The Infinite Zenith

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Believe in Me: Harukana Receive Episode Two Impressions and Review

“You don’t have to believe in yourself, because I believe in you.” ―Drax to Mantis, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

In order to get Haruka comfortable with moving around in the sand, Kanata instructs her in basic moment patterns. Haruka remarks that her swimsuit is a little ill-suited for movement, and upon learning that any swimsuit can be used as a beach volleyball uniform, she asks Kanata to help her modify it. As Haruka improves, Kanata begins teaching Haruka basic receive and spike patterns, including a cut shot for surprising opponents. A week passes in no time at all, and Haruka is fired up at the prospect of a rematch. While running on the beach by morning on the day of their rematch, Haruka runs into Ayasa, who explains that Kanata was once a beach volleyball player and partners with Narumi. However, she would run away from the ball in fear. When the rematch begins, Narumi is surprised to see Kanata geared in her old beach volleyball uniform. In the ensuing match, Haruka’s efforts at a cut shot fail, but she encourages Kanata, who finds the courage to receive the ball. This unexpected turn of events is enough for Haruka to score a point, and in the aftermath, Narumi regrets her cold attitude towards Kanata. Haruka and Kanata celebrate with some ice cream, and Haruka notes that she realised Narumi’s dislike for Kanata during the match, allowing her to work out something that led them to win. Finding beach volleyball fun, Haruka resolves to play more seriously and partner with Kanata. Later, Claire and Emily Thomas come across the beach volleyball court where Haruka, Kanata, Ayasa and Narumi had their match. Harukana Receive begins picking up by its second episode, exploring Kanata’s doubts about her own ability and also giving viewers a glimpse of two new characters that will invariably play a role in the upcoming narrative.

Despite her relative lack of experience, Haruka picks up on the nuances of beach volleyball very rapidly: her prior experience with other sports and general athleticism is quite visible. Physicality is not a particular concern for Haruka, and over time, she will continue to refine her technique so that the ball goes where she means for it to go. Instead, the psychological aspects of beach volleyball look to play a much greater role in Harukana Receive; in the first episode, Narumi mentions that a good team is one where both partners trust the other and understand their respective strengths and weaknesses. Here in the second episode, Haruka realises mid-match that Narumi’s offense is directed entirely at Kanata, whose small stature limits her performance, and is able to turn the tables accordingly, guessing that Narumi and Ayasa will not see this coming. That the mental aspect of sports is significant should be no surprise to viewers: while audiences watching sports may only see the physical game, the thoughts that go through a player’s head and their confidence play as much of a role in their performance as much as their physical condition and training. This is something that Harukana Receive takes the effort to portray, and for its efforts, Harukana Receive is rapidly proving to be more than twelve consecutive weeks of watching Haruka’s perfectly formed arse while she plays beach volleyball: character dynamics are beginning to materialise, and with new characters coming in, it looks like things will become even livelier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Seeing Haruka with the simplified eyes consistently brings back memories of Non Non Biyori Repeat, when Hotaru shows how she normally is at home. Here, she wonders why all of Kanata’s exercises involve movement in the sand, rather than the volleyball itself, and Kanata replies that mastering the basics is essential. Much like how students in karate must learn the fundamentals of breathing and movement before moving onto basic techniques, Haruka must first learn what it feels like to move on a sandy surface and become comfortable with dives and dashes. Before we delve any further, I remark that with the amount of fanservice-type screenshots in Harukana Receive, if readers are not big on the jokes that I crack surrounding this, then you should leave…right now.

  • When Haruka finds her new swimsuit to be somewhat obstructive, Kanata helps her modify it: a tighter, basic swimsuit prevents sand from entering and causing irritation, as well as minimise energy wasted. Here, Kanata looks more closely to see what modifications are required and finds herself admiring Haruka’s ass to a much greater extent than she expected. Frequent mention of Haruka’s ass is likely meant to remind audiences that Haruka is very shapely.

  • While Kanata is helping Haruka train, the scenery around the beach is shown. A cable-stayed bridge can be seen in the distance: this is the Kaichu Doro Bridge, which connects Katsuren Peninsula on Okinawa Island to the Henza, Miyagi, Hamahiga and Ikei islands. With its distinct red tower, it’s visible from Yonashiroteruma, which is immediately south of Uruma. With this, we’ve worked out that Kanata and Haruka play beach volleyball on the shores of Kinbu Bay, located along the southeastern side of Okinawa. Henza, Miyagi and Ikei can be seen on the horizon in this screenshot – if I may crack a bad joke, I’m certain that most readers are not looking at the islands on the horizon in this particular image.

  • Haruka and Kanata enjoy their lunch in between practise under the beautiful Okinawan weather. The weather back home has been every bit as pleasant as it is in Harukana Receive: we’ve had beautiful weather for the past week, and during the last Sunday, I stepped out to The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth™ to enjoy a complemenary pancake-and-sausage breakfast, before exploring the Stampede grounds’ midway in search of interesting carnival eats. I ended up having the equivalent of two lunches: one stall was selling what they dubbed the “Mr. Crab”, a tempura nori taco shell loaded with sushi rice, California crab meat and topped with a tempura fried soft shell crab, drizzled with a special unagi and mango sauce. This was absolutely delicious, and it was such a treat to have soft-shell crab, which retained a distinct crab flavour despite being deep-fried to perfection. The bite of the sauce complimented the rich flavours of the crab and nori shell.

  • After walking around for a bit trying to find a place that was selling a hot dog and fries wrapped in a taiyaki pastery, I found the vendor selling them, but was informed their waffle iron had malfunctioned. I thus decided to go for a Philadelphia Cheese-Steak poutine (featuring sirloin steak, melted cheese, cheese curds, sautéed onions and mushrooms), which was very rich and hearty, especially for a warm day. Back in Harukana Receive, as the week wears on, Kanata feels that Kanata’s gotten a good enough grasp of the basics and begins training her in how to receive a ball.

  • Kanata introduces Haruka to the cut shot, and while Kanata describes it as a diagonal offensive shot, some cuts can be executed so that the ball flies nearly parallel to the net. Volleyball technical terms are as numerous and detailed as the language of biological sciences, software development and engineering, so it is fantastic that Harukana Receive takes the time to explain things to viewers as they go: the choice to have Haruka as a novice means that there is justification for introducing definitions as they are needed without breaking the narrative. Yuru Camp△ had been very successful with this approach, and Harukana Receive is doing a fine job of ensuring that viewers do not get left behind.

  • On the day of their rematch, Haruka is filled with restlessness and decides to go for a morning run. The sun rises at 0550 JST in Okinawa, and this early in the morning, the beach is calm. Looking more closely at landscapes in Harukana Receive, I find them to be quite rudimentary compared to the likes of Violet EvergardenTari Tari and those of Makoto Shinkai films, but the lighting and details of Harukana Receive are very impressive. Volumetric lighting is seen when Haruka sets off on her run, for instance, and even at this hour, it already feels quite warm going from the lighting alone. To further give the feeling that Okinawa’s beaches are a tropical paradise, a hermit crab can be seen. With over eleven hundred species, identifying the one seen here is beyond me, but all hermit crabs share the property of having a curved abdomen and utilise discarded shells to protect their abdomen from other predators.

  • Ayase explains to Haruka the history between Narumi and Kanata, as well as apologising for Narumi’s blunt nature. It’s certainly true that shy folks find it more difficult to express themselves, and consequently, I hold nothing against Narumi herself. Ayasa has since become very close to Narumi as a player and worries that if Kanata were to take up beach volleyball again, she might be abandoned. She further warns Haruka about Kanata’s limitations as a volleyball player, but Haruka is undeterred, stating that she believes in Kanata.

  • While she’s gearing up, viewers see a picture of Narumi and Kanata together with medals around their necks and smiles on their faces, showing that the two were once close and excellent beach volleyball players. Here, Ayasa strikes Haruka’s ass and compliments her, noting that she must be popular with the gentlemen. The minimal wave propagation shows that Haruka’s backside has a relatively high Young’s modulus, and I’ll let someone else explain in layman’s terms what that means. Haruka understandably reacts in embarrassment, and I empathise with Haruka – being touched downstairs can be uncomfortable, even if one is in good shape.

  • So far, existing discussions have focused on characterisation, and in the knowledge that both Kanata and Narumi are introverts, quiet by nature and not quite as effective at conveying their feelings verbally, it becomes clear as to why Narumi was not able to spur Kanata along to the same extent that Haruka has. Similarly, the reason why Narumi gets along well with Ayasa is because Ayasa is her opposite in personality, being quite expressive and outgoing. Two extroverts typically have no trouble in striking conversation with one another, which is why Haruka and Ayasa interact cordially immediately after meeting.

  • By comparison, two introverts will likely have little communication unless they get to know one another well, and even then, it can be a little difficult for them to be truthful about how they feel. Right before the match starts, Haruka boldly ups the ante, saying that the vanquished will treat the victors to ice cream. Haruka is very competitive and energetic in nature, although when the moment comes down to it, she can also be very motivated and determined. These are excellent characteristics to have, and coupled with her endless sense of optimism, means that Haruka is unlikely to ever succumb to self-doubt. Instead, I imagine that her conflicts this season will result from her dynamics with Kanata.

  • While Haruka might have an innate talent in all things athletic, her inexperience means that there’s no sudden improvement in skills over a week, and there’s no awakening or miracle. Harukana Receive keeps things real, and while Haruka’s beginning to learn the basics, it’s not yet enough for them to hold out against a team who’s been training for quite some time. Having said this, Haruka never seems to be intimidated by Ayasa and Narumi’s skill; in fact, she’s impressed and gains the motivation to improve.

  • When Haruka and Kanata execute their cut shot, Narumi dives and manages to keep the ball in play. As it turns out, Narumi had been expecting the pair to try such a move; it’s a reminder that Narumi knows Kanata quite well, to the point where she is able to predict any tricks that Kanata might try to pass onto Haruka. I get that the weight of past failures can hold one back, and so, one of the things I’m curious to see is what will allow Narumi to move forwards.

  • To give the sense of speed, the volleyball is almost always depicted as being fuzzy and blurry while in motion at normal speeds, only being more clear when the passage of time is slowed for dramatic effect. Late in the game, once Haruka starts looking at Ayasa and Narumi’s play-style, and being reminded of Kanata’s words about teams traditionally targeting the weaker player to gain an edge, she realises that every shot’s been aimed at Kanata. Haruka thus asks Kanata to take a receive, and states that she has full faith in her: this is where the page quote comes from, being one of the more warming moments of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when Drax encourages Mantis, who is trying to slow Ego with her telepathic powers.

  • Official documentation give Haruka’s height as being 172 cm (5’7½”), and Kanata is 151 cm (4’11”). Haruka is taller than average in Japan, where women are around 158 cm in height on average, but her stature is otherwise unremarkable: by comparison, Sword Art Online Alternative‘s Karen Kohiruimaki is 183 cm in height (an even 6’0″). Therefore, it is a bit surprising to hear that she sticks out in a crowd and has trouble finding clothing. For reference, I stand close to the same height as Haruka, which is the average height for people in Canada (and from the looks of it, for most of the world).

  • The unexpected turn of events allows Haruka to score a point, bringing the match to a close in a surprising manner. Haruka is voiced by Kana Yūki, who only has a minor role in GochiUsa but otherwise plays characters I’m not familiar with. Kanata is voiced by Saki Miyashita, and Narumi is voiced by Miyuri Shimabukuro; Miyashita is a newcomer, and Shimabukuro has only had roles in shows I’ve never seen before. By comparison, Kanae Itō plays Ayasa: I know her best for her roles as Hanasaku Iroha‘s Ohana Matsumae, Sanae Nagatsuki of Ika! Musume and Sword Art Online‘s Yui.

  • Haruka and Kanata are overjoyed at their victory, while Narumi runs off. It’s not so much that they lost, but rather, because Narumi feels terrible that she was never able to get through to Kanata in the same way that Haruka did and might have only led to Kanata’s unhappiness. Ayasa, showing concern for Narumi, asks that they do ice cream another day and runs off to look after Narumi.

  • The vivid contrasts in the background and foreground visually tell a story that dialogue alone cannot: there’s a great deal of emotions here. Ayasa reassures Narumi that Haruka will be looking after Kanata now, and I gather that even now, Narumi is still concerned about Kanata’s well-being, but simply has trouble expressing it. Amidst the warm, bright day, the girls’ emotions stand in stark contrast with their surroundings. While elsewhere, folks with expertise in Yuri-Vision™ are probably already going full force ahead with their discussions, I note that this particular aspect has never been something I have been strong with, and so, one will have to forgive the lack of this topic over here on this side of the internet.

  • What I can talk about are random, various things in Harukana Receive, such as the ice cream that Haruka ends up buying from the store (which also sells freshly-made cane sugar juice). Up until now, I’d never even heard of Citrus depressa, more commonly known as the Taiwanese Tangerine or Shequasar. This highly sour fruit is native to Taiwan and Okinawa, having very similar culinary uses as lemons do, and despite their name, have nothing to do with active galactic nuclei that radiate massive amounts of energy as a result of gases emitting EMR while being drawn into a supermassive black hole. In comparison to the darker colours surrounding Narumi and Ayasa, when Kanata and Haruka are sitting in the shade of an umbrella whilst enjoying their ice cream, there’s a faint purple hue to them, indicating differences in their respective moods.

  • Since Claire and Emily have made an appearance, it is expected that they will have a much more major role in the next episode. Things are ramping up now in Harukana Receive, and two episodes in, I am becoming more confident in saying that this is my go-to show of this summer season for relaxing and unwinding to, fulfilling the role that Amanchu! Advance and Yuru Camp△ played in their respective seasons. Having said this, I am a bit more cautious about watching Harukana Receive out in the open, as doubtlessly, the contents of this anime means that questions will invariably be asked. As for how I feel about writing about Harukana Receive rather than shooting people in the head in Battlefield 1, it’s a welcome change of pace, and even with the Road to Battlefield V challenge ongoing, I’ve managed to shift my schedules slightly so I can still earn my 30k points per week to unlock the weekly prizes. For readers, this means you can continue to expect same-day talks for Harukana Receive.

With Kanata and Narumi formerly being partners now out in the open, Kanata’s motivations for quitting and resuming beach volleyball are now established, along with the basis for why Narumi is particularly apathetic towards Kanata. One can imagine being a team player, only to lack the ability to help a struggling teammate along despite one’s efforts: this is why Narumi insists that beach volleyball is a team sport, and likely views Kanata’s quitting as a personal failure. With Kanata returning into the game thanks to Haruka’s energy, this will rapidly change how Kanata herself views beach volleyball, restoring the joy back into a sport that Kanata had lost interest in. There are many directions that Harukana Receive can go in, and although it is still very early in the season, it is clear that how all of the different characters will interact with one another, and the subsequent learnings through these interactions, both on and off the court, will be the centrepiece of Harukana Receive. For the present, Claire and Emily still need to be formally introduced into Harukana Receive, and once that’s done, Haruka will still need to undergo much more training to improve her technical skills and finesse as a player. Similarly, Kanata must find her own way of approaching beach volleyball to be the best player that she can be, and her time with Haruka will doubtlessly facilitate this. Watching characters improve over time has always been one of the biggest reasons as to why I watch slice-of-life series, and Harukana Receive is no different than the shows I’ve seen previously: the journey of progress is always one that I enjoy watching, whether it be the construction of Chernobyl’s New Safe Confinement project, the Space Race or a bunch of students in a fictionalised world learning about themselves in their youth.

Fibbing Camp: Yuru Camp△ OVA Review and Reflection

“Half a truth is often a great lie.” —Benjamin Franklin

When Chiaki remarks that different countries camp differently, Aoi tells Nadeshiko of a variety of bald-faced lies about how New Zealanders, Canadians and the Swiss camp. Nadeshiko buys this without a second thought, but Chiaki catches her. Later, Aoi’s younger sister, Akari, shows up and, when Nadeshiko remarks that she’s fond of Mount Fuji’s view from all directions, the sisters trick Nadeshiko into believing that she’ll be punished by being exiled to the Narusawa Ice Caves for loving the Yamanashi view as much as the Shizuoka view. Chiaki thinks that Nadeshiko should be more skeptical, but Aoi is cool with Nadeshiko being as gullible as she is. During this conversation, Akari arrives and attempts to convince Nadeshiko that Rin is leaving for Alaska – while Nadeshiko is sure that the real Rin is not so small in stature, Sakura then shows up with Rin’s hairstyle. Chiaki and Aoi also style their hair in Rin’s distinct bun, causing Nadeshiko untold confusion as she struggles with which Rin is the real deal. The second of the OVAs amounts to little more than an adorable romp through what the Outdoors Activity Club does outside of their camping activities: besides researching on camping equipment and technique, it seems that the girls also bounce off one another to create humour. In this OVA, Aoi’s enjoyment of being a prankster is presented – the TV series suggested that she’s able to tell lies without blinking, and the OVA further illustrates that she actively enjoys deceiving others.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While Canadians love to canoe, for the record, Canadians also love to RV, and most of us camp normally: I immediately knew that something was off when Aoi asserted that us Canadians canoe to camping spots frequently. Because the Yuru Camp△ OVAs run for a short five minutes, my posts for them will be correspondingly shorter, as well – I have ten screenshots for this Yuru Camp△ post, as I did with the previous “Room Camp” special.

  • As it turns out, Aoi’s sister, Akari, is also a bit of a prankster, as well: Nadeshiko feels that something is off about “Aoi” when Akari tries to pass herself off as Aoi. In this image, besides obvious differences in size and eye colour, the two look nearly identical. Apparently Akari is here to rectify a bit of a ruckus that ensued ever since Aoi tried to sell the idea that her family’s noodle shop has sobaudon, implying they have udon noodles served with an exotic bird meat. This a play on soba and udon, two different kinds of Japanese noodles: shops that serve both kinds of noodles will advertise that they sell sobaudon.

  • If Akari is to be believed, Aoi’s pranks are pretty large in scale and lands her in hot water, but how much of this is true remains open for discussion. While Akari explains what’s going down, Minami is depicted as being stuck answering an overwhelming number of complaints about Aoi’s actions, which seems a bit of a stretch, considering that Yuru Camp△ depicted Aoi as a capable student who has no troubles with studying and keeping up with her coursework. It should then become clear that such an incident never happened, and that Akari is visiting for any reason besides trying to pick up the mess that Aoi’s supposedly caused.

  • Akari and Aoi’s eyes take on a creepy shape when they’re lying: Chiaki warns Nadeshiko that this is the surest way of telling when the Inuyama sisters are distorting the truth for their own amusement, but being naïve about the ways of the world, Nadeshiko is unable to discern what’s real and what isn’t, resulting in a hilarious moment filled with what have since been referred to as Crying Nadeshiko Noises™. This is the closest the infamous Aokigahara, better known as the Suicide Forest, is mentioned in Yuru Camp△: the Narusawa Ice Caves are lava tubes located in Aokigahara, and has an average internal temperature of 3ºC, hence their naming. It is highly unlikely that the girls of Yuru Camp△ will visit Aokigahara – besides the lack of designated camping areas in the forest proper, the macabre possibility of encountering corpses would certainly ruin the comfortable sense that Yuru Camp△ is known for.

  • Admittedly, it feels a little strange to talk about Yuru Camp△ and not feature any screenshots of camping. In spite of the lack of camping, some aspects of camping are still mentioned, and the OVAs allow for five minutes of humour that otherwise would not fit anywhere else in a proper story about the girls preparing for and going camping. With the manga on-going, Yuru Camp△ could see a sequel in the future, and I would definitely watch a continuation of this series.

  • Regardless of the season, Yuru Camp△ is always welcome. However, the anime’s setting in the winter, and the fact that the first season aired during the winter meant that the anime feels distinctly like something that should be watched during the coldest months of the year. The anime did end up being the perfect remedy for when the days were short, and the air frigid, so to watch Yuru Camp△ again during the warmest time of year does feel a little strange.

  • Nadeshiko’s smile is unparalleled, and it was quite welcoming to see it return again in this OVA. Here, Nadeshiko is proud of herself for having managed to see through yet another ruse when Akari shows up, trying to pass herself off as Rin and claiming that Rin’s going to Alaska to camp. However, things get a bit more complex when Sakura shows up with, leading Nadeshiko to become confused as to why Rin is apparently in different sizes.

  • Summer is in full swing by this point in time, and because of the multitude of Stampede lunches around, leftover food from barbecue events are commonplace: hot dogs, fried chicken wings, Caesar salad and cheesy hash browns made up tonight’s dinner. The temperatures today reached a balmy 29° today, and there were no clouds in the sky. Summer’s been a relaxing one so far, and I’m looking forwards to making the most of the summer weather by taking morning walks around nearby parks, drinking slushies on hot days and the like.

  • The legendary Shimarin Dango makes a return in this OVA, and Nadeshiko is genuinely unable to differentiate between everyone once Chiaki and Aoi switch over to Rin’s hairstyle. Ena orchestrated this particular stunt, and by OVA’s end, it’s nearly impossible not to feel bad for Nadeshiko. I encountered difficulty in translating the OVA’s title, ほらキャン,  to an appropriate equivalent in English. ほら typically means “hey!”, but in this context, is used as ほら話 (approximately “tall tale” in English). However, this sounds a little awkward as a title. I’ve thus decided to give the best translation as “Fibbing Camp”: fibs are inconsequential lies, befitting the casual nature of Aoi and her sister’s pranks.

  • With this OVA in the books, I’m going to return to scheduled programming: Harukana Receive‘s second episode airs tomorrow, so I will be watching and writing about it in lieu of spending the evening unwinding in Battlefield 1. Ever since the Battlefield V closed alpha, Battlefield 1‘s been feeling a little more foreign to me, and adopting the strategies of a more defensive playstyle proved to be surprisingly effectual. I’ve since unlocked the new Burton LMR, and there are some interesting stories to tell about my Road to Battlefield V experience, as well, so between the Harukana Receive posts, I’m going to try and work in a Battlefield 1 post.

The flipside of showing Aoi’s propensity to lie for her own amusement is that Nadeshiko’s trusting, naïve nature is also presented. The unique personalities among members of the Outdoors Activity Club allow for some genuinely hilarious moments in the girls’ everyday life at school outside of their time spent camping together. The relaxed environment in their club allows the girls to be themselves, and in this OVA, have a bit of good-natured fun at Nadeshiko’s expense: while it’s just Aoi and Akari making various fibs to Nadeshiko, it seems that Nadeshiko is rthe sort of person who can be pranked easily – by the OVA’s end, Sakura, Ena and Chikai are in on the jokes, as well, resulting in a hilarious, yet pitiful moment for Nadeshiko that was quite heart-meltingly adorable. It is clear that Yuru Camp△‘s characters are a dynamic bunch, although the short lengths of each OVA suggest that the bulk of the series’ magic comes from camping, as well. This second OVA is set entirely in the Industrial Hallway that acts as the Outdoors Activity Club’s clubroom, the upcoming OVA for Yuru Camp△ is set to take place in a southern part of Japan that is quite warm and will be set for release just under two weeks from now. It’ll mark a change of pace from the two OVAs thus far, although I do wonder how things will unfold if there is only five minutes of time to work with.

Yoshika Miyafuji and the Frostbite Engine, or, Strike Witches: Road to Berlin and The Road to Battlefield V

“Hikari Karibuchi was able to take out a Neuroi Hive in the Arctic cold! With a Liberator pistol!”
“Well, I’m sorry. I’m not Hikari Karibuchi.”

—Obadiah Stane and a scientist on miniaturising the Arc Reactor, Iron Man

Earlier this week, it was announced that Strike Witches would return the story to Yoshika Miyafuji and the 501ˢᵗ Joint Fighter Wing. In a thrilling trailer, Yoshika and her fellow Witches deploy from the bomb bays of a B-17 Flying Fortress into the countryside below. They are immediately surrounded by a Neuroi swarm vastly outnumbering the swarms seen in the movie, beginning a fierce engagement. The trailer closes with a distraught Yoshika resolving to protect everyone. Set for release in 2020, this marks the triumphant return of the 501ˢᵗ, after Brave Witches followed Hikari Karibuchi’s time in St. Petersburg: it’s the first time we’ve seen Yoshika and her friends take to the skies since the Operation Victory Arrow OVAs, marking a welcome return to the familiar Witches that really kicked things off. With the likes of Strike Witches The Movie and Operation Victory Arrow setting the precedent for what Strike Witches can potentially cover, expectations are high: while Strike Witches‘ first two seasons were best known for their weekly enemies and flimsy excuses to stare at pantsu (which is unsurprisingly and, should remain, illegal in all jurisdictions outside the realm of fiction), The Movie began developing a deeper narrative about what being a Witch meant, and Operation Victory Arrow explored different aspects of new technology, the strength of resolve when one is fighting for their homeland and how trust is lost and gained. These substantial changes in Strike Witches gave the series a new meaning and the possibility to explore a world that had been surprisingly well-developed and detailed, for a series that was once meant to provide gratuitous pantsu moments. Thus, when Brave Witches came and continued to hone this pattern, crafting a meaningful and engaging story with new characters, it became clear that the world of Strike Witches definitely could stand on its own and explore a wide range of interesting themes. As a result, when we turn the story back to the 501ˢᵗ, expectations are high for this group of Witches to impress and make the most of their world to create a compelling narrative.

Although the date seems quite far off, being 2020, there are a few factors that make this timeline much more palatable. For one, this new Strike Witches series, titled Strike Witches: Road to Berlin, is going to be a televised broadcast, which corresponds with a concrete timeline of when audiences will be able to watch this; Girls und Panzer: Das Finale has no known timeline, and so, could conclude in 2023 at the current rate of progression. The Witches’ deployment from a B-17 Flying Fortress also seems to resemble the Narvik Grand Operations opening cinematic, where British Paratroopers make a jump onto the battlefield. Readers wondering why this post has all of the metadata tags and title of a Battlefield V post have their question answered here: Battlefield V returns players to the World War Two setting, and Strike Witches is set in an alternate-history version of World War Two. Alluded to in my previous post, the shared setting means that players who also happen to enjoy Strike Witches will finally be able to run with some of their favourite Strike Witches loadouts in the Frostbite Engine. Moreover, with a powerful new customisation system projected for Battlefield V, I imagine that players could fine-tune weapons, and even cosmetic features, so that they can more closely resemble their favourite Witch should they be inclined to make a purchase for those items. This aspect of Battlefield V has drawn a considerable amount of flak and will be the subject of a discussion for another day; at present, I am content to simply run with the same weapons and setup as the Witches of Strike Witches, and believe that it will be necessary to learn more about the customisation system before attempting to run around as Lynette Bishop, Gertrude Barkhorn, Georgette Lemare or Nikka Katajainen.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In this post, I will be mixing talk of Battlefield V with talk about Strike Witches: my story with Strike Witches dates back some seven and a half years, when I picked up the first season out of curiosity. Those I knew recommended against watching the anime on reputation alone, but once I got into Strike Witches, I found a simple and modestly entertaining series during its first season. The second season was more or less a carbon copy of the first, merely being set in a different setting and also began exploring the limits of magic.

  • Here, I give the German MP-40 a go: an open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine gun firing 9×19 mm Parabellum rounds at 500-550 RPM, giving the medic class a viable close-quarters weapon. Battlefield 1‘s medics were largely relegated to medium range combat, and only had the Federov Avtomat as a closer range weapon. This is contrary to the medic’s role of being in closer ranges to heal and revive teammates. One interesting tidbit about the MP-40 is that Battlefield V‘s soldier is holding it correctly: holding the magazine itself could move the magazine out of position, causing the weapon to stop firing.

  • With a selection of submachine guns and semi-automatic rifles available to the medic, this class will become much more versatile and useful now. I believe in Strike Witches: The Movie, Erica Hartmann also holds her MP-40 in the correct manner, gripping the weapon closer to the magazine housing. While typically rolling with the MG42, as Gertrude and Minna does, she switches over to the MP-40 after her MG42’s barrel overheats mid-combat.

  • Running with a proper Karlsland Witch loadout in the finished Battlefield V will largely depend on how the game treats the MG42: this general purpose machine gun could be configured as either an LMG or medium machine guns. Since Battlefield V chooses to balance MMGs by making soldiers unable to aim down sights unless they have their bipods deployed, I did not utilise the MG34 to any real extent during the closed alpha, and a MMG configured MG42 would force players to adopt a more defensive style. Conversely, an LMG-configured MG42 would allow for players to play as aggressively as do the Karlsland Witches.

  • By comparison, bolt-action rifles are much rarer in Strike Witches: the anime allows the Witches to carry heavy arsenals without effort on virtue of their magic, so they can carry heavier weapons into combat, including the Type 99 cannon and Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Running an authentic Lynette Bishop loadout, then, is impossible, since the mechanics of Battlefield V are such that heavier weapons would necessarily be mounted. However, this isn’t going to stop anyone from being effective with the bolt-action rifles and semi-automatic rifles: I managed to land consecutive kills here with the Karabiner 98k while defending a point.

  • While my performance at the start of the closed alpha was quite poor, once I became accustomed to moving around more slowly, with squad-mates, and chose to play a more defensive game, things turned around dramatically, to the point where KD ratios exceeding 1.5 became the norm. Battlefield V has gone the extra mile to encourage a more tactical play-style: by deliberately limiting players’ ammunition capacity, this prevents camping, while the shorter time to kill encourages a more defensive play-style that is far removed from the aggressive swarming tactics that worked so well in Battlefield 1.

  • The end result is that a shorter time to kill and reduced ammunition capacity forces players to move strategically, picking the best times to press forward and attack, or else defend a position. Things are much more skill driven, and this will hopefully result in much more consistency in one’s experience: it only took me around five hours to get comfortable with Battlefield V‘s approach, whereas with Battlefield 1, I am forced to accommodate for random factors that impact my gunplay.

  • Even though the sweet spot is completely removed from Battlefield V, I nonetheless found sniping to be superbly enjoyable: close to the alpha’s end, I was nailing back-to-back kills one enemies. By this point in time in Battlefield 1, I’ve largely stopped playing within my rifles’ sweet spots when running as a scout: the Enfield Silenced is a superior all-around weapon and aiming for the head will ensure a one-hit kill regardless of the sweet spot.

  • I speculate that Road to Berlin will likely deal with the Human-Neuroi War’s later stages: in World War Two, the Allied forces’ assault on Berlin marked the closing stages of the war, and in Strike Witches, we’ve seen the equivalent of The Battle of Britain in the first season, and the Liberation of France during the second season. With Nazi Germany being the final part of the war, it stands to reason that Road to Berlin will see some of the fiercest fighting seen in Strike Witches to date. The trailer certainly seems to suggest this: the sheer number of Neuroi on screen far surpasses anything seen previously, even in The Movie.

  • While the closed alpha saw players running around in the frozen hills of Narvik, Battlefield V has also showcased concept art of other locations, including Northern France, Rotterdam, Arnhem (so, players will get to recreate the Battle of Arnhem in the Frostbite Engine and play as Perrine), and North Africa (fans of the 31ˢᵗ Joint Fighter Squadron Afrika will rejoice). This is particularly exciting, and in some of the more open maps, such as amidst the rolling hills and sleepy villages of France, it might be possible for some heavy armoured combat to take place.

  • Bringing the sort of tank combat that ought to have been seen in World of Tanks and Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match will be one of the other things I’m looking forwards to seeing in Battlefield V: even if the scale of the tank battles are smaller, the fact is that the Frostbite Engine is incredibly sophisticated and in previous iterations of Battlefield, tank combat has been quite satisfying.

  • The new mechanics of tank combat in Battlefield V forces tankers to play more strategically: much like how infantry carry less ammunition, tanks now have a finite pool of shells for their main cannon and secondary machine guns.  Reloading is a slow and nerve-wracking process, leaving tankers exposed to enemy action. As such, it is no longer viable to shell buildings to the ground, or camp in some remote corner of the map and pick off distant foes. One must make every shot count, but when rounds connect, they are devastating.

  • Going purely from my impressions of armoured warfare in the closed alpha and how tanks are quite fragile against Panzerfaust rounds, the Daigensui-ryu is utterly worthless in Battlefield V: charging into an urban area without any infantry support will doom any tank, even the mighty Tiger I. This individual’s infamy has passed into the realm of obscurity now: five years previously, they’d been reviled for starting a brutal flame war arguing that Black Forest’s practices in Girls und Panzer were a proper display of the school’s skill, and Shiho’s preparedness to disown Miho was justified.

  • With the revelation that Shiho cares very much for her daughters despite her outward appearances, it is quite clear that the old flame wars amounted to little more than a waste of time. Supplementary materials further show that Shiho is a good parent, but struggles to make her feelings known. So, she hides her doubts behind a veneer of toughness. I watched the flame war from the sidelines at the time, since I was entangled in trying to finish my honours thesis program at the time, and looking back, I believe that Shiho’s inability to make her feelings clear could give the impression that she’s cold and unyielding.

  • While I may espouse that Battlefield V is Girls und Panzer: Dream Tank Match as it should have been, featuring much more dynamic and skill-driven gameplay, a part of me wishes that they would port Dream Tank Match over to the PC. However, I imagine that Dream Tank Match will release for PC the same way Half-Life 3 will release for PC, so having DICE bring new stories of World War Two into life in their engine is more than a satisfactory substitution: it’s like losing a dime and finding a dollar. I’m glad that Battlefield V will be exploring some of the lesser-known battles of the Second World War, and in a later post, I will be dropping by with the last batch of closed alpha screenshots and my own wishlist of what I hope Battlefield V will have in terms of content.

  • The Bren gun in the closed alpha was a mixed bag: initially, I struggled to perform with the Bren because of its low rate of fire and longer time to ADS. This meant I was losing firefights frequently, trying to use the gun in a way that it was not meant to be used. However, once I got the hang of it, I began playing more defensively, hanging back and picking off enemies at range while providing suppressive fire for allies, and the Bren became a powerhouse weapon that I went on several killstreaks with.

  • The Bren is yet another weapon that illustrates that with enough time, one could get used to a weapon and its mechanics to get more out of it: by the end of the closed alpha, I was tearing apart enemies with the weapon between the Bravo and Delta capture points in conquest, using my ammo pouches to help teammates resupply, and building up fortifications to provide our positions with more cover. While the fortification system is useful and fun, one of the things I did not see in the closed alpha was the ability to build a snowman for bonus morale points.

  • The Bren’s slower firing rate and unwieldy iron sights might make it a bit of a challenge to use at extreme close quarters, but at some ranges, it is possible to hipfire the weapon and score kills with it. In order to run with Perrine’s Arnhelm Bridge loadout, I would also need to have a PIAT handy. Because of the class system, it may or may not be possible to pull this off, since the PIAT is an anti-tank weapon and likely to be made available to the anti-vehicular archetype for the assault class. American-made Bazookas might also be available as a viable anti-vehicle weapon, and looking through inventories of World War Two-era anti-tank weapons, the list is extensive.

  • This post was largely written about Strike Witches: Road to Berlin, and before I wrap up, I’ll explain where the page quote is sourced from – I’ve been doing some catch-up with some of the MCU movies that I did not watch previously, by beginning with 2007’s Iron Man. During one point in the movie, while tasking his scientists to replicate the Arc Reactor, Obadiah Stane yells at the lead scientist at their lack of progress. The page quote, then, is a modified variant of the quote: I was most impressed with how Brave Witches handled their Neuroi Hive fight, being a true example of teamwork and resourcefulness. As a result, Yoshika and her fellow Witches have a rather tall order ahead of them – they must put on an equally good showing without resorting to the ridiculous antics that were seen at the end of seasons one and two when the 501ˢᵗ took out their hives.

  • The ribbon system was very inconsistent in the closed alpha, and I imagine that ribbon criteria will likely be tuned before the final release. Here, I earn one for resupplying team mates, and with this final screenshot, my part-Strike Witches-part-Battlefield V closed alpha talk comes to a close. I’m sure that readers might be disappointed to learn that this post has no screenshots of Road to Berlin, but I do have a stockpile of Battlefield V closed alpha screenshots to make use of, and a post talking about Strike Witches with five screenshots would not be too exciting, either. Upcoming posts are less likely to disappoint readers – I am going to write about the second Yuru Camp△ OVA very soon, having recently watched it, and there’s also Harukana Receive‘s second episode to look at, as well.

The Battlefield V closed alpha provided a fine opportunity to run around with some of the weapons that will feature in Battlefield V; the time to kill at present is very low, and with semi-automatic weapons having next to no spread, their laser-like precision at range creates an interesting challenge in which semi-automatic weapons become sufficiently powerful to dominate gameplay. The Gewehr 43 and StG 44 in semi-automatic mode are so versatile that they may render the other weapons obsolete if not properly balanced. Fortunately, there is a solution: adding increased recoil to semi-automatic weapons forces players to learn their pattern without requiring changing spread and damage mechanics. Skill-based shooters are largely built around recoil control, so if Battlefield V can stick with modifying recoil patterns and modifiers, as well as reload times, for different weapons without affecting damage, then each weapon will have a consistent behaviour that one can learn over time. Mastering these patterns confer improved experiences over time and also provides an incentive to better oneself: there is a sense of accomplishment when games reward players for taking the time to learn their mechanics. Players who invest the time in learning their weapons and archetypes will help their team substantially and may also bring about more Only in Battlefield™ moments that make the best titles of the series so captivating to play. Similarly, in Strike Witches, Yoshika started out as a bit of a joke, but her persistence and determination to do right in the name of her friends and duty led her to become a hero of sorts. With at least a year-and-a-half between the present and Strike Witches: Road to Berlin‘s release, I imagine that there will be a sufficient amount of time to go into Battlefield V and unlock all of the necessary weapons and equipment needed to run with the same, or at least, a very similar loadout as their favourite Witch.

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“Behind every gun sight is a human being. We are those people.” –Battlefield 1 Prologue

Teaming up with Miyu, Karen introduces her to Gun Gale Online, where she decides to roll with a pair of Milkor MGLs. They participate in the next Squad Jam tournament; shortly after the game starts, Karen and Miyu spawn in at the opposite end of the map to Pitohui and Gōshi. Karen is immobilised after falling into a trap at the start, but manages to ambush an enemy team and push their way into a dome, where they defeat pursuing enemies, and Karen relinquishes supplies from another player in exchange for a kiss. Meanwhile, several teams have formed an alliance with the goal of taking out Pitohui and her team, but are promptly slaughtered. When Karen and Miyu run into the rhythm athletics club players, they agree to properly duel another day and work together. Pushing towards Pitohui’s position, Miyu and Karen capitalise on a distraction the rhythm athletics club players provide with their anti-tank rifle. While Karen is immobilised, Miyu draws fire from Gōshi, and manages to draw out the pair. A vehicle pursuit follows, ending with a brutal final fight where Karen severs Pitohui’s carotid artery, before another team finishes them off to claim victory in the tournament. In the real world, Karen receives a birthday gift from the rhythm athletics club, and Gōshi explains his relationship with Pitohui. He takes them to visit her – it turns out that Pitohui is none other than Karen’s idol, Elsa Kanzaki. Elsa is surprised that Karen’s deduced her identity, and kisses her. Later, Karen and Elsa return to Gun Gale Online in pursuit of the rush that can only come from hunting things down and killing them. This brings Alternative to a close, and while superior to Sword Art Online‘s main incarnation in virtually all ways, Alternative nonetheless inherits some of the elements that made the Sword Art Online series more melodramatic and ill-conceived.

The weakness in Alternative lies entirely in Elsa and Gōshi’s backstory and motivations for playing Gun Gale Online: an implausible relationship borne of character flaws so severe that in real life, clinical intervention and law enforcement would have certainly intervened. It is immensely difficult to accept these as the driving factors for why Elsa and Gōshi are in Gun Gale Online and fighting with the intensity that they do, breaking the immersion and authenticity of a spin-off that is otherwise superb. Setting up contrived, unrealistic situations for some of the characters for the singular purpose of creating melodrama is ineffective in raising the audience’s interest and a practise that I find to detract from the story, and moreover, in the case of Alternative, this is a missed opportunity to have told a much more meaningful story about games and social behaviours. In particular, Elsa’s character could have suffered from gaming addiction and aggression associated with withdrawal symptoms, while Gōshi certainly did not require such an objectionable backstory and instead, could have simply played the role of a concerned manager worried about Elsa’s ability to perform on stage. In doing so, Alternative would be able to explore themes of addiction and recovery, and perhaps illustrate how moderation might be one solution to addressing addiction problems among individuals. Through meeting Karen, Elsa could have simply regained her love for performing and with everyone’s help, manage her work and gaming in a more balanced manner. All of this logically fits into the flow of events within Alternative, and in fact, save for this (albeit major) change of motivations from Elsa and Gōshi, it’s not difficult to imagine that Alternative could have progressed in a very similar manner without losing its momentum – the inclusion of more current social issues over fabricated drama would have allowed Alternative to genuinely set itself apart from other instalments with the Sword Art Online brand and impress audiences to the extent that Kirito is unlikely to achieve.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Miyu first spawns into Gun Gale Online, she is given a large amount of funds and blows it on a pair of Milkor MGLs. These 40mm six-shot grenade launchers fire a variety of low-velocity rounds out to 400 meters, and in Battlefield 4, acted as a battle pickup. Miyu’s character was optimised for support, and in her shoes, I would’ve gone with a reliable mid-range LMG such as the M240B in place of grenade launchers. However, being Sword Art Online, characters don’t always choose the best of loadouts and yet, somehow still manage to do well enough with them – this stands in contrast with Battlefield 4‘s MGL and other battle pickups, which are only useful in some situations and are otherwise outclassed by standard weapons.

  • To get Miyu accustomed with the mechanics of Gun Gale Online, Karen agrees to train with her, and here, after a near miss, Karen reprimands Miyu, who is still getting used to her MGLs. However, over time, Miyu becomes comfortable with her loadout, to the point where she gives Matimi0 a run for his money as far as effectiveness goes with her weapons. Throughout the course of her run in Squad Jam, Miyu never seems to run into the constraints that Matimi0 outlines as being the limitations of Battlefield 4‘s battle pickups, and so, one is forced to accept that, while Alternative does a great job with most of its mechanics, it’s not fully reflective of the sorts of things that folk pick up by playing shooters.

  • One feature that DICE is definitely not going to add to Battlefield V will be player hubs where one can eat virtual meals and the like: it was revealed that Battlefield V will have a battle royale mode, and while I’m not particularly big on this game mode on account of the slow gameplay, I can understand DICE wanting a piece of the battle royale market (Activision has announced its intention to add a battle royale mode to Black Ops IV). Even against the likes of Fortnite, DICE has the advantage in that the Frostbite Engine is a tried-and-true technology – it’s been handling 64 player servers with solid performance since Battlefield 3, and large maps are a staple of the Battlefield franchise. Thus, even if I don’t play battle royale, I think it’s a great move on DICE’s part to add this mode.

  • Although Miyu might be a gamer who puts me to shame with her profound knowledge of games and in terms of pure hours, her decision to eat nine cartons of ice cream prior to joining Karen in a Squad Jam is foolish to the point of hilarity: she gets the runs for her troubles and is very nearly late for their match. One of the biggest disadvantages about full-immersion VR games as seen in Sword Art Online is that there is not an option to pause out of a game. When I game, I find that the pause feature is the most critical, since I’m busy enough so need to leave games with a non-trivial frequency. For online multiplayer shooters like Battlefield, I usually camp in some remote corner or stay at the spawn screen, and hope that I’m not idle long enough for the server to kick me.

  • My last Alternative post featured my reaction to Pitohui’s situation, but since Karen and Miyu are unlikely to tell Pitohui to go fuck herself and stop the events of Alternative cold in its tracks, I’ve opted to go with a different quote for this finale post – sourced from Battlefield 1‘s opening cinematic, the juxtaposition in Alternative is an appropriate place for such a quote: in the context of Battlefield 1, the line refers to the fact that soldiers in war are people, each with their own story. However, the line is also relevant to Alternative in that Karen sees her opponents as people who are playing the game and trying to have a blast, the same as her: she makes a clear distinction between gaming and the real world, using Gun Gale Online as an escape. This stands in contrast with how Pitohui seemingly plays Gun Gale Online.

  • In the match’s opening moments, Miyu runs into explosive traps that blow her legs off, resulting in one of the most adorable apologies I’ve seen in any anime for quite some time. Unlike DOOM or Wolfenstein, Gun Gale Online does not have any blood and gore even though limbs can be severed, and bodies bisected. I imagine this design is by choice rather than hardware limitations in-universe: using digital effects would lower the game’s ESRB rating to “Teen” rather than “Mature” and allow Gun Gale Online to reach a wider market. Within ten minutes, her limbs regenerate, and the pair continue on with their goal of reaching Pitohui.

  • Karen’s avatar, LLEN, is entirely speed driven: against opponents, her advantage is surprise, but she’s also surprisingly fragile. In games where I have a choice, I usually go with slower, more heavily armoured characters because they handle most similarly with the spartans of Halo 2. If fighting LLEN, strategy would be key: Karen is what one would call a hipfire scrub, and her fighting style emphasises speed at close range, so one would reasonably counter with good mid-to-long range options. A DMR and traps would certainly do the trick, although it would also be a fun challenge to trade blows with such an avatar using whatever equivalent Gun Gale Online has as the Doom Slayer.

  • Moving through a railyard, Karen spots for Miyu, who uses her MGLs as a makeshift mortar and hammers all opposing players with ease. Battlefield 34 and 1 include mortars: when used in conjunction with good recon players and their ability to spot, mortars are powerful to the point of ludicrousness. Mortars are useful for shelling positions with a large enemy presence, but as stationary weapons, they also leave operators exposed to retaliatory fire – one of my favourite pastimes in Battlefield is humiliating mortar users by killing them with weak weapons.

  • My curiosity with the Alternative loadout led me to run a naked P90 and the MGL in Battlefield 4: coming back in from Battlefield 1, the movement feels much more limited, and hit detection is not as responsive, but the time to kill is significantly more satisfying, and with a P90 having no attachments, I nonetheless managed to do quite well in TDM on Operation Locker. Like Matimi0, however, the MGL is rather less useful, although I did end up scoring a double kill with it when I found one on Siege of Shanghai in TDM. I conclude that Karen and Miyu are probably uncommonly lucky half the time with their situations, if they are able to make their loadouts work as well as they did, and one wonders if Alternative‘s writers have some experience in Battlefield or other shooters.

  • The hipfire penalty is strong with this one: Pitohui is seen firing an AK-74M here from the hip against ambushing enemies, and while she’s touted as being highly effective, during the fight against the amassed enemy players, it seems that their inability to use cover and strategy, coupled with their tendency to charge towards Pitohui, contributed to their loss more than any exceptional skills or gear on Pitohui’s part: it’s not exactly hard to kill someone charging forwards. The best counter against Pitohui’s dug-in group, under the assumption of superior numbers, would be sustained artillery and mortar fire, before closing the distance and picking off any survivors with mid-range weapons.

  • Evidently, resupplies are not a thing in Gun Gale Online, and Karen expends more ammunition than intended. She’s able to acquire some from an unscrupulous-looking fellow in exchange for a kiss: long presented as a practical individual, Karen’s actions here are not particularly surprising, given that she knows this is a game, and that in exchange for something few will likely remember, she will be given the provisions needed to carry on with her objectives.

  • The players on Team Slayer are counted as the most fearsome of the players participating in this Squad Jam tournament. Donning armour that resembles the Praetor Suit of DOOM, this team is armed with Heckler & Koch XM-8 rifles, experimental light-weight rifles that were born of a want for versatile, durable replacements for the M4 and M16 assault rifles. A good assault rifle is all one needed in Battlefield 3 and 4, as well as most games: they strike a balance between DPS and accuracy at range, making them highly adaptable.

  • The rhythm athletics club field a WWII-era PTRD-41; alternatively known as the Degtyaryov Anti-Tank Rifle, it was a Soviet weapon that could punch through up to 40 mm of armour at 100 metres (compared to the .50 BMG’s ~22.2mm at 91 metres). After sacrificing one of their own to act as a shield, the rhythm athletics club blow away Gōshi’s shield, forcing him to retreat, and use the opportunity to press the attack, but come under sniper fire. Their actions create the distraction that Karen and Miyu need to close the distance and flank the cabin that Pitohui is recovering in, after she takes a near-lethal shot from an enemy sniper. Karen eliminates this sniper, and the remainder of her team give themselves up to defend Pitohui.

  • When Pitohui recovers enough of her health, she decides to emulate Lord Vader’s massacre at the end of Rogue One. Like Kylo Ren’s pale emulations of one of the most iconic Sith Lords of all time, Pitohui’s gleeful slaughter of an enemy force with her lightsaber, however fun it was to watch, barely holds a candle to the sheer impact of Vader’s methodical, calculated elimination of Rebel soldiers in Rogue One.

  • Because Karen seems to lose most of her motivation after watching Pitohui dominate everything that tries to stop her, Miyu decides to jump into the open and in the process, binds Karen’s shoelaces together to give her some time to regroup. Miyu references the Gordian Knot here: it refers to a tale where an oracle at Telmissus decreed that any man who could unravel an seemingly unsolvable knot would hereafter be king of Phrygians. In some versions of this story, when Alexander the Great was confronted with the knot, he simply drew his sword and slashed. Since then, the Gordian Knot refers to a problem where thinking outside of the box can offer a solution that conventional thinking might not. Miyu’s rationale is that Karen’s overthinking things, and forcing Karen to slow down might allow her to see that settling things with Pitohui is much simpler than she might otherwise think it to be.

  • From a technical perspective, Alternative does not impress in the artwork department: the world of Gun Gale Online during the Squad Jam mode is monotonous, with the golden glow of evening permeating all environments save the social hub, which is eternally locked in the night. Battlefield 1 and The Division have dynamic weather, as does The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – it stands to reason that a game as technically sophisticated as Gun Gale Online would conceivably have dynamic weather that could alter the way players approach a problem, and while one might argue that unchanging weather is more fair for battle royale modes, I counter that shifting weather patterns, especially those affecting visibility, forces players to alter their tactics. As such, those with more familiarity with the game and a higher skill level would therefore adapt more readily.

  • In the final confrontation, it ultimately boils down to a confrontation between two opponents who both are fighting for the sake of exhilaration, and because of a promise they’d made to give it their all when challenging one another. This fight would’ve stood alone just fine even without Pitohui’s threats to kill herself and Gōshi, and as argued above, the excessively dramatic setup for why Pitohui and Gōshi play Gun Gale Online comes across as being corny, implausible. This is the one strike I have against Alternative, a series that I feel could’ve done to deal with contemporary and more plausible issues, such as gaming addiction and its surrounding mental health challenges.

  • After a firefight that sees Karen’s second P90 destroyed, combat enters the realm of melee. It should not take a whole lot of effort to convince readers that had Pitohui’s situation merely be that of a gaming addict who suffers from severe withdrawal and anger issues when unable to game, and that Karen is trying to get Pitohui to come around by beating her, Alternative‘s flow would largely remain unchanged, and the progression would have continued very closely to what we ended up seeing in Alternative. Of course, I suppose it would not be Sword Art Online if at least a handful of ridiculous situations were not presented.

  • Karen’s strongest suit is her pragmatism: she goads Pitohui into attacking, and then knifes her. However, she looks to meet her end when Pitohui picks her up and prepares to execute her. A distraction, in the form of Gōshi and Miyu arriving, leads Pitohui to shoot Gōshi for setting up a situation that favoured Karen, and Miyu “frees” Karen from Pitohui’s grip, slicing off Karen’s hands in the process. This forces Karen to take out Pitoshui with the only weapon that she has remaining to her in a brutal manner, and I admit that Karen’s playstyle as LLEN is a bit of a turn-on.

  • I’ve never been a particular fan of the deranged faces in Sword Art Online when characters go in for the kill, especially those of Kirito’s, but for Karen’s execution of Pitohui, the faces seem to work fine without coming across as extraneous. Karen’s actions in Gun Gale Online are continually unexpected, even if they are consistent with her play style, and this is one of the aspects that make me particularly fond of Karen as a character in Alternative. After Karen chews through Pitohui’s internal carotid artery, she defeats her, but does not live long enough to savour the moment: Team Slayer arrives and scavenges kills off Karen.

  • I refer to TS as Team Slayer simply because their powered armour resembles the Doom Slayer’s Praetor Suit: close inspection of the armour’s design finds that it has rounded elements on the shoulder and chest piece that makes it similar to the Praetor Suit, rather than the Mjolnir armour variants seen in Halo. Had Gun Gale Online allowed players to play as the Doom Slayer, right down to having the same powerups and abilities, however, it might’ve been a little too much – DOOM encourages players to go in up close and personal for brutal glory kills, and seeing Pitohui and LLEN ripped apart the same way the Doom Slayer kills Hell’s dæmons would not be suitable for television, even if the violence in Gun Gale Online is restricted to a simplified red grid texture and particle effects denoting injury.

  • In an anti-climatic closing to the second Squad Jam competition, Karen and Pitohui die in one another’s arms, bringing things to a close. To have another team come in and win is a plausible outcome: so focused are Karen and the others on taking Pitohui out that they neglected another capable team’s presence. This is one aspect of battle royale games that is raised: it is possible to do very well by picking one’s battles and not engaging in every encounter. Some of my friends who’ve played Fortnite, for instance, have gotten very far into the game simply by avoiding active combat and only picking off survivors following firefights.

  • The rhythm athletics club gift Karen a necklace for her birthday in the aftermath of the Squad Jam. As promised, more sweets and tea are had: Karen keeps her word, and throughout Alternative, Karen’s personality and motivations are what kept me interested in watching the series. She’s the polar opposite of Kirito: I actually have no problems with Kirito’s exploits in-game any more than I do with Karen’s exploits in-game. Instead, it is the presentation his real world actions that I find bothersome; Kirito is presented as being worthy of working alongside law enforcement and government agencies despite an lack of formal training, beyond his entanglement in some situations.

  • I get that Kirito, at a certain level, is similar to Jack Ryan Senior of the Tom Clancy universe, but most of Jack Ryan’s achievements follow a somewhat logical pattern. By comparison, Kirito’s circumstances simply happen. As my grievances with this particular aspect of Sword Art Online is a lengthy one, we’ll return discussion to Alternative, where Pitohui agrees to have Karen meet with her in person as a bit of a prize for having bested her in single combat. While we’ve not seen much of Miyu in the real world, my impressions of her are that she’s a bit similar to Girls und Panzer‘s Saori Takebe and gaming club members, being both highly interested in VR games and has a bit of an eye for men.

  • Gōshi’s story behind how he met Pitohui and the formation of their relationship subsequently is pretty messed up: I’m not sure what was going through the writers’ heads when they designed things in this manner, given that it is implausible and also reflects poorly on Gōshi’s character by presenting him as weak and ineffectual, lacking any agency. By comparison, Karen and Miyu are solid characters because they have agency. I’m not sure why characters in Sword Art Online necessarily need such unrealistic backstories: Sword Art Online‘s Sinon is another example of this, and I found that her fear of firearms could have stemmed from a different story that doesn’t involve her playing the hero.

  • Up until now, I’ve referred to everyone by their real names save Pitohui, and it is here that Pitohui is shown to be the singer Elsa Kanzaki, Karen’s idol. While she’s voiced by Yōko Hikasa, her singing voice is provided by Kameda Reona. Diminutive in stature, one wonders how she manages to pound Gōshi into the ground in the anime adaptation, where in the original light novel, she capitalised on his being injured to subdue him. With Pitohui’s identity in the open now, I will refer to her as Elsa from here on out, having deliberately not done so previously to minimise on the spoilers.

  • All of the posters in Alternative give Elsa’s name as Elza, which is probably the correct spelling, but since I’m lazy, I’m not likely to go back and change all of the spellings here. While Elsa attempts to surprise Karen by having the establishment’s manager stand in for her, Karen quickly works out who Elsa really is. The fan letter that Karen’s written to her evidently got through, and Karen embraces her tearfully. Elsa’s appearance does not appear to suggest any sort of mental health issues that Gōshi’s described, although the truth is that some problems do not manifest in ways that can be easily seen. With this being said, I still find it difficult to believe that Elsa can kick Gōshi’s ass in a fight.

  • Elsa kisses a surprised Karen while Miyu looks on in shock: whether it be trolling or a genuine token of gratitude will remain unknown for the present, but the consequences are invariably hilarious, with Karen remarking that she’ll never get married now with such a stunt. This joke has long overstayed its welcome, and it’s not like guys decide whether or not they’ll marry someone based on whether or not that individual had been kissed by other girls before. However, rather than going into a tirade about this joke, I will instead liken Elsa’s actions here as making her the equivalent of Alternative‘s Brad Marchand.

  • I’m not sure how many of my readers watch ice hockey, or the NHL in particular: Brad Marchand who is a colourful player known for his goal scoring and on-ice antics. During the 2018 playoffs, Marchand licked Ryan Callahan during game four of the Tampa Bay and Boston series, and Maple Leafs players similarly complained when he did something similar during the games against them. The NHL threatened Marchand with disiplinary action, but this pales compared to when he kissed former Flames right wing Jerome Iginla during 2014. In this game, Iginla scored an overtime winner after Marchand had missed his shot on net, and a grateful Marchand is said to have kissed Iginla afterwards. Knowing this, I wager that suddenly, Elsa kissing Karen does not seem so difficult to watch now.

  • Overall, Alternative earns a B grade (7.5 of ten), the same as Comic Girls. I enjoyed the FPS and PvP aspects very strongly – I’m normally well out of my depth when it comes to Sword Art Online‘s RPG mechanics, and despite having played my share of RPGs, I personally prefer shooters. As such, knowing the mechanics of Gun Gale Online in Alternative, and seeing a story that largely remains coherent, without an excessive emphasis on unnecessary relationships and the like, was a breath of fresh air. Similarly, while Karen might be quite skillful in Gun Gale Online, she’s an ordinary university student in real life – Kirito, by comparison, stumbles into positions of responsibility and only wears the role because the plot demands it. With this post done, the last of the series from Spring 2018 that I planned to write for are now finished, and the focus for the summer season is largely going to be Harukana Receive.

While Alternative might have succumbed to the symptoms of poor exposition that plague Sword Art Online, that each episode nonetheless commanded engagement and left me excited to see what was next is a testament to the strengths in Alternative: with its well-thought out game mechanics in Gun Gale Online, strategies and tactics that I am familiar with as a long-time FPS gamer, and main characters who are very relatable and likeable, Alternative gives viewers clear incentive to cheer for Karen and later, Miyu. Watching them overcome various challenges with the aim of reaching Elsa and Gōshi to make a difference was quite touching, and although this might have been a gaming environment, Karen’s feelings and intents are very real. Seeing the story come together, and having Karen meet her idol was a satisfactory ending – overall, Alternative remains a fun watch that I would recommend to those who do not view Sword Art Online negatively: most of the issues impeding Sword Art Online have been addressed, and having relatable, well-written main characters works in Alternative‘s favour. For folks who are not big on Sword Art Online, I’m largely neutral towards recommending Alternative; on one hand, the firefights are well-animated, and build-ups are quite exhilarating, but Elsa and Gōshi’s character motivations are lacking. This wasn’t enough to detract from the solid writing in Karen’s character for me, so Alternative ended up being a fun experience overall despite its shortcomings. Gōshi might have eyes for only Elsa, but I would contend that Karen and Miyu are tied for first as my favourite characters in the whole of Sword Art Online.

We Don’t Need Aces: Harukana Receive First Episode Impressions and Review

“One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.” —Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When her mother moves overseas for her work, Haruka Ōzora moves to Okinawa to live with her grandmother and cousin, Kanata Higa. After landing in Naha, Haruka meets with Kanata for the first time in four years, and becomes excited at the prospect of being so close to the water, where she may dive, surf and swim. While running about on the beaches, Haruka runs into a pair of beach volleyball players, Narumi Tōi and Ayasa Tachibana. Narumi grows cold when Haruka wonders about becoming an ace, and when Kanata shows up, Narumi challenges the pair to an impromptu match. Haruka’s inexperience on the court becomes apparent, and although they lose their first game, Haruka remains fired up and longs for a rematch. Narumi reluctantly agrees, provided that Haruka learns the basics and rules within the span of a week. Later that evening, Kanata reveals that they’re going up against experienced volleyball players, although this does little to deter Haruka, who settles in to life in Naha with Kanata and resolves to master the basics, now that it’s summer vacation. For me, Harukana Receive is the anime of the summer season that I was most anticipating, primarily because the warm, sunny beaches of Okinawa are precisely the image of summer that is conjured whenever the hottest season of the year is mentioned: I’ve never watched a distinctly summer anime during the summer before, and the premise of Harukana Receive was particularly conducive towards being the perfect accompaniment for the hottest and sunniest days of the year. In this aspect, Harukana Receive is very strong; the artwork is amazing, capturing the heat of summer through the deep azure skies and warm ocean waters reaching towards infinity. Shadows and light also feature prominently in Harukana Receive to create the sensation of heat: without question, the visuals in Harukana Receive‘s environments are stunning.

However, I imagine that most readers are not here about the lighting effects and details of the landscape: aside from the frequent stills of the sun, and the brilliant light that sunlight casts the land in, the warmth in Harukana Receive comes from Haruka herself. Despite being described as sensitive about her height and figure, there is little denying that Haruka’s seemingly boundless energy is one of the biggest draws in Harukana Receive. Haruka’s sunny disposition and excitement suggests that she’s always ready for adventure and experience. From stripping down on the beaches to accepting a challenge without much thought, Haruka is happy-go-lucky in manner and lives in the moment. Her positive mindset thus acts as the perfect foil for the quiet and reserved Kanata; such contrasts amongst characters are deliberately thus, intended to have different facets of one’s personality influence another individual within a friendship to depict how characters grow and learn over time. While Haruka’s enthusiasm is nothing new (she reminds me of a cross between GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hoto and Brave Witches‘ Takami Karuibuchi), placing such a sunny, friendly person into a landscape characterised by warmth sets the table for what’s likely to come in Harukana Receive. Haruka’s optimism will serve her well as the series progresses, especially when she begins learning about just how far she has to go in beach volleyball, and it will be particularly interesting to see just how Haruka handles adversity and learns over the course of Harukana Receive.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After four years, Kanata (left) and Haruka (right) reunite at Naha Airport. Because I’m doing episodic posts for Harukana Receive, each post will have twenty screenshots and accompanying figure captions. A long-standing trend here is that posts have been progressively becoming longer, both in terms of word count and number of screenshots, and while it’s nice to be able to really flesh out certain ideas or crack bad jokes about scenes, there is also value in being concise.

  • My praises for Harukana Receive‘s visuals are not unfounded: this view of Okinawa, with the glistening ocean and lens flare showcases the sort of visual fidelity in the anime. The subtleties in the environment indicate a commitment to detail, and this particular aspect will become important as Haruka becomes more learned in the techniques and nuances of beach volleyball. The implications of the anime’s attention to detail also suggests that the places seen in Harukana Receive are doubtlessly modelled after real-world locations.

  • If this indeed holds true, there might be an opportunity in the future to do another armchair tour of locations in Okinawa. Here, Kanata watches Haruka running joyfully onto the beach after their ride from the airport. In contrast to Haruka, who is positively glowing, Kanata is much more taciturn: their conversation back suggests that the only topic that bothers Haruka is her height, and Kanata is similarly envious of Haruka for being much taller.

  • Readers better get used to screenshots such as these over the next eleven weeks that Harukana Receive is airing; while not a series dedicated towards fanservice, the simple fact that Harukana Receive is set around beach volleyball on the warm coasts of Okinawa means that swimsuits will be a very common sight. The manga simply shows Haruka stripping down in one small panel, to Kanata’s surprise, but the anime adaptation goes the whole nine yards in closeups of Haruka’s chest and posterior. At the very least, there is no excessive oscillations, which are again, a subtle reminder that Harukana Receive is not about the fanservice.

  • Harukana Receive‘s manga is not in the four-panel format, being structured in the traditional fashion. While it looks to deal with topics surrounding teamwork and friendship in a more serious manner than something like GochiUsa, because Harukana Receive is a Manga Time Kirara publication, it stands to reason that things won’t ever get serious to the point of breaking the atmosphere. The simple white circles for eyes Kanata’s got in this moment is an indicator of shock, and funny facial expressions are the norm in Harukana Receive, reminding audiences that first and foremost, this series is about being fun.

  • The only time I’ve been somewhere with waters warm enough to wade in without requiring a wetsuit was Cancún, which was two years ago: I woke up early in the mornings and walked the beaches, where the waters were a turquoise colour and the beach sands where white. Mornings were the best time to enjoy the beaches, as the sun would be too much during noon. At this time, I attended various presentations and panels at the ALIFE conference.

  • In her haste to enjoy the beach, Haruka’s forgotten her sunscreen. An absolute essential in places like Cancún (even as early as eight in the morning) and Okinawa, sunscreen blocks UVA and UVB radiation, high intensity photons that can cause melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma (two kinds of skin cancer) by punching through the skin into cells and damaging the DNA within. I rarely go for long without sunscreen when spending more than half an hour outdoors during the summer: even at the higher latitudes, UV hazards can be quite high for many days of the year, and my city’s high altitude actually increases exposure to UV.

  • After meeting Ayasa and Narumi, Haruka strikes up a conversation with Ayase, who is approachable and friendly. By comparison, Narumi is much more distant, serious and cold. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing such characters in anime, and as such, my first inclination is to wonder what flow of events will eventually lead Narumi to warm up to Haruka and Kanata. This could be the subject of a story arc later, and typically, such events are very rewarding to see. Of course, some folks elsewhere are less interested in these aspects and find that Haruka’s posterior is rewarding to see ಠ_ಠ

  • My eyes and ears tell me that Harukana Receive is similarly being counted as a show that is appropriate for summer. However, there does seem to be an exception in that one of my bêtes noires counts this series as being outside the scope of their interests – should the show fall through for them, I suppose it will mean that I won’t be seeing efforts to psychoanalyse whatever personality flaws are holding Kanata back or questions about how differences between Okinawan and Japanese culture impact Huruka’s ability to learn beach volleyball. I admit that it was amusing to read these from Tango-Victor-Tango’s Manga Time Kirara experts, since it then gave me something additional to discuss (and then usually, invalidate these points for fun).

  • Haruka jokingly remarks that with her predisposition for atheltics, she could perform quite well in volleyball, only for Narumi to give her a verbal beatdown on how aces don’t exist in team sports – a team is only as good as its weakest link, and a fine example of where team play matters more than individual skill is in ice hockey. The Edmonton Oilers finished just below the Calgary Flames during the 2017-2018 season, despite the stellar performance of Connor McDavid – one fantastic player wasn’t enough to bring the Oilers to the playoffs. Likewise, while Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Michael Ferland’s first line have been relatively consistent to watch, but the Flames’ deficiencies in special teams have been felt: towards the end of the 2017-2018 season, the Flames dropped from the playoffs.

  • Immediately through this exchange, it’s clear that Narumi is very serious about beach volleyball, although her delivery of this message to Haruka shows that she’s not very concerned about what others think of her. Such a presentation indicates that there’s more to Narumi that audiences will likely learn more about later, and here, when Kanata rejoins Haruka, it is clear that Kanata and Narumi once knew one another. In addition, there’s also a bit of a distance between the two. Kanata’s previous experience in beach volleyball is a known, and her reasons for quitting will likely be the subject of a future episode.

  • If readers have no objections, then for the next eleven weeks, this blog will feature many more screenshots similar to this one. It’s still early in the game, but Haruka’s my favourite character in Harukana Receive for both her personality and other design attributes. Despite being a total novice at beach volleyball, she’s presented as being very active and athletic, having familiarity with a wide range of sports. As such, Haruka’s background makes her well-suited to be the central character of Harukana Receive – her fitness level and knowledge of other sports allows her to keep up, such that when she advances in skill level, it is never implausible or unrealistic.

  • After the first episode, one challenge I will immediately face is being able to capture action shots well – Harukana Receive makes extensive use of motion blur and depth of field effects to bolster its visual impact, which is great from a viewer experience perspective, but from a screenshots perspective, it means I’ll have to be a bit more mindful as to which frames I will end up using. This was especially a problem for live-action movies, which is why I don’t review them as often, but usually, is not a concern in anime.

  • Against the likes of Ayasa and Narumi, Haruka and Kanata are completely outmatched: their game here is a first-to-seven, with the handicap that Haruka and Kanata win if they can manage one point against Ayasa and Narumi. During the course of the match, Kanata explains various details to Haruka, such as how players need to compensate for wind and switch sides to even matches out in events of strong wind, adjust for the differences that sand has on footwork and how overhand techniques make it easier to foul. It’s nice to have Kanata explain things to audiences: she fulfills a similar role to Yuru Camp△‘s narrator, and as such, viewers get to ease into the meat-and-potatoes of Harukana Receive without getting lost.

  • Haruka manages to hit the ball and with Kanata’s help, attempts to score a point, only for Narumi to counterattack. With the score at 7-0, their game comes to an end, and Narumi warns Haruka that in beach volleyball, a team is only as effective as the two players. This brings to mind the sort of logic that drove the Jaeger pilots in Pacific Rim, where the Jaegers were sophisticated enough so that two pilots, with their minds bound by a neural bridge, must work together to operate the Jaeger. While beach volleyball does not involve fanciful technologies, the concept seems similar enough: the two players on a team must be able to understand their partner’s playstyle, working with them to maximise their strengths and minimise weaknesses to cohesively put the ball in a position where a point can be scored.

  • Having had her first experiences with beach volleyball, Haruka is perfectly unperturbed by their loss and promises to have another match once she improves. Her words exude a positive outlook on the world, befitting of youth. I am very much drawn in to Harukana Receive by Haruka’s enthusiasm and energy, and she’s absolutely right in that things only become more fun as one invests the time to improve. My seniors at the dōjō say the same thing: reaching shōdan only marks the beginning of a journey, and it is only into black belt that the more interesting aspects of Okinawa Gōjū-ryū are learnt. I suppose now is a good as a time to reiterate that from time to time, I will be talking about Gōjū-ryū in my Harukana Receive posts, because Gōjū-ryū karate originates from the Naha area of Okinawa.

  • As the sun sets, Haruka learns from Kanata that Ayasa and Narumi are champion players. While Kanata is worried about their prospects of winning, Haruka states that champions or not, she looks forwards to playing them. The only way to get better is to challenge what one cannot defeat (initially): while it’s not always the case, losing and failure are some of the most effective teachers out there, and those who never lose or fail are setting themselves up for more difficult losses and failures later down the line. A major part of being human is knowing how to pick oneself up and regroup after a setback, although at this point in Harukana Receive, it’s difficult to tell if Haruka’s naturally got this mindset or if she’s starry-eyed.

  • Ayasa is evidently more easygoing than Narumi – she wonders why Narumi is going full-force against someone with no experience, and feels that having Kanata train Haruka might be enough to get Kanata back into the game. The second aspect that Harukana Receive introduces in its first episode, then, is what caused Kanata to leave beach volleyball, and watching how Haruka influences her to return and make the most of things. I tend to take Ayasa’s approach while providing younger students with instruction and exercise full restraint during sparring if my opponent is learning. The way I spar is much slower, intended to instruct rather than punish.

  • As the episode winds down, Haruka and Kanata share a welcome dinner from their grandmother, which features a variety of Okinawan dishes. Unlike Japanese dishes, Okinawan cuisine tends to feature more spices and meat. Chanpurū is also commonplace: this stir-fry dish is representative of Okinawan food, the same way one might associated dim sum with Hong Kong. Being a slice-of-life anime, I imagine that Harukana Receive will also depict more about life in Okinawa: it’s commonly portrayed as a vacation destination (the upcoming Non Non Biyori Vacation movie is going to follow Renge and company’s adventures in Okinawa), but to see things on a day-to-day basis is a welcome change of pace.

  • As the evening sets in, Kanata and Haruka settle down for the evening, where Haruka meets Kanata’s pet turtle. It’s been an eventful first day, and with summer vacation on the horizon, it is plain that Haruka already has plans to fill those long, beautiful summer days to the brim with activity on her break. Depictions of summer in anime always present it as a distant season, and while this distance, this harukana, has been seen in Harukana Receive‘s first episode, I imagine that as things progress, the distance will close. If this is indeed the theme, then Harukana Receive‘s title is a very clever one. With this first post in the books, this is what readers can reasonably expect of my Harukana Receive posts: I look forwards to seeing where this series goes as I follow it on a weekly basis.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an episodic review for a series, but with the summer season otherwise being a slow one for me, I figured that the best way to keep my blogging game up is to occasionally work on it a little. Harukana Receive represents a new challenge for me: I am not an athlete and have no experience in volleyball whatsoever, much less beach volleyball. However, I do know a thing or two about teamwork and cooperation, as well as mutual support, sportsmanship and the like: these aspects of life extend well beyond the realm of sports, and individuals who understand teamwork and compromise tend to derive greater happiness in what they do. These lessons are what I’m looking to see in Harukana Receive, and in conjunction with the very strong, visceral showing that the first episode has presented, Harukana Receive is going to be a series that I look forwards to watching each and every week of its run, especially as more characters are introduced and Haruka comes further into her journey of learning about beach volleyball and over time, accepting that her height is what it is. I further add that the fact that Haruka can really rock a two-piece is further incentive to watch the show every week, and close this first episode talk with the remark that it is possible that anyone who states they picked up Harukana Receive, for the mechanics and rules of beach volleyball, have a non-trivial likelihood of being untruthful.