The Infinite Zenith

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1st Season: Spring – Yama no Susume: Next Summit First Episode Review and Reflections

“Remembering is painful, it’s difficult, but it can be inspiring and it can give wisdom.” –Paul Greengrass

After Aoi Yukimura graduated from middle school, she looked forward to a quiet life as a secondary student. However, her dreams are dashed when she reunites with her childhood friend, Hinata Kuraue, who’s determined to bring Aoi with her on her mountain-climbing adventures. Although Aoi is initially reluctant, after accompanying Hinata to the nearby Mount Tenran, she gradually comes to enjoy the hobby and, along the way, meets fellow climbers Kaede Saitō and Kokona Aoba. Besides exploring additional mountains in the Hanno area, Hinata and Aoi also enjoy a day with Kaede and Kokona at Hanno River. Aoi decides to continue climbing mountains after learning from Kaede that the night skies are even more stunning from the mountaintop. Yama no Susume‘s original run began in 2013, and episodes were merely three minutes in length. Despite its short runtime, Yama no Susume rapidly became well-received amongst viewers, who praised its positive portrayal of open-mindedness and encouraging people to venture into the great outdoors. Yama no Susume subsequently received a second and third season, seeing Aoi continue on with her experiences with Hinata: by 2018, a third season had aired, following Aoi’s becoming closer to Honoka and Hinata becoming jealous in the process. While portraying mountain-climbing and hiking faithfully, Yama no Susume also explores themes of friendship, showing how life has both its ups and downs, and how even best of friends can fail to get along, as well as how important it is to communicate and be open about one’s problems. Yama no Susume was an immensely satisfying series, showing a very natural progression in Hinata and Aoi’s friendship, but one lingering aspect the series had left open was the fact that, after Aoi’s failed attempt to scale Mount Fuji during the second season, Yama no Susume had not revisited Mount Fuji. Here in Yama no Susume: Next Summit, there is now an opportunity to conquer the last frontier and demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that Aoi has matured as a result of her willingness to share in adventures with Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka.

Upon returning to Yama no Susume, Next Summit‘s first episode opens with a reintroduction to the series, providing viewers with a refresher on where things began. However, in this revisit, Next Summit also subtly hints at where it’s intending to go. The opening shows Aoi shouting out at dawn to Mount Fuji while wearing a look of utmost determination on her face, and in a later sequence, Aoi, Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka scale Mount Fuji together. When Aoi and Hinata scale Mount Tenran for the first time, Mount Fuji is faintly visible, and after Aoi and Hinata scale Mount Takao, Mount Fuji seems a little closer, signifying how Aoi’s taken her first steps towards embracing her new hobby, towards a tangible and visceral representation of personal growth. As Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji represents the apex of achievement, and in the second season, Aoi had found herself developing altitude sickness. As a result, she was unable to reach Mount Fuji’s summit. Subsequently losing her motivation to enjoy the outdoors, it would take Aoi some time to rediscover her footing, and while Yama no Susume has done a fantastic job of restoring Aoi’s love of mountain climbing, as well as showing her increased confidence in befriending Honoka, Mount Fuji became an unanswered question. There is no stronger show of maturity and growth than to have Aoi properly conquer Mount Fuji under her own power, and here in Next Summit, the imagery shown insofar does seem to suggest that Aoi has her sights set on a rematch with Japan’s most iconic mountain. Aoi is someone who doesn’t like to lose, and coupled with the thematic elements in Yama no Susume, I am hopeful that Next Summit will build up towards Aoi and her friends taking on Mount Fuji anew: being able to complete a climb that she couldn’t previously would be immensely satisfying and definitively illustrate that Aoi’s journey has been a meaningful one. The Aoi that started out Yama no Susume had been concerned with a hike to Mount Tenran, and so showing her successfully complete Mount Fuji would demonstrate to viewers that every journey has a beginning, and that it is a combination of experience and support that allows one to accomplish the remarkable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right out of the gates, I will state that I have plans to do episodic reviews for Next Summit – Yama no Susume has previously offered a great deal to discuss, and even the recap episodes are valuable in providing further context for the events that had taken place in the previous three seasons. In most posts, I tend to look at scenes in greater depth, but having as I’ve covered the first season in whole previously, I will be taking a looser approach with my discussions for the four recap episodes and return to my usual style once Next Summit begins its new content.

  • Next Summit offers more context to Aoi’s story – as a middle school student, she was known for preferring solo activities, similarly to Yuru Camp△‘s Rin Shima, and she developed acrophobia after falling from a jungle gym and injuring herself in the process. Aoi’s acrophobia is an important piece of Yama no Susume; it keeps her from climbing large mountains and riding gondolas, but with support from her friends, Aoi manages to pull through. As a result of her experiences, Aoi initially had imagined her high school life to be a peaceful experience, consisting solely of doing solo activities.

  • This setup was mirrored in 2020’s Houkago Teibou Nisshi – protagonist Hina Tsurugi is a splitting image of Aoi, and similarly, Natsumi Hodaka fills Hinata’s role. The premise of such anime leave little to the imagination; it is a foregone conclusion that the protagonists will be participating in the activity the show’s advertised. The joys of watching such shows, then, come from seeing the journey that follows. With this in mind, no two shows are alike despite their initial similarities, and variations among the shows ultimately modify their final message.

  • I had been sitting on Yama no Susume for some years, and finally got around to watching it three years ago. According to my blog archives, the last time I wrote about Yama no Susume was back on New Year’s Eve in 2019. In the three years that has passed, my world’s changed considerably, but I still vividly remember that, shortly after I caught up to Yama no Susume‘s third season, I stated that I would climb Ha Ling Peak before the fourth season came out. This, unfortunately, has not come to fruition: between the global health crisis and the fact that the Ha Ling Peak trail is undergoing maintenance.

  • That Next Summit came out before I could fulfil this particular promise is of no consequence – once the maintenance is completed, I can schedule a hike here. Unlike Hinata and Aoi, who have an expert in Kaede to guide them, I am a novice hiker and mountain climber – the only mountain I’ve climbed is Lake Louise’s Big Beehive, and on the typical hike, I don’t see an elevation gain of greater than 600 metres. In spite of this, the hikes I’ve gone on have been exhilarating and enjoyable: the last hike I did was Grotto Canyon, but prior to the global health crisis, I hiked the Windtower trail and even saw a Grizzly Bear along the way.

  • As I made my way through Yama no Susume‘s first three seasons, I subsequently became hooked, and last September, I ended up ordering Yama no Susume Official Setting Materials, the official guidebook, for 8600 Yen (about 80 CAD today, including shipping). Featuring concept art, detailed drawings of the locations visited in the series and even interior drawings of the characters’ homes and important locations, Yama no Susume Official Setting Materials offers unparalleled insight into the series. It is the essential companion for Yama no Susume fans, and through this compendium, I was able to really appreciate the design that went into the Kuraue residence.

  • The Kuraue residence is a cabin-like home, standing in stark contrast with the Yukimura residence’s modern, clean designs. The contrasts were meant to accentuate the differences between Aoi and Hinata’s starting mindsets (Aoi is more domestic, while Hinata is more outdoorsy), but as Yama no Susume wears on, the shifts in Aoi’s interests means that the architecture tells a new story: regardless of one’s disposition, outdoor activities like mountain climbing are accessible to everyone, and that such activities are such that there is always something that is appropriate for one’s skill level.

  • At the onset of their journey, Aoi’s desire to hike and climb mountains is nil, but after recalling that she and Hinata had ascending Mount Tanigawa as children, she decides to give things another go because it had been a promise that they’d made. This sets in motion the events of Yama no Susume, and for the remainder of the first season, Aoi’s first experiences are shown in conjunction with moments like meeting Kaede and Kokona. Yama no Susume‘s first season had episodes lasting three minutes apiece, and that means it is possible to go through this season in one sitting.

  • Indeed, when Next Summit‘s first episode aired, almost the whole of season one was fit into the episode’s twenty-four minute runtime. A few moments, such as Aoi having a cook-off with Hinata, and her eventually picking up a new backpack for her second hike, are skipped over – the first season is still the more comprehensive experience, but overall, Next Summit‘s first episode did a fantastic job of condensing the most important moments of the first season into a story that brings viewers up to speed with how things began. The return to Yama no Susume coincided with my first trip to Banff National Park in three years – in past years, I stopped going with my family because of the lengthy traffic jams that would arise whenever we returned to the city,

  • The last time I visited Banff was with my second start-up, during a company retreat we had after I brought the app across the finish line. In the past three years, Banff has changed considerably; Banff Avenue is now pedestrian only during the spring and summer months, and there’s a large parking lot by the train station. To ensure we landed a spot, I suggested that we arrive by no later than 0900. The drive in had been quite foggy, but beyond this, the weather was perfect, with blue skies and mirror-smooth waters. After securing a parking spot, we decided to walk over to an iconic attraction, the Cave and Basin historic site using a route we’d never taken before. After walking the Discovery Trail and the Marsh Loop boardwalk, we returned to the downtown and stopped for photos at the Banff National Park Administration building, which offers a picturesque view of Banff Avenue and Cascade Mountain.

  • The day was rounded off with a drive back to Calgary, where we stopped for dinner at Café 100% YYC, a Hong Kong style bistro. I ended up having their evening special (on Saturday, it’s a Korean-style kalbi short-rib with fresh Pacific Scallops on a bed of spaghetti). Being my first time returning to Banff in three years, I had an incredible time, and this marks the last time I’ll be using the iPhone Xʀ for photographs: earlier today, I received an email from Apple indicating they needed updated payment information for me. After I supplied this information, my iPhone 14 Pro preorder immediately went into “Preparing to Ship”.

  • The status has since been updated to “Shipped”, and my iPhone 14 Pro is projected to arrive next Tuesday. I had been eying the iPhone 14 because I didn’t think I would need the more powerful phone, but after speaking with a friend and fellow iOS developer, I was convinced that the extra features and performance would be helpful to me. This moment parallels Aoi’s suggestion to Kaede: the latter had been eying a more expensive, but lighter sleeping bag for her mountain-climbing travels, and Aoi reasons that it’s better to go with the more expensive option now and enjoy what it has to offer, versus regretting going for the more inexpensive route and wishing one had spent a little more. I immediately related to this scene, and now, I’m doubly glad to have selected the iPhone 14 Pro.

  • Yama no Susume‘s second major excursion saw Aoi and Hinata visit Mount Takao after Kaede suggests to Aoi that this would be a good hike for beginners. Along the way, Aoi and Hinata meet Kokona, a middle-school student who loves nature hikes and animal spotting. After Kokona is introduced, Yama no Susume‘s main cast is present, and while no more large hikes follow, the anime focuses on getting the characters to know one another better. At first glance, being a series of shorts, Yama no Susume doesn’t offer much to talk about.

  • However, looking more closely at things, Yama no Susume is incredibly detailed and meaningful. This is a recurring trend I find in slice-of-life anime – a lot of folks are content to write reaction posts that ultimately amounts to commenting on how adorable the characters are, but I find that such posts can misrepresent a given work, and the slice-of-life genre as a whole, especially if they form the majority of discussion on such anime. Such posts typically don’t yield much in the way of discussion, and if everyone writes about slice-of-life on these terms, one can get the impression that slice-of-life anime are superficial series that lack substance.

  • The reality is that slice-of-life anime often speak to different facets of life and its lessons, as well as accentuating the merits of putting an effort into learning something and appreciation of the ordinary. I’ve found that, while it is true that writing about slice-of-life anime can be tricky, if I have previous knowledge in the topic a given slice-of-life anime covers, or if I can relate to that topic through an equivalent experience, it becomes significantly easier to speak to why a work is successful. In Yama no Susume, for instance, I’ve been hiking since 2016 and have my own stories to tell, so I can relate to Hinata and Aoi to some level. In doing so, I can compare and contrast my own experiences with what’s seen in Yama no Susume, as well as see what messages the anime sought to convey.

  • Without this experience or an equivalent, Yama no Susume would be much trickier to write about – there is only so much one can share about interpersonal dynamics and the importance of friendship without a topic to solidify these experience and provide a tangible backdrop for how these things come together to positively impact and enrich one’s life. This is why I hope that more people would have a chance to read my thoughts on shows like Yama no Susume: while I’m not going to be experienced in everything anime of this genre cover (I’ve never fished before, for instance), I have enough experience in similar areas so that I can delve into the nitty-gritty details behind why such anime are deeper than they appear and therefore, are worth giving a chance.

  • As Aoi, Kaede and Hinata marvel at the deserts that Kokona’s made, I reflect on the Sunday dinner from this past weekend: my relatives had managed to snag a massive cut of prime rib and decided to have us over. Besides the Prime Rib au jus, the meal also consisted of Bacon Brussel Sprouts, Baby Potatoes and Garlic Prawns. Pumpkin bread and warm butter, plus two kinds of cake and chrysanthemum tea accompanied the after-dinner conversation. Like Aoi, I am especially fond of these conversations because they are immensely relaxing – in Yama no Susume, moments like these brought Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona together even before everyone does their first hike together, showing how whether it be on the trails or over a meal, there’s many ways of connecting with people.

  • With this first episode of Next Summit in the books, this series is off to a strong start – there’s three more episodes before we start Next Summit proper, but I will continue to share my thoughts on these recap episodes: because three years have passed since I first watched Yama no Susume, it is worthwhile exercise for me to see how my thoughts surrounding this series may have changed over time. This season is going to be a busy one: besides Next Summit, I’m also going to write about Kantai Collection: Itsuka no Umi de. Further to this, I am actively watching Spy × Family 2, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From MercuryBocchi the Rock!, and Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! 2. At this point in time, I’m not sure which series I’ll be writing about, or what format I’ll take, but what is known is that we have a fantastic autumn season ahead for anime.

While Mount Fuji remains a lofty goal, Next Summit stands apart from its predecessors in that episodes are full-length now. Previously, Yama no Susume‘s short episodes allowed the series to convey especially memorable moments for Aoi. By showing only the most pivotal moments in Aoi’s life, Yama no Susume was able to present a very concise and focused story. However, here in Next Summit, full-length episodes have two benefits for Yama no Susume: if the series decides to portray other moments, it would be a reminder to viewers that seemingly-inconsequential moments may still have merit. Alternatively, Next Summit may instead continue on in the style of its predecessors and utilise its runtime to show more. The extended runtime would allow this season to show more moments in Aoi and Hinata’s lives as they continue to explore and appreciate the great outdoors. Regardless of which approach Next Summit takes, it should be clear that this long-awaited fourth season, which was announced back three Septembers ago, stands to cover a great deal of new ground and extend an already-excellent series further. Next Summit begins with four recap episodes, which serve to catch new viewers up with the story so far, and to jog the memories of veterans (even I don’t remember every last detail of Yama no Susume despite my counting the series as a masterpiece), and while recaps are typically reviled, Yama no Susume has done an excellent job of using the extended runtime to provide more context behind Aoi’s journey and decisions. By the time the fourth episode has concluded, viewers (old and new alike) will be fully caught up with the story, allowing Aoi and Hinata’s journey to continue on forward: of note is one Koharu Senjuin, the president of the Mountaineering Club at Aoi and Hinata’s secondary school. Although Hinata and Aoi have done their own adventures insofar, formally joining a club has, historically, given characters a chance to learn more about their hobby and some of the accompanying best practises. Having additional knowledge would provide Aoi with one more asset in her conquest of Mount Fuji.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare- Part IV Review and Reflection, Lessons on the Price of Aggression and The Costs of Conflict With Unstated Goals

“We get dirty, and the world stays clean.” –Captain Jonathan Price

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg, Garrick and Price break up the Al-Qatala meeting and manage to capture Jamal “The Butcher” Rahar. Interrogation is unsuccessful, so Price steps things up by threatening to shoot his wife and son, forcing Rahar to answer their questions truthfully. Although Garrick is tempted to execute Rahar, he ultimately lets him live, accompanying Price over to Baurci, Moldova, where Hadir has planned an offensive on General Barkov’s estate. While Price provides overwatch, Garrick investigates several locations and ultimately finds Hadir, who reluctantly tells the pair the location of Barkov’s chemical weapons facility in Borjomi, Georgia. The Russians demand that Hadir be remanded into their custody, and while Price complies, he asks that they be allowed to hang onto the intel Hadir had. With Farah and Alex, Garrick and Price mount an attack on Barkov’s facility with support from American forces and link up with Price’s contact, Nikolai, to retrieve explosives. The accompanying detonator is damaged during the fighting, Alex volunteers to stay behind and set them off, while Farah sneaks on board a helicopter and manages to kill Barkov. In the aftermath, the Russian government disavows Barkov, and Price works with Kate Laswell, a CIA Station Chief, to discuss the formation of Task Force 141 so that they can prepare for a major operation against the terrorist Victor Zakhaev. With this, Modern Warfare‘s campaign draws to a close, and while perhaps a more unconventional experience in that Modern Warfare‘s missions play out more slowly, the game nonetheless tells a compelling story about warfare, specifically how those who engage in conflict without an aim beyond subjugation and the destruction of a people will be doomed to failure: in an Israeli parable, a hunter tasks his dog with pursuing a rabbit so that he may have dinner, and while the dog was an apt hunter, the rabbit runs for its life, outpacing the dog, who was merely running to serve the hunter. Here in Modern Warfare, Barkov is portrayed as being someone who wished to eradicate Urzikstan and its people: his decade-long campaign against the nation is met with frustration because Farah and the country’s people are fighting for their lives, to preserve their home against a foreign aggressor. While Barkov only fights for glory and some twisted view of the world order, Farah fights because Urzikstan is the only home she’s ever known, and in this way, she and her rebels simply have the superior and resolve to outlast their foe.

While the outcome of a given conflict is determined by many factors, including equipment, training and tactics, historically, warfare is also fought on morale and motives. Quite simply, a nation or faction that wages war with a clear objective in mind, and has a plan for achieving these objectives will have the motivation to fight the war swiftly. Conversely, if no objective exists, and no plan exists, warfare becomes protracted, and the longer a given war drags on, the more likely it is that the instigator will lose. In Modern Warfare, Barkov’s motivations are self-serving and callous; he seeks to dominate and subjugate Urzikstan. From the player’s perspective, Farah and her people are fighting for a legitimate reason: she simply wants her homeland free of Barkov’s occupation. In knowing what’s at stake and what stands to be gained from resisting Barkov, Farah and her people are able to fight with uncommon resilience and determination. The same trends can be observed in reality time and time again: during the Vietnam War, the United States sent soldiers over to Vietnam to “contain communism”, whereas North Vietnam was simply trying to rally the nation together and survive. In the Soviet-Afghan War, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan out of concern that Hafizullah Amin was planning to support the United States and create an opening to install Babrak Karma, a Soviet-friendly leader. In both cases, the Americans and Soviets failed to account for the locals’ determination to resist and make their own way forwards, resulting in protracted conflicts that proved unpopular with the people back home. With parallels in history, Modern Warfare warns players about the futility of warfare. Generally speaking, one should not endorse warfare where diplomacy is an option, and further to this, those who do desire open conflict with another nation are likely those with the least understanding of how severe consequences can be for all parties involved. For instance, social media users tend to revel in warfare, seeing it as a treasure trove of footage for farming retweets and upvotes. Such a world-view is one completely lacking in empathy and represents poor conduct, standing in stark contrast with works of fiction that place people in the shoes of those who fight wars to emphasise how people should count their blessings where there is peace, and to never willfully wish for or instigate conflicts.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Upon arriving in St. Petersburg, Garrick is given a choice of sidearm. I went with the Desert Eagle: although harder to control than the other pistols, its stopping power is unparalelled. The aim of this mission is simple: capture Rahar. Killing him will end the mission, so one must be careful in their shot placement, and as soon as the meeting between Rahar and the other Al-Qatala members is disrupted, Rahar will take off, occasionally stopping to take a few potshots at Garrick and Price. In reality, the Desert Eagle can be suppressed, but the results won’t be quite as pronounced as video games.

  • After taking down the first foes of the mission, I picked up a P90 for additional firepower. On missions where improvisation is the name of the game, I tend to ditch the staring pistols immediately: automatic weapons and their large capacity make it far easier to deal with multiple foes at once. As Rahar beats a hasty exit, Garrick and Price follow him into the streets of St. Petersburg. There’s a distinct chill in the air about this day, and while the firefights in this mission are brief, it was a novel experience to have a running gunfight in a location I’ve previously never visited in a video game.

  • While games are intended to entertain, first and foremost, they do offer topics for conversation, as well. Once Price and Garrick corner Rahar, they will interrogate him: the stakes mean that Price has no qualms in using Rahar’s wife and son as bargaining chips. While the consequences of letting Rahar walk are doubtlessly severe, there is something reprehensible about threatening Rahar’s family to get the required intel on Hadir’s location. The moral ambiguity shown in Modern Warfare is a reminder to players that in warfare, good and evil is a matter of perspective, and moreover, even the so-called “good guys” will occasionally commit acts of dubious morality in the name of the greater good.

  • Seeing these messages in fiction is meant to show players that things are rarely as clear cut as they seem, and this is why in general, I don’t like making any judgements about foreign events. Tragedies and conflict stem from complex causes that interact to create a perfect storm, and it is often the case that the media will abstract out these causes, causing people to assume that warfare results from simple terms. The reduction of conflict to an “us versus them” mindset is deleterious and leads to dehumanisation of one’s opponents by removing important details from an issue.

  • Thus, when Modern Warfare gives players the full agency to shoot Rahar in the head during the interrogation, a part of me felt that, as one operative in the picture, it wasn’t right for Garrick to make this call. One aspect of Tom Clancy novels I’ve always respected is the idea that one’s enemies are worth more alive than dead, at least from an intelligence picture. Given that dead men tell no tales, it makes sense to keep someone around as a resource if they appear to be someone who may possess the key towards stopping worse atrocities. As it was, I decided to spare Rahar.

  • With Hadir’s location found, Price and Garrick head on over to Moldova. Garrick begins the operation with a suppressed EBR-14 and a suppressed X-16 pistol. Both weapons are whisper-quiet in the game, so when coupled with using darkness as cover, allows one to sneak through dim areas undetected. This mission offers some flexibility as to how one wishes to complete things, but the outcome will always be the same, with Hadir eventually being found. The EBR-14 is an excellent weapon, and because of how important stealth is here, there is actually no reason to switch off the starting weapons initially, since unsuppressed weapons will instantly give one’s position away.

  • The EBR-14 is most useful for taking out foes, while the X-16 pistol is a nice way of snuffing out lights that may give the player’s position away. During this mission, Price will alert players to the presence of a light detector on the left-hand side of the screen. When the meter increases, one is in a brighter area and is at risk of coming under enemy fire. IRNV goggles are used extensively in Modern Warfare, to a much greater extent than previous games, and while this emphasises the clandestine nature of special forces operations, this also precludes players from appreciating the visuals in Modern Warfare.

  • As memory serves, Modern Warfare is one of the first Call of Duty games to incorporate real-time ray-tracing into things. Without ray-tracing, some lighting effects look a little cruder: while ray-tracing often degrades performance, I’ve read that allowing the game engine to handle the calculation of lighting effects actually simplifies things for developers, who no longer have to go in and bake everything in. This, at least theoretically, would free developers up for other tasks. In Modern Warfare, real-time ray-tracing is very subtle, but in some games, like DOOM Eternal and Metro Exodus, the differences are night and day, warranting a revisit of these older titles.

  • I would eventually make my way over to the church to investigate the site, while Price stays behind to provide covering fire. On a few occasions, Price also will helpfully shoot out lights, creating more darkness that covered my advance. Upon arriving at the church, I managed to find a suppressed shotgun. Although with a lower rate of fire than the X16 pistol, it felt nice to have a reliable weapon that could one-shot any foe silently at close quarters. Indoors, I removed the IRNV goggles to get a better look at things, although given that some areas are quite dark even when lit, it became apparent that it was easier to keep my goggles on.

  • Throughout the Moldovan safehouse, Garrick will encounter hostages, both dead and alive. Each area will have one live hostage that Garrick will speak with, and initially, there won’t be any evidence of anything unusual going on. Players attempting to speed-run the mission won’t be successful: similarly to Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro mission, one must hit all of the objective areas to learn the intel needed to get into the central house of Barkov’s estate. At this point in the mission, the number of foes increases dramatically, and semi-automatic weapons are less effective.

  • Fortunately, foes begin dropping suppressed automatics, and picking these up gives players a better chance of dealing with numbers. For individual foes, the EBR-14 remains more than adequate. One point of curiosity was that, no matter what weapons one picks up in this mission, all of them have the infrared laser sight module and suppressors. Although it gives the mission a bit of an unrealistic feeling in a game that is otherwise quite committed to realism, the tradeoff is that it gives players more options. For me, this meant, once I got my hands on an automatic weapon, the concern with being entirely stealthy evaporated, since I could now shoot my way out of tricky situations.

  • While Battlefield and Call of Duty traditionally feature campaigns that allow players to go loud, recent instalments have placed an emphasis on stealth. It is not lost on me that notions of stealth go hand-in-hand with the idea that military operations are supposed to be surgical in precision and minimise collateral damage: the fewer bullets one fires to accomplish their objective, the better things will be. Of course, the best solution is to negotiate things out so bullets don’t need to be fired at all. However, in a video game, intense firefights are what players come for.

  • Players seeking to experience this level of combat will still find it in the multiplayer modes: campaigns are designed to be introspective experiences. Here, I’ve gotten my hands on an AK-47 with an extended barrel, suppressor and 75-round drum magazine. With more than double the capacity of the Famas rifle, I felt confident in dealing with whatever stood between me and the objective. I did end up trying the Famas, but Modern Warfare configures it so it’s a burst-fire weapon only. Burst fire weapons have always been tricky to use in video games: in reality, they’re excellent because they allow for rounds to quickly be put on target, but games balance them out by making individual shots weaker.

  • Price and Garrick eventually capture Hadir, who was acting out of desperation: he saw the chemical weapons as a means of taking revenge on those who devastated his homeland and Farah’s life. However, Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote captures the consequences of this best: one must not become a monster when fighting monsters. Modern Warfare shows how even the most well-intentioned people can be compelled to commit atrocities in the name of their cause. However, there’s no time for argument: Barkov’s helicopters begin hammering the area with rocket fire.

  • The last segment of this mission abandons all stealth: one must get to a tunnel’s entrance in order to finish the mission, and in the chaos, while soldiers will fire upon Garrick, Price and Hadir, there’s no time to return fire. This is where an automatic weapon becomes useful: one can quickly deal with anyone between them and the exit. In the end, Hadir is captured and turned over to Russian authorities after Price negotiates for their being allowed to keep the intel from Hadir. Hadir’s story is that of a tragedy: while he wanted to avenge his people, in the process, he resorted to acts of extremism: one can understand where Hadir’s coming from, but this doesn’t make his actions defensible.

  • Modern Warfare‘s final mission is befitting of Call of Duty: in conjunction with the US Armed forces, Price and Garrick, Alex and Farah participate in a full-scale offensive on Barkov’s secret chemical weapons facility. As Alex, players begin with Hadir’s custom rifle and an M4A1 armed with an M203 under-barrel grenade launcher. This segment of the game is brutal: enemy fire fills the air, and I don’t mind admitting that I fell to enemy fire as a result of carelessness on several occasions here. This speaks to the importance of playing tactically, although I note that the allowance for respawns made every death a learning moment.

  • Respawning in games (or a lack thereof) are a core part of the mechanics: games that disallow for checkpoints and respawns are unforgiving and demand players to approach things with caution. Whether it be through the story or the mechanics, games can act as superb metaphors for life. However, there is a limit to this: those who cannot differentiate between reality and games will be met with frequent setbacks. One example that is especially vivid was a 2020 publication to The Economist, where an interview was conducted with activist Wong Chi-Fung. Chi-Fung an activist who also happened to be an avid fan of Gundam Versus, cited the game to be a parallel is his own efforts and stated that “when you get knocked down in one game, you just have to start another”.

  • The problem with seeing life as a video game is that real life tends to be unforgiving, and one cannot undo mistakes made in reality by loading a previous save. The Economist interview speaks to Chi-Fung’s immaturity – the interview was conducted while Chi-Fung is actively playing Gundam Versus, during which he is barely able to maintain his focus on the interviewers’ questions. As it turns out, Chi-Fung’s interest in Gundam is less about the mobile suits and more about the politics: he replies that “[Iron-Blodded Orphan‘s protagonists] embody the problems burdening each one of us” and indicates how his view of the world is vindicated when “the heroes are defeated, but the vanquishing regime adopts democratic reform anyway”.

  • It becomes clear Chi-Fung plainly modelled his brand of activism on a misconstrued interpretation of what is seen in Iron-Blooded Orphans and glorifies sacrifice even when it is meaningless. However, in other Gundam works, things aren’t so clear-cut: Gundam SEED‘s Kira Yamato abhorred violence and only fights with the minimum force needed to disable his opponents. In Gundam 00, Setsuna F. Seiei eventually works out that there are more ways of fighting than cutting down his foes with the Exia and 00 Raiser. Setsuna’s Gundams becomes one tool amongst several towards building a better future. Chi-Fung’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there are other ways to achieve long-term aims is shown when the interviewers ask about his thoughts on whether or not violent actions are justified.

  • Chi-Fung replies that he refuses to denounce violence because he empathises with their brand of thinking, and by tacitly endorsing violence as a legitimate means of achieving one’s aims, it is clear that Chi-Fung completely failed to understand the themes of Gundam. Similarly, publications can become out of their depth when dealing in these topics. The separation between fiction and reality is important because, while fiction often is a commentary on reality, they are crafted in such a way as to convey a specific idea, as well as showing the consequences of specific actions.

  • A part of this includes simplifying politics and abstracting out parts of a system so they fit the story better. The end result is that well-written stories are tight thematically, but they also make many assumptions in order to convey their themes. This is why when I go through stories, I always stop to consider the creator’s intents and their thoughts on a specific topic that the story covers, rather than attempting to cherry-pick elements to fit my own world-views. As it was, I found that The Economist’s article ends up being an endorsement of an unhealthy mindset: to the well-adjusted mind, fiction is about entertaining people, not about encouraging people to embrace violence for one’s own gratification.

  • I remark that, if The Economist desired an insightful and thoughtful conversation on games and the merits they bring, I’d probably be the better choice, although admittedly, my profile is much more unremarkable (for one, I’m a software developer). Back in Modern Warfare, I’ve finally cleared the seemingly endless waves of soldiers Barkov has at his disposal and finally enter the chemical weapons factory. Because the strike teams have no idea what they’re up against, they don gas masks. At this point in time, I was beginning to run out of .308 Lapua rounds for Hadir’s rifle and discarded it for an SVD equipped with FLIR optics.

  • The logic of doing so became clear shortly after: Barkov’s men disconnect the power, plunging the factory interior into darkness and giving the defending soldiers the upper hand. Having FLIR optics levels the playing field, allowing me to methodically locate and pick off foes without wandering into a trap. In Call of Duty, most missions can be completed without switching up one’s starting loadout, and in previous titles, I’ve gotten by reasonably well. However, this can create complacency, which in turn results in frantic moments if one enters a situation they’re not prepared for. Conversely, folks willing to experiment a little and capitalise on whatever options are available to them may have an easier time of things should a situation shift suddenly.

  • After exiting the factory’s power plant, Alex returns outside to link up with Nikolai, who’s provided both explosives and a detonator needed to bring the factory to the ground. Nikolai has featured in previous iterations of Modern Warfare, being a Russian informant who has infiltrated Imran Zakhaev’s faction and provides assistant to Price. In Modern Warfare, Nikolai’s role has changed somewhat: he’s now the leader of a private military company and has a strong sense of morality, doing what he feels is right to stave off chaos.

  • The biggest surprise in the finale mission was the appearance of a Juggernaut. This foe is probably the single toughest enemy in the whole of Modern Warfare, capable of absorbing an insane amount of damage thanks to their heavy armour. Luckily, this Juggernaut is only armed with the PKM, and is vulnerable to flash-bang grenades. I ended up defeating the Juggernaut using a combination of flash-bangs and the DP-12 incendiary shotgun, whose flammable buckshot deals damage over time. The Juggernaut’s appearance knocks Alex back and wrecks the detonator.

  • While Alex prepares to set off the charges manually, Garrick and Price have headed over to the pipelines. Garrick is initially armed with the FN SCAR-17 and an MGL-32 multiple grenade launcher. They come under heavy fire, and I responded by immediately ducking off to the side. At these ranges, I found the SCAR to be unsuited for combat and quickly switched over to the MP7. Although it takes a few rounds to down each soldier, the increased mobility and the fact that its hip-fire accuracy is reasonable makes it a better choice.

  • Per advice from Price, I ended up taking cover using the pipes and managed to close the distance to the gunner keeping allied forces pinned down. This allows everyone to push on forwards to the pipes that lead into the facility. In the end, I never ended up using the MGL, which only appears in the campaign. While it’s a powerful weapon, great for clearing crowds, Garrick doesn’t carry any more ammunition for it, beyond the six rounds it initially comes with. Here, I also found an M134 minigun; it comes with 320 rounds to start and is effective at close ranges, but the weapon also leaves one highly exposed in the campaign.

  • The Juggernaut killstreak, on the other hand, turns players into devastators in the multiplayer. I’ve noticed that it’s a bit of a Call of Duty tradition to save all of the most powerful weapons for the end of the campaign and only allow them to be utilised sparingly: besides ensuring the campaign stays balanced and satisfyingly challenging in the right spots, their appearance is probably also to entice players to venture into the multiplayer, where these weapons can be utilised.

  • Once Garrick reaches the pipeline, he will place the explosives onto the pipeline, and the mission will change over to Farah’s perspective. This is a classic Modern Warfare tradition: prior to Modern WarfareCall of Duty 4: Modern WarfareModern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 all featured a finale where players had to fight their game’s main antagonist in a desperate situation. Here in Modern Warfare, Farah sneaks on board Barkov’s helicopter and ambushes him. A lifetime’s worth of vengeance comes into play here, and while she’s much stronger than she had been the last time she and Barkov met, fighting Barkov still gives her some trouble.

  • In the end, Farah manages to kill Barkov. In his dying moments, Barkov continues to maintain his goal was to eradicate terrorism, and Farah kicks his corpse from the helicopter. The others subsequently detonate the charges, destroying Barkov’s factory and bringing Modern Warfare to a close. It seems that my timing for Modern Warfare was spot on: while I’d been busy, I still managed to finish prior to Modern Warfare II‘s launch. Overall, while Modern Warfare represents a change of pacing from earlier titles with respect to how the campaign is structured, it presented a very engaging story, and the gameplay was solid. With Modern Warfare in the books, I’ll probably spend a bit more time in Battlefield 2042 so I can unlock the Avancys and also resume my journey through Ghost Recon: Wildlands.

Although Modern Warfare represents only one perspective on warfare, it remains a very visceral presentation of things in a way that stands out from its predecessors. In this way, Modern Warfare‘s campaign gives players insights into why some wars unfold the way that they do: despite being significantly slower than the Call of Duty campaigns I’m familiar with, Modern Warfare ended up being surprisingly immersive for forcing players to move tactically and make calculated decisions about their next move. While I felt that Modern Warfare‘s campaign places more emphasis on night missions than its predecessors, and the scale of missions is far smaller than they’d been earlier, the characterisation and stakes are less grandiose, reminding players of how even the simplest of tasks require utmost coordination and patience. At the end of its campaign, however, Modern Warfare signifies that the story isn’t over yet; John “Soap” MacTavish is one of the operators that Captain Price is interested in recruiting, and the return of iconic characters in the future proved most exciting, especially in the knowledge that Modern Warfare II will be releasing later this month. At the time of writing, while I’ve had the opportunity to play the Modern Warfare II open beta and ascertain that my machine will run it without any problems, as well as how the game appears to be reasonably stable, I’m still deciding whether or not it would be worthwhile to pick the game up shortly after launch: at present, I am reasonably confident that I will have time to enjoy and write about the game in the upcoming months, but at the same time, I’d like to hold off and see what goes down in the campaign before determining whether or not the game joins my library. Previously, I bought Call of Duty games a few months later when they went on sale, and since I tend to play Call of Duty games only for the campaign, waiting for the discount is a logical choice. Modern Warfare II might prove to be the exception on account of how much fun I had during the beta, and while even the standard edition costs 10 CAD more than games would typically do at launch, paying about a third more to start my experience a half year earlier sounds reasonable if I am going to get into the Invasion mode earlier. For the time being, however, I am content to wait a little and see if the campaign and Invasion in the retail game will merit the additional cost of admissions, as well as explore Modern Warfare‘s spec ops missions and private lobbies further.

Spy × Family: Remarks on An Excellent Portrayal of Fieldcraft, and A Review and Full Recommendation At The First Intermission

“You start pretending to have fun, you might have a little by accident.” –Alfred Pennyworth, Batman Begins

An uneasy peace exists between the divided nation of Westalis and Ostania – the Westalis organisation WISE deploys their top operator, Twilight, to get close to the Ostanian political leader of the National Unity Party, Donovan Desmond, with the aim of averting open conflict between the two nations. To this end, Twilight assumes the false identity of Loid Forger and is tasked with starting a family with the aim of enrolling a child at the prestigious Eden Academy. Although the task is daunting, Loid ends up adopting Anya from the local orphanage and encounters Yor Briar, a young woman who’s been looking for a partner to allay any suspicions of being a foreign actor. After their meeting, Loid agrees to marry Yor. This family might be a sham, and blissfully unaware of one another’s true identities (Yor is an assassin with the secretive Garden organisation, and Anya is a former child test subject with telepathic powers), but over time, they slowly manage to advance Loid’s plans of enrolling Anya at Eden Academy and have her become a capable student who can befriend Donovan’s son, Damien. Despite the various setbacks in Loid’s assignment, he comes to care for both Yor and Anya, finding himself surprised at Yor’s physical prowess and Anya’s gradual integration into the student body at Eden despite her disinterest in academics. Proving to be an unexpected surprise, Spy × Family very rapidly became a favourite among viewers for its unique combination of spy thriller, slice-of-life and comedy elements in conjunction with an engaging story and well-choreographed fight scenes – the series’ appeal lies in its ability to employ elements from a variety of genres and successfully incorporate these together into a cohesive, gripping adventure that simultaneously shows the significance of Loid’s actions from a big-picture perspective and presents more touching moments from the day-by-day misadventures that result from Loid and Yor still being new to the idea of parenthood as they try to raise Anya. The myriad of elements here in Spy × Family means that the series is able to touch on a wide range of messages and themes. Loid comments that a lot of families must also be faking it, trying hard to appear their best to others while at the same time, genuinely working hard to be the best for their children, speaking to the idea that appearances are deceiving. Similarly, Loid also thinks to himself that the assignment is structured in this fashion because taking direct action against Donovan wouldn’t stop the war: soft measures are needed, and this is why he’s been given such a task. In reality, use of lethal force against a high-ranking target is typically not even considered as an option because of the potential for creating unintended side effects, and as a result, nations will employ diplomatic and social means as a first line of defense against perceived hostilities. On top of these topics, the innocence of childhood is also utilised to juxtapose the uncommon nature of Yor and Loid’s work with a child’s imagination and open-mindedness: while most adults would lose composure at the thought of a top-tier operator and crack assassin, Anya finds her adoptive parents’ occupations extremely novel, even though she sometimes becomes worried about what Yor and Loid might do.

There’s a plethora of conversation topics in Spy × Family worth praising, but at the end of the first half, the most standout message arises from the fact that, in spite of himself, Loid shows concern for Anya and Yor beyond the demands of his assignment. He is legitimately worried about Anya’s gaining admittance into Eden Academy, and when she makes it, he collapses into the lawn in relief. Loid has been trained to compartmentalise his emotions and focus on the task at hand, and initially, he rationalises his concerns as being worried about putting the outcomes of his assignment in someone else’s hands, whereas previously, he’d been accustomed to doing everything himself. However, it soon becomes clear that taking on a phoney family has not stopped Loid’s emotions from manifesting: whenever Anya’s hurt or sad, Loid does his best to console and comfort her: he even comes close to punching one of Eden’s interviewers out after he makes Anya cry. On the surface, he’s doing this to keep his fake family together so he can complete his mission. However, a part of Loid also acts this way because it is intuitive to do so: Anya and Yor might be tools to an end, but the hesitation and contemplation he shows as Spy × Family wears on shows that he’s beginning to see them as proper human begins, more than instruments in his mission. In this way, Spy × Family shows how spending time with people will accelerate the bonds that form between them, and this is perhaps an inevitable part of being human, no matter how well-trained one is in separating their duties from personal lives. However, from the approach Spy × Family has taken, this is clearly not a bad thing, and it is especially fitting that Loid be tasked with raising a family with the aim of eventually befriending Donovan and learning more about his goals – despite Loid’s exceptional social engineering skills, one can surmise that shrewd politicians like Donovan have their bullshit meters turned up to eleven and can trivially spot deception from a mile away. To become a convincing friend and eliminate any doubts, Loid must act more human: being together with Anya and Yor provides the perfect opportunity for him to integrate this into a part of his routine. Spy × Family shows that Loid’s talents are sufficient for the task (as seen when he is able to play the role of a loving husband perfectly in front of Yor’s younger brother, Yuri), but there are moments where spending time with Anya and Yor also shows viewers a side of Loid that is decidedly human. Where these moments come through, to even the most effective counter-surveillance measures, Loid’s merely an uncommonly talented husband and loving father to Anya, leaving viewers with no doubt that his mission will be successful and allowing one’s mind to focus on the host of other things that Spy × Family does well.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There are a lot of moments in Spy × Family worth commenting on, and while a handful of readers might be interested in a five-part series on everything Spy × Family does well, for the purpose of this talk, I’m going to focus on the family and fieldcraft pieces, which, in a standout series that already does everything right, are especially well done. The contrast between Loid’s life as an intelligence operative and the situations he finds himself being thrown into creates comedy, lightening the mood up considerably in a setting that would otherwise be all-serious.

  • When Loid adopts Anya as his child, her application suggests that she’s six, but her mannerisms and speech patterns are consistent with someone who’s four. Despite possessing telepathic abilities and giving her previous foster parents no shortage of trouble, Loid decides to stick things out – he’s unaware of her powers and chalks it up to uncommonly good intuition. For her part, Anya uses her powers in a way that a child might and gives even the well-trained Loid some trouble, but despite her carefree manner and a propensity to cause trouble in the way children might, Anya is very aware of those around her and does her best to keep the peace, even if she doesn’t fully understand what the adults mean when she glimpses into their thoughts.

  • Atsumi Tanezaki voices Anya – I know her best as Harukana Receive‘s Claire Thomas, but Tanezaki’s also played Aobuta‘s Rio Futaba, Miu Amano of Blend S and My Dress-Up Darling‘s Sajuna Inui. Seeing Tanezaki’s performance here in Spy × Family is exceptional – as Claire, Tanezaki is bold and confident, but her delivery of Anya’s lines is spot on and matches the precise intonations a child would make. Voicing children is a challenge, and the last time I was this impressed with a voice actress playing a child was Satomi Kōrogi’s performance as CLANNAD‘s very own Ushio Okazaki.

  • Yor Briar is the next part of Loid’s plan to build a family – he’s already gone ahead and looked into suitable single women for his ruse and, when a chance encounter brings the two together, both agree to build a relationship for their own ends after Anya expresses a wish for Yor to join their family. Yor appears perfect for the role of a wife with a government job, which will allay suspicion, while on her end, Yor worries that remaining single at her age will lead her to being suspected as a foreign actor and feels that being with Loid will give her the illusion of normalcy, getting her coworkers and brother off her back and allowing her to continue her secret occupation as an assassin.

  • Ironically, Loid ends up proposing to Yor as a part of their ruse to those around them, and things happen in a manner that is befitting of a spy and assassin couple. The dynamic here in Spy × Family is reminiscent of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, as well as 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me: I’ve always liked stories where the male and female leads are able to compliment one another – competent characters eliminate any doubt in the viewer’s minds that the overall story will be jeopardised, and this provides viewers with the reassurance that the series can portray a different side of things. Spy × Family chooses to employ comedy, and it does so in an effective manner.

  • Once Yor moves in and takes the surname Forger, she becomes a part of the family. On her first day with Anya and Loid, Anya decides to give her a grand tour of the place, and Loid decides to set in motion his plans for Operation Strix, the name of his assignment to close the social gap between himself and Donovan so he can work out a way to avert war without use of force. The Strix is a mythological bird associated with death and misfortune, but it can also refer to malevolent forces like Witches, but for me, when I hear the word “Strix”, my mind immediately goes towards ASUS’ Strix line of GPUs. On their product page, they state that the GPUs are named after the owls, being the high-end products that offer players with the sharpest experience.

  • Ahead of the applications to Eden Academy, Loid takes Anya and Yor on some high culture experiences around town, including an opera showing and a museum of fine art. While this is a part of his plan to ensure Anya has familiarity with culture and the performing arts to strengthen her application, one unintended side effect is that in the process, Loid also learns to relax just a little. This is the reason why I ended up choosing the page quote: in Batman Begins, Alfred suggests to Bruce that he act a little more like a billionaire playboy philanthropist after Bruce unveils his plans to become Batman. What Alfred means is that, for folks who are dedicated to their work, it’s still important to maintain that balance.

  • By forcing one to take some downtime, one might find the merits of doing so. In Spy × Family, Loid begins to appreciate these moments of normalcy in spite of himself and occasionally catches himself wondering if this is the life of an ordinary person. In Tom Clancy’s novels, John Clark’s work was especially taxing Sandy, as she worried every time he set off on a mission. When Clark contemplates retirement, his wife cannot help but be relieved. While Loid and Yor are both extremely competent, unlikely to be killed in the line of duty, their work is also quite tiring.

  • Anya immediately takes a liking to Yor since she acts as a mother figure, although when Anya delves into Yor’s mind, she finds the latter’s thoughts to be quite scary. In spite of this, she loves Yor very much and is sufficiently comfortable around Yor to make offhand remarks that can be quite hurtful: despite her considerable skillset, Yor is a poor cook and unfamiliar with the things that wives are expected to do. Saori Hayami voices Yor: of her extensive and impressive resume, I know Hayami best as GochiUsa‘s Aoyama Blue Mountain, Sawa Okita of Tari Tari and Yuzuki Shiraishi from A Place Further Than The Universe.

  • The Forgers have done their best to prepare for a pivotal moment in Operation Strix – the admissions interview to Eden Academy. Anya had barely passed her exams, and the interviews are to gauge both the student’s temperament and the parents’ amplitude in raising their children. En route to the interview, the Forgers are subject to a variety of surprises: as a family that came out of the blue, Henry Henderson is surprised by their presence and seeks to test them. On each and every occasion, he ends up impressed at how well-prepared they are, and how elegantly everything is handled.

  • The part that Loid had dreaded most was the interview: although Henry and Walter Evans are amicable and fair, the other interviewer, Murdoch Swan, is unfriendly and arrogant, deliberately seeking out any reason to reject the Forgers owing to his bitter stance on marriage. In the end, after Murdoch asks a question that brings Anya to tears, Yor and Loid both find themselves exercising all of their self-control to keep from physically beating up Murdoch, only for Henry to do so on their behalf. Henry has no qualms about accepting Anya as a student, and after an excruciating day where they wait for the results, the Forgers learn Anya’s been waitlisted.

  • Soon after, Anya is admitted to Eden, and both as a part of his guise, and in part as a consequence of his own relief, Loid consents to do something special for Anya. When Anya asks for a Bondman like experience, Loid decides to go with it. This exercise may seem overkill, but WISE is more than happy to comply, knowing Loid’s keeping Anya happy and maintaining a good relationship with Yor is essential for Operation Strix, as well as owing to everyone’s open admiration for the legends surrounding Loid. In this way, Loid and his informant, Franky, arrange for a castle to be rented out so Loid can act out a scene from Bondman, a spy cartoon Anya’s grown very fond of.

  • Although the expense involved in this “operation” is so immense that Loid’s superior immediately asks him about it, Anya is thoroughly impressed that her father is able to pull everything off as effectively as he did. A large part of Spy × Family that I haven’t been able to showcase in this discussion are the action scenes: they’re very dynamic and difficult to capture in screenshots. Spy × Family was jointly produced by Wit Studios (The Rolling Girls) and CloverWorks (Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, My Dress-Up Darling and Aobuta): the artwork and animation are both of exceptional quality. The townscapes and details in the environment are intricate, while movements during fight scenes are fluid and smooth.

  • Loid’s handler, Sylvia Sherwood, assigns him with his assignments. Although she normally works a desk job at the embassy, she was the one who trained Loid and is a superb operator in her own right, although performing the same sorts of stunts that Loid performs is quite taxing for her. Sylvia and Loid share the same business relationship as M and James Bond do, although unlike Judi Dench’s M, Sylvia lacks M’s sense of dry humour and matronly dignity. However, were Sylvia to resemble M, Spy × Family would be seen as being too close to James Bond. Creativity in the setting, characters and goals mean that Spy × Family is quite distinct, although Bond fans will doubtlessly have picked up on some commonalities.

  • Anya’s name and background both are references to James Bond: as a test subject, she was referred to as 007, which is James Bond’s double-O number when he’s in active service, but her name is also a callback to The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Major Anya Amasova, a Soviet agent working for the KGB. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Amasova is presented as Bond’s equal, with the intellect and physical prowess to match Bond and even outwit him at times. This was a first in James Bond: previous Bond Girls were very much the stereotypical damsel-in-distress archetype, so it was refreshing to see someone who was a competent and skilled operator in her own right. I was actually a bit surprised that people didn’t catch this reference: while The Spy Who Loved Me dates back to 1977, it is Roger Moore’s best Bond movie and quite worth watching.

  • In Spy × Family, Yor is to Loid the same way that Amasova is to Bond: possessing extraordinary strength, Loid is surprised that he’s only just able to keep up with her, but she’s also determined to play the part of a good wife. Yor’s background means that she often imparts on Anya some unusual lessons, and this is not without consequence. On orientation day, after being bullied by Damian and his friends, Anya recalls a conversation with Yor and decides to punch Damian’s lights out. This results in Anya being branded as being violent, and Anya expresses remorse at the incident: although her new best friend, Becky, thinks Damian got what he deserved, Anya recalls that the whole point of her being here is so she can befriend Damian and get Loid closer to Donovan. For her troubles, Anya has a Tonitrus Bolt placed on her record.

  • Exceptional students, whether by merit of academic excellence, athletic prowess or community service, earn Stella. Students who accrue eight Stella join the Imperial Scholars, students with more privileges, while those with eight Tonitrus bolts are expelled. As far as academics go, Anya has a natural affinity for languages and struggles with mathematics. While she occasionally considers using her ability to peer into the thoughts of those around her to stay afloat, she decides to put in a more concerted effort to do her best for Loid’s sake. Because Loid’s plan had been to either have Anya become an Imperial Scholar and then attend a social event for the parents of these top students, or otherwise see Anya befriend Damien, Anya does her best with both endeavours.

  • She ends up spending a whole day trying to find Damien so she can apologise to him, and while his friends doubt Anya is being sincere, a series of misunderstandings causes Damien to develop a crush on her, even though he’s too proud to admit it. Damien and his friends, Emile and Ewen, initially resemble Draco Malfoy, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, but in Spy × Family, Damien is shown to be a hard worker, and his friends actually regard one another as peers. Seeing the dynamics that form among the children in Spy × Family speaks volumes to the idea that despite outward appearances, people are more than what they seem. On this basis, I would feel that even Donovan is probably someone who can be talked to: he shares some design characteristics with Henry, and while Henry outwardly looks strict, he’s actually caring and observant. As such, there is a possibility that despite his reputation, Donovan might be someone who could be reasoned with.

  • Appearances being deceiving forms a bulk of Spy × Family‘s comedy: Yor’s younger brother, Yuri, is suspicious of Yor’s marriage and apparently having forgotten to tell him. To assage Yuri’s doubts about Loid’s being an excellent husband, Yor and Loid decide to have him over. While Yuri is outwardly a civil servant, he’s actually a highly effective member of the secret police and is, in fact, tasked with the hunt for Twilight. His reasoning goes out the window where Yor is involved, and he admires Yor a little more than is healthy; this aspect of him is employed for comedy, preventing him from suspecting that Loid is actually his target.

  • It does appear that everyone of note in Spy × Family is either uncommonly strong or uncommonly durable. During their evening, while Loid and Yor do their best to present a loving couple to Yuri, he adamantly rejects Loid and demands the pair show their commitment to one another by kissing. Loid’s trade craft means he has no qualms with this, but Yor’s assassin training doesn’t have a social piece to it, so she struggles. Embarrassment builds, and she ends up making to slap Loid, only for Loid’s swift reflexes to kick in: he dodges Yor, and she ends up putting Yuri on the floor, instead. Such moments are intentionally comedic, and this does much to remind viewers that, espionage setting notwithstanding, the characters are very much human.

  • Terrifying assassin she may be, Yor has adorable moments of her own, and of everyone in Spy × Family, Anya has the most “funny face” moments. The visual expressiveness accentuates the idea that at the end of the day, everyone in Spy × Family is human. This aspect of Spy × Family is what makes the show so relatable for viewers, but the story’s actual success comes from the fact that there’s something for everyone. Folks with an interest in politics will enjoy Spy × Family‘s portrayal of foreign affairs and the significance of intelligence as a component of political decision-making. Viewers with families of their own will relate to Loid’s thoughts about how sometimes, it can feel as though one’s ad-libbing things to keep things going, and that other families are also trying to look like they’ve made it, but at the end of the day, what matters most is ensuring one’s children are happy and disciplined.

  • Fans of espionage fiction, like myself, will get a kick out of the sorts of things that Loid can do and have access to, while viewers who appreciate sakuga will certainly enjoy the fight scenes, fantastically-rendered opening sequence and visual fidelity. Viewers who prominently watch comedies will laugh heartily at the moments of dramatic irony, and slice-of-life fans will have their hearts captured by Anya’s naïveté. In this way, Spy × Family is actually quite similar to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Yuru Camp△, both of which excelled precisely because they could appeal to such a wide range of viewers and combine everything together seamlessly.

  • Not every anime that attempts to weave so many elements together is successful: when done improperly, such anime come across as being excessively busy. Extreme Hearts and Kanojo, Okarishimasu are recent examples of anime that do too much. At its heart, Spy × Family succeeds because after the core premise is established, the story doesn’t stray from this path, and everything that occurs is tied to this goal. Loid is laser-focused on Operation Strix, but everything that follows, whether it be Loid and Yor’s fake marriage, or Anya’s initial troubles at school, all relate to Operation Strix. This simply shows how misadventures can follow even when one is following a plan, as well as how one might pull out of a difficult situation and turn things around with a bit of grit and creativity.

  • When rumours abound of a dodgeball tournament potentially leading to students earning Stella, Anya decides to train with Yor. On the day of the game, her class squares off against Bill Watkins, an unusually fit and perceptive student who takes pride in doing his best for his father. While Bill handily trashes Anya’s class single-handedly, his mature demeanour evaporates when Anya evades all of his shots. In the end, it turns out that Stella aren’t awarded for common activities and are only given for exceptional acts of excellence.

  • When Loid’s superiors worry about Anya’s progress, he decides to take her to the local health centre so that Anya can participate in some community service. Although Anya’s lack of coordination means that even the simplest tasks are difficult to her (unsurprising for someone who’s only four), her telepathy allows her to pick up on the fact that someone’s fallen into the pool and is drowning. She hesitates to tell this directly to Loid, worried he might send her back to the orphanage should words of her powers get out, and to this end, fabricates a fib that lets her to rescue the boy, even though she’s unable to swim well.

  • Anya’s act of singular daring and valuing of a human life earns her a Stella. Seeing the values at Eden Academy suggest to viewers that, despite Ostania being a parallel of East Germany, the people here have good values, and citizens are shown to have comfortable lives. Provided they don’t run afoul of the government or secret police, it does feel as though life in Ostania is quite normal, and that children are raised into being proper citizens who have a sense of discipline, responsibility and loyalty. Ostania appears to stand in contrast with East Germany, where life was described as being monotonous and dull. While the essentials were never in short supply, citizens’ lives were decidedly more dreary than their West German counterparts.

  • This doesn’t seem to be the case in Ostania: throughout Spy × Family, the characters are shown to have access to a decent variety of meals. When Loid takes his family to restaurants, said restaurants serve steaks. Loid and Yor end up buying an ornate cake from a local bakery to cheer Anya up and show her that, even if there’d been some awkwardness between the two earlier, they’ve managed to talk things out. At the Eden Academy’s canteen, Anya enjoys omurice, a dish of Japanese origin. After being awarded her first Stella, Anya’s classmates wonder if she’d cheated, but Damien openly states that Eden Academy is a place of integrity, and the instructors are above corruption.

  • In the finale to the first season, Loid ends up taking Anya and Yor to an aquarium to show the neighbours that he’s maintaining a work-life balance and keeping everyone in the household happy. Although the neighbours are initially skeptical after Loid disappears to locate a penguin carrying microfilm for a chemical weapon, he manages to pass off his disappearance as trying to win a prize for Anya. Loid’s ability to get things done border on the supernatural, and his ability to memorise penguin names and act as a proper penguin attendant would put The Aquatope on White Sand‘s Fūka and Kukuru to shame.

  • Besides a pleasant trip to the aquarium, the finale also gives viewers a glimpse of how Loid and Yor are beginning to act as parents would: when Anya attempts to sneak into Loid’s room while playing pretend, Loid reprimands her, only to realise he’s overstepped. While he’s acting in the mission’s interest, his response is consistent with how a parent would act: he and Yor end up playing along with Anya to take her mind off things, leading to smiles from those in the neighbourhood. I realise that in this post, I’ve only covered a fraction of what makes Spy × Family so enjoyable for so many.

  • The first season had ended quite abruptly, with the finale concluding back in June, but with the second season kicking off tomorrow, fans of Spy × Family will be able to get right back into the party very soon. The praise for this series is well-deserved, and in fact, I am of the mind that this is an anime that is universally enjoyable regardless of one’s preferences for genres. I will be following Spy × Family‘s second season with enthusiasm. The first season has sold me on the story and characters, so I look forwards to seeing what awaits Anya at Eden, along with surprises that lie in store for Loid and Yor.

Aside from providing viewers with a wonderful combination of thriller and comedy elements, Spy × Family nails the portrayal of the nature of intelligence, as well. While Spy × Family does present some elements of espionage that belong more in an Ian Fleming novel, such as the quintessential spy who is a sauve sharpshooter able to extricate himself from remarkably perilous scenarios, Spy × Family also takes the time of showing fieldcraft as Tom Clancy presents it: in his novels, Clancy writes that the best intelligence operators blend into their environment by hiding in plain sight. This is best exemplified in Adam Yao, whom Clancy introduces in Threat Vector as a NOC who runs an intellectual property firm as his white-side job. Yao is presented as being an expert of “selling it”: this is to embrace whatever role the situation demands and act with confidence that one belongs. In this way, Yao succeeds in striking up conversation with people and learning more about his objectives than he would by digging through their trash. That Spy × Family chooses this approach over the traditional James Bond way of blowing up a super-villain’s secret lair is welcoming because it shows the social aspects of espionage: while films tend to dramatise the martinis, girls and guns, real intelligence and fieldwork is a matter of persistence and patience: more often than not, intelligence is conducting surveillance on people to see what they know, and if they might be an asset, talking to people and gaining their trust. Spy × Family‘s portrayal of espionage incorporates James Bond, but the main mission Loid undertakes here is a textbook example of “selling it”: in order to get close to Donovan, Loid must sell being a loving father and husband from a cultured background worthy of Eden. While he, Anya and Yor experience some growing pains, it is clear that by the end of the first season, the three do appear to be a picture-perfect family beginning their own journey together. In portraying Loid and Yor as being competent, there is little doubt that Loid will succeed in his mission: the excitement in Spy × Family therefore comes from seeing what lies ahead, whether it be Anya’s efforts to befriend Damien, Loid’s trying to balance his other responsibilities with keeping up the façade of being a good father and husband, or Yor’s assassination work and the potential for her to clash with Loid should either learn of the other’s actual identity (á la the 2005 film Mr. & Mrs. Smith). There’s a great deal to look forwards to in Spy × Family, and with the first episode coming out tomorrow, I’m excited to see this story pick up where it left off – Bond Forger, a Great Pyrenees briefly seen during the penultimate episode after Anya desires to look after a dog, has yet to be formally introduced to the family, and this will doubtlessly add to the dynamics in a series whose characters, settings and overarching story have already been exceptionally fun.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II- Reflection on the Open Beta

“Nobody knows what anticipation is anymore. Everything is so immediate.” –Joan Jett

The excitement surrounding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (I’ll refer to the 2022 iteration using roman numerals to differentiate it from its 2009 predecessor) is quite tangible, and during the past weekend, the Modern Warfare II open beta was running, allowing me a chance to try the game out for myself: after building a new desktop machine and acquiring a RTX 3060 Ti, I’ve been itching to see how the latest iteration of Call of Duty would handle. The open beta represented the best opportunity to try things out, and while I spent only a few hours in-game, I now have a better sense of what the game requires from a hardware standpoint. On the average match, my machine effortlessly maintains 120 FPS with everything cranked up, and while I have played a few matches where latency was an issue, causing some rubber-banding, the game was smooth overall. Modern Warfare II handles extremely well; movement is crisp and responsive, while the gunplay is immensely satisfying. I never had any trouble moving my character precisely to where I needed to go, and Modern Warfare II‘s firearms feel consistent. While the beta only offers a small hint of what’s to come, Modern Warfare II is stable and performs well. Matchmaking was relatively quick, and once I got into a game, individual rounds were very tight and focused. For classic modes, new maps retain the classic Call of Duty arena-style design, offering fast-paced combat encounters where close quarters firefights and swift reflexes win the day. Modern Warfare II also sees the return of Ground War (a smaller version of Battlefield’s Conquest mode) and a sandbox-like mode called Invasion, which pits human and AI players together in a team-based battle on larger maps, which in turn provides a larger environment for experimenting with Modern Warfare II‘s longer-range weapons. The range of game modes seen in Modern Warfare II‘s open beta is a fraction of the full title, and while I historically have not enjoyed the smaller modes of Call of Duty, Invasion proved unexpectedly enjoyable, giving me a chance to get familiar with the weapons before hopping into a more frantic round of domination with a better idea of how to best use the tools available to me. Surprisingly, this time around, I found myself performing with some consistency: while veteran players and folks with a great deal of spare time will run rings around me, in more matches than I’d expected, I was also able to top the scoreboard.

While skill-based matchmaking meant I was more likely to pitted against players of a similar skill to myself, one aspect of Call of Duty returned to me in full during the course of Modern Warfare II‘s open beta. By default, the voice chat is enabled, and this meant, moments after slaughtering an entire team because of a bit of beginner’s luck on my end, I was screamed at and branded a cheater. In this instant, I immediately recalled why I typically don’t play multiplayer games with voice chat on. I endured the banter befitting of youth and young adults with far more time, and far fewer responsibilities than myself, for the duration of the round. After listening to another player on my team complain about how no one on the team besides himself knew how to play Modern Warfare II, I exited the lobby, dug around the settings and after a few minutes, located the options to completely disable voice chat. The remainder of my open beta experience was more peaceable, although it became clear that Modern Warfare II‘s UI is unintuitive and difficult to navigate. I’ve grown accustomed to Modern Warfare‘s UI, which, by comparison, is very clear and easy to use. The menu system in Modern Warfare II makes it difficult to access one of the game’s most anticipated features: the revised and updated Gunsmith. Modern Warfare II has streamlined the experience by developing a progression system in which one unlocks attachments for a weapon platform, and then these attachments are shared amongst all of the different receivers (weapon types) for that platform. This approach is intended to cut down on grinding, and shared attachments mean one is able to immediately kit out newly-unlocked weapons to bring their handling characteristics closer to what one already has for a previously-unlocked weapon for that platform. On paper, this means using new weapons will be a more enjoyable experience because one won’t need to go through the entire unlock process again. The Gunsmith upgrades are fantastic and cut down on time spent just unlocking stuff, allowing one to experience more of Modern Warfare II. This approach is quite welcome: contemporary titles often drag out the progression to encourage replay, but this makes for an exhausting experience, so seeing Modern Warfare II adopt a more streamlined approach is encouraging. For someone like myself, someone who’s got limited hours to game, a reduced grind means there is incentive to play occasionally without worrying about an overwhelmingly long journey to unlock everything; seeing this in Modern Warfare II does make the game’s multiplayer modes more enticing.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I decided to start my open beta experience in the Invasion mode and immediately found myself netting a few kills about human foes. The larger size of these maps, coupled with how players are spawned into things, means that one isn’t likely to die instantly after spawning in: this is something that had dissuaded me from playing Call of Duty, and even in bot-only modes, I’ve found that the small map sizes and relative lack of sightlines means that sniper rifles and marksman rifles are less useful in more traditional modes.

  • However, in Invasion, larger maps and the inclusion of AI bots mean that players have a chance to orient themselves and blend in. I started out with the M4, and this jack-of-all-trades assault rifle proved to be a perfect choice for combat at short to medium ranges. Throughout the open beta, the M4 became my go-to weapon choice for most maps and modes, and I ended up getting it to level sixteen before the beta ended. The fact that I could almost reach the level cap for the M4 over the course of two days shows that Modern Warfare II, at least in the beta, has a reasonable progression system.

  • If the pacing is similar in the final release, Modern Warfare II would be a game that works with my schedule: lengthy progression pathways dissuade me from gaming because I don’t have the same time I did back in the day, and games that allow me to play at my own pace usually have the most longevity in my books. Back in Modern Warfare II, after giving Invasion a go, I decided to return to the modes that I typically have the most trouble with. Close quarters environments mean map knowledge is vital, and in Call of Duty, I’ve not learnt the maps anywhere nearly as well as I had say, Halo 2‘s Lockout (which I can still draw from memory).

  • However, in the beginning, Modern Warfare II‘s skill-based matchmaking (SBMM, a means of matching players into servers based on their relative performance) system put me on a server with average players, and after spawning in, I achieved a feat that would not be seen again for the remainder of the open beta: I scored a Killtacular (in Call of Duty terms, a “quad kill”) after four of the enemy team’s players ran around a corner and surprised me, causing me to empty my entire magazine into them in a moment of blind panic. This ended up being the play of the game, and even though my team ended up losing, I ended up at the top of the scoreboard on my team.

  • Domination is basically a scaled-down version of Conquest, in which players must capture and hold points to score for their team. The way maps are designed, there are many flanking routes and plenty of cover around some objectives, giving defenders and attackers a fair chance at doing their part. The maps in Modern Warfare II are intricately designed and features a great deal of clutter, giving them a lived-in aesthetic that stands in contrast with the sterile maps of Battlefield 2042. While Battlefield traditionally excels with larger scale maps, ever since Call of Duty entered the battle royale market with Warzone, their large-scale map designs have improved dramatically.

  • While I don’t play Warzone and generally are not a fan of battle royale, I don’t mind admitting that Warzone is probably the best-designed battle royale game out there. Call of Duty‘s approach to the genre is skill-based: firefights can be turned around if one knows their map and weapons, and the game keeps things simple in its inventory management. Moreover, while Warzone does have weapon cosmetics, the emphasis on having cosmetics is reduced compared to the likes of Fortnite. Seeing MrProWestie and JackFrags in Warzone has piqued my curiosity for the past two years: ever since the global health crisis began, Warzone has offered players a novel experience to immerse themselves in.

  • I sat out Modern Warfare and Warzone in 2019 because my desktop wasn’t able to handle it, and while I don’t feel that I’ve missed out on Warzone, watching people play it did get me interested in giving Modern Warfare a go. Here, I managed to get a five-streak in a match of TDM. I rarely strayed from the basic M4 loadout during the beta because it had been so reliable, and in fact, the only limitation about the starting M4 loadout was the fact that one “only” gets a 30-round magazine. Against individual foes or a pair of enemies, 30 rounds is more than enough, but handling multiple foes in a spray-and-pray situation is quite tricky.

  • Unlike the Call of Duty: WWII open beta five years ago, where I fared extremely poorly, my performance in Modern Warfare II was somewhat improved to the point where I was having fun during my matches. The only exception to this was early on, when I hadn’t figured out how to disable the voice chat, and therefore, was privy to some of the nonsense other players were spewing. The Call of Duty community is known for situations where middle school-aged children play alongside adult players, and their actions on the voice chat have become quite unwelcome.

  • While I didn’t encounter any middle school-aged players, it turns out that the older players are equally as immature: when I joined a TDM round and got a few lucky kills on the opposing team, I was met with screeching and expletives. When I die in a given game, usually, I’ll either handle it quietly and move on (if I was legitimately outplayed), or laugh at the results (especially if I lost in a way that was unexpected or hilarious). Games are about having fun, and I’ve never felt that my sense of self-worth was determined by my KDR or W/L ratio in a given game.

  • Once I blocked out the voice chat in the Modern Warfare II open beta, my experienced improved dramatically. While a squad of friends would definitely find squad channels valuable, playing with what are colloquially referred to as “randoms” (basically, people one doesn’t know in real life or have any sort of online friendship with) means that little is to be gained by using voice chat, especially if said randoms are being immature and spamming chat with juvenile comments. Playing Modern Warfare II with just the in-game ambience and dialogue is more than enough, although on the flip-side, it does show that Modern Warfare II‘s voice chat system is working as expected.

  • The same couldn’t be said about Battlefield 2042‘s open beta: while the game was still functional and mostly stable, the beta from last year was nowhere nearly as smooth as Modern Warfare II. It is clear that, from the state of their respective open betas, Modern Warfare II is in a much better position for launching in October. Here, I’ve switched over to another domination match on what would become my favourite of the maps during the open beta: Farm 18 is an abandoned cement plant turned into a live fire training ground, consisting of a kill house surrounded by flanking routes.

  • In most of the games I’ve played, matches end up being quite close, and I found that while there were times where I ended up losing, my performance would never be so bad as to be demoralising (as I had experienced during the WWII beta back in 2017). I’ve heard that SBMM for Modern Warfare II‘s open beta was very aggressive – when watching MrProWestie, he’d remarked that after doing moderately well in a game, he was subsequently matched into a “sweat” lobby, one where everyone was try-harding to the point where even a full-time content creator was having trouble keeping up.

  • There were a few occasions where I did feel that SBMM put me into a game with players far more skillful or determined than myself, but even in these games (which were rare), I would eventually get into the swing of things and manage to hold my own. In the worst matches I played, my team still ended up losing by a few points, and similarly, in the best matches I played, my team won by a small margin. I did find that during games against tougher foes, I would always gain a sudden burst of performance and mow down foes one after another – while not enough to single-handedly turn the tide of battle or turn my KDR positive, such moments were fun and encouraged me not to drop out of a game mid-match.

  • Breenbergh Hotel was another map I particularly enjoyed. For domination, two capture points are located inside the hotel (one in the restaurant, and one in the lobby). The last capture point is located outside. The corridors and clutter in the hotel meant that long-range weapons aren’t viable here, and for this particular match, I spawned in with the base M4 without any attachments; I levelled up far enough to unlock custom loadouts, and as I worked on ranking up the M4, I eventually picked up the 45-round extended magazine for it.

  • Between the extended magazines and suppressor, I suddenly found myself much better equipped to score back-to-back kills before needing to reload: while tap-firing works well for medium range combat, in close quarters, the sheer chaos means that automatic fire ends up being the norm. Having fifty percent more ammunition to work with increases one’s survivability in these situations, and while the tradeoff is a longer reload time, reloading when out of combat offsets this particular disadvantage.

  • The new gunsmith has a similar UI to the gunsmith from Modern Warfare, but the largest difference now is that players can change out the weapon’s receiver. I didn’t get quite far enough to unlock the M16 receiver, but this approach represents a significant improvement over the original Modern Warfare, which had separate weapon unlocks for each individual weapon. Modern Warfare II allows players to unlock attachments for a weapon family, and then unlocking receivers grants access to some (or most) of one’s existing attachments. In my case, had I actually reached the M16 receiver, most of the attachments I already had for the M4 would carry over, allowing me to instantly start using the new gun without needing to work my way back up from the iron sights.

  • For kicks, I ended up equipping a slow-firing marksman rifle and got the first kill of that match. Such a weapon is unlikely to work out in the close-quarters environment that makes up the domination mode, but it was quite amusing to score kills in this way. The nature of Modern Warfare II‘s more traditional maps and modes mean that most players will prefer automatic weapons. To level up and experience longer-range combat, one must either play Ground War or Invasion, both of which provide a larger-scale match which changes up the play-style.

  • Prior to Modern Warfare, Call of Duty was known for valuing speedy reflexes above tactical play. While I’ve fared moderately well in these ranges as a result of preferring close-quarters combat from my Halo days, after I made the jump to Battlefield, I slowly acclimatised to more tactical, methodical gameplay at medium ranges. The maps in Call of Duty don’t always cater to this style, but I found that, rather than dying to a bad flank, I ended up suffering most at the hands of campers, who prefer remaining concealed in an area and scoring kills by ambushing unsuspecting players.

  • Camping will become a more popular approach in Modern Warfare II, since the minimap now hides all foes unless they’ve been spotted by a UAV or other equivalent means. The result of this is that the UAV became one of the more popular score-streaks, since it allowed one to reveal the position of enemies on the minimap for their entire team so long as the streak was active. In the absence of the UAV score-streak, I ended up using my grenades more generously, tossing them into a room and letting them detonate before I entered for myself.

  • One map I ended up playing a great deal of was Valderas Museum, which is a complex of corridors and rooms surrounding a large, open central area. The combat flows very rapidly on this map, so unsurprisingly, the M4 was my go-to weapon for this map: it fires fast enough to deal with foes at close quarters, but is accurate enough to pick off foes from across the courtyard. I ended up trying out the SMGs, and while they’re fantastic at close ranges (like their counterparts from Battlefield, they’re reasonably accurate even when hip-fired), larger maps with long sightlines make them a little less viable.

  • Besides the killtacular I got early in the open beta, I would end up scoring several double kills and triple kills once I found my flow – my customised M4 and its extended magazine proved to be an invaluable tool for clearing out capture points from attacking foes, while the ACOG sight gave me better clarity at longer ranges. Since Modern WarfareCall of Duty has done a fantastic job of ensuring all attachments have their pros and cons. While I cut my teeth in the Battlefield camp and prefer the larger-scale all-out warfare of Battlefield over the close-quarters chaos that characterises Call of Duty, recent Call of Duty titles have shown me how Infinity Ward is catching up in terms of engine sophistication.

  • After nearly a decade of being on the backfoot, I feel that Call of Duty has now matched DICE and their Frostbite Engine in terms of sophistication, and moreover, Call of Duty appears to be using their engine more effectively than Battlefield uses the Frostbite Engine – Battlefield 2042‘s beta suffered from performance issues that endured even into the game today, whereas Modern Warfare II was very smooth. DICE has worked tirelessly to fix these issues, although in my case, I’ve found that the massive upgrade in hardware is what allows me to play Battlefield 2042 now.

  • While the open beta was a fantastic way to ascertain that my machine can handle Modern Warfare II, what I’m most excited about is the campaign, which is the main reason why I play and enjoy Call of Duty. Call of Duty campaigns vary in size and scope, but they always offer an engrossing story that gives me a chance to discuss topics that I otherwise wouldn’t talk about – the political aspects in first and third person shooters invite conversation surrounding these matters, whereas most of the anime I watch tend not to cover such topics. I have found that anime tends to use politics to convey very specific messages, whereas Western entertainment is a bit more open-ended.

  • In earlier Call of Duty games, the “overkill” perk allows one to carry two primary weapons, and the default loadouts in Modern Warfare II‘s open beta similarly have two primary weapons. Here, I swapped over to the shotgun and promptly downed a foe defending one of the capture points. I don’t play the multiplayer extensively, so I don’t know which perks are the most effective for different scenarios, but I have heard that Modern Warfare II changes the way perks work: besides two base perks, players will automatically unlock two special perks to change the game dynamic.

  • I ended up returning to the Invasion mode so I could do some sniping, and en route to a good vantage point, I ended up being ambushed. The sniper loadout comes with the Signal 50 by default – this was the only long-range weapon available in the open beta, and it was obscenely powerful. However, being a sniper rifle, players are left at a disadvantage if they’re in close quarters. Fortunately, the sniper loadout comes with an automatic pistol which works in a pinch. Battlefield 2042 recently introduced the PF51, which fulfils a similar role.

  • The Signal 50 proved to be a remarkably fun weapon to use, and I ended up going on killstreaks with it. Here, I unlocked the Cruise Missile, which lets one drop a missile onto a target similarly to how Battlefield V allowed players to call in a V1 or JB-2. While higher kill streaks offer powerful bonuses, I found that overall, the best score streak unlock is the UAV owing to its ability to instantly reveal enemy positions on the minimap. The removal of enemies on the minimap after they discharged an unsuppressed weapon became a point of contention for long-time players. Some argue that this encourages camping, while others hold that this means players can equip other attachment besides suppressors.

  • One of my favourite moments during the Invasion game mode came when I managed to score a kill at 295 metres. Unlike Battlefield 2042Modern Warfare II retains a means of showing players the distance of a particularly impressive kill, and I admit that it was quite satisfying to land this kill. During this match, I ended up climbing onto the water tower at Sarrif Bay and spent the better half of the game sniping foes from afar.

  • Towards the end of the beta, I unlocked a battle rifle. Although I’d initially struggled with the weapon, after getting a few kills with it, I ended up hitting my stride. During this game, my team was outmatched, and I don’t mind admitting that I was more interested in trying out the battle rifle than I was in playing the objective. However, despite losing the match, I led the team on the scoreboard: I was finding that I was regularly finishing first or second in spite of my generally poor knowledge of Call of Duty mechanics.

  • Overall, I found myself having a great deal of fun during the Modern Warfare II open beta, significantly more than I’d anticipated, and considerably more than I did during the WWII open beta. I had sat out the Modern Warfare and Cold War open betas in previous years because I’d modified my previous machine in a way that prevented it from being updated to Windows 10. Last May, I ended up merging the user profiles back together and then updated my machine to Windows 10, but by that point, the i5 3570K was beginning to show its age. With my new desktop, I’m looking forwards to having the hardware needed to run games for the next six to eight years.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with one final kill from the Hurricane SMG and remark that I’ve just finished Modern Warfare‘s campaign. I’ll write about my thoughts on this come October, and in the meantime, I’ve got one more post lined up for September – I’ve finished Spy × Family‘s first season and found it a remarkable anime, so I look forwards to sharing my thoughts on why this anime is universally acclaimed, as well as some of the things that Spy × Family does especially well from an espionage and surveillance perspective.

With the open beta in the books, I now have a much better sense of what Modern Warfare II entails. Beyond my usual reasons for keeping an eye on a Call of Duty title, I know that Modern Warfare II now offers a fantastic alternative to the close-quarters combat of the usual maps, and the unforgiving environment of Warzone, which requires a squad and time commitment to yield maximum enjoyment. Invasion has proven to be a surprisingly enjoyable change of pace: maps are significantly larger than the typical maps for domination and TDM, giving one a chance to snipe and use vehicles, but at the same time, the allowance for respawns means that there is tolerance for making mistakes, and applying learnings from said mistakes immediately. The last time I played a Call of Duty open beta, it would’ve been five years ago, when WWII was released. Back then, the multiplayer gameplay proved underwhelming and clunky. However, it is plain that Activision has improved their game considerably since then: Modern Warfare II looks incredible, and for the first time, I see myself playing a Call of Duty game’s multiplayer component. In conjunction with a campaign that looks excellent, there is a very good chance that I will be checking out Modern Warfare II shortly after it launches. Between a promising title and the hardware to do so, I am presently leaning towards picking the game up after I’ve had the chance to to preview the campaign’s content and see for myself how things handle following launch. I’ve traditionally picked up Call of Duty games for their story missions and therefore don’t get much replay out of the games, but in the case of Modern Warfare II, between the presence of multiplayer modes that interest me, in conjunction with a Spec Ops mode and the fact that I’ve enjoyed all of the Call of Duty campaigns I’ve previously played, I am reasonably confident that Modern Warfare II would be a game that engages me. All that’s left now is for the early-adopters to give me a bit of additional insight into what I’d be getting into, and then I’ve got enough to make a decision as to whether or not Modern Warfare II is worth the full price of admissions, or if it will join my library at a later date.

Luminous Witches Finale Impressions, Whole-Series Review and Recommendation

“Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” –Ray Charles

Following the LNAF Band’s arrival in Britannia, they are whisked away to a variety of public relations events that leave them without a moment’s rest. Éléonore is invited to fly over to Gallia and help with the effort needed to raise morale withi the rebuilding effort. While she initially struggles with the decision, worried about what she will find back home, after a conversation with Virginia, Éléonore ends up taking the assignment, along with a feather from Moffy. On her first day, she visits Paris, and ends up making a request to Grace – Éléonore’s been curious to revisit her old home. Grace accepts this request, and the pair end up encountering a flock of black swans. Éléonore gives Moffy’s feather to the swans, who then fly off for Britannia, before running into the kitten she had as a child. Glad to see her doing well (the kitten’s grown up and has a family of her own now), Éléonore flies back to Britannia, where Virginia returns Moffy to the swans. Her Witch powers vanish, and she decides it’s time to return to her family, to the LNAF Band’s great disappointment. Grace reveals that command had intended Virginia to be transferred into a combat unit after she demonstrated the ability to communicate with other Night Witches, but with the loss of Witch powers, Grace approves for Virginia to be discharged. The impact on the LNAF Band is immense – everyone struggles with preparations for the Gallian concert and only find the strength to continue after imagining that Virginia is still with them. On the day Virginia prepares to board a train back to her parents, she overhears some passengers singing LNAF Band songs, and decides that Witch or not, she wants to be with Inori, Lyudmila, Maria, Manaia, Silvie, Joanna, Aira and Éléonore; Virginia manages to catch up to them just before they take off for Gallia. Upon arrival, the LNAF Band immediately begin preparations for their finale concert. Following a speech from Gallian Commander-in-Chief Cyrille de Gaulle, the LNAF Band take the stage and perform. During the concert, Moffy returns to Virginia and contracts with her, restoring her Witch powers. Following a successful performance, the LNAF Band return to Britannia and prepare to continue singing, starting with a one-year anniversary performance in the town near their headquarters. With this, Luminous Witches draws to a close, and with it, this marks the end of the latest Strike Witches spinoff, one which goes in a different direction than its predecessors.

Throughout its run, Luminous Witches hasn’t been subtle with its themes – this series reiterates the fact that all roles are of importance and that, just because someone is not on the frontlines actively contributing to the war effort, does not mean they can’t do what they can in a different capacity. Moreover, Luminous Witches illustrates how when people support one another, they are capable of excellence. Each member of the LNAF Band begin their journey as a misfit unsuited for combat operations, but together, everyone lifts one another upwards. This is demonstrated time and time again in Luminous Witches; Maria and the other Witches initially struggle to even fly, but they get around this by holding hands in the air. Over the course of Luminous Witches, the LNAF Band become more comfortable with one another and their duties, eventually becoming able to carry out the complex choreography that Maria’s envisioned in her mind and flying on their own. However, just because the Witches can fly on their own now doesn’t lead them to separate – instead, their bonds further strengthen. The sort of unity and spirit amongst members of the LNAF Band become critical because, once the Witches figure out how important they are to one another, these feelings become easier to convey in song. When Lyudmila and Inori struggle with the song-writing, advice to write the song to someone dear to them allows the pair to create the beginnings of music that connects hearts and minds together. The experiences the LNAF Band Witches have together come through in their music, and this allows the Music Squadron to reach people in ways they never imagined to be possible, showing how teamwork and putting forth one’s best can create things that far exceed expectations. In this way, Luminous Witches also exceeds expectations; although it’d been a spinoff of Strike Witches, the series has come to show another side to the Strike Witches universe, one that gives further insight into how large of an impact that the Human-Neuroi War is having on the world, but also how resilient humanity has been in this ongoing conflict, and how the resolve to keep fighting can come from the most unlikely of sources.

Luminous Witches also acts as an innovator in the Strike Witches franchise, marking the first time that Familiars are introduced into the series. Previously, the emphasis on the weekly battles against the Neuroi has meant that Witches are rushed into battle, and every available moment is shown of the Witches living and training together before taking into the skies to repel the Neuroi. The slower pacing in Luminous Witches has allowed for the series to finally depict the Familiars, spirit beings that are contractually bound to the Witches and provide their power. While the Familiars initially appeared to be an awkward addition that contradicted existing knowledge of how Witches operate, after Luminous Witches, it becomes clear that Familiars are an integral part of the series, being animal spirits that provide support and encouragement to Witches. However, despite their presence, Familiars never interfere with the LNAF Band’s ability to deliver hope; they are seamlessly woven into the story and are shown to have agency, accompanying worthy Witches on their experiences. Seeing Familiars in Luminous Witches leads to the question of whether or not they might become a more common aspect of future Strike Witches series: Luminous Witches has demonstrated how it is possible to introduce an element later into a series without breaking consistency established by previous works, and having now seen the Familiars, an additional side of the Strike Witches universe is finally shown to viewers. The strength of the bonds between a Witch and her Familiar is shown in Luminous Witches: although Virginia had thought she was doing the right thing by returning Moffy to her kin, it turns out Moffy’s come to enjoy her time with Virginia and sees her as a worthy Witch. Seeing this bond accounts for why Yoshika and Hikari never worry about their Familiars: they’ve likely already earned their Familiars’ trust and can therefore focus on doing what they can for those around them, too. At the end of Luminous Witches, it is firmly established that once Familiars see their Witch as worthy, they will stick around for the long haul, and this suggests that Virginia and Moffy will definitely be able to bring joy to the world alongside the other members of the LNAF Band.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The LNAF Band’s world tour drew to a close right after Yoshika and the 501st toppled the Gallia Hive; immediately after returning to Britannia, the LNAF Band is sent out on a public relations campaign to promote the Witches and their achievements. Although it’s exciting, the daily photography sessions and speeches leave the Witches exhausted. With the 501st’s victory, this marks the first time the events immediately following Strike Witches are animated, and from what Luminous Witches shows, the LNAF Band are even busier than their combat counterparts in the aftermath.

  • In between speeches, the Witches have a chance to unwind briefly: they enjoy a meal here, and Lyudmila wonders why Éléonore’s been in the spotlight the whole time even though Aira technically leads the LNAF Band. Unsurprisingly, since Éléonore is from Gallia, she’s got a bit more pressure on her, since her homeland has now been liberated. On the wall in this room, a world map can be seen. The oldest iterations of Strike Witches show China as being completely annihilated and replaced by an ocean, but later maps show China, with the in-world lore suggesting that the region is under complete Neuroi control and is depopulated.

  • This is a bit of a convenient way of avoiding the portrayal of Chinese Witches, which are noticeably absent in the whole of Strike Witches: it’s always struck me as odd that Fumikane Shimada declined to include Chinese Witches in Strike Witches, especially when considering how rich and storied Chinese culture is, but that’s a discussion for another time. Back in Luminous Witches, for Éléonore, the biggest conflict she experiences here is that while she yearns to return to Gallia, she also worries about seeing how damaged the country is following years of Neuroi occupation.

  • Seeing the scope of the destruction must’ve been sobering to Éléonore: she spends her first day touring Paris, which has been levelled. The Eiffel Tower lies in ruins, and while she’s asked to pose for photographers, her mind returns to a time when she’d been a child and had met a stray cat. Having taken this cat in shortly before the Neuroi arrived, Éléonore was dismayed to separate with this cat during the evacuation. That evening, Éléonore reflects on how she became a Witch, and asks Grace for a small request. Éléonore’s story also shines a bit more light on how Witches work here: it turns out that young women can become Witches after meeting a Familiar.

  • When Éléonore’s familiar ends up spotting some black swans, she pulls out the feather she’d brought with her. The swans appear to recognise it and fly off, seemingly in search of their companion. They leave behind a single black feather that Éléonore hangs on to. Throughout Luminous Witches, Virginia’s determination to bring Moffy back to her family has never wavered, no matter how many tours she’d gone on with the LNAF Band, and this side of Virginia shows that while she’s still young and starry-eyed, there’s a side of her that’s not dissimilar to Strike Witches‘ Yoshika, and Brave Witches‘ Hikari.

  • Although Éléonore’s family safely evacuated, the cat she’d left behind would continue to weigh on her conscience. However, this uncertainty is resolved when Éléonore finds the exact same cat, who’s now started a family of her own. To her, seeing this signifies how people can find ways to endure and survive even during the toughest of times; if her cat could make it, then there is hope that some day, human resilience and resolve means that life will return to Gallia.

  • Éléonore thanks Virginia for having encouraged her to participate in the tour of Gallia and gives her the feather she’d picked up from the swans. Earlier, Virginia spoke to how mysterious her meeting with Moffy was, citing it unusual that Moffy chose to remain with her after all this time. Virginia felt that Moffy has longed to soar and believes that as thanks for having been with her until now, it’s her duty to help Moffy find her kin. This pep talk motivated Éléonore to summon the courage needed to fly over to Gallia. Virginia might not have any combat experienced and is comparatively young, but her naïveté allows her to be very forward about how she feels, similarly to Yoshika.

  • Moffy responds to the feather, and moments later, the black swans arrive to take her home. It is here that Moffy and Virginia part ways: Virginia is sad to see Moffy go but appears to have no regrets, having finally achieved what she’d set out to do. Shortly after, her powers as a Witch vanish, and this left me to wonder how Luminous Witches‘ mechanics fit in with what previous instalments had established: Familiars were completely absent in Strike Witches‘ three seasons and Brave Witches, with magic being treated as one’s ability to draw power from another dimension.

  • However, here in Luminous Witches, it appears that being a Witch is directly related to one’s Familiar, and accessing magic is done by forming a contract with a Familiar. If a Witch releases a Familiar from their contract, they subsequently lose their power. Admittedly, this was a bit surprising to see, since it does go against what earlier works had suggested. Inconsistency is something that can arise in long-running works, no matter how much attention is paid to details. Even Girls und Panzer makes gaffes from time to time: in the third OVA, Miho and her friends visit a desert on the Ooarai School Ship even though previous footage of the ship shows no such terrain.

  • As the evening sets in, Virginia’s fellow LNAF members look on in silence as she contemplates what’s happened. On one hand, Virginia is happy that Moffy has reunited with her kin, but without any magic, she’s no longer a Witch. The lighting in this scene is vivid: it marks the end of one milestone in Luminous Witches, and there’s a bit of tension as the other Witches wonder what will happen next. Although no dialogue is present after Virginia gives up her Witch powers, the lighting speaks volumes to how uncertain everyone is feeling about things. This left the anticipation for the penultimate episode quite high.

  • In retrospect, Virginia giving up her Witch powers is not the unexpected twist that it had been in the moment: prior to the climax of Strike Witches, the protagonist would always be put in a position where they would leave, only for circumstance and fate to push them back towards their companions. Strike Witches is a series defined by its propensity to stick with a known approach, and while this leaves both the main series and spin-offs predictable, the variations in how similar circumstances come about show how all of the Witches share a common mindset, whether they’re fighting to take a hive down or sing together for a nation’s morale.

  • Virginia’s circumstances shift wildly: command had been eyeing her for a combat role now that they know she’s capable of transmitting (during the Orussian leg of their tour, Virginia managed to send the Neuroi’s location to nearby Witches), but with her Witch powers gone, she decides to transfer out of the armed forces and return home now that she can no longer use her magic to be useful to her fellow LNAF Band members. Virginia was therefore set to leave the Music Squadron one way or another, although since losing her magic precludes her transfer into a combat unit, this outcome actually becomes a little more favourable for the LNAF Band.

  • While I’ve been around Strike Witches long enough to know that things will always unfold in a way to build up tension before the big finale, the series’ sequels and spinoffs have always found a way to create emotional investment; here in Luminous Witches, Virginia’s departure has a nontrivial impact on the group. Viewers have seen for themselves the sort of encouragement and energy Virgina bought to the table, and her sudden decision to leave the band surprises everyone. I would imagine that Virginia chose this route because she didn’t want to drag out any goodbyes.

  • After Virginia leaves her post, the other Witches begin preparations for their concert in Paris. However, without Virginia, everyone’s feeling a little off. Of everyone, Inori seems to be hit hardest: Luminous Witches has her in the role of “protagonist’s best friend”, and while it’s plain the pair are quite close, it suddenly hits me that Virginia doesn’t have quite as much on-screen time spent with Inori as Yoshika and Lynette did. Luminous Witches was written to be a 1-cour anime, and its story is sufficiently simple such that it would fit into this timeframe, but a part of me feels that, had this series been given a more unconventional fifteen episodes, it would’ve offered the space to flesh out characters and show off the concerts further.

  • While Inori and Lyudmilla talk about Virginia’s influence on their music, Maria and Manaia struggle with adapting their choreography to a team of eight, and Joanna and Silvie decide to make a ninth costume for Virginia anyways, even though she’s gone. While perhaps unremarkable compared to the other LNAF Band members, all of whom have their own unique quirks, Virginia’s biggest asset is that she comes from an everyman’s background. The tabula rasa archetype is a common one in anime and acts as a stand-in for viewers, who would similarly have no a priori knowledge of a world. A character’s growth from interacting with the fictional world, then, is a parallel for the viewer’s own increasing immersion into the world.

  • This is why military moé anime tend to feature similar protagonists: viewers share the same perspective as the protagonist and feel like they’re learning about the world alongside the lead character. Back in Luminous Witches, the LNAF Band go ahead with their latest speech prior to their departure for Gallia. In the end, everyone’s decided to prepare as though Virginia were still among their number. Although they continue to do what they can, Virginia’s absence is noticeable, and Inori breaks down in tears in between events.

  • Virginia boards a train and prepares to make her way back home: she hears the LNAF Band performing on the radio and wishes she were still a part of them. However, having resigned herself to her old life, Virginia boards the train. Here, I remark that Luminous Witches, befitting of a music-themed Strike Witches, has an excellent soundtrack, but at the time of writing, I’ve not heard anything about the series’ incidental music being available for purchase anywhere. Some of the songs that were performed during Luminous Witches will be released as a part of the character albums, but I would’ve liked to have seen the incidental music be released, too: Strike Witches‘ soundtracks, while perhaps not the most remarkable or innovative, do successfully capture the emotional tenour in this universe.

  • On board the train, after Virginia hears some of the other passengers singing a LNAF Band song, she thanks everyone for their support, and some of the children immediately recognise her. After spotting this, Virginia realises that Witch or not, she’s become an integral member of the LNAF Band. The children encourage her to return to her friends, and on the spur of the moment, Virginia asks her uncle to take her back to the airfield. The others are preparing for takeoff, but after Inori spots Virginia returning, she and the Witches implore Grace to cancel takeoff.

  • One supposes that the Lancaster has not hit V1 yet (the speed at which takeoff should not be aborted): takeoff is halted, giving Virginia a chance to catch up with her fellow LNAF Band members and join them on their finale tour in Gallia. Inori, Lyudmilla, Manaia, Maria, Silvie, Joanna, Éléonore and Aira rush out to greet her, tearfully welcoming Virginia back. For Virginia, the realisation she’s had here is that magical powers or not, her experience with everyone meant that at the very least, she should follow her heart and do what she can for those around her.

  • Luminous Witches proved to be an unexpectedly moving series: it’s a ways more tearful than its combat-oriented counterparts, but I was surprised that the series was able to focus on the emotional aspects of music so effectively. Strike Witches has long been known for its fanservice, so seeing the series dialling this back in favour of character growth and world-building has been especially enjoyable. With Virginia on board, it’s now onto Gallia for one final performance: having Virginia back lifts the LNAF Band’s spirits considerably, allowing Luminous Witches to enter its final episode on a high note.

  • In this way, Virginia returns to join her companions for one final performance at Gallia: the new LNAF Band uniforms look amazing, befitting of a celebration of humanity’s first major triumph over the Neuroi. While Virginia might lack any magic, her singing and dancing remain in good shape: shortly after arrival, the group practises for the show. On the day of the event, Éléonore and Aira watch as Gallian Commander-in-Chief Cyrille de Gaulle gives a speech. de Gaulle is modelled Charles de Gaulle, who led the Free France movement against Nazi Germany and ran the provisional government after France’s liberation.

  • de Gaulle would later become the President of France and retain his post until he resigned in 1969. Although there were some controversies in his time, de Gaulle is widely regarded as having a positive impact on France. During Luminous Witches‘ finale, several other Allied commanders can be seen, including General Patton and General Bradley. I had been hoping that the 501st would make an appearance during Luminous Witches‘ grand performance, but in retrospect, their absence is a consequence of the 501st being disbanded immediately after they destroyed the Gallian hive.

  • Virginia watches with joy as her friends soar into the skies for the first song of their performance. The Witches are performing on the Arc de Triomphe, an iconic Paris landmark that was finished in 1836 to honour those who fought for France in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. In Strike Witches, the presence of the Arc de Triomphe suggests that there was equivalent events in Gallian history, and from the top of the monument, the Witches notice that Paris had been rendered quite dark following the Neuroi occupation. When their performance begins, however, the LNAF Band’s music and spirits light up the night skies.

  • As Virginia continues to sing her part on the ground, her feather begins glowing. Inori had added the feather to her uniform so she could perform with a part of Moffy, and while Virginia cannot see the feather, the gesture is appreciated all the same. An elegant black shape appears in the night skies mid-performance, and it’s Moffy, who’s returned to Virginia. One can imagine that after meeting her kin, Moffy decided that her future also lay with Virginia, and this time, it appears that Moffy’s agreed to contract with Virginia. In a heartwarming moment, Virginia and Moffy reunite.

  • The resulting union creates a burst of magical signals that spreads across the world. From this moment, I gathered that it is probable that in her juvenile form, Moffy’s own abilities had not fully manifested yet, which would be why Virginia could only receive and not transmit. However, by maturing, Moffy gains the ability to transmit, as well. Mirroring this, Virginia’s magic antennae change shape and assumes the form of a parabolic dish. The LNAF Band’s music is transmitted across the world to all Night Witches, who are able to hear the LNAF Band’s performance.

  • Two familiar Witches, Heidemarie and Sanya, are given a cameo appearance as some of the Witches who receive the LNAF Band’s music. I’ve not seen Heidemarie since the events of Strike Witches: The Movie some six years ago, as well as the manga, The Sky That Connects Us. It is a little surprising as to how long Strike Witches has been around for: I found the series back in 2011 purely by chance, and while the Strike Witches back then had been a monster-of-the-week deal, the series has matured considerably over the years to the point where it plainly stands on the merits of its character growth and world building.

  • Gratuitous pantsu and crotch shots are totally absent in Luminous Witches, a first for Strike Witches and its spinoffs, but this never detracts from the show itself. Having said this, I feel that it was through the original fanservice that gave Strike Witches its recognition, and this is what created enough interest to allow the series to continue exploring the world that was introduced. Back in Luminous Witches, with her magic now back in full, Maria and Manaia immediately hand Virginia her Striker Unit. Having not flown for a while, Virginia’s flight is unsteady, but Inori and Lyudmilla help her into the skies.

  • By this point in time, the LNAF Band have become sufficiently comfortable with flying such that they no longer hold hands when taking to the skies, allowing Maria and Manaia to choreograph increasingly sophisticated routines for their performances. I’ve always felt the hand-holding was an excellent visual metaphor for reflecting on how these non-combat Witches supported one another, and over the course of the series, it appears that by supporting one another, everyone’s also lifted themselves up.

  • After performing their flight, the LNAF Band return to the Arc de Triomphe, which is now surrounded by thousands of spectators. Seeing such a number of people here speaks volumes to how much of an impact the group has had on morale around the world. In the finale, it did feel a little jarring to see SHAFT simplify the crowd animation: in most idol anime, audiences are rendered using a sea of glowsticks, but glowsticks are a post World War Two invention – Michael M. Rauhut invented the precusor to modern glowsticks in 1971. In the absence of the usual audience, crowds in Luminous Witches‘ finale do seem a little unusual.

  • Miracles are a common part of Strike Witches, allowing characters to overcome their internal struggles and achieve the impossible at the last possible hour. Luminous Witches joins its predecessors in suggesting that such miracles are not deus ex machina, but rather, the culmination of bonds of trust and respect cultivated over many trials and tribulations. While following the same approach, Strike Witches and its spin-offs remain worth watching because of how different the bonds among the characters are.

  • After the whole of Luminous Witches, Grace has become my favourite of the characters. Although she’s not a performer herself, Grace is talented and motivated, working from behind the scenes to ensure that the LNAF Band can be successful. Grace is voiced by Mikako Komatsu, and a quick search of this blog’s archives finds that Komatsu is Pride of Orange‘s Yōko, the Dream Monkey’s coach. Unlike Yōko, however, Grace is realistic about what she does, and a part of the joy of watching Luminous Witches is seeing her efforts come to fruition.

  • Because Grace had been responsible for the LNAF Band’s successes to the same extent that each of Virginia, Inori, Lyudmila, Maria, Manaia, Silvie, Joanna, Éléonore and Aira had, Aira and Éléonore decide it’s time to give Grace some shine time while everyone else prepares for the next act. While she’s at a loss for words, professionalism kicks in, and Grace begins with a speech thanking everyone. However, the size of the crowd soon fills her with a desire to sing.

  • Grace thus performs Amazing Grace for the thousands gathered – it is probably the most iconic of English hymns, and from a secular standpoint, symbolises the delivery of hope. Seeing Grace perform was quite unexpected: she had spent the whole of Luminous Witches putting the LNAF Band together and encouraging everyone to do their best, as well as arranging for their tours, accommodations and other supporting elements. However, when the chips are down, Grace has a wonderful singing voice too: unlike the other managers in idol series, Grace is also a capable singer in her own right and never missteps.

  • With the concert drawing to a close, the LNAF Band prepare for their last song, and thanks to Virginia’s awakened Witch powers, the entire concert is broadcast around the world, speaking to the strength of everyone’s feelings. As a bit of a parallel, the fact that the world has rallied around the LNAF Band and their music also speaks to humanity’s determination to live on. It is going to be a little sad to see Luminous Witches go: having accompanied me for the past three months, I looked forwards to watching episodes every week. While Luminous Witches‘ Sunday release meant I often missed episodes on Sunday itself, since I was out and about capitalising on the summer weather.

  • With autumn now here, the trees have finally begun to turn yellow, and I capitalised on the weather to go for a walk around Weaselhead Flats, a park in another part of town I rarely visit. If memory serves, the last time I visited Weaselhead Flats, I was finishing up primary school. It was a balmy 22ºC today, and as such, the walk was especially enjoyable. Yesterday, I walked the inner city and hit a viewpoint offering a stunning view of the city centre. I understand that this past weekend, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II open beta was running, but when the weather’s this nice, the games can wait.

  • Thanks to Virginia’s magic, the Gallian performance reaches a worldwide audience, filling the skies with a display far surpassing even today’s 8K screens. While technology has advanced considerably since the Second World War, to the point where we’re able to stream UHD in real time to people around the world, the constraints of an older era meant that reaching so many people would definitely have a romantic appeal to it. In this way, people around the world are able to celebrate the destruction of the Gallian hive and have hope that there is a chance of winning the Human-Neuroi War.

  • Following the Gallian concert, Moffy reverts to her old form, and the LNAF Band prepare to practise again: a year has passed since Grace gathered everyone and formed the LNAF Band, and everyone’s been allowed to stay together. Demand for morale-lifting music is at an all-time high, and the Music Squadron must keep training to stay at the top of their game. However, despite the hard work involved, everyone’s all smiles now that they’re allowed to stick together.

  • When I wrote about the Luminous Witches preview video back in February 2021, I had been hoping that the series would come out soon, but various circumstances led to Luminous Witches‘ being delayed. The series soon fell from my mind, but when it was finally given a release date, I’d been quite excited to watch it. The end result exceeded my expectations – I had already known that I would enjoy anything set in the Strike Witches universe, but how Luminous Witches unfolded proved to be captivating. Despite there being no combat to speak of, and correspondingly, no military hardware to discuss, watching everyone slowly becoming closer over the the course of the season proved very rewarding.

  • While Grace acts embarrassed at the thought of performing alongside the others, I imagine that she’s also a little pleased that the others suggest she’s still youthful enough to sing. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Grace with Virginia and the others, and here, I will note that both interest in and discussions surrounding Luminous Witches have been quite limited – my posts on Luminous Witches have been quiet, and other discussions (excluding episodic reactions) on the series are hard to come by. However, I would still like to thank those for sticking this journey out, and I hope that my approach towards Luminous Witches have been helpful to some capacity.

  • Overall, Luminous Witches earns an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or 9.5 of 10) – this series exemplifies how far the Strike Witches franchise has come in presenting a touching series with lovable characters, and, even without the aspects that are central to Strike Witches, can remain faithful to the originals while at the same time, continuing to build out the world further. After twelve episodes, I’m familiar with the Music Squadron the same way I’m familiar with the 501st and 502nd. While the series may not have changed my world views to any significant extent, I exit Luminous Witches fully satisfied and grateful to have followed this series every week.

As SHAFT’s first Strike Witches, Luminous Witches was of a technically excellent quality in its hand-animated scenes, voice acting, music and audio engineering. The main shortcoming in the series is how blocky the dance sequences look – this is traditionally the weakest aspect of any idol anime, where computer animations are used to render multiple characters dancing simultaneously. While Luminous Witches makes an effort in trying to clean these scenes up, their usage remains quite evident. On the other hand, every other aspect of Luminous Witches is of a consistently good quality, allowing Virginia and the LNAF Band’s experiences to remain immersive and convincing. Altogether, while Luminous Witches is not particularly innovative or novel from a storytelling perspective, and the technical aspects aren’t groundbreaking, the series’ sincerity and genuine characters make this a worthy addition to the Strike Witches universe, showing how it’s possible to support people in ways beyond picking up a weapon and eliminating the Neuroi one at a time. By being able to reach the hearts and minds of the civilian populations in a given nation, the LNAF Band give the people a reason to hold onto hope, and to keep backing the Witches as everyone works together to repel the Neuroi and restore peace to a war-ravaged world. Luminous Witches therefore ends up being a touching series, one which both expands on the Strike Witches universe and demonstrates how much of the world still remains to be explored. With this being said, because Luminous Witches is dependent on a priori knowledge of the other Witches and the gravity of the Human-Neuroi War, Luminous Witches cannot be considered to be an ordinary idol anime. One will have the most enjoyment of this series if they’ve seen at least the original 2008 Strike Witches series; while this one’s a little dated, it provides enough insight into the Human-Neuroi War such that the events of Luminous Witches have more context. On the other hand, Luminous Witches is a fantastic series for existing fans of the series, adding a new dimension to a universe that has been steadily maturing and improving since it began its run.