The Infinite Zenith

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86 EIGHTY-SIX: Review and Reflection, Plus A Brief Intermission After Twenty-One

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” –Albert Schweitzer

Giad’s command forecast a massive Legion counterattack and Leftenant-Colonel Wenzel manages to reassemble Shinei’s squadmates into Nordlich Squadron. Frederica reveals that she is the last surviving member of the Giad Empire’s royal family, and that a member of her guard, Kiriya (who shares ancestry with Shinei), eventually became assimilated by the Legion. The overwhelming Legion assault threatens to overwhelm Giad’s defenses, but Nordlich Squadron successfully repels the Legion. With Legion threatening San Magnolia’s borders, Vladilena prepares to rally the remaining Colorata under her command, although San Magnolia is overrun and defeated. It turns out that the Legion have been making use of a massive artillery gun named the Morpho, and moreover, this weapon is controlled by the remnants of Kiriya’s spirits. Giad decides to send Nordlich in to handle this, and although Leftenant-Colonel Wenzel is incensed that Shinei and his team are to be assigned on a suicide mission, Shinei and the others accept their task, feeling death in combat to be preferable to cowering while others fought for them, as the San Magnolians did. Giad ends up deploying a prototype vehicle to get Shinei and his team close to the Morpho, although they learn that the Legion had left behind a decommissioned Morpho as a trap. While they are able to escape, the Giad forces take heavy losses. Shinei receives permission to continue pursuing Kiriya’s Morpho and are shocked to learn Frederica had accompanied them into battle. Before their final attack on the Morpho, Raiden implores Shinei to look after himself, and later, Frederica remarks that she’d like to see the ocean with everyone once the fighting ends. Kiriya’s Morpho proves to be a fearsome opponent, and each of Raiden, Theoto, Kurena and Anju become damaged during the fighting, leaving Shinei to take on the Morpho on his own. His magazine sustains damage, leaving him with a single round, but thanks to support fire from an unknown source, and Frederica imploring Kiriya to stand down, Shinei manages to strike the weak spot on Kiriya’s Morpho, destroying it. The Morpho subsequently engages a self-destruct mechanism that engulfs both Shinei and Frederica in its blast radius.

Whereas 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s first half was divided between Vladilena’s command of the Undertaker unit, and Undertaker’s exploits in the war against the Legion, this second half is predominantly focused on Shinei’s remaining team and their return to the battlefield, as they fight alongside the Federacy of Giad to push back the Legion and put an end to the war. The shift in perspective is 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s advantage. The first half had the advantage of showing the war from the San Magnolian perspective, and the disconnect created gave the distinct impression that save Vladilena and a small number of her circle, San Magnolia appears to care little for the war effort otherwise. Conversely, Giad, as a part of the political reform, is willing to deploy their own professional soldiers to the frontline and fight alongside Shinei’s group. This eliminates the need for the Handler/Processor dynamic and creates the impression of a society that is seeking to right past wrongs. From a narrative standpoint, the fact that Giad soldiers are willing to deploy to the frontlines results in a story that’s much more cohesive and focused. The entire focus of the second half, after Shinei, Raiden, Theoto, Anju and Kurena join the Giad forces, is to take down the Morpho, a massive railway gun with a four hundred kilometre range. This weapon poses a massive threat to Giad and the surviving nations, to the point where the other nations agree to an alliance in a bid to stop this weapon. The effort taken to destroy this weapon gave 86 EIGHTY-SIX a chance to really focus on Shinei and his team, to an extent that hadn’t been possible in the first season because perspective had constantly flipped between the harsh realities that Undertaker faced, and the idealism that Vladilena sought to try and bring to the table. In this way, it becomes clear that even among his team, Shinei is more disconnected from humanity than Theoto, Raiden, Anju and Kurena: he lives purely for the thrill of combat and feels no other purpose in life. Having established the extent to which Shinei’s sense of humanity is blunted, viewers thus gain insight into why he’s so effective in combat, and so reserved off the battlefield.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I originally hadn’t intended to write about 86 EIGHTY-SIX at this stage in the game, having fallen behind on things, and instead, was waiting for the finale to air so I could do a single post on things. However, making my way through things right through to the assault on the Morpho, 86 EIGHTY-SIX clicked for me, and I found myself greatly enjoying how this second half was progressing. While I get why the first half was formatted the way it was, the story I’d come to enjoy the most was always to do with the Colorata, and Shinei’s team, in particular.

  • Although the textual discussion would suggest that 86 EIGHTY-SIX is all-business, one aspect about the series I found helpful was the fact that there is an effort to remind viewers that the characters are human; here, Frederica wanders around the base half-awake, prompting Shinei to hand her off over to Anju so she can get dressed. 86 EIGHTY-SIX is somewhat unusual in that visual elements more common to comedy are occasionally employed; this is the show’s way of reminding viewers of the fact that even in the grimmest moments, gentler or more amusing moments remain.

  • Frederica provides much of these throughout 86 EIGHTY-SIXs second half. Her background is a bit of a tragic one: her entire family was eventually executed, and it was only thanks to Ernest Zimmerman that she was spared. It turns out that Zimmerman himself was a former Imperial Guard who ended up renouncing his background and fought for a democratic Giad. His actions may come across as suspicious, but ultimately, Zimmerman wants to build a country unencumbered by the failures of Imperial Giad, and in his personal life, raise a family in stead of the one he’d lost.

  • Together with a Giad military that has been shown to drill its soldiers as contemporary professional armed forces would, and one that utilises equipment designed with the operator’s safety in mind, I was left with the impression that Giad is a legitimate power with a genuine concern for the world. It therefore became much easier to trust that Giad’s desire to eliminate the Legion as genuine; the whole of the first half had Shinei and the others fighting for a uncaring and slovenly nation, so it was natural that both Shinei and the viewers had little reason to trust Giad initially.

  • However, the combination of seeing Giad’s professional armed forces in action, coupled with the Reginleif’s armour and defensive features, I became convinced that Giad is trustworthy. Eliminating this doubt allowed the story to focus on the sort of challenges that Shinei and the others face now that they’re fighting under a different flag. One aspect that some viewers found surprising was the fact the Reginleif’s secondary armaments were designated as using 12.7×99mm NATO (i.e. .50 BMG) rounds, but in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, there shouldn’t be a NATO equivalent (and as such, no STANAG 4383 clause). This particularly irked one viewer, “Lambdalith”, who suggested that A-1 “copied all the ammo list provided by their military consultant without removing the NATO rounds designation [and therefore] can be interpreted as a blooper of sorts”.

  • Others promptly stepped up and noted that this was likely done as a convenience feature so viewers wouldn’t have to learn new calibres. In this case, while it might’ve been a little easier to just refer to the rounds as “.50 BMG”, which is not a STANAG 4383 compliant designation, I imagine that “12.7×99mm NATO” was chosen simply because it looks cooler to viewers. I’ve never really understood the demand that works of fiction be completely free of gaffes (I’d argue that “Lambdalith” is calling out something minor such as this, in an attempt to sound more knowledgeable); the type of secondary ammunition the Reginleifs use don’t impact 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s story in any way, so such comments add little to the discussion at hand. Here, Frederica peers into Shinei’s mind and learns he’s enjoying the chaos of battle the same way Kiriya once did.

  • Anime discussions have always varied in terms of quality, and generally speaking, the most meaningful discussions entail people who make an effort to listen to other sides of the coin, walking others through their thought process and where applicable, sharing their own related experience. Folks who focus on a dry, impersonal analysis as though they were writing an undergraduate term paper usually aren’t the most fun to converse with, which is why I do a combination of writing about pure outcomes in my paragraphs, before delving into assorted thoughts and commentary with the screenshots.

  • For 86 EIGHTY-SIX, I’ve (surprisingly) been able to keep clear of the overly-serious conversations out there, and this in turn has really allowed me to enjoy the series at my own pace: while I’d been skeptical of this series, being able to draw my own conclusions has led to a superb experience overall. As an example, the first half’s pacing was a little disjointed for me, but once I came to the conclusion it was meant precisely to show a disconnect, Vladilena’s presence became considerably more enjoyable. Cutting her from most of 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half to focus on Shinei’s team gave the latter much more growth than was previously possible.

  • However, while Vladilena might’ve had a reduced presence, the destruction of San Magnolia in 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half, coupled with the fact that she’s clearly a central character, means that her role isn’t over yet, and I look forwards to seeing what role she will play in the future. This sort of conclusion isn’t something I’d be able to reach were my thoughts to encompass opinions from elsewhere, and in retrospect, this is an approach that I should apply to slice-of-life series, which are often critiqued to an even harsher extent for reasons that elude me.

  • Once 86 EIGHTY-SIX has Shinei and the others settle into their duties as a part of Nordlich squadron, the series turns its entire attention towards the matter of the Morpho. The Legion offer many resistances to known countermeasures: their ability to jam communications and EMR signals means there is no effective satellite reconnaissance it is not possible to simply pinpoint the Morpho’s location and overwhelm its defenses with hypersonic cruise missiles or ballistic missiles outfitted with conventional warheads. Similarly, the Legion likely possess hardened electronics resilient to EMP effects. This leaves armies to deal with them head-on using ground forces within visual range.

  • Even this is a challenge, and although Shinei had been asked to conceal his ability to detect the Legion telepathically, there comes a point where he’s forced to bring this power out to help Giad’s military out. The idea of Newtype-like powers exists in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, although like its Universal Century counterpart, the precise origins or nature of these powers are never well-characterised. Whether or not this becomes an issue is largely dependent on a story’s demands: if the powers impact the outcome of an event in a tangible manner, then at the very least, its scope and limitations should be explored.

  • In 86 EIGHTY-SIX, that Shinei and Frederica possess such powers suggest to me that it would be worth exploring them further in future instalments. Throughout 86 EIGHTY-SIX, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well Frederica fits in with the story: she’s highly perceptive and demonstrates agency far exceeding what is typical of someone of her age, and moreover, rather than being a burden on the story, Frederica is able to ask the right questions and proves instrumental in pulling Shinei away from the brink. It helps that she’s also got the most funny-face moments of anyone in 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second half.

  • Giad’s assault on the Morpho is accompanied by support from neighbouring nations, who agree to cooperate on the grounds that the Morpho’s range is enough to pose a threat to any nation. This massive joint operations entails creating a massive distraction and making use of Nordlich team’s capabilities to close the distance. However, Giad is outwitted: the Morpho had previously been damaged in an earlier strike and was allowed to remain so it could act as a decoy for the real Morpho, which is illuminated by an ethereal blue light.

  • Kiriya’s spirit operates this Morpho, and while he answers to the entity known as “No Face”, Kiriya is brash and aggressive in his digitised form. It is clear that this Kiriya only retains the negative aspects of his old self. 86 EIGHTY-SIX choses to give Kiriya a face, both to indicate that Kiriya plainly remembers his old identity and to convey to viewers the sort of torture human minds experience as Legion; this aspect of 86 EIGHTY-SIX further emphasises that the Legion’s ability to use neural tissue as a CPU is not a pleasant experience for those who are captured, and the resulting Legion suffer continuously until they are destroyed. Once Nordlich figures out the presence of the real Morpho and prepare to attack it, No Face orders Kiriya to withdraw.

  • From this vantage point, the destructive power of the Morpho’s main 800 mm cannon can be seen: it completely obliterates an area appearing about six blocks across, with an initial crater width of around 100 metres, and the damage appears to show that the impact energy was transferred wholly into the ground.  Official documentation gives the Morpho’s muzzle velocity as eight kilometres per second, and eyeballing this to correspond with a force of around 0.2 kiloton (836 GJ, all transferred into the ground): it’s possible to work out that the Morpho’s 800 mm projectile is likely a slug with a mass of 26.1 tonnes. Assuming a density of 22.59 g/cm³ (similar to osmium) and a roughly cylindrical shape tapering at the head to a point, the projectile itself would need to be 114.92 metres long in order to have such a mass. This is greater than the Morpho’s length of 40.2 metres. Because Asakura is steadfast on the muzzle velocity being 8 km/s, and the fact that the Morpho’s ammunition clearly isn’t three times the length of its chassis, the only remaining explanation available is that the Morpho’s main gun is using ammunition that is significantly denser than any known metal.

  • If Asakura was open to an much higher muzzle velocity (say, 49.2 km/s, only a little faster than Halo‘s Mark II Light Coil guns, which accelerate a 600 tonne projectile to 30 km/s for a yield of 64.5 kt), it’d be possible to impart a similar about of damage with a tungsten slug that is a more reasonable 2 metres long. Having said this, my calculations are just for fun: unlike Lambdalith and the folks unfamiliar with Newtonian kinetic energy, I’ve no qualms if the numbers don’t check out, since they don’t affect the story. The Morpho’s main weakness is that it is primarily dependent on railway lines to travel, and after the Legion lose their element of surprise, No Face orders Kiriya back to Legion-held territory. This buys the Giad forces a bit of breathing room, and Shinei decides to continue pursuit even as the Giad forces retreat, reasoning that there’s no opportunity quite like this to take out a major Legion asset. Major railway guns are particularly vulnerable to attack from the air. However, the Legion face no such threat: the absence of air power in 86 EIGHTY-SIX is quite noticeable, being the consequence of the Legion’s use of Eintagsfliege (small butterfly-like units that flood the skies, blocking out EMR and capable of causing jet engines to flame out), and the Legion themselves only manufacture ground units owing to their original programming.

  • Unlike High School Fleet, the justification for why aircraft are largely absent in 86 EIGHTY-SIX is a reasonable one. I have noted before that as long as authors take the time to provide a plausible account for why their world is what it is, then an element can be accepted; where enjoyment of fiction is concerned, I’m of the mind that J.R.R. Tolkien’s concept of internal consistency applies to a given work. That is, if something is consistent with what is defined as being possible in a fictional universe, then one needn’t fall upon a suspension of disbelief for something, because the author has clearly laid out limits and rules.

  • This is why I tend to be fairly open minded about things that are otherwise dismissed as “unrealistic”: for instance, in The Aquatope on White Sand, some critics argue that Kukuru’s treatment at Tingarla is unrealistic because she is given far more leeway than would be expected for someone in her position in an equivalent company. However, The Aquatope on White Sand maintains internal consistency by establishing that Tingarla’s director is fairly open-minded, and as such, may have been made aware of Kukuru’s unexpected absence. His decision would override Tetsuji’s, so she isn’t reprimanded upon her return. Similarly, in 86 EIGHTY-SIX, the lack of air power owing to the Eintagsfliege’s presence is not far-fetched and forces combat to remain ground-based.

  • After Frederica stows away in Fido, Shinei and the others are forced to accept that she’s around. Although they’d rather she stay away from the frontlines, her presence does end up being instrumental to Shinei’s eventual success in taking down the Morpho. However, Shinei’s friends do worry greatly for his mental well-being: Raiden confronts him and demands that he stop fighting so recklessly; so long as they’re still alive and have one another, they can continue to help one another out. Despite being a captivating and gripping story, 86 EIGHTY-SIX has the same degree of subtlety as something like Gundam with respect to its themes.

  • That is to say, Gundam is very clear about its intended messages and will flatly present its ideas to viewers without obfuscating them. Other works will jump through hoops and layer in themes that require a bit of thinking to get: there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to approach fiction, and having studied works for classes a decade earlier, as well as consuming fiction for personal enjoyment, I’ve found that there are merits to both approaches; so long as a work actually conveys its theme, it has succeeded. With this in mind, I prefer dealing with thematic elements once a series has fully aired: although 86 EIGHTY-SIX has been quite plain in its aims, I acknowledge there is always the possibility that what is shown in the existing episodes could feed into something else once everything is done.

  • While Raiden shares a conversation with Shinei voicing his concerns on behalf of the others, Frederica and the others eavesdrop. It turns out that even now, Kurena still has feelings for Shinei. However, indicators will show that Kurena’s going to be in an unfortunate situation, and here, Frederica is reduced to a blubbering pile after Anju overhears her making a blithe remark about how with Vladilena seemingly out of the picture, Kurena might have a shot at things. Moments like these became increasingly rare as 86 EIGHTY-SIX wore on, but remain welcome, and I will note that while I’d initially found Frederica a little grating, she’s become an integral part of the team.

  • Upon gazing out over the open hinterlands at sunset, Frederica mentions that she’d like to see the ocean one day. The ocean’s vastness has held people spellbound for as long as human civilisation has existed, as imaginations of what lies on the shores across the ocean drove people towards exploration – Frederica’s longing to see the ocean might be seen as a wish to see what’s on the other side of this conflict. As it turns out, the Giadian Empire’s royal family and leaders were responsible for the Legion’s reign of terror: revolutionary forces (which Zimmerman had been a part of) had cornered the crumbling Imperial leadership, and in a final act of defiance, the Imperials transferred their consciousness into the Legion before issuing them with one final order to continue fighting.

  • However, even the Giadian Empire had devised a failsafe – any member of the Giadian Royal Family could deactivate the Legion. I imagine that Zimmerman might have suspected that it would be helpful to not fully destroy all traces of the old Empire, and the very fact that Frederica holds the master override to end the war once and for all means that so long as she’s alive, there is hope for ending this war swiftly and giving everyone a chance to gaze upon the ocean with their own eyes. Having seen what the remains of Shinei’s team has gone through, one cannot help but wish for a speedy end to their war, although this does lead to the question of what everyone’s looking to do once peace is attained.

  • In particular, Shinei remarks that he feels his only purpose is to fight, and since Shōrei had tried to kill him, he’d lost any particular desire to the point of wondering if he’s alive at times. A longstanding notion in fiction is that people are inherently without purpose, and responsibility of seeking out purpose falls upon the individual: Frederica suggests that purpose or not, as long as one has people in their corner, they can keep on living and find whatever their future holds, no matter how uncertain it is. Whether or not Shinei takes this to heart, there is truth to this statement, and it’s always encouraging to see works of fiction remind viewers of this fact: life is what one makes of it.

  • When the final operation does start, Shinei ends up with everyone electing to keep the Legion off Shinei’s back while he presses forwards: although they’d planned on fighting the Morpho together, a Legion onslaught causes Anju’s unit to fall off a cliff, and although she’s fine, she’s no longer able to follow the others into battle. Speaking to the Reginleif’s improved survivability over the San Magnolian Juggernauts, Anju herself is okay, and her Reginleif is still somewhat able to fight: Anju swaps out her 88 mm cannon for rocket artillery, making her useful against massed Legion forces.

  • Similarly, because Kurena has specialised her Reginleif for long-range combat, she decides to hang back and do what she can. To assist in sharpshooting, Kurena uses a VR headset in combat, which is linked to a smart optic that allows her to hit targets at range. A similar feature was found in Gundam 00‘s Dynames and Cherudim Gundams, which had a dedicated controller unit wired to special optics. I have heard arguments that mecha do not necessarily need this gear, since they could simply use an AI or similar to place long-range shots. However, the counterargument for this is simple: a given mecha would not be in sniping configuration all the time, and engaging this equipment changes the handling characteristics, allowing it to focus on long-range fire at the expense of something like mobility.

  • Again, the concept of internal consistency applies here: I’ve noticed that a lot of fans out there are quick to call out things for falling on “rule of cool” (in common terms, where something awe-inspiring or novel is selected over something more practical to create an impact amongst viewers), but for me, as long as internal consistency is maintained, gripes like these are inconsequential. In the end, even Raiden gets taken out of the fight; he promises to keep Frederica safe while Shinei forges ahead.

  • The twenty-first episode has Shinei engaging Kiriya’s Morpho alone; the episode itself aired on Christmas day, but I’d spent most of the day preparing Christmas dinner and reading through new books, so I didn’t even consider that a new episode of 86 EIGHTY-SIX would be airing. At the time, I thought that I’d fallen so far behind that it would be easier to let all of the episodes air before continuing from where I’d left off. As it turned out, production challenges meant that episodes were airing at two-week intervals, and moreover, there’d been two recap episodes. I realised I wasn’t as far behind as I first imaged, and so, decided to push forwards, just in time to present my thoughts on where I feel 86 EIGHTY-SIX stands a full month after the latest episode aired.

  • The Morpho possesses a fearsome array of point defense weapons, and together with the “arms”, even Shinei has difficulty getting close enough to do damage. In the end, Frederica threatens to kill herself if Kiriya doesn’t stand down, and this buys Shinei enough time to close the distance enough to board the Morpho, locate the weak spot and blast it to kingdom come. Kiriya passes on into death, no longer bound to the Legion, and viewers were left with a lengthy wait: the next episode is scheduled to broadcast on March 13.

  • As such, I will be returning in a few months to wrap up 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s second part to deal with the messages I got out of 86 EIGHTY-SIX. While the series began on a rougher footing, once the characters and conflict was established, things have become much more engaging. I’d been sitting on the fence with 86 EIGHTY-SIX after its first part concluded, and had suggested that San Magnolia would face total annihilation if they didn’t get their game together. Having seen what’s happened now, it appears San Magnolia is no longer a concern (having been met with complete annihilation owing to their hedonistic and xenophobic ways), and this leaves the floor open for Asakura to focus purely on Shinei and whatever lies ahead between himself and Vladilena, which is admittedly something I am quite excited to see.

Having established the basis for Shienei’s character, 86 EIGHTY-SIX enters an intermission. Despite A-1 Pictures driving the series’ production, and the fact they’ve done a solid job of bringing 86 EIGHTY-SIX to life thus far, the Legion have presented the team with numerous challenges owing to their numbers and fluidity. Production issues in getting the Legion to appear as author had Toru Asakura envisioned them meant that the story will be delayed until March. However, at this point, the Morpho is defeated, removing one more threat to the allied forces, and this means there will be an opportunity yet to give Shinei and the others a denouement. Given where things end up, it is unlikely that 86 EIGHTY-SIX will end here: Vladilena’s story has not yet been resolved, and although San Magnolia now lies in ruin, the fact that she figures so prominently in the series means that she likely evacuated and survived the Legion’s assault. Vladilena and Shinei had first met in a very impersonal capacity but came to care for one another showed how Vladilena was able to bring out some of Shinei’s humanity, and how Shinei was a sign to Vladilena that her concerns were legitimate. As such, 86 EIGHTY-SIX‘s premise is built on the fact that the pair was able to support one another emotionally, and while reality often sees circumstance keep people apart, 86 EIGHTY-SIX is a story, a work of fiction and consequently, should able to tilt the odds such that Vladilena and Shinei do, in fact, end up meeting, in order to advance the idea that human connections are what lets people rediscover their purpose anew. In this way, while 86 EIGHTY-SIX is framed around a war, it would appear that Asakura’s intentions through this story had been to present a moving tale of how important being connected to others is, especially in a world where interpersonal relationships are becoming more impersonal. At this point in time, I have no idea what lies ahead of the second part’s eleventh episode, but I do know that it will be interesting to see where things end up.

Elf Yamada’s Love Song and Sagiri Izumi’s First Kiss: Eromanga Sensei OVA Review and Reflection

“I saw that you were perfect, and so I loved you. Then I saw that you were not perfect and I loved you even more.” –Angelita Lim

Masamune, Hana and Kunimitsu attend a celebratory event for Emily to thank those who’d supported her: Emily’s work was adapted into an anime. After Emily persuades Masamune to help her change into a new dress during the event, Emily’s brother and mother both show up. Emily’s mother disapproves of Masamune on the basis that he appears to be corrupting her, even though the reality was that Emily was the one who had made it look as though she were dating Masamune. Upon learning her mother is here to bring her home, the pair clash, and Emily storms off in anger. However, with a suggestion from Masamune, she ends up performing a musical during her speech at the event, convincing her mother to let her live on her own terms, and after the celebration wraps up, Emily and Masamune share a moment together after Emily makes her feelings known to him. Later, Masamune catches a cold after visiting Emily, and is unable to submit his manuscript ahead of a deadline. Sagiri decides to look after him. To this end, she sets foot outside of her room to fetch medicine for Masamune, do some housework and even manages to answer the door when Megumi and Tomoe show up. However, when Hana shows up and tries to break in, Sagiri confiscates the poster Hana had wished to give him. Sagiri ends up falling asleep and dreams about the past, but upon waking up, she gives Masamune a quick kiss before making him dinner. Masamune thanks Sagiri, noting her cooking is quite good, but Sagiri ends up catching Masamune’s cold. Masamune helps her out so she can rest and indicates he’s looking forwards to her recovery so that they can continue working together. The two Eromanga Sensei OVAs came out two years after the original series had aired, releasing on January 16, 2019, and while they do not advance the story in a significant way, nonetheless provides an opportunity for characters to break the status quo in ways that they were not seen doing in Eromanga Sensei proper.

In Eromanga Sensei, the death of Sagiri’s mother caused her to become withdrawn, but as Masamune becomes closer with Emily and Hana, rival authors and rivals for his affection, Sagiri also began stepping out of her shell. Similarly, Masamune himself had suffered the loss of a parent, as well, and turned to writing as a way of finding happiness anew. The journey seen throughout Eromanga Sensei had been about finding new happiness together through a shared pursuit, although the anime also ended up being a very gentle, cozy portrayal of this. At the end of Eromanga Sensei, beyond Masamune and Sagiri’s worlds becoming a ways more colourful, and rowdier, things nonetheless were preserved in a sort of status quo: Masamune is uncertain of the feelings he has for Sagiri, and while Sagiri has certainly accepted him and his friends, she still rarely ventured out of her room – instead, she usually accepts visitors instead and only attends events if Masamune streams it to her via Skype. This is where the Eromanga Sensei‘s OVAs excel. Masamune is given a chance to explore his feeling a little more freely after seeing Emily’s best side, and Sagiri’s concern for Masamune is sufficient for her to venture out of her room, culminating in her gaining the resolve to cook for him after he falls ill. These episodes do much to show that the events of Eromanga Sensei did much to nudge both characters forward and adds a minor degree of closure to a series that, while amusing, didn’t otherwise do much to move the needle during its original run. In this way, the OVAs are welcome additions to Eromanga Sensei: unlike most OVAs, which capitalise on looser restrictions to go all-out on titillation, the Eromanga Sensei OVAs instead opts to present more tender moments between the characters.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the blog’s archives, the last time I wrote about Eromanga Sensei was back in April 2018. Back then, I approached this anime from the mental health perspective; the anime did give every impression that it would be ecchi oriented, and while a few episodes did indeed present viewers with this in abundance, I never felt it to be so blatant that it detracted from the anime. With this in mind, Eromanaga Sensei stands in the shadow of its predecessor; compared to OreImoEromanga Sensei felt a lot more muted and subdued.

  • Because it’s been almost four years since I last watched Eromanga Sensei, I’ve largely forgotten most of the events, and needed to do a quick refresher on things to get re-acquainted with the story. I had originally intended to watch and write about the OVAs when they’d come out in January three years earlier. At the time, there would’ve only been an eight-month gap between my finishing Eromanga Sensei and the OVAs, so I would’ve probably gotten back into the swing of things more quickly. I believe the reason why I ended up failing to do so was because after watching First Man, my interest in anime suddenly waned.

  • In fact, looking back at the archives, the only anime I wrote around during that timeframe was CLANNAD and Endro. Most of my extra time was spent in The Division, Battlefield V and Ace Combat 7. Once I’d settled into my games, and the afterglow from First Man wore off, I eased my way back into anime; I ended up watching Domestic Kanojo in April, and together with 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, I found myself returning to my usual patterns. By then, however, thoughts of Eromanga Sensei had left my mind, and it wasn’t until recently, when I was going through my unwatched anime, that I found this Eromanga Sensei with two episodes left incomplete.

  • Entering the first of the Eromanga Sensei OVAs, I had no idea what to expect, but after seeing Emily persuade Masamune into helping her change dresses, and watching Emily attempt to evade her mother’s questions about what she’d been sending back home, memories did return to me: both Hana and Emily had been into Masamune, but Masamune had promptly shot down Hana. This left the floor open to Emily, who’d been very forward about how she feels about him: over the course of Eromanga Sensei, she spent a great deal of time with Masamune and fell in love with him more as a result.

  • These feelings lead to a disagreement between Emily and her mother, who feels that Masamune might not be the right person for her. Recalling how devoted her mother had been to her father, Emily storms off. One visual aspect that stands out is the fact that everyone in the Granger family appears to have an exaggerated form of Stahl’s Ear, a condition where there’s an additional cartilage layer that pushes the ear out and gives it a pointed shape. This appearance is what leads Emily to take the pseudonyms “Elf”, and Emily’s older brother brings to mind the likes of Thranduil from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

  • Because Masamune is kind by nature, he hears out Emily and suggest that she simply be forward with things. Unlike OreImo‘s Kyōsuke, who was persuaded to be more mundane by childhood friend Minami, Masamune is a ways more motivated, having turned to writing to get past feelings of grief and loss when his mother had passed away. The gaps in Kyōsuke and Masamune’s personalities mean that Eromanga Sensei and Oreimo  have a dramatically different atmosphere about them – on one hand, the characters in Eromanga Sensei are more likeable, but this also means that there’s less drama, and correspondingly, less of a chance to watch the characters manage their feelings.

  • When the time for Emily’s speech arrives, she saunters onto the stage and discards the speech she’d written for the event, choosing to improvise instead. It turns out she’s decided to use the moment to properly convey how she feels to her mother, and after thanking everyone for supporting her all this way, she breaks out into song. Both of the Eromanga Sensei OVAs involve a musical performance from the female lead, livening them up considerably and giving both Akane Fujita (Sagiri) and Minami Takahashi (Emily) a chance to shine. I’m familiar with Minami’s roles as Kanna of Harukana Receive, El Condor Pasa from Uma Musume Pretty Derby, Lucoa from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and Machikado Mazoku‘s Lilith

  • I was all smiles during this musical performance, which sees even the security detail joining in with Emily as she sings her heart out. In the end, Emily’s mother is convinced that she’s being sincere about how she feels regarding Masamune, and consents to let her stay in Japan. Being an OVA, Emily’s story here is a satisfying and self-contained event which gives her an outcome that she’d long been hoping for – after the event concludes, she and Masamune share a private moment together, where Emily openly admits her feelings for Masamune. The question of who should initiate the kokuhaku is a topic of no small debate, and this is one of those scenarios where I’ll not that there isn’t a right answer.

  • There’s actually a lot of conflicting advice out there for how to kick things up a notch: some say to pull the trigger ASAP, while other people say to let things occur naturally. I myself have familiarity with five ways of how not to do it – if I were to liken things to a sniper, then on two cases, I waited too long, while the other three times, I pulled the trigger a little too early but missed. Dating is like a bolt-action rifle: there’s a finesse about it that takes time to learn, and every shot counts. Unlike a semi-automatic marksman rifle, there’s a delay between shots, since it takes time to chamber a new round into the barrel. One of these days, I’ll get it right, and I take consolation in people who a lot wiser than myself – dating and relationships is supposed to be like a parking lot. The parking lot will often be near full half the time, and it’s going to be a pain in the ass to find a space, but all one needs is one space.

  • With this in mind, I felt a great deal of warmth at watching this kokuhaku between Emily and Masamune: anime are often namby-pamby about who the male lead ends up with when there are multiple women in his life, and this leaves viewers with a feeling of hollowness. Overall, while I was a fan of Hana and felt Sagiri to work less well for Masamune, I do agree with the sentiment that Emily is probably the best person for Masamune. As such, this Eromanga Sensei OVA ended up delivering a conclusion that wound up being quite satisfying for me.

  • Whereas the first of the OVAs saw a fancy event, the second is a ways more mundane and has Sagiri looking after Masamune when he falls ill following a visit to Emily’s place. However, in this second OVA, the extent of Sagiri’s growth is shown; whereas she was shy, withdrawn and quite unable to do even the basics without Masamune’s help, here, Sagiri does her best to look after Masamune. There was always a lingering tension, since we’d not seen Sagiri do anything resembling housework until now.

  • However, there are many things that occur off-screen, and it is reasonable to suppose that Sagiri’s opening up to people around her also gives her more confidence to act. This is something that I am accepting of in anime: it is impractical to show every moment where characters are going about their business. However, not everyone follows this approach, and in shows where characters are able to perform far better than is expected given what is shown, some viewers count it as undeserving or implausible. K-On! was subject to this back in the day: Yui and the others are seen drinking tea and eating cake more often than they practise, but still manage to put on professional-grade performances at school concerts.

  • Much as how not every detail behind how Houkago Teatime operate is shown, not every last moment in Sagiri’s life is shown; instead, viewers must infer that it is with the presence of others that she slowly becomes able to find the strength to do things she wasn’t able to do before. Sagiri’s disposition means that she reminds me somewhat of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and here, she wonders why Masamune doesn’t have any instant food on hand after deciding she’s not skilled enough to cook for him, and that ordering delivery would mean needing to handle the delivery person.

  • When Megumi and Tomoe come to visit, Sagiri is adamant about not letting anyone in. However, she does consent to hear them out upon learning that Tomoe’s swung by to deliver some assignments and a new book that Masamune had ordered. Of everyone, Tomoe is probably my favourite character; she has a good eye for books and is able to spot what might interest Masamune immediately. On the other hand, Megumi shows up for kicks, and the only reason why Sagiri doesn’t turf her is because Tomoe is around.

  • In any other post, I probably wouldn’t have consumed a dedicated screenshot for this moment: it turns out that Tomoe also has dropped off the latest volume of 86 EIGHTY-SIX for Masamune, and moreover, Sagiri’s taken an interest in this series. Back in 2019, five volumes of 86 EIGHTY-SIX had been released, and the fact that Eromanga Sensei was able to freely show it in such vivid detail, in retrospect, foreshadowed A-1 Pictures’ eventual adaptation of the series: both Eromanga Sensei and 86 EIGHTY-SIX are published by Dengeki Bunko, so there was no issue in referencing another work.

  • On the topic of 86 EIGHTY-SIX, I have plans to write about it once I’ve finished catching up to the twenty-first episode so I can cover off how I’ve felt about this second season. The final episodes will release in March, and I’ll write about themes then, but for now, it’s a good opportunity to write about some smaller aspects that have worked well for me so far. Back in Eromanga Sensei, whereas Sagiri had been thrilled about 86 EIGHTY-SIX, she’s less-than-impressed when Hana shows up and tries to break in, then attempts to give something to Masamune in an attempt to cheer him up. Earlier, Hana and Ayame share a conversation with Masamune after he calls in sick; Ayame is okay with moving his deadline up, while Hana immediately demands to know that he’s alright.

  • After dreaming about the past, Sagiri steals a kiss from Masamune, who’s still sleeping. This moment lends itself to the second OVA’s title, conveying a moment of tenderness. Throughout Eromanga Sensei, it is suggested that Sagiri is frustrated that Masamune does not return her feelings – for Masamune, he’s come to see Sagiri as a sister, and his only link to family. The setup in Eromanga Sensei had long been conducive for discussion of the importance of human connection, and in practise, the series is never a melancholy one – Masamune has plenty of people in his corner to support him, and in this way, he is able to support Sagiri, too.

  • To see Sagiri break out of her comfort zone and cook something for Masamune was a turning point in Sagiri’s character development: while she had doubtlessly grown throughout the course of Eromanga Sensei, this moment makes it clear that she’s beginning to see a world beyond the one she’d confined herself to since her mother had passed away. While Sagiri struggles with some of the cooking (she makes a small mess of things in a few places and here, leaves the water running), she perseveres, and for her troubles, she ends up successfully making an omurice for Masamune.

  • After a full day’s rest, Masamune’s fever has gone down, and he finds Sagiri’s cooking to be quite good. In a bit of irony, since she’d spent the full day with Masamune, Sagiri’s picked up the bug from him. However, Masamune is well enough now to look after her, and Sagiri bashfully thanks him for all he does; while she’s not too good with expressing her feelings throughout Eromanga Sensei, this moment indicates to viewers that the Sagiri here has come a very long way from when Masamune was trying to coax her out of her room, and steps like these will eventually quicken, allowing her to return to classes. For Masamune, he looks forward to working with Sagiri on whatever projects they have next, bringing the OVA to a close.

  • The Eromanga Sensei OVAs were a fun addition to the series, and according to my old post, I’d given the series a C+ after finishing: while it was satisfactory to watch, it wasn’t particularly novel, nor did it compel me to anticipate each upcoming episode with bated breath. Having said this, I am glad to have finally wrapped up the OVAs, which added a bit to both Emily and Sagiri’s characters in a positive manner, although with these OVAs in the books, I do not imagine that we will be getting any sort of continuation of this series in the future; it has been five years since the original series aired, and three years since the OVAs. Fortunately, things wraps up on a sufficiently conclusive manner so that a continuation is not strictly necessary.

The fact that I’m writing about the Eromanga Sensei OVAs a full three years after their release shows the extent to which I procrastinate when it comes to anime. To put things in perspective, I first wrote about Eromanga Sensei back in 2018 for a Terrible Anime Challenge post, and the anime itself had actually began airing during the spring of 2017; I was gearing up for my Japan trip back then, and had been avidly following P.A. Works’ Sakura Quest. When I finished my journey through Eromanga Sensei, it was about a year after the series had finished airing. I’d heard about the OVAs, and had been curious to see what they entailed, but circumstance led me to put them off. With both OVAs in the books, I can finally say, after some four years, that I’ve finished Eromanga Sensei to the maximum extent possible – while this was never a series that would change my world view or move me as other anime had, there’d been a gentle and easygoing aesthetic about Eromanga Sensei that made it stand apart from author Tsukasa Fushimi’s previous work, OreImo. Unlike the bolder and more well-known OreImo, Eromanga Sensei is a little more subdued and muted in comparison, lacking its predecessor’s notoriety and a story that pushed the boundaries for its portrayal of social norms. Instead, I ended up finding Eromanga Sensei to be an interesting portrayal of how creative focus is a viable, and healthy outlet for managing mental health issues like depression: both Sagiri and Masamune turn to creative work in order to channel their feelings, and in doing so, their worlds become more colourful for it. By sheer coincidence, their approaches bring them closer together in a way that they couldn’t have foreseen, accelerating their ability to rediscover happiness. While certainly not revolutionary by any means, Eromanga Sensei still ended up being a satisfactory experience, and watching the OVAs reminded me of the fact that each of the characters did have their unique charms which, together, made them a fun group to be around.

Halo Infinite: The Spire and Pelican Down at the Halfway Point

“We all fail. We all make mistakes. It’s what makes us human.” –Master Chief

Upon entering the Conservatory and fighting through the Banished forces within, Master Chief and The Weapon encounter Despondent Pyre, Zeta Halo’s Monitor. Despondent Pyre is destroyed whilst warning Master Chief of a new threat that Zeta Halo holds, and Master Chief encounters the Harbinger shortly after. She explains that her people, the Endless, were incarcerated on Zeta Halo, and the Banished have been working to rebuild a facility that will liberate them. Along the way, they are assisted by Adjutant Resolution, but upon learning that the Master Chief’s goal is to destroy Zeta Halo, outfits himself with a Sentinel battle mech and attempts to stop the Master Chief, who ultimately destroys his armour. After Master Chief deactivates the spire, it begins to collapse, and while he manages to escape thanks to Esparza’s arrival, their Pelican is shot down. Frustrated, Esparza expresses his want to escape by locating a functional slip-space drive. Master Chief reassures Esparza and promises that after he deals with the Banished anti-aircraft guns, they’ll look for a slip-space drive together. After the guns are disabled, Esparza reveals that all of the slip-space drives are non-operational, and moreover, he’s actually not a pilot: during the battle on board the Infinity, panic took him, and he stole a Pelican. Master Chief confides in Esparza that he was unable to stop Cortana, and the pair set off to destroy the remaining spires on Zeta Halo to stop its reconstruction. Having now spent an additional six hours since I last wrote about Halo Infinite, I am now a ways further into the campaign, and at the time of writing, I’ve now captured all of the forward operating bases. In addition, I’ve taken down all but one of the high value targets, and I’ve unlocked enough Valour points so that I’m able to call in the AV-49 Wasp, a UNSC VTOL that, alongside the Banished Banshee, allows for unparalleled ease of exploring Zeta Halo’s surface. Having access to the Wasp means one thing becomes apparent: before I continue on with the remainder of the campaign missions, it’s time to finish gathering Spartan Cores and Mjolnir cosmetics now that I’m able to freely fly around Zeta Halo.

One detail that became particularly enjoyable in Halo Infinite is the presence of weapon variants, which are modified versions of common weapons that cater to a specific play style. Some of the weapon variants are straight upgrades of their common counterparts, offering improved firepower, accuracy or firing rate, while others alter the base weapon’s functionality. The Volatile Skewer I picked up is a Skewer whose projectiles are explosive, while the M41 Tracker is able to lock onto vehicles. These weapon variants offer additional variety for Halo Infinite and allow players to play according to their preferences to a much greater extent than was previously possible. The incentive for unlocking weapon variants is built right into the heart and soul of Halo Infinite: Valour Points from completing secondary objectives will give access to most UNSC weapon variants, while high value targets provide the remainder. This gives players the encouragement they need to really explore Zeta Halo (as opposed to just blasting through the story missions) and those who take the time to check out every nook and cranny of Zeta Halo will get the most out of their experience, being rewarded for their troubles in a fair manner. In this way, Halo Infinite creates a highly immersive environment that brings the Halo franchise to new heights; exploration isn’t mandatory, and it doesn’t bloat Halo Infinite‘s runtime in any way, but instead, it provides a chance to really build up Master Chief’s arsenal, abilities and a bit of the backstory behind how things are since Cortana’s actions devastated the galaxy during the events of Halo 5: Guardians. Having now reached a point where I am able to explore freely, I find that Halo Infinite has absolutely lived up to expectations, and the open-world segments of the game have allowed me to play Halo in a way that advances the franchise in an impressive new direction.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last I left off in Halo Infinite, it was New Year’s Eve, and I’d just finished clearing out the Excavation Site of Banished. I’d brought with me the Gravity Hammer and Ravager used to defeat Bassus into the labyrinthine interior of the Conservatory. Almost immediately, the silence inside the Conservatory overtook me, and it hit me that I’d not been inside a Forerunner structure in quite some time.Beyond the first set of doors, I find a deceased Spartan and a new armour ability, the drop wall, which can be deployed to provide cover from one direction.

  • The drop wall provides cover from enemy fire briefly, but adds the bonus of allowing Master Chief to continue shooting through them. In a pinch, deploying a drop wall can mean the difference between life and death, and I’ve managed to extricate myself out of deadly situations by making use of the drop wall when my shields had failed. At this point in Halo Infinite, I’d already fully upgraded my Grapple Shot and shields. The improved shields aren’t normally noticeable, especially if one comes under heavy fire, but when fully upgraded, it allows one to survive things that would otherwise be instant death. I’ve found that I can now escape being stuck with plasma grenades or a sword lunge now that my shields are maxed out.

  • 343 Industries did a phenomenal job of portraying Forerunner interiors: exploring the interior of the Conservatory brought back memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with classic visuals, and I’m especially fond of the lighting effects. Artificial lighting inside Zeta Halo’s interior gives the impression of sunlight streaming through windows into the cavernous hallways, and in these tight quarters, I swapped off my weapons for more mundane, but practical weapons. Halo Infinite generally does a fine job of balancing the weapons, and most of them have some utility. The Mangler is great as a hard-hitting pistol, and in fact, the only weapon I’ve found to be ineffective is the Disruptor.

  • When required, I’ve found that the classic Covenant weapons are actually quite effective in a fair range of scenarios. The Needler retains its ability to super-combine and instantly kill even shielded foes, but unlike its predecessors, the Halo Infinite Needler’s projectiles no longer home quite as aggressively on targets. The exception is the Pinpoint Needler, whose projectiles are a walking cheat-code and moreover, can lock onto multiple foes at once. On the other hand, the Banished Pulse Carbine is weakly homing and can eliminate shields quickly. Combined with the fact that one can recharge its battery now, this is actually a viable weapon to have around.

  • The energy sword, an iconic Elite weapon, retains all of its classic mechanics; it is a one-hit kill on all but the toughest foes, but the lunge distance is reduced. In multiplayer, this weapon is highly sought-after as a power weapon, but in Halo Infinite‘s campaign, it is less effective owing to the fact that every kill with the sword depletes its battery by ten percent, regardless of whether or not the kill was on a Grunt or a Brute. As such, while I will use the sword where my ammunition is depleted, I generally will not pick the weapon up.

  • The Bulldog is the UNSC’s go-to close quarters weapon in Halo Infinite, and it is devastating in narrow corridors and small rooms. A single pull of the trigger will put most foes on the floor, and speaking to its firepower, even the Brutes will be seen wielding the Bulldog despite their disdain for humanity. Conversely, in the wide-open areas of Zeta Halo, the Bulldog is next to useless. However, there is a variant of the Bulldog, the Convergence Bulldog, which has a choke that reduces spread. Together with a larger magazine, this Bulldog is a longer-range option that still retains the standard Bulldog’s traits.

  • As I make my way deeper into the Conservatory, I encounter Zeta Halo’s Monitor, Despondent Pyre. Although this Monitor appears helpful and desperate to stop the entity known as the Harbinger, it is promptly destroyed. Recalling that it took a Spartan Laser to permanently kill Guilty Spark, whatever killed and dismantled Despondent Pyre must be a foe to reckon with. Shortly after this revelation, Master Chief and the Weapon come under attack from the Gasgira, informally known as Skimmers. These foes are new to Halo – they share similar traits as the Harbinger’s species and functionally, are a cross between the Drones and Grunts.

  • After escaping the ambush, Master Chief pushes further into the facility in order to track down the Harbinger, and along the way, encounters another deceased Spartan. The mystery of who is killing Spartans with such brutality remains a mystery for now, although Master Chief assures the Weapon that he’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way. Every time, the Weapon’s analysis indicates that the Spartans were cut down by an unnaturally powerful energy blade, implying that it’s probably an Elite that’s been doing this, and cutscenes have shown that there is one Elite that Escharum respects: Jega ‘Rdomnai.

  • A pair of Brutes appear, and while the Weapon wonders if they’re the Spartan killers, Master Chief replies no. At this point, I’d been short of ammunition, but luckily, there was a cache of weapons in the large hall where this fight occurs. I ended up using the Cindershot to take one of the Brutes out, then picked the Scarp cannon off his body and used its firepower to take down the remaining Brute. The Scrap Cannon is a turret that fires large spikes, and the longer the trigger is depressed, the faster it will fire. On the other hand the Cindershot is a hard light grenade launcher of Forerunner origin, and while it is quite powerful, its bouncing projectiles do take some getting used to.

  • After Master Chief confronts the Harbinger, he is promptly defeated and thrown back onto the surface of Zeta Halo. The goal next is to reach the Spire and deactivate the Ring’s reconstruction mechanism. For the time being, I took a moment to enjoy the sunset here: more so than any Halo before it, Halo Infinite takes visual effects to an entirely new level. The first trailer for Halo Infinite was announced back during June 2018, and despite its short runtime, foreshadowed a gorgeous environment. It is not lost on me that during this time period, my first startup was on its last legs. I’d been working on both a mental health questionnaire app, and a generic app for pain reporting at the time, although the lack of clients meant funds were rapidly dwindling.

  • Halo Infinite thus fell from my mind: the 2018 trailer had been an impressive tech demo, it gave almost no hints of what the story was going to be about. Halo 5: Guardians had released to general disappointment owing to its disjointed story, and left players on a massive cliffhanger that had seemed as difficult to resolve as the cliffhanger Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi left viewers with. The games themselves won’t answer this directly – after Halo 5, the Infinity escapes, and Dr. Halsey managed to create a new AI that would be able to put an end to Cortana’s rampage. While this is somewhat successful, elsewhere in the galaxy, the Banished become a powerful threat. This ultimately leads to Atroix clashing with the Infinity at the beginning of Halo Infinite. There’s a great deal of lore, but using the timeframes allows 343 Industries to do a soft reset on things and focus on the most important elements: a clean story and consistently good gameplay.

  • Here, I square off against Adjutant Resolution after he goes rogue upon learning of Master Chief’s aim of destroying Zeta Halo. He dons a Sentinel suit that confers combat capabilities, but despite this suit’s firepower, there are several weak spots: shooting out the arms and central core will damage it. The fight was fairly straightforward for me, although I will note that Kotaku’s Ethan Gach struggled with the encounter. Games journalists encountering difficulty with even the most trivial of tasks in video games is not a new phenomenon, and it is no surprise that most gaming outlets have writers who would prefer to talk about things like representation and the narrative’s political statement rather than discuss things like game mechanics, map design and equipment balance. The end result is unsurprising, but for any moderately competent gamer, Adjutant Resolution will not be a challenge on normal difficulty.

  • By the time Halo Infinite‘s gameplay was shown, it was July 2020, and I had been working from home for a second startup amidst the global health crisis’ first wave. Halo Infinite had looked flatter than I’d expected, but the gameplay still looked solid. Indeed, once I reached the Pelican Down mission, the site of the 2020 E3 demo, I found that while everything looked much improved over what had been shown during the E3 demo, the gameplay was more or less identical. I had been sold on Halo Infinite after that demo – the Grapple Shot was a novel addition that revolutionises how movement in Halo worked, and the ability to reel in things like weapons and fusion coils increased the game’s pacing. Older Halo titles were very slow and clunky, having been designed for older consoles, but with advances in consoles, this is no longer a constraint.

  • I ended up walking around the valley, marvelling at all of the details here that had been first portrayed during the E3 demo. Unlike the demo, which started Master Chief off with the assault rifle and pistol, I had a Commando and Sentinel Beam from my last mission. However, I was similarly playing at sunset, and upon ascending the elevator to the first of the guns, I ended up using my drop wall to similarly stop a Brute with the Ravager, before riding it up to the Banished camp near the gun. The Halo Infinite E3 trailer is another example of where the finished product actually ends up surpassing what was shown – DOOM Eternal had previously done this, and in retrospect, I’m glad that 343 Industries ended up taking the extra year to really polish the title.

  • From the sounds of it, the core mechanics and story were already in place by the time of the E3 conference, but other aspects were not fully ready yet. An extra year ended up being the right amount of time for 343 Industries: they were able to completely improve lighting and textures with this time, and by the time Halo Infinite‘s open beta was available, the game was in a satisfactory state from a technical standpoint, more than ready to be released. The missing features, specifically co-op mode and the ability to replay missions, was somewhat disappointing; considering that Halo Infinite handles more like The Division than earlier Halo games, there is precedence for how these elements can be implemented, but on the flipside, I have heard that both functions are technically working – like the remainder of Halo Infinite, 343 isn’t releasing them until they’re confident it works as expected.

  • I ended up commandeering a Ghost and rode it up to the power core for the first AA gun. Upon reaching this area for the first time, I was treated to Escharum’s iconic speech. In addition to portraying the Brutes as a glory-seeking, but honourable species, Escharum’s first speech also acts as 343 Industry’s challenge to the players, to experience a legend in the making that will push them to their limits. Escharum’s remaining speeches aren’t quite as rousing, but they do portray the Brutes as being a much more fleshed out species than Bungie had ever done: in this area, 343 Industries has done very well, and admittedly, Escharum’s speech was actually one of the main reasons why I’d considered Halo Infinite as something to pick up shortly after launch.

  • Halo Infinite‘s Hunters are tougher than their predecessors: they’re now completely covered by armour plates, and like their predecessors, can deal as much damage as they can take. Careless players will burn through their entire ammunition supply without scratching one, so a bit of strategy is involved wherever Hunters are concerned. The easiest approach is to blast them with power weapons like the rocket launcher, or else focus fire on a specific spot to knock the armour plates off, then shoot the exposed areas. Players with vehicles can also deal damage to Hunters effectively, and making use of fusion cores in the area, in conjunction with the thrusters and grapple shot to get behind them, is also a viable trick.

  • The 2020 E3 demo portrayed Master Chief preparing to knock out one of the AA guns, but here in Halo Infinite‘s completed campaign, players will have a chance to go through all three of them. Because of the distances that separate the AA guns, walking between them can be a bit of a lengthy process. A vehicle makes all the difference here, and it is helpful to remember where one left their ride for this part of the campaign. Here, I take off in pursuit of an Elite major, whose dialogue can be seen on-screen: the enemies of Halo Infinite lack the menace they conveyed in Halo: Reach and Halo 4. In the earlier games, foes spoke their own tongues, but here in Halo Infinite, enemy dialogue is all rendered in English. Elites and Brutes have great lines, as do the Marines.

  • The dialogue from the Jackals is passable: they’re obsessed with whatever bonus money they’ll get from a job well done, but the lines do extend on their personalities. On the other hand, the Grunts are hilarious. Halo Infinite will gently mock players for dying to Grunts with comedic lines (“I’m alive and he’s not? It’s a miracle!”). However, the best line in the entire game comes from the propaganda towers: the Grunt running the show will ask about the WiFi password (implying the Banished have WiFi), and as the Master Chief destroys more towers, the Grunt will even try to plead with Master Chief about not destroying any more towers.

  • If it turns out that Halo Infinite was delayed so they could get these Grunt lines into the game, I’d be completely okay with that. Here, I’ve finished taking out all of the AA gun right as the morning sunrise allows light to fill the valley and glint off a large hexagonal construct in the distance. Hexagonal pillars dominate the landscape of Zeta Halo, and while the folks of Reddit are struggling to understand their significance, a little lore suggests that they’re the result of reconstructing Zeta Halo’s structure. These are placed first, and then terrain and vegetation is overlaid on top of it to create a natural environment. Their jutting appearance stands in stark contrast with the wilderness and serve to remind players that the Halo rings are artificial constructs.

  • Once all three guns are destroyed, Master Chief must face Tovarus and Hyperius, two Brutes bearing the Spartan Killer moniker will appear. Fighting one boss at a time is already challenging enough, so two seems outright impossible. However, I was able to survive this fight because Hyperius enters the fight on a Brute Chopper, and boss or not, it is possible to hijack his vehicle using the Grapple Shot. I thus seized the Chopper and used it to annihilate him, as well as his entourage, before focusing fire on Tovarus. Tovarus is armed with a scrap cannon and is lethal up close, but at a range, one can dodge his attacks while returning fire.

  • In the end, I used the Skewer to drop his shields, and then whittled his health down using the battle rifle. I’m not sure if it was a bug, or luck, but Tovarus used his jetpack and took refuge in the crashed wreckage of what appears to be a UNSC ship. After reaching the platform here, he remained there for the remainder of the match, and I ended up using the drop wall to create cover while hammering him with the battle rifle. Once the Spartan Killers are dealt with, Master Chief will speak with Esparza, who admits he’s no pilot, and compared to Master Chief, he’s a failure. Master Chief demonstrates the extent of his humanity and compassion here by talking to Esparza, who regains enough of his composure to decide that he’s willing to help Master Chief achieve their goals.

  • Once the anti-air guns are down, Master Chief will turn his attention to the second spire. However, the Harbinger has locked it down, and the Weapon must recreate the data sequence from Forerunner signals in order to decrypt its code in order to override the lockdown. My gut feeling told me that this was the best time to now focus on going around the open world and collect anything of value. For me, the main goal here was simply to finish all of the outposts, take down every last high value target, acquire all of the Spartan Cores and as much Valour as I could before pushing onwards with the missions.

  • While this task can seem quite daunting, the combination of air vehicles and fast travel actually makes things a lot smoother – I simply fast travel to a forward operating base, pick out a Wasp, and in moments, I’m in the skies, flying over streams, boulders and forests to the site of interest. When the Wasp isn’t available, a Banshee will also do in a pinch. The Banshee is faster than a Wasp and can be boosted, while the Wasp has better manoeuvrability and is easier to control. Both vehicles are great for taking players from point A to point B, but the Wasp’s ability to hover, and the fact it can be freely spawned at forward operating bases, makes it the vehicle of choice for me.

  • Because completing side quests like high value targets and outposts provides access to stronger gear, Halo Infinite appears to gently guide players down a path where the focus is to reach Pelican Down first, then take some time exploring the open world, before continuing on with the actual campaign itself. Players who choose to focus on the campaign and skip the open world aspects won’t necessarily be punished for it: the armour abilities are great, but at the end of the day, Halo Infinite is a first person shooter, and that means the skill that matters most is a steady aim and a well-practised trigger finger. I don’t imagine that having boosted shields or the best possible drop wall will be too helpful against Escharum or the Harbinger of Truth if one can’t even shoot straight.

  • Moments like these are why Halo Infinite absolutely excels in its single player experience: I’d just finished off a high value target in a field of red flowers and was left with one foe, standing in the middle of the clearing. A few rounds from the battle rifle was enough to wrap this mission up, and I’ve found that it is possible to take down a lower-ranking Brute in as little as one burst if one’s aim is true. Throughout the campaign, I’ve found the battle rifle to be my go-to weapon for almost any situation: one burst will finish a Grunt and any unshielded foe, and when paired in conjunction with a faster-firing weapon like the pulse carbine, players can be ready for most situations.

  • There’s actually an achievement for reaching the highest point available to Master Chief on Zeta Halo called “Nosebleed”, and I actually ended up unlocking it while exploring around for Mjolnir lockers near forward operating base delta. The fact that players can ascend the hills and cliffs speaks volumes to what’s possible, and I will note that even on my nine-year-old desktop, the fact that Halo Infinite looks as gorgeous as it does is an impressive feat, speaking volumes to the optimisations that went into making the game run well on a variety of hardware. Being nine years old, my desktop has been with me through many things, and to be honest, I’m surprised it continues to run as well as it does. With this being said, I have noticed that the CPU heats up a lot more quickly now than it did even two years ago, even with regular cleaning.

  • As such, while nothing is set in stone just yet, I do plan on building a new PC once I’ve had the chance to settle in to my new place. With the Intel twelfth generation CPUs out now, and motherboards becoming available, I’ll probably start shopping around for parts shortly after the move, and then pick out the parts. The criteria for this machine is simple: it needs to beat out a machine with the Ryzen 9 3900X and the RTX 2070, all the while staying under 1500 CAD (prior to warranty for mission critical components and the OS itself). I’ll elaborate on why this is the minimum I am building against in a later post and return to Halo Infinite: for the last outpost, I ended up calling in a Scorpion so I could dispense an unparalleled amount of destruction using the tank’s main cannon, making the outpost trivially easy to sort out.

  • While vehicles in Halo Infinite are powerful, they’re not invincible: here, I took the Wasp on over to the Myriad, a pair of Hunters with firepower far surpassing those of ordinary Hunters. Guides suggest using a Scorpion to deal with them, and while this is the most feasible way I can think of, I ended up improvising. My original goal was to use the Wasp’s rockets to whittle them down, and while this allowed me to take down one of the Hunters, I’d sustained a little too much damage and was forced to bail. Vehicles do make it clear when they’re about to explode, so I was able to escape in time, and with Master Chief’s luck, I managed to pick a rocket launcher from a dead Brute, using it to finish off the second of the Hunters.

  • The prize for defeating what are probably the toughest of the high value targets is a Backdraft Cindershot: this variant allows the Cindershot’s projectile to break down into explosive submunitions, making it great for clearing rooms out. I stopped to admire the jaw-dropping scenery of Zeta Halo before continuing on with my quest to upgrade my abilities and open up as many options as possible before heading into the next act of Halo Infinite. Having just passed the halfway point, I’m quite excited to see where everything is headed, and knowing that I have spent the time to earn a small edge means once I do continue, I’ll have the confidence in being prepared enough for whatever lies ahead in Halo Infinite.

At this point in time, the only things I have left to do in the open world is to deal with the remaining handful of high value targets, collect enough Spartan Cores to fully upgrade all abilities, and amass as many Mjolnir cosmetic upgrades as I can. Once this is done, I will continue with finishing off the story missions of Halo Infinite and consider both the latest instalment’s contributions to the franchise, as well as what this means for Halo. So far, the game has proven to be superb in all regards. The gameplay feels responsive, crisp and fresh. Movement is smooth, and the gunplay is visceral. Moreover, Halo Infinite runs well even on my aging desktop. During my time in Halo Infinite, I only experienced one crash, and this merely sent me back to my desktop, as opposed to blue-screening my computer. The optimisations that went into Halo Infinite are impressive; the game looks amazing, but it also runs extremely well on hardware that’s almost a decade old. With a more recent configuration, Halo Infinite would likely run even better. Quite simply, the game has been worth the cost of admissions, and I anticipate that altogether, I’ll get a grand total of around thirty hours out of Halo Infinite by the time I finish the campaign missions. While the lack of an ability to replay missions or co-op with friends, something that was possible in earlier Halo games, is a noticeable omission, I now fully appreciate why 343 Industries was not able include these features during launch. Halo Infinite‘s open world is vast, and tracking player positions for a smooth co-op experience would entail additional work, while the intrinsic open world approach in Halo Infinite similarly means that additional thought would need to be given towards how to best allow players to revisit missions they’ve previously completed. There is a great deal of precedence out there (e.g. The Division, Far Cry) for how to approach this, but owing to 343’s focus on delivering the best possible experience in the base game, one cannot fault them for wanting to leave these additional features on the “would be nice to have” list: I would much prefer to have a responsive movement system and good weapon handling available now, as opposed to a scenario where Halo Infinite had shipped with co-op and replayable missions that came at the expense of core mechanics like movement and weapons.

Sorairo Utility OVA Review and Reflection

“The difference between a good golf shot and a bad one is the same as the difference between a beautiful and a plain woman – a matter of millimetres.” –Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

After Minami spotted a lady at the local driving range, she became inspired to take up golfing in high school. On a warm summer’s day, she joins her friends, Ayaka and Haruka for a game, hoping to make par on at least one of the holes. However, while Ayaka and Haruka are a ways more proficient, Minami struggles to line up a drive down the fairway. Although she’s dejected by noon, after lunch, she decides to simple focus on playing an enjoyable game, and on the last hole, she manages to line up a shot that lands on the putting green, leaving her within one stroke of making par. However, nerves causes her to miss, but in the end, she still has fun anyways. This is Sorairo Utility (空色ユーティリティ, “Sky Blue Utility”), an anime short that is produced by Yostar Pictures promoting golf. During its fourteen minute long run, Sorairo Utility renders moments from a day spent on the golf course as Minami tries to achieve a personal goal, and despite encountering disappointment, once she finds her magic moment, is able to find new life in a game she’d taken up. This OVA was released on December 31 and was originally announced back in October, and despite its short length, still ends up being quite enjoyable to watch: for one, it’s deep blue skies and verdant grass as far as the eye can see. This stands in stark contrast with the weather we’ve got right now; back home, there’s a fresh snowfall, and Environment Canada is forecasting that the temperatures are going to dip right back into the minus twenties over the next few days.

Despite its short runtime, Sorairo Utility‘s manages to weave in a tale of finding one’s own inspiration and approach to things. Minami opens the day lacking confidence in her game. Her technique is rigid, and her posture is stiff. Every mistake seems to be a game-ender. However, after taking a funny photo with her friends, Minami decides to just wing it during the afternoon, and while having more fun, she ends up taking a suggestion from Haruka: to visualise the ball going where she wants, and imagine herself doing the technique that she wishes to do. Minami recalls a summer memory, where she’d spotted a lady doing a drive at the range. It turns out that watching the ball soar into the sky had led her to appreciate how blue it was, and this was her motivation for taking up golfing. Minami subsequently makes a fantastic drive, putting her ball right on the putting green; it’s the combination of both her own inspiration, in conjunction with suggestions from a better player, that helps Minami to make this shot. Sorairo Utility thus indicates that improving in anything is to accept assistance from the outside, and possessing the drive to get better from within. This is a relatively simple message that gives a bit more weight to Sorairo Utility, which is otherwise a basic, but still enjoyable portrayal of golf, a sport that I’m not terribly familiar with.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Sorairo Utility opens with an attractive lady practising her drives at a local range, and this sight is what leads Minami to take up golfing. With strong form, the woman drives a ball high into the blue sky, as straight as an arrow, and this is what inspires Minami to also give golfing a go. The scene is faded out, indicative of a flashback – in the present, the colouring is very vibrant, and the warmth can practically be felt through the screen. However, Minami’s game isn’t quite where she’d like it to be, and she wonders if buying better golf balls will help her.

  • When I first heard about it, I imagined that Sorairo Utility would be a twelve episode series about golf. Had this been the case, I would’ve wondered if it would be a series I would be able to consistently watch and write about: golf isn’t something I’m terribly interested in, but on the flipside, neither is fishing, and I thoroughly enjoyed Houkago Teibou Nisshi during its run. A few minutes into Sorairo Utility, and it became clear that the three characters, Minami, Ayaka and Haruka, are sufficiently colourful as to drive things.

  • Both Haruka and Ayaka are a ways more experienced than Minami; Haruka feels a great deal like Yama no Susume‘s Kaede and Super Cub‘s Reiko, while Ayaka reminds me of K-On!‘s Tsumugi. Minami, then, is the quintessential slice-of-life character; she’s energetic and outgoing, but also quick to become discouraged. These character archetypes are familiar, but also tried-and-true, forming the basics for what could be a full-fledged anime that I’d be interested in watching.

  • Were Sorairo Utility a full-sized anime, I imagine that it’d follow a very familiar pattern: Minami picks up golfing and is introduced to Haruka and Ayaka, participates in a tournament where she gets wiped out, then rediscovers why she’d picked things up in the beginning, and consents to join another tournament for the finale. Depending on the intended themes, anime such as this could have Minami losing again but having fun anyways, or otherwise perform better (e.g. placing in the top ten or third). Either way, she’d then look forwards to improving and continuing on.

  • For me, the outcomes of a given anime are secondary to the route it takes to get there. When one is familiar with the thematic elements inherent to a genre, things can become predictable very quickly, and while some folks count this as a strike against the genre, I find that the journey matters more than the destination. In something like Sorairo Utility, what Minami gets out of things is more important than what happens in the end.

  • Here, Minami attempts to putt the ball into the hole. Angles are properly used in Sorairo Utility to convey the different phases of golf, with sweeping shots shown for long drives, and close-ups for putts. Minami’s switched over to a putter her to make the close-range shots; golfers require several different kinds of clubs depending on where they are. The woods are the largest and meant to drive long-range shots. Irons are used for slightly shorter shots, or tee shots on short holes. Some golfers may prefer hybrids over long irons. Wedges, on the other hand, are used for approach shots, or for extrication from sand traps. Finally, the putter is a specialised club for knocking the ball into the hole itself.

  • For Minami, her problem seems to be that she’s too worried, and correspondingly stiff, to make fluid motions that would allow her drives to be straight. In spite of this, it doesn’t stop Haruka, Ayaka and Minami from having a bit of fun together – even though Minami is discouraged by her game, Haruka and Ayaka serve to brighten her day up considerably. Here, I remark that a lot of works feature golf; the sport’s popularity in North America comes from the fact that it is accessible (one can rent clubs, and on average, an 18-hole round costs around 45 CAD), as well as the fact that it is in a beautiful setting, is slow-paced, and provides good exercise, too.

  • The fact that golf is slow-paced makes it highly social event: in between holes, players can chat and hang out. Taken together, golf figures in everything from something like Ian Flemming’s Goldfinger, to Kevin Gillis’ The Raccoons. The former has James Bond facing Auric Goldfinger in a crooked golf game, and for film critics, this was one of the best golf scenes in any movie, as well as being a great opportunity to showcase the fact that Sean Connery himself was an avid golfer. Goldfinger has Bond outfoxing Goldfinger at the last hole when he catches the latter cheating, creating for one of cinema’s most iconic moments.

  • I’m guessing readers are less likely to be familiar with the golf segment of “Join The Club” in The Raccoons, during which industrialist Cyril Sneer attempts to gain admittance into a country club so he can level the playing field against business rival Mr. Knox, whose membership allows him to win over clients more easily. While Cyril ends up winning the golf game, he learns that some clubs aren’t worth belonging to and passes this along to Lisa Raccoon, who’s taken up smoking in a bid to fit in. The Raccoons was a surprisingly mature and well-written series despite being a children’s’ show, and while word is that there’s a remake in the works, I’ve not heard when it will begin airing just yet.

  • In Sorairo Utility, there’s no Nazi Gold at stake, and the players aren’t trying to win a golf tournament so they can be admitted to an exclusive country club – it’s just three friends, blue skies and open fairway. Here, Minami decides to keep a funny-looking self-portrait after Ayaka and Haruka laugh themselves silly, feeling that it might be good keepsake of the day.

  • Whereas Haruka and Ayaka might find Minami’s featureless expression hilarious, I personally enjoy moments such as these, when Minami sends yet another ball flying off-course, to a greater extent. There are no shortage of funny faces in Sorairo Utility, and about halfway into the episode, I became convinced that were this to be a full series, it would’ve likely have made the list of things I’d actively follow in a given season.

  • Over lunch, Minami orders a katsu bowl, leading the others to wonder if she’s having a bad day. This simple remark speaks volumes about the characters – to the very least, both Haruka and Ayaka know Minami well enough to guess how she’s feeling based purely on what she orders. However, a delicious meal does put the spirits back in Minami, and after lunch, Haruka notices that Minami’s more energetic than she had been during the morning. A good, hot meal can do wonders, and today was the sort of day where a hot meal is most welcome: I ended up using the leftover hot pot ingredients to make a simple but tasty ramen.

  • Par the course for an anime about golf, but featuring young women, Sorairo Utility also features some off-course antics, such as Minami messing with what appears to be a Cape Penguin. Sorairo Utility is probably one of the best-kept secrets of this current season, and despite not offering the same level of character development or presentation of golf as a full-scale series might, nonetheless manages to capture the spirit of golf and condense it down to a short. Some folks have wondered if Sorairo Utility was originally a 1-cour series that “went wrong in production”, resulting in this short film, but looking around, I’ve not found anything decisive to say this is the case.

  • What I did learn was that Sorairo Utility‘s director, Kengo Saitō, simply wanted to do something with golf: this project simply been the result of Saitō longing to animate golf, and looking around, he’s got a lot of golf-related sketches. Thus, rather than production problems, Sorairo Utility resulted from Saitō’s wishes being granted. The end result isn’t bad at all: everything is smoothly animated, and both character design and background artwork is solid. Saitō had previously been the animation director for Little Witch Academia and SSSS.Dynazenon, both of which proved successful, so I imagine that this OVA came about as a result of Yostar Pictures giving one of their directors a chance to fulfil a longstanding dream in recognition of his contributions.

  • To motivate Minami on the last hole, Haruka and Ayaka decide to show her the funny photo once more. Each of Minami, Haruka and Ayaka are voiced by relatively new voice actresses, although they are voice actresses who’ve got a few shows in their resume that I’m familiar with. Minami is voiced by Miyu Takagi (Miyu Okamoto of Wake Up, Girls!), Yurina Amami plays Haruka (Kayoko Hayakawa in Koisuru Asteroid), and Ayasa Goto voices Ayaka (Sachie Kaibara from PuraOre!). After the laughter subsides, Minami clears her mind and thinks back to the day that inspired her to take up golf.

  • With her ideal shot in mind, Minami swings, connects with the ball and sends it into the air, straight as an arrow. At 1080p, the ball is plainly seen, but even at this lower resolution, one can still roughly make the ball out; it’s a single speck on a backdrop of deep blue, evocative of a hot summer’s day. This is the perfect shot for Minami, one that lands her onto the putting green, and after the initial shock of making such a drive wears off, Minami is all smiles.

  • As Minami ultimately finds, being relaxed is what helps her to make this drive. That she’s working to improve her golf game brings back a classic moment from Rick and Morty‘s first season, where Jerry asks of a Meeseeks to help him take two strokes off his golf game. The Meeseeks suggest keeping his shoulders square, keep his head down and relax, but this is to no avail. Ordinarily, when given the right instruction, once one gets a feel for things, they’ll be able to replicate it more consistently until it becomes a part of their technique. The tricks that the Meeseeks suggested to Jerry are likely correct; when Haruka suggests that Minami relax, the results are immediately noticeable.

  • That Jerry is outplayed by an anime girl in golf proved most hilarious, and viewers can feel the same joy that Minami feels after she makes this shot. Even though Sorairo Utility is only an OVA, it’s clear that the production staff still treated the series with the appropriate respect and effort; the end result is enjoyable to watch because there is still a journey where one ends up rooting for Minami. In excitement, Minami decides to run off over to the putting green in lieu of taking the golf cart.

  • I certainly wasn’t expecting to write about a short this early into 2022, but I’m glad to have sat down and given Sorairo Utility a go. With this one in the books, I’ll be writing about Slow Loop next. I’ve decided that I’ll also be writing about Girls’ Frontline at this time, and once I’ve had a chance to watch Shuumatsu no Harem, I’ll have a more concrete decision as to whether or not I’ll be talking about that one. Tabi wa ni appears to be delayed; it was scheduled to begin running in December, but I’ve not heard any news about it at all. In between the seasonal anime, I’ve also begun watching Ishuzoku Reviewers and Maiko-san Chi no Makanai-san. Once I’ve taken a chance to get my blogging schedule sorted out for the start of this year, I anticipate that I’ll be writing about both come February.

  • To round things out, Ayaka, Minami and Haruka unwind in the onsen after their game, acting as a satisfying conclusion to this short. The theme song for Sorairo Utility is performed by HAM (Haruka, Ayaka and Minami): it’s a sunny-sounding piece called Love Theory, and the joyful aesthetics reminds me of the summer. While the summer itself is a full half year away, and despite the fact that this winter’s been forecast to be both colder and snowier than seasonal, experience shows that even the longest winter will give way to summer again. With this post in the books, it’s time to take the remainder of today easy before I return to work tomorrow; today is also Koisuru Asteroid day, the second anniversary to when Koisuru Asteroid began airing, and that means while it snows outside, I get to go back and begin rewatching this celebration of the sciences again in what has become a new tradition for me.

Sorairo Utility is yet another example of how anime can be a phenomenal medium for presenting topics that otherwise might not elicit much interest in viewers. While I’ve briefly golfed before, I’ve never found it to be a particularly exciting sport to watch (having been spoiled by things like the NHL). Similarly, I’ve gone fishing as a part of a class trip out to the west coast years earlier, but it wasn’t such a life-changing experience that I took it up as a hobby later. Neither golf or fishing, pastimes here in Canada, are things that I would have counted to be interesting. However, being able to watch its portrayal in anime has always been an enjoyable experience; while anime won’t always nail down every last detail as a technical manual or professional instruction might, its portrayal of the finer details and the fun characters have can make a given hobby feel considerably more enticing. Houkago Teibou Nisshi had done this in 2020 with its depiction of fishing, and here in Sorairo Utility, although we viewers only get a glimpse into things, the OVA has convinced me that there is nuance in golf that makes it worthwhile. This is why I’m so fond of anime that portrays real-world activities: even something like pottery, which is far removed from the set of what I’d normally partake in, can be made exciting through anime. This speaks both to the fact that every activity has subtleties that make them worthwhile for different people, as well as the fact that anime excel at bringing out the best parts of each activity.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Tamayura ~More Aggressive~, A Thank You For the Past Year and Welcoming the Brand New Year

“A year full of new encounters and wonderful experiences has come to a close. In its place, a new one has begun. I’m sure more encounters and wonderful experiences await.” –Fū Sawatari

It’s been a year since Fū returned to Takehara, and while Fū reminisces about all of the wonderful things that had happened in the past year, she is encouraged to try something new after Chihiro sends her a message. Fū ends up creating a new Photography Club at her high school and meets Kanae Mitani, who had taken a picture of Fū which ended up being featured in a magazine. Although Kanae is nervous about the club, Fū welcomes her with open arms, and seeing the photos leads Kanae to join. The Photography Club thus go on a range of experiences together. Fū and Kanae strive to find photos for a festival presentation, participate in a cherry blossom photography contest and even participate in a photography exhibit featuring Riho’s works, all the while retreading the scenery Fū’s father had once known. Chihiro and Tomo later visit Takehara, and Fū encounters one of her father’s old friends, Nozomu Natsumu, during the Path of Longing Festival; despite his cold manner, Fū is grateful to have met him and hear him speak of their time together as high school students. Kanae has come to greatly treasure her time spent with Fū and her frineds in the Photography Club, and suggests a trip over to Mitarai, where Maon had been planning on going to attend a concert. With the end of year fast approaching, Kaoru decides to host another We Exhibition: this time, everything will be organised based on the seasons, and although the event is a complete success, Kanae is saddened at the thought of having to part ways with everyone. During a New Year’s sunrise viewing with Fū and the others, Kanae finally allows her emotions out into the open, admitting she didn’t wish to graduate because Fū had done so much for her. In the new year, Fū’s celebrates her father’s birthday and goes to get her camera repaired, but begins thinking about how she’ll have to part ways with Kanae, Norie, Maon and Kaoru someday. To take her mind off things, Fū’s mother takes Fū out to the spot where her father had proposed to her and reminds Fū of how far she’d come. On graduation day, Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon attend to congratulate Kanae, who’s been accepted into her first post-secondary institution of choice. Looking back on the past year, Fū is immensely grateful to her parents, who’ve made all of these experiences possible. Having spent ~Hitotose~ rediscovering her passions, Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ lives up to its title by having Fū take a bold step forwards and leading her school’s photography club. The phrase is derived from Chihiro’s encouragement for Fū: to be more confident, assertive and decisive. Although she’s quite pensive about things initially, being able to start the photography club and make new memories with Kanae helps Fū to become more confident with herself, and in the process, the pair create irreplaceable memories.

Owing to the plethora of pleasant memories that Fū and Kanae share together during their time in the Photography Club, Kanae comes to realise that thanks to Fū’s determination, she was able to do the sorts of things that she’d only once dreamt of doing. Prior to meeting Fū, Kanae had primarily focused in landscape photography, and since she uses a digital camera, she deletes images that don’t turn out well. Conversely, Fū is fond of photographing the people around her, and a film camera means the mistakes are retained alongside the successful shots. While Fū is Kanae’s junior, her approach to photography is inspiring enough to lead Kanae to try new forms of photography, and she ends up gaining new perspective as a photographer. At the same time, Kanae is also able to spend time with Fū and her friends: the excursions that Kaori, Norie and Maon bring Fū and Kanae on become worthwhile photography outings, as well as a chance to learn more about the girl whose silhouette changed her world. These idyllic and enjoyable days feel as though they’ve come out of someone’s dream, and having not really lived quite so fully previously, Kanae comes to wish that such moments could last forever. Tamayura similarly creates a sentimental nostalgia during its run, creating a warming sense of comfort that one can find difficult to turn away from. However, as important as having these memories are, ~More Aggressive~ aims to convey to viewers that it is necessary to also turn one’s eyes to the future. While Kanae would’ve been happy living in the present, Fū’s outlook suggests that the only reason why new memories and moments can be made is because one takes the initiative of creating them. It is with an eye turned towards the future that the present can be enjoyed and shape the memories that one looks fondly back on, so for Kanae, a part of her time spent with Fū also entails finding the strength to part ways and take ahold of the future. In the end, as Fū had managed to take her first steps forward, Kanae is able to do the same: she’s got support from Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon, and so, is able to graduate with a smile on her face, ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. ~More Aggressive~ indicates plainly that so long as one has an open mind, the future will always hold the possibility of creating new experiences that one can add to their memories. Moreover, while people might part ways, the memories will always be a part of people who share time together: farewells aren’t always final, but it does take a bit of courage to take this step forwards. Fortunately, with great company in one’s corner, anything is possible: Kanae and Fū are able to do precisely this, and while they only spent a year together, the learnings and memories help both to look towards the future with optimism.

Because ~More Aggressive~ has Fū seizing the initiative to be a leader, it becomes clear that since ~Hitotose~, Fū is no longer just a passenger in life; during ~Hitotose~, Fū had maintained an open mind and accepted opportunities to learn more about Takehara and her friends. However, these events are instigated by those around her. Conversely, the decision to start a photography club signifies how Fū has both made peace with the past and found new joy in her life, enough now to want to share her feelings and expressions with others through photography. Although Fū remains nervous, she also gradually becomes more confident in communicating her thoughts to others: at ~More Aggressive~‘s beginning, she is unable to articulate the Photography Club’s functions to others and botches her introduction at the club president meetings, but as she accepts opportunities to perform at festivals, participate in contests and even submit work for a professional exhibition, Fū finds her footing and is able to guide Kanae, too. Fū is no longer a mere passenger at the end of ~More Aggressive~, becoming a driver possessing a better sense of where she’s interested in going. It is though a combination of support from friends and family, as well as Fū’s own resilience and open-mindedness that allow her to reach this point: as Fū’s mother tearfully notes, Fū was able to do all of this of her own accord, welcoming people into her life and embracing all aspects of life, both the good and bad, as they come. This is consistent with how Fū approaches photography: she keeps all shots whether or not they turned out well, and this symbolises both the enjoyment of happier moments, as well as being mindful of learning moments. The sum of these learnings are valuable to Fū, but they also have a tangible impact for those around her: Kanae’s entry into the Photography Club is a turning point in her own life. While she’d been worried about having no drive or direction for the future, Fū and her friends, plus all of the people in their networks, help Kanae to spot something that hadn’t been obvious: people live life at their own pace, find inspiration at their own pace and cast off towards their future at their own pace. There isn’t any need to worry about what others are doing; so long as one can find their own footing, they’ll be fine. Meeting a more confident, capable and aggressive Fū ends up changing Kanae’s world for the better, as well, and in this way, ~More Aggressive~ absolutely does live up to its title, bringing into Tamayura a dash of confidence, knowledge transfer and exciting new opportunities that only result from a combination of friendship, family and an open mind.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Unlike ~Hitotose~, I actively wrote about ~More Aggressive~ after its airing concluded. As the story goes, after I graduated from the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, I became melancholy as all of my friends were going their separate ways, and a one-in-a-hundred year flood ravaged my province, in turn removing my chance to hang out with friends and do a kokuhaku. I did receive an NSERC USRA and ended up building a peer-to-peer simulation, which allows different computers to focus on computing results for one area of the body, and then transmit this data to a peer on the network so that each machine could also see results from the other groups. However, this was punctuated by melancholy that seemed quite far removed from the beautiful weather we had following the flood, and I lost motivation to watch anime.

  • For no good reason other than for my amusement, I’ll showcase a moment with Kaoru and her shapely legs while she’s chatting on the phone with Chihiro: Kaoru, Norie and Maon had all noticed that Fū seemed off her game, even more so than usual. Having known Fū for so long, Chihiro reassures Kaoru it’s fine, and that this tends to happen when Fū is making a big decision. It speaks volumes to the support that Fū’s had from her friends over the past year, and that Fū is contemplating something big shows that she’s come very far since returning to Takehara.

  • Because my post on ~Hitotose~ didn’t once have a screenshot of Momoneko-sama, I’ve decided to include one here to compensate for that oversight. Fū’s tendency to get lost in the moment whilst search of a good photo creates comedy, although on this morning, her friends aren’t convinced that Fū’s her usual self. After some coaxing, Fū finally makes it known that she wanted to start a photography club at her high school, even though the path to kicking off such a club would require a bit of work. This decision shows that Fū’s now wanting to share her joys with others, the same way her father’s photos touched the hearts of many. In retrospect, I might’ve benefited from watching ~More Aggressive~ while it was airing: I finally started in September, when my open studies term began.

  • While ~More Aggressive~ did help me to relax, the melancholy I found myself amidst meant that I ended up missing the series’ main themes. The approach of winter, and thoughts of a wasted summer left me in a depression, and I found myself longing to be somewhere like Takehara whilst lamenting the shortening days and cold weather. I’ve always wished to revisit ~More Aggressive~ under happier circumstances, and as such, after I watched ~Hitotose~, I figured that, rather than waiting for September 2023 to do a ten-year anniversary reflection, I figured now would be a good time to go back through ~More Aggressive~. This time around, I feel that I got more out of ~More Aggressive~ than I did eight years earlier.

  • For Kaoru, Norie and Maon, concern turns to excitement as they cheer on Fū’s efforts to run her new club after Kazutarō pulls some strings and manages to secure approval for the Photography Club. However, it’s not easy-street just yet: besides needing to attend club president meetings and give an introduction in front of the entire school to explain her club’s functions, Fū must also recruit for new members. Things become more complicated after Mutsuko Shimokamiyama, a new instructor whom Kazutarō has asked to advise for the Photography Club, becomes excited about photography competitions and shows a magazine sporting a photo that Kanae Mitani, one of the seniors, had taken.

  • While Kaoru, Norie and Maon become worried that Kanae might show up to challenge Fū’s Photography Club, they decide to help Fū out in whatever way they can: during one club meeting, Kanae does show up, but promptly leaves. As it turns out, Kanae is very similar to Fū in disposition, and she’d simply been too nervous to ask about joining that day. These sorts of misunderstandings create the impression that Kanae is disapproving of the Photography Club where in reality, nothing of the sort holds true. I imagine that seeing Fū’s friends also would’ve left a lasting impression on Kanae: while they’re somewhat clumsy, they’re also well-meaning and kind.

  • Kazutarō had only a limited presence in ~Hitotose~ outside of the classroom, but his puns are supposed to be legendary in terms of how bad they are. While a bit hot-blooded, he also cares greatly for his students, and goes out of his way to assist them however he can. ~Hitotose~ had suggested that Kazutarō has a crush on Chimo, and he goes out of his way to impress her however he can. As a teacher, Kazutarō is also highly competent in spite of his bad puns. He ends up suggesting that she participate in a local festival to improve her confidence, and Fū accepts, feeling that it’s a fine chance to also get word out about the Photography Club.

  • Without Norie, Kaoru and Maon around, Kanae is able to share a one-on-one conversation with Fū, clearing up the confusion that had arisen during their first meeting. Kanae is voiced by Ai Kayano, whose resume includes GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hoto and Saori Takebe from Girls und Panzer. It turns out that Kanae had long wanted to meet the wistful-looking girl from her photo; Kanae normally prefers shooting landscapes, but had always hesitated when it came to human subjects. Under the Path of Longing that night, Kanae was filled with a desire to take this moment, and this single photograph would set her on a course to meet Fū, showing how certain moments can bring people together in unforeseeable, but ultimately meaningful ways.

  • With Kanae now a member of the Photography Club, activities entail shooting photos around their school. Kanae is impressed that Fū is able to simply walk up to people and ask them for permission before taking a picture. Fū herself has never realised it, but when she’s in her element, she’s very composed and confident. Kanae herself begins ~More Aggressive~ more timid than Fū had been. Spending time with Fū helps her to mature and become, in the series’ words, “more aggressive”. This phrase sounds a little unusual in English, and I imagine that it’s a bit of wasei-eigo: in the context of Tamayura, it simply means “more confident and assertive”.

  • On the day of the festival, Kazutarō burns his hands while serving customers, leaving him unable to play the guitar. Chimo was originally set to sing for the presentation, but since she’s busy tending to Kazutarō, this leaves Fū and Kanae to go ahead with the show themselves. While they’re initially embarrassed to sing a modified version of MomonekoOndō, they soon find their rhythm and begin performing more earnestly, impressing the crowd with both the show and photo display. This moment shows that when it comes down to it, both Fū and Kanae can do what they set their hearts to. During this time, Fū also becomes curious about a photo of a blossoming cherry tree that her father had taken years ago.

  • Fū’s mother explained that their father had planted one for her, and one for Kō, when each had been born, then left the location a mystery so that he could one day take them to find them. While this would never happen, on the day of the performance, Kō and Komachi had ended up following Momoneko-sama to the trees. Overjoyed, Fū takes a photo of the moment, and finds the tamayura phenomenon in the resulting photo. That Fū and her friends end up finding these cherry trees on their own is a superb metaphor for Fū’s learning to support herself in the aftermath of her father’s passing, and this moment is a particularly momentous one, since the coveted tamayura make an appearance.

  • From a technical perspective, tamayura are better known as backscatter: this normally occurs when camera flash picks up airborne particles like dust or pollen, or matter on the camera lens, creating artefacts in the resulting image. While such artefacts are typically seen as undesirable, Tamayura changes this and supposes that what would normally be counted as a defect is in fact, a blessing in disguise. This particular interpretation of backscattering speaks strongly to the themes in Tamayura and reminds viewers that what’s unexpected, or even unwanted, can actually be beneficial, creating memories and experiences far exceeding one’s original expectations.

  • When Mutsuko asks if Fū and Kanae are interested in participating in a cherry blossom photography contest, both accept with enthusiasm, but are troubled by the fact that since it’s so late in the year, most of the cherry blossoms have fallen off the tree. Kanae is understandably disappointed, but Fū manages to turn the day into a chance for exploration. After the two swing by Café Tamayura, they run into Sayomi, who damaged her Mazda 5 and is working to earn enough to pay for the repairs. She agrees to take them to a special spot where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

  • On the day of the excursion, while Sayomi’s banner causes Kaoru and Norie no small amount of embarrassment, the spot she brings everyone to is nothing short of breathtaking. Fū and Kanae take many wonderful photos here, and although Mutsuko is shocked to learn that the deadline for the competition had long passed, both Fū and Kanae ended up having a wonderful time anyways. A longstanding lesson from Tamayura that I still find myself in need of mastering is precisely this: things don’t always go according to plan, but sometimes, surprises end up creating something that far exceeds expectations.

  • During the summer vacation, Fū hits the beaches alongside Kanae, Kaoru, Norie and Maon. A quick look around finds that, while there aren’t any beaches within walking distance of Takehara, islands within the Seto Inland Sea host some pleasant beaches. During the summer, the Seto Inland Sea can become quite warm and reach temperatures of above 20°C, making it perfect for swimming. Fū is more interested in photographing the sights of the beach. If I had to guess, they’re at Ōkushi Beach on the western edge of Osaki-Kamizima Island owing to the presence of mountains.

  • Riho unexpectedly appears with one Harumi Kawai, who knows of Fū’s father through their work together. From what ~More Aggressive~ shows, Harumi was Fū’s father’s junior at work, and this reveals that Fū’s father was a travel agent. Much about Fū’s father remains unknown in Tamayura, and a part of the series’ joys was watching Fū slowly learn more about him through all of the people whose lives he’d touched in some way. It turns out that Harumi and Riho have a surprise planned out for Fū: back in Takehara, they invite her to join them on a trip to Onomichi, a town about 30 kilometres east of Takehara, where Harumi plans on looking around for spots that could be worth including on a tour of the area. While Harumi suggests that she wants Fū’s perspectives to help guide things, she and Riho actually do have another reason for suggesting this trip.

  • Par the course for any outing in Tamayura, ~More Aggressive~ shows how the smaller moments and the unexpected can prove more enjoyable than what was originally planned. Harumi conveys this to Fū: back when they’d worked together, Harumi had been quite the stickler for plans and during their first assignment together, Harumi had promptly shot down Fū’s father and his plans to wander off the beaten track. This part of Fū’s father is imparted in Fū: both share a love of wandering and exploring, and here, I note that I’m quite similar to Harumi in that I prefer following a plan, but if something crops up that causes me to go off-mission, I’m able to roll with it. This happens frequently when I go for strolls nearby, but I’ve also done something quite similar during a trip to Kelowna and Penticton with the family two years earlier.

  • We hadn’t planned on half of downtown Penticton being closed on the day we visited, and I only was able to find one restaurant that was open, Bellevue Café. We thus spent the morning exploring the SS Sicamous before enjoying a brunch here, where I ordered their huevos rancheros. On the same day, after I had planned out a trip to a honey farm in Kelowna, I was surprised to find the big farm had closed for the day. A bit of quick thinking allowed me to find another place to visit, and that particular vacation ended up being super relaxing. I still could improve on my adaptability to changing situations, but I do think that compared to the me of eight years earlier, I’m a ways better now. Tamayura is a love song to the Setouchi region and its immense beauty: the Seto Inland Sea’s regulating effect on temperatures means the whole area has a moderate climate and consistent temperatures year-round.

  • The climate of the area is, in short, perfectly suited for providing Fū with an unending stream of opportunities to discover and explore, although looking back, I would imagine that no matter where Fū had been in Japan, with the right people beside her, Tamayura would’ve conveyed its messages all the same. Between Harumi’s knowledge of destinations and Riho’s professional photography skills, the work gets finished on short order, and this in turn allows for Harumi to focus on what they’d come to Onomichi for beyond her work obligations. The day had been quite special, as Fū was able to learn a little more about the work her father had done, as well as check out some of Onomichi’s sights. However, there’s actually quite a pleasant surprise around the corner for Fū, as well.

  • Riho and Harumi bring Fū to a local bakery with some superbly fresh and delicious looking breads: while such breads are usually associated with breakfasts or lunch, I have picked up a few meat buns and pizza buns and calling it dinner during times where I couldn’t sit down to a standard dinner. In Tamayura, food plays a significant role – whether it be the okonomiyaki at Hoboro’s, or the sweets Norie creates, food adds another dimension to a memory; Fū will forever recall the bread she enjoys before heading over to their last destination for the day. For me, ~More Aggressive~ reminds me most of the poutines I had on campus while the food trucks were over during my time as a student. I still remember watching ~More Aggressive~‘s finale in 2013 with Waffle & Chix’s legendary Fried Chicken Poutine in hand, and since then, I’ve become somewhat of a poutine connoisseur.

  • It turns out that the big surprise that Harumi and Riho had planned for Fū was to take her to a Bed and Breakfast run by an older couple who’d known Fū’s father. Long ago, the couple’s children had moved out, and they’d wanted to start a Bed and Breakfast, but things had seemed quite difficult. While Fū’s father and Harumi were in Onomichi, they ended up visiting, and during a conversation, Fū’s father made was once a seemingly outlandish idea feel more and more like a reality. This moment is particularly touching, in showing the positive impact Fū’s father had on those around him – for Fū, it’s the surest sign that even though her father is gone from this world, the wonderful things he contributed to endure.

  • More so than even ~Hitotose~~More Aggressive~ is a celebration of Fū’s father’s life, and bringing Fū to this particular Bed and Breakfast was meant to show the owners Fū is doing well. It’s a bit of an emotional moment, and for Fū, the day ends up being memorable both because it shows how things like a positive spirit and photography can bring dreams to life in unforeseeable ways, as well as how kindness connects people together. Through Harumi, Fū also learns about what her father had done for a living, and in retrospect, being a travel agent is something that someone with a keen eye for creating memories would be suited for. In turn, Fū provides feedback to Harumi and suggests that the best tour experiences seem to come from allowing people to connect with one another through open-ended events: this outcome helps Harumi structure a more enjoyable tour, and ~More Aggressive~ indicates that one act of kindness always deserves another.

  • Once Fū’s back in Takehara, their next major adventure comes when Sayomi offers to drive Fū and her friends all the way over to Shioiri so that they can meet up with Chihiro and Tomo. This drive is not a joke: a quick glance finds that the fastest possible route has a road distance of 775 kilometres and requires around ten hours and eighteen minutes to complete. To put things in perspective, this would be equivalent of driving from my hometown to Regina, Saskatchewan, one province over. The main difference is that our highways have a much higher speed limit, and a distance that would take over ten hours in Japan is something we can cover in three quarters of the time.

  • This speaks to Sayomi’s incredible endurance, although folks wondering about whether or not her Mazda 5 can handle this shouldn’t worry: the Mazda 5 is a brilliant vehicle. Conversely, when Sayomi does arrive in Shioiri near Chihiro’s place, inattentiveness causes her to nearly hit a brick wall, and she manages to stop only just in time. Having driven now for over a decade, I appreciate that ~More Aggressive~ is exaggerating Sayomi’s poor driving habits for comedy’s sake, but this is the sort of thing I complain about vociferously whenever I encounter it. Fortunately for her, Kaoru and the others are on hand to, similarly vociferously, make it clear that they’re not happy about Sayomi’s driving. These funny faces are particularly funny, and Maon’s expression here actually brings to mind the likes of ARIA‘s Akari Mizunashi.

  • For Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon, it’s great to see Chihiro again. This time around, Chihiro brings Tomo, and while Tomo had been similarly shy, once she opened up to Chihiro, she chatted away like a tree full of birds. Like Norie, Tomo has a very boisterous personality, although both express themselves differently: Norie tends to squeal in joy, while Tomo asks a seemingly endless stream of questions. Although Tomo seems conscious of this, everyone around her is quite understanding of this and do their best to answer her questions where they can. It becomes clear that everyone gets along as well as peas in a pod might, and once the introductions are done, Tomo and Chihiro take everyone on a tour of Shioiri’s best spots that only locals might know about, including a burger joint that serves burgers worthy of Big Jud’s in Boise, Idaho.

  • That Fū is able to share her thoughts so candidly is another not-so-subtle sign that she’s recovered much of her original spirits. When Tomo asks Fū, Fū is able to be truthful about things, and in this way, Fū is able to help Tomo connect better to her, as well. This sort of sincerity is one of the details that made ~More Aggressive~ so enjoyable to watch. During my first experience of the series some eight years earlier, I commented on how I found the atmospherics to be highly relaxing, but otherwise, didn’t really touch on the themes and small details that really added to Tamayura. I’ll take a bit of time to reflect on my younger self and note that this was because back then, I was a ways more immature and less attuned for these details.

  • According to those older posts, I was in the middle of applying for medical school at the time (I didn’t outright say so, but back then, I held aspirations for a career in medicine). In these posts, my younger self gives every impression that having Tamayura around was simultaneously helpful in allowing me to unwind and, for the duration of an episode, not worry about what the applications’ outcomes would be, but at the same time, it also reminded me of how much I had missed out on during the summer after I graduated. I write at length lamenting how I wasn’t able to travel. Looking back, I was being very ungrateful. That summer, I did end up heading out over to Jasper and Edmonton during late August for a short, but still relaxing and enjoyable trip, during which I picked up the fourth volume of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan while waiting for a table to open up at The Keg.

  • The me of today knows better, and this is one of the reasons why during the past two years, the inability to go places hasn’t really affected me anywhere as strongly: rather than lament what I can’t do, I’ve focused all of my efforts towards bettering my own situation. This time around, I’m happy to say that my efforts are purely for myself, and in this way, I feel that I was able to apply the lessons from Tamayura to my life more wholly than I had eight years earlier. As it was, being able to go back and rewatch ~Hitotose~~More Aggressive~ has given me the chance to enjoy both series anew: especially in the case of ~More Aggressive~, I feel that I’ve gotten a great deal more out of Tamayura this time around. Going through ~More Aggressive~ again also means that at present, I feel like I’m really able to say I made peace with some of the things I regretted in the past.

  • I suppose this is appropriate: this is, after all, a New Year’s post, and entering 2022, there is much to be grateful for, and much to look forwards to. Back in ~More Aggressive~, during a sparkler competition during the summer festival, Fū is able to experience anew the feelings she had when her father had photographed her during said competition. This side of Fū was one I never expected to see, and as such, knowing that Fū also has a talent for remaining so perfectly still that her movement is imperceptible, adds new dimensionality to her character. In the end, Fū only reaches the quarter finals, but she still has a wonderful time and shows her friends that past memories are a source of inspiration for her now, rather than a cause for grief.

  • Chihiro accompanies Fū back home to Takehara, where she meets Kanae and Mitsuko for the first time. The fireworks photos that Fū had taken turned out quite blurry, and while both Kanae and Fū are discouraged, Fū ultimately picks up a few tips from Riho (use a low ISO, a small to mid-range focal length and turn the flash off), and Riho invites Fū to participate in a photography exhibit she’s presenting in. Fū feels that she has to earn her place at something of this calibre and promises that, if she can shoot good fireworks photos, then she would submit something for the exhibit.

  • When she and Chihiro recall a promise they’d made as children, where they’d try to find a secret spot Fū’s father once brought them to, they express an interest in taking another stab at finding it. However, Kanae had accepted one of Sayomi’s invitations for a random adventure, and Sayomi ends up pulling everyone aside to a spot far from the festival, from which to watch the fireworks. Despite the show being much smaller, Chihiro feels that this is the spot Fū’s father had been thinking of. The two shed tears at the thought of having been fortunate enough to fulfil a long-standing promise, and ultimately, both Fū and Kanae end up with good fireworks photos.

  • Ever since Fū started the Photography Club, her second year back in Takehara has progressed at a breakneck pace, and even in a series as laid-back as Tamayura, time is flying. Autumn soon arrives, bringing with it the Path of Longing festival, and as yet another reminder of how Fū is more proactive now, she and her friends are active participants now, helping to set the event up so that others may enjoy it. Here, Fū and Kanae make one of the bamboo shoots festival ready by drilling their patterns into it, and the choice of art they provide mirror on their being thankful about all of the people in their lives.

  • At Hinomaru’s shop, Fū gets her latest batch of developed photos back. The focus on showing how Fū and her friends spend appreciating ordinary moments like these exemplify how Tamayura places a great deal of worth on everyday occurrences that we take for granted, acting as a reminder to treasure them because nothing can last forever. Even the act of going to a shop in order to get film developed is now something from a bygone era: I vividly remember that in the early 2000s, digital cameras were just coming onto the scene, and in their excitement, my parents bought one, but never bought a proper memory card for it, so said digital camera could only hold around 32 photos in its internal memory. The image quality was also eclipsed by regular film, so the digital camera became more of a novelty. A few years later, digital cameras with an acceptable 4 MP resolution began appearing, and that was when we finally switched over.

  • Nowadays, the average smartphone sports a 12-16 MP back camera, and using onboard algorithms, can take stunning photos. The world has changed dramatically, and the act of sharing photos has now gone from going to a print shop and ordering prints to mail to friends, to throwing them up onto WhatsApp or FaceTime. In this way, the world shown in Tamayura is also a bit of a love letter to an older time, when things were slower and people could really enjoy being in the moment. Upon returning to Café Tamayura, Fū and her friends run into Nozomu Natsume, a severe-looking man who was friends with Fū’s father and Hinomaru back when they were high school students. He’d come to Tamayura to meet Fū, but his blunt manner swiftly angers Kanae: when he critiques the composition of Fū’s photos, Kanae can no longer hold back and counters that there’s a joy in Fū’s photos.

  • However, Fū’s mother points out (likely for out benefit) that Nozomu’s always found it tricky to properly express how he feels about things. To take their mind off things, Fū and Kanae spend the day photographing the Path of Longing, and here, they run into Riho, who’s attempting to capture an image of Momoneko-sama. However, even with her professional experience, a DSLR camera and remote shutter release, Momoneko-sama eludes her best efforts at a photograph. It’s something that further ties Fū together with Riho, being a reminder that there are some subjects that can elude one’s desire to capture, regardless of their skill level, and but this isn’t something to lament.

  • Fū and Kanae head back over to Hoboro with Riho, where they run into Nozomu. When Chimo overhears Nozomu commenting he’ll probably go somewhere else for dinner because the taste of the okonomiyaki he once knew might have changed, she storms out and dares him to at least try the classic okonomiyaki before commenting. In the end, Nozomu finds himself eating his words; Chimo’s creation perfectly matches the okonomiyaki he once remembered. With dinner over, Nozomu offers to cover everyone’s bills, before everyone heads out to take in the gently-lit streets of Takehara’s old town during the Path of Longing festival.

  • As it turns out, Nozomu still fondly recalls his time as a student, indicating that back in those days, he, Hinomaru and Fū’s father had done some pretty bone-headed things together. He apologises to Fū for not being able to offer anything more substantial, but for her, being able to hear about how her father had always been free-spirited and lived his love to the fullest extent possible. It turns out that Nozomu had been glad to finally meet Fū in person, and he asks that she keep on photographing the way she does now. Although people count me as being quite personable, I sometimes do find it hard to express myself, as Nozomu does, and while this does appear to be a shortcoming, Fū’s mother comments on how the harsher Nozomu sounds, the more he’s struggling to put his feelings into words.

  • From what we’ve seen, then, it’s easy to spot that Nozomu greatly misses Fū’s father, and likely refers to him in a distant manner to avoid recalling the grief from his passing, as well. Seeing that his spirit lives on in Fū gives Nozomu something to smile about. Nozomu is yet another example of how patience is vital towards understanding someone: whereas Kanae and Norie struggle owing to outward appearances, Fū’s gentle and patient disposition means that she is able to speak openly with Nozomu, allowing him to open up, as well. Admittedly, this is a skill that I am always in the middle of learning; it’s all too easy to make assumptions about others without making an effort to understand their own circumstance and thoughts, but as I am shown, both in reality and through works like Tamayura, there is always a story behind people worth listening to, and that, upon listening, one may find that people can be more similar, than different, to oneself.

  • When Kanae realises that there is a finite amount of time between the present and her graduation, she is seized with a desire to do a photography trip. Towards ~More Aggressive~‘s final acts, the focus shifts over to Kanae, who has come to cherish the time she’d spent with Fū and the others. Having seen the level of passion and sincerity that each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon pursue their interests, Kanae begins to feel a little left behind, as well. The photography trip ultimately becomes a larger experience when Kaoru determines they’ll be hosting another We Exhibition, and Maon’s parents invite everyone to Mitarai for a concert.

  • Kanae’s feelings are something that I’m sure everyone has experienced at some point in their lives; there are days where it can seem like everyone around one has a concrete, well-defined game plan for their future, where as one does not, and for Kanae, she’s also envious of the fact that everyone had a pivotal moment that encouraged them to start on things. However, ~Hitotose~ did indicate that while people pursue their own goals, they may also lose sight of the progress they’ve made, especially if they’ve not reached that goal yet. A major part of things as the New Year approaches is Kanae coming to terms with the fact that graduation is inevitable.

  • I certainly felt as lost as Kanae did eight years earlier; being in open studies was my gap year, and in the moment, it did feel as though I was spinning my tires. In retrospect, that particular gap year ended up setting the stage for my graduate studies work. During the winter term, I enrolled in an iOS class after speaking to my supervisor about my unsuccessful medical school applications, and in that class, I worked on creating a navigation system for a mobile version of the lab’s game engine. This project was quite unrelated to what I would work on in graduate school, but my supervisor ended up using it as a demo for Jay Ingram to show how we could do 3D fly-throughs of anatomical structures. Jay subsequently asked, could the same be done for the brain using a newer, more efficient game engine?

  • I was tasked with finding the answer using Unity, and within a week, I had not only found the answer was “yes”, but I’d also put a prototype together. This laid the groundwork for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, which itself would form the basis for my thesis work. From a career standpoint, this was the turning point, the milestone that Kanae had been seeking out. She ends up speaking with Kaoru and Norie, as well as Maon’s parents, and from the latter, she gets an answer chock-full of wisdom: people hit their milestones when they hit them, and there’s no need to rush things, because everyone’s different. Maon’s father compares it to waiting for the tides; everyone will set sail eventually, but different people set sail at different times. Kanae is encouraged, and comes to realise her magic moment was when she decided to take the plunge and join Fū’s Photography Club.

  • While out and about with Fū earlier, Kanae had encountered a beautiful girl with raven hair singing a song. When this girl spots Kanae, she greets her with a smile before continuing on with her song. Later at the concert, Kanae is surprised to learn that the girl she encountered is actually the performer. As far as I can tell, she’s never named in Tamayura, but the credits lists her as being voiced as Micco, a member of the two-person band Marble. Micco provides the vocals, and on stage, Tatsuya Kikuchi provides the acoustic guitar. I would imagine that the singer’s likeness is to Micco.

  • Maon is overcome with emotion: it turns out this singer is who had inspired her to one day perform at Otome-za, and it can only be described as fate that she’s able to see this singer perform again. To be able to see such a show in the presence of those most important to her is greatly inspiring for Maon, and in this moment, I couldn’t help but feel the warmth, too, attesting to how well Tamayura is able to convey emotions to viewers. Curiously enough, the song she sings here, 希望のカタチ (Hepburn Kibō no katachi, literally “The Shape of Hope”), is Kaoru’s image song. The Tamayura OST is filled to the brim with warm, sentimental and nostalgic songs that have brightened up my day.

  • Having taken several photographs they’re both proud of, Fū and Kanae end up submitting several to Riho’s exhibition. It is clear that Fū and Kanae’s craft have both improved enough so that they feel confident enough to accept an invitation to showcase their work alongside that of a professional. Towards the end of ~More Aggressive~, the pacing accelerates greatly, and afterwards, the We Exhibition is hosted. Something I failed to notice previously was the fact that Kaoru had done a theming this time around: the showcases are all designed around the seasons of Takehara, with sights, scents and tastes surrounding each of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Kaoru has evidently upped her game with this second We Exhibition; it’s more organised and bolder than the first.

  • This time around, Kanae and Komachi are both present to help out, and even Chihiro sends over a special tapestry that she’d made with Tomo, depicting each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon in their element. Reflecting the girls’ confidence, this second We Exhibition sees a full house from the very moment it opens, and ~More Aggressive~ spends less time on things, showing how once everyone’s gotten things down, the event proceeds very smoothly. Fū and Kanae are both able to speak of their photographs, Kaoru feels more at home in talking about her potpourri techniques, Norie’s more confident in showcasing her sweets, and Maon’s story is something attendees look forward to.

  • The second We Exhibition feels almost like a side note, secondary to the growth each of Fū, Kanae, Kaoru, Norie and Maon have had: whereas the path to the first We Exhibition had its share of challenges, this time around, things proceed more smoothly, and Fū is able to even include Komachi and Kō’s participation right from the start to create a more cohesive experience for attendees. The second We Exhibition thus feels bigger, more polished and reflect a year’s worth of progress, but at the same time, viewers see a little less of things, too, to show that at this point in time, everyone’s grown enough so putting on an event like this is straightforward.

  • For me, the We Exhibitions have always represented the act of seizing the initiative to do something memorable, and in doing so, came to serve as the culmination of a year’s worth of experiences for Fū and her friends. However, by definition, the nature of the We Exhibition means that Fū has not only made these personal discoveries, but on top of this, is sharing her experiences with the community. By giving back to Takehara, the We Exhibition is the ultimate way of saying thank you to Takehara and its residents for having been an essential part of their journey.

  • This year, Kanae joins Fū and her friends on their New Year’s Eve Shrine visit while Fū’s mother and grandmother speak with Maon’s parents about how far everyone’s come, and how in supporting one another, everyone’s been able to elevate one another to new heights. After praying for another wonderful new year, the girls return to Café Tamayura for some rest. Fū and Kanae spend some time reflecting on the past year, bringing tears to Kaoru, Norie and Maon’s eyes: that Fū was able to shape someone else’s life so profoundly was the surest sign that she’s able to fully stand on her own, and her friends are filled with indescribable joy at this. However, the moment’s calm is shattered when Sayomi shows up with another adventure in mind.

  • Unlike the previous year, where her lethal driving sent her Mazda 5 over a ditch, this time around, Sayomi’s decided to go for an ocean sunrise instead. Compared to the screenshot I had in my original discussion for ~More Aggressive~, this sunrise is far sharper, far richer in colour. My old screenshots look positively drab and faded by comparison. This comes as a result of my using the BDs as a source for my images, but the improved image quality can also be a metaphor for the fact that I return to ~More Aggressive~ with a much different outlook on life, and for this, my resulting experience was far more colourful.

  • The prospect of a new year fills everyone with joy, but it is here that Kanae realises that now that the We Exhibition is in the books, she must turn her eyes towards her own future. Not wanting the year to arrive, Kanae bursts into tears and admits that she’d wanted these joy-filled days with Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon to last forever. Tamayura had held the viewers’ hands throughout its run and made it feel as though we were there alongside everyone, every step of the way. The tears Kanae shed here feel correspondingly tangible, and I was gripped with a wish that Tamayura wouldn’t end, either. Such a moment is befitting of a finale, but ~More Aggressive~ chose to show this as yet another moment to remember: the finale is set during the spring, around Kanae’s graduation.

  • Three months later, Fū and her friends celebrate Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Day), a religious festival in which ornate dolls are laid out to celebrate marriage and family. Fū’s camera has malfunctioned, and she’s taken it in for repairs, so on this Hinamatsuri, there’s no chance to capture photos. This leaves Fū to enjoy the day through her own eyes, a befitting message for ~More Aggressive~‘s finale. Here, Kō and Komachi show up, much to Norie’s chagrin. Kanae appears shortly after with her trademark Pentax Q, intent on photographing everything in sight.

  • As it turns out, Kanae’s made it into her first choice of post secondary and is now awaiting graduation. She’s all smiles now, and the others are happy to hear that Kanae is doing well. The girls subsequently swing by Hoboro, where they learn that Chimo and Riho are going on an all-Japan tour to find the best okonomiyaki places around and gain the inspiration to help Chimo up her okonomiyaki game. This does sound like a wonderful idea, and looking back, okonomiyaki does feel like poutine in the sense that once the basics are present (a wheat-flour pancake with a special sauce and mayonnaise for okonomiyaki, and fries, gravey and cheese curds for poutine), the sky’s the limit. It might be fair to say that besides lighting my desire to visit Japan and eat okonomiyakiTamayura ~More Aggressive~ also made me into a poutine connoisseur.

  • It therefore should not be too surprising that when I hear ~More Aggressive~‘s opening song, Maaya Sakamoto’s Hajimari no Umi, my mind immediately goes to thoughts of enjoying a good poutine and watching a lone motorbike travel along a highway along the Seto Inland Sea. The imagery from the latter comes from Fū’s mother taking her on a short day trip as a means of giving Fū some time to enjoy the world even without camera in hand. They end up visiting Ōkunoshima (more commonly, Bunny Island), a place that was once a chemical weapons development site, but in the present day, it’s become a tourist attraction, famous for its large rabbit population. Even without her camera, Fū greatly enjoys the moment, and it suddenly strikes me that I’d completely forgotten that Fū and her mother visited Ōkunoshima together.

  • The final stop for the day is a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the Seto Inland Sea: Fū’s mother explains this is where her father had proposed to her, and remarks that Fū had done something momentous, of not only being able to pick her self up after his passing, but also move forward. and seize the future. ~More Aggressive~ ultimately presents the idea that recovery is an ongoing process, and in some cases, being given the right encouragement will allow people to pick themselves back up. Going through Tamayura again has renewed my interests in visiting Japan, and now, on top of an onsen trip, I’d be interested in planning a trip to Takehara and its surroundings, too.

  • This is something I’ll look at in the future; for the present, all eyes are on getting my new place up and running. Back in ~More Aggressive~, Fū’s camera is brought back to an operational state just in time for Kanae’s graduation, and Kanae is now in fine spirits; no matter what happens, they’ll always have their memories of one another. Kanae will always think of Fū as President Potte, and several classmates, upon overhearing this, applaud appreciatively. Fū later returns to the Photography Club’s room and promises that she’ll do her best for the club in the new year, before expressing thanks to everyone who’d made the past year such a memorable one.

  • With this, my time in ~More Aggressive~ draws to a close. I will note that I have previously written about all four parts of ~Graduation Photo~, and reading through my old posts for each of Signs, Echoes, Longing and Tomorrow, I am happy to say that in graduate school, I found my path anew, and moreover, it was through ~Graduation Photo~ that I determined on the career that I would work towards. Altogether, Tamayura is a series that accompanied me through some tougher, uncertain times, and for having been a constant source of encouragement, positivity and inspiration, I count Tamayura a masterpiece for having tangibly improved my life and shaping my world views.

  • With 2021 in the rear-view mirror, I can say that the past year had been unexpected, full of surprises. There were some low points, but there were also highs, as well. I believe that I have succeeded in meeting the resolutions that I had set for myself, and exiting 2021, I take with me several new memories and experiences I am immensely grateful for. The only reason that I was able to accomplish my goals was because of consistent support from family and friends, as well as my peers in the anime community. For this, I’d like to thank my readers for accompanying me through the previous year.

  • To all of my readers, old and new, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year! 2022 is a brand-new slate, just waiting to be explored, and while there are circumstances now that can make some things challenging, readers should be familiar with the fact that I am an optimist and a pragmatist through and through. Irrespective of what challenges lie ahead, it is my responsibility to handle things in a professional and measured manner. As such, I welcome 2022 warmly: no one will know what 2022 will entail, but the constant is that I whatever I get out of this new year is going to be determined how much I put in, and I look forwards to yet another year with both the people around me, and you, the reader.

Here I now stand, at the beginning of a new year. When I began 2021, I made the resolution to be “open to whatever opportunities arise that require my skills” from a professional growth standpoint, while my personal goal had been “maintain strong relationships with those who matter to me, such as keeping in touch with old friends”. I believe I’ve succeeded on both counts: I’ve become somewhat familiar with Java server and Android development as a result of having taken up a new developer position back in April, and spent some time catching up with friends as able while forging new connections. 2021 was also surprising in that I became a homeowner; between a new job and a new home, the past year has definitely been full of surprises, surprises that I certainly hadn’t foreseen coming into 2021. It is hard to say for sure what the future entails, but as Tamayura suggests, the future is friendly to those with the resolve to take those first steps forward, and a willingness to let others into their lives. As such, my 2022 resolutions are simply to be my best self. That is to say, I will strive to work hard and do right by those around me to build the best possible future, all the while enjoying the most of the present. The themes and learnings from Tamayura have had a nontrivial impact on my life, having found relevance from the time I was a student, right through to the present. ~More Aggressive~ had helped me to take a step back and count my blessings at a time when my future seemed uncertain. At the time, I had graduated from the Health Sciences programme with an Honours Degree, but at the time, I was not sure whether or not I’d be pursuing a career in medicine or software development. Between this, all of my friends parting ways and a failed kokuhaku resulting from a flood that ravaged the province, I’d been feeling very down to the point of sitting out all anime that summer. I ended up learning about ~More Aggressive~ once my gap year started (during which I was taking courses to satisfy medical school requirements and for an eventual entry into computer science), and while watching the anime, I found myself appreciating the sort of experience that Fū went through whilst leading the Photography Club. The cathartic, gentle atmosphere helped to take my mind off the fact that I’d just lost an entire summer, and although things wouldn’t truly recover until the next spring, when I was offered admissions to graduate school and accepted an invitation to work on the Giant Walkthrough Brain, the relaxing and moving story within ~More Aggressive~ did help to get me through a difficult winter. Having the chance to rewatch ~More Aggressive~ under dramatically different circumstances has only resulted in increasing my appreciation of this second season, and this time around, I was able to pick up on nuances that I missed out on eight years earlier: while things were quite tough back then, accepting an opportunity to better my situation via graduate studies set me on a course to where I presently am, similarly to how Fū was able to create new joys and memories with Kanae as a result of her decision to start up a Photography Club.