The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: personal reflection

An Introspection on Team Fortress 2, or How I Spent My Time In Between Preparations for the MCAT and Remarks on Hats

“Throughout history, men have worn hats as a way of asserting dominance over other men. ‘I buy hats,’ a behatted man seems to say, ‘I am better than you.'” –Classless Update

Team Fortress 2 remains one of Valve’s finest games. An improvement to Team Fortress, a Half-Life mod that created a class-based multiplayer title based on team play, Team Fortress 2 took the Team Fortress concept and cartoonised it, creating an aesthetic in the manner of a clever pastiche of spy films from the mid-1960s. The resulting product was fresh, innovative and fun: the classes are balanced against one another so that no one role can be dominant in a match, and that a team with good player coordination can utilise their composition to control a match. At the same time, Team Fortress 2 had a very low barrier of entry. All of the classes have a high skill ceiling – it takes time to master each class and utilise their abilities fully, but every class begins with a solid all-around loadout that allows beginners to remain versatile in their capabilities. Over time, players can pick up or craft weapons that are more suited for their unique play style by means of a drop system. Maps are thoughtfully designed to accommodate both the game mode and for the classes themselves. Wide open spaces favour snipers and soldiers, while narrower chokepoints allow engineers and heavies to set up defensive positions. The permutations possible mean that no two games will ever be alike; players can utilise their classes both in conventional and creative manners to impact the course of a match with the aim of securing a victory. In this way, Team Fortress 2 offers nearly unlimited replay value as one competes against other players in a game of skill, and all the while, receive items that help them to play in a manner most suited for their preferences. Valve has an extensive track record of producing exceptional games and making decisions that command player loyalty – after its launch in 2007, Valve continued to improve and expand on the game. Four years later, Valve would make a decision that would irreversibly shape the future of both Team Fortress 2, and contemporary multiplayer shooters, as well: they made Team Fortress 2 free-to-play in 2011 after realising that players were spending considerable sums on keys to unlock crates, which contain rare and highly sought-after hats, cosmetic items that alter a player’s appearance, but otherwise, do not impact gameplay.

I had joined Team Fortress 2 at the behest of a friend – there is no compelling argument against free, and at the time, I’d been looking for a replacement to Halo 2 Vista, whose servers were on the brink of being shut down. Team Fortress 2 appeared to fit the bill, being a remarkably engaging and deep shooter that seemed to offer precisely the experience I had found in Halo 2. The crates, precursor to the gacha-style lootboxes and cosmetic obsession that dominates contemporary gaming, had no bearing on gameplay itself; for both myself and my friend, we found a title that appeared to have staying power. However, it soon became clear that most players were disinterested in the excellence behind Team Fortress 2‘s mechanics. One day, my friend and I joined a server. After spawning in, we picked out classes and immediately set off to capture an objective. After reaching the nearest control point and occupying it, we were both kicked from the server. The kick reason was we had joined a server that was intended for players to show off their hats and discuss potential trades. In the weeks following, it was nearly impossible to find any servers where standard game modes were permitted; players became more concerned with trading for hats than the game itself. The ability to trade for hats accentuated the issue – a virtual economy had formed around hats, and players were reportedly willing to spend hundreds of dollars for Unusuals, a rare hat type with unique particle effects. Others yet spent hundreds of hours pursuing leads to acquire the highly elusive buds, which were given out to Mac OS players for a limited time. In spite of this, I was still able to enjoy Team Fortress 2 in between studying for the MCAT; Valve had introduced a bots-only mode for offline training, and it was immensely cathartic to be able to turn the weapons I’d picked up and crafted to see their effects in an environment that was conducive towards gameplay. The sheer thoughtfulness that Valve put into Team Fortress 2 meant that, even when the game was all but unplayable thanks to players focusing on hats, there still remained a way to enjoy the unique atmosphere and game mechanics in Team Fortress 2. In this way, I spent a considerable amount of time, outside of my studies, playing matches against AI bots and taking in a game that, at its core, still remained superbly enjoyable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Team Fortress 2 became free-to-play in the summer of 2011, my friends and I immediately signed on: the game had been of interest to us owing to the gameplay loop and the interplay between the classes, as well as the campy spy film aesthetic. I found myself gravitating towards the Heavy class because the handling had been most similar to that of Halo 2‘s Spartans; while the Heavy is slow-moving, a deep health pool and a powerful mini-gun means that a Heavy could single-handedly clear out a control point.

  • The Soldier had been another class I found enjoyable. Faster-moving than a Heavy and with a lower health pool, the Soldier is armed with a range of rocket launchers that deal impact damage on a direct hit, plus a small amount of splash damage and knockback. Rockets take some skill to use, but properly utilised, Soldiers can clear objectives out for other players to move in. For my friend, he’d found the Sniper class to fit his play-style. Having long held that sniping is the highest representation of skill in a given shooter, my friend always enjoyed learning the ins and outs of being a good marksman.

  • However, Team Fortress 2‘s balance between classes means Snipers are vulnerable to spies. Unlike other FPS, where snipers can single-handedly control matches by picking off foes at ranges that leave them immune to almost everything except a counter-sniper, Team Fortress 2 has the perfect counter for Snipers. The Spy can disguise himself as another team’s classes and sneak deep behind enemy lines to backstab snipers, killing one instantly. However, the Pyro class and their flamethrowers can reveal disguised spies, nullifying their efficacy.

  • In this way, my friend would actually become a fairly competent Pyro as a result of trying to stick it to the Spies who were constantly ruining his Sniper experience. This unintended effect, an emergent behaviour, was one of the signs that Team Fortress 2 had been remarkably well thought-out. Every class has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that make them more effective in some places, and less effective in others. A good team, then, consists of a mix of classes and players who know what their class’ intended roles are.

  • Besides playing on multiplayer servers, I also found enjoyment in being able to spin up a private server with AI bots to get used to any new guns that I’d picked up. One of my favourite weapons in the whole of Team Fortress 2 was the Machina, a sniper rifle that could only fire once fully-charged, but when charged, it could also penetrate multiple enemies on a successful headshot. Save the base weapons, which are all-purpose weapons everyone starts with, the weapons in Team Fortress 2 are all side-grades, possessing attributes that make them more useful in some scenarios at the expense of a drawback that makes them less effective in other situations.

  • To this end, one could actually stick with the base weapons in the game without ever equipping new weapons, and still do well in a given match. Battlefield 3 would later adopt this method: the starting weapons for each class are great, and new weapons one unlocks will fit a specific play-style better, but the starting weapons will always be versatile enough to handle most of the situations players find themselves in. Initially, the desire to unlock other weapons and try them out were what led my friend and I to idle, the practise of running a headless client on an empty server to pick up items, which drop randomly during gameplay.

  • Our intentions had simply been to pick up crafting parts more easily, although over time, we did end up beginning to run up against the free account’s limitations. By Christmas 2011, both of us decided to purchase keys, which made us a part of the paid tier of players. The advantages of doing so were an increased number of backpack slots and the ability to trade, as well as craft hats using materials from the drops we’d picked up. As more players ended up going down this route, my friend began looking into the community’s trading scene to see if it were possible to trade crafted hats for other items of interest.

  • In the meantime, we would continue to play Team Fortress 2 in between my studies. I vividly recall one day, I’d finished my assignments and hopped onto a server that was Minecraft-themed. Team Fortress 2 had excellent official servers, but also gave the community the toolset they needed to created custom experiences. Some community maps are excellent, but others were also uninspired and dull. I would make it a point to quit every cp_orange map I landed in. In matches, especially on custom servers, I did notice a growing number of people who were standing in the spawn areas, chatting rather than playing the game.

  • It turns out people had been conversing about trading hats, and back in the day, it was only possible to do trades in-game, as Valve had not yet implemented the Steam inventory and the ability to trade for items outside of Team Fortress 2. Things came to a head by the time I began studying for the MCAT: there were more trade servers than there were actual servers in North America, and servers overseas had high enough ping that the game was difficult to play. Moreover, talk of trade and the virtual economy had far overtaken discussions about Team Fortress 2 itself.

  • This was because the updates to Team Fortress 2 had finally made it possible for folks itching to get their hands on the Earbuds to do so, and folks hanging onto Earbuds similarly realised they could suddenly pick up a large number of items if they were to ever trade said Earbuds away. The Earbuds were a cosmetic item that was introduced with a Mac OS update for a limited time, and even my friend hadn’t been immune to their allure. He managed to find a trader who’d been willing to trade his Earbuds for a game, and a deal had almost been reached, but this had been a very arduous process, one that involved staying up until 0200 local time because said trader had lived halfway across the world.

  • In the end, this deal fell through when the trader unexpectedly vanished. When trading was a big deal in the community, I found it quite difficult to join any servers. However, playing with AI bots on private matches still gave me a chance to experience Team Fortress 2 and its aesthetic. This is one of the reasons why I’ve been so fond of AI bots; they allow me to play even when there are no online options available. In this way, I was still able to try out the items I’d picked up or crafted, and AI bots also provide a way of getting used to how players move, which is great for practising sniping.

  • Here, I rock a festive Frontier Justice, an item I picked up along with a festive grenade launcher during the winter of 2012; the first year I played Team Fortress 2, I went for the Nice Festive Crates to activate my account and gain access to the increased backpack slots and trading system. However, they yielded unremarkable hats that proved to be a disappointment, so the next year, I went with the Naughty Crates instead, which give festive weapons. Weapons cosmetics are actually worth having simply because one can see them, but hats feel pointless because they’re generally not visible to players.

  • Team Fortress 2 has clearly undergone many updates in the past decade; nowadays, one’s player icon actually updates to mirror their appearance, and here, I’m rocking an Unusual Carouser’s Capotain, a gift from my friend who, in a string of unusually good luck, managed to unbox four Unusuals from a create some time ago. While Team Fortress 2 fell from my mind ever since I got into Battlefield, my friend’s continued to maintain an interest in Valve’s games. It had been he who suggested I idle, and together, we had collected a large number of items in the process, which we would craft into metal.

  • The idea had been, after his lack of success in picking up the Earbuds, we would continue to collect items and make hats on our own. We could keep the hats we like, trade amongst ourselves if either of us had a hat the other was interested in, and generally partake in the trade system the way it was meant to be used: with friends at a small scale. Over the years, I began losing interest in Team Fortress 2, but for my friend, the thought of really sticking it to the traders lingered on his mind. Picking up the Unusuals in the manner we did would vindicate him: the two of us now had some of Team Fortress 2‘s most coveted items without once grovelling on a trade forum or server for them.

  • While the way my friend and I played Team Fortress 2 would be considered unconventional, I knew of another friend who used Team Fortress 2‘s assets to make YouTube mashups with Madoka Magica. The meaning of these mashups have long eluded me, but I believe now have an answer: the fact that the mercenaries from Team Fortress 2 are protecting Madoka and her team suggest a subconscious desire to defend Madoka’s group from the struggles they face and defuse trouble with the wit and humour Team Fortress 2‘s characters are known for.

  • This in turn would likely be a sign that my friend hadn’t been happy with the suffering Madoka and her friends went through under Gen Urobuchi’s direction. Said friend had also made the videos that would pique my interest in the local anime convention, Otafest, and on that note, the attendance numbers for Otafest are now available for 2022. It turns out this year’s showing was impressive, being 99 percent of what it’d been when they last hosted a convention. Despite efforts to get the event cancelled, Otafest 2022 was a success, and this is uplifting to hear; I’m glad that Otafest had not taken a hit, and depending on how things look for me next year from a scheduling perspective, I would be happy to volunteer again.

  • I still recall sitting out Otafest back then so I could study: the summer of 2012 had been characterised by my choosing to skip many things so I could concentrate. Unfortunately for me, I also opted to miss the Stampede fireworks, which were said to be especially gorgeous that year because it’d been the event’s centennial event. If the local news is to be believed, the fireworks for Stampede 2012 were of a scale that had never been seen in Calgary previously, being a show that lasted over half an hour and featuring choreography that rivalled those of Hong Kong in scale and creativity. In the decade that’s passed, this is one of the few decisions from 2012 that I regret to this day: Calgary has not hosted fireworks of such calibre since.

  • All in all, while I may not play Team Fortress 2 with any frequency in the present, I still have a fondness for the game. The fact that AI bots exist mean I’m able to play the game whenever the wish to revisit simpler times hits me. The fact that Valve made Team Fortress 2 support AI bots despite lacking any of the sophisticated machine learning technologies back in 2011 speaks to their commitment to players, and this is something they share in common with Call of Duty games, which similarly have bots. For me, bots simply represent a chance to continue playing the game even after the servers shut down, and more recently, games like Halo: Infinite and Battlefield 2042 have added AI bots to their games, too.

  • I’m not too sure if I’ll be writing about Team Fortress 2 again, but this game ultimately proved to be just what was needed on days where my thoughts were otherwise wholly consumed by the MCAT. At this point in the summer, my physics final would’ve been on the horizon, and from here on out, my days would be fully devoted towards the MCAT itself. My summer settled into a pattern that would be consistent and unremarkable, at least until K-On! The Movie came out, and what happened with K-On! The Movie had very nearly cost me the MCAT.

  • My decision to focus on the exam benefited me, but it would also leave a lingering regret on my mind for the past decade. I will discuss this aspect in greater detail as we approach the ten-year mark to the release date for K-On! The Movie‘s BD, and for the present, I return my attention to the next post for RPG Real Estate – I will write about this series after the finale airs this Wednesday and aim to do so in an expedient manner so I have a clean slate for Machikado Mazoku: 2-Chōme once its finale airs.

I still vividly recalling the days where my MCAT preparation course would end, and I’d walk along a sun-lit corridor, thinking to myself that, after I finished doing drills and revisions for that day, I would’ve liked nothing more than to spend an hour just blasting AI bots and allowing my mind to rest. The MCAT would come and go, and by the time autumn rolled around, it turns out that Valve had several more surprises planned out for players. When October arrived, a Halloween updated was queued, and Team Fortress 2 became a spooky, ghost-themed game with cakes replacing the health packs scattered around levels. Excited to try the Halloween-exclusive maps out, players would begin moving back into the servers with the aim of trying out the maps. Games became populated again, and Valve would continue to support Team Fortress 2 for years to come. Although Team Fortress 2 holds the infamy of introducing loot boxes to shooters, and ended up creating a community that cared more for hats than the game itself, Valve had also shown itself capable of both creating game modes and options to allow players to play even when no one was available for multiplayer, as well as righting negative trends it created and revitalising player interest in the game itself. Contemporary titles have not fared particularly well with their loot box mechanics: without the vision and talent Valve possessed, modern games have a very sophisticated set of cosmetics, but lack other elements that make them worth returning to. Conversely, owing to all of the care Valve has directed towards Team Fortress 2, the game remains enjoyable even today – playing through the AI bot training on my own brings back memories of a time when, after reviewing topics as diverse as exam technique, verbal reasoning, electromagnetism, metabolic pathways and halogen reactions, I would lose myself in a 1960s-style spy film world. Over the years, I would stop playing Team Fortress 2 – while the game was still enjoyable, I ended up gravitating towards Battlefield and its aesthetic. Like Team Fortress 2Battlefield gave new players a good place to start from, but rewards experience and skill, but the key difference was that the modes and classes were a little simpler, allowing one to also lose themselves in a round of TDM, something that Team Fortress 2 doesn’t offer. I’d been very much a fan of Halo‘s Slayer mode, and Team Death Match represents a mode where it was possible to unwind without having an objective to focus on. However, Team Fortress 2 has never left my mind, bringing to mind those moments in between lengthy and intense study sessions.

Reflections on Lessons Learnt From Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and A Turning Point in Kinematics on the Road to the MCAT

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

It had been a brilliantly sunny day, but this fact was entirely lost on me as I left my first physics midterm, utterly defeated. Kinematics had never been my strong suit, and I ended up flubbing enough questions to wonder if I would make it through this spring course in one piece. I boarded the bus and made my way over to my friend’s place: although this exam had been devastating, I had not forgotten my promise of delivering to said friend a pair of headphones. He was scheduled to visit family in China in less than two days’ time, and after my bus reached its destination, I cut through a footpath to reach his place. When I arrived, my friend had another request for me: this was back during a time when Team Fortress 2 still was open to idling, and at the time, my friend had been quite keen on collecting drops from a headless Team Fortress 2 client, with the intent of transforming duplicate weapons into scrap, combining this into reclaimed metal and ultimately, refining this metal with the goal of making hats. To this end, my friend had created no fewer than four accounts, and the ask had been simple: I would leave a headless client running while I was at the university and cycle through each account. My friend would leave for China, and I began the process of idling. During days where the cap was reached, I spotted that my friend had Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in his account, and curiosity led me to beat the game over the course of a week. In between finishing lab reports and trying to keep up with the new topics in my physics course, I saw Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish fighting alongside Captain John Price and Bravo Team to prevent Imran Zakhaev from seizing Russian ICBMs and levelling the Eastern Seaboard with them. Throughout Modern Warfare, I was impressed with the sheer grit MacTavish and Price demonstrated: regardless of being outgunned after trying to make their way to an extraction zone, or pressing forwards with preventing ballistic missiles from hitting the continental United States even after they’re launched, Bravo Team never once give up; they simply soldiered on with a grim determination to get the job done. At this point in the summer, I had been more than ready to throw in the towel: in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, summer courses don’t affect the GPA calculation for things like the honours thesis or scholarships, so it would’ve been sufficient for me to simply pass physics and focus on the summer’s main foe, the MCAT.

With its uncommonly well-presented atmospherics, Modern Warfare completely immersed me in its story. When I reached the One Shot, One Kill mission, I noticed that the game presented all of the variables Price needed to account for whilst placing the shot needed to take Zakhaev out. I’d been a little surprised that the bullet drop would be that severe over the distance: at 896.7 metres, I imagined that with the M82’s muzzle velocity of 854 m/s, the bullet would still fly true en route to Zakhaev’s cranium. I quickly broke out the kinematics equations and worked out the drop: the expression d = v₀·t + (a·t²)/2 was sufficient to work things out, and if the bullet was in flight for 1.05 seconds, then assuming a vertical velocity of 0 m/s when leaving the barrel, we can assume that the only acceleration the bullet experiences is due to gravity (8.91 m/s²). With these values in mind, the bullet would drop 5.40 meters (16.4 feet), to three significant figures, over that distance. Spotting this, I was swiftly reminded that although kinematics might not be my forte, there was still relevance in studying it. I thus resolved to put in a more concerted effort for the second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first midterm. Doubling down on my studies, I also spent my spare time going through the remainder of the Modern Warfare campaign, striking a balance between becoming comfortable with the physics work and experiencing an iconic part of the Call of Duty franchise as a means of unwinding. I felt better prepared for the second midterm, and walked away from this one with a greater confidence: two days after the midterm ended, I published a post about my cursory thoughts on the One Shot, One Kill mission and finished Modern Warfare. When my midterm results returned, I was surprised that I’d done significantly better, and by the time the final exam rolled around, I was able to perform. In this introductory physics course, I turned my grade around from a C- to an A-, and moreover, this course acted as a refresher for a major part of the MCAT: kinematics was very much a part of the physical sciences section, and with biology, biochemistry and organic chemistry still fresh on my mind, I had enough of a background to begin mastering the exam-taking techniques. Completing my physics course on a high note gave me the confidence I needed during the early days of MCAT preparations. When my friend returned home from China, I returned the Steam accounts and no longer had access to Modern Warfare, but the atmospherics and emotions lingered with me. I thus entered the MCAT with the same sort of deadly focus and resolve that Price and MacTavish had when staring down what seemed to be certain death.

Additional Remarks and Commentary

  • Modern Warfare‘s campaign represents one of the most iconic in gaming history, right alongside the likes of giants like Half-LifeHalo and GoldenEye. Games of this time period were polished and thought-provoking, and when I first set foot here, during the infamous “Heat” mission, Modern Warfare would’ve just turned five. As memory serves, I became interested in Modern Warfare while looking up ghost stories surrounding Chernobyl and happened upon a text that described the Pripyat missions as being ghostly in terms of atmospherics.

  • Watching footage of Modern Warfare on YouTube convinced me that this was a game worth trying, but when my friend asked me to idle for Team Fortress 2 hats, I ended up  having the chance to play the game on his account instead. This experience allowed me to experience the campaign to the extent that I wished, and over the space of a week, I finished the entire game. In those days, I had an older computer that, while not quite powerful enough to run Crysis or Bad Company 2, could still play Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare without any issues.

  • I had nailed most of the questions, but I still remember the final question had me licked. I ended up with a 65 on this first midterm as a result. Looking back, this was a consequence of my going through the motions; the introductory mechanics course was basically a revisit of kinematics from secondary school, and I’d fallen into the trap of thinking that, since I’d done well enough back in secondary school, my old knowledge must’ve still been intact. Coupled with the fact that I was moderately distracted by Otafest and Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode, my focus wasn’t fully on physics.

  • After the shock of the first midterm wore off, and with a series of accounts to idle for, I realised that the only way to get through everything with a passing grade was if I focused on my studies when I needed to, and to this end, I would sit down and re-structure my days. I would only deal with laboratory materials on Monday, then catch up with lecture materials after classes ended on Mondays and Wednesdays by doing review problems. Tuesdays and Thursdays were devoted to assignments, and any leftover time I had in the week, I would focus on revisiting any concepts from the week I’d been feeling less confident about.

  • Each day of the week, anywhere after 1700 would be my downtime, in which I wouldn’t look at any coursework. This was when I’d go through Modern Warfare, and later, when I finished, Portal 2. In this way, I would regain rhythm in my spring course, and in conjunction with the grit and spirit seen in Modern Warfare, I would come back around and decided that, rather than throwing in the towel, I would do what I could for physics. On this day a decade earlier, I would sit down to my second midterm, which had been a mere two weeks after the first.

  • After conquering the second midterm and performing as I had wished, I had enough momentum to push on forwards. It helped considerably that things like momentum, work and energy were concepts I was much stronger with, and I’d also been more comfortable with collisions and energy transfer than I’d ever been with kinematics. My old spirits returned to me, and this timing was critical: shortly after the second midterm ended, my MCAT course had also begun. With only two months left to exam day, I received a crash course on MCAT content and also learnt the means of testing more efficiently.

  • Because I’d been fresh out of physics, and having taken several organic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology courses, the MCAT content ultimately wasn’t a concern to me: I knew enough of the basics to understand what was being asked, and testing thus became a matter of triaging the exam, keeping cool under pressure and managing time well. For me, strategy mattered more than content, and these elements were helped by the fact that by mid-June, I was simultaneously juggling physics and the MCAT course.

  • The strategies from the MCAT course would, curiously enough, carry over to how I took my physics exam, and I recall knocking out the final exam with a greater confidence than I had been. At this time, since I was still focused on wrapping up physics, I did not do well on the recommended practise MCAT exam when it became available to me. This performance was not yet worrisome, since I’d known that my attention had been divided, and that it was still mostly early in the summer.

  • According to the date-stamp on the screenshot, I would’ve reached this point in Modern Warfare on the same day as my midterm. Recollections elsewhere in this blog remind me that I had a lab on the same day, as well: spring and summer courses are far more condensed than fall and winter courses, and while this creates tremendous pressure to gain a satisfactory knowledge of the material, the flipside is that I wasn’t taking other courses, so I could focus on physics entirely. Whenever revisiting these missions in Modern Warfare, then, my thoughts always flit towards that June Wednesday back in 2012, during a time when I wished I were doing anything else with my days besides studying.

  • However, in retrospect, the summer of a decade before was ultimately what shaped how I approached challenges and adversity. In secondary school, and then for most of my undergraduate programme, I approached things with a brute force solution, resolving to learn principles and systems well enough to pass exams on my own. My cell and molecular biology course began changing this: being able to appreciate the context of a concept helped me to understand its significance. By the time my physics course ended, and the MCAT course had been in full swing, it became clear the old methods would no longer cut it.

  • Some of my friends, who’d already finished the MCAT, ended up holding study sessions for myself and a few other classmates who were staring down the MCAT. Outside of the MCAT preparation course and my own studies, we would meet up at the medical campus and spent hours going through exams together. In groups, I could ask questions and get a second set of thoughts on things. Even to this day, I’m impressed my friends went through this level of effort to get us through when they themselves had already finished the exam.

  • This is why, when my friends received their offers to medical school, I was thrilled; these are brilliant and compassionate individuals with the personality traits and moral fibre to be a physician. I myself would never make it to the interview stage: in feedback I received from my application, my commitment to ethics and sense of volunteering had been insufficient. In a private conversation with my friends, they felt that the day-to-day of a physician wouldn’t have been for me, and with a decade’s worth of life experience, I whole-heartedly agree with them.

  • While I would never again use my MCAT score for anything more than a conversational topic, the exam-taking process itself proved invaluable to me: I ended up performing exceedingly well in my final undergraduate year, and during an open studies term, I was able to excel in all courses despite being preoccupied with medical school applications and a lingering melancholy from the summer following the Great Flood. The same skills ended up carrying over to graduate school, which stand as some of my fondest memories of university: readers can actually spot this as when I really began writing for this blog.

  • Four years after the MCAT ended, I would pick up Modern Warfare for myself after it went on discount during the Steam Summer Sale. This time around, I’d been rocking a newer computer and was able to replay the game at 1080p: revisiting old maps brought back memories of the MCAT, and I found myself immensely glad to have finished. At this point in time, I’d also finished defending my graduate thesis. While this examination was supposed to be as tough as the MCAT, the main advantage I had was that, rather than only two months, I had a full two years to prepare for this exam.

  • In my revisit of Modern Warfare in 2016, I wrote of my enjoyment of how the game had remained highly immersive despite almost nine years having passed since its launch. The next year, Modern Warfare Remastered became available as a part of the Infinite Warfare: Legacy Edition. I ended up buying this because it’d been on sale, and because by then, five years had passed since my MCAT. The world is now a very different place than it had been since the MCAT, and in the past few months, I’ve taken advantage of the spring weather to revisit campus.

  • Some spots have changed beyond recognition: the library block and tower where I’d spent mornings doing revisions prior to the MCAT course (and where I watched Listen to Me Girls, I Am Your Father! during downtime) has been demolished and completely rebuilt. However, the building I studied physics in during mornings is still there, although the study spaces have now been repurposed as office spaces, and the home of my old lab remains as it had when I was still a student there.

  • In this post, I reminisce fondly of how Modern Warfare played a pivotal role in getting my game back together in physics, and how this would set me on a path to take on the MCAT with confidence. One would therefore wonder, had my friend not asked me to idle for him in Team Fortress 2, I would have never played Modern Warfare. I imagine that, while I wouldn’t have been as inspired or encouraged to make a comeback, the fact that I was more comfortable with materials in the course’s second half would’ve allowed me to still recover my grades somewhat, and since I’d just begun watching CLANNAD then, this, in conjunction with study sessions from my friends, I would still have some inspiration from other sources.

  • The short answer is that, even without Modern Warfare, I would have likely survived the summer, and had that occurred, I would likely have ascribed the outcomes of that summer to something else. However, it is the case that Modern Warfare did act as the catalyst for me to get my head back in the game and pull through physics: it is fair to suggest that Modern Warfare did have a nontrivial impact on how my summer unfolded: seeing Price and MacTavish motivated me to do what I could, and so, on this day a decade earlier, I was able to walk out of that second midterm with a much greater feeling of confidence that I did well.

  • After my second midterm ended and finals began approaching, my friend returned home from China. Although this meant my access to Modern Warfare would end, my friend ended up sending me a discount code for Portal 2 as thanks for helping him idle, and in downtime outside of my studies, we ended up playing Team Fortress 2, as well as MicroVolts. The games might’ve differed, but the outcomes were the same, and altogether, I would suggest that the combination of maintaining a balanced schedule, having things to look forward to on a day-to-day basis and support from friends would carry me through that summer.

Looking back, conquering the MCAT had a significant knock-on effect on my career trajectory: the techniques and approaches I used on the MCAT would prove to be immeasurably helpful during the final year of my undergraduate programme. I no longer worried about exams, realising that I could hit the principles and then reason my way through to solutions rather than attempting to memorise facts and figures, and used triaging methods to hit high-value-low-effort problems first. With this newfound confidence, I performed better in my final year than I had the remainder of my undergraduate degree, and for the first time, it hit me: doing well for the sake of doing well is meaningless, but when I changed my mindset to simply learn and appreciate the material, the pressure associated with scoring high on exams evaporated. I carried this confidence into graduate school; my medical school applications weren’t successful, but I would see another path I could follow. I thus walked this path with conviction, and ended up cultivating the skills needed to succeed in the realm of mobile development. It may appear to be a stretch that I say this, but if my successes on the MCAT imparted in me the know-how of rising up to life’s challenges more effectively, then turning my physics course around gave me the encouragement to do so, and this in turn was facilitated by the fact I was able to play through Modern Warfare and draw inspiration from the game’s progression. I would not have gone through Modern Warfare had my friend not requested that I help him to idle for Team Fortress 2 item drops, so it seems reasonable to suppose that my friend’s simple request set me on a path I certainly could not have foreseen taken. While some of my outcomes ultimately do boil down to what I brought to the table, independently of any external experiences I may have had, the fact is that having Modern Warfare to play through helped me in a tangible fashion: whether it’s Bravo Team surviving the assault from Ultranationalist forces, or MacTavish pressing onwards to stop nuclear-tipped missiles from flattening the Eastern Seaboard, I am irrevocably reminded of those breaks between a frenzied effort to stave off a poor grade in physics. Going back through Modern Warfare now, I am appreciative of the efforts I’d made back then, and the fact that nowadays, I can play though the game again without this particular weight over my head.

Lucky☆Star OVA: Review and Reflections After Another Long Weekend

“I take time to watch anime. I don’t know whether I’m allowed to, but I do it anyway.” –Larry Wall

A year after Lucky☆Star‘s airing concluded, Kyoto Animation released an original video animation for the series. This OVA consists of six acts; the first details the day of Minami’s dog, Cherry, and what occurs when various friends, including Miyuki, Patricia, Yukata and Hiyori visit. Minami is saddened to see Cherry disinterested in her dinner. Later, Kagami and Tsukasa accompany Konata and Nanako play an MMORPG. While Kagami is frustrated by the gamer-speak Konata and Nanako use, Tsukasa struggles with the game mechanics. During Golden Week, Nanako ends up power-levelling since she has nothing better to do. When Kagami falls asleep while house-sitting, she dreams about being whisked away to a Cinderella-like ball by Konata, which turns out to be a martial arts tournament. Konata’s magic depletes as Kagami returns home, leading Kagami to reluctantly recite an embarrassing spell that she says aloud, to Tsukasa’s shock. Later, Tsukasa attempts to become more noticeable by beating Kagami’s team in volleyball, but ends up failing and laments that she’ll remain a side character. The penultimate act has Miyuki recall a misadventure where their group wound up lost, and despite attempting some survival tactics, ultimately are found when Konata re-enters an area cellular coverage. Although a furious Nanako lectures them, she ends up relenting and sits the four down to a late dinner. The OVA closes up with a horror-themed segment where Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki somehow end up becoming frogs after visiting a strange pet-shop, and a live-action Lucky☆Channel segment. This unusual collection of shorts was originally intended for release in June 2008, but production issues pushed it back to September 2008. While retaining the whimsical charm of the original series, the Lucky☆Star OVA also presented Kyoto Animation a chance to explore both side stories that occurred in parallel with Lucky☆Star, as well as a fantastical and non-sequitur moment through its penultimate act. In addition to being a fun addition to the series, the Lucky☆Star OVA represents providing Kyoto Animation a means of experimenting with different visual effects: the MMORPG segment is rendered entirely in the 3D aesthetic of a JRPG, and Kagami’s going to the ball similarly presents a chance to play with particle effects. All of this is wrapped up in an addition to Lucky☆Star‘s repertoire of amusing anime jokes, so as far as experiences go, the Lucky☆Star OVA earns a passing grade.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to me that until now, I’ve never actually sat down and watched the Lucky☆Star OVA in full: previously, I’d caught glimpses of things like Kagami’s ill-fated attempt to dissuade Konata from taking her to the ball, or the MMORPG segment. In retrospect, I’m glad to have done so: while this series of vignettes does not add much to Lucky☆Star in the way of story, it does represent forty minutes of comedy. My favourite of the acts are, unsurprisingly, the MMORPG segments, which has Konata and Nanako discussing their game in gamer-speak (incorrectly identified as 1337-speak in most other places online), and Kagami’s attempts to dissuade Konata from taking her to the ball. The former is hilarious because, even though I’m not an RPG fan by any stretch (I enjoy games of the genre, but do not put in a large amount of time into things), I fully understand and follow the conversations Konata has with Nanako. Similarly, Kagami’s going to the ball and being kitted with Miku Hatsune’s outfit from Vocaloid was hilarious. While Lucky☆Star has previously shown Kagami as being tsundere with a short fuse, her anger at Konata here was taken to the next level. The Lucky☆Star OVA also brings with it surprises: Tsukasa has always been a quiet, shy character, but her being defeated in volleyball proved surprisingly poignant. Although she’s a lead in Lucky☆Star, her counterpart in CLANNAD was indeed a secondary character, so this may have been a callback to CLANNAD. Miyuki’s recounting her group getting lost in camping also proved heart-warming. With a combination of bad jokes (courtesy of Konata) and warmth (Nanako relenting in the end), this vignette shows how additional time can be used to create additional contexts for the characters to bounce off one another in. I was not particularly fond of the first or final acts, although even these have their moments, and beyond the likes of CLANNAD, numerous other series are referenced. Konata’s costume references Yuki’s witch costume in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, while the “jet stream attack” is a callback to Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Black Tri-Stars. Kagami also promises not to absorb a soul, a reference to Soul Eater. Despite a weaker opening and ending, the Lucky☆Star OVA still offers a solid experience in bringing back the antics and characters to a series that gently parodies the demographic who would be most likely to watch and enjoy such a show.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Although the Lucky☆Star OVA’s first vignette opens up in a light-hearted, comical manner, a day’s worth of trouble causes Minami’s dog, Cherry, to lose her appetite during dinner, leaving Minami saddened. Each of the stories in the Lucky☆Star OVA are standalone tales that, while lacking context, provide an additional chance for the characters to interact with one another. I would imagine that a day of attention has left Cherry exhausted, but there was a melancholy about this first act that made it a little trickier to follow.

  • Lucky☆Star began with a focus on Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki, but as the series continued, the cast expanded greatly: the show had already been quite lively even with just four central characters, but adding Yutaka, Minami, Patricia, Hiyori and Izumi created a much deeper, richer world. With twenty-four episodes, Lucky☆Star harkens back to a time when creators had more breathing room to produce anime. Today, studios work on multiple series simultaneously, so things like Gundam SEED wouldn’t be possible: year-long projects divert resources away from other series. It would be exceedingly rare for slice-of-life series like Azumanga Daioh and Lucky☆Star to receive 2-cours out of the gates, and studios would instead split the series up into several seasons, so they can work on other projects, and continue on with additional seasons only if profits are good.

  • Of the shorts in the Lucky☆Star OVA, the MMORPG act stands as one of my favourites; it follows Konata, Kagami and Tsukasa playing through a game together with their instructor, Nanako Kuroi. While Konata and Nanako are experienced veterans, Kagami is able to keep up, but poor Tsukasa struggles with the game mechanics, and at one point, states that she had assumed that spell levelling was automatic. Tsukasa of Lucky☆Star had been a little air-headed but adorable in her mannerisms, unfamiliar with the otaku world that Konata, and to a lesser extent, Kagami, know of.

  • One aspect of this vignette I enjoyed was the fact that I was able to follow everything Konata and Nanako converse about; I’m not anywhere nearly as versed in RPGs as I am in FPS, but I became familiar with the terminology, and enjoy the genre, as a result of a friend’s private Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft servers from back when we were secondary students. I will note here that the RPG jargon Konata and Nanako use isn’t “1337-speak”: it’s simply RPG shorthand. Proper 1337-speak include things like calling people n00bs, pwning foes and the like.

  • Kagami’s reaction to Nanako and Konata picking up brand-name items in-game is my own: I prefer playing games without the inclusion of exclusive items that may break gameplay. As the group go through their game, Konata, Kagami and Tsukasa note they will be offline to enjoy Golden Week, and come back to find that since Nanako had nothing better to do, she ended up power-levelling her character. Nowadays, I spend most of my long weekends out and about, enjoying the weather, do things I don’t normally do and sleep in.

  • Of all the shorts in the Lucky☆Star OVA, my favourite is when the Hiiragis go to a ball of sorts, leaving Kagami to house-sit. She falls asleep, and is surprised to find Konata at her place, insisting that Kagami secretly also wanted to go but was too tsundere to admit it. Whimsical and fanciful, this Cinderella-like arc is charming and amusing, as well: Kagami in Lucky☆Star had reigned back her tendencies somewhat and only ever expresses mild frustration wherever Konata is concerned, so dropping the pair into a dream-like world means opening things up to more outrageous moments.

  • It is here that Lucky☆Star‘s reference to other series become visible: having now seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in full, it’s easy to spot that Konata’s witch outfit is a deliberate call-back to Yuki’s costume for their movie, complete with a crude wand named similarly to the wand Haruhi supplied Yuki with. It is generally accepted that one should watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya before Lucky☆Star so that all references can be understood, but in my infinite wisdom, I ended up watching Lucky☆Star first. I was moderately familiar with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya at that point, so I appreciated some of the call-backs, but it wasn’t until I did rewatches of both that the genius of said call-backs became apparent.

  • Lucky☆Star makes numerous references to other series, and as a result, is seen as a series for otaku: it is crammed with references to older works, and to an unseasoned viewer such as myself, there are many things that can feel unfamiliar. This is the reason why reception to Lucky☆Star among English-speakers is so mixed. Lucky☆Star draws most of its humour from the non sequitur conversations resulting from Konata’s profound knowledge of otaku subculture, and the frustration this creates in Kagami. As a result, some of the jokes can be difficult to follow and feel out of place as a result.

  • Conversely, those who are familiar with otaku subculture, anime, manga and Japanese games will find themselves right at home. The dramatic differences in reception towards Lucky☆Star is precisely why I hold that there is most certainly not a single, universal and objective metric for gauging slice-of-life works. Enjoyment of Lucky☆Star is entirely dependent on one’s background, hobbies and interests, so what may be flat and uninteresting for one viewer may be a hilarious and thoughtful parody to another viewer.

  • The highlight in the Cinderella vignette occurs when Konata decides to swap out Kagami’s outfit for something a little more befitting of an event. After Kagami rejects the maid and miko outfits, Konata gives Kagami Rin Tōsaka’s outfit from Fate/Stay Night. Rin is probably one of the most iconic tsundere characters around, and it is befitting of Kagami. However, when even this is turned down, Konata decks Kagami out in Miku Hatsune’s outfit for kicks, complete with the giant green onion. I’ve never understood the green onion piece, but from what little I know, it’s supposed to be significant for some folks.

  • When the little star falls from Konata’s wand, Konata is unable to restore Kagami to her original clothing: to the best of my recollection, this is the angriest that Kagami gets in Lucky☆Star, and she’s a few seconds away from kicking Konata’s ass. Despite the simplicity of the art in this scene, Kagami’s indignation can be felt, showing how expressive anime can be. Luckily for Konata, she and Kagami arrive at the venue before anything else can happen, and viewers are greeted by the sight of a martial arts tournament of sorts, where participants fight for Misao’s hand in marriage.

  • In Lucky☆Star, Misao joins the main cast later on, being a spirited and athletic character who prefers track and field, and video games, to studying. Although I suppose it would’ve been fun to see Kagami actually fight, in dreams, one’s personalities and inhibitions might still be present: much as how in my dreams, I still act as I normally would in reality, everything Kagami does in her dream is consistent with how she typically acts in Lucky☆Star. Konata doesn’t push the point and prepares to take Kagami home, but delays mean her own magic wears off, leaving Kagami in a bit of a pickle. Konata reveals an embarrassing pass-phrase that would restore everything to normal, and as Kagami awakens from her nap, she recites this out loud, to Tsukasa’s horror.

  • What Kagami says exactly has been the subject of no small discussion and remained a bit of a mystery for the past 13 years: half-asleep, she slurs the go…kitai. If I had to guess, “ご一緒に行きたい” (Hepburn goissho ni ikitai) would probably be the closest to what Kagami says: literally meaning “I want to come together with…”, it’s probably a euphemism of sorts. Although the OVA cuts the line out to avoid trouble, Tsukasa’s reaction says everything the viewer needs to know. Fans have long felt that Kagami and Konata would make for a good couple, and while it is true that banter between the two forms some of Lucky☆Star‘s best comedy, there is no evidence otherwise to suggest this is the case.

  • Misunderstandings in anime are amplified by the use of time and space; Bill Watterson has, in special collections of Calvin and Hobbes, spoken to the idea that humour also entails giving viewers time to let the outcomes sink in. In newspaper comics back when panels were large enough to support this, it would mean making use of visual breaks and empty space to create an impression that time had passed. Anime is able to use pauses to achieve the same effect, giving viewers a chance to spot what’d just happened to Kagami, and really laugh at the predicament she’s now in.

  • For me, the fourth act was probably one of the more saddening ones; tired of being a secondary character in Kagami’s shadows, Tsukasa resolves to win a volleyball match over her. Mid-match, Kanata suggests using the “Jet Stream” attack: this is an iconic part of Mobile Suit Gundam, when the Black Tri-Stars line their mobile suits up in a line, with the front suits equipping ranged weapons and creating enough of an opening for the final mobile suit to use melee weapons to finish off a target. Gundam SEED Destiny has a trio of ZAFT pilots using the same manoeuvre to devastate their foes, although one must wonder how well this trick would work in volleyball.

  • However, despite her best efforts, and even with Kanata’s unexpectedly good physical ability, Tsukasa ends up taking a ball to the face and ends up smashing the ball into the net, costing her team the match.  There was something heartbreaking about seeing Tsukasa stumbling, only to get back up and continue trying her hardest, although not all viewers feel the same way, finding the punishment that Tsukasa endures to be hilarious. Lucky☆Star is a comedy, after all, but for me, I’ve never really taken enjoyment in watching people suffer unnecessarily.

  • The arc where Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki get separated from their group while on a school trip offered some interesting humour: since they’ve got no cell reception, and Konata’s left the compass and map on the bus, the four can only wander the forest in the hopes they get back together with their class. Here, Miyuki is referred to as Miwiki, a callback to the fact that of everyone, she’s got a broad range of knowledge on wide topics. After attempting to ration their food and navigate the forest, Konata is surprised to learn she’s getting a call.

  • It turns out Nanako had been trying to call them for quite some time and is furious with them at having gotten lost. Here, I am reminded of the similarities between Lucky☆Star‘s artwork and what’s seen in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which came almost a decade after Lucky☆Star. Kyoto Animation excels in both series where visual fidelity is life-like, and in series with a much simpler design: irrespective of whether or not the world is highly detailed or more basic, the animation is always smooth and fluid. I felt that here, Nanako bears resemblance to Kobayashi., but soon, her indignation evaporates, and she invites everyone to grab some curry as the day draws to an end.

  • Now that I’ve finished watching the Lucky☆Star OVA, I believe I’ve finished off everything in Lucky☆Star. I’ve heard that a spin-off, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, was released in 2013: this series follows a different set of characters but is set in the same universe. I am curious to give this one a go, although per my modus operandi, I can only say that I’ll watch this one once I’ve got the chance. Looking ahead for what I’ve got lined up here, beyond a talk for Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!, I also am looking to wrap up My Dress-Up Darling on short order and do an introspective post on how my MCAT preparations were going a decade previously.

The Lucky☆Star OVA represented a hidden addition to the series after it’d released back in 2008, and although this OVA is not necessary to a complete Lucky☆Star experience, I imagine that fans of the series would nonetheless wish to check it out for themselves such that they can wholly enjoy the series. The challenges of being an anime fan harkening back to a time when broadband and streaming services was practically nil are apparent: in this era, the viewing rooms at anime conventions became the de facto means of checking series out. This was often the only time fans could try out different series and expand their horizons: visitors to anime conventions even planned their days so that they could strike a balance between guest panels and autograph sessions, and viewing series of interest. Nowadays, with ubiquitous fibre internet and streaming services, viewing rooms have been rendered obsolete: one could easily watch their shows at any time of year, on any device of their choosing. In my experiences, I’ve seen how viewing rooms can be seen as a burden on conventions. When I had volunteered at Otafest back in 2019, the viewing rooms were nearly vacant when I made the rounds of them to check in on things. As early as late 2014, the viewing rooms had already been on the decline: I had ducked into a room screening GochiUsa to catch my breath, and it was empty. A pair of attendees came into the room, saw GochiUsa on the screen and promptly left. My experiences have made a clear case for why conventions should consider reducing the number of viewing rooms they have. Otafest screened the first six episodes of The Aquatope on White Sand as a part of its lineup this year, a series I finished five months earlier. Were I in attendance at Otafest this year, I wouldn’t have planned my day around catching The Aquatope on White Sand, and I imagine that most visitors would be present for activities such as panels, exhibitors, musical performances and cosplay contests, which to remain popular: as anime conventions move forward, the viewing room will likely represent a drain on resources, requiring a convention to pay for both additional square footage of space to rent, and licensing fees to stream the shows. Arguments to preserve viewing rooms, beyond the fact that they are quiet spaces for fans to catch their breath, such places are essential for allowing socialisation and allow visitors sample a series before deciding whether or not one should get into it. While there is merit in this perspective, I contend there is limited value in showing recently-aired series. Instead, fewer rooms, showing more obscure and difficult-to-access content, would offer attendees with more value, while at the same time, continue to provide visitors with an oasis of sorts to take five. Difficult-to-access content, today’s equivalents to the Lucky☆Star OVA, would be perfectly suited for the re-imagined viewing rooms, allowing attendees to view shows that they might otherwise not have a chance to. While the technology and accessibility has advanced dramatically since the Lucky☆Star OVA’s release in 2008, some series still remain remarkably tricky to get to, and many of these series deserve to be enjoyed.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~: Reflections and Reminiscence on A Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Five Years Earlier, and Revisiting My First Visual Novel

“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” –Donald Richie

On this day in 2017, I was sitting on the benches at the Vancouver International Airport awaiting a flight back home. Although exhausted, I was immensely satisfied with my excursion. Early in May, I boarded a plane bound for Narita International Airport. We’d arrived later in the evening, so after reaching our hotel, we had time for dinner at a Chinese-style restaurant at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport before hitting the hay. The next morning, after a full Western breakfast, we boarded our ride and headed straight to the heart of Tokyo to check out the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Tokyo Imperial Palace. After stopping briefly in Ginza for a shabu-shabu lunch, the afternoon consisted of walking the Sumida River and exploring the Kogan-ji temple. The day wrapped up with an exquisite Wagyu beef and snow crab dinner at the Hotel Heritage. Here, I had the chance to soak in their onsen: having seen the procedure countless times in anime, I felt right at home in cleaning up and enjoying the experience. On the second day of our lightning tour, we travelled deep into the mountains of Yamanashi, stopping at Heiwa Park near Gotemba to view Mount Fuji from a distance. Following yakiniku, we visited Oshino Village and Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station. From here, we drove out to Shirokabako Resort by Mount Tateshima, where we spent the night. The next day opened with a drive to Magome-juku, where we took in the quiet of the Japanese countryside and had a traditional lunch before being whisked away to the heart of Nagoya to check out Atsuta Shrine. The final stop for this third day was Gifu: we were now within a stone’s throw from Kyoto, and on our final full day, we entered Kyoto itself, stopping by the Kinkakuji in the morning. Here, I enjoyed matcha ice cream and the iconic golden-leafed walls of Kyoto’s most famous temple under drizzling skies. Following a kaiseki lunch near Yasaka Shrine, we visited Todaji Temple in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer population. The day concluded in Osaka: after taking in the sights of the Sakai shopping district, we stopped for an omurice dinner, and I swung by a local bookstore to grab a copy of Kimi no Na Wa‘s manga before turning in: the next day, I’d been slated to fly on over to Hong Kong for the trip’s second leg, so early in the morning, we made our way over to Kansai International Airport. Although a flight out usually is more a matter of procedure, a pair of surprises awaited me here at Kansai International Airport; I was able to try authentic okonomiyaki, and I came upon a copy of the Kimi no Na Wa artbook while waiting for my flight. Like the protagonist Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, I had a very short window in which to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Japan, and I similarly realised an inevitable truth: that it would take a lifetime to fully experience everything Japan’s got to offer: this game had come into my path some five years prior to my travels to Japan in 2017.

As the story goes, on a miserable late autumn afternoon, I was typing away in the quiet of my office space: having finished building a sodium-potassium pump on the same principles as the renal filtration model I’d designed during the previous summer, I was working on a term paper ahead of a presentation for my research course. As I reached the section on my findings, one of my friends appeared at the lab. His classes for the day had ended, and he had something amusing to show me: a YouTuber was playing through a visual novel about visiting Japan, and was doing a throw-your-voice style voiceover of the dialogue. I’d only been mildly interested at the time, and despite having picked the game up to try it out, Go! Go! Nippon! remained a bit of a curiosity for me until, four years after its initial release, the 2015 expansion was announced. The additional content and visual improvements were enough for me to pick this up, and I’d beaten one of the Makoto routes posthaste. However, a post never materialised, and it is with some irony that I reflect on how my typical tendency for procrastination meant that I would only write about the game a full five years after I’d returned home from my travels to Japan and Hong Kong. The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! is simple: a foreign traveller decides to visit Japan at the behest of two pen-pals he’d met in an online chatroom, and upon arriving, discovers they’re sisters, Makoto and Akira Misaki. Despite the initial awkwardness, said visitor gets a very personalised tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous destinations, and along the way, becomes closer to Makoto or Akira, depending on the choice of destinations visited. Despite its hokey premise, Go! Go! Nippon! has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, being part visual novel and part Lonely Planet travel guide: the game is remarkably detailed about the history and information surrounding some of Tokyo’s attractions, from Ginza and Akihabara, to Shibuya and Mount Takao. The setup provides players the ideal environment to acclimatise to what a visual novel is like, using a story that is relatable for overseas players who might be dreaming of one day setting foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. In this way, despite being cheesy on first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! ends up being a fantastic experience for both introducing players to visual novel mechanics, as well as providing a guide to Tokyo’s sights to the same level of depth as a travel book might. The visual novel consequently received a pair of expansions, which brought Go! Go! Nippon! into the world of HD and provided animated character models using Unity. In addition, additional locations were added along with a more sophisticated decision tree that brings with it, new events for players to check out. The concept has proven quite enduring: Makoto and Akira have since become Virtual YouTubers, and the developers, OVERDRIVE, have also been surprised with the success of this series and its characters. When they’d started the Virtual YouTubers programme with Makoto and Akira, they’d made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how if they ever hit ten thousand subscribers, they would begin development on Go! Go! Nippon! 2. This particular milestone has since been reached, and all eyes are now on OVERDRIVE as they begin work on a sequel to a game that I’m certain that no one expected to reach the heights that it did.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that I ended up playing through and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! five years after my travels to Japan; a trip to Japan costs around 2400 CAD for an individual, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! and its expansions together are two orders of magnitude cheaper (since I bought Go! Go! Nippon! during sales over the years, my total for all three games was 14.91 CAD). However, despite the dramatic contrasts in the manner in which one gets to experience Japan, there are also striking similarities, attesting to how well Go! Go! Nippon! is able to capture the feelings of travelling Japan. While on first glance, Japan possesses a dramatically different culture, set of values and customs compared to somewhere like Canada, setting foot in Japan also made it apparent that the similarities were greater in number than differences. Outside of Japan’s numerous temples, attractions and sights, I found that whether it was Tokyo, Gifu, Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, the roads and streets were filled with people getting from point A to point B. Some were salarymen headed to work, while others were students who were out and about on their daily activities, no differently than how my days ordinarily went back home. My vacation had allowed me to see Japan’s sights, both iconic and ordinary. Seeing tranquil power surrounding a shrine to the striking views of Mount Fuji, enjoy some of their finest food, including kaiseki, Hokkaido Snow Crab and Wagyu beef and iconic experiences like soaking in an onsen was lovely, but I also had a chance to order ramen in a restaurant where the staff did not speak English (or Cantonese), buy manga from a bookstore and sit down to an omurice in a department store restaurant. The scope of my experiences thus ranged from the touristy, to the everyday, and in retrospect, this is what had made this vacation especially memorable. Recalling this allows me to better understand the reason why some folks seek out authentic experiences that allow them to do what locals do now, and having now revisited Go! Go! Nippon!, it becomes clear that this is also one of the reasons behind the game’s charm: Makoto and Akira take the players to iconic locations around Tokyo, but also gives one a chance to see things from a local’s perspective, whether it be a Japanese summer festival, fireworks performance or even Comiket itself. Thus, with this being said, being able to travel to Japan for real, curiously enough, gave me a better sense of appreciation for what Go! Go! Nippon! was going for, too.

Additional Remarks, Screenshots and Commentary

  • It may surprise readers to learn that, when this blog was about three months old, I’d actually written a first impressions piece about Go! Go! Nippon!. Back then, my posts had no consistent format and style; that particular post had six screenshots, and barely covers any of my reflections surrounding Go! Go! Nippon! (the idea of a reflection would come about four months later, after I finished cell and molecular biology). This post, then, aims to offer a slightly more comprehensive set of thoughts on what is my first-ever visual novel experience on top of giving me a place to reminisce about my travels five years earlier.

  • Typically, visual novels simply entail reading the text, gaining a modicum of understanding as to what’s happening and then playing through by making decisions at critical junctures, decisions consistent with one’s own values to see what the outcome is. Depending on one’s choices, an outcome can end up better or worse, pushing players to evaluate their own decision-making in specific contexts. Go! Go! Nippon! is a little more gentle in this regard in that there are no wrong choices. One’s itinerary in Go! Go! Nippon! impacts which of Makoto or Akira players spend more time with, and this cascades into a tearful ending that, sometimes, will end with a romantic outcome.

  • On my own trip to Japan, I ended up visiting Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine just a stone’s throw from Shinjuku Koen), Ginza and Sumida Park, just across the river from the Tokyo Skytree. All of these locations are fairly close to the spots that are available in Go! Go! Nippon!: in its original incarnation, Go! Go! Nippon! had been focused on Tokyo’s attractions, but the expansions allow players to check out Mount Takao and Kyoto. On my trip to Tokyo in 2017, I did not have a chance tom visit Asakusa, one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo.

  • As a natural part of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s progression, players will “accidentally” walk in on Makoto drying herself after a shower. Of Makoto and Akira, Makoto is better-endowed, and it is in the expansion games, where the character models are animated, that players really appreciate the HD updates bring to the table. The newer games are rendered in Unity, and I imagine would use the game engine’s rigging to handle animations. Attention is paid to details: when Makoto perks up or leans forward, oscillation is also present in her model. As an aside, I prefer showering in the evening, so were I to take the protagonist’s place, there’d be no chance of this happening.

  • Dialogue with Akira and Makoto is such that players gain a bit of insight into their character; Makoto feels weighted down by expectations and is graceful, studying English at the local university, while Akira is a fantastic cook, tsundere and feels like she lives in Makoto’s shadows. In between Akira and Makoto explaining the history and details behind every location to the level of detail that would be appropriate for a Lonely Planet travel guide, one gains the sense that Makoto and Akira are full-fledged characters whom, in addition to their profound knowledge of Japan, its attractions and history, also have their own unique traits.

  • One could say that Akira and Makoto’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic: both bring up nuances and details that really illustrate the history of a given area, but isn’t something that one could readily just recall off the top of their head. To put things in perspective, while I’m familiar with the history and trivia of some of the most famous attractions in Calgary, I can’t just bring this stuff up in casual conversation with the same level of detail. Granted, this is a visual novel, which allows OVERDRIVE to thoroughly research locations and incorporate them into the game, allowing Go! Go! Nippon! to be both instructive and entertaining.

  • Folks looking to learn about the locations visited in Go! Go! Nippon! can easily look up their details online, and Go! Go! Nippon!‘s expansions include a link to Google Maps, allowing one to get the precise spot that players visit in the game. Here, I’ve opted to try an izakaya out; the Japanese equivalent of a pub, izakaya are quite different than a pub in that food is served over a duration of time and is shared by a party. Having Akira and Makoto around would make an izakaya easier to experience: while my rudimentary Japanese allowed me to order food in a more conventional setting, I’m certain that without a guidebook at my side, an izakaya would be trickier to order at.

  • On the second day, players “accidentally” walk in on Akira changing after Makoto asks them to check in and see if she’d awaken yet. Unlike Makoto, who’d taken things in stride and is swift to forgive, Akira’s reaction is par the course for what one might expect in reality, and in most anime. Akira’s dissatisfaction is most apparent when she swaps out sugar for salt in the player’s coffee, but seeing the player taking their lumps leads Akira to forgive them in the end. This is where my old post ends: in 2012, my patience for playing visual novels was nil. In the decade that’s elapsed, I’ve come to appreciate a much wider variety of games.

  • From here on out, I venture into a side of Go! Go! Nippon! that I’d not previously visited; my choice of destinations for my first full play-through of the 2016 expansion took me to destinations that were quite similar to those I’d visited in my 2017 trip. This particular trip had been billed as “美食” (jyutpimg mei5 sik6, literally “beautiful eats”) oriented: attractions had been secondary to visiting places with particularly fancy Japanese cuisine, and as a result, the places we chose to visit were a bit more inconspicuous, selected to be closer to the dining venues.

  • While we didn’t visit the Tokyo Skytree itself, or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine as a part of this trip, the locations we did end up hitting were quite scenic and enjoyable in their own right. A bonus was that the crowds here were fewer, allowing us to spend less time in lines and more time exploring. In retrospect, I am glad that I picked the 美食 oriented approach: especially nowadays, it is possible to gain a good measure of what an attraction feels like using virtual reality and Google Maps. However, there is absolutely no equivalent for being able to sit down to a meal in another country and enjoy what foods a nation has to offer.

  • Unlike the original Go! Go! Nippon!, the 2016 expansion gives players a chance to visit Kyoto, as well. Kyoto was day four for me: having spent the first day in Tokyo, our second day was in Yamanashi, and the third day was spent in Gifu prefecture. On the morning of the fourth day, the Kinkakuji was the only destination I visited; this is an iconic part of Kyoto, and because we were there on a Saturday, the crowds were immense. Here at the Kinkakuji, I remember marvelling at how brilliant this gold-leafed temple was, even on an overcast day.

  • Aside from spotting some tourists decked out in maiko outfits (it was 1100 in the morning, and real maiko usually begin making their rounds at around 1700), I also had a chance to sample the iconic matcha soft-serve ice cream. Japan’s soft serve is in a category on its own: while visiting Oshino village at the foot of Mount Fuji, I ended up going for a blueberry ice cream, as well. Enjoying these smaller things accentuated my experiences, and I had been glad to have brought the equivalent of 250 CAD worth of Yen in cash for this trip. This allowed me to buy things where credit cards wouldn’t work: while Japan is an ultra-modern society, I was quite surprised to learn most places didn’t accept credit cards.

  • The Kinkakuji is such an integral part of Kyoto that every single anime with a class trip to Kyoto will inevitably feature this park, and of note is the fact that both K-On! and Kinirio Mosaic: Thank You!! visit the area as a part of their third year class trips. Besides being an iconic landmark with a storied history, I know the Kinkakuji best as Futurama‘s “Omaha, Nebraska”, and recall that one of the Kinkakuji’s most famous tales is that it was burned to a crisp by a monk-in-training during the 50s. Its lesser-known cousin is the Ginkakuji, which, contrary to its name, is not covered with silver plating.

  • Go! Go! Nippon! captures the look-and-feel of a quiet Kyoto side street perfectly; after my visit to the Kinkakuji ended, I headed on over to Torihisa, a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which numerous small dishes are served in an artistic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch; kaiseki had been high on the list of things I’ve wished to try. Torihisa is located across the street from Maruyama Park, home of Yasaka Shrine. Maruyama Park is a fantastic place for hanami,  but I’d arrived about two months too late.

  • Although the protagonist of Go! Go! Nippon! has two full days in Kyoto to explore, I was on a more rigid schedule: as soon as lunch ended, we immediately set course for Nara Park, home to their famous sika deer. The portrayals of Nara Park in anime is no joke: the deer are very friendly towards people, and I watched one deer boldly snatch a tour pamphlet from a visitor’s hand here. After Nara had wrapped up, my final destination was Osaka. During my last evening there, I had dinner at an omurice restaurant and decided to go with a curry-katsu omelet rice; this was an all-in one that allowed me to try authentic Japanese curry and tonkatsu in conjunction with what is a contemporary Japanese comfort dish.

  • Just like that, my week had come to a close. Go! Go! Nippon! makes it clear to players that there is so much to see and do in Japan that a single week will be insufficient to experience things in full. This message is accentuated by the visual novel format; one has the opportunity to go back to a save point and make different decisions, allowing for a more complete experience. The equivalent to doing this in real life would be prohibitively expensive, but I was impressed with the breadth of my experiences over the course of a week.

  • If I had to pick the most standout moment in a vacation that was one long pleasant memory, it would be on the first full night. After we spent the day exploring Tokyo, we went out over to Saitama’s Heritage resort, a secluded retreat on the western edge of Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park. This evening saw the fanciest meal of the entire trip: an exquisite Wagyu beef nabesashimi and several small, artfully presented dishes, including unagi, pickled daikon and a side of fried potato croquettes. This was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. There is an old saying of unknown origin: the Chinese eat with their mouths (taste is king), the Japanese eat with their eyes (presentation matters) and the Koreans eat with their stomachs (a meal should be satisfying). I’m not sure where this comes from, but seeing the artful presentation of meals in Japan, I confirm this certainly holds true.

  • To round out what was an excellent dinner, I set foot inside the onsen, and because of my timing, I had the entire baths to myself. After cleaning myself off thoroughly, I lowered my body into the waters and felt all of my aches melt away. Meals on the other days were still solid: the second night saw me at a buffet at Shirakaba Resort Ikenotaira Hotel. What stood out most to me here was the fact that they had bakke and fiddlehead tempura available. We’d travelled through Yamanashi so we could see Mount Fuji from several different vantage points on this day, and although Mount Fuji remained completely obscured by cloud throughout most of the day (as Yuru Camp△‘s Rin would describe it, “wearing a hat”), we did end up hitting the Fifth Station at Narusawa for an up-close-and-personal look at Japan’s most famous mountain. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona start their ascent of Mount Fuji here in Yama no Susume‘s second season, so my second day essentially had me visiting Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume destinations.

  • On day three, we continued through the mountains of Nagano on our way into Gifu. The highlight of this day was the stop at Magome-juku, the forty-third of the stations along the Nakasendō trail. It’s a beautiful village perched on a hillside, and after venturing from the top of their main street to the bottom, we stopped for lunch at Magomekan Food Stands. Their set lunch was as beautiful to behold, as it was generous in portion sizes, and tasty to eat. Featuring rolled omlette, karaage and grilled fish, as well as a massive bowl of noodles, it was the perfect way to round out the morning’s activities.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, I’ve reached the end of my first playthrough, and thanks to the way I roll, I ended up with what is considered the best ending for the Makoto route: I chose a Makoto destination for days one and three, and did an Akira destination for day two. In this way, I unlocked the ending where players and Makoto ring a bell together. Although Makoto struggles to be forward about her feelings, in the end, she comes through and openly returns the player’s feelings. Contemporary reviewers found the whirlwind romance aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! to be completely contrived, out of the blue.

  • However, players with enough maturity will quickly realise that Makoto and Akira are representations of the joys of visiting Japan itself: in this way, Go! Go! Nippon! might be seen as a visual portrayal of falling in love with Japan over the course of a week, coming to see for oneself the nation’s pluses and minuses, and deciding for oneself if their initial impressions were on the mark or need rectification. Whether it is house-hunting, travel or romance, there are many commonalities. All involve that initial honeymoon-like phase where everything feels perfect, and how over time, imperfections manifest. What happens next then depends on the person: individuals willing to accept imperfections and embrace what they’ve fallen in love with will find happiness, while those who cannot accept the imperfections will restart the process anew.

  • In my case, nailing the Makoto route on first try was quite entertaining. However, in the spirit of playing through Go! Go! Nippon! properly, I switched over to one of my other saves so I could check out the destinations I’d not visited on my first run. Tokyo Skytree ended up being first on my list; while in Tokyo, I gazed wistfully across the Sumida river: this hadn’t been a destination we had in mind, and therefore, we skipped over checking out the tallest building in Tokyo. In retrospect, I am okay with this choice: that day had been overcast, and the view from the top wouldn’t have been quite as impressive.

  • In 2015, following my journey to Taiwan, I ended up going to Hong Kong, and here, I did check out the Sky100 observation deck, in addition to Taipei 101. On any given vacation in East Asia, Hong Kong inevitably becomes a part of the itinerary because the flights are actually more economical this way, and it gives me a chance to visit family. Whenever heading into Hong Kong, I always get the feeling that I’m going home: to me, Hong Kong simply feels like a super-massive Chinatown, where Cantonese is the lingua franca. Unlike Japan, or Taiwan, where I only know enough phrases for the basics (and in the case of Japan, enough to surprise store clerks and servers at restaurants), I’ve got level three proficiency with Cantonese and can carry out conversations.

  • While I technically are a native Cantonese speaker, I have next to no exposure in legal and professional vocabulary, so I’m unable to conduct business in Cantonese; for instance, I have no idea how to describe the process for sorting out a build error in an Xcode project in Cantonese. While my Cantonese is practically native at the conversational level (I know enough slang to keep up with things, for instance), I hesitate to say I have native proficiency on things like a resume because that would imply I can read and write, as well. If I had to guess, I have level 2 proficiency with written Chinese, and level 3 proficiency with Cantonese, having worked in a Chinese language-setting previously.

  • Here, I accompany Akira to a ramen joint after picking the “ocean” option, and she demonstrates how to properly eat ramen. While it is appropriate to make some noise in Japan, the practise is not kosher in China or Hong Kong, but when I visited the ramen place in Gifu, I followed local customs just to express my enjoyment of the noodles all the same. Sushi etiquette is a little easier to follow, and this reminiscence did leave me with a hankering for sushi. Fortunately, there’s an excellent sushi place within walking distance now, and I’m making good on my promise to try things out. Yesterday, I ordered a combo with California, Volcano and Dynamite rolls, plus salmon, tuna and shrimp nigiri with a takoyaki: this was a very tasty lunch, a welcome change of pacing just before the Victoria Day Long Weekend arrived.

  • By now, I’ve become a ways more receptive of raw fish dishes: five years earlier, I ended up dousing my sashimi into the nabe at Heritage Resort, rendering it cooked, as back then, I wasn’t too fond of raw fish (exposure to shows like Yuru Camp△ have since broadened my mind). These days, I enjoy raw fish as much as I do cooked fish: the salmon and tuna nigiri were the highlights, being excellent with a dash of soy sauce. Although it is mentioned frequently, food is only a secondary aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!: being a virtual experience, things like food cannot be adequately mimicked. While one can see Akira explaining how to properly eat a ramen, one’s imagination must kick in to fill in the rest; imagination plays a very large part of enjoying visual novels: these games are quite static, and although they provide a few cues (such as sound effects and whatever visuals are available) to convey a moment, on top of what the dialogue yields, one must let their mind’s eye do the rest.

  • One of the numerous events players can unlock in Go! Go! Nippon! is the summer festival; although absent in the original, the expansions introduce events which unlock after certain conditions (flags) are met. The summer festival is a pleasant event and would allow players to really experience an authentic Japanese celebration; the natsumatsuri is equivalent to the state fairs of North America (or for my Canadian readers, the Calgary Stampede), featuring plenty of games and eats, plus performances and fireworks. If memory serves, unlocking the summer festival requires going to specific destinations on the first and second day.

  • Visual novels have a vocabulary that is quite related to programming. “Flags” in software usually refer to Booleans that control whether or not something happens (e.g. if the “isLoggedIn” flag is true, show the home screen, otherwise ,show the login screen). In visual novels, flags keep track of a player’s state, and “events” result from certain combinations of flags being set. I normally think of events as certain actions or inputs a program listens for, but in visual novel speak, “events” are simply things to show a player. Go! Go! Nippon! allows me to demonstrate this: if I visit certain destinations on days one and two, the flag for the Comiket event are set true, allowing me to experience it. It took me several attempts to get this right.

  • On the topic of conventions and gatherings like Comiket, it’s the May Long Weekend, and that means Otafest is now in full swing. Back in February, I declined to submit an application to volunteer, feeling it to be more prudent to leave time open in the event that my move had left me busier than anticipated. In typical fashion, I’ve finished all of the essential tasks, and even got my driver’s license and banking information updated to reflect the new address, so this long weekend, I’ve actually had more time than anticipated. However, I’ve decided against attending the local anime convention; having experienced Japan so thoroughly, the appeal of visiting an anime convention as a guest has diminished for me.

  • Instead, I became more interested in taking a more active role through volunteering, which gives me a chance to give back to the local community. My plans to continue volunteering at Otafest will depend on my schedule, so I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I’ll be returning closer to next year’s application deadline. For now, my long weekend has consisted of sleeping in, tending to housework and hitting the gym, before swinging by the local mall so I could pick up some new shirts and shorts. Afterwards, we sat down to our first-ever Southern Fried Chicken at the new place. This year’s Otafest looks like it’s a scaled-back event, and there’s nothing particularly stand-out on the schedule, so I’ve no qualms with sitting this one out in favour of a relaxing long weekend.

  • Go! Go! Nippon!‘s easy-to-use UI means the user experience is solid, and in this way, I was able to go through the game several times in order to accrue screenshots for this post. Here, I accompany Akira to Mount Takao, which Hinata and Aoi hit back in Yama no Susume‘s first season. Located about an hour from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao is about a ninety-minute hike in total and offers stunning views of Tokyo. It was nice to see Go! Go! Nippon! include a vast range of destinations into the expansions: the original game only had six destinations and two possible routes.

  • This would have made it considerably simpler to complete, and in retrospect, Go! Go! Nippon! “grows up” with players. The first game truly is a suitable introduction to the visual novel format for first timers, and I’ve long felt that while the game’s subtitle is My First Trip to Japan, the title also can count itself as My First Experience With a Visual Novel: the premise of travelling and exploring different destinations is a much gentler and accessible introduction to the format compared to something like CLANNAD or Higurashi, where making bad decisions can irrevocably alter the outcome of one’s experiences.

  • First-time players will also be unfamiliar with the save mechanics. Visual novel veterans will tell players to save right before decision branches come up. This is a matter of efficiency: if one makes a bad choice, they can instantly revert and make another pick. Similarly, in a game where a choice causes the story to open up in a different way, one instantly has a snapshot they can go to. On my first playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, I saved simply when I needed to leave the game, and this made revisiting the game somewhat cumbersome. By the 2015 expansion, I was better versed in how visual novels work and more ready to explore new routes.

  • In the present day, I know enough of the ins-and-outs so that I could easily navigate the storylines of Go! Go! Nippon! and swiftly acquire screenshots for this post. I am glad to have picked up the 2016 expansion; I had debated doing so when it first came out, having already dropped coin for the 2015 expansion, but after visiting Japan in 2017, I decided to bite the bullet and complete my Go! Go! Nippon! experience when the expansion went on discount during the summer of 2018. Although I had intended to play and write about Go! Go! Nippon! back then, 2018 was a bit of a more difficult time for me: my start-up was in dire straits, and I had been in the middle of discussions to take on a Xamarin project, which meant I needed to swiftly pick up Xamarin and C#.

  • Further to this, I had been invited to Battlefield V‘s closed alpha, and Harukana Receive was airing. Between everything that was going on, Go! Go! Nippon! was benched, and for four years after that, sat untouched in my Steam Library. The five-year mark to my return home from Japan, coupled with one of my friends bringing the game’s recent successes in the Virtual YouTuber scene and OVERDRIVE’s intention of making a sequel came together to provide the encouragement I needed to finish enjoying, and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! in its latest incarnation.

  • I am glad to have done so now: the game offers an interesting parallel with my own experiences, and although I didn’t have two kawaii guides walking me through the history and etiquette of various areas, I was able to see for myself the wonders of Japan, both historical and modern. While my experience with Go! Go! Nippon! started out as a joke, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in a game meant to instruct and gently poke fun at foreign impressions of Japan, there is a considerable amount of depth in the writing. For instance, Akira’s tsundere personality is not representative of Japan as a whole, but from a broader perspective, shows how something that initially seems difficult to understand has more to it than meets the eye. Akira feels like a close friend, a companion over time as players spend more time with her destinations.

  • I’ve long been a Makoto fan, and my decisions on my first run through Go! Go! Nippon! reflect this. However, in revisiting the game, I learnt more about Akira. In time, I came to like her character, as well. Finding newfound, pleasant surprises in the familiar is something I’ve always been fond of, and much as how revisiting Titanfall 2‘s campaign allowed me to get my paws on the EM-4 Cold War in one mission, re-playing Go! Go! Nippon! let me to see a side of the game, and a set of destinations that I’d otherwise never see.

  • The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! shows players why there is incentive to replay the game again and make different choices; this outcome would extend to different visual novels and similarly encourage players to go back and try things out again. In the case of CLANNAD, for instance, players can make choices to go down the most well-written central route, which follows Nagisa, or they can opt to check out Kyou, Kotomi and Fuu’s stories. However, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! does not have a persistent state that lingers even after one has completed multiple play-throughs, CLANNAD does: certain actions can only be achieved by revisiting the game multiple times and making smart decisions. In this way, Go! Go! Nippon! can be seen as an introduction to a genre which is one that I do not play often, but one that has its own nuances, as well.

  • As a consequence of playing the Akira route with the aim of unlocking one of the events (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to succeed), I ended up with the second outcome for Akira, which has her bringing players to Toshimaen, a theme park that is quite special to Akira. After returning to Tokyo from Kyoto, the sum of a player’s decisions allow them to visit a special destination, and there is no “bad end” here in Go! Go! Nippon! in a traditional sense. Visual novels are legendary for their bad endings: unlike the average first person shooter campaign, which only has one ending, and any “bad end” is dying in the campaign, visual novels can take depravity and the macabre to the next level.

  • All told, spending a day with Akira at the waterpark isn’t a bad outcome by any stretch: it gives players a chance to see Akira rocking a polka-dot bikini. Tango-Victor-Tango incorrectly pegs Akira as being flat, although this moment also led me to wish that there was such an equivalent moment with Makoto. I’m now curious to see what the optimal route for Akira yields, but I’ll likely get around to this later in the future. The Division 2 had just opened their ninth season, and having spent the whole of last year on break from The Division 2 after completing the Manhunt event for Faye Lau, it’s been fun to return to the game and learn that my old standby, the Hunter’s Fury gear-set with the Chatterbox and Ninjabike Kneepads, is still viable. Similarly, I’ve recently resumed playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on account of an excellent sale, so between these two games, I expect to be somewhat busy in the gaming front for the foreseeable future.

  • For the remainder of my revisit through Go! Go! Nippon!, I have a bit of footage from the other destinations I ended up going to as a result of trying to unlock various events. Here, I’m back in Ginza: in a curious turn of fate, Ginza was the first place I visited when I played through Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, and it was also the first stop on my trip to Japan in 2017. Ginza is known for its high end shopping experiences, and while we browsed shops, we found that prices were jaw-droppingly high. Here, Makoto welcomes players to the district and the famous Wako Store, with its distinct clock face. I most vividly recall Ginza because we had shabu-shabu here.

  • Because of the scope and scale of any trip to Japan, I would contend that there is no right or wrong way to go about things. Anime fans tend to visit Tokyo and Akihabara, while folks looking for a more historical experience will tour Kyoto. Visitors looking for the ultimate seafood experience are best served checking out Hokkaido, while Japan’s southern section, near Hiroshima or Kumamoto, would provide a quieter experience. For me, one potential return trip would entail taking a closer look at Kyoto’s highlights; it’s a destination that K-On! and the Kiniro Mosaic movie both swing by the old capital as a part of the third year’s class trip.

  • However, this would be secondary to my long-standing wish to travel Takehara in Hiroshima. Well off the beaten track, Takehara is home of Tamayura, and even a full decade after I’ve finished watching the anime, the town’s iconic warehouse district has more or less remain unchanged. If I were to visit, I imagine that I’d be able to see the sights that Fū and her friends saw in their everyday lives. On such a trip, I’d likely choose lodgings anywhere outside of the Warehouse district: hotels right in the old town are considerably pricier. I imagine that a week in Takehara would be more than enough to explore all of the spots in Tamayura.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, for my shot at getting Makoto’s second ending, I ended up playing through a completely different set of locations, in turn allowing me to unlock a host of achievements to go with my adventures. The 2016 expansion is the only way to actually unlock achievements, but as of the 2015 expansion, Go! Go! Nippon! added Steam Trading Cards and badges. It took me a while to collect enough cards to make a level 5 Makoto card. The only way to get an Akira badge is to get foil drops, but badges cost a dollar apiece, so the logic of doing so wouldn’t be sound.

  • The CG scenes in Go! Go! Nippon! are of a varied quality: the protagonist is rendered without eyes, and this creates a bit of a disconnect whenever he’s visible. The faceless male is a long-standing element in visual novels, meant to give players additional immersion, but here in Go! Go! Nippon!, the effect is quite uncanny and looks a little off. Conversely, stills of just Makoto and/or Akira look gorgeous, and I found myself thinking that, were Go! Go! Nippon! ever to be made into an anime about touring Tokyo, I would have no qualms in watching it.

  • That no such anime has appeared a decade after Go! Go! Nippon!‘s release indicates that such a wish will remain a pipe dream at best. Here, at Tsukiji Market, I explore Tokyo’s largest fish market. After departing Japan and landing in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of checking out Sha Tin Market, an indoor wet market, while awaiting a dim sum lunch with relatives. I’ve always been fond of wet markets because they represent a very active place where seafood is sold; by comparison, most seafood is frozen at home, although some supermarkets do carry live seafood, as well.

  • Looking back, the Hong Kong side of my travels were also superbly enjoyable: I know Hong Kong like the back of my own hand, despite only having visited a handful of times, and this is largely in part owing to the fact that 1) there are English signs everywhere and 2) I speak Cantonese well enough, allowing me to ask for directions without any trouble. The MTR is also intuitive, allowing one to visit any part of Hong Kong with ease. My time in Hong Kong was characterised by spending plenty of time with family, window shopping at various malls, and experiencing Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.

  • In Go! Go! Nippon!, since Makoto isn’t much of a cook, players won’t pick up anything from the fish market here, and instead, she’ll bring players to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple that originally opened in 1617 but burned to the ground forty years later. It was moved to a new site, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923. The modern temple was completed in 1934. This does appear to be a recurring theme in Japan’s landmarks, which have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. While the buildings we see now might not be in their original form, seeing them rebuilt is a testament to the tenacity of the Japanese people.

  • Having now gone through three-quarters of Go! Go! Nippon!, it is evident that attention has been paid to the background artwork, as well. Backgrounds in this visual novel are intricate and life-like, and although some scenes are blissfully quiet, others are filled with people. This aspect is one of the most crucial elements in Go! Go! Nippon!: visual novels often feel empty and devoid of human presence, isolating players and forcing their attention towards the heroines. This was the case in Sakura Angels: although the artwork was stunning, the world felt very empty. According to my records, I began Sakura Angels in June 2015, but never finished, and the last time I opened the game was back in 2017, so the time is probably appropriate for me to go back and wrap this one up.

  • Stay! Stay! DPRK! had similarly felt quite empty, but then, it was a logical design choice because players are visiting North Korea. As such, when Go! Go! Nippon! strikes a balance between the tranquil areas of Tokyo, and the livelier ones, it gives this world a more life-like feeling: Sakura Angels exuded a sense of isolation and loneliness that is simply absent in Go! Go! Nippon: Makoto and Akira keep it lively, but cues in the game’s artwork and presentation also serves to capture the sheer energy (and volume) of crowds in Tokyo’s most iconic locations.

  • Having tea in Japan is a quintessential experience: for 850 Yen, one could stop by Nakajima-no-Ochaya for whisked matcha and wagashi. One element in Go! Go! Nippon! that initially appears inconsequential to gameplay was the inclusion of a wallet. Players are asked to enter the exchange rate (at the time of writing, 1 CAD is exactly 100 Yen), and then the game keeps a running total of how much one has spent over their travels. One could play the game as someone with infinitely deep pocketbooks, or approach things more frugally, but as far as I can tell, one’s expenses don’t affect outcomes. Having said this, the wallet mechanic helps one to ballpark how much their itinerary might cost in reality, to within a precision of ±20 percent.

  • As far as landmarks go, I know Tokyo Station best as being the home base for Rail Wars!, and in 2017, I do not believe we passed by this landmark: the original brick building was constructed in 1914, and over the years, became infamous as being the site of two high-profile assassinations. With a passenger volume of up to half a million every day, it is the busiest station in Japan and is Tokyo’s equivalent of New York City’s Grand Central Station. With the ten-year mark of Rail Wars! fast approaching, I have plans to revisit the series again.

  • On my all-Makoto run, I ended up wrapping up the day to Tokyo Station by accompanying her to a sweets shop of sorts, located in the labyrinthine interior of Tokyo Station and its many shops. Owing to the sheer volume of foot traffic at train stations in Japan, stations also double as shopping centres. This stands in stark contrast with home, where our light rail stations appear to be arbitrarily placed. Urban planning in North America is built around vehicle ownership, and while this creates sprawling cities where people have a great deal of space to themselves, it also results in inefficiency. Having now moved to somewhere within a stone’s throw of a light rail station, I am rather excited by the fact that I can now hop on a train and be anywhere in the city on short order.

  • Moments like these really serve to showcase Makoto and Akira’s personalities beyond initial impressions the original game presented: Makoto might not be a capable cook, but she absolutely enjoys her sweets. It was very endearing to see Makoto this way. This is something that was only introduced with the 2016 expansion, which really fleshes things out. I would hold that the expansions are not optional add-ons, but essential parts of the Go! Go! Nippon! experience: the expansions each give the UI significant upgrades, and the 2016 version will openly indicate which of Makoto or Akira will accompany a player to a destination.

  • This makes it much easier to determine which destinations one should visit when playing through Go! Go! Nippon!: on my first run, my thoughts were that I should bias the game slightly towards Makoto. To this end, I picked Makoto destinations for two of the three days, and then went with an Akira destination for the remaining day. If I had to guess, going with Makoto or Akira for all three days seems to create in Makoto or Akira an overwhelming sense of yearning, causing both to wish to remain with the player, whereas balancing things out gives either Makoto or Akira a chance to think things through and come to terms with expressing how they feel more openly.

  • On this route, I ended up taking Go! Go! Nippon! over to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park at the heart of Tokyo that folks know best as the setting for Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. For the player and Makoto, a rainstorm soon develops, perhaps being a clever (and subtle) callback to the events of Garden of Words, soaking Makoto to the bone. During my trip to Japan, our destinations did not include Shinjuku Gyoen, and instead, the day began with a visit to Meiji Jinju Shrine, which is a twelve-minute walk away from Shinjuku Gyoen.

  • The end result of this route sees Makoto pick up a stylish new outfit, and with this, I’ve now got two of the three possible Makoto endings unlocked. I never thought that Go! Go! Nippon! would be quite as engaging as it was; my introduction to the game had been through a friend who was watching a YouTube playthrough of the game in between classes, and the game had seemed quite hokey at first glance. However, going through the game again, I’ve come around: while Go! Go! Nippon! might be a dating simulator pretending to be a Lonely Planet travel guide, it does feel sincere in its portrayal of things.

  • This is why I’m rather excited to see what Go! Go! Nippon! 2 has in store for players; since Makoto and Akira broke into the Virtual YouTuber scene, their popularity has increased, and generated enough buzz so that OVERDRIVE seriously considered a sequel. While Makoto and Akira are unvoiced in Go! Go! Nippon!, they have the traditional “anime dub” voices as Virtual YouTubers, which makes them sound like RWBY characters. High on my wishlist for Go! Go! Nippon! 2 would be to have some proper dubbing: in particular, Ayano Taketatsu is suited for playing Akira and her tsundere personality, and Ai Kayano similarly could play Makoto: Kayano’s voice has a matronly and warm character to it.

  • Besides complete voice acting, other items on my list include a wider set of destinations, extending north to Hokkaido, and south towards Hiroshima and Kumamoto, or even perhaps Okinawa. Additional things I’d like to see include high resolution character models and 4K support: Go! Go! Nippon!‘s character models look a little fuzzy compared to their CG counterparts and the background artwork, so seeing improved assets would be fantastic. Similarly, Go! Go! Nippon! only goes up to 720p, but even back in 2016, 1080p resolution was already commonplace. A 4K visual novel with 1440p and 1080p settings would bring this series into the present. Beyond these technical aspects, it’ll be exciting to see what OVERDRIVE chooses to do with their next iteration in the series.

  • Reminiscing about my vacation to Japan and Hong Kong in 2017 a full five years later was a fun exercise: since then, I’ve only travelled abroad for business (having gone to Denver to consult on and save an app, and then to Silicon Valley to attend an F8 developer conference). Aside from statuary holidays, I’ve been putting my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, and as a result, my world now is quite different than it had been then. While I had a life-changing experience in Japan, I continue to maintain that it would be most unwise of me to uproot my life and become an expatriate in Japan (as one of my former friends had done, at the expense of their career), but now, things have reached a point where I am able to begin considering a return trip: for me, one of the biggest joys of travel, outside of seeing the world outside my routine and enjoying a culture’s best, is knowing I’ve got a home and a warm bed to return to.

Although travel is doubtlessly a large aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!, the elephant in the room is the fact that this game also has elements of a traditional dating simulator, in which player decisions impact the story’s outcome in a tangible way. The setup in Go! Go! Nippon! prima facie appears implausible, and contemporary reviewers felt the romance aspect in Go! Go! Nippon! to be wedged in as a means of appealing to the demographic most likely to look at such a title. While it is the case that the romance in Go! Go! Nippon! can appear superficial at first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! cleverly utilises the dating sim mechanic to, again, speak to the joys of travel. It is the case that Makoto and Akira can be anthropomorphic representations of what travel entails: there are goods and bads, moments worth remembering, and accidents one would rather forget. When one travels to a destination for the first time, they fall in love with the initial impressions. As one’s experiences broaden, they learn more about the destinations, both the pluses and minuses, ultimately cultivating a unique and distinct collection of memories that accompany them home, and in some cases, creates a yearning to return. With this as a metaphor, it is not so implausible to suppose that one could fall in love with someone as quickly as they do a place. Watching the player depart, and how each of Makoto and Akira handle this moment, brings to mind what happens at the end of a vacation: there always is a desire to extend one’s stay, to do more. This aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! proves surprisingly enduring, and it is, curiously enough, through a dating sim setup that different facets of travel can be explored. I imagine that OVERDRIVE had initially designed this more as a piece to ensure players would gain the classic dating simulator experience when going through Go! Go! Nippon!, but the consequences of this element, intentional or not, is that it brings additional depth and enjoyment to the game. Curiosity to see what happens when one makes different decisions to see how things with Makoto and Akira turn out also pushes one to visit, and learn about, different spots. Getting to know Tokyo and its surroundings better, then, is analogous to getting to know Makoto and Akira better. On my first run of this game, making decisions as I would in reality earned me what is considered the “best end” for Makoto: I received a kokuhaku and the story allowed us to reunite. This speaks volumes about my character, but jokes notwithstanding, I would very much like to visit Japan again in the future. Until then, Steam is suggesting that I’ve still got about a quarter of the achievements to unlock in Go! Go! Nippon!, and its successor, Go! Go! Nippon! 2, looks like it’s going to be a reality now, so I’m curious to see what this entails. This time around, I will try to complete Go! Go! Nippon! 2 at least once before planning out a return trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

A Party at the Grand Base- Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! OVA Review and Reflection

“Take it easy, because if you start taking things seriously, it is the end of you.” –Jack Kerouac

With a party scheduled for the following day, Javelin decides to head on over to the gymnasium and show Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 her dance moves. Here, they find Sirius still attempting to practise for her waitress duties so she may impress the Commander during the party, and despite their best efforts, Sirius succumbs to various accidents during training; she becomes visibly flustered at the thought of serving the commander. Later, South Dakota and Massachusetts show up, hoping to practise ahead of the party. It turns out they’re slated to play a piano duet here. When they begin playing, Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 appreciate the performance. On the evening of the party, South Dakota and Massachusetts perform while festivities are under way. Laffey enjoys herself with the food, while Sirius appears to have overcome her clumsiness and is able to serve. Javelin lets loose on the dance floor and ends up colliding with Sirius, resulting in some laughs from the other party-goers. This is about the gist of what happens in the special that was bundled with Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!. Airing last year, Slow Ahead! had been a slice-of-life spinoff that portrayed Javelin’s life on base after the main series’ events had concluded. At this time, Ayanami has joined Javelin and Laffey in their everyday misadventures, and even Z23 becomes close with the three: in the absence of conflict, Slow Ahead! shows how the ship girls are more similar than different, and it is ultimately this that allows everyone to befriend one another. This special inherits the aesthetic and tone from Slow Ahead!, as well as the smoother animation and improved artwork: originally, Azur Lane had run into challenges during production and overall, did not possess the same depth or engagement as the game the anime had been adapted from. However, Slow Ahead! reverses this, showing how, even in the absence of an overarching conflict and longer term objective, anime series derived from mobile games can still be remarkably fun to watch. While Slow Ahead! never had any of the severity or conflict that Azur Lane sought to portray, it remained entertaining because it allows the characters to simply bounce off one another, and the special accompanying Slow Ahead!, while nothing innovative, succeeds in this area.

Having now seen Azur Lane and Uma Musume Pretty Derby as examples of how anime adaptations of mobile games can find success, attention turns towards the upcoming Kantai Collection: Itsuka Ano Umi de. Kantai Collection had originally received an animated adaptation back in 2015, which had proven to be quite similar to Azur Lane in several ways. Both series attempted to delve into the more philosophical aspects of endless cycles of warfare while maintaining a balance with everyday life on base, and both series were ultimately at their most enjoyable when dealing with slice-of-life moments, being weaker with their more serious moments. Kantai Collection and Azur Lane both have impressive soundtracks. After its original run, Kantai Collection ended up expanding on their universe with a movie that dealt with the cycle between Abyssals and Kan-musume, while Azur Lane decided to pivot towards a more comedic and gentle portrayal of their ship girls when not in combat scenarios. It is unsurprising that Azur Lane‘s spinoff has proven to be more enjoyable: neither series had quite been able to reconcile the horrors and desolation of warfare with comedic antics that belong in other genres, and Kantai Collection: The Movie had insistently ploughed on with this story and ultimately ended up leaving the universe open. However, with over seven years having elapsed since Kantai Collection last aired, I imagine that, most English-speaking views would not remember the anime. As such, Itsuka Ano Umi de now faces a unique challenge. Presenting the Kantai Collection universe from a slice-of-life or comedic perspective would provide viewers with a conventional, if enjoyable experience, but Itsuka Ano Umi de appears to be taking a riskier route: promotional materials suggest that this series, centred around Shigure, could be a grim one. The original Shigure had fought at the Battle of Surigao Strait, which saw near-total casulties. There is the possibility that Itsuka Ano Umi de would be about Shigure dealing with the outcome of an equivalent in Kantai Collection and finding happiness anew in the aftermath, although save a handful of these promotional trailers, not much more is known. It is equally possible that the series could go in a different direction and continue on with where the film had left off. With this in mind, Japanese viewers do appear excited for the series, and I imagine that the key here is not to expect too much out of Itsuka Ano Umi de: for me, if it does go down a route where Shigure must come to terms with past losses and rediscover her reason for being, that’ll be satisfactory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Until quite recently, I hadn’t even known that Slow Ahead! would receive an OVA with its home release: despite having greatly enjoyed Slow Ahead! during its run more than a year ago, Slow Ahead! isn’t a series that I would count as being so riveting and compelling that I’d keep up with related news. As such, that there was an OVA had completely slipped from my mind. Having said this, I am glad to have gone through and taken the time to watch this OVA, which became available in July of last year and follows the ship girls as they prepare for a party on base.

  • Slow Ahead!‘s greatest strength had been the fact that it was entirely comedy-driven: in series like Azur LaneKantai Collection and virtually every other online game, characters form the bulk of the appeal, so an anime that is able to take these characters and let them bounce off one another in a slice-of-life setting can result in an entertaining anime that expands the world further without overlapping with the topics the game seeks to cover. This is, in part, why both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane‘s original anime series were a little less effective; the aspects that drive the game may not be quite as consistent or coherent from a narrative standpoint..

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby is the exception to this: because the horse girls have unique goals and aspirations, in conjunction with the fact that every horse girl’s experiences is rooted by their namesake’s history, an engaging story can be written for the anime format, all the while expanding on their world in a way the game might not. It is therefore unsurprising that Uma Musume Pretty Derby is receiving yet another continuation.

  • With this in mind, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more Slow Ahead!, either: Javelin and her friends end up involved in a variety of experiences on base, and these moments do fit the short format quite nicely, offering viewers with a few laughs here and there. Despite my never having played Azur Lane in any detail, Slow Ahead!‘s portrayal of the characters is accessible and simple, allowing this series of shorts to be one more addition to my collection of shows to watch when I’m looking for something simple.

  • In this OVA, Slow Ahead! shows Javelin as being quite excited to take to the dance floor for their party, in hopes of impressing the commander with her fresh moves. Eager to show Z23, Ayanami and Laffey what she’s got, the group head over to the gymnasium, where they find Sirius already there, practising for her waitress duties during the party. The real HMS Sirius was a Dido-class light cruiser that was launched in 1940 and assigned to assignments around the Mediterranean Sea from 1942 onwards. In Azur Lane, Sirius is portrayed as a well-endowed maid who struggles with her practise.

  • All thought of dancing is forgotten as Javelin and the others decide to help Sirius with her practise out: it turns out that Sirius is also hoping to impress the commander. This is a recurring theme in Slow Ahead! as the ship girls vie for the unseen commander’s attention: with Azur Lane‘s original series, the higher-ranking ship girls made their own calls as to what assignments they would take on and what tasks they would carry out, so in this regard, Slow Ahead! does bring back an element that was present in the game.

  • As a bit of an aside, this post has actually been sitting in my “drafts” folder since the last week of April; I had originally been looking to get this post done before May had arrived, but things became quite busy towards the month’s end. While I’m now settled in and have a consistent schedule, the end of April saw me working on pushing through posts for Project Wingman and wrapping up talks on anime that I’d been meaning to write about, as well as begin preparing special topics talks surrounding my trip to Japan five years ago, and the preparations for the MCAT a decade earlier.

  • The largest of these tasks was revisiting Go! Go! Nippon! so that I can do a full scale post for a lengthier recollection about both my travels, and thoughts of the game. With those done, I’ve had a chance to make a dent in my backlog of shows (as Akebi’s Sailor Uniform demonstrates), and this comes just in time as the Calgary Flames make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs; entering this week, I stayed up much later than I normally would to watch the heart-stopping game seven, which took place at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

  • Although the Flames had fallen into a 1-0 hole after the first period ended, Tyler Toffoli tied things up during the second period. Moments later, Dallas would score again, but before the second period expired, Matthew Tkachuk tied the game 2-2. The third period was scoreless, and so, the Flames went to overtime. For fifteen minutes, Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom, and Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger duelled to keep their respective teams alive. Finally, Johnny Gaudreau would put one behind Oettinger at a bad angle, taking the Flames to a second-round showdown with the Edmonton Oilers.

  • I’ve not seen the Flames in a round two series since the 2004 playoffs, when Martin Gelinas scored in overtime to help defeat the Vancouver Canucks, and on this first match in the iconic Battle of Alberta, the Flames exploded out to a 9-6 victory over the Oilers at the ‘Dome. This victory saw Tkachuk with a hat trick, and while winning the first match feels amazing, Edmonton is an excellent team, so the next game is going to be tough. One thing’s for certain: the Battle of Alberta will be intense and emotional. Back in Slow Ahead!, with Sirius struggling with various tasks, the other ship girls do their best to reassure her that despite nerves, she’ll be fine once the party arrives: Sirius has taken several spills, including one moment where she gets cake on herself, causing Laffey to try and help Sirius to “clean up”.

  • Although Sirius’ misfortunes persist, South Dakota and Massachusetts soon appear: it turns out they’re going to perform on the evening of the party, and have also shown up to practise their piano piece. To give Sirius a chance to catch her breath, Javelin and the others decide to hear South Dakota and Massachusetts practise: a grand piano’s already been placed on the main stage, and the gymnasium is soon filled with a warm piano as the pair practise.

  • South Dakota and Massachusetts did not figure prominently in Slow Ahead‘s original run. Both South Dakota and Massachusetts are classified as battleships in Azur Lane: in-game, battleships bring massive firepower to the table, and a quick look around finds that the most iconic World War Two battleship, the USS Missouri, do exist in the Azur Lane universe as ultra-rare vessels, although to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen them in combat or on base previously. However, reflecting on her role in World War Two, Missouri is portrayed as being highly efficient with paperwork (the USS Missouri was the site where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed).

  • The previously-empty gymnasium is a completely different place on the night of the party and is aglow with warmth. This party, although only portrayed for a few moments in Slow Ahead‘s OVA, speaks volumes to how far things have come since the events of Azur Lane proper: Kaga and Enterprise are no longer at one another’s throats, for instance. Seeing slice-of-life moments in Azur Lane had proven surprisingly enjoyable; longtime readers will know that I am very fond of quiet, ordinary moments. This is because life is already busy and hectic as it is, so moments I have to myself are appreciated, and enjoyment of quieter moments extends to my entertainment, as well.

  • Just this past weekend, I ended up having a few hours of Sunday afternoon to myself: having gone grocery shopping and mopped down the floors, I had enough time in my afternoon to walk over to the neighbouring bookstore, where I spent an hour blissfully browsing through the latest novels and reference books. On the way back home, it suddenly hit me that I’ve not felt this relaxed for quite some time. Back in Slow Ahead!‘s OVA, Sirius has managed to overcome her doubts and becomes comfortable with serving just in time for the party.

  • To reiterate the fact that this party is a magical moment for all those participating, the entire scene is filled with a warm, golden glitter: all of the preparations appear to have been successful, and the event itself is further given a dream-like character by depicting the various scenes as stills. Although this technique was previously used to offset the fact that some moments are too intricate to animate, slice-of-life series utilise it as a visual metaphor and emphasise the idea of living in the moment. This is the reason I’ve given as why Akebi’s Sailor Uniform‘s final performance uses stills rather than animation; for both Erika and Komichi, they’re completely immersed in what they’re doing, and the anime intended to convey this, rather than CloverWorks’ prowess, hence the outcome.

  • Laffey lives up to her promise of eating to her heart’s content at the party. While reception foods are quite tasty, I’ve never really been one to over-do it: eating too much at a party, especially when one’s in formal wear, can create for some challenges. The key here is that at parties, dinner is often served buffet style, and the best approach I’ve found is to sample everything, then “fill up the corners” with one’s favourite dishes once everyone’s had a chance to eat and settle down. This familiarity comes from a lifetime of eating dinner Chinese style: everything is communal, rather than served in individual portions, so it’s considered good etiquette to let everyone at the table try something, and then slowly pick away at the dishes over conversation.

  • Javelin, on the other hand, dances her heart out during the party. After a series of watching the ship girls struggle in a life-and-death battle with the Orochi Project, Slow Ahead! gave viewers a chance to see the girls enjoying everyday life. Slow Ahead!‘s OVA continues in the vein of its predecessor, bringing back memories as to why Slow Ahead! had been so enjoyable. The look of joy on Javelin’s face is priceless, although in the moment, Javelin loses track of her surroundings and collides with Sirius, who’d otherwise been having a fine evening, as well.

  • While perhaps a little embarrassing, no lasting damage is done to either Sirius or Javelin. The moment does leave me with another screenshot of note: fanservice in Azur Lane is comparatively disciplined, and this was something I found a little surprising, since series of this sort traditionally capitalised on the moment to show pantsu and make mammary jokes like both were going out of style. Having said this, while such moments are not a bother for me, I do feel that in a series where the characters can stand of their own merits, such moments could be stripped out entirely, and the work would still stand.

  • Slow Ahead! is one of these series: the characters and their misadventures carry the show, so even in the absence of things like pantsu, the anime would still be quite charming to watch. However, the presence of such fanservice is not unwelcome, simply serving to add yet another layer of comedy to things. With this post in the books, I believe I’m as caught up as can be for Azur Lane at present. This means I’m going to focus my attention on wrapping up My Dress-Up Darling, and then make my way through Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which I picked up for 10 dollars during the past weekend. I’ve been wanting to return to Bolivia and start my fight with the Santa Blanca cartel: the last time I played Wildlands was during the 2017 beta, and I’ve been wishing to return and finish the fight since then.

While this may come across as a bit pessimistic, I will note that Japanese viewers are more open towards another Kantai Collection adaptation. Folks who’ve seen the trailer and promotional artwork are looking forwards to seeing more of their favourite Kan-musume brought to life in the animated format, as well as seeing what sorts of things await viewers. This is the more mature perspective to take: Azur Lane‘s appeal had similarly been with its characters. Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 had made Slow Ahead! remarkably entertaining even though the series had no combat whatsoever, and while the writing is largely dependent on familiarity with the characters’ in-game incarnation, the fact that the spin-off had given viewers a chance to know the characters better meant that I’d left Slow Ahead! with a better measure of each character, despite never seeing anyone fight against the Siren. The prevailing sentiment amongst Japanese viewers is that the characters make Kantai Collection worth watching, and these thoughts are valid: my hopes are that Itsuka Ano Umi present viewers with a central cast that are every bit as likeable and charming as Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23. For the time being, there’s a full half-year between the present and when Itsuka Ano Umi is set to air, and having just finished Slow Ahead!‘s special, I am glad to have taken the time to check this one out: despite its short runtime, it brought back everything that had made Slow Ahead! enjoyable and condensed it out into a short format to give the series a swan song of sorts. It’s unlikely that Slow Ahead! will receive another continuation, but in the event that such a continuation does occur, I would have no qualms about watching it. While Slow Ahead! might not be a thriller or a philosophical masterpiece, it does succeed in its function of giving viewers a few laughs, which is something that everyone could do with more of.