out, is a form of love that can be experienced independently of age and station. It is the deliberate choosing of a high school student and an instructor in a setting crafted of rain and greenery, that expresses the idea that this particular tenderness is a form of love that is as genuine and authentic as any romantic love.

“You can’t tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside.” –Danielle Rupp

While most avenues of discussion suggest that love is a central theme in The Garden of Words, I further contend that the film is meant to illustrate the impact of companionship and support for individuals afflicted with mental health challenges. In The Garden of Words, these themes are represented though allusions to learning to walk again, and taking tangible form in the shoes that Takao crafts for Yukari. Yukari’s frequent thoughts, that she’d felt as though she’s forgotten to walk is an indicator that she’s grappling with life, experiencing anxiety and depression as a consequence of events in her work environment. She becomes withdrawn, and the changes in her brain chemistry have a profound effect on her physiology: Yukari reveals to Takao that her reason for drinking beer and eating chocolate near-exclusively is that she has hypogeusia, a diminished sense of taste (some articles label it as dysgeusia, a superset of taste disorders that describes both partial and total loss of taste). Shinkai himself describes Yukari’s taste disorder as a metaphor for her mental health, and while it is seemingly a fanciful condition tailored to drive The Garden of Words‘ narrative, the working through things suggests that Yukari’s stress causes the quality of her diet to decrease, in turn resulting in a lessened zinc consumption. Zinc is a cofactor in enzymes and is involved in taste-related pathways, so a zinc deficiency sufficient to cause Yukari to lose much of her sense of taste would be indicative of her situation. Anxiety and depression leads Yukari to skip work and suffer from a decreased quality of life. Alone and without much in the way of assistance, it takes intervention taking the form of the determined Takao, to help her get back on track. In dealing with mental health, I’ve seen that a good support system is perhaps the single most aspect of intervention and recovery. These topics are always a challenge to deal with, especially since reporting is tricky and the lack of good data makes it difficult to learn the cause and potential solutions. However, awareness for mental health is much greater now than it was earlier, thanks to growing understanding of the importance of emotional well-being. In helping Yukari by being there for her, and giving her companionship, Takao acts as a catalyst for Yukari’s recovery, and Makoto Shinkai makes this explicit in his symbolism: in having Takao create a pair of shoes for Yukari, it signifies his determination to help Yukari walk again.

The presentation of rain as being a multi-faceted force in The Garden of Words is central to the movie’s magic: at times, it is a gentle, natural force that allow Yukari and Takao to interact together in slow, tender steps, but by the film’s conclusion, it is a tempest that crescendos into Takao’s confession and Yukari finally opening up to him. Occupying both ends of the spectrum, Shinkai’s masterful use of rain allows The Garden of Words to express emotions and thoughts that even colours and scenery together cannot. Weather has been utilised to great effect in fiction to further develop a narrative, and The Garden of Words is no different: in this film, Shinkai demonstrates that he is able to further his artwork’s ability to convey an idea in ways that his previous films did not explore too rigourously. A powerful force in The Garden of Words in bringing Yukari and Takao together, the power of rain was shortly demonstrated in reality: the Great Flood of 2013 I’ve alluded to in several of my earlier discussions is an interesting example of rain being able to cause both separation and togetherness. In its excess, the rainfall responsible for causing flooding throughout southern Alberta physically separated people, but it was in these difficult times that communities were unified by the flood, demonstrating exemplary citizenship to help one another out in the ways they could, whether it be something as simple as making a generous donation to the Red Cross and flood recovery efforts, or else selflessly stepping out into the field and helping flood victims clean up. Regardless of the scale of their actions, each individual who reached out in their own way to help was a part of that community, and while the Great Flood of 2013’s effects are still felt five years later, it is only because of the community’s actions that recovery has made substantial strides.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I last wrote about The Garden of Words, it was 2013. Battlefield 4 had been announced for three months, I had graduated with an Honours degree in Health Sciences, and the Great Flood had hit my area. The rapidly rising waters caused the university to close, and as I did not have a Mac to work on at the time, my research to grind to a halt. I noted in my original review that by The Garden of Words, Shinkai and his team had so finely honed their craft that his visuals became comparable to photographs in terms of detail and colouration. This image of the Tokyo streets is one such example, and at a glance, it really does look like a photograph. To put things in perspective as to what’s happened in the five years since, I’ve finished my Master’s Degree, worked for two years in software, earned my ni-dan in karate, travelled to Japan and are anticipating Battlefield V, which was showcased at this year’s EA Play.

  • The original The Garden of Words post I wrote featured thirty screenshots, but looking back, the post is quite devoid of content besides a basic “their loneliness brings them together”, praised the film for giving the male characters a more driven personality (as opposed to the passiveness that defines Takaki) and remarked that the movie’s strongest point is how focused and concise it is. This post features forty screenshots, all of which can be viewed at full resolution. Rather than diverting time towards symbolism, The Garden of Words weaves symbolism directly into the narrative. In doing so, the character’s eventual fates are clearly presented, leaving no loose ends that became somewhat of a challenge in Five Centimeters per Second.

  • When Takao first meets Yukari, there’s little indicator of what she does or how old she is. She leaves Takao with a tanka from the manyōshū‘s eleventh volume: besides suggesting that the rain brought them together, it’s something that only literature instructors or enthusiasts would be able to recite. Takao is wrapped up in the moment and does not realise this, taking an interest in the fact that Yukari has an enigmatic air to her that seems quite enchanting. This chance meeting, seemingly willed by the rain itself, sets in motion the film’s events.

  • To emphasise the theme of isolation in The Garden of Words, Shinkai presents his supporting characters as being distant, engrossed in their own worlds to be of much help to either Yukari or Takao. For Takao, his mother is more interested in chasing men than caring for her family, while his older brother is moving out with his girlfriend and cannot otherwise spare much time to listen to Takao’s concerns. Similarly, Yukari’s colleagues and coworkers are only able to do so much for her. Thus, with limited support from the most obvious sources, Yukari and Takao’s fateful meeting drive them to turn towards one another.

  • As they spend more time together, bits and pieces of each individual comes out into play. Besides using extensive use of rain imagery, the events of The Garden of Words also dealt greatly with mental health; Shinkai may have intended for his works to convey a certain theme, and the more prominent anime writers out there have largely focused on the movie as a love story of sorts, the focus of The Garden of Words on everyday events means that some ideas can be derived from the film’s events even if they are not immediately apparent. This is the advantage about being multi-disciplinary – one is afforded different perspectives on things that would be missed in the absence of familiarity with a particular discipline.

  • Mental health is a highly relevant topic in the present, although it is still an elephant in the proverbial room: traditionally, men have always been told to “man up” and tough out whatever challenges they encounter in life. When I went through my rough spot following the Great Flood of 2013, I (foolishly) figured that what I was feeling was a one-off, and that I’d be back on my feet in a matter of days. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. My particular approach to recovery was largely an individual process, but I know now that I can, and should, turn to those around me if anything difficult should occur. I remark that, to come out of a post saying that folks shouldn’t read into diagnosing fictional characters with mental health conditions and then to proceed to do just this for my The Garden of Words post is to be hypocritical. However, my intent here is to demonstrate the strength of a theme in a narrative where mental health was evidently meant to be at the forefront of discussion – nowhere in my discussion do I attempt to diagnose Yukari, and I use generalisations to illustrate the messages.

  • Because mental health is such a difficult topic to discuss, I am not particularly surprised that discussions about The Garden of Words have not made mention about things like depression, support networks and the like. I’m normally quite critical of anime reviews for missing important details, but for The Garden of Words, I make an exception because mental health is not a trivial matter to discuss. With this being said, current approaches to mental health remain very clinical in nature, and not everyone requires this clinical solution: The Garden of Words shows Yukari recovering without anti-depressants. While there are definitely cases requiring medical intervention, for more moderate cases, some companionship and adventure might just be what one needs. Of course, what works will vary from individual to individual, but it should be clear that not everyone requires clinical intervention just because they’re having a few bad days.

  • After the flood waters receded, the weather in Southern Alberta became remarkably nice: Canada Day that year saw some of the most spectacular weather I’d known, but I still vividly recall feeling quite down in the aftermath of the flood. Under a blazing hot sun, I enjoyed a Flamethrower Grill burger from the DQ nearby and spent the afternoon playing Vindictus, but I had been filled with a sense of longing and for the longest time, did not really understand what was the reason behind this feeling of melancholy. Five years later, I think I can answer that question – matters of the heart were troubling me, and the flood’s disruption precluded opportunities to assuage the sense of emptiness that was welling as my friends began going their separate ways following convocation. The sense of powerlessness to make my wishes a reality and isolation thus led me to suffer from poor spirits.

  • Unlike myself at the age of fifteen, Takao has a very clear vision of where his dreams lie, and what it takes to reach his chosen career of being a shoemaker even while in high school. At the age of fifteen, I was vaguely aware that my future lay in the sciences, likely biology, but otherwise did not make a concrete decision until I was in my final year of high school. In my university’s bioinformatics programme, I saw a path that would leave options open: I would gain background in both health and computer science. Indecision has been one of my old weaknesses, and it was only during the final year of my graduate studies programme that I decided that iOS development was a career I really desired.

  • In order to raise funds for his aspirations, Takao works at a variety of part-time positions, including that of a dishwasher. Although he is not particularly skillful at shoemaking, his innate passion for the career provides him with his drive to practise his craft. At his age, this is viewed as an expensive hobby rather than a viable career path, but his persistence is most admirable: while his friends are out enjoying the summer, he pushes towards his objectives.

  • A closeup of Takao and Yukari’s shoes find that Takao has crafted his own shoes. With a reasonably-priced pair of shoes going around 80-110 CAD while on sale, I’ve found that good shoes should be able to last about two years under normal wear-and-tear conditions, but gone are the days when I have a single pair of general-purpose shoes for the more pleasant times of year and second pair of shoes for the winter.  In this image, minor details in the environment, such as the ripples of raindrops hitting water on the ground, are also visible.

  • During my trip to Japan last year, I did not have the opportunity to visit Shinjuku Gyoen, but we did pass by on the way to the Meiji Jinju, which was an oasis in the middle of Tokyo. The joys of large parks such as these give the sense of a sanctuary amidst a world that is constantly moving: at the heart of the park, it was calm and quiet. Here, I saw a sight that until then, I’d only seen in anime: groups of students praying for success in their exams. We later visited the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda and found groups of students eating lunch there.

  • One of the things on my mind is how the weather for the upcoming summer will be. Spring this year’s been quite nice even if it has been a bit rainy, and moving into the summer, meteorologists are forecasting that the prairies will have a summer with near-normal precipitation and temperatures. These are my most favourite times of year, when the days are long and the skies fair: I am hoping to spend a few weekends doing day trips in the nearby mountains should the weather be favourable.

  • When Takao begins cooking for Yukari and inspires her to begin cooking again, Yukari’s sense of taste is gradually restored. An improving diet is the biochemical reason why this occurs, but this is worked cleverly into the narrative to suggest that it is the act of being together with someone, to share one’s burdens, that prompts this change. It typifies Makoto Shinkai’s ability to craft powerful metaphors and symbols into his stories without sacrificing scientifically plausibility: while his stories cannot always be said to confirm fully with reality, a sufficient number of elements are accurate so that his stories’ more fanciful elements are not too detracting.

  • Images of Takao and Yukari sharing time together in Shinjuku Gyoen remain the single most enduring imagery pertaining to The Garden of Words, similar to the spectacle that Comet Tiamat yielded in Your Name. Being able to create immediately recognisable scenery has driven up Shinkai’s stock amongst fans: while Shinkai is modest and cautions audiences against comparing him to Hayao Miyazaki, I find that Shinkai’s single greatest contribution is his unique talent for making use of colour and light in highly detailed environments to assist in his narratives. Compared to Miyazaki, Shinkai’s characters tend to be stylised to a lesser extent and so, are not always as expressive as those of Miyazaki’s. Instead, Shinkai takes a different approach: expressiveness in his films is achieved through the use of the environments in conjunction with the characters’ facial expressions and tones.

  • The expression “no man is an island” is applicable to the events of The Garden of Words, being sourced from John Donne’s “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”, and looking back five years, the notion that we need human contact in order to maintain our mental well-being is reinforced. In Yukari’s position, it can seem a Herculean task to break out of her melancholy, and Makoto Shinkai captures this reality in a very fluid, believable manner: it is her happenstance meeting with Takao that sets in motion change.

  • Yukari is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who has played notable roles in many of the anime I’ve seen, including but not limited to Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea‘s Manaka Mukaido, Cleo Saburafu of Broken Blade, Sonoko Nogi of Yūki Yūna is a Hero, Gabriel Dropout‘s Raphiel Shiraha and Infinite Stratos‘ Charlotte Dunois. By comparison, Miyu Irino, who provides Takao’s voice, I’m only familiar with for his role as Mobile Suit Gundam 00‘s Saji Crossroad.

  • Takao measuring Yukari’s feet in the beginnings of his plan to craft a pair of shoes for her is the one of the most tender moments in The Garden of Words, attesting to how far the two have come to trust one another since their first meeting. Shinkai meticulously details the process that Takao takes in capturing the dimensions of Yukari’s foot, conveying intimacy as deeply as when Akari and Takaki shared their first kiss during the events of Five Centimeters per Second.

  • Takao’s older brother resembles Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below‘s Ryūji Morisak, Asuna’s substitute instructor whose knowledge of the mythical Agartha is extensive. Takao’s brother’s girlfriend bears some resemblance to Akari Shinohara. Of his older films, Akari and Sayuri of The Place Promised in Our Early Days look quite similar, as well. Shinkai’s exceptional prowess as an artist nowithstanding, one of the few limitations about his art style are how his characters can look quite similar to one another. By Your Name, however, his team’s craft has definitely improved: Mitsuha and Taki look unique, unlike any of his previous characters.

  • Takao explicitly notes that he’s attracted to the air of mystery surrounding Yukari, but when he returns to school, it turns out that Yukari is actually one of the instructors here. The truth is soon shown to him: she’s a classical Japanese instructor who got into a spot of trouble when a younger male student developed a crush on her, and said student’s girlfriend retaliated with a series of rumours. I cannot speak to how things would be handled in Canada if such an occurrence were to be real, but it would likely be a major news story that would certainly force the school board to launch an inquiry.

  • While seemingly far-fetched for students to go to such lengths to discredit their instructors, high school drama is quite real. I recount a story where a fellow classmate, salty about the fact that I was kicking ass in introductory science course seemingly without any effort in our first year, accused me of harassment. The individual’s parents got the administration involved and I was warned that a suspension could follow, even though I had not acted against this individual directly. I argued that without any hard evidence beyond said individual’s word, their very efforts to get me suspended was in and of itself harassment. The administration realised they’d been pranked and promptly dismissed things, leaving me with a hilarious story about how I out-played this individual, although that is only in retrospect: there was nothing remotely funny about things at the time.

  • School rooftops have featured in anime with a similar frequency as the coveted spot in the back corner of the classroom beside the window. Questions have been posed concerning this, and the answer is a very mundane, unordinary one: it is much easier to animate these locations owing to the ability to illustrate a smaller number of people, reducing the costs associated with animating busy scenes. Having said that, Makoto Shinkai is not one to shy away from incredible levels of detail in his films, so his inclusion of a school rooftop and its quiet environs is intended for another purpose: to visually convey the sort of loneliness that surrounds Yukari’s story.

  • The fellow in the red T-shirt is a big guy…for Takao. After Takao slaps Aizawa, the senior student for having caused Yukari this much grief, the big guy steps in and displays a lot of loyalty for a mere friend of Aizawa’s: he decks Takao, sending him into the floor. A fight ensues, leaving a few scratches on Takao’s face. The fight’s outcome is not shown because Shinkai feels it to be not relevant: what matters is the fact that Takao’s feelings have precipitated this moment. In the manga, the big guy continues beating on Takao, but like the film, Takao rushes him. Because his injuries are light, it stands to reason that he manages to win this fight, or at least, surprises the big guy long enough to escape. Aizawa is voiced by Mikako Komatsu, whom I know best as Nagi no Asukara‘s Miuna Shiodome and Sakura Quest‘s Sanae Kouzuki.

  • Some of my insights on The Garden of Words come from the manga, which I bought two Thanksgivings ago: the weather that day had not been conducive for a drive out to the mountains, being quite foggy, but was just fine for visiting a local bookstore. The remainder of this revisitation, containing just a ways under half of the screenshots in the post, deals with the film’s final act. This is not an accident: the final act is an emotional journey that sees Shinkai’s writing at its finest. His stories are at their strongest when his characters are honest and open with their feelings.

  • When Yukari and Takao meet again under the gazebo of Shinjuku Gyoen, they are caught in a torrential downpour. I vividly remember the June 21st of five years ago as though it were yesterday. After receiving an email from the university that campus was closed on account of the flood, and having left my laptop on campus, I was unable to get any work done that day. It was an unexpected day off, and I spent it reviewing The Garden of Words, as well as playing through Metro: Last Light, which I got complementary with my GTX 660. I’d only just watched the movie the night before, and with rain dousing the Southern Alberta region, the irony of watching a movie about rain when rain waters were causing flooding was not lost on me.

  • The rains began in earnest on June 20 after the skies filled with rain clouds, and some areas of the city begun evacuations as water levels surged in the Bow and Elbow rivers. The whole of the city centre was covered in water on June 21, and the Stampede Grounds were flooded, as well. By June 22, the rains had lessened, and the flood waters began receding. Tales of courage and sacrifice to save people emerged, along with the comprehension of just how much damage the flood had caused. When the weekend ended, and the extent of the flood’s became known, I made a substantial donation to the Red Cross for Flood relief. Meanwhile, some of my friends working with companies over the summer began helping out with the cleanup effort.

  • The waters had fully retreated come late June, and the weather became the characteristic of an early July in Calgary: hot and sunny. However, even as I returned to my routine in writing simulations for my research lab, a melancholy had gripped me. The cause was unknown at the time, but the sum of extraordinarily good weather, the inability to make the most of my summer days, some love-sickness and the fact that most of my friends were going their separate ways following convocation would have likely been the reason for this melancholy. A summer later, I would go on to buy the book “The Flood of 2013: A Summer of Angry Rivers”, whose proceeds would go towards flood recovery.

  • Slender and beautiful, Yukari is quite unlike any of Shinkai’s previous female leads. Freed from their role as teacher and student, the two enjoy their rainy afternoon together, with Takao cooking for Yukari. Their conversation is not heard, with a wistful track overlaid as background music, affording the two characters a modicum of privacy in a similar manner that Daniel Handler used in A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Slippery Slope, when Violet and Quigley are given some time alone halfway up the frozen waterfall. It’s a literary device that is intended to show characters in more personal, intimate moments, and while the bond that Yukari and Takao share cannot be said to be romantic love, it does count as love in a sense.

  • In my original The Garden of Words post, I had a close-up of the omurice that Takao’s cooked. I’ve made an effort to ensure that no image was duplicated from the original post, but unlike previous years, where it became difficult to do consecutive posts on the K-On! Movie because of overlap, the artwork in any given Makoto Shinkai film is so diverse that picking unique screenshots were not a challenge. Over the span of the five years that have passed since I first watched this, much has happened, and one of those things includes my having omurice, albeit one that dispenses with the ketchup on top in favour of a curry in Osaka. It’s a simple but filling dish – the incarnation I had katsu, so I could say I had the equivalent of omurice and curry rice all in one go.

  • During an awkward point in their conversation, Takao declares that he loves Yukari, but when Yukari seemingly rejects him, he takes off. Not quite understanding what’s happened, Yukari runs after him. As I have experienced, Takao is confusing his appreciation of Yukari’s company, and his desire to help her, for romantic love. It’s perhaps more of a bond of friendship, or even parental love, that has come out of this relationship: Takao is charmed by Yukari’s mystery and the positive feelings he gains by helping her. This compassion and empathy for someone else is a compelling force that one can indeed fall in love with, although people can sometimes mistake this as falling in love with a person.

  • This is not to say that falling in love with helping people, and romantic love with a person, are mutually exclusive. Takao probably harbours feelings for Yukari to some extent, and she, for him, although these are overshadowed by the positive feelings they’ve developed as friends. Challenges in differentiating from between the two can cause younger people, like myself, to pursue relationships they sense to be sustainable. Sometimes, things work out for the better, strengthening the couple and allowing them to find happiness, while other times, things don’t work out so well.

  • At the film’s climax, Takao finally expresses his own resentment at Yukari’s air of mystery – the very thing he was attracted to about her becomes a source of pain when he learns that she’s a teacher, and stung by her rejection, he demands her to be truthful, voicing that his dreams are unrealistic and unattainable, that her refusal in opening up to him and being truthful led him on in a manner of speaking. The sum of their emotions build, and breaks over right as the sun comes out, washing the land in a golden light.

  • Yukari’s refusal to mirror Takao’s accusations shows that, rather than acting out of malice or spite, her unwillingness to open up to him is mainly because of her own experiences. When the sun appears, it represents the reappearance of truth. Both Takao and Yukari are honest with their feelings, as well as how they feel about one another. In this moment, Shinkai again demonstrates his masterful use of the weather to advance the story – including Your Name, no other Shinkai film ever draws so heavily on the weather in its narrative.

  • Following the events of the flood, I invited a friend out to the Calgary Stampede as a date to express thanks for having attended my convocation and helping me take photographs, as well as for having listened to my numerous grievances about the summer, and unwaveringly providing support by ways of listening to me. The day progressed as one might expect a summer festival would in anime, with the guy buying drinks for the girl and impressing her by winning a stuffed animal for her at the midway games. That there was a Stampede at all that year was no small feat: the Stampede grounds were cleaned up after the flood, and attendees wore “Through Hell or High Water” T-shirts. It was a herculean effort to clean up the grounds and prepare for that year’s Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth: the event was a great success, attesting to the community’s resilience in face of adversity.

  • By July, the weather had become extremely pleasant, but I had fallen into a summer melancholy, longing for the company of friends. The resentment that I was stuck is mirrored in my blog posts from the time; a hint of bitterness can be found in the writing. I concentrated as best as I could on my research project and managed to build a distributed simulation system, where multiple computers could each run individual modules representing one body system, and passed messages to one another to give the sense that the entire simulation was on one system. I also went on two road trips into open country near the end of summer (one to Canmore, and one to Jasper), lifting my spirits.

  • However, it would not be until the spring a year later, when I was asked to help with the Giant Walkthrough Brain project, that I truly began feeling myself again. Having come fresh from heartbreak during April, I entered the summer with a newfound determination to immerse myself in a new project to dilute the pain of loss. The outcome of this was that I left the summer far happier than I had been for the past year. Here, Takao places the completed pair of shoes for Yukari. After the film’s climax, Yukari heads home and accepts a new teaching position, while Takao continues studying to be a shoemaker. His promise of having Yukari walk again in the shoes he’s crafted her is seemingly unfulfilled in the film, but in spite of this, he maintains a resolute belief in finding her again once he’s made some steps in his own career.

  • Shinkai uses walking as an analogy for facing life’s challenges, and shoes become a symbol for a tool in aiding walking. Takao’s finished product represents his commitment to her well-being – the shoes are beautiful and capture the beauty that is Yukari. Here, I note that the earliest shoes date back a few thousand years. However, it is hypothesised that humans began wearing shoes around 40000 years ago, corresponding with changes to our skeletal features in the foot. This likely coincides with our migration away from warmer climates, where footwear would along us to walk greater distances without being affected by temperature extremities.

  • In the manga, Takao mentions that time without Yukari has flown by, also showing that Yukari has received Takao’s shoes and is now wearing them. The movie is careful with its framing to not show this explicitly and leave open for viewers what the outcome was, while the manga implies that Yukari and Takao do end up meeting again. Yukari’s appearance in Your Name is an interesting one, conflicting with her presence in The Garden of Words, so it’s best to suppose that, à la Rick and Morty, Your Name and The Garden of Words are set in alternate dimensions in the multiverse. I’ve seen failed efforts to work this out; attempts are inconclusive owing to flawed reasoning. Ergo, my explanation is the only one that is viable.

  • I feel that, compared to my original review five years ago, this The Garden of Words review is the true review that the film and readers deserve. Themes are better explored, and even though I am reminiscing for a greater half of the post, I am using this retrospective to better frame the themes. I think I’ve succeeded with this post. I originally set out to take another look at The Garden of Words because it marks the five-year anniversary to the Great Flood of 2013, and in doing so, learned a great deal about myself and developed a newfound appreciation for The Garden of Words, as well. Because of these insights, I now say with conviction that The Garden of Words is a veritable masterpiece, scoring a full ten of ten: despite its short runtime, it fully captures and explores a plethora of themes, including those dealing with mental health, in a meaningful manner. This film changed the way I view the world, and for this, it has earned its perfect score from me in spades.

The Garden of Words is one of Makoto Shinkai’s strongest works, matching Five Centimeters per Second in emotional impact despite its shorter length. An exquisite amalgamation of sight, sound and narrative that is neatly packaged into a concise, focused story that is very clear about its goals, my own enjoyment of the film is further augmented by the imagery of rain depicted throughout The Garden of Words. Although I did not realise it at the time, my own experiences with relationships (or at least, efforts to) stem from my falling in love with the idea of helping people, rather than being related to falling in love with a person per se. Similar to Takao, I feel drawn to being able to have someone lean on me, and at the time, it definitely did feel like falling in love; in retrospect, it is love in this form that likely manifested, and a part of the melancholy I found during the summer of 2013 was feeling so disconnected from an individual in the flood’s aftermath. However, having re-watched The Garden of Words with a new mindset, looking back, it is not such a terrible thing to be in love with helping others, and like Five Centimeters per Second before it, The Garden of Words is indeed a film that can withstand the test of time, being as enjoyable to watch today as it was when it came out five years ago. There is one important distinction: this time around, precipitation during this month has been normal, and the weather is fine, so the chances of seeing another flood like The Great Flood of 2013 are thankfully slim.

A Reflection on the Faraway Receiver and the Not-So-Distant 2018 Summer Solstice

“Smell the sea, and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly.” —Van Morrison

Gone are the times when the summer solstice meany two months of unparalleled tranquility, of a period when the campus hallways and lecture halls laid empty amidst the seemingly-endless blue skies of the hottest time of year; these days, without the ever-present challenge of exams, the calm of summer seems to extent well beyond the period when the days are at their longest and the weather conducive of exploration. Save winter, much of the year feels like one long summer now that I’m no longer a student, but while these times might be past, the magic of summer certainly has not left me. The weather is already summer-like, with today’s high being 26ºC. However, tomorrow is the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. With the beginning of this year’s summer, we enter a season where beautiful days make adventures possible. From hiking in the trails of the mountains, to for resting in the cool of the shade with a cold drink in hand, summer invites these activities. It is also the time of year that blogging tends to slow down a little around these parts. Last year, I averaged 11.75 posts per month, totalling 141 posts. Of these, a 30 of them were written in July, August and September, for an average of 10 posts per month. In the year before, I totalled 115 posts (9.5833 posts per month), of which 21 were written during the summer months (7 posts per month). The combination of fantastic weather and adventure means that one would be forgiven if they saw a decline in motivation to write. In my previous years, I’ve spent the summers travelling abroad and locally: 2016 saw me attend the LIFE XV Conference in Cancún, and last year, with my nation celebrating its 150th Anniversary of Confederation, the complementary parks passes saw me visit the national parks with an increased frequency. This year, things have settled down a little: travelling will be much lighter, and with the summer ahead, it is a blank slate for me. Relaxing with a good book while the evening air cools, or a stroll in the vast hills nearby are but two of the numerous possibilities of this summer; I might be busy on weekdays, but in the time since I’ve graduated, I’ve learned the art of playing as hard as I work.

  • In my mind’s eye, a romantic summer would entail running into a soft-spoken girl on a train hurtling across the vast expanse of countryside under an endless blue sky. The countryside, especially that of rural Japan, has long captivated me, and my belief is that it is chosen as the setting for many a romance anime precisely because the open space, greenery and reduced population creates a sense of longing, acting as a visual metaphor for love and relationships. Of course, thoughts of romance blossoming while travelling into or through the countryside is a pipe dream where I’m from – while we have prairies and open spaces in abundance, the distances separating cities of the prairie provinces and West Coast are connected by highways and automobiles, rather than trains and rail lines.

  • Summer is a time of adventure, but it can also be a time of loneliness, as well: with everyone capitalising on the weather to travel, it can occasionally be challenging to get people together to hang out. It is in our inclination to be with people, but for folks who are introverts by nature, such as myself, being alone and embracing solitude is how we tend to revitalise ourselves. I would consider a summer afternoon, spent at a café with a chilled lemon tea and browsing through shelves of books to be one well-spent. As important as it is to build connections with others, it is equally as important to look after oneself, especially if one is not involved in any romantic relationships: taking yourself on a date is very cathartic and relaxing.

While it is tantalising to entertain a summer where I take a break from my writing and spend all of my time taking it easy, such a course of action would likely spell doom for this blog; fellow bloggers have noted that leaving for a while can make it difficult to resume, and as there are things I would like to continue sharing with you, the readers, I believe that it is a fair balance to slow my blogging down slightly for the summer months without fully stopping. I’ve mentioned previously that if I were to take any hiatus of any sort, there would be a dedicate post for such an announcement, and this is not it. However, this raises the question of what I could write about. In previous years, widely publicised movies featured during the summer, as did whatever my latest endeavours in gaming were. This year, the summer looks quiet on both fronts; Mirai no Mirai, Non Non Biyori: Vacation, Shikioriori and Penguin Highway will première, but if the trend from Your Voice continues, it will be quite some time before we see these films. For gaming, I admit that I’ve hit a saturation point: Metro: Exodus, DOOM Eternal and Battlefield V are a ways away yet, and there are not recent titles that catch my interest, so this summer, I may simply revisit some of my older titles again while I wait for these new titles to become available. We’re covered off on games, but what about anime? This is, after all, the meat-and-potatoes of this blog, and site metric show my readers as being quite uninterested in some of my whacky exploits in Battlefield 1 and The Division. The logical answer then, is that there must be something in the summer season that catches my eye, and there are: Violet Evergarden and Yuru Camp△ are both getting OVAs. I will also be writing about the Manga Time Kirara adaptation, Harukana Receive, in an episodic fashion.

  • Okinawa is considered the Hawaii of Japan, the site of vacations for many anime (including the upcoming Non Non Biyori movie), was the site of one of the Pacific Theatre’s fiercest battles that saw an Allied victory, and is also the birthplace of my martial arts. In Harukana Receive, Okinawa is going to be none of these things. Instead, I foresee featuring many landscape shots of Okinawa, which will be simply home in Harukana Receive. Because of the nature of this anime, I think that readers will have to grit their teeth and simply accept that I’m going to be showing off a lot of 455 and 7175 in the screenshots. However, readers familiar with this blog also know how I deal with figure captions for 455-and-7175-intensive posts: I tend to meander off and talk about other stuff, so there should be no danger of this blog veering into family-unfriendly turf while Harukana Receive is running.

  • Here’s a bit of trivia as to why this post is titled “A Faraway Receiver”. Harukana is はるかな, which directly translates to “far away”, which is appropriate as an title for a series set in the distant beaches of Okinawa by summer, when the skies do seem further away. I remark that I was tempted to make a DragonForce joke, since half of their songs contain the phrase “so far away” or some variation of. The last time I did episodic reviews as a series aired, was for Brave Witches. This was a fun series to write for because of the combination of girls and guns, and while Harukana Receive may not have any guns, it does have many other elements that I am interested in taking a look at. I’m not sure how many of my readers are big on sports anime, and I’m similarly certain that many will be surprise that I will be writing about beach volleyball when my strengths lie elsewhere.

Readers would be forgiven in wondering what there is to write about in Harukana Receive, whose manga is centred around Haruka Ōzora, a tall girl who moves to Okinawa from Tokyo during her second year of high school. In Okinawa, she encounters her cousin, Kanata Higa, who is quite skilled in beach volleyball but also short in stature, making it difficult for her to continue playing. However, between Haruka’s height and Kanata’s skill, the two find partners in one another. A heartwarming and fun sports story thus awaits, but as I am a complete novice in volleyball, one could imagine that I would struggle with finding things to say on a weekly basis. Further to this, it’s been quite some time since I’ve done episodic reviews. With this being said, Harukana Receive looks to be a fine opportunity to write about an anime that is set during the summer; most of the slice-of-life show I’ve written about previously during the summer span a handful of seasons, but Harukana Receive is predominantly on the warm beaches of Okinawa, home of Gōjū-ryū, the branch of karate that I practise. As such, with the warm weather, endless beaches and stunning characters, Harukana Receive exudes the sense of summer. I greatly look forwards to seeing Haruka’s growth as a beach volleyball player as the series progresses, as well as seeing what other strengths that this anime has to offer. Because the manga is in a standard format, rather than the four-panel format, I am expecting that the series will resemble Yuru Camp△ in some areas, being friendly towards newcomers, like myself, who are unfamiliar with volleyball, but also tell a meaningful story about teamwork and talent in the process. Yuru Camp△ capitalised on the anime medium to really bring camping to life through the use of visuals and audio, so I also imagine that Harukana Receive will do the same. With the first episode airing on July 6, I will aim to finish the finale posts for each of Amanchu! Advance, Comic Girls and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online before then.

Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai (I Want to Deliver Your Voice): A Review and Reflection

“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.” –Lawrence G. Lovasik

Nagisa Yukiai is a girl who has long believed that words hold spirits (kotodama) that impart on them a powerful impact. As she nears her final year of high school, she struggles to determine her future career path. While evading an unexpected rainfall one day, Nagisa takes shelter in a derelict shop called Aquamarine. She discovers a vast collection of records here and broadcasting equipment. Activating the station and playing radio host, Nagisa’s words reach Shion Yazawa, whose mother, Akane, fell into a coma after an accident twelve years previously. Shion asks that Nagisa not return to Aquamarine, but Nagisa’s curiosity soon gets the better of her, and she encounters Shion at the shop, using the radio equipment to send a message to her mother with the hope that she would one day wake up. Moved, Nagisa decides to help Shion broadcast these messages. They are joined by Nagisa’s friends, Kaede Tatsunokuchi and Shizuku Dobashi. The group’s activities soon draw Ayame Nakahara’s interest – an amateur radio enthusiast, Ayame lends her background towards helping Nagisa and her friends’ making a more legitimate radio program. She recruits Otoha Biwakouji to help compose music, and as the summer wears on, the girls’ broadcast reaches a growing audience in town. Through their broadcasts, the girls grow closer to one another and also learn to express themselves more directly. With no progress made towards getting their message to Akane, the girls face two challenges – Yuu’s grandfather has scheduled Aquamarine for redevelopment, and Akane is being transferred to a different hospital. On the day of the transfer, Nagisa and her friends set up a live broadcast at the local shrine. With the help of the townspeople, their song reaches Akane, who reawakens. Shion is reunited with her mother, and deeply moved by her experiences, Nagisa decides to become a radio show host.

Released last year in late August and only meandering into the home release realm last month, Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai (I Want to Deliver Your Voice, known in short Kimi Koe, or Your Voice) is a Madhouse production. In its ninety-minute runtime, Your Voice‘s focus is an ode to the radio. The film hammers home that our voice, carrying emotional tenour and intent, can have an impact on others, as well as ourselves. In a world where communications have become increasingly textual, we’ve forgotten how much power our voice can hold: subtle differences in tone, pronunciation and articulation convey different intent, from love, to disgust. Because of the intent behind our voice, the radio is thus presented as a powerful amplification of the emotions and feelings our voices carry. Nagisa, who had spent her life believing in kotodama and hesitates to speak ill of others, finds radio to be a platform where she can channel positive energy. It is the magic of this moment that leads her to continue broadcasting, and as she continues, her audience expands. Her words reach more people, and move more people: this is the magic of the radio. By pouring her sincerity and energy into a voice that others her, Nagisa draws in her friends, who in turn help her draw in an entire town’s interest, much as Akane had done years before. By Your Voice‘s end, having reached so many people, Nagisa is able to funnel the town’s support for Akane through their voices: the strength of everyone’s feelings allow Akane to wake up after twelve years. Having seen the impact of what voices can do, Nagisa subsequently finds her calling in life and becomes a radio show host. While highly fantastical in its depiction of feelings, and reiterating the spirits of a voice to the point of ad nauseam, Your Voice‘s message is a simple and direct one that is also quite moving in spite of its derivative outcome.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The cast of Your Voice is voiced by people who had successfully auditioned for roles in the film, rather than professional voice actors. Mina Katahira provides Nagisa’s voice, and the story begins following a lacrosse game that sees her team lose. Nagisa immediately recounts her story with the kotodama, which manifest as luminescent orbs. Ever since her grandmother related the story to her, Nagisa’s long held the belief that words carry very powerful impacts and negative effects can come back to bite one, so for her part, she refrains from speaking her mind except when visiting a local shrine, where she shouts her concerns underneath a bell. Here, she watches a rainfall stop after discovering the abandoned coffeehouse, Aquamarine.

  • I admit that, when I saw the first of the key art for Your Voice, I was initially dissuaded by the character designs, but seeing more finalised artwork and A Place Further Than The Universe assuaged these doubts. In appearances and manner, Nagisa takes characteristics from A Place Further Than The Universe‘s Mari and Yuzuki. Optimistic and a bit of a naïf, Nagisa is the quintessential protagonist for films of this sort. Descriptions for Your Voice put Nagisa as a bit impatient in finding her future, and so, the film can be seen as a coming-of-age story, providing a snapshot into the events that help Nagisa find herself, all the while helping others out.

  • Nagisa receives a message after her first-ever broadcast from a listener, and although it amounts to a cease-and-desist, Nagisa’s curiosity gets the better of her: she’s intrigued by Aquamarine, and learns that its owner was a well-known local radio show host, broadcasting out of her coffeehouse. However, after an accident that left her comatose twelve years previously, the shop was boarded up and left derelict. Nagisa learns the name of this individual is Akane Yazawa, and that she’s at a hospital nearby. While visiting, Nagisa hears on the radio an active broadcast in session: putting two and two together, she hastens back to Aquamarine.

  • Set in the Enoshima area, it was interesting to see Madhouse’s portrayal of the region, which had prominently featured in P.A. Works’ 2012 series, Tari Tari. The Madhouse version of Enoshima features fewer complex lighting effects (e.g. rain water on the ground does not create visible reflections as they do in Tari Tari) and warmer lighting, creating a sense of summer. The use of summer in anime is less of a thematic element by this point in time and more of a trope: long days and endless skies in anime convey possibility, and so, it is unsurprising that summers are portrayed as a time of discovery in anime. Your Voice is no different, as it’s ultimately a story about a journey.

  • While Shion’s mail to Nagisa might have been a little hostile, Nagisa seems to pay no mind and meets her face-to-face for the first time at Aquamarine. It is here that the two strike up a friendship, and while Shion is initially reluctant, Nagisa’s cheerful manner convinces Shion to give things a whirl for at least a little while. Nagisa is very tearful here, and while crying, she definitely resembles Mari of A Place Further Than The Universe. The same white outlines are present there as well as in Your Voice, although minor facial features in Your Voice are a little rougher than in the better-polished A Place Further Than The Universe. This should not be surprising, as the latter represents the result of applying the learnings from Your Voice.

  • Shion explains to Nagisa that she’s staying for the summer and in person, she’s much more soft-spoken than her initial message to Nagisa suggests. In spite of getting off on the wrong foot, Nagisa’s earnest personality and genuine concern for Shion eventually leads Shion to consent having Nagisa help her out. Nagisa’s persistent belief in the kotodama initially seems a little childish and misplaced, but their presence in the film strongly suggest that their role is not a trivial one.

  • Initially, Shion is hesitant to deliver a more spirited broadcast as Nagisa is wont to doing, and rushes off, embarrassed. It does take a certain degree of confidence to be able to honestly express oneself on the radio, and the power of a good radio program can be non-trivial. When I work, I listen to the local Cantonese radio programs; my favourite shows are Vancouver’s “摩登狄寶娜” (Modern Deborah, featuring Deborah Moore), which deals with various travel and lifestyle topics. 一家人 (One Family) is broadcast after, and similarly deals with the daily comings and goings closer to home. Although their hosts do not know it, their programs certainly do brighten up my day. Nagisa has a very extroverted personality, and upon hearing Shion’s wavering resolve, decides to become friends with her and spur her on.

  • Athletic, competitive and headstrong, Kaede is one of Nagisa’s friends and also works as a waitress at a local family restaurant. Her longstanding rivalry with Yuu comes from their past: envious of Yuu, she’s resolved to compete with her and prevail, although finds herself failing. When Yuu is made captain of a rival lacrosse team and also schools Kaede’s team at the film’s start, Kaede has naught but ill-will towards Yuu. Of the characters in Your Voice, Kaede is the only individual with the angular tsurime: everyone else sports tareme, and consequently, she does look a little out of place compared to the other characters.

  • The girls’ radio programme receives more feedback from another listener who challenges the show, stating that it’s unprofessional. Later in the day, Nagisa finds a pair of eyes on her, and after a few tense moments, comes face to face with one Ayume Nakahara, another student who feels that the girls are ineffective with their radio program. Similarly to Shion, Ayame’s messages come across as a bit confrontational, but in person, their tone changes quite a bit. When it comes to feedback around these parts, I will assume good faith, especially where alternative perspectives and corrections are made. However, as I’m always interested in hearing more from readers, I’ve also decided that it’s worth inviting the folks offering corrections to discuss things further. Being right means less to me than seeing what readers think of things.

  • From left to right, we’ve got Shizuku Dobashi (Momone Iwabuchi), Ayame Nakahara (Mitsuho Kambe), Kaede Tatsunokuchi (Yuki Tanaka), Shion Yazawa (Suzuko Mimori), and Otoha Biwakouji (Hitomi Suzuki). Kaede and Shizuki are friends with Nagisa, resolving to help Shion out with her desire to broadcast messages to her mother. Ayame and Otoha later join their rank: Ayame is proficient with broadcast-related details, such as delivery of effective programs and legality of broadcasting music, while Otoha is highly talented in composing music. When the girls learn that they can only use royalty-free music, Ayame brings Otoha in to create custom music they can freely use.

  •  Your Voice that more prominent reviewers have criticised is that there are more characters than is necessary, but I will stand up and challenge them right here: for films with a large number of characters, one must be willing to set aside individual growth and development in favour of focusing more on the collective goal. Rogue One had a large number of characters, each with limited development, but the film succeeded because each character was a part of a whole: the sum of their contributions allowed Jyn and her rag-tag band of misfits to secure the Death Star plans. Similarly, in Your Voice, while each character (save Shizuku) faces their own struggles, everyone also puts these aside to help Shion out. The real world is about how we interact with others, not about ourselves, so to dismiss shared goals in fiction in favour of individual growth is to be unfaithful to the fact that humans are a social animal.

  • Their radio program gains momentum over time, so the girls begin expanding their broadcast capabilities and advertise their show around town. Here, they enjoy katsu cutlets outside of a shop while on break from their activities. I do seem to have a particular talent for enjoying things that people are critical of: a case in point is my recent viewing of Solo: A Star Wars Movie. After sitting down to a hot and tasty chicken-fried steak with sautéed zucchini and hash browns for dinner (it’s been a while since I’ve had a good chicken fried steak, with the last time being when Battlefield 1‘s open beta was in full swing), I headed over to a nearby theatre and watched Solo with a longtime friend. We found the movie enjoyable, certainly not meritorious the vitriol that supposed “expert” critics have leveled against the film, and after Solo ended, I stepped back outside to see a double rainbow gracing the skies.

  • Granted, the film’s depiction of Corellia is inconsistent with that of the expanded universe, Darth Maul’s appearance was illogical, and I prefer the extended universe’s version of how Han met Chewbacca, but overall, the film was coherent in presenting Han’s origins. Thus, claims that “tropes and twists of shamelessly recycled clichés are presented throughout with an absurd earnestness” is a load of horse dung. Back in Your Voice, the broadcasts that the girls deliver become smoother and more varied over time. With Ayame’s expertise, Otoha’s music and the others’ spirit, the girls resurrect what was once an old classic in town.

  • At the end of the day, I fail to see how Your Voice is “torn between two different narrative goals and can’t quite manage to achieve either of them”, as our anime journalist voices. There is a single goal, which is Nagisa and her friends working with Shion to bring their voices and feelings to Akane, and as they continued, they developed a more sophisticated operation. In the process, Nagisa has a profound experience with voices and finds a career path she is passionate about. Occam’s Razor definitely applies to anime, and overthinking something simple is what creates befuddlement amongst critics, many of whom I feel should be more genuine in their approach rather than be critical for the sole purpose of being critical.

  • Then again, I personally feel that the role of a professional critic is (and should be) diminished now: larger sites like Anime News Network can have ineffectual, ill-argued reviews that do not properly represent films like Your Voice, and obscure blogs may have very thoughtful critiques and discussions that the giants have not even considered. This is the topic of no small discussion on Twitter, where many of my peers are struggling to find motivation to write when readership and traffic is not increasing with time and improved content. I understand this feeling: it is unlikely that I will be able to convince the folks out there that I cannot reach, that they should take even Anime News Network reviews with a grain of salt. Having said this, beating down folks with perspectives contrary to mine is not my goal: this blog exists because it’s fun to write.

  • Shizuku’s role in the radio program is quite limited, but with her talents for baking cookies and sweets for the others, Shizuku is raising morale at Aquamarine while the others help with the radio program directly. Shizuku is a static character in Your Voice, undergoing very little development as an individual, and is intended to provide a reference point for the changes that will impact Nagisa, and to a lesser extent, Kaede.

  • As each of Nagisa, Kaede, Shion, Shizuku, Ayame and Otoha become closer through their shared interest in radio and using this as a tool to reach Shion’s mother, they spend more time together outside of Aquamarine. Shion has longed to be with friends, having spent most of her life transferring schools before she could become close to anyone, and Nagisa’s actions allow Shion to experience friendship. Here, the girls visit a summer festival together: the festival features the bamboo lights seen in Tamayura‘s Path of Longing festival.

  • After Kaede learns that Yuu’s been stripped of her captaincy, she decides to broadcast onto the airwaves and invites Yuu to visit Aquamarine to hang with the others. Kaede remarks that Yuu is the sort of person she isn’t, someone who is simultarnously proper and also somewhat dependent on others. During the course of Your Voice‘s run, there are five inset songs performed by the voice actors from the movie. Their inclusion gives Your Voice a very sentimental feeling that is befitting of its themes about voices and their impacts.

  • When Kaede drops by and runs into long-time rival Yuu, they have a terse exchange before Nagisa arrives. The two have been rivals since childhood, with Kaede striving to outperform Yuu and failing at every turn. Her patience exhausted, Nagisa decks Kaede, and Yuu runs off. Reviews elsewhere found this rivalry unrealistic and unnecessary, but its presence in Your Voice is to remind audiences that in a narrative, while our focus largely remains on the protagonists, the other characters can also be complex in their own right, with unique stories and challenges that simply are not the focus of the story at hand.

  • Similarly, the rivalry is in no way unrealistic: high school students can be very competitive with one another, and what is obvious to more mature individual may not be evident to high school students. This serves to increase Your Voice‘s credibility rather than detracting from it: stubborn characters caught up in the trivialities of the world may seem unreasonable to us viewers, who are seeing things from an external perspective. While we might be able to see the bigger picture, it is not so difficult to imagine ourselves as being entangled in the moment, during which solutions are not so straightforwards.

  • I therefore contend that a degree of empathy is required to enjoy media where drama is involved. It can be easy to dismiss the characters’ problems as trivial, but I imagine that many have been in difficult spots before, during which a solution seems out of reach. As a software developer, I am acutely aware that sometimes, it does take another person to help out: the bugs that I miss in my code, from having the wrong Boolean, to a flipped comparison operator, has sent me on bug hunts lasting hours, only to be solved when one of my coworkers steps through and points out the error. When Yuu runs off, it is Nagisa who goes after her. After listening to Yuu explain why her grandfather has such a role in her life, Nagisa contends that it is possible for her to make up with Kaede.

  • As evening sets in, Yuu and Nagisa begin yet another broadcast, with the aim of reaching Kaede. Nagisa points out on the show that everything Yuu’s done is a consequence of an honest effort, that Kaede’s enmity towards Yuu is unjustified. Yuu adds that she welcomes the challenge, and Kaede, listening in while at work, decides that the time has come to step her game up. This wraps the secondary narrative up, and with this, Your Voice enters its final act.

  • I’ve noticed that all discussions of Your Voice date back to shortly after the film’s première last August, and since then, discussions on Your Voice have otherwise been non-existent. With the film now out now, then, it is a bit surprising that Your Voice has not generated more conversations elsewhere, so it looks like for at least a while longer, this will remain the only passable collection of screenshots from Your Voice. In the time that has passed since last August, A Place Further Than The Universe aired. Inheriting many of the same features and development patterns, I feel that Your Voice can be seen as a warm up act for A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • Yuu eventually manages to convince her grandfather to leave Aquamarine until at least the end of summer vacation, but Shion reveals that the additional time won’t be of any use: their efforts insofar had not been of any consequence, and her mother is set for transfer to another health facility well. Perhaps also realising the weight of what’s been occurring, Nagisa runs out into the pouring rain and cries her eyes out. However, this is not the end: Nagisa’s the sort of person to get right back up after getting knocked down, after all.

  • The time between the première in August of last year and the home release is staggering: nine months, or 50 percent longer than the previous average of six months. It’s been a recent trend for anime films to release their BDs and DVDs much later than the première, and I’ve heard that it’s to do with sales figures; since home release sales are not as sure as they once were, companies simply keep their movies running in the theatres for longer. While I’m not adverse to waiting for anime films to come out, it does mean that if trends continue, the gap between première date and home release dates will continue to increase as time wears on.

  • While en route to the new health facility, Shion sees a kotodama floating outside. Realising that Nagisa’s claims were true after all, she feels that Nagisa might also be doing something with Aquamarine and asks her father to turn the radio on. The kotodama‘s existence in Your Voice are ambiguous until this moment, whereupon it becomes clear that they are more than something Nagisa believes. This is the single supernatural aspect of Your Voice, which is otherwise very grounded in reality, and was likely intended to drive home the message about the power of words, were it not already clear.

  • As it turns out, Nagisa and her fellow radio show hosts had relocated to the shrine, where a large group of listeners have aggregated to support Nagisa’, her team, Shion and her mother. Hearing Nagisa’s determination prompts Shion to ask their driver to return into the broadcast area when the signal cuts out, and the scene crescendos into the climax when the girls begin singing. Your Voice does a great deal over its 90-minute run, and there’s a great deal going on, mirroring the chaotic nature of life itself. However, everything converges on the singular goal of helping Akane reawaken, with the other positives that come of this endeavour serve to reiterate that when judiciously applied, voices can have a meaningful impact on listeners.

  • The sheer intensity of emotions in the moment create numerous kotodama that precipitates Akane’s reawakening. I absolutely loved the message of Your Voice: while I ardently believe that actions hold a much greater weight than words alone, it is true that the right words at the right time can make all the difference. The resultant ending to Your Voice is one that was unsurprising but well-deserved: while the plot’s progression holds no twists and ends in the manner that one might expect it to, the journey is nonetheless one that is heart-warming to watch. Heart is something that Your Voice has plenty of, and we can’t reasonably ask for more than a little heart in these troubled times.

  • In the epilogue, Shion spends time with her mother, and here, I would recommend this film. If and when I am asked about a more concrete score, I find that Your Voice earns an A- (3.7 on a four-point scale, or 8.5 of ten). More time would’ve been nice to deliver parts of the story, especially the Nagisa’s restoration of the radio program with her friends, and a greater resolution for Yuu and Kaede beyond what was seen in the film, but beyond this, Your Voice is very clear about what it aimed to leave audiences with after everything was said and done. I do note here that these are my opinions alone – I am a bit of a sucker for sentimental stories, and individuals different than myself may experience Your Voice in different manner. Further to this, I am similar to TheRadBrad in that I tend to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, which is why I usually enjoy most what I decide to write about.

  • The events of this fateful summer gives Nagisa a concrete path to follow, and she becomes a radio show host in Tokyo, showing that she has found her way. This brings my talk on Your Voice to a close, and with a fair review of the film in the books, I turn my eyes towards what’s next. We’ve passed the halfway point of June now, which means that Amanchu! AdvanceComic Girls and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online‘s finales are nearing. In addition, summer is only three days out, so I’ve got a pair of special topics posts lined up, as well. The Road to Battlefield V‘s final phase is beginning this week, and once over, I imagine the final patch for Battlefield 1 will be released. Finally, the Steam Summer Sale is also expected to begin this week.

While perhaps more rudimentary in its goals, and hampered by its shorter runtime, which precludes exploration of other narratives that ended up being solved quickly, Your Voice is nonetheless a solid film whose execution is of a high standard. Your Voice is set in Enoshima, a location previously seen in Tari Tari, and while perhaps not quite as vivid or faithful as Tari Tari‘s Enoshima, Your Voice nonetheless makes use of the area to create a compelling setting for notions of the self-discovery warranted by the nearly-endless summer days. Coupled with a musical score that outlines the gentle hope in Your Voice, the film itself is an enjoyable watch overall: I would recommend this film, especially for individuals looking for a film to ease into the upcoming summer with. Easy to follow and direct, Your Voice might not be a powerhouse blockbuster or revolutionise how I see the world, but it is effective as a feel-good movie. Your Voice has one additional contribution that cannot be ignored – it sets the precedence for the well-received and excellent A Place Further Than The Universe. With a similar atmosphere and art style, it is quite clear that A Place Further Than The Universe had taken the learnings from Your Voice to produce an anime that ended up positively impacting many viewers. With this in mind, it was instructive to see the progression of the rather unique art style that Madhouse utilised in Your Voice and how it became smoother by the time A Place Further Than The Universe was aired. I previously remarked that the rather unique art style of A Place Further Than The Universe was capitalised upon to create expressiveness in characters to augment the idea that voices can tell a surer story of than images alone, and the origins in Your Voice are quite apparent: Nagisa is as expressive as Shirase and Mari, giving her character life and giving audience cause to empathise with her as she discovers what her calling in life is.

Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru ka? Yoko Kara Miru ka? (Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?): A Review and Reflection

“Even the wisest cannot tell. For the mirror shows many things: things that were, things that are and some thins that have not yet come to pass.” —Lady Galadriel, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

On the day of Moshimo’s local fireworks festival, Norimichi Shimada and his friends make a bet as to whether or not fireworks are flat or round when viewed from another vantage point. On the way to school, Norimichi notices Nazuna standing by the seaside, who’s found a small glass ball. Nazuna later encounters Norimichi and Yūsuke at the pool, when the two are assigned to clean up the pool deck. She challenges them to a race and makes a request of the winner. When Yūsuke wins, she asks him to meet her later, but after she returns home and hears of her mother’s remarks, she decides to run away from home. She encounters Norimichi at a local clinic and mentions to him that she was hoping that he’d win. Norimichi later runs into Nazuna’s mother, who drags her back home and causes the contents in Nazuna’s suitcase to spill out. When Yūsuke and the others arrive, Norimichi realises that Yūsuke did not meet with Nazuna and throws the glass ball at him. Subsequently, Norimichi finds himself back at the school pool, wins the race and promises to meet up with Nazuna. He finds Yūsuke in his room and manages to shake him off, taking Nazuna to the train station. Before he can board the train, Nazuna’s mother and her boyfriend arrive, separating the two, leaving Norimichi to rejoin the others. At the lighthouse, the fireworks take on a flat shape, and Norimichi later fights with Yūsuke over Nazuna. Throwing the glass ball again, Norimichi sends himself back to the point before Nazuna’s mother arrives, and this time, fends off her boyfriend, buying the pair enough time to board the train. Nazuna and Norimichi then share their thoughts for the future, and Nazuna sings as the train passes through a tunnel. However, they are spotted by Yūsuke and the others, leading them on a wild chase that leads back to the light house. Up here, Nazuna and Norimichi view the fireworks, which morph into flowers: despite the surrealness of the moment, Nazuna asks Norimichi if it is satisfactory that they are together. Before Norimichi can answer, Yūsuke arrives and pushes him off the lighthouse, leading Nazuna to fall, as well. Norimichi returns to the train, and this time, pushes Nazuna out of sight when passing the train crossing. The train continues on a track over the ocean, and enters a surreal space, seemingly inside the lighthouse itself. Norimichi and Nazuna share their final moments together and kiss while the lighthouse enclosure around them crumbles, with shards hinting at their futures littering their surroundings. Nazuna expresses her desire to meet him again, wondering what awaits them, and swims off. The next day, Norimichi is absent from their class’ roll call. This anime adaptation of the 1993 film captures the youthful approach to budding romantic feelings amongst three classmates and was released in Japan in August 2017, making use of the supernatural to drive its narrative forwards over its ninety-minute runtime.

Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?, Fireworks from here on out for brevity, is a love story at its core; as an adaptation of the 1993 iteration, its central premise is set around the idea of being able to make use of do-overs. Norimichi and Yūsuke both have feelings for Nazuna, who returns Norimichi’s feelings. The friendship between Yūsuke and Norimichi becomes increasingly strained throughout the movie’s run, and this rift continues to challenge Norimichi’s pursuit of time with Nazuna. It is through the inclusion of a glass ball capable of turning back time, through a supernatural trinket, that Norimichi is able to explore what challenges might lie in a relationship with Nazuna, and also, what outcomes might ensue if he should persist. That Norimichi requires divine intervention in the form of time travel, and moreover, multiple do-overs, in order to reach a point where he and Nazuna share a kiss, illustrates the finicky, uncertain nature of love and relationships. There are numerous what-ifs, and Fireworks seems to suggest that the way to starting and maintaining a relationship lies in a razor’s edge. Each do-over that brings Norimichi closer to Nazuna, however, comes at a price. As he works out those impediments that stand between him and Nazuna, his world becomes increasingly surreal environment. From fireworks defying the laws of physics, to the Puella Magi Madoka Magica-like world that is presented, Fireworks makes extensive use of imagery to evoke the idea that starting a relationship is a very tumultuous, phantasmagorical experience. Whether or not the events depicted on the night of fireworks actually occurred remains ambiguous, emphasising to viewers that falling in love is dream-like in nature: you have absolutely no idea of what you are doing, but it is exciting and, one way or another, it is over way too fast. What actually happened between Norimichi and Nazuna remain unexplored, leaving audiences to fill in the gaps. Norimichi and by extension, the viwer, is thus left with many unanswered questions, and having experienced what falling in love is like, is not content to merely sit on his hands. His absence at the closing of Fireworks hints at his having cut class to be with Nazuna, who, despite Norimichi’s efforts, was forced to move anyways.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Summer is my favourite time of year: the days are long and warm, inviting to adventure. Explorations come in many varieties, and love is a possibility, as well. By contrast, I feel that winter is the least romantic time of year: the miserable weather and days of seemingly eternal darkness is a dampener on the mood. For this post on Fireworks, I will feature thirty screenshots and my customary quip that thirty screenshots does not fully cover everything in this film, but nonetheless should offer a reasonable breadth for some of my thoughts on this film, which I’ve been interested in seeing since it screened in Japanese cinemas last August.

  • Feeling somewhat like Typhoon Noruda‘s Noruda, Nazuna’s character has only a limited timespan to develop over Fireworks‘ runtime. From what audiences gather, she’s not particularly sociable and doesn’t get along with her mother, but beyond this, is also counted as being quite beautiful, enough to capture Norimichi and Yūsuke’s attention. At the movie’s start, she finds a glass ball that is beautifully rendered, and while it initially looks to be of limited significance, this little device is a Chekov’s Gun that plays a nontrivial role in the events of Fireworks.

  • Miura is Norimichi and Yūsuke’s instructor. Her figure and assets draw the interest of the male students in her class, especially those of Norimichi’s friends, who wonder what her measurements are. Miura only has a minor role in Fireworks, but she is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who most will better know for her role as Garden of Words and Your Name‘s Yukari Yukino. Aside from both being instructors, Yukari and Miura also share the (perhaps unfortunate) distinction that their respective looks seem to garner unwanted attention from students. Beyond this, the two instructors are quite different: Yukari is more slender and graceful, while Miura is more active in disciplining her students and has more of a no-nonsense personality.

  • While attempting to work out what Miura’s measurements are using the inefficient brute force approach (a fancy way of saying exhaustive guessing), one of Norimichi’s friends is hit in the face with a not-so-stray volleyball, resulting in a hilarious funny face moment. I note that it is possible to probably eyeball these numbers using a variety of tricks from something like the Handbook of Geometric Topology or else use sophisticated image recognition algorithms, but the better question is, why?

  • I would almost certainly balk at the prospect of another student walking on my desk in class. After boldly asking ifMiura has a boyfriend, one of Norimichi’s friends draws Miura’s ire: of the group, he’s quite attracted to her and messes with her frequently. His escapades eventually end up with him tripping near Norimichi’s desk and landing flat on his face. The school that Norimichi attends has a very distinct architecture, being composed of two circular buildings connected by a central area.

  • Fireworks places a great deal of focus on one of the spiral staircases within the school, and interiors are also rendered with a good amount of clutter. As a result of this design choice, and the fact that some of the female students seen earlier have a well-defined figure, one can reasonably surmise that this is probably a middle and secondary school rolled into one. If this is the case, then one can similarly suppose that this town is a smaller one. Here, Nazuna hands Miura a letter from her parents mentioning her transfer out of this school.

  • Weather of this sort graced my area on Saturday, during which it felt as though the world had decided it appropriate to skip spring and jump into summer. I capitalised on the fantastic weather for the second round of Poutine Week and visited Leopold’s Tavern for their Crispy Chicken Cheesy Buffalo Dill Poutine. This poutine is as delicious as its name is long – topped with crunchy, succulent chucks of fried chicken, deep fried battered cheese curds, a rich cheese sauce and Buffalo-dill sauce, this was a very hearty and tasty creation that reminds me of the over-the-top foods served in a fair’s midway. Because the weather was pleasant, and partially to burn off some of the food energy from this poutine, we took a walk around the downtown core under pleasant skies.

  • Nazuna is quite mysterious, and all the more compelling as a character for that. She’s resting by the poolside here and lazily shares a conversation with Norimichi, before challenging him and Yūsuke to a race, on the condition that she’ll pick the winner to listen to what she has to say. In the first iteration, Norimichi injures his foot and is impeded by pain, leaving Yūsuke to win. Nazuna explains that she wants to see the fireworks with him and asks him to meet her by five.

  • Back in the classroom, Norimichi’s friends argue over what shape fireworks are. In the original Fireworks movie, everyone was in the sixth grade and close to the age of eleven. Here, the anime adaptation presents them as being somewhat older – I would hazard a guess of grade nine based on the guys’ behaviours, which corresponds with an age around fourteen. The wager of what shape fireworks are feels a little out of place in their age group, especially considering that fourteen-year-olds would be more learned and make use of resources to answer their query. The limited presence of smartphones gives Fireworks a timeless quality: the original live action film was produced in 1993, before the advent of such technologies.

  • With this being said, the choice to bring the characters’ ages up for the animated movie is probably so the anime can facilitate humour and interactions of the sort that older characters can permit, as well as so love can be explored with a greater level of detail: I cannot say this with full certainty because I’ve not seen the original 1993 Fireworks movie. While we are on the topic of things unknown, the real-world basis for Moshimo is not certain; the town’s name approximates to “if only I had”, which is a recurring theme in Fireworks, but beyond being a generic, if beautifully-rendered, seaside town, little English-language materials exist pertaining to what real world places influenced Moshimo, if any.

  • When Norimichi arrives home, he finds Yūsuke already in his room. While mobile devices do not have a significant presence in Fireworks, the presence of flat-screen televisions and a game console suggest that this incarnation of Fireworks might happen in the early 2000s. Beyond this, I do not have the know-how to pin down when precisely Fireworks is set: modern consoles can play retro games, further confounding the year. I imagine that leaving the time period ambiguous in Fireworks is a deliberate choice, giving the anime a timeless feel that acts as a callback to the original 1993 live-action film.

  • Fireworks suggest that the outcome of an event can be changed by the most trivial of details: things derail rapidly because Norimichi lost the race. Most folks will know this as the butterfly effect, where small changes in a system can have a dramatic change on the outcome (e.g. manipulating parameters of a simulation, or values of an expression). While the butterfly effect largely applies to complex systems, such as weather and quantum mechanics, it’s a popular literary device in fiction because it is a more tangible description of how small events can have unexpected consequences.

  • Because Yūsuke ended up winning the race but winds up standing Nazuna up, Norimichi runs into her at a clinic while getting his wound treated, and he is powerless to stop Nazuna’s mother from forcibly taking Nazuna home. In reality, this is where most relationships end up. While we well know that the world is not this simple, the literary device does allow for a certain message to be conveyed: in Fireworks, the narrative uses the butterfly effect to suggest that Norimichi’s feelings for Nazuna can only be returned if a very specific set of events happen, and that in the absence of a priori knowledge, one cannot make the decisions that favour an outcome where Norimichi ends up with Nazuna. It therefore stands to reason that Fireworks is suggesting that in the absence of blind luck, a relationship can be quite difficult to get of the ground.

  • Throwing the glass ball results in time reverting back to a point specified. Without any science fiction style justifications of how this actually works, like the body-switching phenomenon in Your Name, time travel in Fireworks is left unexplained because it is present to facilitate the narrative. The how is not as important as the why, so audiences must suspend their disbelief and accept that Norimichi is now able to load from a save state, as it were, because this is what allows Fireworks to make its message clear to viewers.

  • After reloading, Norimichi manages to escape from Yūsuke and takes Nazuna to the station on his bike. Knowing the successive outcomes of events in Fireworks enables Norimichi to be increasingly bold in his interactions with Nazuna. However, foreknowledge has its limitations, and he’s forced to return to improvising as best as he can to spend time with Nazuna whenever things go south. This is what prompts the page quote, which is sourced from Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring: after arriving in Lothlórien, Frodo encounters Lady Galadriel, who shows him the Mirror of Galadriel and warns him that what is seen in the mirror are merely possibilities future.

  • At the train station, Nazuna explains to Norimichi her circumstances; because of difficulties at home, she’s running away, and having brought Norimichi along, counts it as eloping, feeling it to be more mature than merely running away. It turns out that her mother also eloped previously, and Nazuna wonders if it’s in her blood to handle challenges in this manner. When Norimichi wonders where they’ll go, Nazuna considers Tokyo. She imagines herself taking a job at a convenience store or in the more shady side of things to make ends meet.

  • To throw off any potential tails, Nazuna switches into a white dress. The colour is long associated with purity and a blank slate: Nazuna dons one, mirroring her longing for a new start. When Norimichi wonders how Nazuna will find work, given that she’s under the age requirements, Nazuna remarks that she could probably pass for sixteen. The ages of the characters in Fireworks have been ambiguous: on one hand, the characters are clearly not eleven as in the original Fireworks, but they don’t seem mature enough to be high school students, either. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Norimichi and Nazuna are around fourteen.

  • Norimichi’s first attempt to board the train fails when Nazuna is taken away, and after he resets things again, he manages to fend off Nazuna’s mother’s boyfriend, buying the two enough time to board. Afforded some quiet, Norimichi and Nazuna share a conversation before the latter begins performing Ruriiro No Chikyu (瑠璃色の地球), one of Seiko Matsuda’s songs. Matsuda is a well-known pop singer in Japan and began her career in the 80s: this period has some of the greatest Cantonese pop artists of all time, and Matsuda’s songs sound like the best Canto-pop songs of the day. I know Matsuda best for her performance of Taisetsu na Anata (大切なあなた), which was covered by Vivian Lai in the song 陽光路上 (jyutping joeng4 gwong1 lou6 soeng5).

  • Because it is possible that none of the events past Norimichi throwing the glass ball actually occurred, Fireworks hints at the idea that in love and relationships, especially surrounding  a first love, is a world of “what-ifs”. When a relationship fails or never makes it past the first stage, minds often become consumed with these hypothetical “what-ifs”. Relationship advice usually entails “let go of the past, make the most of the present and pursue the future”; I usually find relationship advice to require a personalised approach, but here is some advice that I feel is effective. What was once lost usually cannot be regained, so the advice is really telling people that there usually are other opportunities out there, and if one’s eyes are facing the past, they cannot enjoy the present or see future opportunity.

  • If I were to do a review based purely on the scenes that are firmly set in reality, however, then this post would probably have been published a few days ago and have only ten screenshots. However, to ignore the other parts of the film would result in a disappointingly short discussion. In this particular iteration, Norimichi and Nazuna are spotted by both Nazuna’s mother and Norimichi’s friends, who give chase. The pair manage to evade their pursuers and reach the old lighthouse, where they stop to view the fireworks and catch their breath.

  • Despite the bet about what shape fireworks are figuring prominently in Fireworks‘ synopsis elsewhere, as well as forming the basis for the story’s title, actual fireworks do not figure very prominently in the film. The fireworks displays that are seen in Fireworks from the lighthouse take on very unusual properties, exploding in a disk or else dispersing pedal-like sparks. The final display is seen underwater. The disconnect in the title is intended to represent the split in interests: Norimichi can either spend time with his friends or Nazuna, but not both, and because it is with his friends that the fireworks become relevant, the relatively few moments with normal-looking fireworks is likely indicative of where Norimichi’s heart lies.

  • Norimichi is aware that what he’s seeing is not reality, evidenced through the unusual fireworks patterns, and Nazuna replies that reality or not, as long as she’s with him, it matters not. While a highly romantic thought, it’s also likely the result of Norimichi’s thoughts, rather than anything the real Nazuna might say. In our imaginations, people become what we imagine them to be, and it is only in the mind’s eye where the most romantic, or even forbidden, thoughts might manifest. Reality is harsher, and when the magic of a relationship’s start wears off, whether or not that relationship will endure is determined by a multitude of factors, including trust, commitment, faithfulness and loyalty. At the risk of stepping on many toes, I feel that the strongest relationships are not necessarily those with the most romantic moments, but the ones where two partners continue to find ways of working together to get through difficult times and enjoying the good times together.

  • When Norimichi is pushed off the lighthouse, he loads another save state (the fourth, I believe) and returns on board the train. This time, he pushes Nazuna out of sight, ending up on top of her and sparing them the trouble of being spotted. This sets in motion the final phase of the movie: it’s taken a fair number of attempts for Norimichi to really be alone with Nazuna. As the train they’re on continues travelling, it switches tracks and begins passing over the ocean itself as evening sets in, creating a beautiful and surreal setting.

  • As the train travels over the ocean under the violet hour, the scene evokes a very viseral representation of what love is like: ethereally blissful, but also uncertain in that no one really knows where the train will stop next.  When the train reaches its destination, Norimichi and Nazuna disembark to find themselves in a world covered by a vast dome, seemingly inside the lighthouse’s light fixture itself. Fireworks has done much to set up the events leading up to Norimichi and Nazuna finding themselves in a space where they are assured of some solitude, and if it was not visible earlier, then there is no doubt by now that the movie has stepped into the realm of the hypothetical.

  • While Nazuna might be fourteen, Fireworks renders her character in a manner such that she appears older than she is. After reaching the ocean’s edge and inviting Norimichi to join her, Nazuna begins stripping down into a lighter gown before entering the water. She looks several years older in this moment, smiling at Norimichi in an almost seductive manner. Norimichi eventually relents and joins here. Meanwhile, on the shore opposite, the fireworks technician manages to come across the glass ball, and while drunk, loads it into the fireworks apparatus and fires it off, shattering the done surrounding their world.

  • In the film’s final moments, Nazuna and Norimichi see visions of the future in the glass shards that fall to the surface. These visions illustrate all that could’ve been: because the future is always in motion, it is very tricky to pin down what will occur. Yūsuke, for instance, sees that if he’d simply chosen to go with Nazuna, he would’ve had a memorable time with her and this could’ve led to something more. However, because he chose to remain with the status quo, nothing ever occurred. Similarly, Norimichi sees a vision of him and Nazuna kissing while overlooking Tokyo Bay.

  • One might even say that the complex system that is human society can result in any number of possibilities. Because human interactions are turbulent and chaotic, it can be nigh-impossible to predict the long-term outcomes merely from a snapshot in a moment. Fireworks acts as a bit of a snapshot; it presents parts of the story and leaves the others out to remind audiences of this reality. As Grand Admiral Thrawn might put it, Fireworks is very artistically done – it takes a bit of thinking to really figure out why the movie is presented in the manner that it is, but behind all of the visual metaphors, symbols and motifs, the message underlying everything is straightforwards.

  • At the film’s climax, Norimichi and Nazuna kiss while underwater, before Nazuna heads off, mirroring her departure. In reality, it is clear that Norimichi did not really have any ability to stop Nazuna from leaving, and that Nazuna’s desire to elope was more of a whim. While perhaps thought of as being quite romantic, kissing underwater is quite impractical: besides the small matter of breathing and the elevated heart rate when one is in such a moment, some people (like myself) also find it painful to open their eyes underwater, making aiming a rather challenging task.

  • I’ve not mentioned the incidental music in Fireworks thus far – the soundtrack to Fireworks is quite varied, from melodic and emotional pieces right down to the mood-setting pieces that play whenever Norimichi’s friends are around. It goes without saying that I prefer the string and piano pieces in the soundtrack. A quick glance at the box office numbers shows that Fireworks did modestly well at the box office, with a gross of 26 million internationally, and grossed 4.2 million within three days of its première, becoming the best-performing Shaft film thus far.

  • At the end of the day, I found this movie quite fun to watch, and I think of it similarly to what I thought of Hirune Hime. Today marks the final day of April, and so, this is going to be my last post for April, as well. We’re now moving into May, a time when spring really kicks into high gear. Looking ahead, I don’t have any posts in mind aside from the scheduled talks about Amanchu! Advance, so May and June will be a bit of a free-for-all with respect to what I write about. Having said this, however, Battlefield 1 and The Division both have some exciting things upcoming, so the reduced number of anime posts might not be such a bad thing.

In reality, fireworks are simply explosions and will always explode in a spherical pattern. Variations in air turbulence, density and pressure may affect the rate of an explosion’s movement in a direction, but the end shape is a sphere. To create shapes in fireworks, pyrotechnicians running the show will have previously packed the fireworks with pieces of cardboard having the desired shape, often in multiples, to ensure that the fireworks can explode with the required effect and give the same view from a range of angles. As a result, fireworks will be round from almost any perspective, certainly not flat as some of the boys in Fireworks suggest. Deviance from this outcome is indicative of a universe where the laws of physics no longer apply, and in Fireworks, the visuals are done with a very high quality, enough to convince audiences of an unreal reality. While inconsistent in some places, Fireworks is a very stunning anime. From the details of the mirror inside the lighthouse, to the play of light in the glass ball, and water effects in the pool, Fireworks captivates its viewers with its exceptional artwork and lighting. While not directly pertinent to the narrative, Fireworks‘ use of high-detail moments provide a pause in the story, encouraging viewers to consider what has already occurred, before things move on to the next scene. The sum of these elements come together to create a film that excels technically and also provides an engaging, if simple, story for viewers, making extensive use of visual elements to reiterate the notion that love is tumultuous and chaotic. Overall, I would give this movie a recommendation: while nothing world-changing and somewhat ambiguous, it’s nonetheless a fun interpretation of what young love must feel like, putting into not words, but pictures, the feelings associated with striking up the courage to be with someone special.