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Reflections on the Ah! My Goddess: The Movie- An introspection into my ten years of anime at the 800th post milestone

“Even if the whole universe comes between us, even if you lost every single memory, I’ll still find you and we’ll start again and again.” -Keiichi Morisato

With this special feature on Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, this blog passes the eight hundred post milestone. It’s a nontrivial marker, coming as a consequence of nearly five-and-a-half years of writing about anime, games and other things. That I’m still here after all this time is a consequence of having a fantastic group of readers who’ve been kind enough to provide discussions and feedback, motivating me to continue writing despite the other things that occur in the real world. After looking through the post count and the timing, I decided that reviewing Ah! My Goddess: The Movie would be appropriate for this eight hundredth post, given that it’s been ten years since I developed an interest in anime, and that Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was the work that precipitated this interest. The story, recounted in brief elsewhere on this blog and only in a fragmented manner, is as follows: some of my friends during my secondary school days decided that I should join them for lunch hours at the school’s anime club. After managing to evade and decline for several weeks, I finally caved and attended a meeting. They were screening Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and while I was disinterested initially, by the time the movie finished, I was moved. That evening, I began hunting for the movie’s soundtrack, found the soundtracks for Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 anime, and decided to give that a whirl. While I never did finish, the episodes I did watch of Ah! My Goddess were modestly enjoyable, so when another friend wished for me to watch Gundam 00, I yielded and began watching the anime. In Gundam 00, I found something to look forwards to weekly, and while my interest in anime waned briefly during my first year of university, it returned in full force after I picked up Five Centimeters per Second. This brought my interests in anime back to life, leading me to watch Sora no Woto, and from there, my interests in anime are rather easier to follow, having been thoroughly chronicled here at this blog. Thus, for the remainder of this post, I turn my eyes towards looking at the movie that started it all.

Three years after her arrival on Earth, Belldandy and Keiichi Morisato begin their new term; recruiting for the different clubs is well under way, and the Motor Club, hopeful of gaining new members, showcase their vehicles. However, Toraichi Tamiya and Otaki Aoyama’s actions frighten off most prospective members, including the stern-looking Morgan. Later that evening, amidst the Motor Club’s celebrations, Belldandy encounters her old mentor, Celestin. Unbeknownst to her, Celestin had broken out of the lunar prison, and seeks to meet her. She collapses after Celestin kisses her, reawakening the next morning with no recollection of Keiichi. Meanwhile, Heaven’s supercomputer, Yggdrasil, has been compromised by a powerful virus: Peorth and her assistants are working around the clock to contain it, but in the meantime, much of their infrastructure is crippled. Skuld’s efforts to restore her memories are unsuccessful, and Keiichi agrees to make the most of things. He breaks news of her situation to the Motor Club; the members are disheartened, as there is an upcoming race. Morgan arrives and agrees – the trial’s results are solid, and watching the pair race leads Belldandy to recall some of her past memories with Keiichi. The next day, Belldandy comes across some old photographs of her and Keiichi: she decides to participate in the race in spite of her amnesia. Later, Belldandy overhears a conversation between Urd and Keiichi, revealing that Celestin was responsible. It turns out that he had rebelled against the Gods, destroyed the Gate of Judgement, and intends to continue his machinations to destroy the current world and create a new one, free of all suffering. Feeling she’s brought only suffering to Keiichi, Belldandy accepts a dangerous procedure that will eliminate the virus but also clear her memories. In order to deliver this program, Heaven directly links with Belldandy, allowing the virus to override Yggdrasil’s core functions, exposing the tree itself and a leviathan that attacks the trunks. Out of options, Peorth authorises a direct strike using Gungnir; refusing to allow Keiichi to die in the strike, Keiichi and Belldandy move to block the attack after they convince Celestin to assist. Transported to the Gate of Judgement in the aftermath, Belldandy and Keiichi pass Heaven’s test. Belldandy returns to Earth, and with both Urd and Skuld’s help, they restore Yggdrasil with their song and eliminate the virus. With the damage to Heaven records, Belldandy offers Keiichi a new wish, and Keiichi uses it to reignite their love for one another.

An off-shoot of the Ah! My Goddess series, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie adapts none of the elements from its source manga, and instead, focuses on the nature of love. This particular theme has been explored extensively in the 2005 TV series, whereas the prior OVAs’ short runtimes meant that the comedic situations and situations that Keiichi and Belldandy find themselves in dominated any sort of overarching theme. With this in mind, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie presents a much more tangible idea, in that the time Keiichi and Belldandy have spent together is precious, creating feelings that can survive even the most ardent tests that fate and the heavens have set against them. Despite losing her memories and subsequently made to stand before the Gate of Judgement, it turns out that (unsurprisingly) the love Keiichi and Belldandy have is genuine. While Morgan has seen loss before the Gate of Judgement and consequently despises the heavens for marking clearly what constitutes a relationship of value, she later learns that there can be love in the world, making it worth protecting. That love is very much a reality thus forms the main message for Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and the movie’s climax, featuring Belldandy, Urd and Skuld wielding their feelings to run a system restore on Yggdrasil, serves to emphasise this point further. Although this theme is an immensely familiar one by this point in time, it was my first exposure to such a portrayal (and anime in general), and in the movie, I found an exceptionally moving story.

Screenshot and Commentary

  • Being a combination movie discussion and serving as a bit of a milestone for this blog, I’m classifying this post both as a general discussion post (for the milestone) and as an anime reflections post (for the fact I’ll be running through Ah! My Goddess: The Movie). The occasion also means that I will be running with forty screenshots in this Ah! My Goddess: The Movie post. The movie was released in 2000 and runs for 100 minutes, making it perfect to be watched over the course of several lunch breaks, each lasting some forty minutes.

  • One of the initial limitations about the movie is that it is not particularly friendly for first-timers, who won’t know how Keiichi and Belldandy first met. Prior to 2000, it would have been necessary to either have some background with the manga or the OVAs, which show Keiichi making a phone call, only to connect to Belldandy, who arrives to grant any one wish of his. Certain it’s deception from his seniors, he decides to test things and asks her to stay with him. Here, it’s spring, a new semester, and the Motor Club is recruiting new members; Keiichi initially joined owing to his interests in mechanical engineering. He himself is capable as a mechanic and highly skilled as a racer, demonstrating a new vehicle here in the film’s opening.

  • The unusual dynamics between Belldandy and Keiichi drive the romance-comedy aspect of Ah! My Goddess, but these elements tend to be present in the manga and TV series – overall, the movie comes across as being more of a romance-drama, having a much greater focus on what love means to both Belldandy and Keiichi. The two share a moment under the cherry blossoms here, after a misunderstanding causes Belldandy to take off.

  • Celestin is Belldandy’s former mentor, and after a short introduction, incapacitates Belldandy. Bearing the appearance of ancient deities from Chinese folklore, his actions come from well-intentions, but his “means justify the end” outlook paints him as the films main antagonist. Only seen in the movie, Celestin does not return in the 2005 series, which is a re-telling of the entire story and places a much greater emphasis on comedy than drama.

  • When they return home that evening, mysterious crystals have formed on Holy Bell, Belldandy’s resident angel. The dynamic between Heaven and Earth is portrayed as one powerful computer system that manages reality; the system would suggest that all of existence is a simulation (akin to but rather more being than the one seen in The Matrix), and Heaven’s entities are caretakers to the system. With this in mind, I arrived on Ah! My Goddess much too late (2007-2008) to see much discussion on it, and so, any speculation on how their world actually works is likely to be lost to time.

  • When Celestin kissed Belldandy, he copies a virus into her that impacts her memories, completely eliminating her memories of Keiichi. The anomolies are noticed in heaven, where Yggdrasil’s technicians notice a virus moving through their systems. Fictional computer viruses are always portrayed as something that can be traced, moving through a system and methodically targeting systems, leaving a clear signature behind. Real-world viruses are rather more dull, with most writing themselves onto regions of a hard drive and duplicate themselves before executing their functions: doubtlessly, this is very difficult to visualise, hence the stylistic choices movies take.

  • Peorth stands before the highest members of Heaven’s leadership to report on the situation. The Peorth seen in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is serious, dedicated and focused on her duties, standing in stark contrast with her depiction in the other works – she is rather more flirtatious (thank goodness for spell-checking, I believe this is only the second time I’ve had to use this term) and does her utmost to win Keiichi over from Belldandy initially as revenge, only to do so for real when she realises that she harbours feelings for Keiichi, as well.

  • In the morning, Skuld exhausts her memory-enhancing devices that were intended to help her remember Keiichi; the most effective device only allows her to recall that she’d forgotten to give Keiichi her business cards (remark: that Goddesses have business cards is an interesting one). In the face of adversity, Keiichi and Urd settle on that it is probably best to try and live as normally as possible, a method that is often suggested by experts in order to survive challenging times.

  • A færie of sorts, Morgan was the one who had freed Celestin from his imprisonment on the lunar surface at the movie’s beginning with the goal of assisting him. With her hime-cut and narrow eyes, she possesses the characteristics of the stern ojou-sama archetype while in human form, and is seen communicating with Celestin while he is in a more mobile form.

  • The Motor Club grows disheartened to learn that Belldandy has become amnesiac, made especially difficult by the fact that they have an upcoming race. When I first watched the movie, I wondered if the race itself would be seen in-movie, but this turned out not to be the case, being a secondary element to the machinations that Celestin is planning. Morgan steps up and offers to race in Belldandy’s place.

  • The two seem to perform quite well, triggering some memories for Belldandy. This moment suggests that, however sophisticated the algorithm that Celestin used, some of her memories endure. This moment also begins to showcase the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra’s exceptional performance with the film’s soundtrack: the song playing as Keiichi and Morgan fly across the track is titled “Kizuna Motomete” (“Searching for a connection”) is a majestic piece with horns, strings and woodwinds that captures the rush of speed on a racetrack in a highly elegant manner. The entire soundtrack is an amazing listen that really brings out the emotional tenour of each moment in the film.

  • The different tracks convey different feelings, ranging from longing and hopefulness, to doubt and confusion in the film’s darker moments, masterfully using specific instruments to create a very unique sound that evokes a very particular feeling in every scene of the movie. It is the first anime soundtrack I’ve listened to, and stands even against the likes of Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer with respect to quality.

  • Despite lacking her memories of Keiichi, Belldandy nonetheless strives to fulfill her directive in the knowledge that her original goal was to help Keiichi find happiness, and here, prepares a fantastic evening meal for him. Back in high school, for my art class, one of the works I made for an art class was a playing card, the Queen of Spades, featuring Belldandy. It was here that I realised that Kōsuke Fujishima renders ears in a very distinct manner, with concentric rings visible in place of the structures of the Auricle.

  • Later, she finds a photo album detailing the time they’ve spent together. Realising the depth of their relationship, Belldandy resolves to restart anew and learn more about Keiichi. While Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is an older film, the artwork remains of a superb quality and can stand against modern titles with respect to detail and smoothness. However, the character designs in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie clearly are from an older age: the 2005 incarnation of Ah! My Goddess features a Belldandy and Keiichi with larger eyes.

  • My last lecture was eleven months ago, but I still recall the days when I attended classes in large lecture halls. While some of the newer lecture halls have spacious desks, other, older facilities were remarkably cramped: I did not field a laptop at all throughout my undergraduate, and even though I had access to MacBook Pro laptops during graduate school, I continued to take notes by hand, since material proved easier to recall if I had handwritten it. Keiichi is shown to study German, and here, is hauled out of lecture by Morgan. Ah! My Goddess is one of the anime I’m familiar with to feature university-level characters, compared to almost everything else I’ve got, which is set during the high school range.

  • Despite having no memories of Keiichi, Belldandy recovers more of her memories when she agrees to a challenge that Morgan presents: in a mock race, Keiichi and Belldandy handily best Morgan and her partner, Megumi (Keiichi’s younger sister). Unlike the song played during Keiichi and Morgan’s first run, the competition has a much more urgent sense to it. While most of the songs in the soundtrack are orchestral, there are a few songs that make use of electronic and synthesiser elements, giving them an other-worldly vibe.

  • Bothered by her memories, and the realisation that Celestin was responsible for her memory loss, Belldandy is drawn by a moving light crystal and follows it to a coastal installation, where Celestin reveals himself and tells her the story of why he’s returned. Unwilling to accept Heaven’s mandate, he sought to destroy the Gate of Judgement (showing Morgan and her lover crossing it, only to be separated forever). His actions also led to the destruction of other entities, causing Heaven to issue an arrest warrant for him.

  • When Heaven sends out beings to arrest Celestin, Belldandy slaughters them. She is taken in, and in the aftermath of the incident, is deemed too valuable an asset to lose. Hence, Heaven suppresses her memories of the incident and allows her to continue as a Goddess, while Celestin is tried and imprisoned on the lunar surface for all time. Had SATO explored the moon, however, they would be unlikely to locate Celestin’s prison: the film’s opening shows Morgan as passing through a portal to reach him.

  • One of the best-known anime review sites out there notes that there’s a “scene in which Urd kisses Belldandy might startle Westerners…unaccustomed to that”, but she’s actually transferring a special potion to Belldandy via mouth-to-mouth. Upon seeing that for the first time, I assumed that Urd was taking the potion for herself, so trying was their situation, but it seems to make little sense on closer inspection, hence the newer conclusion. The same site gives this movie a perfect rating, counting it as a masterpiece

  • Urd and Skuld arrive on station, but Belldandy, still under Celestin’s influence, begins to engage Urd in a direct confrontation. Urd is plainly holding back, aware that Belldandy is not fully in control of her powers. In the aftermath, Skuld lashes out at Celestin, releasing a large amount of water. Keiichi manages to protect Belldandy from this torrent but is knocked unconscious, later reawakening back home.

  • Back in high school, this scene did not particularly make much sense, but it appears to be a visual representation of the present Belldandy accepting the past Belldandy’s mistakes, reassuring her past-self that things are going to be alright. The rationale for “past and present self” is based on visual elements within this moment that should become apparent merely by staring at this screenshot. This scene is accompanied by a synthesiser-like instrument that brings to mind the instrumentals from Miyazaki’s Totoro, giving it a very surreal, yet comforting feeling, and coming to an acceptance about herself, Belldandy manages to prevent her powers from running amok.

  • While Belldandy’s character remains largely unchanged in Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 incarnation, Urd, Skuld and Peorth are markedly different with respect to their personalities. One of the biggest strengths in the movie that is lacking in the TV series are the implications of higher-order beings interacting within a world of mortals: comedy reigns supreme in the 2005 television series, with the antagonists motivated by weaker elements than Celestin, who shows that there can be dissent amongst the Gods with respect to how Heaven runs. Consequently, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie ends up having a very well-defined narrative compared to the looser feel that Ah! My Goddess‘ 2005 series (and its second season) conveys

  • Belldandy’s jealousy is an aspect of her character that has been exploited on numerous occasions in the TV series, and is never too far from the forefront of discussion in the movie – subtly hinted at when she inadvertently causes glass bottles to shatter during the Motor Club’s party earlier in the movie as a result of seeing Sora and Megumi clinging to Keiichi. Celestin exploits this, and here, Morgan forces a kiss unto Keiichi that Belldandy witnesses. She takes off, her feelings tumultuous as she struggles to comprehend what she saw.

  • Keiichi and Belldandy share a moment together after Belldandy decides to accept a dangerous procedure that might wipe her memories entirely. Keiichi resolves that, whether or not Belldandy’s memories are restored, they can start again as many times as they need. This lends itself to the page quote, a rarity in that it was taken directly from the movie rather than being a generic quote or a mutated one. Throughout these moments, the song “Hoping For Happiness” can be heard playing in the background. A truly wistful song, the single element that stands out is a flute that materialises when Belldandy walks into the temple hall; the short motif captures Belldandy’s gentle yet determined spirits.

  • I listened to the whole of Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s soundtrack during the summer of 2007, having only previously heard individual songs. I subsequently loaded up the tunes onto my iPod and took the album, amongst others, with me during my vacation in Yellowstone National Park. The hills in the backdrop here bring to mind the hills of Yellowstone’s western end, which has gentler slopes than the eastern end. At this point in the film, it’s the deep breath before the plunge. Progressing at a steady rate up until now, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie‘s pacing quickens as the movie enters its final stage.

  • The delivery of a “Vaccine”, really the execution of an anti-virus program, serves to only exacerbate the situation further by offering a direct connection between Belldandy and Yggdrasil’s mainframe systems. As it turns out, anti-virus programs are becoming increasingly ineffective in the face of new techniques of introducing viruses and malware into a system: while the programs themselves can remain effective, it is social engineering employed by criminals that allow these programs to enter and compromise a system. Like how Belldandy’s memories of Celestin allow him to damage Yggdrasil, most viruses out there arise as a consequence of inadequate caution.

  • Belldandy comes to recall Celestin more fully in a flashback; he resurrects a dead bird and takes her under his wing, eventually raising a capable goddess who graduates with top honours but is also a little naïve about the nature of reality. This moment here brings to mind the dynamics between children and adults: the problems that children face, from their perspective, are world-breakers, but having been around for a considerably longer time, adults can quickly locate solutions. It’s similar to how children would approach me with broken crafts during my time as a TA for children, and I would fix said craft, restoring their cheerfulness in the process.

  • Celestin presumably has root access into Yggdrasil (technical jargon referring to the ability to completely modify and access all parts of an operating system, including critical system files), allowing him to summon a physical manifestation of the World Tree, along with a vast being that begins hacking at the tree (likely deleting data that runs the universe and allowing Celestin to rewrite the world in his image). Belldandy’s initial efforts to stop them are futile: Morgan uses Force lightning to slow her down before taking off.

  • Transforming into their combat attire, Skuld and Urd attempt to stop the being from dealing any more damage to the system. Despite summoning an exceptionally powerful blast of lightning, the being is protected by an energy shield that repels all attack. Morgan subsequently engages in battle with Urd to buy Celestin more time to complete is machinations.

  • Possessing Keiichi’s body, Celestin explains to Belldandy the rationale for his plans. I’ve typically found that misguided idealists often make the most intriguing villians, since their cause and initial reasoning for executing a particular plan is prompted by a desire to do what they feel is correct. However, their methods wind up being inappropriate, either causing unnecessary death or destruction. Such villains are not above seeing the error of their ways, either accepting the protagonists’ perspectives or else gracefully yielding when bested (Gundam Unicorn‘s Full Frontal and Raʾs al-Ġūl of Batman Begins come to mind).

  • Belldandy’s facial design in the movie allows her to properly be depicted with a serious expression as she counters Celestin, explaining that happiness and sorrow can only exist in the other’s presence. She arms herself and prepares to stop Celestin, donning a combat suit of her own. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen Ah! My Goddess, and I think that last I checked, there were some OVAs bundled with home releases back in 2011.

  • Higher up in the branches, Skuld drops a pair of explosives resembling the Model 24 Stielhandgranate. Essentially a cluster of grenades taped together to yield a larger explosion, they could deal damage to armour of the WWI era and are equipped by Battlefield 1‘s assault class for anti-armour combat. However effective they might have been historically against armour, the modernised versions Skuld uses deals no damage against the leviathan hacking away at Yggdrasil.

  • It stands to reason that this behemoth of an entity is a program tailored by Celestin to destroy Yggdrasil. Since I no real remarks about this entity, except maybe to re-dub it “Walrus Face”, I will take a look at the inconsistencies between Ah! My Goddess and Oh! My Goddess. In Japanese, ああっ女神さまっ is romanised as “Aa! Megami-sama“, so phonetically, “Ah!” makes sense, but the authors meant for it to convey a similar meaning as “Oh my God”, hence, Oh! My Goddess is technically correct. However, I’ve typed it out as Ah! My Goddess for the past ten years, and all sources seem to give the title as “Ah!”, as well, so this is what I will stick with.

  • In response to their desperate situation, Heaven authorises the use of Gungnir, which manifests in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie as an energy sphere whose effects on organics are unknown as Belldandy moves to stop the sphere from impacting Celestin. Realising her devotion to Keiichi, Celestin concedes and helps her stop the weapon. Like almost everything else in Ah! My Goddess, Gungnir is inspired by Odin’s spear of Norse mythology, being so well-crafted that it could strike any target with perfect accuracy.

  • There should be no doubt as to Keiichi and Belldandy make it through the Gate of Judgement. The song that plays, “Testimony Between Us”, when they pass through together, is a triumphant song brimming with optimism and faith.

  • Their faith stands against the Gods’ exams – Belldandy and Keiichi find themselves staring at a verdant alpine forest that would not look too out of place in either the Canadian Rockies or parts of Yellowstone National Park. Realising that the system is not rigged to pull people apart, Morgan resolves to stay behind and pass on the two’s story. Their love for one another reaffirmed, Belldandy finds a renewed spirit in her to set things right: she and Keiichi return back to Earth.

  • While the damage done is immense, Belldandy is confident that by putting their true feelings into song, they can yet save Yggdrasil. Together with Urd and Skuld, Belldandy reverts her gear back into her default Goddess state, and they begin singing Coro Di Dea, a song written in Latin that, despite its sort length, brought a single tear to my eye, followed by several more individual tears. It’s the first time I cried when watching an anime, so moving was the song – this is the magic moment, that turning point that triggered my interest in anime.

  • Coro Di Dea is probably the equivalent of a combination of a powerful virus quarentine and Windows’ System Restore tool; the latter allows users to restore their operating system back to a functional state without altering the file, but is ill-advised for removing viruses, which can hide themselves in temporary files. The Goddess’ song prompts Peorth and the others to begin singing, as well, rapidly repairing Yggdrasil. With the crisis over, some of the other Goddesses remark that they’d love to take a break, but Peorth orders them back to work to ensure the system is stable.

  • Dawn settles over the world; with the restore and all that has happened to Yggdrasil over the past several days, Belldandy notes that all records have been removed of past wishes, leaving Keiichi free to make his wish to be with Belldandy forever once more. Skuld and Urd share a humorous exchange in the film’s final moments. The question then becomes: what is my verdict for this movie? With its standalone and cohesive narrative, fantastic artwork and top-tier soundtrack, it’s easy to give this movie a strong recommendation to existing anime fans. New viewers might not find this an appropriate gateway into anime, but will nonetheless enjoy the film.

  • Quantitatively, Ah! My Goddess: The Movie earns an A+, a 10 of 10 – clear and precise in its message, and delivering a song that can make someone as stoic as myself to shed several tears, this here’s a fantastic film that left a very profound impact on me. So ends Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, and with it, my first-ever proper Ah! My Goddess discussion here, along with the 800th post. Regular discussion resumes with the upcoming posts, where I will be taking a look at Gabriel Dropout and Titanfall 2, alongside my thoughts of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare at the halfway point.

Because Ah! My Goddess: The Movie was my first-ever anime, there existed almost no baselines for which to compare it against at the time. However, the artwork, narrative, character dynamics and world-building that I did see in the movie came together to create a standalone story that was well-worth watching. I thoroughly enjoyed Ah! My Goddess: The Movie following watching it ten years ago, and even now, the movie remains reasonably enjoyable on its merits. This movie set in motion my interests in anime, and by the time Gundam 00 had begun airing, anime-watching became one of my hobbies. While seemingly a frivolous one, watching anime and discussing it with friends motivated me to start a website to write about my thoughts. The practise of writing bolstered my writing skills: prior to anime, my written English was of a low standard, leading one of my high school instructors to wonder if English was a second language for me (for the record, it is: Cantonese Chinese is my first language). By the time I was through Gundam 00, writing to clearly express an idea became second nature for me, and in my final year of high school, the same English instructor had wondered what precipitated such a profound change in my writing. My enjoyment of anime and the attendant enjoyment of writing would carry over to university; I was more fond of writing papers than my peers. Maintaining my website and writing in university created a sort of positive feedback loop, and eventually resulted in the creation of this blog, as well as affording me the practise to write a graduate thesis paper. It’s surprising as to how much of an impact a single anime movie had, and ultimately, the learnings from having watched (and reflected upon) Ah! My Goddess: The Movie is that an open mind can create paths that are unexpected, but also highly fulfilling. This is certainly not a bad legacy for a movie that’s now seventeen years old, to say the least.

Urara Meirocho: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Take ahold of this moment. The Force is strong.” —Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

En route to their first Urara examination, Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono study different forms of divination. Over time, Koume begins to specialise in pendulum divination, while Kon becomes more proficient in kokkuri (equivalent to Ouija) following her being possessed by a fox spirit. Nono, on the other hand, channels her powers through her doll, Matsuko. Their days in Labyrinth City vary between training, studying for their exams, and exploring the different areas of the sections of the town they are permitted to travel through: some of their misadventures include being caught out in the rain and learning that misfortune can sometimes be a matter of perspective, are dressed up as brides during the Wedding Kimono Festival, listen to Koume’s story about having met a witch during her childhood, and perform a spring séance that gives Kon and Chiya some unusual visions. Their journey culminates in passing the qualifiers for the ninth-rank Urara exam, which sees prospective Urara enter a subterranean labyrinth in search of arrows to recover. This exam begins nominally, with everyone except calling on their own specialisations to navigate the maze on the way to their key. While they find the key, Chiya is captured by an unknown entity, only escaping when she unlocks Kurou, a being that manifests as a black spirit and helps Chiya with divination. She is able to reunite with her friends and helps them exit the labyrinth, in the process passing their examination and successfully move on to rank nine. With its solid world-building and depiction of Urara, Urara Meirocho turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining watch that manages to contribute yet another entertaining slice-of-life anime, featuring familiar characters in a well-explored new setting.

It should not come as a surprise that the main theme in Urara Meirocho involves the significance of teamwork; in particular, Urara Meirocho takes the time to have each of Kon, Koume and Nono build up their strengths, while at the same time, presenting Chiya as somewhat of an anomaly whose very existence is a bit of a mystery. Despite seemingly lacking any outward talent, Chiya’s unusual and unknown background confers upon her an exceptionally powerful means of divination. However, it is not Chiya’s abilities alone that carry the day: each and every member of Natsume-ya contribute to their success in the examination, illustrating that it is a team effort that allows them to be successful even in spite of the notion that Urara are often competing against one another in their quest to improve. Along the way, their adventures together have made their friendship an unshakable one, conveying the strength of everyone’s faith and trust in one another. Beyond cooperation and strength in a diverse range of talents, there is a secondary theme in Urara Meirocho; while divination is used to determine elements of the future, the actual occurrence of events and the interpretation of their meaning is ultimately given to be dependent on how one looks at it. Things that count as misfortune can also be seen as good fortune: as Kon discovers, being rained in gives her a chance to bond with her friends, and subsequently, the experiences the girls have are positive because they aim to make the most of their hand.

Aside from its depiction of Chiya and company’s journey towards improving as Urara, Urara Meirocho excels with its world-building, taking care to explain (often for the viewers’ benefit) the mechanics behind how the different divination modes function and the laws surrounding Labyrinth Town to ensure that audiences can keep up. There’s sufficient detail to give the sense that this is a living, breathing world where things are well-thought out as to remain compelling, but not so much that audiences are overwhelmed. As such, even though I do not possess anything resembling familiarity with fortune-telling and the different mythological elements of Urara Meirocho, I nonetheless am provided with enough information to keep up with what’s occurring. This is a core element in my enjoyment of the anime: unlike RDG: Red Data Girl, where I found myself getting lost amongst the different factions and their vague objectives, Urara Meirocho ensures its viewers are up to speed on the details. This leaves audiences free to enjoy the adventures and humour that arise in Urara Meirocho, as well as wonder what mysteries are in play surrounding Chiya’s background and the aspects of Labyrinth Town that elude even the higher-level Urara. The world-building contributes substantially to making Urara Meirocho an accessible and enjoyable anime, placing it alongside Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? in terms of creating a noteworthy world for its characters to explore.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If one can accept bad luck as being a matter of perspective, they might find that many of their misfortunes cease to be: getting trapped together during a rainstorm offers the girls a chance to become closer to one another. A curious note is that black cats, although considered to be an omen of misfortune in North America owing to their association with witches, the British and Japanese count black cats as a sign of good luck. There’s actually quite a bit to discuss in Urara Meirocho, so this whole-season post will feature thirty, rather than twenty images.

  • Kon is generally a hard worker and no stranger to exam revision, while Nono is limited only by her confidence. Conversely, Koume and Chiya do not possess the same drive to study: here, they learn to divine one’s fortunes based on the placement of moles on their bodies. These moles have nothing to do with Avagadro’s Number (6.022140857×10²³) or the family Talpidae, but rather, refer to nevus, lesions on the skin. I know nothing about how moles affect one’s fortunes, but I do know that moles are an umbrella term to any darker points on one’s skin: the most common form result from increased melanin concentrations and are largely benign.

  • When asked to expose herself, Kon’s entire body turns a shade of pink out of embarrassment. If and when I’m asked, Kon’s easily my favourite character of Urara Meirocho: I’ve always taken a liking to the serious, proper characters who try their best to make their way in a world dominated by their friends’ whack antics. These characters might be subject to humiliation, and Kon’s situation brings to mind Mio Akiyama of K-On!, who mooned an entire audience during a performance following an accident on stage and subsequently, her popularity skyrocketed.

  • Aside from studying Urara fundamentals, the girls also partake in town festivities. Here, they are dressed up as brides to appease the town’s resident gods. For a day, they enjoy themselves, but things quickly turn south when Chiya imbibes some alcohol, gets hammered and subsequently creates a ruckus when she releases a pheromone that attracts animals to her position, as well as resulting in general chaos.

  • Escaping the town, Chiya finds herself in the meadows and encounters a strange fox-like entity before fainting. Coming to, her friends wonder if Chiya is gifted with the Sight, the power to see the Gods themselves. A law unifying all Urara is that their powers are not to be used to divine what the Gods look like; it’s a gesture of respect to wield their powers with an honest intent, since the Gods grant Urara the ability to foresee the future.

  • I’ve often mentioned that I steer clear of alcohol owing to the adverse effects it has on me. Elsewhere, it is noted that Chiya is the last to experience something supernatural despite being implied to be possessing a sort of power that even the other lack, but from a storytelling perspective, this is nothing out of the ordinary: when one reaches a milestone is less significant than what they do with their ability and skill once they have mastery of it. This holds true in reality and therefore also applies to the things seen in Urara Meirocho.

  • After wondering about Nina’s suitor and where her heart lies, the girls decide to attempt divining who’s on her mind. Koume takes the lead, using a pendulum as a sort of dowsing tool and later learns that Saku is likely this suitor. In order to dissuade individuals such as myself from pulling the “dowsing is a pseudo-science” card, Koume uses of a pendulum, a weighted apparatus that cannot be made to defy gravity easily by sleight-of-hand. She creates a persona for the pendulum: it manifests as a young girl but later, is given “upgrades”.

  • Unlike the wizards and witches of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, incantations are not wielded for anything beyond opening the floor for divination in Urara Meirocho. Nono struggles with them until she realises that incantations, beyond their basic forms, are subject to variation. She decides to sing them, which has an immensely powerful effect on those within earshot.

  • When questioned about the origins of her Witches’ hat and broom, Koume explains that in her childhood, she was friends with a Witch called Marie Quispilquette, and after learning Marie was capable of performing magic, aspired to be a Witch herself. However, Marie left suddenly when a plague befell the nearby town to avoid persecution, leaving Koume with these items. Witch hunts were very much a part of history, stemming from vestiges of human culture where a combination of calamity and groupthink triggers a hysteria. Presently, even with the scientific method, members of an educated society may partake in witch hunts (albeit directed at different perceived threats) in response to difficult times.

  • Koume is likely unaware of how to actually operate a broom: since brooms in Urara Meirocho are inanimate until a user wields it, it stands to reason that these brooms are most similar to the ones of Flying Witch rather than Harry Potter, where brooms are bewitched using charms in order to fly. With this being said, Harry Potter mentions family-class brooms that can seat multiple individuals, so I imagine that Marie’s broom would be of this class, serving a similar function as would a sedan for us Muggles.

  • Koume seems to have associated Kon as being maid-like in appearance, even providing a swimsuit that has a design of a maid outfit for their outing to a nearby river. Similar to how Koume takes to dowsing, and Nono begins to adopt singing out her incantations, Kon decides to try kokkuri and becomes possessed by a fox spirit. Despite the spirit’s lofty mannerisms, it is tamed by Chiya, and later on, Kon reveals that she can now summon the fox spirit at will to assist her in divination.

  • I haven’t gone swimming in quite some time: the last time I donned a swimsuit was in Cancún last July, when I strolled along the white sand beaches by morning. While I waded into the warm waters of the Yucatán, I did not actually go more than five meters away from the shores into deeper water, since I did not bring a towel with me. Here, Chiya joyfully pushes the others into the river. On this trip, they are accompanied by Nina, Saku and her leftenants (whose names I never bothered to learn).

  • During the course of their day, Kon attempts to perform a “spring séance” where two Urara combine their powers to perform divination. They begin seeing visions of mysterious entities, and Kon wonders if she’s committed the taboo of divining about the Gods. There have been remarks out there that the original kanji of the manga is written similarly to Taoist “spiritual” practises to mirror that notion of “becoming one” to attain enlightenment. Urara Meirocho might be hinting at Kon’s own thoughts, which betray her: her feelings for her friends are strong.

  • With that being said, whether or not this is intended to insinuate that Kon and Chiya are headed in that direction is completely irrelevant, and this is reflected by a general lack of interest in what the kanji‘s original meanings are – what matters is how Kon feels in the aftermath of their actions. In general, my discussions do not place an emphasis on minor details surrounding words and their meanings; I’ve never been a fan of deconstruction, which asserts that meaning is lost because of the sum of a work is dependent on quantifiers that are arbitrary. This approach is an ineffective one, because the constituents of system lose their meaning when studied independently of other constituents in a system.

  • A system’s worth is governed by its value as a whole, rather than its parts, so I prefer looking at things from the systems level. Back in Urara Meirocho, after spending the evening worried about whether or not she’d lose her divining powers, she passes this fear to Chiya, who resolves to remain with her under any circumstance. When Nono and Koume catch wind of this, they help her perform a kokkurthat reveals Kon has not lost her power. Chiya’s feral tendencies kick in, and she begins licking Kon like a dog would. It is with the sum of her friends’ help that Kon overcomes this particular hurdle, a recurring theme in Urara Meirocho.

  • Chiya runs into Tokie, a level-two Urara who saves her from a swindler. After a walk around town, Tokie uses a crystal ball to learn about Chiya, but it shatters when she tries to determine the identity of Chiya’s mother. Because of the one rule about divining, it stands to reason that Chiya’s mother has a very high rank or else is a God herself: thinking back to Anakin Skywalker and his conception, Chiya might very well be the one to bring balance to the Force have a supernatural origin. Some of Tokie’s feats, however, are diminished when she reveals that she is Kon’s mother: her descriptions and knowledge of Chiya come from a priori knowledge.

  • Nina faints when Tokie reveals that calamity will befall Nono later in the evening unless Team Natsume works together to avert this. Ironically, knowing about a disaster beforehand can trigger behavioural changes in the affected individuals, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply, a false prediction induces actions in the affected that lead them to act in ways that can enable the prediction’s terms, leading them to conclude the prophecy was true. The Greek myth of Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s MacBeth are classic examples.

  • In order to prevent disaster, Nono and the others wander into the forests by nightfall, in search of a herb not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s Athelas (better known as Kingsfoil), which was a potent healing agent that could even counteract the effects of a wound inflicted by a Morgul-blade, or the life-draining powers from Black Breath. Frantic, the girls eventually opt to stick with one another and begin holding out in the manner they’re most familiar with.

  • As it turns out, this entire “calamity” was an exercise to determine if Team Natsume is eligible for the Urara exam, and Nina was in on the fact the whole time. The actual exam is a treasure hunt: punch through obstacles in a labyrinth even the top Urara do not fully understand and retrieve an arrow. Success is determined by the strength of teamwork, and Nina will be amongst one of the instructors “invigilating” (present a credible obstruction to the examinees). In describing and outlining the exam’s criteria, as well as reacting to the mishaps that befall the students, Tokie derives an uncommonly strong sense of pleasure from the thought of the Urara hopefuls suffering.

  • Chiya feels left out when the others mention what tools they will be bringing into the exam with them. In spite of this, everyone manages to reach the arrow (after Kon is taken in by several fake arrows). When they make to leave the chamber, Chiya is absorbed by an unknown entity that claims her mother is a TR8R before attempting to asphyxiate her. It is here that Chiya’s mother’s name is revealed to be Yami.

  • Being sourced from a Manga Time Kirara work, there was never any doubt that Chiya would make it out of her situation alive: it was the unexpectedness of this turn of events that allowed the tenth episode to have a compelling cliffhanger that motivated me to watch Urara Meirocho‘s eleventh episode as soon as it appeared. Before anything too serious can happen, Kurou appears and lends its powers to help Chiya escape. Chiya subsequently uses this newfound power to locate her friends, who’ve fallen prey to various traps in the labyrinth.

  • While I am fond of things like cheesecake and fudge, if given the choice, I will prefer meat and potatoes every time. Consequently, I am not as likely to fall victim to Koume’s fate: she’s stuck in a small opening, with her flab keeping her from being extricated. Strictly speaking, it’s actually a combination of a good diet and exercise that allows one to remain in shape; this is why I’m fond of lifting weights, and also why I do martial arts in conjunction with hiking where the weather permits. So, I’m curious to know this of my readers: how do you keep in shape?

  • I’m sure the manga will delve into much more details than the anime can with respect to the relationship that Chiya shares with Kurou; Urara Meirocho only depicts Kurou’s powers as being exceptionally precise, allowing Chiya and her friends to navigate out of the labyrinth without much difficulty. As the clock counts down, Team Natsume double-times their way back to the exit, resolutely trying to finish their exam within the time limits stipulated.

  • The sum of Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono’s divination skills, coupled with the strength of their friendship, is what inspires the page quote, sourced from Rogue One. Like Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), whose faith in the Force allows him to perform incredible feats despite being blind, the girls are able to use their experiences in order to complete difficult tasks in spite of facing the unknown, seizing the moment when the opportunity arrives and making the most of things.

  • While I’ve praised almost all of the aspects of Urara Meirocho to a high extent, one element that has gone unmentioned is the soundtrack. Released back on March 8 and retailing for 2700 Yen (32.44 CAD at the time of writing), the music in the soundtrack is quite ordinary in nature, blending in seamlessly with the events of the anime. There are some tracks that convey a more appropriate sense than others, which sound more conventional (these songs are typically used whenever comedy dominates a moment).

  • To celebrate their successful examination, Saku and Nina bring Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono to a top-tier hot springs whose design is somewhat reminiscent of Taipei’s Grand Hotel: the main building was completed in 1973 and remains one of the largest traditional Chinese buildings around. Prior to entering the hot springs, Chiya and the others try out one another’s outfits when Nono wonders what wearing a corset is like; Chiya and Kon find themselves unaccustomed to the other’s clothes, while Koume grows jealous when Nono turns out to wear her Witch’s outfit nicely.

  • What begins as a relaxing soak in a hot springs mutates into a talent show when Saku and Nina get wasted on alcohol that brings to the forefront comedy that is befitting of Urara Meirocho. In the aftermath, Saku and Nina lie down, while Chiya, Kon, Koume and Nono find that their rank nine emblems, plus all of their divining implements, have gone missing. However, even without these tools, the girls work together to deduce location, eventually making use of swarm intelligence to determine where all of their gear has gone. While it would be amusing to try and fit this occurrence to an ant colony optimisation problem, it does not seem appropriate, since the ants converge on a point behind the waterfall quickly.

  • As it turns out, Nina’s moved their gear behind the waterfall to purify it and protect the Urara as they move up: they will be transferring to an institute for ninth-rank Urara to futher their studies, moving out of the Natsume teahouse in doing so. Far from a tearful separation, the girls are excited to continue, leaving Nina in tears.

  • Chiya notes that, while she’s now faced with more mysteries than before, the prospect of improving and learning more is a powerful motivation. She and Kon overlook Labyrinth town here – I’ve been impressed with the details in the town’s depiction throughout Urara Meirocho, and seeing the town alit by nightfall is a fantastic opportunity to provide such a screenshot. The artwork in this anime is fabulous and contributes solidly to the atmospherics.

  • Claims that “the story wasn’t helped by its format” is lunacy; Urara Meirocho strove to portray Chiya’s journey to becoming a higher-ranked Urara with her friends, and succeed in this, Urara Meirocho does. The journey to the top ultimately means that there is a vast opportunity for a continuation, and any sort of sequel to Urara Meirocho would mean being able to see Chiya and the others attend a Urara academy. Taken together, I would probably give Urara Meirocho an A-, 8.5 on a ten-point scale, and note that like other anime derived from Manga Time Kirara works, Urara Meirocho represents an immensely entertaining series that excels at bringing a smile to its viewers. It’s certainly not an anime to scrutinise, being best enjoyed for the journey that it depicts.

The sum of its world-building and character dynamics, coupled with an interesting art style means that Urara Meirocho ends up as a pleasant surprise for the Winter 2017 season, being best-suited for fans of the slice-of-life genre. However, like GochiUsa, Urara Meirocho is set in a location that is not yet another Japanese suburban area during high school: the location, paired with an honest and effective means of exploring this new world gives the setting in Urara Meirocho credence. For fans of the genre, Urara Meirocho earns a recommendation, easily being quite entertaining and refreshing. However, as some of the jokes can come across as jarring (especially Captain Saku and her uncommonly impure thoughts): Urara Meirocho might not be suitable for fans of other genres. Consequently, for folks unaccustomed or unfamiliar with moé slice-of-life anime, this anime earns neither recommendation or rejection, as the enjoyment factor varies from person to person. The final aspect that is worth considering is whether or not Urara Meirocho will receive a continuation: with the manga on-going, it is likely that we could see a future season, provided that there is enough source material and that sales are good. An OVA in-between seasons is also a possibility, but for the present, in the absence of additional information, it’s reasonable to conclude that Urara Meirocho comes to a solid conclusion.

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

 “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

Yune is a small Japanese girl who accompanies traveler Oscar Claudel to Paris France, living and working at the Enseignes du Roy. The shop’s current owner, and Oscar’s grandson, Claude Claudel, reluctantly accepts her presence, learning more about Japanese customs and concurrently caring for Yune. Despite the dramatic differences of culture and beliefs between the two, Yune and Claude come to understand one another, sharing more about their backgrounds and interests with one another in a Paris of the late nineteenth century, where the West begins to take an increasing interest Japanese culture. Their everyday lives are joined by Alice and Camille Blanche, who are upper-class members of society; the younger of the two, Alice takes an immediate liking to Yune and attempts to impress her at every turn, while Camille reflects on her own feelings for Claude and regrets that class differences keep them apart. The collection of stories about Yune and Claude’s everyday lives in Paris form the basis for the loosely-structured narrative in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth (Crossroads in a Foreign Labyrinth), providing glimpses into the lives of a Parisian family in the late 1800s and a Japanese girl’s immersion in a culture completely unlike her own, finding interest in the French way of things. Recommended for me from a friend, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth ends up being a reasonably interesting anime that seeks to capture the more mundane, everyday comings-and-goings in a shopping district of Paris. Beautifully animated and with a gentle soundtrack, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth also brings to mind my own travels through Paris a year ago en route to my first-ever conference: when a terrorist attack on Brussels disrupted transportation across France, my own flight from Paris to Rennes was cancelled. After rearranging my flight bookings to ensure I could return home at the conference’s end, I hopped on a shuttle bus from the Charles de Gaulle International Airport through the streets of Paris to Gare Saint-Lazare, managing to purchase tickets and boarding the train to Laval with only four minutes to spare.

Despite having spent such a short time in Paris and having not explored any of the major attractions (the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Louvre come to mind), travelling through the streets of Paris led me to wonder: what would life in a major European city be like? Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth answers this query, albeit from a new perspective — the Paris depicted is that of the late nineteenth century. Owing to the peaceful period that is depicted when Yune visits, it is safe to assume that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is set well after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, likely in the 1890s. During this time, Yune grows accustomed to Parisian culture and even tries to eat cheese, a major element in French cuisine, despite her own unfamiliarity with it. All the while, she surprises Claude and the others with her actions: distinctly Japanese, they would seem out of place in France. These interactions are amusing and heartwarming, presenting one facet of the culture shock that both Yune and Claude experience when they meet. It’s a world away from the multiculturalism that is a very strong part of the Canadian identity: cultures and values coexisting is how I’ve always known the world, and from my perspective, it is unusual to be in a homogeneous culture. Spending most of its time depicting the journeys that Yune and Claude share in reconciling their different backgrounds and learning more about one another, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth combines the humorous with the dramatic to illustrate the ups and downs of life. This creates a very abrupt but also natural-feeling atmosphere, showing that events in life occupy the whole spectrum of tragic and serendipitous events: the adventures (and misadventures) that both Claude and Yune experience end up changing them subtly, and while Claude’s stubborn, blunt nature remains very much unchanged throughout Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the dramatically different perspectives Yune brings with her have a nontrivial impact on his own outlooks and actions. Hence, while Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth might deal with a series of seemingly disjoint stories about Yune’s life in Paris, the thematic elements points towards the notion that awareness of different cultures and values invariably affect one’s own perspectives.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been quite some time since I’ve done a full series-type discussion on a long-finished anime in this format. Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth originally aired during the summer of 2011, running from July to September. During this time, I had just finished Sora no Woto, returned from my trip to the Eastern Seaboard and began was watching Shinryaku! Ika Musume!. This is Yune, a Japanese girl whose surname is never given, and who accompanies Oscar back to Paris to help out around their shop.

  • Practical, blunt and easy to exasperate, Claude comes across as being quite unfriendly and cold towards Yune, in contrast with Oscar, who is rather more open-minded. The owner of Enseignes du Roy (lit. “The King’s Signs”), a sign-making shop, Oscar is often travelling about seeking the companionship of a lady friend, leaving Claude to the day-to-day runnings of the shop.

  • Voiced by Nao Tōyama early in her career (the roles that I best know for her, as Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujō and Kongō of Kantai Collection, come later), Yune is considerate of her hosts’ thoughts. Taking quickly to aspects of French cuisine, she finds cheese to be somewhat disagreeable, but does her best to hide this and even works towards growing accustomed to its taste. I find that North American take on cheese is a bit more casual than that of the French, where there are at least four hundred varieties of cheese, and where consumption can reach fifteen kilograms per capita per annum.

  • A sign-smith by trade, Claude spends long hours in front of an anvil, hammering out metal into signs for his clients. While set in Paris, France, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is an anime and as such, it is up to the viewer’s imagination to suppose that Yune and the others are speaking French rather than Japanese. While French is one of two official languages in Canada and the education system had mandate that French be taught in schools, I never did pick up the language owing to how minimal the exposure to the language was. Now that I’ve travelled to Laval, France (having already visited Laval, Canada back in 2008), I find French to be an interesting language that I should have, in retrospect, made a more honest attempt at learning.

  • The dynamics between Claude and Yune fluctuate between hot and cold quite frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth: the cold moments has me a touch irritated that Claude is not more aware of his surroundings, but he’s also considerate and caring, taking the time to introduce Yune to different elements of Paris, such as when he brings her to a Paris market to purchase some ingredients for the evening’s dinner. The Paris of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is lovingly depicted and looks beautiful, with the buildings being faithfully reproduced to be consistent with period French architecture.

  • While unmentioned in the anime, Yune is thirteen in age, although her physical stature suggests that she is only ten. Much as how Claude can be quite set in his ways, Yune is also quite stubborn: her interactions with Claude force the two to meet one another halfway on multiple occasions, setting in place growth for each character. However, rather than anything dramatic, these changes are much more subtle.

  • Yune’s Japanese background might differ dramatically from that of Claude’s, but Claude nonetheless grows to appreciate Yune – when she writes out kanji for her name, they act as inspiration for Claude to finish a sign. Here, the two take a walk around the streets of Paris by evening, as crepuscular rays punch through openings in the clouds to create a truly magical moment. In general, the atmosphere in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth never strays too far from neutral: moments can become a little tender or a little stressful, but do not otherwise evoke particularly strong emotions in audiences.

  • A member of the upper class, Alice Blanche grows enamoured with Yune after meeting her for the first time and promptly sets about trying to invite her to tea. Similar to Alice Cartelet of Kiniro Mosaic, she is fascinated with all things Japan, although the Alice of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is rather less versed with Japanese implements than her counterpart in Kiniro Mosaic. While Alice attempts to sway Yune into living with her, Yune’s sense of loyalty means that she declines each offer.

  • Some individuals regard Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth as the spiritual successor to ARIA, but I contend that there are more differences than similarities between the two anime such that the definition is not satisfied: themes and elements are different as night and day between the two anime, with the only commonality being that the anime are both slice-of-life. Other than that, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth utilises a difference in culture to drive Yune’s everyday life, while in ARIA, the inner mysteries of Neo Venezia are interwoven with Akari, Alice and Aika’s journeys to become Prima Undine.

  • Most of the scenes in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth are rendered with great detail, but there are moments where the artwork takes on a more deformed, stylised format, usually to signify irony or humour. Here, Yune pouts in the classic anime style when she overhears Claude describing to Alice her single-mindedness. She’s holding a pot of sukiyaki, a Japanese dish of thinly-sliced beef boiled in a special broth that is quite warming.

  • While of a generally cheerful disposition, Yune can sometimes grow disheartened on some occasions when either recalling her past or Claude’s restrictive mindset on things. Claude comes across as being overbearing and strict; his conversations with Oscar suggest that he has Yune’s interests at heart when he speaks, but the manner of his delivery is blunt.

  • On closer inspection, Yune’s reaction to cheese stems from the fact that cheese is not a part of the traditional Japanese diet – it was introduced during the Meiji Restoration but only became more widespread during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the joys in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was the fact that minor details are portrayed well to convey the location, and it is welcome whenever an anime or manga authentically illustrates locales overseas.

  • Claude’s conversations with Alice frequently degenerate into squabbling; Claude despises her attitude and lack of concern for her actions, while Alice finds his stubbornness an impediment to her goals. In spite of this, he reluctantly allows Yune to spend time with Alice; each and every time Alice comes through the storefront, some sort of disagreement will ensue.

  • After Yune attempts to look for a boy who’d stolen from Enseignes du Roy, Claude reprimands her. She later falls ill, leading Claude to remark that this boy, a vagrant, might have given her an illness, and looks after her. He turns to the Blanches to obtain a Japanese recipe for a congee-like dish to help Yune, and later runs into the boy, who sought to give Yune a flower.

  • One element in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth that is very much under-appreciated is the soundtrack. Consisting of gentle songs that capture life around Enseignes du Roy, as well as vocal pieces, the song that stood out most for me was A.m.u.’s “Tomorrow’s Smile”. This single song seems to convey the entire spectrum of emotions that Yune encounters while in Paris, and serves as the ending song for episode eight.

  • Alice is voiced by Aoi Yūki: I am most familiar with her roles as Sora no Woto‘s Noël Kannagi and Komachi Hikigaya of Oregairu. With the number of voice actors I’m now familiar with, one wonders if I have a favourite actor/actress from films originating from this side of the world. Surprisingly, I do have an answer for this: Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee are my favourite actors, having a distinct style that I can pick out from any movie they’re in.

  • When they were children, Camille and Claude were close friends who had spent much time with one another. Camille had fallen in love with Claude and had resolved that the two should spend time together even if she is married to someone else, understanding their socio-economic differences preclude their being together. Over time, a distance grows between the two, and they regard one another cooly by the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth.

  • It was a bit surprising to learn that Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was produced by Satelight, the same folks who produced The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. Unlike the latter, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth has consistently high animation quality, and the visuals, both for the characters and cityscapes, are of an excellent standard. I get the sense that Satelight was trying to find their feet when working on The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan – earlier episodes were very light on details, but as the series wore on, backgrounds became more detailed, and animations more fluid.

  • I admit that I am not terribly fond of Claude’s personality, but in a bit of irony, I see a bit of my own bluntness and stubbornness in Claude. One of the shortcomings in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth was that his manner changes very little overall through the anime’s run: while shifting over the course of an episode, he almost always reverts back to his old self come a new episode. Granted, personality traits take time in order to alter, and so, it is likely that a longer series would have been necessary to properly depict how Yune and Claude’s time together changes the two.

  • Prior to Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric incandescent light in 1879, gas lamps were the primary means of illuminating a city. By the 1860s, Paris had some 56000 fixtures, earning it the moniker “City of Light”. These gas lamps slowly began to be displaced by electric lights, which were much safer and more inexpensive; presently, gas lamps are nonetheless retained in some areas, such as Boston, for the sake of aesthetics.

  • The French countryside is beautiful, as I found out first-hand when I took the train from Paris to Laval. Evidently an inconvenience, taking the train from Paris also ended up being an adventure that gave me a slightly closer look at Paris and rural France. Here, Claude has traveled into the country to meet with a client, and the pastoral feelings conveyed in this image brings to mind the peaceful ambiance seen in the regions of Gallia in Strike Witches unaffected by the Neuroi; this stands in sharp contrast with the state of things during the First World War (examples of this are vividly brought to life in maps such as St. Quenin Scar of Battlefield 1).

  • From what I’ve heard, there’s a manga spin-off following Alice’s adventures with Yune, titled Ikoku Meiro no Alice-chan (Alice-chan’s Foreign Labyrinth). Aside from Alice’s squabbles with Claude, one element seen frequently in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is the dramatic differences in cultural values that Yune brings to the table. Her actions can be quite subtle: she politely and subtly declines Alice in favour of Claude, rather than outright rejecting invitations. Japanese culture is very much driven by face, so in order to avoid embarrassing others, it is the norm to indirectly decline. A “maybe” in Japanese would correspond to a “no”, standing in contrast with other cultures, such as the Dutch, who are very direct.

  • So, after leaving the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, I spent around 40 minutes on a shuttle bus en route to the Saint-Lazare train station. On the way, my colleage and I received an email from my supervisor, who had received news of the attack in Brussels and was wondering if there was anything he could do to help. I was able to access wireless internet and replied to my supervisor, saying we were okay, then turned to my colleague and joked that, short of sending air support, help would be unlikely. We had grown a little pensive after learning of the difficulties in rearranging our transportation both to Laval and back home, but we managed to make things work.

  • The conference subsequently went off without a hitch, and I delivered my first ever presentation overseas. While in France, there was little time to properly sit down for a French-style meal, so one of my plans for the future will be to visit France for sightseeing: with this being said, I did have a chance to sight-see in Laval, taking a walk around the old town on the morning of the conference’s opening. I’m surprised that a year has elapsed so quickly, and it was a little more than a year ago that I skipped all of my classes, setting out to Amsterdam for the flight into Paris. Back in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, Yune enjoys a sandwich while on a picnic with Claude and Oscar.

  • During this picnic, Yune reveals a bit more about her past and her sister, Shione. Someone she greatly admired and had been very close to, Shione had eyes of vivid blue rather than the brown colours more predominant in people of an Asian ancestry. While our modern knowledge of genetics means that we’re aware of the genes affecting eye pigmentation (HERC2 and OCA2), as well as their hereditary patterns, the work of Gregor Johann Mendel and his beans were still revolutionary at the time of their publication in 1866; his discovery’s value was not realised until nearly three decades later. Hence, the locals dæmonised Shione, who pretended to be blind to escape scrutiny on Yune’s suggestion.

  • Over time, Shione’s vision decayed to the point where she became blind, and Yune has blamed herself for this turn of events, supposing that her wish was responsible for this. Oscar reassures Yune that far from being the cause of Shione’s suffering, Yune’s words and gestures would have given her sister strength. The notion of visual prosthesis has been in consideration since the time of the events in Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, but substantial advances in medical science means that technologies like these can now be fitted to aid blind individuals. Although the technology is still primitive, there will come a day where it can be used to restore sight in the blind.

  • The finale presents Claude’s story as one also filled with challenges: his father was a masterful sign-craftsman but had never really seen his son in a favourable light. Claude constantly strove to improve with the aim of someday earning his father’s praise, but one day, his father fell from scaffolding in an accident and perished. Since then, Claude has never spoken much about his father, until Yune arrives, causing him to open up in a way that was hitherto unseen. Despite perhaps despising his father, Claude seems to be quite strict in his own right, although moments show that he does care for those around him.

  • Thus, when Yune makes to find a cat upon hearing its bell and winds up on the roof of the Galerie, the district housing the Enseignes du Roy. It’s a perilous spot, and after searching the area for her, Claude finally manages to find her. He carefully makes his way to Yune and manages to catch her before she falls off a ledge. It is unsurprising that the tensest moment of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is found in the finale, and similarly, the outcome was quite straightforwards: there are no unnecessary or surprise deaths.

  • While the rooftops might be a dangerous place to be, Yune and Claude also gain a beautiful view of the Paris cityscape. It is a fitting way to conclude Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, and now that I’ve seen Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, I conclude that this is a modestly relaxing anime that offers a perspective into Paris of the late 19th century. Ultimately, it was quite enjoyable to watch this at work: I admit that my procrastination tendencies show up in full force here, since I finished Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth back in January, watching one episode a day while on lunch break at work.

  • Despite mentioning briefly that I would write about Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth early in February, I became sidetracked by the Wake Up, Girls! posts. I weighed my options about reviewing this anime, and considered shelving it, but then I looked at the calendar and realised that today marks a year since I presented my research at the Laval Virtual Conference. The paper is dated to one year ago today in the ACM Digital Library, and it costs 15 dollars to purchase. I won’t be sharing the paper, but I could probably provide an overview of that paper if one were to ask nicely. Jokes aside, that’s pretty much it for this post, and up next on the horizon will be a whole-series talk on Urara Meirocho.

In Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth, the interplay between Claude and Yune’s respective French and Japanese backgrounds confers change in both individuals for the better; diversity and respect are core tenants of multiculturalism, and it is through understanding that cooperation and trust are built. This is the reason why multiculturalism are desirable, unifying shared human values and bringing the best of all cultures together; acceptance and understanding is what it means to be Canadian, where enjoying Cantonese cuisine while watching the Calgary Flames defeat the Pittsburg Penguins to match the franchise record of ten consecutive victories in a shootout is a part of life rather than anything noteworthy. Although small in stature, similar to Yune herself, the theme of Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth nonetheless has a large presence within the anime: Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth is enjoyable for this reason, even if the juxtaposition of happiness and sadness can come across as jarring, and where Claude’s personality comes across as being irritating at times. Ultimately, Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth earns a recommendation — the total sum of the anime’s message, sincerity in Yune’s character, authentic depiction of a late-nineteenth century Paris and a cathartic, beautifully-presented soundtrack makes the anime a worthwhile one, capturing the atmosphere surrounding the city. Paris might have been a stepping-stone on the way to my destination in Laval, but the short few hours I spent in Paris, coupled with Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth means that I am interested in visiting Paris again to sight-see somewhere in the future.

Battlefield 1: I Shall Not Pass- A Spring Patch Reflection

“A man is usually more careful of his money than of his principles.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Although I am well aware that the first Battlefield 1 DLC is titled They Shall Not Pass, I’ve chosen to title this post “I Shall Not Pass” because of my present decision to not purchase the DLC or Premium upgrade. While I’ve been having a fabulous time in Battlefield 1 as of late, I’m likely to remain a little more reserved until I learn more about the remaining DLC packages. From the footage I’ve seen of They Shall Not Pass, the French maps look wonderful (and a part of me purchased Battlefield 1 simply so I could light things up in Gallia France): one map features a field abloom with poppies, while another features a sleepy French village that Yoshika might find herself stopping by while visiting Lynette and Perrine. There’s also a map with a large fortress at its center whose close-quarters layout could make it the new Operation Locker. The new weapons are interesting, adding new dimensionality to the play, as well. There is a new Behemoth and French tank, along with the Trench Raider elite class. So far, the DLC looks reasonably fun, and personally, the French maps are the most appealing element of this DLC. With this being said, the next DLC is going to be titled In The Name Of The Tsar, and if the Russian maps provide snowy environments for combat, I will almost certainly purchase the Premium upgrade, if only for the fact that I will be able to experience both the Strike Witches (Gallian) and Brave Witches (Orussia) fronts in the Frostbite 3 Engine. I am surprisingly close to my stipulated goal of having two classes at rank ten, so the Premium purchase could be very real on my horizon.

While I’ve not tried the new maps, weapons or vehicles, the release of They Shall Not Pass has also brought some changes to the gameplay in Battlefield 1: grenades are now lessened in count, forcing players to finally run with fewer gas grenades. Weapons have also been modified, with the most noticeable change coming for the medic class’ self-loading rifles. Spread increase and magnitude has been reduced for these weapons, allowing them to be fired more accurately, with the optical versions acquiring an even more appreciable decrease in spread. The net effect of these changes mean that medic weapons are now more useful at range while being able to maintain a respectable rate of fire (for semi-automatic weapons): in practise, this allows me to hit distant opponents at longer ranges, and during one match, I landed a headshot on another player from around 150 meters. Although they ducked behind cover, that I can now have more confidence in engaging targets at this range is a huge boost. The medic class is my second most-used class, so having better weapons offers a much better experience; I know that I can hold my own at long ranges now while healing team-mates, although better shot placement could also make my close quarters engagements a bit more manageable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve now got some 28 hours in Battlefield 1, and my performance has been steadily improving with respect to contributions to the team. Although I don’t top the scoreboards or have the best KD ratio, I do manage to score quite well despite having a smaller number of kills because of my emphasis on team play beyond merely camping at a capture point. Compared to most folks, I actually don’t game as often or as hard: while my interests suggest otherwise, I’m actually quite casual.

  • In a match of conquest, after spawning into a Mark V whose cannon was jammed despite the vehicle being in full health, I died and respawned, switching out to the medic class so I could try out the M1907 SL Sweeper, a medic self-loading rifle with the option for automatic fire. Because of the setting, options for a good RDS are non-existent, and so, I tend not to do so well with the iron sights. With this being said, it is immensely satisfying to land a good shot with the iron sights, especially at longer ranges.

  • I usually find myself in the thick of things owing to how I play Battlefield, although how hard I push will be determined by which class I’m running with. The medic can occupy the mid-range role quite nicely, allowing me to hang out behind attacking teammates to heal or revive. There are other occasions where I will die from carelessness, but because I’m pushing forward with my team, I will likely get revived by a friendly medic. I don’t communicate with other players with a microphone, preferring the text chat to ask for support or instructions as required.

  • The medic ribbon for getting seven kills in a round looks quite nice, and I obtain one here after lighting up another player with the M1907 Sweeper. As of now, I’ve purchased around four primary weapons for each class except for the scout, but have done nothing about sidearms or melee weapons. For folks who play more Battlefield 1 than myself, the DLC might just be worth it to gain more variety, but in my case, I’ve got a ways to go before I yearn for more diversity in my gameplay. With this being said, the new maps in They Shall Not Pass look beautiful and, while more experienced Battlefield players may digress, seem to be worth the price of admissions.

  • After being given increased horizontal recoil in the previous patch, light machine guns are a little trickier to use, but during one match of domination where my team was steam-rolled by the other, I finally acclimitised to the recoil patterns of the BAR Storm and scored seven kills to obtain the support ribbon. In the latest update, ribbons now give 500 experience points rather than 300, making them even more rewarding to obtain.

  • Post-patch, the BAR Storm remains a formidable close-quarters LMG. As of late, I’ve found less time to play Battlefield 1: things have been rather active in the real world. This past weekend was a double experience weekend, but I only got three conquest matches in. On Saturday, I visited the International Truck and Auto Show, stopping by a restaurant in the neighbourhood to have Chinese-style fried chicken marinated in oyster sauce and a grilled fish with deep-fried bones. Yesterday was my dōjō’s annual Spring Banquet (a buffet style luncheon featuring sweet and sour pork, ginger beef, fried noodles, spring rolls, fried chicken, gaozi and beef skewers, plus mango tapioca). I attend with my family every year, although I skipped last year on account of the banquet being set on the eve of my flight to Laval.

  • In a particularly brutal match of TDM where my team was losing, I managed to find a flamethrower and went on an 8-killstreak, burning to death players who tried to knife me. It was enough to raise my KD ratio and turned the entire match around, with my team winning by exactly one point by the time everything was said and done. I’ve been in several losing matches where my team would somehow mount a comeback and win by a very small margin, sometimes, these were as close as one point.

  • It’s the first day of Spring today, being the Vernal Equinox. This bitterly cold winter comes to a close, although with the weather in the Foothills, I imagine we could be hit with a handful of spring snowstorms before warmer weather sets in to stay as the days grow longer. Last week marked the beginning of Daylight Savings time, and while it did mess with some schedules out there, in addition to potentially reducing the amount of time one sleeps, it also marks the welcome return of light.

  • A sharp-eyed viewer will note that I only do major posts for the winter and summer solstices: the transition from winter to spring, though welcome, is set in the month of March, which has always been a quieter time of year for me. During my school days, it would be midterm season, and in the present, I’m pushing further into the ResearchKit and CoreData frameworks for my work. It feels a little strange, but very liberating, not to have a number of assignments, papers and exams on my plate: while work is definitely more high-paced than university, gone are the days of rote memorisation to pass exams.

  • I tended to end up KD negative or lose on Sinai Desert, making it one of my least favourite maps. However, this is a map that is quite unsuited for close-quarters weapons in most areas – I’ve had the most success either by equipping a good weapon with optics, such as the Mondragón sniper here to shoot someone from a ways away, or else simply stayed within the town area to pick off lone players with close quarters weapons. This particular match turned out quite entertaining, and I did quite well.

  • I definitely will need to go back and give all of the weapons I’ve unlocked a shot; at the minimum, I should get service stars for all of the weapons I’ve already got, and aim to try the weapons whose specs are less suited for my play-style. The concept of weapon mastery returns from Battlefield 4, with a special codec entry unlocking for folks with five hundred kills in a weapon. The counter only began with the winter patch, so it’ll be a while before I get to any weapon masteries in Battlefield 1.

  • During one match of conquest, I spawned into a light tank, having forgotten to set it to the heavy tank in the menu earlier, but I went on a 9-killstreak with the tank, rolling over the hill and blasting the enemy team with the canister shells. Playing more carefully and strategically allowed me to last much longer than I usually would: my efforts very nearly allowed my team to catch up in scoring as we captured points charlie and delta on Giant’s Shadow.

  • The light tank remains my favourite vehicle in spite of how toned-down it is in Battlefield 1 compared to its beta incarnation: as a single-seater, it means that if I am surrounded as a result of ill-fortunates or carelessness, then only I die as a result. With a heavy tank, a successful kill can lead to the deaths of up to six team members. The ribbon here is for scoring seven or more kills with a tank in a round, and now, with ribbons present, there is definitely more incentive for me to try out other play-styles.

  • With my team losing and a terrible driver operating the armoured train, I was on the verge of death here, but managed to get another kill to earn my first-ever ribbon for scoring three or more kills with a behemoth. I typically avoid spawning into the driver seat, since I lack the means to effectively communicate with teammates on where the behemoth should go. Instead, my most effective operation of the armoured train is when I’m given access to a weapon for defending the train from threats. I’ve never used the sixth seat before, but the 20mm auto-cannon wrecks both light vehicles and infantry. There was a landship bombarding us from across the map, and although the 20mm rounds did negligible damage, its firing rate meant I could put enough shells down-range to force it to retreat. Ultimately, an incompetent driver meant the train contributed minimally to the team’s attempt at a comeback, but it was fun to try the 20mm auto-cannon for the first time.

  • I don’t normally run with the scout class, but like every Battlefield before this one, I’ve always taken up the scout class last. Sniping has never really been my speciality in multiplayer shooters, but with some time, it’s a class that I can perform modestly well with. Battlefield 1 has proven especially friendly to new-time snipers: the SMLE Mk.III Marksman variant, the starting sniper rifle, also happens to be one of the best weapons. With a sweet spot spanning 40 to 70 meters, it’s ideal for closer range engagements, although as I learn here with a 158 meter headshot, it’s also effective out to longer ranges.

  • Although dealing little direct damage to vehicles, the main utility of K-bullets is to stop a vehicle from repairing at range, allowing one’s teammates to finish it off. My first ever kill with the K-bullets, however, came on a match of conquest. I was running from capture point echo to foxtrot and noticed a heavy tank nearby, so I hid in some foliage after spotting it. Some teammates began shooting at the tank, dealing some damage, and I fired a few K-bullets at it. What I did not expect was for the tank to explode after I fired my third round. Through all of this, the tank driver never noticed me sitting in the bushes.

  • My team ended up winning this round by quite a margin, and I was surprised at how much fun the scout class can be. While I cannot heal or resupply teammates as a scout, I can use my spotting flares to help friendlies determine where hostile forces are – it’s fun to fire a flare into a capture point, watch as the map lights up with hostiles, and then watch as teammates come in to clear it out.

  • This conquest match of Suez was quite one-sided: my team pushed forward and quickly captured every point except for alpha, pushing the enemy team to one side of the map. They dug in and soon, most of their players had taken up long range weapons, going prone. I managed to go on a kill-streak thanks to these stationary players, racking up a number of sniper kills on these players. On some occasion, the other team would sneak up and take capture point delta, but alert teammates would expediently recapture it.

  • Here, I end up with another scout ribbon after making my fourteenth kill in the conquest match. I ended up placing fifth overall on a team of thirty despite having only a small number of kills relative to those who placed in the top five primarily because of my PTFO styles. All of these points contribute to my scout score, so I’m not bothered as to whether or not they come from kills or team contributions. During the course of this match, I also made rank two for the sniper class, allowing me access to the Gewehr M.95 marksman variant and M1903 marksman, plus new melee weapons that can cut through barbed wire.

  • After a hectic match on Monte Grappa to test out the longer range medic weapons, I ended up on a flank that saw me cut back to capture point echo, where I shot an unsuspecting AA operator in the head. I proceeded to nearly finish capturing echo with some teammates, with the game ending before I could fully capture the point. With the ending of this post and the beginning of spring, we look ahead into the future: upcoming posts will include Sora no Woto‘s finale discussion, plus a talk on Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth to coincide with my setting out for Laval a year ago.

Looking ahead, Battlefield 1 continues to play well, although regenerating grenades has not been welcome, taking away from the traditional Battlefield feel of having a necessity to depend on a good support player. Recent news of the prospect of regenerating consumable gadgets is equally unwelcome: being able to resupply these only with a support player’s assistance contributed greatly to the team component of earlier Battlefield games, and to be able to allow these to regenerate on their own would decrease team play. Hopefully, negative reception from the community will prevent this feature from seeing the light of day. The joy of Battlefield for me is being able to resupply and heal players, so if players have no incentive to seek out a means to replenish their stores of gadgets, then it means the support class would become next to useless. Team play is an integral part of Battlefield, and while I might not be the best shooter or vehicle operator, I do my utmost to help my team out using the means available within the game. This is why a Premium purchase will likely wait until both more DLC is released and to see if DICE is intending on reducing elements that encourage players to work together towards victory — if DICE is responsive to the feedback and continues to deliver DLC that adds variety to Battlefield 1, I could see myself going down the premium route. If that happens, one might also reasonably expect to see a GochiUsa emblem if they fall to me.

Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days OVA- A Review and Full Recommendation

“Hey chief, you screwed up. There’s nothing in here.”
“Oh, it might appear empty, but the message is clear. Play Santa again, and I’ll kill you next year!”
— Bender and Robot Santa, “A Tale of Two Santas”, Futurama

Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days released back in November 12, 2016; it was only a week ago that it finally became available, and if this is the trend for OVAs, I imagine that the wait for the upcoming Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? OVA could be a non-trivial one, as well. With preparations for the culture festival ongoing, Shinobu finds herself completely immersed in her class project, contributing both the script and her considerable talents as a seamstress to making costumes for everyone. Amidst the busy activities, Aya finds herself feeling distant from Shinobu, wondering if Shinobu is closer to Yoko, Alice and Karen for their own attributes. When Shinobu steps out with Isami, Aya begins to reminisce about the time she’d spent with Shinobu in middle school, where Yoko and Shinobu were struggling with examinations for high school. While on break one day, they take a walk and visit Moegi High SChool, where they run into Sakura and get a tour of the grounds. After guidance from Aya and much effort on Yoko and Shinobu’s part, the girls manage to make it into the same school; Aya herself had her sights set on a more prestiguous all-girls school, but decides to join Shinobu and Yoko at Moegi high when they are all accepted. Back in the present, the play itself hits a hitch when the student playing the princess is afflicted with the flu, forcing Aya to step in. Despite the play starting off on the wrong foot, the girls pull together and manage to improvise something with Shinobu’s help, turning the play into a success. In the aftermath, Aya is grateful to have chosen the same high school as Yoko and Shinobu. A touching story with the light-hearted, warming feel that Kiniro Mosaic excels at presenting, Pretty Days is a welcome return to a series characterised by a colourful group of characters whose life in high school is filled with hope, wonder and a never-ceasing sense of cheerfulness.

In its premise, Pretty Days is centered around Aya and her memories of middle school with Yoko and Shinobu. While she’s initially doubtful that her friendship with Shinobu is a strong one, Yoko recounts their pivotal moment in middle school when it was Aya who motivated the two to buckle down and study for their entrance examinations such that they could be admitted to the same school. Even when Aya receives an admissions offer from a more prestigious academy, she ultimately turns down their offer, suggesting the strength of their friendship with one another. Although such an action might be seen as a poor decision from a certain perspective, Pretty Days presents this as a heart-warming choice that underlines just how strongly Aya cares about her friends, if she’s willing to pick being with them over a high school that might help her with post-secondary admissions. In addition to a well-executed central narrative, Pretty Days also brings back all of the elements that made Kiniro Mosaic so entertaining, whether it be Shinobu’s gifting of “heart” to her friends, or her determination to ensure the success of their class play, exhibited when she goes to the length of improvising lines for Karen and Aya when their original play disintegrates after Karen completely forgets her lines. The end result is fifty minutes of comedy that captures the spirit of Kiniro Mosaic, being an indispensable watch for all audiences who’ve enjoyed Kiniro Mosaic. While folks entering sans familiarity with Kiniro Mosaic may find some elements in the OVA a bit unusual, the overall pacing and structure means that this OVA can still be quite enjoyable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Owing to Shinobu’s tendency to not wake up on time in the mornings, the girls are forced to sprint the distance to their school, leaving Aya short of breath. It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything about Kiniro Mosaic: the last time the likes of Aya, Yoko, Shinobu, Alice and Karen graced this blog, it was the middle of summer 2015, when I had turned my focus entirely towards building visualisations of biological spaces in the Unreal Engine. This OVA is a fifty-minute feature and as such, features thirty screenshots rather than the usual twenty.

  • After Yoko expresses a wish to see Aya on stage when everyone is discussing their roles in their classes’ respective activities, Aya grows a bit sulky and is seen here with the classic anime pouty face. Conversation drifts towards reminiscence, where Yoko recounts how Shinobu’s been excited about performances and events for as long as she can remember. This is the conversation that gets Aya thinking; she becomes a little envious of Yoko and Shinobu.

  • With the culture festival arriving rapidly, everyone heads over to Shinobu’s house to continue working on the costumes for their play. Alice and Karen have already arrived, modelling Shinobu’s old middle school uniform and Isami’s high school uniforms, respectively. One common criticism I often hear for anime such as Kiniro Mosaic are the fact that the characters’ voices are too squeaky, having the acoustic properties of ultrasound, taking the form of noise complaints. As it turns out, higher frequency sounds are easier to discern because our ears are not quite so effective at picking up lower frequency sounds.

  • While Shinobu may not be particularly studious, her talents as a seamstress are ridiculously high, and from an objective perspective, she’s much more likely to be at home in an occupation involving sewing and adjustments, as opposed to linguistics and diplomacy. With this in mind, my perspectives have changed dramatically since my time as a high school student: during this time, dreaming big is an asset, allowing youth to explore their options. However, as time wears on, reality also kicks in, and people gradually choose paths that strike a balance between what they enjoy doing and what they’re good at doing.

  • In this moment, the characters’ personalities are captured succinctly in what they’re doing: Shinobu is plainly very focused and into her tasks, while Alice and Aya help out as best they can. Karen and Yoko, by comparison, are totally slacking off. However, Shinobu is whisked off with Isami on an errand of sorts, and when Alice wonder about how everyone knows one another, it is Yoko who steps up to the plate and recounts the story of their time as middle school students.

  • After Shinobu and Yoko receive their latest test scores following an in-class exam, their spirits plummet when Aya lectures them about the importance of performance in helping them get into their high school of choice. The girls decide to take a walk, and it is here that they visit Moegi High School for the first time, running into instructor Sakura Karasuma (Satomi Satō, best known for being K-On!‘s Ritsu Tainaka, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?‘s Chiya Ujimatsu and Hyouka‘s Eru Chitanda). After some introductions, Sakura gives them a short tour of campus.

  • Despite their prospects appearing low, Sakura encourages the girls to work their hardest and even gives them a cheer that Aya finds embarrassing. One of Sakura’s strongest traits is that she can go to great lengths to help the students even if her actions can come across as embarrassing; her students find this endearing and consequently, place a great deal of faith in her, accounting for why she’s held in high regard by the student population.

  • In the Canadian education system, there are no entrance exams, and students moving from middle school to high school are placed based on their geographical location relative to the school. There are provincial standardised exams that students must take, which influence the courses they can take once in high school. With this in mind, while the education systems here are less competitive, once folks finish their education, things become much more difficult when it comes time to find an occupation (whereas in Japan and other parts of Asia, the education system is gruelling, but finding work becomes a little more straightforwards based on which institution one graduates from).

  • For the time being, I’m done my education – I’ve stared down countless exams throughout my post-secondary career. Of my conventional exams, the most difficult exam I’ve ever written was for my Organic Chemistry II and Data Structures II course during my second year, while the worst performance was for Introductory Biochemistry (which I only just passed). The best exam was my Physics II (Electricity and Magnetism), written when I was in fourth year, during which I was still considering medicine as a career path, and the fastest I’ve ever finished a final was ten minutes (where I ended up missing exactly one question).

  • These exams pale in comparison to the MCAT (2012), my undergraduate honours defense (2013) and my Master’s defense (2016): these exams took a considerable amount of time to prepare for, and of the three, the MCAT was probably the most challenging. I have vivid recollections of spending the summer of 2012 studying for the exam even though it’s been nearly five years since I wrote the MCAT. Back in Kiniro Mosaic, Aya steps into the summer sun to visit Yoko’s house, where they may continue studying for their own exams.

  • Friends are often depicted studying together in things like Kiniro Mosaic: I’m predominantly a lone wolf who prepares independently for exams, but for several courses during my undergraduate degree (most notably, organic chemistry) and the MCAT, I was fortunate to be in similar company. The advantage about studying together is that help is available; this might offer a different perspective towards a problem that makes it easier to solve, and if there are people in the group who are unsure about a concept, teaching them can also help one reinforce their own knowledge.

  • With that being said, I’ve never studied with friends at my place (or theirs) before: the environment of a library or quiet room is rather more conducive towards work – Yoko, Shinobu and Aya captialise on such a space to shore up their own knowledge. Clean and minimalistic, the artwork in Kiniro Mosaic is intended to keep the viewers’ focus on the characters; this is quite similar to the approach taken in Yuyushiki, and drives home the notion that Kiniro Mosaic is more about the characters than their setting.

  • During the New Year, Yoko, Aya and Shinobu pray for their success in examinations at a local Shrine, as well as for one another’s success. The Chinese have an equivalent saying as a form of New Years’ wish: “學業進步” (Mandarin pronunciation xué yè jìn bù, literally “improvement in [your] studies”), but no such equivalent prayer. Some elements in anime, such as praying at a Shrine for success in studies or love, bring to mind some of the pre-game rituals people, especially athletes, have prior to a major event or trial. Mine is to halt all revisions twenty four hours before an examination and do something completely unrelated, whether it be study something else or outright stop studying altogether.

  • The rationale for this is that, if I were to be in trouble for an exam, a day is likely not to make too much difference; in the typical case, I could also lose confidence as I encounter material that may or may not be outside the scope of the exam. By relaxing, I calm my mind and allow the material that already exists to be consolidated. This strategy is my own exam-writing technique and may not work for everyone. During the winter, Shinobu and Yoko run into Aya, who’d just passed the exam for her first choice. However, feeling that she might be giving up time with her friends, she also applies to Moegi High School.

  • Although the exam turned out to be slightly more difficult than even Aya had imagined, Yoko and Shinobu put in their best efforts. The exam leaves the two slightly dejected, and this time, it’s Aya who picks up the slack and suggests that everyone relaxes with something delicious. Following my MCAT in 2012, contrary to the suggestions from a friend to have ice cream, I went for a hearty dinner at a Chinese Bistro and then proceeded to sleep like I hadn’t slept all summer. While my ability to recall things is quite powerful, I cannot recall what I did the day after the MCAT.

  • When the results for Moegi High School are made known, Aya is offered admissions. Yoko and Shinobu are initially frightened to learn their results, but with Aya’s encouragement, the two find that they’ve also been accepted. While Aya is normally presented as a shy but disciplined, no-nonsense type of person who is quick to dismiss the others’ antics, Pretty Days makes it clear that she’s also got a more caring side to her, as well.

  • Ultimately, Aya turns down her acceptance offer to the more prestigious high school in favour of Moegi High, much to Yoko and Shinobu’s surprise. This attests to the strength of their friendship, and the moment also presents an opportunity to see everyone wearing the Moegi High uniform properly: in Kiniro Mosaic, only Shinobu wears her uniform properly Yoko dispenses with the outer jacket, while Aya wears a sweater over hers. Karen wears her uniform in a very casual fashion, while Alice has a pink Cardigan over hers.

  • Alice and Karen both find this to be a very moving story. Karen’s reaction is rather adorable, and Alice is outright crying at the journey. A cursory glance at the calendar on the wall suggests that it’s 2014: Kiniro Mosaic originally began its manga run in 2010, and the anime dates back to summer 2013, although I only picked up the anime one term into my graduate program in late 2014. Unlike most anime, which I procrastinate to an extent most folks would find ridiculous, I managed to finish Kiniro Mosaic just in time for the second season to start.

  • It turns out that Shinobu and Isami went on a cake run; after Shinobu returns allegedly bearing gifts, Alice and Karen become rather excited, only to wilt in disappointment when it turns out the gift is Shinobu’s love. This forms the motivation for the page quote, where Bender receives a similar “gift” from Robot Santa in one of the Futurama holiday specials. The Futurama incarnation is rather darker with respect to its comedy, standing in contrast with the lighter atmosphere conveyed in Kiniro Mosaic.

  • Shinobu plainly remembers all that Aya’s done for her, and even though she might spend more time with Alice and Karen, Shinobu has never forgotten just how important Aya is to her. Thus, while Alice and Karen might recoil at Shinobu’s “gift”, Aya is well aware that Shinobu is being serious and genuinely appreciates their friendship, leading to this moment here.

  • Isami reveals that a cake is also on the table as a gift, turning Alice and Karen’s mood around instantly. Isami is voiced by Yukari Tamura, whom I also know for her roles as Sakura Yoshino (Da Capo), Mai Kawasumi (Kanon), Mei Suonohara (CLANNAD), Tabane Shinonono (Infinite Stratos) and Remon Yamano (Ano Natsu De Matteru). It’s actually a bit of a surprise to see just how much anime I’ve watched over the past ten years, and in the near future, I’ve got a special post reviewing the Ah! My Goddess The Movie, which was my entry into anime. It’s a thrilling story, and I wish to do it justice, so that story will be explored in full once I kick that post off.

  • Looking back, I’ve never done anything quite with the atmosphere of a culture festival during my time as a secondary student, but in university, I’ve participated in many open house events, speaking with parents and prospective students about the health science program. During my final year of graduate studies, I also had the opportunity to participate in a special celebration for the university’s fifteenth anniversary, alongside a TEDx talk: while not quite as festive as a cultural festival, things were nonetheless quite enjoyable.

  • Sakura enjoys a corndog and candied apple here prior to the play’s start, much to Yoko’s surprise. Today, besides marking the beginning for this year’s Daylight Savings, also saw an afternoon outing to watch the critically-acclaimed Logan. Prior to the movie, I stopped at Opa’s for lunch: I admit I’ve never eaten at the one on campus in all of my time there as a student, so at my friend’s recommendation, I went with the lamb wrap and fries, as well as sharing a plate of fried calamari. After lunch was over, with another friend inbound, and the movie set for a few hours later, I dropped by BestBuy to pick up a new USB hub.

  • Logan, with its thematic elements and violence (though, not quite as violent as either Wolfenstein or DOOM), sits quite far removed from the likes of Kiniro Mosaic, being a direct and forward film that is to-the-point with the presentation of its narrative. I can say that Logan is worthy of the praise it has garnered, but as the movie is still a new one, and partially because this is a Kiniro Mosaic post, I won’t go into further details.

  • With encouragement from Alice and Yoko, Aya begins her performance, masterfully delivering her lines despite being drafted at the last possible moment to perform. Despite her aversions to publicity, Aya can be quite capable, and here, she embraces her role, giving audiences a chance to see a side of her personality hitherto unexplored. It is in this play where most of the artwork comes from, then: in the aftermath of the OVA’s theatrical release, Japanese artists generated a non-trivial amount of artwork.

  • In anime such as Kiniro Mosaic, unexpected setbacks are presented for the sake of comedy rather than for drama: Karen’s completely forgotten her lines and immediately falls back on her improvisational skills. Unsurprisingly, Aya is unable to keep up, and the entire play seems to be at jeopardy. This brings to mind the Giant Walkthrough Brain from several years back, where a thunderstorm knocked out the power mid-game during the show’s first performance at the Banff Centre. Jay Ingram and his band excel at improvisation, and the use of laptops meant that we didn’t skip a beat: the show transitioned smoothly back in once power were restored, and the first performance ended up being a great success.

  • With the play in peril, Shinobu activates her NT-D summons a blonde wig and begins writing new lines in response to Karen and Aya’s predicament. While typically air-headed and incapable as a student, Shinobu’s highly talented in other areas. Academics is not everything, and while education systems place a very strong emphasis on academic performance, I’ve found that, especially in graduate school, the learnings and take-away messages from a course far exceed one’s grade: the thing I value the most of my graduate school experiences isn’t the Unity or Unreal Engine, how to formally describe a multi-agent system or mine data, but rather, how to communicate effectively.

  • Thus, what was supposed to be a structured play quickly turns into a free-for-all musical that winds up being a great success. Pretty Days grossed a total of 26 million yen (around 300000 CAD) on its first weekend. The original news article announcing Pretty Days is a deliberately misleading one, reading that Pretty Days would be predominantly about Shinobu’s situation when Yoko and Aya notice that she’s been overextending herself for the culture festival. Giving nothing away about the OVA’s contents, this blurb turned out to be a blessing and contributes to the OVA’s impact.

  • The Pretty Days OVA reaches its conclusion, with Shinobu and her classmates receiving warm applause for their performance in spite of all of the setbacks they’ve encountered. With Pretty Days in the books, eyes now turn towards the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? special. Titled “Dear My Sister”, the OVA was announced back during the Rabbit House Tea Party in 2016 and originally set to receive a limited theatrical screening in May this year – it is speculated to involve more music than seen in the anime proper. At present, it’s been delayed by production issues, and the updated release date remains unknown.

  • At present, even OVAs are receiving the anime movie release pattern, taking at upwards of a half-year to finally become available in the home release format now; the wait for these OVAs has become as long as those for movies, accounting for why Pretty Days, released in November 2016, is only being reviewed now. In spite of the waits, I will definitely be returning to do a talk on the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? special once that is available, and for the present, regular programming resumes as I push towards the end of Sora no Woto.

As is the modus operandi for OVA posts, one wonders if the OVA is the end-game, or merely a stepping stone for a continuation. Kiniro Mosaic performs reasonably well with respect to sales, and with the manga ongoing, it is possible that an animated adaptation depicting Shinobu and the others’ third year could come to fruition in the future, dealing with the girls as they finish their third year and move towards graduation. Nineteen months separated the first and second seasons, and by this trend, if Kiniro Mosaic is to receive a third season, it would likely be aired during the Winter 2018 anime season, just slightly less than a year from now. In comparison to my remarks that a second season of Yuyushiki, would be unlikely owing to how much time has elapsed since 2013, Kiniro Mosaic has already received its second season: the Pretty Days OVA comes at an intermediary point, so I am a bit more optimistic about the prospects of a third season. A continuation of Kiniro Mosaic would therefore be most welcome, acting as a conclusion of sorts to the series. Aside from graduation, a continuation could also open the possibility of Shinobu and her friends visiting England once more before they set off for whatever their futures have in store for them (with this being said, such an adventure might even be presented as a movie).