The Infinite Zenith

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Penguin Highway: A Review and Reflection

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.” –Albert Einstein

Aoyama is a fourth-grader with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and spends his days making detailed observations of the world around him. With a strong sense of confidence, Aoyama encounters a lady working at the dental clinic, whom he takes a liking to. His effort to impress her lands him a conversation, and she consents to instruct him in chess. When penguins begin appearing in his town, the lady tasks him with solving the mystery of the penguins’ origins, and Aoyama sets about applying his own brand of logic and reason towards seeking a scientific solution to this fantastical phenomenon. With his best friend Uchida and the equally-inquisitive transfer student Hanamoto, Aoyama continues to work out how the lady and penguins are connected, discovering a mysterious orb that he dubs the “ocean”. From observations made while he hangs out with the lady, and also his own experiments, Aoyama finds that while he can identify patterns (such as how the lady can only conjure penguins under clear skies and that her well-being diminishes the further away from town she is), he is no closer to solving the mystery: the enigma surrounding this orb deepens when the Lego probe with instruments that Aoyama, Hanamoto and Uchida sends into it vanishes. After a typhoon rolls over the area, and the orb expands, Aoyama and the lady enter the orb to rescue researchers from the university, including Hanamoto’s father, who became trapped in the orb while investigating it. Upon finding the researchers, the lady destroys the orb and bids Aoyama farewell, but not before he confesses that he’s fallen in love with her. After she disappears, Aoyama’s life returns to normal. One day, while relaxing at the local cafe, he sees a penguin, runs off outside and finds that while it has disappeared, the Lego probe he’d sent into the orb previously has returned. This is Penguin Highway in a nutshell, a 2018 film about the boundless curiosity and impermanence of youth, and whose home release only became available in 2019.

While Penguin Highway has Aoyama attempting to ground his observations in the realm of science, it soon becomes clear that the whole of the film takes place in a world where the laws of Newtonian and quantum physics simply do not apply. Matter is freely transformed without adhering to the Laws of Thermodynamics, and the lady herself appears to be an embodiment of the world’s mysteries given human form. With a whimsical, fantastical setting, Penguin Highway speaks to how children perceive the world; while adults have a very procedural, structured way of approaching problem, children often have alternative insights precisely because they are not bound by the same methodologies that adults have. Aoyama, while longing to be an adult and exhibiting the logical and deductive skills of someone much older, shows audiences how there are some phenomenon, miracles, in the world that can defy explanation by conventional means. Even he is baffled and impressed with the sights that he witnesses: unable to formulate a hypothesis on why, Aoyama is taken on a ride with the lady, and comes to discover a new feeling – one of love, as he becomes drawn to the mystery that the lady represents. Penguin Highway suggests that, while adults often dismiss children as thinking in simple terms, their unique outlooks on the world are as complex as an adult’s, even if they cannot structure or organise their thoughts to the same extent. Consequently, the thoughts of children can be quite wondrous when one takes the time to consider them, and this is what Penguin Highway aims to convey. While the structuring of Penguin Highway is turbulent, it captures the raw curiosity of children as they attempt to work out the things they experience in the world.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To give an idea of how busy things have been in the past while, I watched Penguin Highway halfway through back in late February, on a Sunday afternoon where my ISP went down. I had some work-related matters to deal with that day and left for the office so I could attend to those items. I finished the film post-F8 – after the conference ended, I had a chance have a coffee at the heart of San Francisco, drove the Golden Gate Bridge, and even had lunch (fried chicken and barbecue brisket) at the Facebook Campus in Menlo Park. On my last day, I had some of the best (and biggest) ribs I’ve ever had for lunch under a beautiful afternoon sun after visiting the Armstrong Redwoods State Park. Penguin Highway opens with a monologue from Aoyama, who wastes no time in establishing his superior intellect (“I’m smart, and I know I’m destined for greatness”). At his age, I was knee-deep into the natural sciences and history, reading every book I could get my hands on, and drawing out everything I learnt.

  • Aoyama is very bright, and able to deal with Suzuki (the class bully, Penguin Highway‘s equivalent of Calvin and Hobbes‘ Moe) with a dose of wit; at the dentist, he convinces Suzuki that the latter has an unknown, lethal disease, frightening the living daylights out of him. However, Aoyama’s thoughts also wander towards how attractive the woman working at the dental office is; the lady catches him checking her out when they first meet, and he blushes in embarrassment. Aoyama’s matter-of-act temperament draws her interest and she begins spending more time with him, instructing him in how to play chess.

  • Penguins begin appearing in Aoyama’s town: the name broadly refers to aquatic flightless birds of the family Spheniscidae, and the ones seen in Penguin Highway appear to be Pygoscelis adeliae, the most widespread of the penguin species. The penguins’ sizes in Penguin Highway are consistent with those of P. adeliae, although their bills are different. With their habitat being coastal Antarctica, P. adeliae possess adaptations to deal with the frigid conditions and lack of fresh water: it is unsurprising that their appearance in Japan would be quite surprising.

  • In revenge for Aoyama’s stunt at the dental clinic, Suzuki manages to catch Aoyama, whose attempts to escape fall short: he is tied to a vending machine, and the lady appears. After she frees him, she helps him pull his loose tooth, during which she creates a penguin. Such a phenomenon easily catches Aoyama’s eye, and the lady declares that her existence is a bit of a mystery, leaving him to try and solve it.

  • Using the scientific method, Aoyama manages to work out that the lady can only create penguins under clear skies, with bats being spawned in darkness and nothing happening during overcast days. The same techniques are applied (albeit with modifications to suit their needs) in various disciplines; when I debug software, I aim to only manipulate one variable at a time to ensure that an outcome is not caused by another factor. In Penguin Highway, however, the world hardly appears to conform with the laws of thermodynamics, and so, while Aoyama might be able to draw a correlation, causation cannot be so readily concluded.

  • The artwork in Penguin Highway is of an incredible quality, bringing life to Aoyama’s world. From details in the lighting to the choice of palette for a given scene, Penguin Highway‘s visual components add a considerable amount of immersion to the story. The cool of a rainy day, or the rush of wind can be felt as vividly as though one were present in the scene in person – on a rainy day, Aoyama visits the lady’s apartment, and the grey-blues of the day give a sense of gentle gloom.

  • Aoyama’s feelings for the lady begin from physical attraction: he outright admits to staring at her chest more often than he’d like and despite his stoic nature, never objects to spending time with her. Feelings of love in children are as authentic as those adults feel, and I imagine that this is common. For me, I had a bit of a crush on my art instructor/yearbook club advisor in high school, as well as my science instructor during my first year of high school. I expect that these feelings manifest from a combination of the physiological changes that adolescents go through, as well as taking interest in mature individuals that act as role models.

  • Aoyama’s father gives him an alternate perspective on things: he uses a small bag to motivate the notion that by inverting the bag, he is in effect, holding the whole universe in the bag, since relative to the bag’s exterior, the universe surrounds the interior. It’s a clever metaphor, akin to Stephen Hawking’s analogies and explanations for how multi-dimensional spaces might work. This explanation foreshadows the phenomenon seen later in Penguin Highway.

  • Hanamoto is on par with Aoyama in terms of intellectual curiosity and is skillful in chess. She invites Aoyama and Uchida to check out a mysterious phenomenon that has appeared in a clearing in the woods. While Suzuki has taken a liking to Hanamoto, she is more interested in Aoyama for being her peer in an intellectual capacity and is keen in having him help out in trying to work out the recent string of events.

  • It turns out this phenomenon is a wormhole that resembles a suspended sphere of liquid water – Aoyama and the others are quick to christen this sphere as the “ocean”. Its physical properties are completely unknown, beyond the fact that its surface reflects light from its surroundings. Over time, Hanamoto, Aoyama and Uchida collect various observations from it, learning that its size changes over time. While Penguin Highway makes extensive use of the scientific method, it is erroneously considered to be a science fiction story: the definition of science fiction is loose, but in general, it refers to stories that deal how human society reacts to advances in science and technology.

  • Since Penguin Highway does not have a societal component, the presence of the scientific method alone is not sufficient for the film to be considered as science fiction. Penguin Highway is better classified as a fantasy-adventure, following Aoyama’s journey and expressing the components of childhood curiosity in a visual manner for audiences. Aoyama is seen here running to a meeting with his friends, and the normalcy of the neighbourhood is apparent; it’s a beautiful summer’s day, and the blue skies invite exploration.

  • Summer is long associated with endless opportunity to explore, or else simply relax. Besides their research activities, Aoyama, Uchida and Hanamoto also partake in summer activities, such as sharing ice pops and visiting summer festivals. We’re now pushing towards the halfway point of May and are nearly halfway through spring – the days are lengthening, and I am now head home after a day’s work under sunshine. The weather, which has been persistently clinging to winter, has been remarkably nice of late, and I am hoping that the summer this year will be marked by beautiful days punctuated with a good rainfall at regular intervals.

  • During the summer festival, Hanamoto’s father shows up. He’s a researcher working with the local university and has taken an interest in the phenomenon that Hanamoto is studying, as well. During the summer festival, Aoyama and Uchida run into Suzuki and his cronies; Suzuki is interested in what’s going down between Aoyama and Hanamoto, and Aoyama quickly deduces that Suzuki is developing a bit of a crush on Hanamoto.

  • I admit that Penguin Highway was a bit more difficult to write for – I normally write about an anime series or film based on what messages a particular work aims to convey using the experiences the characters go through. By experiencing a disruption, characters mature and respond in a particular way, speaking to a life lesson that can then be discerned as a theme. Penguin Highway does not follow this particular approach and therefore, needed to be viewed with a different mindset in order for its theme to be identified. One review stands out as claiming that there is a substantial philosophical component in Penguin Highway, but fails to identify what this is.

  • The reason why this reviewer cannot identify what philosophy is being presented is simple: there is no overarching philosophical element in Penguin Highway to identify. It comes across as being disingenuous to readers when reviewers for larger sites make factitious claims that an anime is “smarter” than it is, and I make it a point to never do this with my own discussions. Penguin Highway is not a film intended to make audiences feel smarter, but strives to present a very specific picture about children and their curiosity. As their understanding of the orb’s properties increases, Aoyama, Hanamoto and Uchida decide to send a Lego probe into the orb. It is promptly absorbed into the orb and becomes unretrievable.

  • After Suzuki and his gang appear, Aoyama boldly claims that Suzuki must have feelings for Hanamoto and earns a beat down for his cheek. The lady appears and uses her penguins to scare off Suzuki and his gang. When the penguins try to interact with the orb, the orb reacts adversely and begins shooting out water that damage the surroundings. Hanamoto is shocked to learn that Aoyama had not shared this with her: Aoyama claims to have done so to keep the lady safe, and this moment is a subtle reminder of how dissemination of information in academy goes, with secrecy being a part of things as academics work to be the first to present their findings.

  • Aoyama is very blunt in his manner, and when he asks to suspend all investigation into the sphere after spotting a Jabberwock (inspired by Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky, a poem about the killing of a creature), Hanamoto loses her cool, accusing Aoyama of doing this because he’s got a crush on the lady and her physique. Aoyama is unfazed by this and openly admits this. As a bit of trivia, there are articles written from two years back that assert that staring at someone’s mammaries increases longevity. The precise mechanism behind this is not well-understood, but some hypotheses suggest that it increases positive thinking.

  • During a bright summer’s day, the lady decides to take Aoyama to the coastal town in her memories despite Aoyama being no closer to solving the question of who she is. However, as the lady travels further from their original town, she becomes weaker, eventually collapsing on the train station. Mysterious entities begin spawning into the platform, but these dissipate over time, and the pair agree to return home. Wondering if diet could be anything, Aoyama feverishly decides to stop eating to see if the results can be replicated, but falls ill in the process.

  • While trying to sleep off his cold, Aoyama’s dreams are turbulent and confusing. Because the mechanisms behind dreams are not understood, the reason why we have repetitive dreams while ill is similarly poorly understood: some speculate that the sheer amount of energy the body has diverted towards fighting illness leaves the brain in a state of producing stranger, more limited dreams. When Aoyama wakes up, he finds the lady by his side. Frustrated by his lack of progress and the events around him, Aoyama allows himself tears.

  • Aoyama recovers the next morning, and learns that the orb has grown to a gargantuan size. Earlier, Suzuki and his gang were interviewed by scientists to learn more about the phenomenon around town, but these scientists have disappeared. He, Hanamoto and Uchida plan on sneaking out after an evacuation order is issued, and are confronted by Suzuki’s gang: they decide to help out, as Suzuki wants to get back into Hanamoto’s good books. Never one to hold grudges, Aoyama readily agrees, and the gang come in handy for helping Aoyama and the others eluding patrols around the school.

  • After Aoyama appears to have escaped from the pursuing law enforcement officers, he runs into the lady but come face-to-face with more patrols. When it looks like they are cornered, the lady summons a veritable army of penguins to get them back into the forest, towards the orb. The spectacle is nothing short of impressive, and there are hundreds of penguins on the screen at once: the sight is comparable to the scale of the final fight in Avengers: Endgame, which I just had the pleasure of watching mere hours ago. This is not a talk about Endgame, so readers should not expect any spoilers here.

  • As the penguins carry Aoyama and the lady through the city streets, the world becomes increasingly surreal, foreshadowing the film’s complete departure from anything resembling reality. While Penguin Highway retained a largely realistic world throughout its run, as the climax approaches, this is discarded. I’ve heard comparisons for this scene to a similar moment in Hinata no Aoshigure and Fumiko no Kokuhaku, which featured a likewise chaotic scramble towards their ends: I have seen the latter, but not the former.

  • After a wild ride into the forest and upon entering the orb itself, Aoyama and the lady find themselves resting on a raft of penguins, watching the sunset in a strange world. The sort of events in Penguin Highway can only  be explained with magic approaching those conferred by entities like the Infinity Stones, and for me, I feel that approaching Penguin with the expectation for adventure, rather than instruction, is the most appropriate way to get the most from things. If and when I am asked, Penguin Highway makes extensive use of the Space and Reality stones to drive its events.

  • After entering a town where buildings float and defy physics, in a world that appears as though it were the sandbox environment for a game developer, Aoyama and the lady find the missing researchers. They decide to close off this world, even if it comes at a great cost to the lady. The setting feels infinitely peaceful, with its vividly blue skies and vast ocean. I’ve been referring to the lady only as such because she has no given name, and is referred to as onee-san throughout the movie, accentuating her enigmatic presence.

  • It’s been a week since I returned from F8, and it’s been remarkably busy, hence my low number of posts. On Tuesday, I spent the evening catching up with an old friend: we swapped stories over ramen at a local restaurant (their daily special was a pork ramen so hot that I felt the effects for the whole of the next day), and then I stepped out for lunch on Friday at a restaurant that I was sure was a furniture store, and where every item on the menu, including their Swiss-mushroom burger, was six dollars. In the aftermath of F8, there’s a great deal of work to do, and while travelling has been fun, I have enjoyed settling back into my daily routine.

  • The page quote comes from Albert Einstein, who is best known for his work in relativity and contributions to quantum mechanics. The events of Penguin Highway tend towards the creativity that Einstein described as being essential for tackling new problems – approaching problems from the realm of what could be possible, rather than what already is, allows minds to envision new solutions and approaches in ways that purely using existing knowledge cannot.

  • By the film’s end, it becomes very clear that Penguin Highway is more about imagination than about knowledge – existing reviews out there similarly identify imagination as being one of the biggest strengths in the film. Back in the real world, the orb collapses, releasing a torrent of pure water that flows through the city streets. Penguins that the lady have conjured run about, popping the water spheres in the streets, and bemused, Hanamoto’s father can only stare at what occurs. In the aftermath, Suzuki and his gang return to the school, while a tearful Hanamoto embraces Aoyama upon finding out that he’s alright.

  • Aoyama’s farewell to the lady is an emotionally-charged one: with the source of her power gone, she prepares to head off. Aoyama’s forward manner allows him to openly declare that he’s in love with the lady, and she embraces him warmly before stepping out into the evening sun. After she leaves, a new status quo is reached. Aoyama is still more or less who he was before, firmly believing he is a genius destined for greatness, but subtle changes are seen: Hanamoto teaches Suzuki to play chess, and the hostility between Aoyama and Suzuki’s group seems lessened.

  • After thirty screenshots, I feel like I’ve given a modestly succinct collection of my thoughts for Penguin Highway. Overall, I enjoyed it for its portrayal of what youth feels like – the adventure that Aoyama goes on during the film’s run is a reminder of what my days in primary school were like. I used to spend a great deal of time drawing, reading and making sense of the world. While I’m nowhere as brilliant or verbose as Aoyama, I think that even now, a bit of that childish desire to know and understand everything endures in me.

  • We thus come to the end of this talk for Penguin Highway, which I think has the internet’s first proper collection of screenshots. With this one in the books, along with Avengers: Endgame, I look ahead into May. I have finished Yama no Susume‘s second season and have passed the halfway point of Valkyria Chronicles 4, which I’ve enjoyed so much that I’m considering purchasing the DLC for it. On DLC, I am also looking to buy the season pass for Ace Combat 7. In addition, Gundam Narrative will release on May 24, giving me a chance to watch the continuation for the events of Gundam Unicorn, and I will naturally be writing about this. Finally, I will need to get my Nagi no Asukara review off the ground at some point: I understand that there is interest in this series from readers.

The art and animation of Penguin Highway are a major contributor to its thematic component; while the theme initially appears to be about the limits of intellectual curiosity (seen in Aoyama’s persistence in attempting to apply logic in piecing together cause and effect), the visually stunning transitions between the real and fantastical appear to emphasise childhood wonder and excitement about the world as a whole. As a result, Penguin Highway is unique in that the deliberate choice of artwork and animation forms a part of the message the film aims to convey, and that in its absence, the theme would have found itself much more difficult to discern. This is likely why there are so few discussions on the thematic elements in the film: most existing reviews are from newspapers, which tend to focus on the enjoyment factor instead, and I’ve not seen any other reviews on the movie. The theme in Penguin Highway encompasses more than the outcome of its narrative and character growth: sight and sound come into play, as well. Penguin Highway therefore comes across as being less of a story and more of an immersive experience whose engaging presentation outweighs the story’s weaker cohesion and direction. Although I do not believe that Penguin Highway is suited for anyone looking for a good mystery or will be useful for those seeking to understand the philosophical ramifications of how children think, the film earns a recommendation for viewers who are open-minded towards a highly visceral and visual romp through the mind of a child – I hope that more people would give Penguin Highway a watch, and look forwards to seeing what others make of the film.

Yama no Susume Season 2: A Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“If the mountain defeats you, will you risk a more dangerous road?” –Saruman, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

After Aoi is moved by a sunset during a sleepover, Hinata decides to surprise her with a trip to Mount Mitsutōge, from which there is a spectacular view of Mount Fuji. On the day of their trip, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona do their best to keep Aoi surprised; she learns of the truth anyways and is happy that her friends have gone to such lengths to make her happy. En route to Mitsutōge’s summit, Aoi manages to clear a cliffside path with support, and enjoys the view of Mount Fuji from the top of the mountain. Following their descent, the girls relax in an onsen, with Aoi partaking despite her embarrassment. Later, when Hinata accidentally mangles something Aoi is knitting, Aoi refuses to speak to her. With help from Kokona, Hinata makes amends with Aoi. Aoi later wants to ascend Mount Fuji to see the sunrise from its summit, and her mother initially refuses, but relents after seeing Aoi’s determination. Despite this, Aoi worries about whether or not she’ll make it, and decides to proceed with encouragement from her friends. During the ascent itself, Aoi grows tired from the increasing altitude, and eventually develops a headache shortly before reaching the Eighth Station from pushing herself. Kaede remains behind to look after her, while Hinata and Kokona continue their climb. They are met with a beautiful sunrise and explore Mount Fuji’s caldera, while Kaede accompanies a dejected Aoi back down the mountain. This is the sum of what happens in Yama no Susume‘s second season’s first half – airing in the summer of 2014, amidst the development of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, Yama no Susume‘s second season continues with Aoi’s journey to mountain climbing.

With the first season setting up the premise and introducing all of the characters, Yama no Susume‘s second season (admittedly, an unwieldy title, which will heretofore be referred to as Yama no Susume 2) proceeds into showcasing the natural progression of Aoi’s friendship with Hinata, Kaede and Kokona as they get to know one another better. This results in a group hike up Mitsutōge, and eventually, an attempt to scale Mount Fuji itself. This is a gargantuan undertaking representing the culmination of everyone’s friendship – to defeat the tallest mountain in all of Japan would be a momental feat. Unsurprisingly, Aoi finds herself ill prepared, both physically, and mentally, for the task at hand: even with support from her friends, exhaustion and altitude sickness precludes her making it to the top, showing that in spite of how far she’s come, Aoi is not quite ready to make the climb just yet. There’s still a bit more learning left, and while Aoi does fall into a melancholy for her failure, this sets the stage for her to grow further as a character. Yama no Susume 2‘s deliberate portrayal of Aoi being defeated by the mountain shows that in life, there are things that one cannot quite conquer even with help; it is sometimes the case that one’s own limitations are the cause, and it ultimately falls on the individual to further themselves, rising to the occasion and finding different solutions, that allow them to overcome their setbacks. It’s a change of pace from series where friendship is a decisive factor in helping an individual out, and Yama no Susume 2 represents a refreshing approach towards advancing character growth.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve actually jumped ahead to the actual hike to Mount Mitsutōge: thirty screenshots is not enough to showcase every moment in Yama no Susume 2, and quite honestly, this is a series where one could have realistically done episodic talks for each episode despite being a short. Unlike the first season, Yama no Susume 2‘s episodes run for half the length of a conventional episode, rather than three minutes, allowing each episode to cover more turf than available in the first season.

  • On their way up Mount Mitsutōge, Kaede encounters clear mountain streams and drinks out of them, offering Aoi to do the same. The mountain is indeed known for its pure, clean water, and it is possible to drink from the water flowing out of the mountain, although whether or not I would do this is debatable: even the cleanest-looking water may host invisible pathogens, and the risk simply isn’t worth it.

  • Here, Aoi slowly makes her way along a narrow cliffside path. Despite her fears, she manages to make it, and the group advances up the mountain. The trails in Mount Mitsutōge are depicted as being well-marked and maintained: this stands in stark contrast with the Windtower, which has poorly marked trails, and when I hiked here last June, I had to press myself along a narrow cliffside path that was 12 inches wide, dropping off 20 meters. I feel that I’d gone off the trail, and this was quite terrifying to know that any screw ups would have seen my endgame. Compared to that, Mount Mitsutōge feels absolutely safe.

  • The hike to Mount Mitsutōge’s summit and back takes around seven hours, spanning some twenty kilometers and sees an elevation gain of around 1328 meters. This is more than any hike I’ve done: hiking the Big Beehive two summers ago was only around four hours, covers 10.3 kilometres and has an elevation gain of 647 meters. When the girls reach the summit, they enjoy a spectacular view from up here before making the descent back down.

  • Even with the trekking poles Kaede’s provided, Aoi’s knees begin giving way. While I normally would crack a joke (perhaps in poor taste) at Aoi’s predicament, the numbers on the Mitsutōge hike are double that of what I’ve hiked previously, and I vividly remember being slightly weak-kneed after completing the Big Beehive, even though I’m considered moderately fit. Hence, I won’t judge Aoi, and would in fact say that Kaede, Hinata and Kokona’s endurance and fitness probably outstrips my own.

  • As evidence of this, when the girls reach the onsen at the foot of the mountain, they’re still in good enough condition to sprint for it, leaving Aoi in the dust. Aoi’s rather sensitive about others seeing her body and therefore is embarrassed about going into the onsen. I admit that back during my trip to Japan two years previously, I was a little unsure about being naked, but the prospect of doing something I’d only seen in shows up until now outweighed my embarrassment. The onsen I bathed in was at the Hotel Heritage in Saitama, a ways outside of Tokyo, and there was a bit of a walk through the brisk spring air from the hotel to the onsen itself.

  • I thus stripped down, even though there was a female staff cleaning the change room, and headed for the men’s bath. I honestly was not expecting the bath to be empty, and after thoroughly scrubbing myself down as I’d seen in countless shows, I stepped into the bath and melted with a look of bliss on my face. Aoi’s expression here mirrors exactly how an onsen feels, and I can honestly say that none of the mineral hot springs in any Canadian National Park comes close to matching an onsen in terms of comfort.

  • While Aoi might have become friends with Kokona and Kaede, she’s still uncomfortable with being around people sans clothes. A clever touch in this moment is that Aoi’s placed herself behind a stone in the bath itself. Yama no Susume‘s portrayal of the water in the bath is par the course for what anime are wont to doing: whereas the water in a real onsen is clear, there is a bit more opacity here for obvious reasons.

  • I must admit that I deeply enjoy Aoi’s different facial expressions in response to various situations; they add a tremendous amount of depth to her as a character, and shows that she has a full emotional range. Here, she reacts to the realisation that she’d just boldly stood up to deliver a retort, and subsequently shrinks away into the water with embarrassment. The spotches of F3D9C5 in the image are motion blur of her arms waving around.

  • While Kokona and Hinata enjoy some refreshments post-onsen, Aoi dozes off and wakes up after vividly seeing a warning about bears. I loved this moment, since it came completely out of the blue, and it paints Aoi as being rather endearing. The ride back home is rather uneventful, but Aoi is charged up about the hike – this is the first time everyone’s done a hike together.

  • Yama no Susume 2 is animated by 8-bit, who had previously done Yama no Susume. Here, the girls hang out at Kannon-ji Temple, which dates back to 810 AD. Despite its age, it’s actually pretty modern in its approaches, and it does have a distinct feature in the white elephant statue on its ground. The girls spend an afternoon here with crepes, and it is clear that between the two seasons, the quality of the animation and artwork have improved slightly.

  • After Hinata accidentally pulls down Aoi’s skirt and exposes the latters’ pantsu, Aoi grows mad and refuses to speak to Hinata, but she decides to visit to apologise. Aoi’s no longer angry with Hinata over the pantsu, which is apparently a common incident between the two. Instead, Hinata’s curiosity leads her into a “out of the frying pan and into the fire” situation – she accidentally wrecks something Aoi is working on.

  • When speaking with Kokona, Hinata learns that Aoi had been working on knitting a hat of sorts for her. This explains why Aoi is particularly angry with Hinata, and it takes Hinata learning the fundamentals of knitting herself to convince Aoi that she’s genuinely sorry for what’d happened. When meeting up with Aoi next, Hinata manages to make up with Aoi. While this is a small moment in the grand scheme of things, showing the dynamic between Aoi and Hinata as one with ups and downs does much to increase the relatability of the characters.

  • Yama no Susume 2 is a series that manages to me smiling through its entire run, and in the aftermath of Hinata and Aoi’s disagreement, it’s Aoi’s turn to accidentally pantsu Hinata. She dismisses the incident in very nearly the same way that Hinata had, and again, seeing Aoi do something like this seems out of character for her – Aoi had always come across as more shy and doubtful of herself, but her tehepero expression here shows a side of her that shows there’s more to Aoi than just being fond of indoors activities and being shy.

  • The girls set their sights on the king of all Japanese mountains: Mount Fuji is on their table next, and with a height of 3776.24 metres, it is the toughest hike the girls have planned so far. Inspired by a memory Hinata’s father shares, Hinata decides to try and ascend Mount Fuji’s by night so that they could reach the summit in time to see the sunrise. It’s a momentous undertaking, and Aoi worries she might not make it, but Hinata and Kokona reassure her that they’ll be there for her.

  • After Aoi convinces her mother to allow her this journey, the girls take some downtime, where Aoi searches for a swimsuit following Hinata’s challenge to find one that’s “sexy”. She digs through some of the more wilder and impractical designs, but inclement weather pushes back their ability to hang out in the Azuma river, they decide to hang out at Hinata’s place instead. Later, the girls prepare for their climb to Mount Fuji, buying an assortment of snacks and drinks to keep everyone energised and hydrated per Kaede’s suggestion.

  • During my trip to Japan two years earlier, the fifth station was one of the destinations that I ended up visiting. It’s the highest point that one can drive up to, and offers a variety of dining and shopping options. While we did not go any higher, lacking the gear to do so, this is the starting point for Aoi and the others on their trek up the mountain. Presently, while I’m not trekking up a mountain, visiting the F8 Facebook Developer Conference proved to be a similarly intense experience.

  • On the evening of my arrival, I linked up with a coworker and we visited a Japanese place in San José for dinner, where I ordered a ramune and curry katsu that, while simpler than Hinata’s Volcano Curry in presentation, was still delicious. The next morning was spent planning out our itinerary for F8 in Palo Alto, and after a stroll around the Stanford Dish pathway under beautiful skies, we returned to Palo Alto’s downtown for lunch before taking the train back to San José’s McEnery Convention Center to pick up our badges and finalise registration for F8. Dinner came a little later, at a quaint establishment that makes a solid barbequed shrimp po’boy.

  • Facebook really can throw parties: live music, arcade machines, and food ranging from potato martinis and dim sum to hot dogs were provided. On the second day, after attending the morning keynote and the afternoon sessions, we attended the closing reception and made our way north to Santa Rosa. Attending F8 and visiting Silicon Valley was a powerful reminder that the world is vast, and that as a developer, I should always be mindful of the fact that there is always something new to learn and master. Back in Yama no Susume 2, Aoi and Kokona are seen carrying climbing stick souvenirs, which one can get stamped at each station they visit. For Yama no Susume 2, they act as a bit of a visual metaphor for progress, tangibly marking how Aoi and her friends have gone.

  • With each passing step, Aoi and her friends are treated to increasingly stunning views of the landscapes below, but the air is also thinning. Altitude sickness is a concern while ascending Mount Fuji: symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches and fatigue – most people begin feeling the effects after 2500 metres. While Aoi does fine earlier on, she begins experiencing fatigue, and by the eighth station, is unable to continue.

  • Altitude sickness can impact anyone, and personal fitness levels do not always correlate to the severity of one’s symptoms. As evening sets in, Kaede gives Kokona and Hinata the option to continue pushing forwards towards the summit while she will look after Aoi. It’s one of the more tense moments in Yama no Susume 2, and while I was hoping Aoi would recover in time for a storybook finish, she ends up requiring a bit of rest time.

  • Avoiding mountain sickness usually requires acclimitisation, spending time in a higher elevation area to give the body a chance to produce more erythrocytes to pull oxygen out of the air. Aoi is suffering from acute mountain sickness, and carrying some medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin, can help alleviate the symptoms of headache and nausea. There more more sophisticated treatments, but for Aoi, these don’t appear necessary. Aoi’s mountain sickness is a bit of a warning that inadequate preparation can be one of the biggest enemies of mountain climbing.

  • There is therefore a sense of melancholy as one watches Kokona and Hinata continue the climb on their own. With two of their number now down at station eight, Hinata resolves to finish off the climb and do so for Aoi. Audiences tangibly feel Hinata and Kokona’s doubts: on one hand, they are worried about Aoi, but they also know now that there is no turning back. Their journey up is a difficult one, even with a brief pit stop for curry rice, but seeing the dozens of other climbers making the same trek, and the beauty of the night sky spurs the two on.

  • With the sky beginning to glow, Hinata and Kokona make one final push. Their efforts are rewarded – they see the sun break over the horizon, flooding the land in a gentle light and washing the sky with hues of red, orange and gold. It’s a sight for the ages, and for Kokona and Hinata, it is the experience they had put in their efforts towards realising. Down at the eighth station, Aoi watches the same sunset from a lower elevation, and tears fill her eyes.

  • Improvements in Yama no Susume 2‘s artwork and animation mean that every moment is more visceral, and speaking frankly, the visual elements of Yama no Susume 2 far exceeded my expectations for a series whose episodes only span thirteen minutes each. This is a series where episodic reviews could have been possible, as there is so much to talk about and consider for each episode. From the mountain climbing itself, to everyday events, Yama no Susume is very much a series with strong messages about persistence, adaptability and having faith in one’s friends.

  • Kaede is not bothered by missing out on the sights: for her, the mountains will always be there to await their challenge. By comparison, Aoi becomes very melancholy, both at having failed and for feeling like she’d kept Kaede from a wonderful experience. However, Kaede treasures Aoi’s well-being more than an experience: having friends who genuinely care for one is critical in moments such as these, and in time, Aoi will come to count on her friends again.

  • Under full daylight, Kokona and Hinata celebrate a successful ascent. The top of Mount Fuji is about as barren as the surface of Mars, and while the two take a moment to explore, their stay up here is a shorter one: it is exceptionally windy up here, and while the view down is phenomenal, the summit itself is somewhat less scenic.

  • After making the four-hour descent back to the fifth station, Kokona expresses a desire to climb Mount Fuji again someday while on horseback, before turning to find Kaede and Aoi. This is the basis for the page quote: for Aoi, the mountain has literally and metaphorically defeated her, and she does risk taking a more dangerous road, of losing interest in mountain climbing. Yama no Susume 2 shows that slice-of-life needn’t always be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows: life has its share of adversity, and what matters most is overcoming this adversity.

  • I leave readers with a dejected, downtrodden Aoi calling home to report that she’d not successfully made the ascent to Mount Fuji’s summit. Moving ahead, Aoi’s recovery and return to the mountains will be the focus of Yama no Susume 2, and I am definitely looking forwards to seeing the second half. Readers can expect more Yama no Susume posts from me in the near future: even now, I’m a little surprised that I did not give this series the attention that it has merited, and so, will be remedying this fact on short order.

One aspect of Yama no Susume that continues to stand out is Aoi: despite possessing the characteristics typical to a protagonist of a slice-of-life series (Aoi is quite, reserved and doubtful of her abilities in some areas), she’s also considerably more expressive than characters in a similar role. Aoi can be upset by the things her friends do, grow embarrassed under some conditions, and can be a bit mischievous in her own right. The fifth episode, dealing with Hinata attempting to make things up to Aoi, shows Aoi as exhibiting a wider range of behaviours: she stubbornly refuses to talk to Hinata after Hinata wrecks her knitting project, and later brushes off an accident with an unexpectedly insensitive manner after she trips and pulls down Hinata’s skirt. This was the magic moment in Yama no Susume 2: Aoi’s developing interest in mountain climbing, as well as dejection in failing to best Mount Fuji, underlies the complexity and multi-faceted nature of her character, making her more relatable and plausible as a character. With distinct flaws, audiences are therefore more inclined to root for Aoi as she picks herself back up and rediscovers the joy of the outdoors once again. This is the appeal in Yama no Susume; while the first season was a pleasantly gentle ride, season two definitely shows that there is much to be gained by watching the characters interact more freely with one another in a wider context. I am looking forwards to seeing where Yama no Susume 2 heads, and remark that it was indeed episode five in this second season that convinced me to thoroughly go through the series.

Battlefield V: An Incursion into Firestorm and remarks on Battle Royale

I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire

– Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire

Introduced with the third Tides of War chapter, Firestorm is Battlefield V‘s answer to the wildly popular battle royale genre. Set on Halvoy, a vast map of snowy forests, lakeside cabins and mountain roads in the Nordic landscape, Firestorm features the biggest map to ever figure in a Battlefield game. The principles are the same: eliminate enemies, stay alive and move to a safe area whenever the ring of fire shrinks the playable area. The mode can be played independently, as well as in squads of two or four people, and for Firestorm, Battlefield V offers a modestly intuitive and efficient inventory management system, allowing players to swap out their gear, use additional support items like armour plates, health kits and gadgets and determine what ammunition they ought to carry. Weapons and gear items come in different rarities, with higher-end items being more suited for their intended roles. However, even low end items can still be useful, and immediately after touchdown, it is important to immediately kit up before seeking out better gear, and making one’s way to the next play area. This is about the gist of Firestorm, and prior to its introduction, I had no inclination to play it whatsoever. Battlefield V‘s Tides of War, however, required that I at least acquainted myself with the mode in order to complete several of the challenges. During my time with Firestorm, I found a mode that was unexpectedly refreshing from the usual tenour of Battlefield V‘s core offerings.

Battlefield has traditionally been about large maps and large scale, setting it apart from the close-quarters frenzies of titles like Call of Duty, and the more tactical, slower experiences that Rainbow Six Siege and Counter Strike offers. Not quite as hectic as an arena shooter, but also faster-paced than tactical shooters, I’ve long enjoyed Battlefield for modes like conquest and domination, which offer large-scale battles. Battle royale modes like Firestorm modify this dynamic entirely, pitting individual players and their map knowledge against other players. The pacing is even slower than that of a tactical shooter, since players aren’t ever really too sure of what lurks around the corner or over the next hill: this sense of foreboding and anticipation creates a suspense that elevates the immersion. With the stunning visuals and performance afforded by the Frostbite Engine, Firestorm offers a unique battle royale experience that has impressed. There are certainly merits to a mode like this in Battlefield V, although the dubious decision to only make this available to existing Battlefield V players means that the mode might not have as much staying power in the long term. For me, the pacing is not something I particularly look for in a game despite being enjoyable and a different experience than Battlefield V‘s traditional modes: I’m more inclined to enjoy modes where I am able to respawn back into intense warfare involving infantry and vehicles.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • During my first match of Firestorm, I dropped into a snowy area, found a common rifle and then proceeded to get melted by another player with an epic weapon. The different tiers are differentiated by the specialisations and optics on the weapon, with rare tier weapons having better characteristics. Epic weapons have two specialisations and an optic that improves its performance, although damage is unmodified, and so, players can go toe-to-toe with other players even if their weapon is of a lower tier.

  • My favourite part of the Halvoy maps are set in the areas with less snow, more grass and some of the Nordic-style cabins. The water effects here are amazing, and the houses around tend to old common or rare items. I tend to discard ammunition I find for shotguns, only holding onto ammunition for a weapon that I currently have active.

  • My first kill in Firestorm was using the Sten: this submachine gun has good hipfire performance, and I noticed that another player was hanging around the house I was chilling in. I eventually baited this player into the house, and with the Sten, proceeded to get the kill on them. It’s a bit of a dirty play, since I normally avoiding using camping techniques in normal play – Firestorm encourages the camping approach.

  • Besides healing pouches and armour plates, I usually make it a point to carry anti-personnel explosives if I can find them. I’ve not encountered any players in vehicles, mainly because the solo game mode means players going on foot rather than use vehicles and attract attention to themselves. This means that anti-armour weapons are usually of lesser use, although they can be useful in blasting open houses enemies are camping.

  • While battle royale intrinsically is more suspenseful than any other gamemode in Battlefield V, the scenery is exceptionally good, and Halvoy is beautiful. The diversity of landscapes and terrain on Halvoy allow everything from snowy fields to lakeside cabins to be portrayed in beautiful detail, and there’s an unusual tranquility on the map found nowhere else in Battlefield V. It would be worth going into Halvoy and avoiding enemy players just to explore the different points of interest.

  • My typical strategy for Firestorm is to drop where players are not, and then continue moving through cover to avoid being shot at. Since the objective of the solo game mode is to avoid death for as long as possible, keeping away from unnecessary combat and letting other players whittle one another down. Of course, if I do get the drop on another player, I will opt to eliminate them if it is safe to do so.

  • In a straight-up confrontation, I usually end up winning owing to a combination of superior reflexes and weapon understanding. Where I unexpectedly come under fire, I usually end up losing the firefight if my opponent is more hidden away. While Firestorm uses a completely different health and armour system, the time to kill is still relatively quick.

  • Every battle royale game involves a shrinking game area. In Firestorm, a literal ring of fire surrounds the map and burns areas inland as time wears on. Players are eliminated instantly from this inferno, so it is imperative to always continue moving inward as time wears on. This naturally increases the risk of running into other players, and having good weapons becomes more important as a match progresses.

  • During my best match, I found an epic FG-42 with 3x optics, and it was a superbly effective weapon that allowed me to score three kills in total. I had secured the requirements for the Tides of War achievement, but was also desperately low on ammunition for the FG-42. I ended up dying in an ambush. While I’ve not put enough time into Firestorm to win a match, it is fun to see how far I can progress.

  • Supply drops become available in Firestorm that act as mini-objectives – offering superior equipment, they also give incentive for players to converge on a point and engage one another for better equipment, as well as to score a few kills before moving on. I’ve never been close enough to these supply drops to do anything meaningful with them, such as taking potshots at enemies or securing better gear.

  • Firestorm did allow me to utilise the M1928A1 Thompson, which I’ve still yet to unlock in the multiplayer proper. This iconic submachine gun is one of the best weapons available to the medic class, and its base version is fairly powerful, having a high fire rate and good accuracy. While stymied by a low ammunition capacity, the weapon can be upgraded to have a fifty round capacity. At the time of writing, I’m level nineteen with the medic and will be unlocking the Thompson shortly.

  • On the whole, I’d say that the simplified experience that Firestorm offers, in conjunction with being powered by the Frostbite Engine, makes it the superior battle royale game compared to the likes of Fortnite or Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, which have comparatively more sophisticated mechanics and therefore, has a slightly larger learning curve.

  • The Bren Gun excels at medium ranges: while it has a slower rate of fire, it is accurate and hits fairly hard, making it a solid choice for maps with wider open spaces. Its main limitation is its top-mounted box magazine, which severely obstructs visibility. Perrine’s weapon of choice in Strike Witches, the Bren has served her well in missions against the Neuroi, although like most movies, Perrine is shown operating it for much longer than its box magazine allows.

  • I’m almost certain that carrying a Liberator pistol around is meant to be a joke: the weapon does pitiful damage and cannot kill with a single headshot. Hampered by an uncommonly long reload time, the Liberator lacks the Kolibri’s headshot damage multiplier and firing rate (a skillful player can kill up to two opponents with eight back-to-back headshots): Hikari used the Liberator to great effect in Brave Witches in finishing off the Gregori Neuroi Hive, but the incredibly poor characteristics, in conjunction with a lack of behemoths, means that accomplishing what Hikari did in Battlefield V is outright impossible.

  • If the rumours are to be believed, updates to Battlefield V will introduce the American and Japanese factions, plus the Pacific Theatre, in addition to the Boys Anti-Tank rifle. This will allow me to run the Lynette Bishop loadout, where I attempt to run around with the Boys Anti-Tank rifle as a primary weapon as Lynette does, and attempt to snipe enemy players. The inclusion of the American M4 Sherman will also let me run the Kay loadout: if one of the upgrade paths includes a 17-pounder, that would be phenomenal.

  • On the Japanese side of things, being able to utilise the Type 99 Mk. 2 Model Kai would allow me to run an authentic Yoshika Miyafuji loadout. While the weapon is technically an autocannon, firing 20mm rounds, its firing rate is closer to that of a heavy machine gun. The weapon was used in an anti-air role capacity, and this may reduce the odds of it being an infantry-portable weapon. While the Japanese did have their own LMGs and MMGs, they’re quite unremarkable as weapons (the Type 96, for instance, outwardly resembles the Bren).

  • While Battlefield V has continued to suffer from an unclear content release schedule and limited content, I note that Star Wars: Battlefront II has done exceptionally well of late. With sustained new content and a revision of the in-game currency system, Battlefront II has reached its launch player counts and is said to be a solid game that handles well. Continued support for the game after a rough launch has turned it into a respectable title, and given DICE’s track record, I expect that Battlefield V will very likely become a highly enjoyable and solid instalment to Battlefield, as well.

  • The promise of Pacific Theatre content is definitely encouraging, and in the meantime, I’ll periodically play Battlefield V to completely the weekly Tides of War assignments. I am going to have to miss this week’s assignment, which yields the Tromboncino M28 on completion. This weapon is a variation of the Carcano Carbine and has the distinction of being able to act as a bolt action rifle with anti-vehicle capabilities: it fires grenades, as well. Here, I eliminate an enemy in Firestorm using the M1A1 Carbine.

  • We’re now two days into May, and the reason why I’m going to miss this week’s assignment is because I’ve been in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley for Facebook’s F8 conference. I applied back in March and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was invited. The F8 conference represented a fabulous opportunity to speak with Facebook’s engineers, network and also watch their keynotes in person. Aside from the technical presentations and sessions, the conference was a solid opportunity to also converse with other developers, try out the new Oculus Quest and partake in the evening events.

  • With F8 now over, I’ll be offering a few thoughts on my experiences in upcoming posts. I am pushing forwards with Yama no Susume‘s second season and will have my thoughts on the first half in due course. In addition, I am moving through Valkyria Chronicles 4 – the eighth chapter appears to be the equivalent of the Batomys engagement at the Barious Desert, and I’m still figuring out an optimal moveset for finishing this fight. Finally, entering May, I am pleased to announce that I am hosting June’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, an initiative to share and discuss noteworthy blog posts. Come June, I will be gathering posts from the month of May of all sorts. More information on this will become available towards the end of the month, and I will be applying my own unique brand of discussion towards this programme, which is geared towards increasing exposure to different blogs out there.

For me, my lack of patience in gaming means that the slower, methodical gameplay of battle royale games means that I have not particularly found the fad to be one I could get behind. Having only played the solo mode of Firestorm, it is clear that battle royale’s merits come with playing in a squad, where one is able to coordinate with other players to create some genuinely exciting moments of strategy and cunning. As I am very much a lone-wolf player when it comes to gaming, battle royale is a mode I’ve not gotten too much out of. With this being said, Battlefield V‘s implementation shows that the Frostbite Engine is indeed capable of accommodating a technically solid battle royale mode, and with the right adjustments to Battlefield mechanics, battle royale can be quite engaging in its own right. There’s a market for this game type, and while I personally might not be it, rolling out a standalone Firestorm launcher and allowing interested players to play freely would definitely allow Firestorm to reach more players. In the meantime, it’s a mode that remains little more than a curiosity as I push further into the Tides of War programme – the hunt to unlock new weapons has provided incentive enough to continue with Battlefield V even though there’s been no new maps.

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yama no Susume: Review and Reflection

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” –Sir Edmund Hillary

Aoi Yukimura is a high school girl who would prefer knitting to the outdoors, but after reuniting with Hinata Kuraue, she is compelled to go hiking; Hina won’t take no for an answer and reminds Hinata that they’d once seen a sunrise together after climbing a mountain. Starting Aoi with a simpler walk to Mount Tenran, Hinata encourages her to enjoy the walk up the path. Later, Aoi and Hinata have a cook-off, and Aoi encounters Kaede Saitō, a backpacker who is trying to buy a sleeping bag. The two become friends, and Aoi asks Kaede for suggestions when Hinata proposes they climb another mountain. Kaede recommends Mount Takao, and Aoi returns this to Hinata. They purchase a new backpack for Aoi, and on the day of the hike, Aoi fails to pace herself. After recovering her breath, the two continue on their trek to the summit, where Aoi gives Hinata a souvenir that she’d bought earlier. On the descent, they encounter Kokona Aoba and help her mend her shoes. Two becomes four – Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona decide to visit the Hanno River beach together. As the day draws to a close, the girls look forwards to the adventures they will share together. Later, to help Aoi with her acrophobia, the girls take her to a climbing center.

Yama no Susume (Encouragement of Climb, literally “Recommending Climbing”) originally aired in 2013 as a short form anime – each episode runs for three minutes each, and the total episode count results in the first season being more similar to an OVA in content and presentation. Every journey must begin from somewhere, and Yama no Susume opens with Aoi becoming familiar with hiking. The progression is a gentle one: Yama no Susume eases Aoi into hikes by starting her off with a walk in the park, and then progresses her to a beginner’s mountain. By gradually acclimatising to hiking and the outdoors, Aoi is able to have more fun without becoming discouraged. She also meets new friends in the process: Kaede is highly experienced with the outdoors and brings technical know-how to the table, while Kokona is knowledgable about the outdoors. The first season of Yama no Susume is a season of beginnings, warming Aoi to the wonders of hiking in a gentle manner and showing that with the right encouragement, anyone can get started with hiking. Moreover, hikes are as varied as people: while there are mountaineering trails that demand exceptional experience and dedicated gear, there are also hikes that novices can readily enjoy and complete. These introductory elements set the stage for what is to come: Yama no Susume‘s first season is remarkably short, and viewers are invariably left with a want to see what adventures await Aoi and Hinata now that Aoi’s gotten her first few experiences with hiking up mountains.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I admit that I am nearly six years late to the party: when Yama no Susume came out back in 2013, I was in the throes of my undergraduate thesis defense, and therefore, was too busy to watch anything besides Girls und Panzer. With the benefit of hindsight, something like Yama no Susume would have been a good countermeasure against the stresses of a thesis defense; the anime is very inviting and warm. Hinata and Aoi have known one another for quite some time, and the former’s memories of climbing a mountain to watch the sunrise with a sea of clouds below encourages her to take up hiking again.

  • The first season has thirteen episodes, each lasting about three minutes each. It is therefore possible to finish the first season in one sitting, and writing about Yama no Susume weekly would have likely presented me with considerable challenges – while each episode coves a bit of ground, there is no getting around that three minutes worth of footage per episode does not permit a large number of screenshots.

  • After Hinata brings Aoi over and has her set up a tent to familiarise herself with outdoors gear, Hinata proposes that they take a hike on Mount Tenran, a 195 metre high hill that is advertised as being accessible for all individuals. Aoi worries about safety and brings an excessive amount of gear, only to watch in befuddlement as a little girl waltzes by with naught more than a backpack. With a bit of nudging from Hinata, Aoi begins the ascent and finds it to be much better than expected.

  • Hinata’s loud and energetic personality brings to mind a combination of traits between Girls und Panzer‘s Yukari Akiyama and Norie Okazaki from Tamayura. She’s voiced by Kana Asumi, who incidentally portrayed Tamayura‘s Kaori Hanawa, Mio Kitahara of Ano Natsu de Matteru, and Non Non Biyori‘s very own Komari Koshigaya. I suppose that small, loud characters are a thing, and Asumi excels in her roles, bringing to life the characters I’ve seen her play.

  • From the summit of Mount Tenran, Aoi marvels at the scenery, before bringing out a boxed lunch for the two to share. Yuka Iguchi voices Aoi: other roles I know her for include Aiko Andō from True Tears, Norie Okazaki of Tamayura (which is a riot considering that Aoi and Norie are distinctly different in personality), Anzu Shiina from Flying Witch, Mako Reizei of Girls und Panzer, and A Place Further Than The Universe‘s Hinata Miyake. The sheer diversity of roles speaks to Iguchi’s skill: from the lethargic Mako to the boisterous Hinata, Iguchi presents Aoi as being similar to Miho Nishizumi in temperment, but with a stubborn streak a klick wide.

  • Yama no Susume is set in and around Hannō, a city in the Saitama prefecture. With a population of around 80000, Hannō lies right on the western edge of Tokyo, and despite its small size, the city’s economy is driven by electronics and pharmaceuticals (something the provincial government back home could do well to follow suit with). The Wareiwa Bridge can be seen in the distance, crossing the Inou River, and here, Aoi and Hinata share ice pops in the days following their first hike.

  • Hinata challenges Aoi to a showdown in cooking only with camping implements, and when she doesn’t take the challenge seriously, Aoi proceeds to lay down a physical beating – she prepares a seafood paella with prawns and muscles that is far more intricate than the ready-to-eat meal that Hinata brings to the table. Despite being adorable and peaceable for the most part, Aoi can be quite stubborn and quick to anger, which makes her a much more relatable character.

  • Yama no Susume‘s first season is only really the tip of the iceberg with respect to introducing the characters and premise. In spite of the inordinately short episodes, however, Yama no Susume‘s first season manages to fit so much into such a short space to create a compelling series that does more with less.

  • While looking at hiking supplies, Aoi runs into Kaede, who is looking for a suitable sleeping bag for the outdoors. Kaede is a senior at the school Aoi attends, and is also experienced as an outdoorsman. Aoi manages to convince her to pick the sleeping bag best suited for her usage, even if it is a little pricier, and Aoi leaves, having made a new friend in the process. Folks who’ve seen my older talks on Yuru Camp△ will have already seen earlier discussions about sleeping bags and their compositions, as well as what temperatures different sleeping bags are rated for.

  • In Yama no Susume, Aoi and Hinata frequent an outdoors good store that is decidedly smaller than the large retail stores such as Canadian Tire. It brings to mind the specialty shops of Banff and at some locations at home, which sell higher quality gear for a correspondingly higher price: Nadeshiko and the others visit a Caribou store in Yuru Camp△ to look at equipment for their own camping trips, and I recall that my Google-fu was initially insufficient to locate this particular store, which was actually modelled on a store in a town some ways away.

  • Kaede is voiced by Yōko Hisaka: she’s K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama, Infinite Stratos‘ Houki Shinonono, New Game!‘s Kō Yagami, Pitohui in Sword Art Online Alternative and Domestic na Kanojo‘s Hina Tachibana, to name a few. Knowledgeable, mature and friendly, Kaede acts as a source of technical advice for Aoi and the others, indirectly providing audiences with various tidbits on hiking the same way Yuru Camp△ occasionally would present viewers with camping tips.

  • Aoi is the sort of individual who takes an inordinate amount of time in making a decision and often second-guesses herself. However, with new friends in her corner, she’s able to work through the process more smoothly: when Mount Tanigawa might be too much of a challenge for Aoi, Kaede helps her pick a more suitable mountain in Mount Takao. Aoi’s seen with an earlier MacBook Pro model here – in 2013, I was loaning a laptop from my lab, but carelessly left it on campus during the Great Flood. The waters never did reach campus, but campus was closed, costing me a week in progress.

  • I retrieved my laptop and ended up working from home until early July, but this machine was in no way capable of running the in-house game engine, so progress was slow. I doubt even my current generation laptop could pull it off: it barely runs The Giant Walkthrough Brain on ultra settings at 30 FPS. Back in Yama no Susume, Aoi ends up choosing Mount Takao – a ways more difficult than Mount Tenran, Mount Takao is still quite manageable, with most climbers able to ascend within ninety minutes depending on the route they take. Because this hike is a bit more involved, Hinata suggests that Aoi get a backpack

  • Aoi initially has trouble picking out a proper backpack for her hike, and it takes some time for her to choose one that fits her specifications. My main criteria for picking a bag is that it has to have decent storage capacity, enough compartments to separate out my consumables from smaller items, and durability. The tare weight is also something I consider: something that is too heavy while empty would make it more of a pain to carry when fully loaded.

  • On the day of their hike at Mount Takao, Aoi is fired up and excited about climbing the path up the mountain, which is lined with shrines. This is something unique to Japan – in the Rocky Mountains, our trails are more rugged, and while affording stunning views, don’t have the same facilities.

  • Aoi exhausts herself when, on the spur of the moment, she attempts to power through the hike to hit the destination more quickly. This is how not to hike – pacing oneself is essential, especially when one is doing a new hike where they are unfamiliar with the route. Having some experience with fitness training, this is how I approach hikes, and last year, when I did the Windtower, it was experience that allowed me to complete the hike without incident. The Windtower leads hikers into a rugged alpine clearing affording a beautiful view of the Spray Lakes below, but it’s also characterised by a very poorly-marked trail that, in some places, is adjacent to a 15-metre drop.

  • While high intensity, Windtower is also a shorter hike: the longest hike I did was Lake Louise’s Big Beehive hike two years ago. Tallying some six hours, I carried my own provisions up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, and we pushed further towards the Big Beehive, stopping at the top for lunch. I can attest to the fact that food simply tastes better mid-hike: in the middle of their hike, Aoi and Hinata enjoy some dango.

  • Being located a mere hour away from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao offers a stunning view of the cityscape below, and one aspect of Yama no Susume that impressed me was that, for its exceedingly short runtime, the art and animation are of a high quality, faithfully capturing the locations that Aoi and Hinata visit.

  • En route up the mountain, Aoi picks up a souvenir with the intent of giving it to Hinata as thanks, but becomes too embarrassed to do so. She later summons up the courage to do so, and I note that for the hikes I’ve done, I’ve never seen any trail-side shops selling stuff before. The closest I’ve seen is the Lake Agnes Teahouse, which serves tea adjacent to a lake among the mountains: their supplies are carried up by staff, and occasionally flown up by helicopter, as well.

  • While I’ve not shown it here, Mount Fuji is visible from Mount Takao. Throughout Yama no Susume, Mount Fuji is something Aoi has shown interest in for its majesty, and like Yuru Camp△, is the object of admiration from those who behold it. Mount Fuji therefore acts as somewhat of an end goal for Aoi and Hinata: they resolve to climb it together one day, and so, it would appear that conquering the greatest of Japan’s mountains is where Yama no Susume is headed.

  • On the way back down the mountain, Hinata and Aoi encounter a middle school aged girl fretting about her shoes. With her skills in making clothes, and eye for creative solutions, Aoi cobbles together a short term solution for the girl, whose name is Kokona. A friendship blossoms here, and they accompany one another down Mount Takao. Kokona is voiced by Yui Ogura, whose roles I’m not too familiar with.

  • If I had to guess, Aoi and Hinata take the Omotesando trail ascending Mount Takao, which has all of the temples and plenty of resting spots. This route takes an average of an hour and fifty minutes to complete. On the way back down, stepping stones over a stream are visible: they descending via the Biwa Waterfall trail, and descent takes about an hour. While helping Kokona, Aoi slips and falls on the rocks.

  • The Biwa waterfall trail is heavily wooded, and on conjunction with the stream, offers a cool, shaded alternative to the other trails. Initially, when I watched Yama no Susume, I finished the entire series within the space of three days, and wondered if I could write about it. If memory serves, I actually watched Yama no Susume back in July of last year – having heard about the third season and the series’ relatively short episodes, I decided to push through, thinking that it would be relatively straightforward to watch through both the first and second seasons, just in time to finish the third before the year’s end.

  • The page quote comes from the encouragement aspect of Yama no Susume: by conquering a mountain, Aoi is slowly conquering her own fears. It turns out that her acrophobia stems from an accident where she’d fallen from a jungle gym and sustained a broken leg in the process. Hinata’s “won’t take no for an answer” personality is what pushes Aoi into hiking, and as a result, she’s now met two new friends, as well as discovering that there’s a world beyond her own fears.

  • While I finished Yama no Susume‘s first season on short order, August turned into dumpster fire when I was flown out to Denver to bring an iOS app written in Xamarin back from the brink: flying between Calgary and Denver every other week wrecked havoc with my schedule, and I ended up only writing about Harukana Receive owing to the time constraints. When autumn came, I was occupied with The World in Colour and Anima Yell!, while this winter, a combination of a new job, Ace Combat 7 and Endro! kept me busy. However, with the current spring season looking quiet, I see an opportunity to finally catch up with Yama no Susume. My immediate impression is to wonder why I didn’t watch this one sooner.

  • Towards the end of Yama no Susume‘s first season, Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona enjoy a day at the Hanno River, where they cook French Toast and tomato risotto. It marks the first time everyone’s really hung out together since Aoi met them; thanks to Hinata’s particular enthusiasm in pushing Aoi to hike more, Aoi’s brought people together.

  • Yama no Susume thus sets the stage for more hiking and mountain climbing – we’ve not seen everyone hike or climb together just yet, and Kaede alludes to this: under starry skies, they anticipate spending more time together on the trails and peaks of Japan. It’s a fitting close to the first season, which formally ended in the spring of 2013 alongside Girls und Panzer. Two months later, an OVA was released, detailing Aoi’s adventures at an indoor climbing wall, where she slowly overcomes her fears thanks to her friends’ support.

  • I’ve never gone indoor climbing before; it’s a pastime that seems very popular amongst my peers, and in retrospect, it might’ve been a good activity to balance out my weight lifting. I’ve been lifting weights casually for around nine years now, and are a late-novice lifter now: I’m pushing past being able to bench press 120% of my body weight, and my next goal is to see if I can’t bench 130% of my body weight. My squat is a little weaker, being a mere 120% of my body weight. On the topic of fitness, while I’m not exactly the paragon of fitness, I consider myself in acceptable condition, and earlier this month, I ran a poll on Twitter to see what the lifestyle choices of my readers were.

  • It turns out most of my readers have a well-formed fitness routine, and I figured that I’d share mine, as well as some of my experiences with fitness and how this fits in with the unique hobby of anime blogging. Thanks to the poll’s results, I know to get past the basics and go straight to more of the mental components of health and wellness. Back in Yama no Susume, Aoi falls off one of the walls after getting stuck on a more advanced course, but her friends’ support allows her to overcome a fear of falling. Speaking with Kaede, who similarly had a fear of heights, Aoi resolves to keep pushing forwards.

  • It just wouldn’t be an OVA if there wasn’t some fanservice for viewers, and even something like Yama no Susume is no exception. The OVA wraps up the first season on a high note, and while it was over much too quickly, a second season aired a year later, running with a total of twenty-four episodes, plus two specials. Because this spring season has seen few shows that catch my interest, now is a good of a time as any to continue through Yama no Susume, which has certainly encouraged me to watch it. I also plan on writing about Seishun Buta Yarō in a Terrible Anime Challenge, my first of the year, once we get into May.

Yama no Susume lives up to its name; it is a very encouraging and approachable anime about the process that one takes towards climbing a mountain. While Yama no Susume is very literal about mountain climbing and hiking in that this is precisely what it deals with, from a metaphorical perspective, encouraging climbing is to encourage exploring new directions in life and overcoming them. Yama no Susume posits to viewers that every journey has a beginning, and that it is completely acceptable that beginnings do so in a slow, gradual manner. Despite totalling around forty minutes of runtime, Yama no Susume is very effective in its messages. The series has been compared to Yuru Camp△, which had a similar outdoors premise, but upon further inspection, Yama no Susume and Yuru Camp△ only really share the outdoors and a strong technical component about outdoor know-how as their commonalities – Yuru Camp△ is about the joys of being with others, while Yama no Susume shows how journeys start and progress. With things plainly in motion for Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona now, I am intending to return and write about Yama no Susume‘s second and third seasons, plus Omoide no Present. The manga is still running, and while waiting for Yuru Camp△ to continue with its second season, I have found a superb peer to experience in Yama no Susume.