The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Tag Archives: personal reflection

Apollo 11 Mission, 50th Anniversary: A Reflection on the 1969 Moon Landing

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” –Neil A. Armstrong, July 20, 1969

Fifty years ago, on July 21 at 02:56:15 UTC (July 20, 20:56:15 MDT), Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and, after describing the powdery grains of the moon surface, stepped off the landing pad of the Eagle to become the first human ever to set foot on the moon. The Apollo 11 spaceflight marked the first time humanity had ever successfully set foot on another world, marking the fulfilment of President John F. Kennedy’s declaration that America would put a man on the moon eight years earlier. The Space Race had been in full swing when President Kennedy made his speech: the Soviet Union had beaten the United States to virtually every first, from launching Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, and then followed up with Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961 to become the first man in space. The perceived gap in technology between the USA and USSR prompted the Americans to divert an incredible amount of resources, both financial and human capital, into space exploration research. Drawing on scientist Wernher von Braun’s expertise, the Americans transformed their initial rockets, intended to carry a nuclear payload into space-faring vehicles. Thus, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded to develop peaceful exploration of space. While the Americans had seen success with the Mercury-Redstone 3 rockets, which led Alan Shepard to become the first American in space, a goal with the sheer scale and scope of anything approaching a moon landing demanded dedicated rockets, mastery of docking two vessels in space and extra-vehicular activity (EVA). NASA The Gemini program was borne as a result of this; running from 1961 to 1966, NASA thus devised the necessary techniques to ensure the success of the Apollo programme. With the techniques better characterised, NASA would turn its attention to development of better rockets. von Braun would become deeply involved with the Saturn project, and after several iterations, resulted in the Saturn V, which remains to this day, the single most powerful rocket to have ever been developed. Unmanned flights with different iterations saw issues ironed out, and on January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 was marked as as the first manned test of the spacecraft. Tragically, a fire broke out and killed Virgil I. Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee. The entire program was thrown into jeopardy, forcing the redesign of the Apollo command module and implementation of new safety features. After rigorous testing, and with several more unmanned flights, coupled with success from the Apollo 8 and 10 missions, NASA believed that they were ready to attempt a manned lunar landing.

After Armstrong had touched down on the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin followed suit nineteen minutes later. Armstrong and Aldrin erected the American flag on the lunar surface, conversed with President Richard Nixon and then set up a range of experiments on the lunar surface. They also managed to collect six kilograms of lunar material for transport back to Earth. Twenty-one-and-a-half hours later, they boarded the lunar module and rejoined Michael Collins in orbit, before performing a burn to carry out trans-Earth injection that would send them back home. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins returned to Earth on July 24 at 16:50:35 UTC (09:50:35 MDT), splashing down in the South Pacific. They were picked up by the USS Hornet, and by the end of their eight-day mission, had their accomplishments watched by over a fifth of the world’s population. Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11’s historic achievement highlighted the strength of not just the American engineers, scientists and astronauts, but also reflected on the human spirit as a whole: when President Kennedy had announced the American intent to land on the moon in 1962, the technology did not exist. The fledgling American space program had been bested by the Soviets at each turn, and had been hampered by a lack of public interest, as well as limited funding. However, with his speech, President Kennedy emphasised that the lunar program was to be done to signify the freedom Americans had over their destiny and romanticised space. Despite initial opposition, interest in conquering space had been piqued, and the United States would ultimately direct 25 billion dollars (153 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation) towards the Apollo programme. At its height, Apollo employed 400000 people and had support from over 20000 academic institutions and industrial firms. The sheer scale and scope of the project propelled not just American, but the whole of humanity forwards: the technologies needed to put man on the moon resulted in creativity, ingenuity and innovation of the likes that our species had not seen before. To ensure the safety of the astronauts, radical developments were made to ensure the reliability of every nut and bolt that went into the program. The technology and science that resulted in Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic achievement have far flung effects even today: the very computers and smart-phones that have become so ubiquitous now owe their existence to advances in integrated circuitry from the Apollo programme.

The success of the Apollo programme is ultimately attributed to the gargantuan team effort and collaboration between each of the 400000 employees at NASA and countless others from the institutes and organisations that contributed. For the most part, humanity’s most recognisable inventions were prototyped, developed and tested by scientists of renown. Powered flight comes from the Wright Brothers, and Thomas Edison came about his inventions through perseverance, dedication and inspiration. However, during the Second World War, a desperation to keep atomic technology out of Nazi hands saw the formation of the Manhattan Project, which employed 130000 employees at a cost of 2 billion dollars (13 billion dollars, adjusted for inflation). As humanity moved forwards, innovation became the result of a coordinated team effort rather than through individual genius. Both the Manhattan Project and Apollo Programme are a constant reminder that exceptional achievement comes through people working together, lending their individual talents and skills towards a common goal: while von Braun was doubtlessly a remarkable rocket engineer, his contributions to the Saturn V and its unparalleled engines were only a part of the programme. Numerous engineers and scientists worked on everything from the computer guidance programs in the command module, to designing the shape of the lunar module, from calculating the optimal course for trans-lunar injection, to designing the space suits themselves and devising ways of keeping sufficient consumables onboard the flight. Apollo 11 thus acts as one of the most profound and unequivocal examples of what is possible when people are unified, working together in spite of their differences towards a shared goal. Great science is invariably the result of teamwork and collaboration, and so, fifty years after the first successful moon landing, Apollo is the reminder of why it is important to look past our differences and celebrate our commonalities as human beings.

Commentary and Personal Reflection

  • While the Apollo programme is considered an overwhelming success today, the programme did see its share of troubles: by 1963, opponents wondered if the program was a wise expenditure, and even NASA’s engineers felt President Kennedy’s expectations were unrealistic. The Apollo 1 fire further cast doubt on the safety on the program. However, progress in the programme continued, and on the morning of the launch, on June 16, Apollo 11 stood ready at the launch pad. The images in this post were sourced from the 2019 documentary Apollo 11, which featured original 70mm footage, as well as 60 and 35mm footage from period recordings.

  • The Saturn V is the most powerful rocket ever used, capable of lifting 140000 kilograms to low earth orbit. The first stage, S-IC, could produce 7891000 lbf (pounds-force) and had a burn time of 168 seconds. After the first stage was expended and discarded, the second stage (S-II) kicked in and accelerated the craft to orbital velocity. Finally, the third stage (S-IVB) ignited and burned for six minutes to push the craft to escape velocity, preparing it for trans-lunar injection. The command module and lunar module docked after the third stage was separated, forty minutes into trans-lunar injection.

  • Images captured from Apollo show how small and fragile the Earth looks from the void of space. A comparatively thin layer of atmosphere and our magnetic field protects us from the hazards of the cosmos, and acts as a constant reminder of how frail life on earth is. The Apollo 11 program as a whole was very humbling to learn about, and since I first read about it as a primary school student, the outstanding achievements of the astronauts, engineers and technicians inspired me. While I subsequently discovered that my ability for mathematics was inadequate for me to become an engineer, the tough and competent mindset NASA held to their staff stuck with me.

  • “Tough and competent” is a phrase coined by aerospace engineer Gene Kranz, who oversaw numerous operations and directed the Apollo 11 landings. In response to Apollo 1, Kranz’s doctrine was simple: tough meant that one must be accountable for what they do, or fail to do. One should not compromise their responsibilities in any way. Competent meant that one will not take anything for granted and always have the right knowledge and skill set to see something through. Kranz intended this to constantly remind his staff of the price of failure, although his principles are correct and apply to most anything. This forms the basis for how I conduct myself, and how I expect those around me to conduct themselves: because it’s an integral part of me, I’ve decided to change the blog’s banner to reflect on my credos.

  • After a smooth trans-lunar injection, Apollo 11 fired its main engines to enter lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin entered the lunar module, while Collins remained behind to control the command module. During their descent, the guidance computer returned alarm codes 1201 and 1202, indicating that it had overflowed and would delay other tasks while more urgent computations were carried out. Fuel was running out, and passing over a boulder-strewn field with rocks that Aldrin noted “were as big as cars”, Armstrong focused on landing. He touched down with around 50 seconds of burn time remaining, and informed mission control that they were on the ground.

  • As the first humans to gaze upon the moon with their own eyes, Armstrong and Aldrin would have seen a sight quite unlike any other: the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility, a flatter region of the moon composed of basaltic plains. The rest of the moon is dotted with craters, and thanks to the lack of an atmosphere, craters have remained relatively untouched since their original impacts. The Sea of Tranquility faces the Earth – thanks to tidal locking, the far side of the moon is not visible from the surface.

  • Three-and-a-half-hours after landing, both Aldrin and Armstrong had suited up and depressurised the lunar module. After struggling to get out of the lunar module, Armstrong began making his way down the ladder. The image quality of photos from the lunar surface are of a high quality, but video footage was shot with slow-scan cameras that produced a signal incompatible with television signals. The resulting broadcast was captured by recording it on a standard camera and played back on TV, producing a lower quality image.

  • Here is the moment that defined the 1960s – Neil Armstrong’s timeless first step and transmission from the surface has been immortalised. While Armstrong intended to say “…first step for a man”, static in the transmission resulted in the resulting quote being misrepresented as “first step for man”. Some of original tapes from Apollo 11 were lost, and existing footage was retouched instead: with current technologies, documentaries like Apollo 11 feature HD footage of content from the 1960s.

  • Armstrong reported no trouble moving about on the lunar surface, where the gravity is a sixth of that on Earth’s. Despite concerns about the backpack creating balance problems, movement was not a problem for Armstrong and Aldrin. With both men on the surface, the next task was to plant the American flag on the surface. This was the part that Aldrin was particularly worried about: millions were watching, and the soil properties made it difficult to plant the flag.

  • With some effort, the flag was planted, and here, Aldrin stands beside the flag. Many of the photographs from the lunar surface depict Aldrin – Armstrong had been operating the camera and therefore did not appear in many of them. While Armstrong may have been selected to be the first man on the moon based on the belief that Armstrong was better suited for this historic decision for his personality (Christopher Kraft and other members made the adjustment to the flight plan so the commander would leave the space craft first), Aldrin’s appearance in almost all of the photos means that he shared in the glory of this accomplishment in an equally timeless and memorable fashion.

  • President Richard Nixon phoned the astronauts to personally congratulate them, and while he originally planned a longer speech, he was convinced to keep it short. Here is one of the footprints on the surface: with no erosion, the footprint likely is still preserved exactly as it appeared fifty years previously unless an impact event erased it. On the other hand, the nylon flags planted on the moon were not designed to resist the conditions of space and will have degraded after five decades of exposure to space.

  • With the formalities done, Armstrong and Aldrin set about preparing the lunar experiments, including a laser reflector and seismic experiments. While limited in their time on the surface, and only wandering 60 meters from the lunar module at most, subsequent Apollo missions greatly extended the astronaut’s stay on the surface in duration and provided a lunar roving vehicle that allowed later astronauts to travel 35 kilometres.

  • My interest in the Apollo 11 mission and space travel as a whole began when I was a primary student. I had received Barbara Hehner’s First on The Moon. Featuring narration told from Jan Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin’s daughter, the book recounts her experiences and more details about the three astronaut’s flight to the moon, their experiments on the surface and their return home. The book was published in 1999 and combined technical details with a highly accessible tone, making it easy to read for young readers. Excitement about the moon turned to excitement about prior and later developments: in going to the library, I ended up learning a great deal about Sputnik to the beginnings of the International Space Station.

  • Curiosity about what led to the Space Race and my happenstance finding of Steven Rys’s US Military Power (published in 1983) is the origin of my interests in the Cold War, and the Second World War. Here, Buzz Aldrin sets about preparing the lunar experiments. These are critical aspects of the moon landing to provide the first set of instruments on the moon that were placed there by human hands: previously, lunar probes were landed successfully. Apollo 11 details these moments in much greater detail than First Man, which, while not exactly the most accurate portrayal of Neil Armstrong or some of his experiences, was a solid movie all around.

  • This is the laser reflector that was a part of the lunar laser ranging experiment, where an Earth-based laser is directed at the moon. Signal from the laser reflecting back is then recorded, and despite the laser beam being some six and a half kilometers wide, hitting the reflector is still incredibly difficult, and getting a photon back is a similar challenge. However, the time difference resulting provides an exceptionally precise measurement of how far away the moon is.

  • When I first watched First Man back in January, aside from the disappointment that Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong was not entirely accurate, I was utterly blown away by the film’s cinematography, composition, camera angles and soundtrack. The film was exceptionally enjoyable despite the minor hiccoughs in accuracy, and overall, I was thoroughly impressed to the point where it actually became a little difficult to resume watching anime again.

  • After their mission, Aldrin and Armstrong entered the lunar module and prepared to launch back into lunar orbit. They would dock with the command module, where Collins was waiting, and after discarding the lunar module, fired the command module’s main engine for a trans-Earth injection. This phase of the mission was much more relaxed, although one final challenge remained with re-entry. This was no problem in the end, and the command module’s cone splashed down in the south Pacific. The crew was picked up by helicopters from the USS Hornet.

  • The United States would go on to launch five more successful missions: Apollo 13 suffered an oxygen tank explosion that crippled the command module, and forced the astronauts to utilise the lunar module as a lifeboat. Beyond this, later Apollo missions spent several days on the lunar surface and even bought a lunar roving vehicle to extend the astronaut’s reach. Overall, the Apollo programme returned 382 kilograms of lunar material and paved the way for lunar research of an unprecedented scope. In addition, the Saturn rockets were also used to launch Skylab, America’s first space station. The Soviets had turned their attention towards space stations after losing the race to the moon, and in 1975, as a sign of détente, conducted a joint mission that would be known as the Apollo-Soyuz mission that marked the end of the Space Race.

  • Since then, the United States ran the Space Shuttle programme between 1981 and 2011, and today, space exploration has slowed in pacing, although privately-funded initiatives have rekindled interest. Although projects like SpaceX has a ways to go in matching the sheer amount of human and financial capital of NASA during the Apollo era, the freedoms that private firms have may allow for quicker progress once the technology becomes developed. While man has not reached the moon since 1972, the world has advanced quite a ways since then, especially in the realm of telecommunications, microprocessors, information technology, health and medicine.

  • Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins spent 21 days in quarantine to ensure that they did not bring back any pathogens from the moon, even though this was remote. In August, the astronauts participated in a massive ticker-tape parade, and the first successful mission set precedence for the next six missions, five of which succeeded. With this special post now in the books, I will be briefly returning to write about Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell wa nan kilo moteru? on short order, before closing off the month with a special topics post on The Giant Walkthrough Brain, a project that is an excellent example of what modern computing is capable of and why during this age, effective science communication becomes ever more important.

It is therefore no exaggeration when I consider the Apollo 11 to be the most outstanding representation of humanity at its absolute best. When the brightest minds came together to collaborate on a leviathan task, the results spoke for themselves, speaking to how humanity can, with the right effort and determination, the right toughness and competence, can accomplish incredible feats of ingenuity that really exemplify what it means to be human. Even though I come much later and never witnessed the Apollo 11 launch and landings for myself, the sheer scale of the Apollo program and its impact on the world are something that I appreciate each and every day. As an iOS developer, I owe my entire discipline to the developments that came out of research for reliable, powerful integrated circuits to ensure the safety and success of Apollo. These integrated circuits developed into microprocessors, which have advanced at a bewildering rate. As I develop software to better connect the world through our mobile devices, it is humbling to know that my aging iPhone 6 could have, with its 1.6 billion transistors and capability to carry out 3.36 billion instructions per second, is around 32600 times faster than the computers that carried out the Apollo missions. This roughly corresponds with a 120 million times increase in performance, with the implication that my iPhone 6 could simultaneously manage 120 million Apollo spacecraft to the moon. Fifty years represents a considerable amount of time, and I recall that when I was granted my Master’s of Science in Computer Science, alumni of the university from a half-century ago commented on the sophistication of my graduate thesis project, which was unimaginable at their time. Apollo had set the precedence for technology, and as we move ahead into the future, I expect that five decades from now, the kind of technology that will be available will far surpass what we can presently imagine. The legacy of the Apollo 11 programme is one that is to endure: besides the accomplishments from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, we also must thank the hundreds of thousands of engineers, scientists and support staff who contributed to what remains humanity’s greatest achievement as a species.

Yama no Susume Season 3: Whole-series Review and a Full Recommendation

“Mountains are only a problem when they are bigger than you. You should develop yourself so much that you become bigger than the mountains you face.” ―Idowu Koyenikan

Hinata visits Ikebukuro on her own when Aoi is busy with work, finding herself lonely without Aoi’s presence. Meanwhile, Aoi manages to put her knowledge of cakes to practise and recommends a cake to Kokona’s mother, who is looking to buy something for Kokona. Later, because of communications challenges, Aoi ends up planning a trip to Gunma with Honoka, while Hinata plans a visit to Mount Akagi on the same day. While Hinata climbs up the steep trails of Mount Akagi with Kokona, Aoi and Honoka explore the shrines of Gunma before stopping by a hot springs. Hinata becomes increasingly jealous of Aoi when further miscommunications lead Aoi to spend time with Mio, Kasumi and Yuri in Ikebukuro, feeling Aoi is becoming more distant. Kasumi also comments on the changes in Aoi’s personality since she’d taken up mountain climbing and hopes that the confident Aoi will be able to spend more time with those around her. Kaede decides to invite everyone out to camp on a multi-day hike to Mount Mizugaki and Mount Kinpu after Yūka, but when Aoi and Kokona are nearly late, having spent the previous evening cooking for everyone, Hinata snaps and lectures Aoi for being late. She becomes distant from the others and while climbing ahead, injures her knee. On the second day, en route to Mount Kinpu, Hinata’s injury worsens, forcing her to abandon her climb. Aoi volunteers to stay behind and escort Hinata back to camp, while encouraging Kokona and Kaede to finish the ascent. Aoi reassures Hinata that she’ll always be best friends with her, and the two reconcile. Autumn begins giving way to winter, and Hinata’s birthday approaches. Aoi struggles to come up with a good gift for her, and accidentally reveals plans for Hinata’s surprise birthday party. When Aoi expresses worry that she doesn’t know Hinata all that well, Hinata reassures her that this is what being friends and spending time together is about. The two exchange secrets, and Aoi gifts Hinata a handbag for her birthday. This brings Yama no Susume 3 to a close, and with it, my journey reaches an end for the present. Like its predecessors, Yama no Susume 3 excels in covering different aspects of friendship, and with it, comes a very clear theme on both the good and bad that can come with change.

With its focus on a broad spectrum of events that can occur in friendship, as well as mountain climbing, Yama no Susume 3 seamlessly weaves together interpersonal discoveries with the joys and challenges of climbing a mountain. While the first half to the third season progressed at a breakneck speed, the second half puts the brakes on after Hinata’s worries and doubts begin manifesting. Aoi has slowly become more confident and outgoing over the course of Yama no Susume: from making herself heard to taking the initiative and realising her goals through a combination of persistence and determination, Aoi begins to feel more at ease in her surroundings, whether it be in a classroom with peers, or on a tricky mountain trail. She thus opens up and begins to take charge of a situation, making things happen, rather than passively allowing others to drive things. This new Aoi is a mark of her growth, and while positive, also leads Hinata to feel left behind. When Yama no Susume started, Hinata was evidently more outgoing and strong-armed Aoi into hiking with her, but with Aoi finding her own wings, Hinata fears that Aoi may leave her. This is a very natural worry, since Hinata has come to greatly treasure her friendship with Aoi since the two reunited. Worries manifests as hostility, and Hinata uncharacteristically snaps at Aoi, finding it difficult to express herself in an honest manner. However, on the slopes of Mount Kinpu, the combination of injury and Aoi’s understanding of things allows Hinata to reconcile. While this might be considered a magic of the slopes, the process comes as a consequence of Aoi’s growth: she’s now able to take stock of a situation, understand it and then honestly express how she feels about things. Being able to put things in the open help both Aoi and Hinata move ahead, strengthening their friendship further.

While life lessons come at the forefront of Yama no Susume 3, they are presented on the slopes of Akagi, Mizugaki and Kinpu: true to its core, Yama no Susume 3 includes some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the whole of Yama no Susume. From the stunning night view at the top of Tsukuba to the autumn foliage at Kinpu, Yama no Susume spared no expense in crafting a highly vivid, detailed presentation of the Japanese mountains. This is unsurprising, given that Yama no Susume has consistently presented mountain climbing and hiking with realism, and in a bit of a coincidence, I decided to take a hike yesterday to Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country, located a short ways from Calgary. The Chester Lake hike is characterised by a steep start that gives way to more level terrain that also yields a stunning view of Mount Chester, and is rated as a moderate hike that takes some four hours to complete, spanning a distance of 9.1 kilometres. After the ascent up the first third, the going became easier to the point where I managed to reach the lake within an hour and a half. We’d heard that there had been an adolescent grizzly bear on the north side of the trail near the lake, and many hikers had decided to give this bear his space. Sure enough, when we reached the top of the trail, there was indeed a bear here, minding his own business. We stopped briefly at lake, which had become rather quiet, and to a rocky area known as the Elephant Rock. After a brief lunch and climbing further, we reached the end of the trail at a remote pond and sat down for some granola bars before turning back for the trail head. Armed with plenty of water, the knowledge of pacing ourselves and good hiking shoes, this hike proved to be remarkably enjoyable, and as Aoi discovered during Yama no Susume 2, the descent back down the trail can be quite tiring. I’ve been a casual hiker for two years now, and are somewhat familiar with the ins and outs of hiking. To see Yama no Susume so faithfully represent these aspects is a very rewarding, indicating the series’ commitment to excellence and conveying its message effectively; by reproducing technical details around mountain climbing accurately, Yama no Susume convinces audiences that its portrayal of the events that Aoi and the others experience are very much real, augmenting the weight of each learning and discovery that Aoi and her friends encounter.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Aoi’s classmates notice her improved confidence when they visit the bakery that she works at, and during the course of her day, Aoi helps a little girl out when she buys a small slice of cake to gift to her mother to celebrate a new baby sister: the manager waives the taxes, remarking that the little girl’s spirit is most honourable and that a part of the joys of working is helping others to realise their wishes.

  • With the day drawing to an end, the bakery prepares to close, but a lady shows up, and the manager allows her in. Despite the lady’s selection being limited, Aoi works out something and helps her to pick out a cake for her daughter. It turns out that this lady is Kokona’s mother, and Kokona is thrilled to have a mountain-themed cake. Like the finale post for Yama no Susume 2, there’s a bit of ground to cover, and so, this talk on Yama no Susume 3 will be a ways longer than a standard post.

  • While Aoi is gaining confidence and spreading her wings, Hinata begins feeling a bit left behind when her efforts to invite Aoi and the others out fails. Despite having come so far, both Aoi and Hinata still feel doubtful in their friendship, expecting the other to try and engage the other. However, because both lack the initiative, their misunderstanding builds, and it takes a few episodes to sort this out – contrary to their (rather immature) perceptions of one another, both Aoi and Hinata are actually more independent than they otherwise let on. The gap between Aoi and Hinata here visually represents the distance that is developing between the two.

  • Aoi had previously spent time with Kokona when they two had hiked up the Hanno Alps together after running into one another on the trials, but Mount Akagi marks the first time that Hinata and Kokona have spent time together without Aoi or Kaede around. The mark of a solid slice-of-life series is having different subsets of the characters interacting with one another in a more personal setting, which allows for new dynamics to be shown. GochiUsa was an excellent example of how novel moments could be created by simply putting different characters together as pairs.

  • Aoi finally has a chance to visit Gunma, Honoka’s home. There’s a 110 kilometre distance separating Gunma and Hanno, but thanks to how the trains work, most rides take around three and a half hours. The visit is therefore a momentous moment, and while Honoka would’ve liked to show Hinata around, as well, only Aoi was available to make it. Despite this, Aoi enjoys exploring Gunma with Honoka, who shows her the various shrines of the area. After climbing a set of 365 steps, one for each day of the year, the two reach the gates of the Ikaho hot springs.

  • The hike up Mount Akagi is tougher than expected: both Kokona and Hinata struggle to make it to the top. However, amidst the overcast skies and colourful autumn foliage, the two make it, finding a spot to set down and take a breather before continuing to the summit. My typical strategy is to ease into a hike first, and then depending on the difficulty of the path, space out water breaks. Hiking is ultimately no different than lifting weights, and taking breaks at measured intervals is key to preventing fatigue.

  • While I’m generally fond of clear days and express my displeasure at overcast days, I find that during a hike, overcast weather is actually a blessing – exertion during a hike has very pronounced effects, and it can become somewhat uncomfortable on a hot day when the sun is baking down. However, the cooler weather and lack of direct sun on overcast days actually makes hikes more enjoyable, allowing one to stay slightly cooler.

  • Aoi displays a more adventurous side to her when she picks up a metal cup and samples some of the Ikaho Onsen‘s spring water. The water is rich in dissolved iron and therefore has a very distinct taste: the official site advises drinking this water after dinner, and avoiding tea and coffee because polyphenols, such as tannin, found in these beverages can inhibit iron uptake (iron is essential for blood production).

  • Aoi remains quite embarrassed to go into the onsen, and Honoka reveals that all of the constraints Aoi’s mentioned are not an issue at all. With little choice other than to go in, Aoi eventually relents and joins Honoka, finding an immensely relaxing experience. By being nudged out of her comfort zone, Aoi continues to grow as she explores new horizons and becomes acclimatised to things that once made her uncomfortable.

  • It suddenly strikes me that Aoi resembles GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto in appearances. Here, Honoka passes her a Gunma-chan towel: Gunma-chan is the prefecture’s mascot. Taking the form of a horse, Gunma-chan has been utilised by the prefecture government to promote the area. The prefecture’s name itself, 群馬 (jyutping kwan4 maa5) literally translates to “group of horses” and refers to the fact that the prefecture was an ancient place for horse breeding shortly after people arrived from the mainland.

  • While Kokona and Hinata might not have a relaxing soak in the onsen, they instead get to glory in a successful ascent to Mount Akagi. With a height of 1828 metres, the average hike up this mountain takes three hours, which is considered to be a dormant volcano. Akagi gave its name to the IJN Akagi, one of Japan’s aircraft carriers involved in the attack on Pearl Harbour and which was later sunk during the Battle of Midway.

  • At Mount Akagi’s summit, Kokona reveals that she’d prepared some cookies, scones and tea for their excursion. Hinata is genuinely impressed, and praises Kokona, who remarks that this is the joy of the effort. Bringing tea to the summit of Mount Akagi means that Kokona’s brought elements from K-On! into Yama no Susume, and here, a portable burner can be seen. Both Yama no Susume and Yuru Camp△ both showcase more elaborate setups for food options while hiking and camping: while most portable burners are used for heating up simple meals, I’ve also read about how a cast-iron pan and griddles can be used for some creative recipes while one is camping, as well. Midway through their tea, the sun breaks through the clouds and yields Crepuscular rays, creating a magical moment.

  • After the onsen, Honoka and Aoi head towards the Haruna Shrine, which is indeed a spirtual “power spot” that is said to have at least 1400 years of history. Its gods look after blessings and health, and it is located some 3.1 kilometres away from the Ikaho hot springs. While this ordinarily requires a 40 minute walk, Honoka’s older brother is on station to provide a ride: Honoka’s annoyance is quite visible, and it is perhaps a blessing that this car ride lasts only seven minutes. Once Aoi arrives, she makes a wish to successfully complete the Mount Fuji ascent.

  • Kokona and Hinata end up buying good luck charms for success on their future adventures. As their day comes to a close, they run into a film crew who is shooting a commercial spot with Gunma-chan. Kokona’s great love for all things Gunma-chan takes over, and she runs off to embrace Gunma-chan. The precise results are unclear, but one can reasonably work out that the film crew would have no trouble with someone like Kokona showing up unexpectedly.

  • While Hinata’s fear of being left behind have begun manifesting in subtle ways since Yama no Susume 3‘s second half, it becomes quite apparent on the train ride back home, when Aoi begins sharing photos with Kokona and seemingly leaves Hinata out of the conversation. This is unintentional on Aoi’s part – her budding confidence gives her more drive in being able to share her experiences with others, and upon hearing about how Aoi’s been doing fine with Honoka, wonders if she’s been replaced.

  • Later, after yet another miscommunication where Hinata had assumed she was going to the theatres with her family on Saturday rather than Sunday, she suddenly has a free day while Aoi hangs out with the same classmates from karaoke. They end up following a very similar itinerary as Hinata did, visiting the planetarium and sharing a long wait in line for crêpes. While Aoi’s come far in managing her acrophobia since Yama no Susume 2, she’s not completely past her fear of heights and also missed out on a few things.

  • One empathises with Hinata’s situation: when her scheduling falls through, she suddenly has no plans for the day and wanders the streets of Hanno, eventually running into Kaede and Yuuka. With Yuuka furiously pushing Kaede to study for her exams ahead of post-secondary admissions, Kaede’s presence throughout Yama no Susume 3 has been reduced. Here, Hinata wonders how Kaede and Yuuka get along so well; that their personalities clash and complement the other’s is what forms the strength of their friendship.

  • As Aoi’s day draws to a close, Kasumi reveals that she and the others had been in her class since middle school, but because Aoi had been so withdrawn, she never paid attention to those around her. After seeing the new Aoi, Kasumi yearns to strike up a proper friendship with Aoi and requests that Aoi should not forget anyone this time around. Realising this, Aoi accepts and promises to keep everyone in her mind.

  • Colouring is utilised in Yama no Susume to create atmosphere – subtle hints in the colour can speak volumes about how characters are feeling, and here, the washed out, desaturated hues suggest a sense of unease. Looking at anime from a more human perspective offers the most value, and while slice-of-life shows are often dismissed as being little more than “cute girls doing cute things”, a properly-structured slice-of-life show offers a suitable medium for showing a journey of how life lessons are discovered and learnt. This is why I personally approach such shows with the mindset of seeing how meaningful this journey is, and count elements like comedy as being secondary to one’s enjoyment.

  • Yuuka believes Kaede has made satisfactory progress with her studies and allows her a weekend to regroup, reasoning that letting Kaede rest will be beneficial. Kaede relishes the moment, and in a flourish, declares the liberty and limitless potential of not having to have her face in a book. Yama no Susume 3 is certainly not a comedy, and the joy in watching the series instead stems from watching the presentation of how one gets from point A to point B. With her (temporary) new-found freedom, Kaede suggests that everyone go on an overnight trip to Mount Mizugaki and Mount Kinpu.

  • The night before the group’s outing, Kokona and Aoi stay up preparing the ingredients for their evening meal. However, Aoi very nearly oversleeps, and when the alarm goes off, a desperate Kokona shoves Aoi out of bed to wake her. It’s a welcome surprise to Kokona’s character that was hitherto unexpected – despite her gentle disposition, Kokona is willing to do what is necessary to ensure that things work out.

  • On board the train, Hinata lambastes Aoi for being late. While the Hinata of old would have likely shrugged it off, her recent feelings of resentment and loneliness rushes out here. In spite of these feelings, Hinata does stay within the realm of the issue at hand, restricting her lecture to Aoi on punctuality before Kaede intervenes and says that Hinata’s point is clear. While Hinata’s actions are in keeping with how not to escalate a disagreement, not being able to get to the root of her troubles means that Hinata starts the adventure with a sullen heart.

  • Thus, while the scenery of Mount Mizugaki is beautiful, subtle use of camera angles show that even as Aoi, Kaede and Kokona enjoy their adventure, Hinata remains unhappy and is shown with her back towards the camera. As the girls ascend along the trails, these feelings mingle with the sense of majesty and wonder associated with mountain climbing.  Here, the distinct outcrops of Mount Mizugaki are visible: with a maximum elevation of 2230 metres, the hike along Mount Mizugaki takes roughly three hours and is said to be quite easy.

  • When the girls arrive at the top of Mount Mizugaki, the view is stunning. I’ve found that timing estimates for how long trails take to complete are typically on the more conservative side: during my hike out to Chester Lake, the estimated time to complete the entire in-and-out hike was five hours, indicating a two-hour hike to Chester Lake itself. However, we managed to reach the lake in the space of 90 minutes, and that was with periodic breaks along the trail. While there is joy in reaching the end of a trail, I find that a large part of the fun also comes from seeing things on the way up to the destination. In the end, we trekked a total of 13.5 kilometers with an elevation gain of around 400 metres.

  • In my case, it’s usually things like crystal-clear streams flowing down the side of the mountain and stunning views of unspoiled nature: for the most part, visitors to natural areas are very good about leaving naught more than footprints and taking naught more than photographs, so on the various hikes I’ve done, the most I’ve noticed about a human presence (beyond running into happy hikers on the trails) are the occasional footprint. Here, the girls stop at the summit of Mount Mizugaki to enjoy a tea. Again, everyone is in fine spirits save for Hinata, who’s now sustained a minor knee injury on the trails and is doing her best to conceal it for fear of ruining everyone else’s experience.

  • As evening sets in, Aoi, Kokona and Kaede admire the star-filled sky. This was the moment that Yama no Susume 3 opened with, and while Hinata’s absence is noticeable, viewers won’t think too much of it. However, with more context now, Hinata’s decision to not check out the stars is felt more significantly. I’ve noted previously that some anime under-represent light pollution, indicating that it is possible to see a night sky filled with stars and even the Milky Way itself. However, Yama no Susume 3 nails this detail correctly: at Mount Mizugaki and Mount Kinpu, the skies have a darkness of 21.67 mag./arc sec².  This corresponds with a Bortle scale 3, where magnitude 6.5 stars being visible and where the complex structures of the Milky Way can be seen.

  • The girls prepare to retire for the evening, and Aoi shares a tent with Kaede. The next morning, Aoi is paid back in full for being late when Kaede, who moves in her sleep, punches Aoi out. After breakfast, Kaede suggests that Hinata lead the group today, but Hinata’s injury soon becomes apparent as they ascend Mount Kinpu. The music takes on a more ominous tone akin to what is seen in Les Stroud’s Survivorman when Stroud describes a tricky situation. Stroud notes that being injured in the backcountry makes survival all the more difficult, and that out in the bush, one’s priority should always be to minimise exacerbating an injury further.

  • The beautiful scenery of the path leading up to Mount Kinpu does nothing to diminish the fact that she’s injured, and ultimately, Aoi volunteers to look after Hinata and walk her back down the trail to base camp while Kokona and Kaede push forwards. This singular action shows how Aoi’s matured now: taking a leaf from Kaede’s playbook, Aoi sets about ensuring the safety of her best friend and assures both Kaede and Kokona that things will be fine.

  • On the way back down the mountain, Aoi carries Hinata’s gear as well as her own. Watching Aoi take these measures to ensure Hinata’s injury does not worsen is the surest sign of her friendship with Hinata, indicating to audiences just how far Aoi’s come mentally and physically since Hinata invited her to scale Mount Tenran back during Yama no Susume. It is on the descent that Hinata finally is truthful to Aoi, explaining that she’d felt jealous and left behind ever since Aoi was not able to visit Mount Akagi with her.

  • While Hinata and Aoi may not be at the summit of Mount Kinpu, the cliff they choose to rest at still offers an incredible of the world below. Aoi reminds Hinata that no matter the circumstance, she’ll always regard Hinata as her dearest friend, reaffirming their friendship. Having reconciled with Aoi, Hinata’s spirits are restored, and even her knee injury seems to lessen as the two continue back down the mountain together. The mountains bring out the best in everyone, and one of Yama no Susume‘s long-standing themes across each of its seasons was how being made to square off against nature is an exercise that improves one’s character.

  • The strength of the themes in Yama no Susume are encouraging, inspiring, and for having compelled me to consider climbing Ha Ling Peak at some point in the future, Yama no Susume as a whole is counted as a masterpiece (A+, 4.0 of 4.0). Overall, Yama no Susume 3 similarly earns a perfect score for using mountain climbing as a highly visual, immersive metaphor for self-discovery. Like any journey in life, not every step of the way is easy, and there are some downright challenging moments that test Aoi and Hinata’s resolves. Like mountain climbing, there are peaks and valleys, ups and downs: what matters is being able to see the next peak, setting one’s sights on a goal, and knowing how to pick oneself up during times of difficulty.

  • At the time of writing, Ha Ling Peak is closed while crews maintain the trail, so when I’ll actually get around to doing so is unknown. The best I can manage for now will be to promise to climb it before Yama no Susume 4 is announced. Back in Yama no Susume 3, Aoi and Hinata welcome Kokona and Kaede back; the latter is utterly spent and totally content with having conquered yet another mountain: the rush of being tired post-hike is always a rewarding feeling to experience, and after completing Chester Lake, I note that while my legs and glutes are fine, my shoulders are feeling a little sore, indicating that when I train, I should definitely work on my shoulders more.

  • Yama no Susume 3 features no new incidental pieces: the soundtrack across all three seasons was released in July 2018, covering all of the instrumental music used throughout the series, including Omoide Present. Having had a chance to listen to the music more closely, my favourite track is 駆け出す思い (kakedasu omoi, or “feelings that rush out”), which is played at pivotal moments whenever Aoi makes a new discovery.

  • After packing up, Kaede, Kokona, Hinata and Aoi bid the mountain farewell. Like Yama no Susume 2, this is where my post would end, were it not for the fact that following the climactic climb, there is always a falling action episode that has very little to do with mountain climbing. It acts as a quiet, peaceful denouement to Yama no Susume and neatly wraps the series up. Overall, I found the presentation of Yama no Susume 3 to be appropriate: while some folks felt the rift between Aoi and Hinata to be unnecessary, the reality is that such moments are inevitable.

  • The inclusion of the feelings that Hinata experienced therefore makes Yama no Susume 3 more, not less, realistic. Saying that such problems have no place in Yama no Susume 3 is like saying Aoi should’ve made it up Mount Fuji in one go: to do so would completely eliminate the learnings that are gained through adversity, and diminish the strength of the themes. By the events of the final episode, everything’s been resolved, and things go back to Aoi being on the rocks as she struggles to determine what the best birthday gift for Hinata could be.

  • Hinata has known Aoi long enough to know when something’s off, so when Aoi seems unlike herself, Hinata manages to learn that Aoi’s been troubled by being unable to find what to give Hinata for her birthday. After sharing a laugh, Hinata explains that friendships are built over time, so it’s okay not to know everything about one’s friends, and that sharing time together to make these discoveries is what makes it worthwhile. This Hinata seems quite far removed from the surly, jealous Hinata seen in the past few episodes, and indicates that adolescents can demonstrate both great maturity and childishness as they skirt the gap between youth and adulthood.

  • In order to help Aoi along, Hinata suggests sharing secrets with one another that leave the other surprised. With Hinata’s revelation, Aoi finally decides on what to get Hinata for her birthday. This brings Yama no Susume 3 to an end, and during the credits, Hinata’s birthday party is shown, with Honoka doing a video call in owing to her distance. After enjoying the cake that Aoi’s bought and cooking from Hinata’s father, Hinata unboxes her gifts: a handbag from Aoi and makeup from her parents.

  • With this post, a journey that began in April comes to an end for the present: when I first began watching Yama no Susume, I remarked that this would be an excellent way to occupy the time while waiting for Yuru Camp△‘s second season to air. Three months later, it appears as though I’ll now be making use of Yuru Camp△‘s second season to wait for Yama no Susume‘s fourth season, which has no known release date. The only reason why I can be confident about a fourth season is because there remains Aoi’s promise to complete her conquest of Mount Fuji before high school ends.

  • This confidence is justified by the end card to Yama no Susume 3, whose text indicates an intent to eventually return. The use of footprints as exclamation marks is a particularly clever touch, and with all seasons of Yama no Susume in the books, it is a little saddening to learn that my journey comes to an end for the present. We are also nearly halfway through July now, and this July is a noteworthy one, being the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, as well as the fifth anniversary of the Giant Walkthrough Brain. While I have plans to write about Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru?, these special topics posts will take priority.

Yama no Susume 3‘s finale is similar to its predecessor, being set away from the slopes of a mountain. This time, the conflict stems from Aoi’s inability to pick a suitable gift for Hinata’s birthday. While Aoi may have grown from her experiences, she’s not infallible, and likewise, while Hinata’s insecurity can come across as being somewhat immature, Hinata also possesses a reasonable degree of maturity and insight. The dynamic between the two friends, where Aoi and Hinata both complement one another, allows both to be strong for one another. While the process of mountain climbing doubtlessly helps Aoi, that Aoi and Hinata both share their experiences together allow the two to grow and improve as people. Yama no Susume be about mountain climbing, and the requirements involved to appreciate the hobby, but its greatest strength is that it masterfully utilises mountain climbing as a metaphor for personal growth and moreover, presents this journey in a highly visceral, visual manner. The mountains become a secondary (but nonetheless majestic) backdrop for a trek that at its heart, is about how one’s experiences strengthen one’s resolve and broadens their horizons. Together with solid aural and visual elements, I deeply enjoyed Yama no Susume, and Yama no Susume 3 is a much-welcomed addition into the series. This is a series I can readily recommend to all viewers for its gentle but moving presentation of life lessons, with the mountains acting as a spectacular setting in which said life lessons are presented. With all three seasons in the books, I’ve now reached the end of the path, and thoughts invariably stray towards whether or not there will be a continuation. While a stage play was announced back in December 2018, news of a fourth season have not yet materialised. With this being said, Yama no Susume‘s manga is still ongoing, and moreover, with Hinata and Aoi’s friendship having come out of the third season all the stronger, the stage is set for Aoi to conquer Mount Fuji in a titanic act that represents both the distance she’s come, as well as the closeness between Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona. Once more volumes are produced, it is inevitable that a fourth season will be announced.

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yama no Susume Season 3: A Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“Beauty has so many forms, and I think the most beautiful thing is confidence and loving yourself.” –Kiesza

With autumn setting in, Aoi decides to take Hinata on a night climb to Mount Tsukuba and express her thanks to Hinata for having gotten her a souvenir from Mount Fuji. The beautiful landscapes at the top of Mount Tsukuba motivate Aoi to reattempt Mount Fuji, but after learning that Mount Fuji’s trails and facilities will be closed until next summer, Aoi decides to pick up dedicating hiking shoes instead, and ascends Mount Tenran to test them out. Later, Aoi decides to hike the trails of the Hanno Alps, and while finding it a challenging experience, she runs into Kokona and visits the shrines in Nenogongen. Back in school, when Mio, one of Aoi’s classmates, strike up a conversation with her, Aoi finds herself accepting an invitation to karaoke. Encouragement allows Aoi to be herself and have a good time. Aoi, Hinata and Kokona meet up with Honoka to visit Lockheart Castle uin Gunma. With their cameras, they capture memories of their experiences. After Aoi learns about mountain coffee, she decides to pursue the art of brewing and enjoying it, sharing her coffee with Hinata at the Kanhasshu Observation Platform and learning that contrary to her imagination, Hinata actually drinks her coffee with milk and sugar. Halfway into Yama no Susume‘s third season (Yama no Susume 3 for brevity), the series marks a triumphant return of a series that has done a phenomenal job of capturing the ins and outs of mountain climbing, growing friendships and interpersonal discoveries, as well as intrapersonal growth as a result of taking up a new hobby and spending time with newfound companions. Yama no Susume 3‘s run began last summer, and having run the gauntlet of having to catch up, I’ve now reached a point where I can begin my journey into Yama no Susume‘s latest instalment.

Immediately after beginning Yama no Susume 3, it is apparent that this third season’s more condensed runtime has a non-trivial impact on each episode’s pacing; whereas Yama no Susume 2 had twenty-four episodes and therefore, plenty of timing to portray Aoi’s experiences in greater detail, the third season only has half the episodes. Consequently, each episode feels a lot more concise, skating over more subtle or mundane moments in favour of highlights. The end result changes the dynamic of Yama no Susume 3 from those of its predecessors, making the anime feel much more determined and to-the-point. While this change does detract from the slower pacing of Yama no Susume 2, it serves one important narrative function – the higher pace reflects Aoi’s growing confidence. As a result of climbing mountains in a literal sense, Aoi has also matured by overcoming metaphorical mountains. Moments that were momentous milestones now become more commonplace, and so, focus on such instances is diminished as Aoi sets herself the concrete target of conquering Mount Fuji again, and then works towards preparing for the task by improving her endurance and picking up new shoes. Along the way, Aoi also becomes more open towards those around her. In showcasing the more pivotal moments for Aoi, Yama no Susume 3‘s pacing conveys to viewers Aoi’s excitement for a rematch with Mount Fuji: the series has always been successful in doing more with less, and halfway through Yama no Susume 3, it appears that things will continue at a brisk, smart pace.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Yama no Susume 3‘s initial airing during the summer of 2018 was coincided with Harukana Receive‘s airing, and in conjunction with the fact that I had not yet begun my journey with Yama no Susume yet, I only chose to keep the series on my radar. Having taken the superbly enjoyable journey through the first and second season, I finally reach the third season’s opening, which wastes absolutely no time in establishing Aoi’s desire to express her appreciation to Hinata.

  • On a suggestion from Hikari, her coworker at a local bakery, Aoi decides to take Hinata to Mount Tsukuba by night with the aim of showing her the night landscape here. This hike is quite unlike any other that Aoi had done previously: while early morning hiking was a part of the itinerary for Hinata during the Mount Fuji ascent, Aoi was out with altitude sickness and never completed the climb.

  • With a maximum height of 877 metres, Mount Tsukuba is known as the Purple Mountain and on a clear day, offers a panoramic view of Tokyo. Mount Fuji is also visible from the summit. Characterised by an abundance of vegetation and wildlife, Mount Tsukuba is also a popular destination for couples because of the two peaks, which represent the male and female. Hikari suggests this mountain to Aoi, under the impression that she’s seeing someone.

  • One element that never ceases to put a smile on my face are the characters’ dynamic personalities, which constantly remind viewers of how life-like the characters are. While Aoi is usually shy and reserved, and Hinata is more energetic and outgoing, Aoi can be smug and childish around Hinata, showing a side of her character that indicates what she’s like when she’s become close with someone. Under the dark of night, the ascent becomes a completely different one, creating an additional sense of mystique in the landscape.

  • At the summit, lights of the Tokyo skyline spread out towards the horizon. It is here that Yama no Susume 3‘s opening episode marks the series triumphant return to the screen, showcasing the solid artwork that Yama no Susume possesses. While pronounced visual shortcuts are occasionally taken, on the whole, Yama no Susume has excellent visuals. The third season explores a greater range of unique settings, and the first episode sets the precedence for what is upcoming.

  • At the summit, under a peaceful night sky and the gentle scenery below, Aoi resolves to re-attempt Mount Fuji. After her failed first effort, Aoi spent the remainder of the second season rediscovering her love for the mountains, gradually picking herself back up and spearheading the climactic climb to Mount Tanegawa to fulfil a long-standing promise with Hinata. While Aoi worried about the aftermath of this hike, she also would meet Honoka, and as Yama no Susume 3 presents, a new destination is established now that Aoi has set her sights on Mount Fuji once more.

  • Up until now, Aoi had been hiking with conventional shoes, and when Kaede learns that Aoi intends to climb Mount Fuji again, recommends that she pick up a proper pair of hiking shoes, which can run for around 42000 yen (506 CAD). With a rigid sole, hiking shoes offer superior support and stability when traversing rocky terrain. During my first hike at the Big Beehive in Lake Louise, I used my running shoes and found that the soft sole made it difficult to properly set my foot down, since there was the risk of the sole bending and causing my balance to be lost.

  • I ended up purchasing a pair of hiking shoes for a much more reasonable price and used them during a hike to the Windtower Pass, where the trails were poorly marked and where I ended up squaring off against a section where the trail was a foot wide and adjacent to a ten metre drop. Having good shoes gave me the confidence to negotiate this part of the trail, and as Aoi discovers, a proper set of shoes makes a world of difference.

  • Later, when Aoi goes to hike the Hanno Alps trail to improve her stamina and endurance, she finds that the solitude of being alone is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. Despite being able to take things at her own pace, exhaustion also means the lack of support. It is for this reason that hiking is typically recommended to be done with at least one other person. For me, the non-trivial risk of running into bears and cougars means that having at least one person with me allows a conversation to be carried out, which gives wildlife plenty of notice that we’re around.

  • After stopping to rest, Aoi encounters Kokona, who is hiking the Hanno Alps trail in search of wildlife. Morale immediately shifts, and Aoi’s spirits lift considerably. Hiking in groups allows everyone to encourage one another, and being able to talk does make a hike go by a lot more quickly. Typically, when I go on hikes along trails I’ve never done previously, I prefer pacing myself so that I don’t become unnecessarily exhausted. While the goal is to reach a destination, there is also something to be said for enjoying the journey there.

  • Yama no Susume 3 places a much larger focus on Aoi, whose growing confidence is mirrored in the series’ pacing. This does mean that other characters, most notably Kaede, have a reduced presence. Yama no Susume had always predominantly been about Aoi – Kaede is present to provide knowledge and pass on experience to Aoi, while Kokona seems to represent the tranquility and gentleness of nature itself. I praise Yama no Susume for its characterisation of Aoi and Hinata, but Kaede and Kokona do seem a bit more static in their growth.

  • Attesting to attention in detail, Kokona is seen wearing the hiking shoes her mother had gotten for her birthday back during season two. While subtle, such touches add considerably to the authenticity in Yama no Susume, and here, the two share a lunch: Aoi’s mother had created two vast onigiri for Aoi on the assumption that she would be hanging out with Hinata, but Aoi’s serendipitous encounter with Kokona means that things work out fine.

  • Upon reaching the Nenogongen shrine, Kokona and Aoi learn more about the lore of mountain climbing and pay deference to the mountain kami, praying for good health: the gods here deal with hip and leg health. The real shrine is indeed home to the world’s largest sandals, which have a mass of two tons in total, and can be reached from either the Agano Station or Nishi-Agano Station on the Seibu Chichibu Line on foot; this walk takes around an hour and a half.

  • When Aoi’s classmate, Mio, strikes up a conversation with Aoi, the topic naturally flows from Aoi’s love for knitting to the mountains. Intrigued by Aoi, Mio invites Aoi to join her and some other classmates at karaoke. While Aoi is a bit surprised and nervous, Hinata was also invited, giving Aoi at least one familiar face in a group she typically does not hang out with often. I see myself in Aoi, being perfectly content to be left to my own devices, but folks around me contend that I’m not entirely an introvert, either; on a spectrum, I feel that I’d be closer to the middle, slightly favouring solitude over crowds.

  • Aoi is initially pensive about singing, fearing that she’s not familiar with any of the songs, and upon finding songs she knows of, also worries that her peers may mock her for her selection. However, seeing Hinata sing the Mountaineer’s Song prompts Aoi to sing Natsuiro Present, the opening theme to the second season. I have a particular fondness for this song, as well as the third season’s Chiheisen Stride.

  • Aoi and the others meet with Honoka at Lockheart Castle, a castle that was built in Scotland in 1829 and transported, brick-by-brick, to Japan by Masahiko Tsugawa, a famous actor. With a particular fondness for European culture, Tsugawa used his wealth and connections to purchase and move the castle in 1987. Its location in Gunma brings to mind the Enchanted Forest near Revelstoke, British Columbia, which began when Doris Needham purchased some sixteen hectares of forest and began building a home there. By 1960, Needham opened the location, now dubbed the Enchanted Forest, to the public. Although the original attraction only had a small shack and a giant mushroom, visitors continued to visit. Needham expanded the site with a stone-floored castle and nature trials: by 1970, the Enchanted Forest had over one milion visitors. The site was sold and today, continues to be a family business, enchanting the young and old alike with its attractions.

  • On the topic of the Enchanted Forest, I passed by last week during the Canada Day Long Weekend en route to the Okanagan. This excursion out into what is essentially the California of Canada had been in the works for some time: since the trip out there for the salmon run, a desire to visit one of the most beautiful places in Canada turned into a trip. While the weather was rainy on the first day, the weather cleared up by the time we got to Kelowna. Stopping for dinner at an Italian restaurant, we then walked the shores of Lake Okanagan as evening set in: it’s been three years since I was last in Kelowna for a performance of the Giant Walkthrough Brain, and it was such a joy to be back during the summer, where the weather and atmosphere are a world apart from the cold, grey weather I experienced three years previously.

  • On Canada Day itself, we prepared to drive back home: stopping in Sicamous to enjoy the fresh ice cream at D. Dutchman’s, the remainder of the journey home was uneventful until we crossed the Alberta border and passed Canmore, wherein a large traffic jam stopped us cold in our tracks. We ended up taking the Bow Valley Trail to bypass the traffic, bringing an end to this highly enjoyable excursion where time itself appeared to stand still and where I could live in the moment. Such moments are common in series like Yama no Susume, which encourage slowing down to savour the smaller things in life.

  • At Lockheart Castle, Aoi, Honoka, Hinata and Kokona explore to their heart’s content. After touching a stone in the castle that’s supposed to help with emotional development, and Hinata pretends to get stuck in a pillory, the girls stop for lunch, bringing out their cameras and decide to photograph their time spent together. Everyone has a different type of camera, mirroring their own respective backgrounds. Honoka’s camera is a sophisticated one that speaks to her hobby, while Hinata uses an instant camera that represents her forward and living-in-the-moment manner. Kokona uses a disposable film camera: as an older medium, film is more romantic, forcing one to really consider what they’re capturing and waiting to see its outcome (at the same time, also giving a hint about Kokona’s background). Aoi uses her smartphone’s camera: while not a photographer, Aoi’s become more adept with adapting to a situation, and contemporary smart phones, such as Aoi’s iPhone 6, are capable of taking pictures of reasonable quality.

  • My favourite part of Honoka and company’s visit to Lockheart Castle comes when everyone comes decked out in elegant dresses that make each of Honoka, Kokona, Aoi and Hinata resemble princesses. While Lockheart Castle is known for housing a sizeable Christmas collection, visitors can indeed try on various dresses as the girls do. Folks interested in visiting Lockheart Castle will note that there’s a 1000-yen (12 CAD) admission fee for adults (and 800 yen for students, about 9.70 CAD). The castle is around 20 minutes west of Numata by car, and is open from 09:00 to 17:00.

  • The outcome of the girls’ trip to Lockheart Castle is that, on top of additional precious memories of spending time with one another, Honoka also learns that some of the best moments come about naturally, when Kokona decides to photograph her. Later, Honoka’s brother appears to pick her up: he’s a carefree fellow who seems to embarrass Honoka, but Aoi and the others don’t regard Honoka’s older brother as a nuisance.

  • After Aoi learns about mountian coffee, she begins practising the methodology behind brewing a cup so she might be able to enjoy hiking with a more mature spin to it. Her mother is impressed with Aoi’s determination but also wonders if Aoi’s done her homework yet: Aoi seems to be the sort of individual who does well enough in her studies when the moment calls for it but otherwise prefers to spend time on other things. Here, I note that Aoi’s mother, Megumi, is voiced by Aya Hisakawa, whom I know best as Ah! My Goddess‘ Skuld.

  • One of Aoi’s biggest weaknesses as a character is that her imagination tends to get the better of her: her interest in coffee is spurred on purely by a baseless thought that Hinata, who’s begun drinking coffee, regards her as immature. The real Hinata, while occasionally nudging Aoi for fun, is shown to be considerate and caring for Aoi. For her carefree and boisterous manner, Hinata is also has a more thoughtful, sentimental side.

  • While looking through a coffee shop in search of a good coffee, Aoi encounters Kaede and Yuuka, who suggest to her not to push herself in doing something purely for appearances. To warm her up to coffee, Yuuka believes that Aoi should stick with what she likes: Yuuka’s advice is spot on, and while it is tempting to succumb to peer pressure, the height of being cool (or lit, or dope, as folk say these days) is to be true to oneself.

  • Aoi eventually works out a coffee to make for Hinata, and in the process, drinks a substantial amount of coffee. On the day of her walk to the Kanhasshu Observation Platform, Aoi is tired from having not slept very well, yawning frequently. This is the main reason why I don’t drink coffee: despite my love for the smell and taste, the effects of caffeine on me aren’t those that I particularly like, so given the choice, I will drink tea. On the flipside, I will almost always pick coffee or mocha-flavoured sweets if those are available, whether it be ice cream, cakes, chocolates or hard candies.

  • Hinata, noticing this, offers to carry the gear that Aoi’s brought along. The side of Hinata that became more pronounced in Omoide Present is shown once again, giving audiences the sense that time is passing and that both Hinata and Aoi have matured throughout Yama no Susume.

  • The Kanhasshu Observation Platform is located in Hanno, and with an elevation of 771 metres, it is a relatively popular spot for locals because of the views that it offers. On a clear day, Mount Fuji is visible from here, and while some visitors feel the trailhead is a bit out of the way, on the whole, visitors are impressed with the scenery. Watching Hinata and Aoi visit more out-of-the-way spots near and around Hanno is actually what prompted me to plan trips to places like Peachland and the Okanagan Lavender Farm: such spots are invariably skipped if one is looking to see major attractions, but smaller attractions have their own charms and typically do not have the same crowds, making them highly rewarding experiences.

  • Once Aoi reaches the summit, she begins preparing the coffee, grinding her own beans. Hinata remarks that Aoi’s become very proficient in the process and allows her to prepare the coffee. Aoi wears a look of determination on her face: as she sets about the process, her thoughts are on delivering the best possible experience to Hinata to dispel any misconceptions that she’s immature. However, it turns out that Hinata prefers her coffee with milk. After the initial shock wears off, Aoi and Hinata share a laugh together and enjoy their coffee under the brisk autumn skies.

  • Having just passed the halfway point to Yama no Susume 3, my goal now is to wrap this series up in a timely fashion such that I may begin this summer’s anime: Sounan desu ka? (Are we shipwrecked?) and Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru? (How many kilos are the dumbbells you can lift?, and informally Do you even lift: The Anime) have caught my eye, so I have plans to write about those once their third episodes have aired. Beyond this, I also have a pair of special posts planned out for this month.

While the short length of Yama no Susume 3 precludes Aoi returning to Mount Fuji for a rematch against the mountain, the comings and goings in Yama no Susume 3 continue to show that the series is about the journey, rather than the destination, and it is the small things, whether it be training for more strenuous treks or picking up the right equipment, that inevitably set in motion much larger changes. Yama no Susume might be billed as a relaxing series, but it also offers a plethora of relevant life lessons. This particular aspect of Yama no Susume is what makes the series worth watching, dealing with often-times tricky lessons in a very gentle and accessible manner. Because Yama no Susume 3 is on the shorter side, I anticipate finishing this one on very short notice, and while there’s been no news of a continuation, given the fact that the manga is still on-going, and the fact that Aoi’s goal of ascending Mount Fuji has yet to be realised, I anticipate that at some point in the future, a fourth season will be released. I am thoroughly enjoying Yama no Susume – each and every episode puts a smile on my face, and I greatly look forwards to wrapping up season three.

Yama no Susume OVA: Omoide Present Review and Reflection

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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