The Infinite Zenith

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Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“What do you say we tell these Squad Jam people to fuck themselves, then we can go home, find a couch and a TV, then sit back and watch Pitohui burn to the goddamned ground?” –Domingo Chavez, Tom Clancy’s Locked On

Karen Kohiruimaki is a Hokkaido native who moves to Tokyo in pursuit of her post secondary studies. Because of her height, she is insecure and finds herself wishing that she were shorter. Her best friend, Miyu Shinohara, suggests that Karen take up a VR game, where she may customise an avatar to her heart’s content, and after iterating through multiple games, Karen encounters Gun Gale Online (GGO for brevity), which provides her with a diminutive character that she takes an immediate liking to. She takes on the screen name Llenn, and after exploring the game world with her new avatar, Karen begins playing the PvE components and earns enough currency to upgrade her weapons and gear. One day, while breaking from her travels, she is ambushed by other players and manages to take them out. Rumours begin speaking about the “Pink Devil”, and this attracts the attention of a fellow player, Pitohui. She introduces Karen to the “Squad Jam” battle royale competition and asks her to compete alongside fellow player “M”. M covers a range of techniques and gear for the battle royale mode, bringing Karen up to speed, and after out-manoeuvring a team of military-trained players, Karen’s confidence increases. She and M manage to fight off an assault from another team that had commandeered airboats, but when moving to engage the final remaining team, M breaks down, fearing for his life should he lose. He admits to Karen that Pitohui would kill him in reality should they lose, and befuddled, Karen decides to leave him behind and engage the final team on her own. She is overwhelmed, but M reappears to provide sniper fire, allowing Karen to finish off the remaining team’s leader.

Emboldened by her experiences, Karen cuts her hair short to signify a new beginning, and runs into the team’s real-world players: rhythm athletics club members who are in high school. Spending time with her new friends, Karen also runs into Gōshi Asōgi, who plays M in GGO. Gōshi reveals that he knows and is in love with Pitohui, but fears Pitohui will commit suicide should she lose in GGO. Perplexed, Karen decides to help him out nonetheless and asks Miyu to join up wiht them. This is where we are in Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online (Alternative from here on out, as spelling the entire thing out is too lengthy): immediately, my impressions of this Sword Art Online spin-off is that it is very enjoyable. Kirito’s absence is a significant one, and I contend that the series proceeds smoothly without his presence. I’ve long found his character to be implausible, and his attitude insufferable. By comparison, Karen is a very plausible character who finds escape in video games, and while she may enjoy unnatural performance in GGO, her real-world struggles and desire to escape to a fictional space are something that gamers can strongly relate to. I personally play shooters because it’s fun to both explore new worlds and test the limit of my skills in a space where performance is not relevant: reality requires that put in an honest effort into what I do, so I escape this in video games and play where how I do is unimportant. Karen’s newfound sense of confidence from playing GGO is also refreshing to watch. At the halfway point, however, Alternative also reintroduces the old death-related themes that characterised Sword Art Online. Here, it is not a forced component, and Alternative explores a darker side of gaming, as well. While perhaps overtly dramatic, I am curious to see how Karen will play a role in helping Gōshi with Pitohui.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • By Alternative‘s halfway point, audiences know that Llenn is Karen and M is Gōshi, so I’m going to refer to them by their real-world names rather than their in-game names. While engaging, half of Alternative is set in a desert akin to Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds‘s Miramar map. Here, the two are playing sniper-spotter, where Gōshi decides against engaging another group of enemies. The first episode drops viewers straight into things and ends with Karen beating up a group made up of either Special Units (Japan’s equivalent of SWAT) or JDSF’s Special Forces members.

  • Karen Kohiruimaki stands at 183 centimeters and is voiced by Tomori Kusunoki (who’d played minor roles in Eromanga SenseiGirls’ Last Tour and Slow Start, but also has recently played more major roles in Märchen Mädchen). Uncomfortable with her height, Karen is disinterested in fashion, prefers reading and is quite introverted. By the time of Alternative, Karen is a second-year university student in an undisclosed major and does not appear to have a part-time job, so going on a limb and recalling my own experiences, I would also conclude that Karen’s a reasonably capable student if she can find the time to game and keep up with her studies.

  • I say this because in my second year, I nearly fell below the 3.3 GPA required to stay in my honours program because I was ineffective in managing my time. After my third year, however, things turned around. Here, Karen is talking with Miyu, her best friend and a gamer who puts me to shame in terms of hours spent gaming. There are really all sorts of people out there – while I count myself a gamer of moderate skill, there are some people who spend more time playing games than I spent working. I am always baffled by some folks who have a hundred service stars for their gas grenades in Battlefield 1, for instance.

  • Karen initially struggles to find a game with a proper avatar for her, and this is something I cannot relate to. For games where I can customise how I look, I usually choose something that isn’t too ugly and then pop straight into the game. This moment also highlights an interesting safety feature of the new VR headsets in Alternative: if the user’s vitals reach unsafe points, the system will automatically disengage. I certainly would not mind seeing more fanservice moments of Karen in Alternative, but for the present, this has been very limited.

  • Karen eventually lands on a tiny female avatar that is the epitome of Japanese standards for kawaii: a petite frame, round face, large eyes and a squeaky voice. Kusunoki does a solid job with voices in Alternative, presenting Llenn’s voice as squeaky as one is wont to hearing in shows like Kiniro Mosaic or Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?, switching over to a deeper, quieter and more mature voice when playing Karen. This avatar is precisely what Karen’s been looking for, and she prances about in celebration. Soon after creating her avatar and enjoying it, Karen decides to actually go into the world of GGO and see what it’s about.

  • Initially participating in PvE against monsters to collect the resources needed to buy better gear, Karen’s experience in GGO is not too dissimilar to that of games like Destiny or The Division. In fact, The Division encourages players to reach level thirty, wherein the entire array of skills, talents and perks unlock. In MMO terms, The Division allows one to unlock all branches of a skill tree at the level cap, and then forces players to pick the combination of skills, talents and perks that best suit their play-style. It is at level thirty when things get real interesting in The Division.

  • Unlike Karen and GGO, I’m completely optimised for PvE combat in The Division, and I get my ass kicked if I should run into any rogue agents. After some time in GGO, Karen has earned enough currency to customise her looks somewhat, and while she enjoys a beverage here, her choice of pink gear allows her to blend in to the fiery desert sunset. This is where she has her first PvP encounter: while some folks find Llenn’s design to be overpowered, her high speed and puny hitbox is offset by a low durability. While the size of female hitboxes are apparently the subject of no small debate, the best games out there with variably-sized hitboxes will always balance things out so that characters that are harder to hit are also more fragile.

  • Karen eventually meets one Pitohui in GGO: a highly skilled player, Pitohui teams up with Karen on PvE missions. Pitohui’s identity is no mystery to me, and she’s voiced by Yōko Hikasa (Mio Akiyama of K-On!, Houki Shinonono from Infinite Stratos and New Game‘s Kō Yagami). I’ve long enjoyed Hikasa’s performances: she’s able to project a sense of maturity and sexiness in her characters, and her singing voice is also quite good. The music of K-On! with Mio on leading vocals, and Mio’s character songs are the best place to hear Hikasa’s performances.

  • Pitohui plays GGO the same way I play many shooters: with different guns on almost every mission. It’s always fun to experience shooters with a diverse range of weapons, and things get old real fast if I were to run through every mission or match with the “best” or “easy” guns. This is why I will occasionally mix it up in things like battlefield, where I run with weapons I am unfamiliar with for the thrill of the challenge. Of course, if I get salty, I will switch back over to the “tryhard” guns. Karen, on the other hand, prefers to run with her FN P90, a space age-looking personal defense weapon with a 50-round capacity, fires at 900 RPM and shoots 5.7×28mm ammunition. Its design makes it highly manoeuvrable, and in Battlefield 3, I found the P90 a fine gun when outfitted with a laser sight, suppressor and Kobra RDS.

  • In Battlefield 4, I’ve unlocked the P90 but have yet to use it extensively for my engineer: the UMP-45 is my most used PDW. Battlefield 1 has changed the way gunplay works, and I’ve not touched earlier Battlefield titles for some time, but I am tempted to come back and try Karen’s loadout, which is a stock P90-only setup I would call “hipfire scrub”. Like all gamers who want to get the most bang for their buck, Karen occasionally consults online guides to better improve her strategy, although there are occasions when she gets in touch with Miyu, as well.

  • With all of the formalities out of the way now, the Squad Jam event begins. My main reason for not playing current battle royale titles like Fortnite or PUBG is that I am an impatient gamer. I am at my best running around, killing people and then dying, respawning and doing the same. As a result of my styles, I have a very high number of deaths in Battlefield games, but I also contribute greatly to my team’s performances. In other games, where staying alive is important, I tend to play more cautiously. Here, Karen is seen with Gōshi: as M, Gōshi rolls with the M14 EBR and the HK45. In order to approximate his loadout, I would run with support class with the M39 EMR and the Compact 45.

  • I’ve opted to leave out most of the combat scenes in Alternative because they’re meant to be watched in motion, not as individual stills. After taking down a team of players with real-world training and a team with airboats, Gōshi and Karen evade a third team. Gōshi reveals a plot to kill Karen so he can stand down without dying, leading to the most hilarious moment of Alternative that leaves Karen’s Llenn with what I’ve come to call funny faces. The presence of these funny faces show that Alternative is not taking itself as seriously as its predecessors, which I greatly welcome.

  • Against a team of deadly-looking female players, Karen finds herself outgunned, but clever use of plasma grenades that look a great deal like the seeker mines of The Division and support from Gōshi, who’s regained his composure, allows Karen to escape defeat and fight another day. As Llenn, Karen’s playstyle is absolutely brutal and sexy: she makes use of Llenn’s small size, speed, game mechanics and her environment to devastate her enemies in ways that I’ve not seen from the YouTubers that I follow, even sacrificing her P90 to stop the enemy’s bullets for the sake of victory.

  • In a one-on-one, Karen manages to best the remaining group’s leader with a knife, bringing an end to her first-ever Squad Jam competition. Despite the first five episodes being focused around Squad Jam, Alternative never becomes boring at all, and I am very fond of Karen/Llenn’s characterisation. Lacking the things that made Kirito a dull protagonist at best (and an insufferable one at worse), I feel that Sword Art Online would have done better to have Kirito encounter a larger number of male players, doing away with the group of female admirers he accumulated in favour of people who are there to share his experiences and challenges. Back in Alternative, Karen’s win brings to mind how Jeremy defeats DeathStriker6666 in Pure Pwnage by means of a knife in the “Lanageddon” episode.

  • In the real world, Karen meets up with the high school students whom she’d played against in the Squad Jam tournament and finds in them a new group of friends who are impressed with her play-style. Having long envied them for their short stature, Karen had no idea they were equally envious of her figure, and it is with the confidence of victory from GGO that Karen finally is able to break the ice with this group of high school students. She’s cut her hair short to signify the turning over of a new leaf.

  • I’ve been called a scrub before for using PDWs like the P90 in Battlefield 3, and in Battlefield 1, players who use the Automatico M1918 Trench are similarly disparaged. High RPM weapons, or “spray-and-pray” weapons require very little skill to use in single combat: because they fire quickly, they have a higher DPS as well. In this sense, Karen is a scrub for favouring PDWs and speed: her approach is one of my favourite ways to roll, although since Battlefield 1 introduced the sweet spot mechanic and increased muzzle velocity to make sniping easier, I’ve taken to using bolt action rifles more frequently. At present, I can make use of any rifle outside of their sweet spot and be modestly effective with them.

  • Introducing everyone on the rhythm athletics club members will be an exercise for another day, but their story is another example of how video games can be helpful. Initially, this group of girls lacked team spirit, so their coach encouraged them to work on this in a virtual space, where faces and names do not matter. After becoming hooked on GGO, the girls have seen an improved performance in their club activities and also have another hobby from which to bond over. They seek Karen’s counsel in trying to improve, since the thrill of Squad Jam has left a considerable impression on them.

  • Karen travels home while on break, and upon returning to Tokyo, finds herself face to face with Gōshi. She’s visibly shocked at meeting Gōshi in person, sufficiently so that she has another funny face moment. I note here that if my readers are interested in meeting me in person, there’d better be a bloody good reason for it.

  • Gōshi explains a bit of his story with Pitohui to Karen and details Pitohui’s obsession with death in a story that is chilling as befitting of Sword Art Online. Thrill-seekers such as these are rare in reality, and Gōshi’s devotion to Pitohui foreshadows at what is to happen next. The second half of Alternative will follow another Squad Jam battle where the stakes are much higher, and if executed well, this will certainly be a blast to watch.

  • I will conclude this Alternative post with a fanservice image of Miyu for your amusement, and explain the page quote: it’s sourced from Tom Clancy’s Locked On, and is a reasonable approximation of how Karen might feel about things concerning Gōshi and Pitohui. Instead of backing down, however, she recruits game expert Miyu to help out, and I’m curious to see what Miyu brings to the table. Since we’re dealing with games, The Division‘s Onslaught global event begins tomorrow, and Wednesday will see the reveal trailer to Battlefield V.

It is therefore appropriate to say that, despite its simpler showing insofar, Alternative has nonetheless done a fantastic job of conveying what a VR battle royale shooter looks like, and for illustrating the postive impact that video games may have on folk like Karen. Sword Art Online had always excelled in having strong background and world-building, as well as for inclusion of game mechanics in its narrative. I understand that presently, battle royale games are all the rage, especially with the likes of Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, so Alternative is also relevant to the period. While I’m adamantly against playing battle royale games because they involve more running than shooting, I also accept that the unpredictability and the attendant thrill adds to the genre’s appeal. Seeing terminology and mechanics from first person shooters make their way into GGO, with a game type that has surged in popularity was therefore highly entertaining. GGO is especially attractive for me because I’ve played enough shooters to know how they work from a technical level (I presently don’t play MMOs). By comparison, Sword Art Online‘s thematic elements and characterisation have traditionally been weaker. While themes of death slowly begin to return with a host of individuals with uncommon backgrounds, Alternative has remained reasonably grounded and relatable. One would therefore hope that this trend continues; at the risk of treading on toes, Kirito’s absence and all of the romance-related turmoil makes Alternative all the stronger, and one would hope that Karen’s story in GGO is unfettered by unnecessary romance, allowing Alternative to focus purely on video games and their potential positive impact on one’s mental health.

Amanchu! Advance: Review and Reflection At The Halfway Point, and Remarks on Miracles

“I never bullshit, Pickle Man. This can only end with one of us dead, and I have never died.”
“That will be your downfall, Jaguar: not being open to new experiences.”

—Jaguar and Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

On an autumn day, Hikari runs into Kokoro, who is buying Marron Pie for her parents. She subsequently spends the afternoon with him, and they walk under the brilliant autumn foliage of a nearby park together. Meanwhile, Futaba is enjoying a cool afternoon at a café with a book, but falls asleep and has a lucid dream where she’s a witch. She takes another one of the café’s patrons into the skies with a broom and soars over town, before flying to a park, where sakura blossoms are blooming. When Futaba reawakens, she recounts her experiences with Hikari. Later during a dive using drysuits, Hikari notices that Futaba is highly motivated. Futaba panics when she finds herself unable to descend with the others, and is saved by Hikari and Mato; Mato lectures Futaba on the dangers of a rapid ascend. During lunch, the diving club meet Hikari’s younger sister, Kodama, and with encouragement from her friends, Futaba’s motivation is restored. While diving, Mato finds herself in imminent danger of injury, but is saved by the “Black Mermaid”, a gargantuan diver. He signals for them to accompany him; Mato, Hikari and Futaba accepts, so he brings them to a beautiful reef under the ocean. It turns out that the Black Mermaid is Hikari’s grandfather, who is an experienced diver. During Halloween, Futaba and Kokoro compete to earn the prize from a scavenger hunt: a kiss from Prince Hikari. Determined to win, Futaba overcomes her fears of talking to a stranger with a costume beard and pushes for the finish line, tying with Kokoro, who had his sights set on winning the giant octopus stuffed toy. Hikari and Futaba relax an exclusive spa with Mato and Ai, and later, Mato wonders when she lost sight of the magic in the world. Thus, we are at the halfway point of Amanchu! Advance, and by my admission, Amanchu! Advance is a step away from the grounded, ordinary setting of its predecessor. Fantastical escapes are explored, blurring the line between reality and fantasy: Futaba frequently alludes to this message, which is a recurring theme that we’ve seen so far.

One of the greatest joys about sequels are that they offer an opportunity for writers to present different aspects to characters that audiences have already become familiar with. In Amanchu! Advance, Hikari’s character is seen as being more prone to embarrassment: her carpe diem outlook on life has its limits, and she sometimes feels this when things cross the line. However, Futaba has received a more interesting bit of growth in Amanchu! Advance: having long regarded Hikari as a dear friend, her desire to be with Hikari has also manifested a hitherto unexpected side of her character. She’s expressing jealousy now at the prospect of someone else vying for Hikari’s attention, and similarly, has become more protective of Hikari, as well. Futaba’s drive in the scavenger hunt indicates this very strongly, as do her dreams of being the prince to Hikari’s princess. On the topic of dreams, Amanchu! Advance has also given audiences exposure to Futaba’s desires and thoughts through her dreams. While relaxing at a café, the atmosphere leads her to fall asleep. She’s well aware of being in a dream and all the more assertive for it; conjuring a broom and soaring through the skies, Futaba encourages another patron to partake, as well, expressing a confidence and assuredness that we’d previously not seen in her. In conjunction with Futaba’s allusions to the merging of boundaries between the tangible and dreams, I get the sense that Amanchu! Advance intends to convey to its audiences that magical moments are so moving they often feel unreal, and that these magic moments have profound changes, both good and bad, on individuals that experience them; it is clear that Futaba, for whatever other doubts she may possessed, has matured since meeting Hikari.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I continue to find interesting things to talk about in Amanchu! Advance, so this post will have thirty screenshots. We open with Hikari running into Kokoro. Both have their sights set on Marron Pie: having nothing to do with Hai-Furi‘s Maron, Marrons are another name for chestnuts, and in Japan, these chestnut pies are made by wrapping a light, flaky pastry around candied chestnuts. Japanese pastry shops mark this as an autumn specialty, the same way that pumpkin spice has more or less worked its way into everything when autumn rolls around in North America. While some folks find it overrated, the sweet and subtle kick of pumpkin does have a distinctly autumn taste to it.

  • It suddenly strikes me that none of the bloggers whom I’m in regular correspondence with, are writing about Amanchu! Advance. I’d love to hear other perspectives on this show, even if Amanchu! Advance might not be the most conducive towards discussions. While Futaba and another patron enjoy their books, hot beverage and sweets, I look back a few evenings, when I finally tried out the Louisanna-style fried chicken from a new place in the area. Their chicken is very crunchy and flavourful, fried differently from the place I normally go, and the cajun fries have a bit of a kick to them. The best surprise were their biscuits, which are moist and buttery.

  • The page quote for Amanchu! Advance thus comes from the notion of being open to new experiences, albeit one made in jest. In general, being open-minded leads to unexpected surprises, and here, Futaba encourages the other patron to fly with her. Futaba is enjoying tea at the Izukogen Rose Terrace café. With its unusual architecture, this cafe is well-regarded in both its atmosphere and menu: locals recommend it as a place to drop by if one is in search of a short breather while exploring the numerous museums in the area.

  • The events of Amanchu! Advance and Amanchu are set in the coastal town of Itō. With a population of sixty-nine thousand, most of the locations of Amanchu! are set in and around Itō, although unsurprisingly, some creative liberties have been taken to ensure that the locations of Amanchu! work with the story. Having said this, this aerial depiction of Itō is largely faithful to the real-world incarnation; Nagisa Park is visible in the image.

  • In her dreams, Futaba has the same grace and charm as Flying Witch‘s Makoto Kowata: she smoothly mounts her broom and takes flight using the same approach as seen in Flying Witch where she channels her magic into the broom. I invite readers to check out my old talk on Flying Witch; aired some two years ago, I greatly enjoyed Flying Witch, and readers will have noticed that I have a particular fondness for slice-of-life anime defined by a highly cathartic atmosphere. I’ve stated this previously: my enjoyment in these shows come from simply being able to watch them in the moment, and I note that I am never on the lookout for themes or analysis while watching a show.

  • While my posts on these anime predominantly feature thematic elements and the like, I only consider these elements once I’ve decided to sit down and write these posts. Back in Amanchu! Advance, Hikari and Kokoro stroll through an area with red leaves. Kokoro, being only eleven, is a ways younger than the other characters, and his dynamics with Hikari are endearing. He swings between wanting to hang with Hikari and wanting to avoid her at the same time for the latter’s indefatigable spirit.

  • The young patron that Futaba befriends is Kotori Misaki, who is Kokoro’s sister. She has yet to be formally introduced to the cast, and is voiced by none other than Ai Kakuma (Brave Witches‘ Hikari Karibuchi): characters in anime are not introduced on a whim, and so, I expect that Kotori will meet up with the main cast in due course.

  • A brilliant sunset marks the end of the day: in Japan, sunsets and sunrises come very early. While in Japan last year, the sun began setting as early as 16:00 JST, and it would already be fully up, equivalent to around 08:00 MDT when I woke up at 06:00 JST. I’m a morning person through and through, but waking up to see the sunrise, which is at a reasonable time back home, would be unfeasible for even me. When the sun sets at home, I usually am not treated to such a vivid experience as seen in Amanchu! Advance, either: the most beautiful of sunsets usually occur in late October and early November, when chinook clouds are illuminated by the last light of day.

  • The legend of the Jet-Black Mermaid is a story that Mato tells her students: this story is local to Amanchu! Advance and won’t be found anywhere else. Mato describes a beautiful and mysterious entity that roams the oceans, helping divers in need out, moving at quick speeds and also is willing to take them to Ryūgū-jō, a mystical underwater palace that is home to the Dragon God, Ryūjin. While an interesting story, Mato remarks that it is little more than a mere myth, and the diving club thus begins their day’s activities.

  • While underwater, Futaba experiences a curious phenomenon when Hikari, Makoto and Ai blow rings of air. I am reminded of folks who can make smoke rings. This is a technique that requires practise, and experienced individuals can create faster or slower moving rings, as well. Having said this, because I am a non-smoker, this is not something I will practise or take up any time soon. The most impressive smoke rings I’ve seen in any context goes to The Lord of The Rings‘ Gandalf The Grey, who created an entire smoke galleon in The Fellowship of The Ring.

  • After failing to modify her buoyancy before descending, Futaba finds herself being pulled upwards and risks decompression sickness, informally known as the bends. This is caused by a reduced pressure causing dissolved gases to come out of solution, creating bubbles in the bloodstream. Because these bubbles can form in any part of the body, the effects can be lethal. This is why Mato gives Futaba a stern lecture: the effects of the bends are not trivial.

  • While Futaba is a bit disheartened that she got a bit cocky, conversation with her friends allows her to regroup. Futaba is presented as being someone who’s quite hard on herself and doubtful, and while she still occasionally succumbs, it is clear that her friendships have given her a newfound confidence. Mindful of her errors, Futaba learns from her mistakes more rapidly now and seems less bothered by the weight of her errors.

  • While manga readers will be familiar with Kodama, Hikari’s younger sister, it came as a surprise to me that Kodama was introduced this late in the game. She’s the opposite of Hikari, being reserved and feeling that Hikari’s boundless enthusiasm is a liability. Despite her not being an active diver, she’s familiar with the basics. The two are as different as night and day, and Kodama thanks the others for looking after Hikari.

  • Hikari and Futaba prepare to enter the water. When Futaba expresses doubt at performing a back roll entry, Hikari suggests the giant stride. One of my impediments is that I cannot tumble at all, so when I was younger, the rolling entry into water was something I never could execute for swimming classes. The stride dive is usually employed when one is on a larger vessel, while the back roll is used if one is on a small boat or RHIB.

  • Yesterday, I went ahead and watched Avengers: Infinity War at a local cinema before returning home to a dinner of roast beef and peppercorn gravy and cheesy mashed potatoes with bacon and sour cream. This particular theatre has fancy, comfortable reclining chairs, and the film itself was superb. Like Girls und Panzer Der Film and Strike Witches The Movie, this is an experience that requires some knowledge of the previous entries in the film. It was a thrill to see all of the MCU characters bounce off one another, and despite being darker than some of the other MCU films, Infinity War does have its humourous moments, such as when Stark and Strange clash. References to earlier films are also made, and it is this a priori knowledge that makes some of the moments more enjoyable. The film is the first part of two, and the latter releases next May.

  • This is about as far as I’ll go in talking about Infinity War: my readers, who may or may not be fans of the MCU, are likely hear about my thoughts on anime, so I’ll return the discussion to Amanchu! Advance, where Mato’s just been rescued from a nasty bump to her dome by a gargantuan diver whose proportions defy normalcy. After this mysterious diver saves Mato, he invites Mato, Hikari and Futaba. With Mato’s story about the Jet-Black Mermaid still fresh on their minds, the girls accept the new diver’s invitation.

  • Swimming at a speed much faster than previously thought possible, the massive diver takes Mato, Futaba and Hikari into a beautiful coral reef under the ocean. While not Ryūgū-jō, this area is beautiful, being populated by colourful corals and schools of fish. With its vivid colours and volumetric lighting, Amanchu! Advnace has gone the full ten yards in creating a scene that captures the majesty and wonder of the oceans.

  • The result is a truly magical moment that stands amongst the miracles that Akari, Aika and Alice encounter on Aqua: Amanchu! Advance manages to accomplish this without any supernatural or otherworldly forces. Initially, the mysterious black-clad diver’s identity is not known, but his benevolent actions and calming presence is reminiscent of ARIA‘s Cait Sith, who appears to Akari occasionally and is considered to act as a spiritual guardian of sorts for Aqua. However, in the absence of supernatural, it is not particularly rational to consider this diver as Amanchu! Advance‘s equivalent of the Cait Sith. Instead, subtle bits of foreshadowing hint at who this diver is.

  • As it turns out, the diver is Hikari’s grandfather; he’s a big guy for you. The clue I refer to is the vast towel that Kodama brings to Kino, which the others immediately find curious for its dimensions. Despite his build, Hikari’s grandfather is evidently a skilful diver.

  • During a Halloween festival of sorts, Futaba dresses up in a vivid red dress and finds the scene surrounding her so unreal that she has to convince herself that it is not a dream. She and Hikari enjoy the festival, later running into Kokoro. When Hikari heads off to buy some drinks, an uncomfortable silence arises between the two, but the pair nonetheless draw a crowd.

  • While walking around the Halloween festival, Hikari and the others run into Ai and Makoto, who are handling a scavenger hunt. No one’s shown up, and Ai wonders if they’ll need to up the ante for prizes. The group brainstorm some prizes, landing on “a kiss from the prince (Hikari)”: this draws the interest of a little girl, and word spreads, hauling in a large group of participants. Feeling that Hikari is threatened, Futaba decides to join the scavenger hunt and win it to protect her. Kokoro can be seen here in a lilac cat costume, and he joins because the original prize caught his eye.

  • The scavenger hunt’s participants quickly hit impediments that slow them down for good. Kokoro’s assignment is to find a handkerchief, which he considers straightforwards, but he’s scared off by the principal and decides to ask a lady instead. His plan backfires when the woman asks him what kind of trick he might play on her should she decline his request, but the outcome later suggests that he managed to overcome his fear.

  • Futaba initially has trouble finding the courage asking a man dressed as a kangaroo for his beard, but like Kokoro, succeeds. It was unexpectedly adorable to watch Futaba squeal in panic when her prize was so near and simultaneously so far: we recall that she’s voiced by Ai Kayano (Chisaki Hiradaira in Nagi no AsakuraGirls und Panzer‘s Saori Takabe and Mocha Hoto in GochiUsa), who excels at gentle voices.

  • The conclusion of the scavenger hunt is a thrilling one, and it ends up a draw between Futaba and Kokoro, when Kokoro trips and ends up in Futaba’s arms. This outcome was not particularly unexpected, and from a narrative perspective, is done to indicate that both Futaba and Kokoro were motivated by their own, non-intersecting reasons for winning.

  • Futaba began Amanchu! with a graceful but distant expression that gradually shifted to one of wonder, warmth and happiness when she met Hikari. I believe this is my first time seeing Futaba wear such an expression on her face, when she remarks to Kokoro that she’s not about to let anyone steal Hikari from her. The afternoon soon gives way to evening, and after receiving a kiss from Hikari, Futaba declares that she’d like to be Hikari’s prince.

  • I’ve been enjoying Amanchu! Advanced considerably thus far, but even in a series as cathartic and laid-back as Amanchu!, it seems the deep places of the internet can still find criticisms to level against this series. In this case, accusations of discrimination against Amanchu!‘s author, Kozue Amano have been made because some entitled, ill-read individuals on Reddit cannot differentiate between different kinds of friendships. I’m normally accepting of Reddit discussions since they tend to be useful, but some parts of their anime community are about as credible and useful as that of /a/, which is to say, their discussions are a load of bollocks. Having said this, if there are people reading this who think that Redditors and /a/ have value, however negligible, then by all means, make it known to me. I welcome it.

  • I’ve also heard that one chapter of Amanchu! is controversial, and having taken a look, I can say with total confidence that this is a gross overreaction. The chapter in question might be adapted into Amanchu! Advance, and while I think nothing of it, the lesser parts of the internet apparently find it to be srs bsns. Quite personally, I hope they adapt this chapter into Amanchu! Advance so viewers can make of things for themselves, rather than leaving it to the sensitive and narrow-minded folk out there to shape perceptions on things. Here in Amanchu! Advance, Hikari and Futaba share a dance in one of Futaba’s dreams.

  • Enjoying their fancy spa experience, Futaba and Hikari share another moment of joy following Futaba’s recounting of her dream to Hikari. Lucid dreams were mentioned in this post, but I’ve not mentioned them in too much detail until now: these dreams are defined as when the individual is aware of their being in a dream and may be able to exert varying degrees of control over how things unfold. A few people I know, both in real life and among my fellow bloggers have such dreams – I am a bit envious, since the most amount of control I can exert in my dreams is to exfiltrate when I feel a situation is unfair or dangerous. Beyond this, my dreams are very mundane and ordinary for the most part; I’ve flown on a couch over my home town and duelled a Balrog of Morgoth once, but more common are dreams where I’m involved in my daily routine or treading familiar ground.

  • Outside, Mato walks about. Hearing the conversation that Futaba and Hikari share leads her to wonder when she stopped looking around the world for the magical and began viewing it in more practical, mundane terms. The presence of a routine tends to do that: adults tend to be a lot more boring in this regard.

  • With this final screenshot of Mato looking over a cluster of Jack’o-Lanterns, my talk for Amanchu! Advance after the halfway point draws to a close. We’re nearing the halfway point of May, and having another Amanchu! post in the books, the third and final part of my Yuru Camp△ Armchair Journey series will be completed in the near future. We’re also closing on the release dates for Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai and Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?: Dear My Sister – I intend to write about Dear My Sister as soon as it becomes available, and will be saving Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai for June. Finally, Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth and final instalment still needs to be watched and written about, so there is that to look forwards to, as well.

The past three episodes of Amanchu! Advance leading us to the halfway point have moved the series in a direction where it feels more like ARIA; magical moments are more common and suggest that miracles can be found in life’s smallest details. This is a welcome step for Amanchu! Advance, giving the show the chance to portray characters outside of their activities as divers. In doing so, Amanchu! Advance reiterates to viewers that while diving might be what brought people together, people (and not diving) are ultimately at the forefront of everything in Amanchu! Advance. Slow and calming in its pacing, Amanchu! Advance has shown that in spite of its presentation, there are definitely things worth considering. The anime continues to impress with its visual quality, and the music has also taken a step forwards, playing a more visible role in setting the emotional tenor for a moment. The sum of these elements come together to create an atmosphere not unlike that of ARIA, and even though Amanchu! is set in the real world, with a different premise and aims, the similarities between the two series in terms of atmosphere are evident. As we move into Amanchu! Advance‘s second half, I expect that audiences will continue to see different aspects for the characters that give them a more credible feel and make the show increasingly enjoyable. I further speculate that Amanchu! Advance will advance in a direction that sees Futaba working hard for, and earning her advanced diver certification. The rationale for this is that Amanchu! Advance‘s tile, in incorporating the word “Advance” to signify both the act of moving forwards and a higher level of knowledge, is leading Futaba down a path where she is able to do both and mature further as a person.

The Division: Counting Cards, Blackout and New Legendary Missions

“No matter what you or anyone else does, there will be someone who says that there’s something bad about it.” —Tom Clancy

The Division‘s latest update brought to the table two new global events, modifications to the gear system and drop rates, added two new legendary missions and also introduced a host of bug fixes to improve the experience for players. With Division’s 1.8.1 patch live, this is a game that’s continued to keep on giving – a far cry from when it first released, there seems to be no shortage of things to do at the endgame to keep things interesting. The latest Global Event, Blackout, introduces the shock ammunition modifier, which allows players to stun enemies and deal increasing damage as one runs or fires. The stun from shock ammunition provides players with a few critical seconds to duck behind cover or reload, and additional damage makes it easier to tear through The Division‘s infamously tough enemies. The end result is non-stop entertainment in making use of shock ammunition to explore the two new legendary missions: 1.8.1 adds Amherst’s Apartment and Grand Central Station as missions with The Division‘s toughest difficulties, and these two missions are well-suited for the mode. Besides new legendary missions, changes to the caches available for purchase with GE credits have been made, allowing players to purchase caches that guarantee pieces of classified gear from a certain set. Exotics have also been modified: exotic weapons that can be purchased from the vendor will no longer drop, and all exotics are now added to the pool of items that can drop from light zone bosses. These changes indicate that The Division, contrary to claims otherwise, is still going strong: Ubisoft has made it clear that en route to the upcoming The Division 2, they will continue to motivate players to get the most of The Division.

Having spent all of March in global events, I managed to acquire an all-exotic loadout through the legendary missions that I’ve played through. These missions are no walk in the park and for the most part, simply cannot be soloed by a majority of the players. Having tried them, I can attest to their difficulty, but since my last post, I’d also had some time to tune my loadout more finely, replace some gear and also optimise my favourite weapons. As a result, I’ve noticed that as of late, I’ve been able to melt enemy elites and veterans without too much difficulty: while working on weekly assignments, I’ve returned to the Dark Zone and burned my way through supply drops and even finished my first-ever contamination event solo. In legendary missions, I’ve become much more useful to my team, dropping enemies in less than a single magazine. The improvements to my performance have made legendary missions less daunting: the new missions are much more manageable than the old ones in that can be finished more quickly. The narrow passages and corridors of Amherst’s Apartment and Grand Central Station funnel the LMB soldiers into chokepoints that make them vulnerable to concentrated fire; a reasonably well-coordinated team can easily hold out and triumph in firefights. I’ve also begun to run with recovery link now, which has proven useful far beyond the other signature skills for legendary missions. During one Grand Central Station run, I lost my entire team to the final wave of named elites in the mission’s final segment. I was the last individual alive, and because I had recovery link, I was able to revive my entire team. This gave us enough of a second wind to complete the mission, and as the Blackout global event draws to a close, I’ve had a chance to enjoy the new legendary missions and acquire some new exotic weapons.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In order to complete the weekly assignments, I needed to return into the Dark Zone. It suddenly strikes me that beyond the fourth sector, I’ve not actually explored the Dark Zone in too much detail, and here, I clear a landmark in the third sector on my own during one memorable evening where a group of rogues were running around and eliminating anything that crossed their paths.

  • All of the group’s activities were showing up in the feed, so I made it a point to avoid them if they were powerful to shrug off repeated attempts from other players to take them out. Because I was mainly in the Dark Zone to hunt cleaners, we thankfully did not cross paths: besides cleaning out cleaners roaming the streets, I also descended into the contaminated zones to get at the cleaners down there.

  • In the Dark Zone, I’ve largely been unsuccessful with claiming supply crates because I was ill-equipped to deal with the elite enemies that spawn in, but with my current setup and the Blackout global event, I found that I was tearing through enemies like a hot knife through butter. I was able to claim several supply crates during my time spent in the Dark Zone, and these offer items that do not need to be extracted.

  • I’ve never soloed a contamination event up until now, and the only time I had done one of these previously was with a group that I randomly joined with. During that particular run, I managed to find a Big Alejandro, an exotic light machine gun, but lost it to a group of rogues. This time, however, I was able to clear a contamination event on my own and got a Medved for my troubles. Extracting it was an exhilarating experience, although since this wasn’t an MDR, I would not have been too bothered if I had lost the Medved – this is an exotic shotgun that fires slugs in place of buckshot.

  • While the Dark Zone might be the most lawless and desolate part of Manhattan available for players to explore in The Division, there are places that have a neat atmosphere to it. This street, brightly lit with its Christmas decorations, does not look anywhere nearly as intimidating as those parts of the Dark Zone dominated by biohazard markers, plastic coverings and endless garbage bags, for instance.

  • At the time of writing, I’m rank forty in the Dark Zone, and I believe that at rank fifty, I’ll have access to those high gear-score blueprints that would allow me to craft the weapons I most enjoy using. At this point, however, this seems a little unnecessary: I’ve more or less found all of my weapons through drops from regular combat, and I’ve found the setup that works best for me. I run with the LVOA-C with Destructive (increased armour damage), Unforgiving (increased damage output when low on health) and Accurate, and my House has Accurate and Deadly (increased critical hit damage).

  • These rolls seem to have worked exceptionally well for me, and so, I optimised my weapons to their maximum gear score of 286. I subsequently returned to the legendary missions to see how the weapons would perform, and The House truly shines. It is considered to be the best exotic weapon: its unique talent is “card counter”, which allows half of the magazine to do twenty percent more damage per shot. Coupled with a respectable firing rate of 850 RPM and the fact that the weapon can be fully customised, The House is an absolute beast of a weapon that makes it the exotic to have.

  • In practise, The House is obscenely powerful even without the Destructive talent: the weapon talent can be exploited by counting bullets, allowing a skilful user to consistently deal more damage with the weapon. I personally find the notion of card counting an amusing one: a fellow I know once declared that he would count cards in Poker, even though the method is intended for Blackjack and other card games in its family. We had a good laugh that game, and I ended up breaking even, winning back my buy-in.

  • I picked up my first house in a Superior Global Event Cache, and over the course of my time in The Division, found two more Houses. Neither of the new ones have as good of a talent roll as my first, but I’ll likely keep them around and see if I can roll better talents on them at a later date: as a firearms-oriented player, electronics-dependent talents are not my cup of tea. It really says something about a weapon when it is able to make even legendary missions more manageable – since I picked up a House, I’ve not failed a legendary mission yet.

  • In previous missions and events, I ran with the survivor link, which grants increased damage resistance and movement speed. While useful in some circumstances, it turns out that for legendary missions, the recovery link is superior in every way – being able to revive an entire team is beyond valuable. During one run at Grand Central Station, we’d cleared all of the LMB and were preparing to fight the four Agents that appeared. My teammates were probably still new to the Grand Central Station mission, and immediately, I found myself the only member of the team still alive. In the voice communication, one of my teammates shouted “T, T!”. The signature skill is by default, mapped to the “T” key.

  • I had been saving my recovery link exactly for such a moment: observant readers will note that I selfishly run with overheal and tactical pulse: I make extensive use of both talents in a given mission to stay alive, and having overheal allows me to get enough health to escape a pinch even if I’m out of med kits. I thus activated my recovery link, saved my entire team, and we regrouped to defeat the wave of agents. The map became littered with various items, and by this point in The Division, high end items drop with such a frequency that superiors have become utterly worthless.

  • With my experiences, I am now going to continue running recovery link as my signature skill for all legendary missions: while I initially figured that tactical link could be useful for boosting damage against bosses, and that survivor link could be great for escaping a difficult situation, being able to save one’s entire team makes the missions much more straightforward to complete. Why is there a random post on The Division, one might ask? The answer is two-fold: first, the Blackout event will be ending in a few hours, and second, this post was actually supposed to be a talk on Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth movie, but it seems that I underestimated how long some things take to become available on this side of the world.

  • Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth (and presumably, final) instalment screened in Japanese theatres yesterday. While the first to fourth instalments were available to watch very quickly after screening in Japan, this sixth movie has followed the fifth in release pattern. I believe that there will be a chance to see it later this month, so I will be writing about The Origin, just at a later date. Aside from The Origin‘s delay, yesterday was, by all counts, an ordinary Saturday on this side of the world. I ran a few legendary missions, and then stepped out to a pleasant spring afternoon to relax at a local bookstore, before heading off for dinner. It was steak night, so I ordered a medium-rare sirloin steak with sautéed prawns, asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.

  • There’s nothing like a juicy, flavourful steak and tasty prawns to accompany some of the best weather we’ve had all year, and moreover, it’s great to see spring return to the world. Trees are starting to bud now, and grasses have become verdant with the warmer, pleasant weather. Spring has also returned to the world in my workplace: after a difficult year last year, it seems that things are turning around now. Of course, talking about it would mean going off topic, so I’ll leave this discussion of reality and return things back to The Division.

  • Here, I begin pushing into Amherst’s Apartment: the narrow confines of the mission means it’s actually quite difficult to get flanked, and despite the waves of well-equipped LMB soldiers, this legendary mission is also one of the quickest and most straightforward to complete. After some teammates set up a support station, it was a simple matter of switching over to the LVOA-C and firing until there were no more enemies left. In most games I’ve matched into, teammates have typically run with a support station, and when placed properly, these can be as useful as a well-timed recovery link: they automatically revive downed players.

  • If a nearby teammate is downed and I happen to be reasonably safe from fire, I will attempt to revive a teammate, as well. I have come to greatly enjoy legendary missions in The Division because, aside from incursions, these are the missions that really encourage team play. Because every member of a team is interested in the mission rewards, they will work together and help one another out even when they are not communicating by a microphone. It’s a far cry from the chaos of the Dark Zone, and seeing the cooperation in legendary missions have also made me appreciate the Dark Zone more.

  • I admit that it can sometimes be a bit irritating to matchmake and not find any groups available, or else match into a group with only one other player, then watching as the other player disbands the group because not enough people showed up to do a legendary mission. However, when things work out, they work out well. I’ve run into some interesting people during the course of my legendary mission runs in The Division, and I’m glad that by this point in time, people are not being kicked for having too low of a gear score.

  • Outside of The Division, DICE has made Battlefield 1‘s They Shall Not Pass DLC free for all players. I still recall buying the premium pass a year ago so I could play through the new French maps, and looking back, I have absolutely no regrets about my decision. Buying the DLC simply means paying to save time and play earlier. I will be doing a post in the near future on what it’s like to return to the French maps, which I’ve not played too extensively since the other DLCs came out: after more than a year of having bought the premium pass, I’ve finally had a chance to take the wheel of the Char 2C in a game of conquest, and the experience alone is meritorious of a blog post.

  • Over the past two weeks that Blackout was running, I’ve gotten more exotics than I’ve cared to count. While the Urban MDR continues to elude me (I’m looking for one simply because the gun looks cool; the MDR is best suited for a skills-oriented build), I’ve picked up a new Big Alejandro to replace the one I lost in the Dark Zone and it’s been a fun weapon. As well, I’ve also got a Heel now (an exotic DMR) and new shotguns, plus plenty of duplicates. Exotic weapons and gear can be useful, but for the most part, they serve a more illustrious role for me.

  • My loadout has not changed too dramatically since I last posted: I have an improved Strikers kneepads and a new M9 pistol that holds more rounds than my previous M1911. As well, The House has become a more regular part of my loadout since I learned of its exceptional performance. My gear score has also increased slightly, to 283. This pretty much brings my current post on The Division to an end, and looking ahead, I’ve actually got a bit of a surprise for readers: I have plans to do a mini-series for Yuru Camp△ this and maybe next month. I did mention that May looked a little sparse for anime, so as time allows, I will be doing something fun for Yuru Camp△. As for The Division, I will be returning when the Onslaught event kicks off in the future.

There is still one more new global event, titled “onslaught”, which will run at some point in the future. Similar to blackout, it is a damage modifier, and once it is live, I will likely take a look to see just how much of an impact the multiple damage effects have on gameplay. At this point in The Division, my quest to collect more gear pieces suited for my style continues, and while I originally thought it appropriate to stop here on account of repetitiveness, it turns out that playing through the endgame is much more entertaining than expected. While missions are repetitive to some extent, playing with a full squad of players against overwhelmingly powerful enemies have made each return to a legendary mission unique. Similarly, the uncertainty of ambush and betrayal in the Dark Zone adds a certain thrill to the game. In the fifth world tier, I’ve had reasonable success in matchmaking with other players to tackle legendary missions, and in the Dark Zone’s toughest tiers, the presence of manhunts and rogue agents continue to keep things exhilarating and fresh. My days in the Dark Zone now are largely PvE, although I also make a game out of evading rogue agents and, on good days, seeing if I can extract gear before rogue agents show up. The presence of other players makes it quite clear that The Division is certainly not barren or devoid of players: even now, there’s new content for players to enjoy. After blackout winds down, I’m going to take a short break and return to see what onslaught will be about. Perhaps, if my luck holds, I may even get an Urban MDR.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Bakuon!! and Addressing Uninformed Responses to a K-On! Parody

“He’s got a brand new car,
Looks like a Jaguar.
It’s got leather seats,
It’s got a CD player”

—Buck Rogers, Feeder

Hane Sakura becomes interested in motorcycles after seeing one effortlessly ascend a hill on her way to school, and she soon joins her high school’s motorcycle club, meeting Onsa Amano in the process. Hane subsequently obtains her motorcycle license, develops a liking for Honda motorbikes and also befriends the motorcycle club’s longstanding member, Raimu Kawasaki, as well as the wealthy but mischievous Hijiri Minowa. This merry band is occasionally accompanied by Rin Suzunoki, who has a strong love for all things Suzuki. The girls discover the joys of hitting the open road on bikes, various intricacies surrounding motorbike regulation and maintenance, and later, are joined by Chisame Nanako, a skilful racer who is very conscious about her short stature. Running concurrently with Hai-Furi, Bakuon!! (onomatopoeia for “roar”) was an anime that I originally intended to watch, but after being unimpressed with the first episode, I shelved plans to continue – I was wrapping up my thesis at the time and so, my time was not unlimited. However, with the introduction of the Terrible Anime Challenge, I decided to give Bakuon!! another shot. In doing so, I found a mildly entertaining anime whose execution is quite plainly a call-back to the styles and eccentricities of K-On!. I thoroughly enjoyed K-On! and count it a masterpiece: K-On! is the iconic forerunner to the current presence of slice-of-life genre in which there is a small cast whose member share gentle, heartwarming moments with one another with the aim of bringing catharsis to audiences. My reasons for counting K-On! as a masterpiece will be left as a story for another time. Bakuon!! is rather more outrageous – the dynamics amongst the cast and their unusual world means that rather than relax, Bakuon!! is more suited towards eliciting a few laughs from viewers who are familiar with the likes of K-On! and series following its approach.

Differing from K-On! in its niche and use of bikes in place of music, Bakuon!! is nonetheless conceptually similar to K-On!. The similarities are numerous. Hane’s familiarisation with the basics parallel those of Yui learning to play the guitar. Hijiri mirrors Mugi’s desire to experience the sorts of things that she would not otherwise as a result of her wealthy background. Onsa clashes with Rin, similarly to how Ritsu and Mio share a rocky but ultimately deep friendship, and finally, Chisame is outright a carbon copy of Azusa. The narrative begins with Hane’s introduction to bikes and participation in a tour of Hokkaido, school race and presentation for new students, while in K-On!, Yui similarly becomes learned in guitar and performs at a school concert, spends time with her friends at a training campo and with Houkago Tea Time, inspires Asuza to join the light music club. However, Bakuon!! is no mere K-On! knock-off – the characters and world of Bakuon!! are clearly intended to exaggerate what was seen in K-On!. The characters accentuate extremities from K-On!‘s cast for comedy: Hane is excessively optimistic and innocent, while Rin is a more shameless version of Mio. Hijiri is not hesitant to pull resources from her family to make certain things possible; these are even more outlandish than anything Mugi did in K-On!. Onsa is much more expressive than Ritsu, and her fights with Rin are more vocal. Chisame plays to Azusa’s small frame and proficiency, poking fun at Azusa’s serious nature in K-On!. In conjunction with its ridiculous setups, from talking motorcycles and puppet-like instructors, to a senior with no dialogue, it is apparent that Bakuon!! is intended to act as a parody of K-On! and illustrate the incredible, even ridiculous setups that are presented in the latter if they were taken to their logical conclusion.

Whether or not Bakuon!! succeeds as a parody is another aspect that this series shares with K-On!K-On! was a polarising anime when it aired. Its proponents enjoyed the easy-go-lucky environment that was presented; free from conflict, it was simply something that encouraged relaxation in viewers. Detractors cite K-On! as being detrimental to the industry for promoting entertainment with no academic worth. Bakuon!! has similarly created two camps of viewers. There are folks who found Bakuon!! to have taken the weakest aspects of K-On! and using these to define the series’ characters, and at the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who feel Bakuon!! could be compared to the classic Azumanga Daioh! for its subtle depiction of the passage of time. Both perspectives are ill-suited for describing Bakuon!!. The point of a parody is to accentuate features to the point of exaggeration for comedic reasons, and Bakuon!! succeeds in creating a whacky world where the lack of sense is a part of its charm. Once I got past the initial strangeness of Hane’s world and accepted it, I saw a series with a unique brand of humour that I’ve not seen anywhere else. On the flipside, the comparison of Bakuon!! to Azumanga Daioh is not a reasonable one: Azumanga Daioh illustrated how friendships form and mature over time as people move towards a goal of sorts. Bakuon!! has no equivalent path: it is most comparable to K-On!‘s first season, where the aim of the narrative was simply to establish the characters in their world. K-On!‘s second season began presenting the manga’s main message, but without a continuation to decisively illustrate (or disprove) this, Bakuon!! remains a spirited effort at poking gentle fun at the setup folks have seen in K-On!.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When I first watched Bakuon!!, I had just wrapped up my graduate programme and was acclimatising to a post-school world. The transition was relatively smooth, but during this time, I found it difficult to get into anime, so that season, I ended up dropping a lot of shows. Bakuon!! was one of them, and I still remember watching the first episode, where Hane struggles to bike up a steep hill and marvels at the prospect of using a motorcycle.

  • It took some prodding for me to resume watching Bakuon!!, especially when Baita was introduced: the surrealism was a bit much. Once Hane gets her license with some visually-pleasing help from Hijiri, I had enough motivation to push forwards. Another motivating factor for my continuing is a consequence of my coming across some rather ill-informed statements about Bakuon!! while looking around for materials related to Hai-Furi and Girls und Panzer. Extremities in reactions to Bakuon!! range from some feeling it to be one of the best anime of Spring 2016, to being an atrocity against anime, is the reason why this Terrible Anime Challenge post is longer than usual.

  • Once Hane gets her license, her next target is buying a bike. She winds up purchasing a Honda CB400SF Hyper VTEC Spec III (known informally as a Super Four), the third revision of the Super Four that Hane rode in biking school. Like Yui’s Gitah, Hane is very much in love with her new wheels, and this is what motivates the page quote: I’ve been wanting to use lyrics from Feeder’s Buck Rogers for some time, and an anime about new wheels seemed an appropriate place for things. Of course, having watched Behind Enemy Lines previously, I also cannot help but think of a carrier-based F/A-18 launch when I hear Buck Rogers.

  • Being the central protagonist who fulfills a very similar role to K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa, Hane is the focus of Bakuon!!, and the story is told around her perspective. Both Hane and Yui share personality traits (kind-hearted and warm), are quite new to technical aspects surrounding their newfound hobby and optimistic despite being prone to moments of misfortune; here, Hane runs out of gas on her Super Four while taking it for a test run. Hane is voiced by Reina Ueda: I know Ueda best as Sakura Quest‘s Shiori Shinomiya and Sophie Noelle of Kuromukuro, as well as Naru Sekiya of Hanayamata (which, incidentally, might also be looked at for a future Terrible Anime Challenge).

  • Rin Suzunoki is supposed to be the equivalent of Mio Akiyama, but comes across being a more full-figured and aggressive incarnation of Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo. The similarities are accentuated by the fact that Rin is voiced by Nao Tōyama. Onsa Amano, on the other hand, feels like a cross between Ritsu Tainaka and Yukari Akiyama – she’s the foil to Rin and knowledgeable about motorbikes, being voiced by Yumi Uchiyama (Kiniro Mosaic‘s Yoko Inokuma). Hijiri Minowa is modelled after Tsumugi Kotobuki, being of a similarly wealthy background and desiring to experience youth as ordinary people would. Hijiri’s voice is provided by Rikako Yamaguchi, and I am not familiar with her other roles.

  • After Hane gets her license, she and the motocycle club begin doing their first motorcycle tour, setting their sights on Hokkaido. It’s a trip of firsts that parallels Yui’s first ever training camp, and the girls’ tour in Bakuon!! lead them to Ooarai, Home of Girls und Panzer. This particular detail has largely gone unnoticed: Bakuon!!‘s manga predates Girls und Panzer, so when Hane and the others arrive in Ooarai, it’s still the quiet seaside town that it was prior to the explosion in popularity the area received following Girls und Panzer‘s televised run.

  • Four episodes in, and according to period discussions, there were already complaints directed at Bakuon!!., stating it to be “…unbelievably stilted, and… progressively more irritating, too.” This comparison holds no weight, especially as it comes from someone claimed that K-On! was an “accidential [sic] masterpiece”: K-On!‘s strength lies in being able to encourage audiences to slow down and enjoy the mundane, subtle things in life. Bakuon!! is not a mere imitator of K-On!, but more appropriately, it takes a jab at the setup in K-On! with the aim of evoking some laughs from viewers, and Bakuon!! accomplishes exactly this.

  • The wide open spaces of Hokkaido are a world apart from reminiscent of the southern Alberta foothills: while still quite mountainous, Hokkaido’s plains mean that it is host to a fourth of Japan’s arable land, and as such, agriculture plays a major role in Hokkaido’s economy. Grassy plains allow for cattle farming, along with other products, and the farmland regions of Hokkaido are nowhere near as cramped as the rural areas of Japan built between the valleys, such as the valleys of Niigata.

  • Onsa and the others reach their destination in Cape Sōya, the northernmost point on Hokkaido, just in time for a swift sunset. While not mentioned in Bakuon!!, Cape Sōya has at least ten monuments here as memorials to incidents that historically occurred near the area, and just north of the area, some forty-three kilometres away, is Cape Crillon in Russia. Under fair conditions, the cape is visible.

  • Inspection of satellite imagery find that the monument here actually juts out into the sea a little to really give it the position of “northernmost anything” in Japan, but in this instant, Onsa and the others find something a bit further north: instructor Enko Saruyama attempts to bike into the ocean at this northernmost part of Japan after one of her relationships go south. Unlike Sawako Yamanaka of K-On!, who is merely single, Enko is rather more unlucky.

  • On the topic of relationships, I suppose now is a good time as any to mention Facebook’s latest endeavour – they’re attempting to challenge Tinder as a dating service. This was only a matter of time, since Facebook has had access to all sorts of data. While they allege that the process is going to be opt-in only, nothing’s stopping them from quietly crawling the data in the back and then use a variety of clustering algorithms and regression analysis, amongst other techniques, to match all people for fun. It would then only take a bad leak to expose to the world the dating preferences of a large percentage of its users.

  • I suppose that I chould add “anime” to my set of interests so that if the day comes where Facebook can suggest a suitable partner to me with reasonable accuracy, then at least I’ll be paired with someone who accepts my hobbies, especially when it’s begun to encompass something like Bakuon!! 😛 Jokes aside, we return to Bakuon!!, where a drunk Enko manages to mess with everyone in the room (even Hijiri) before passing out. Like Sawako, Enko is eventually strong-armed into becoming the advisor for the motorcycle club.

  • Dialogue surrounding the idea that “what happens in Hokkaido stays in Hokkaido” is corny, cheesy and also surprisingly fitting: in its presentation, Bakuon!! is evidently aware of what it is parodying, and so, comes across in being deliberate in the characters’ choice of words and actions. Here, Hane releases her “memories” into the night sky; being a rambunctious romp through life, Bakuon!! indicates to viewers that this is not an anime to take seriously.

  • While some folks consider Bakuon!! a fanservice anime, only Rin is subject to unnecessarily oscillations for the most part, and personally, I’m actually not too big on Rin. After their tour of Hokkaido, the girls decide to give their bikes a good cleaning, and the approach that Hane take subsequently has Raimu Kawasaki take point on future washings to ensure that everyone’s bikes are carefully looked after. Raimu holds the distinction of being the only character to lack a voice actress and her origins are a mystery. She’s been around for quite some time to look after the students and depicted as an uncommonly skilful rider, but beyond her biking, I did not particularly find Raimu’s presence to contribute to my enjoyment of Bakuon!! to the same extetn that others have found.

  • Readers then pose the question, if Rin’s not doing it for me, then what about Bakuon!! did? The answer is Hane: a part of her appeal lies in her character. Friendly and warm, Hane’s the most ordinary of the motorcycle club’s characters and of everyone in the motorcycle club, also has the most appealing stats (82-58-87). During the bike wash, Hane takes a rather unconventional approach, citing it to be more effective and also indicative of her love for her Super Four. Jealous, Rin proceeds to attempt the same bit slips off her bike.

  • The last value is why Hane is able to wash her bike more effectively than Rin, whose specs are 91-56-81 (recall the relationship between surface area and the size of a boundary). Before I get an inordinate number of people flooding to explain to me what those numbers mean, I’ll stress that I’m aware of what the three measurements are, and that they’re quite unrelated to the three measurements of central tendency. The medium of text is one where I cannot count on intonation or body language to convey a joke, but it sure as heck hasn’t stopped me from cracking really bad jokes about fanservice where the moment arises.

  • For a series that’s supposedly dense on fanservice, Bakuon!!‘s actually more tame than expected, and in this Terrible Anime Challenge, only a sixth of the screenshots have anything interesting in them. The remainder of them are fairly mundane in nature. Here, the motorcycle club’s members wander around their school during their culture festival. In K-On!, Houkago Tea Time’s first performance was at the school festival, and the concert was by all definitions, a smash hit. Folks will best remember it for Mio’s tripping on stage and mooning half the audience: the anime was more implicit about what happened, whereas in the manga, Mio’s shimapan is made visible for the whole world to check out.

  • Hane’s customisations add an obscene about of turn signals and wing mirrors to her bike, while Onsa and Rin both tune their bikes and outfit them with modified parts to bolster their performance. The school race starts out slowly, but intensity ramps up, and Raimu participates. Despite an impressive comeback, Raimu suffers a catastrophic incapacitation that knocks her from the race, leaving Rin to win. The audience, fellow students, begin fighting one another over the race’s outcomes, moving Hane, Onsa and Rin to tears about how people ended up caring about their bikes.

  • Of everyone, only Hijiri lacks a motorcycle license, being shy of the age of sixteen: she rides in a sidecar with Hayakawa, her butler. Hijiri’s displays of wealth is perhaps even more outrageous than Tsumugi: Hayakawa consistently calls in airlifts to replace his destroyed bikes, and Hijiri managed to convince her father’s company to develop an apparatus that reduces engine temperatures by a means not yet discovered by science when one passes over it. Here, the girls gear up for Christmas, and while tea time is not an integral part of the motorcycle club like it was for K-On!‘s light music club, its presence is another indicator of Bakuon!!‘s roots.

  • If and when I’m asked, Hijiri comes in as my second favourite character in Bakuon!!. Although quite cheerful for the most part, Hijiri has a hitherto unseen side to her personality. On her way to a motorcycle license, she encounters considerable difficulty in riding one of the bikes and proceeds to demolish try and it in a fit of rage, only to learn that the bike was still operational. Conceding, Hijiri resolves to double down and eventually earns her license.

  • While never officially a member of the motorcycle club, Rin’s interactions with Onsa and the others means she’s a member in all but name. Here, Hane delivers a Christmas gift for Rin, who’s working on Christmas eve. I mention here that I’ve deliberately chosen not to focus on the Jebus*-like character: occasionally intervening to aid Hane, his presence is otherwise quite limited, being only for the audience’s benefit. I would imagine that biker-Jebus is probably a parody of Yui’s unexpected talent of having perfect pitch.
    • *- This is a reference to The Simpsons.

  • With the new year in full swing, the logical next step is to introduce some junior students and the possibility of new recruits joining the club. To inspire other students, the motorcycle club brings out Raimu, who performs some tricks with her bike here, although Hane’s actions dissade some of the prospective students from joining. The one and same blogger who compared Bakuon!! to Azumanga Daioh, insisted on referring to Raimu as “Lime”. While well-known amongst some circles and considered to be “brilliant, insightful, inspiring and always right”, I’ve found their content to be trite and pedestrian – one’s blog posts should never be carried by one’s reputation alone. This is why all of my posts are as lengthy as they are: opinions are only worth making known if they are properly expressed and a clear effort was made to rationalise them.

  • The “always right” aspect is laughable – Azumanga Daioh and Bakuon!! are about as different as apples and oranges.  Back in Bakuon!!, the sheer ludicrousness of the motorcycle club putting on a live performance in front of the entire school and the new students is a whole new level of entertaining. Their antics amuse their fellow students and the audience, but also embarrasses one Chisame Nanako enough for her to come onto the stage to set them straight. The end result is that Chisame humiliates herself further in the process.

  • Because Bakuon!!‘s story progresses as K-On!‘s did, it is not unexpected to see Chisame join the motorcycle club. Chisame fulfils the same role as Azusa did, and the two even share the same family name. Like Azusa, Chisame has prior experience in motorcycles, as Azusa did with music. Both are frustrated that their seniors are so eccentric and laid-back, and in particular, Chisame is very sensitive about her stature, which makes it difficult for her to ride a street-worthy motorbike. Instead, she is highly talented with racing bikes and regularly dominates in competitions.

  • In appearances, Chisame is more similar to Girls und Panzer‘s Alisa – Chisame’s defining trait is the ardent belief that bikes were meant purely for racing rather than as a mode of transport, but upon joining the club, learns that bikes can be accommodated to modify all kinds of riders. She decides to go for her license alongside Hijiri, but because her instructors imagine her to be proficient with everything, she learns very little and ends up failing. Like Azusa, Chisame has a tough exterior and a sensitive interior: she bursts into tears after crashing during a test.

  • At the opposite end of the spectrum are the folks who were personally offended by the very existence of Bakuon!! and after three episodes, announced their intention to drop a series. At this point, I think it is appropriate to discuss my approach towards reviewing anime: longtime readers will be well aware of the fact that I predominantly focus on writing about the things I enjoyed, and so, if an anime is being written about at the three episode mark, then I will likely continue to write about it in some capacity. At the beginning of a given season, I pick a few shows up and watch them. If the show has promise, then I will continue to watch it, while shows that are uninspiring or dull will quietly be dropped. I’ve never believed the need to announce to the world my intention to drop a show.

  • The only case where I might announce dropping a show is if I picked up an anime with high expectations, the series delivered past episode three and did something before the end-game that caused it to be dropped. Should that happen, I will probably do it subtly in another post or on Twitter, and I will do it to prevent readers from being disappointed. While changing, Chisame notices some markings on Hijiri’s body. It turns out she’s using what is known as a GP Training Harness to help her maintain posture and the like. Somewhat unnecessary, the moment nonetheless provides audiences a good look at Hijiri, whose stats are similar to that of Hane’s. This is the last fanservice-type image of this post, and readers have my word on this, primarily because we are nearing the end of said post.

  • With May’s first post kicked off in style, this month will be seeing the release of Gundam: The Origin‘s sixth and final instalment, GochiUsa: Dear My Sister and Kimi no Koe wo Todoketai (Your Voice). I have plans to write about all of these. Back in Bakuon!!, after contact with Rin’s saliva somehow turns Onsa into a Suzuki fan, it takes a bit of alchemy to bring Onsa back to her old self. Onsa and Rin constantly spar over their choice of brand, but despite their intense vitriol, exhibit a degree of concern for one another when the chips are down. Bakuon!!‘s brand loyalty is presented in a hilariously unrealistic manner, to the point where pathogens are suggested as the cause for Rin’s love for the Suzuki line of motorbikes.

  • Chisame eventually decides to go with a Honda PCX 150 Scooter once she gets her license, allowing her to join with the others in their travels while simultaneously conforming with her beliefs that full motorbikes are not suitable for roads. I realise that there are a large number of things in Bakuon!! that I’ve not covered, including the half of an episode dedicated to taking jabs at cyclists and another half-episode where Hane dreams about a world where motorcycles never existed, but owing to certain constraints (i.e. my being too lazy to do a longer talk), these topics have been left out.

  • Overall, Bakuon!! ends up scoring a B- grade in my books. It’s certainly not bad – despite lacking a message and being somewhat unorthodox in some places, the series does manage some humour with its characters. As a result, I find that both Bakuon!!‘s staunchest and most dissatisfied viewers did not contribute any useful thoughts to the discussion: Bakuon!! is strictly a middle-of-the road anime, and that’s about it. For my next Terrible Anime Challenge post, I’m thinking of writing for Hanayamata, which some of Tango-Victor-Tango’s finest consider “K-On! done wrong”. Let’s see if that comparison holds up, and if not, it’ll be hilarious for everyone (except the individual making that remark) when I go to town on them for being wrong.

As a clear K-On! parody, the remaining question is what I thought of Bakuon!!, and to this, I answer that I found a reasonably entertaining series that did succeed in eliciting a few laughs, with the ludicrous situations that Hane and her friends end up encountering at every turn of their adventures together. While Bakuon!! is not likely to revolutionise any genres any time soon with its execution, what it does bring to the table is a bit of comedy that is quite well-done. With reasonable animation quality and solid sound (especially for the motorbikes) in conjunction with being a parody, Bakuon!! is a clear reminder that there are merits to watching an anime for three episodes before deciding whether or not the series is worth continuing with – while the first episode did not work well with me, Bakuon!! managed to draw my interest after three episodes, in being able to parody different aspects on K-On! effectively. This is a series that I recommend to the more open-minded K-On! fans; folks with no keen interest in motorbikes or K-On! will certainly do better to spend their time watching other series. With Bakuon!!‘s manga ongoing, some of the anime’s proponents have wondered if a second season and movie are possible. While there are limits to what a parody can do to keep the viewer’s attention before the humour starts becoming derivative or ineffectual, I am not adverse to watching more Bakuon!!, especially if viewers would get to see Hane washing her bike again.