The Infinite Zenith

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Tom Clancy’s The Division: Russian Consulate, General Assembly and the Unknown Signal

“Ideas are important. Principles are important. Words are important. Your word is the most important of all. Your word is who you are.” –Tom Clancy

As it turns out, having all superior gear entering The Division‘s last set of campaign missions translates almost directly to the ability to tear through the levels and waste even named enemies without much difficulty. The Russian Consulate is the first of the missions I had left in my story: after learning of virologist Vitaly Tchernenko’s knowledge of Green Poison, the player is sent to the Russian Consulate at Murray Hill so he can be extracted and questioned. Fighting through the ornate halls of the consulate, players eventually reach the library where Tchernenko is hiding. However, despite being able to convince Tchernenko to accompany the player, LMB arrive and extract him. In spite of this, players are able to gain access to Tchernenko’s work, allowing Dr. Kendall to investigate the virus further. Players must also fight another First Wave Division agent. Once the consulate is cleared, players move to the United Nations building in the General Assembly with the goal of taking out Colonel Bliss, who is making a last stand. Moving into the UN building, players will take on two rogue First Wave agents and eventually square off against Bliss himself. Tchernenko is nowhere to be found, and while the remaining forces in Manhattan can begin working on the vaccine for the Green Poison, as well as begin restoring function and order to Manhattan, the loss of Tchernenko in conjunction with the disappearance of one Aaron Keener suggests that he managed to escape Manhattan, with the aim of using a more virulent form of the Green Poison and the highly sophisticated Division technology to bring the world to its knees. Once Bliss is defeated, players receive an unknown signal in which Keener addresses the player, inviting them to join him and his conquest to rule the world; in the chaos and despair, First Wave agents were swayed to betray the Division and joined Keener. Faye Lau also congratulates the player on having done so much to help bring order back to Manhattan, but remarks that even with things under control, much still remains to be done.

While The Division might be a tactical third person role-playing loot shooter, its premise is certainly an interesting one worthy of consideration: through exploring the various locales of Manhattan, listening to conversations amongst Division agents, JTF staff and various recordings scattered in the world, it becomes apparent as to just how extensive the damage to society was through the introduction of a weaponised biological agent modelled off a virus thought to be eradicated by vaccinations. Inspired by Operation Dark Winter, The Division explores the government and society’s ability to respond to a fast-moving pandemic: Dark Winter had found that existing infrastructure was not equipped to handle biological warfare, lacking surge capabilities. Further to this, the results showed that the media would not be effective in conveying information, slowing down citizens’ access to medication and potentially exacerbating panic. In general, Dark Winter was a sobering reminder that the complexity of modern society, and the interdependence of different systems on one another made our society highly vulnerable to attack. Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector explored this from the cyberspace perspective, and The Division reminds players time and time again of just how destructive pandemics can be considering how ill-prepared our infrastructure and policies are: it is only through the intervention of a powerful stay-behind force and the resolute belief in doing good that The Division‘s protagonists are able to slowly bring society back from the brink. While suggesting that it takes extra-governmental power and an uncommonly strong faith in people for society to survive given our current infrastructure, The Division also shows that people who believe in others, as well as themselves, can be successful even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I bet no one was expecting a thematic discussion on what The Division is about here: when The Division is mentioned, people’s minds immediately go towards the Dark Zone and the uphill journey of accumulating good gear. However, for me, The Division is more than being merely about collecting gear: it’s a powerful bit of speculative fiction that warns us of just how vulnerable our societies are and what can happen if the right people do the wrong things. The game is a reminder that we shouldn’t take stability and security for granted, and that these are things working hard to preserve.

  • Of course, I imagine that these social topics are far removed from the minds of the players, so I won’t go into too much more details about it in the figure captions. Here, I make my way further into the Russian Consulate after clearing out the first group of LMB soldiers. The ornate decorations are quite befitting of a Russian site, and I note that I’ve not played a game set in a ostentatious locale with Russian or European architecture since the days of 007 NightFire. It was therefore such a treat to be able to walk through these environments again in modern-generation graphics.

  • I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve known about The Division since late 2013, when I was perusing a gaming magazine at the local bookstore. The premise intrigued me, as did their E3 demo footage, which blew me away with its impressive visuals. While the finished product is quite different than what the E3 presented, my intrigue in the game remained; by early 2016, the open beta for The Division was announced, and I was excited to play it. I think I got around eight hours into the open beta before it ended, spending it doing the two available story missions and in the Dark Zone.

  • When the beta ended, I remarked that The Division would be worth buying if it could deliver sufficient content. While reviews initially dissuaded me, Ubisoft has been adding to the game, and the journey to level thirty is a reasonably-lengthed one. I took forty-two hours to reach level thirty, and this includes time spent exploring the game, as well as adjusting my loadouts. I bought the game on a sale back during Black Friday last year; by my metrics, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth for the game, since it now costs less than a dollar per hour spent in the game.

  • The Russian’s intelligence capabilities are alluded to in this mission: upon finding the server room, radio chatter deals with what the Russians are doing with this amount of processing power, and it is remarked that normally, this would go towards reconnaissance, but in light of the crisis, the processors are turned towards genomic applications. It turns out that Tchernenko has been using the grid to sequence himself, and Dr. Kendall requires all of this data to continue research against the Green Poison, but before the data can be downloaded fully, it is remotely terminated.

  • One of the cool things about The Division that very few games have implemented in full is a dynamic day and night cycle, so one thing I’m going to be looking forwards to is reattempting this mission as a daily mission during the day: in 007 NightFire, players can only fight through Drake’s Austrian castle by night, and I’ve long wondered what the place looks like during the day. In The Division, day and night cycles mean that there will be opportunity to explore this level again.

  • The interior design of the Russian Consulate switches between classic Russian and more modern styles. While the spaces in the consulate are mostly close quarters, a good marksman rifle is surprisingly effective in some areas with more open spaces. On a per-shot basis, the M4 is the most powerful bolt-action rifle I’ve encountered: before stacking critical damage bonuses on top of it, I could hit consistently for around 75 thousand points of damage with headshots. Its main disadvantage is a slower firing rate and small capacity. To make the most of this weapon, one must land consecutive headshots, which is very difficult considering the mobile nature of The Division‘s firefights.

  • I usually experiment with a variety of weapons to see what works and what does not; the M1A is probably the best marksman rifle in the game, striking a balance between firing rate and damage per shot. Optics are rare to come by, so one of my goals at the end-game will be to buy blueprints for a good set of high magnification sights. The artwork and lighting create a warm environment befitting of the diplomats and politicians that work in this building.

  • Along the way, I found a green laser sight that looks amazing. In shooters, I’ve been very fond of green lasers because they are much more vivid than red lasers; green light stimulates more photoreceptors than red light, which is why our eyes are more sensitive to green wavelengths than any other wavelengths. I recount a story in my undergraduate studies, where I paid more attention to a lecture if the instructor was using a green laser simply because it stood out more. Consequently, having blueprints for a green laser sight would also be quite nice.

  • The firefight in the library is intense, and there’s a heavily armoured LMB soldier in here awaiting players once the rest of the LMB have been neutralised. Tchernenko has locked himself in a panic room and will only agree to go with the US Army, but once players put him on the line with Kendall, he agrees to accompany the Division to safety. Before players can get through to him, the LMB forcibly take him. There’s no way to rescue him in The Division, but players will not fail the mission for having been unsuccessful in recovering Tchernenko.

  • I am briefly reminded of my days in graduate school when Kendall and Tchernenko begin discussing their work; Kendall is familiar with Tchernenko’s findings as a result of a previous conference. It’s been some time since I published to an academic conference, and in Laval, my paper was selected as one of the best papers, after which I was invited to submit an extended paper to the International Journal of Virtual Reality.  My current work is far removed from VR and AR, but as the field of apps and software is constantly evolving, it is not implausible that I may eventually returning to some VR and AR work.

  • The long, open courtyard at the Russian Consulate is why carrying a good long range option is wise: the courtyard is filled with LMB soldiers, including an elite sniper who can blind players. By this point in time, LMB elites and rogue Division agents will employ the same skills that players have access to. Earlier in the server room, a support station was dropped, allowing enemies to heal themselves, and later, the Division agent Hornet is equipped with cluster seeker mines. This is a somewhat challenging fight in the absence of good equipment, but with a marksman rifle, things become more manageable.

  • After cleaning up the first wave of enemies, I cautiously made my way towards the waypoint. It turns out that red light visible here is merely an emergency light and not the laser sight for a turret or some enemy sniper’s marksman rifle. Because there’s no way to save Tchernenko, there’s no real rush here to pursue him at full speed – once players reach the end of the courtyard, the objective changes, players instead must defeat Hornet in a one-on-one battle.

  • Hornet has the power to hack turrets that players deploy, so strategy guides recommend using seeker mines against him. After eliminating the remainder of the minions accompanying him, Hornet will keep his distance, and this is the part where the marksman rifle really shines: I had no difficulty putting Hornet away, standing in stark contrast with the protracted fight against Scarecrow. When I began the Russian Consulate mission, it was nighttime, but by the time I got to the end, day began breaking.

  • Finishing the Russian Consulate mission illustrated that I was ready for whatever final challenges had awaited me, and with this mission in the books, I decided to wrap up some of the remaining side missions before I continued, as well as get my wings up to full completion. Completing all of the main missions won’t yield enough supplies to finish each wing, so players must also do encounters. The encounters are generally quite short and can be done quickly, and there isn’t too much variety in the encounters.

  • Yielding sixty supply units apiece, encounters entail rescuing hostages, securing supplies, recovering supplies, assisting JTF or else activating virus research data stations scattered throughout Manhattan. Of all the encounters, my least favourite ones are the ones where I must bring supplies back to a container and the virus research ones: the latter involve data scanners that are hidden about, and it takes some time to find all of them.

  • I was short one upgrade for each of the medical and tech wings after finishing the Russian Consulate mission, so my first priority was to gather enough supplies to fully upgrade them. During the process, I leveled up twice: the reason why there aren’t many screenshots of me doing these missions is because they can be a bit dull, and so, I’ve chosen not to show them. It took around an hour and a half to wrap up enough encounters to fully upgrade each of my skill wings.

  • As sunlight breaks over Manhattan, the entire area is thrown into sharp relief. The downside about reaching level thirty ahead of finishing the General Assembly mission was that I would be fighting enemies scaled up to me in terms of strength and durability, rather than the level twenty-eight enemies that one would ordinarily encounter, so I also took out a few of the roaming bosses in the light zone to get some upgraded gear. I thus entered the General Assembly mission with the MP5 ST.

  • Armed fully with each possible update, I made my way to the far east side of Manhattan to take on the General Assembly mission. At level thirty, my level indicator has changed into a proficiency indicator, and ever four hundred thousand points, I earn a proficiency cache, which contains high-end items, possibly exotic (named) items and some Phoenix Credits. This currency allows players to buy blueprints for top-tier weapons from the vendor at the base of operations.

  • While I initially started the General Assembly mission with the cluster mines, I switched back over to the tactical scanner pulse, and here, I’m running with the Tactical Link signature skill, which would confer increased damage. I’ve noticed that experience gain is much higher for surviving firefights and killing named enemies at level thirty: this is plenty of incentive to make headshots, which now provide a much larger scoring bonus.

  • With the JTF providing support, the players are free to make their way into the UN Assembly building to continue with their mission. The laser sights for the automated turrets are visible here, although players needn’t worry about them: the JTF will address these, as well. I’ve found the JTF to be moderately effective, especially with regards to giving enemies something else to shoot at besides myself, and so, after picking up some explosives, it’s a straight shot to the parkade area underneath the building.

  • It is nice to have the pulse option again: being able to locate enemies is critical, and the added bonus of dealing additional damage against enemies that have been scanned makes firefights more straightforwards. Paired with a good submachine gun, even the purple and dull yellow enemies no longer were a serious threat. I’d been running assault rifles as my primary up until now, but the higher damage output at close ranges means that I’m finally open to using them in my primary slot. Assault rifles, on the other hand, have better range and accuracy, making them good all-around weapons.

  • The United Nations was established after the Second World War in 1945 to replace the League of Nations in maintaining international order and stability, and while it has been credited with successes, especially peacekeeping missions during the 90s, the UN today is ineffectual in its function: sanctions against rogue nations go unheeded, peacekeeping missions are fewer in number and their concerns have even shifted towards the irrelevant, such as a well-publicised but exceptionally poorly-written report on cyber violence. The report in question is filled with grammatical errors, insufficient citations (which even included a link to a C-drive directory) and suggests that all online hate is motivated purely by identity politics.

  • The UN’s credibility took a further hit when two individuals, self-proclaimed “experts” in the field, were invited to address the commission: they were, in effect, championing the idea that telecommunications should be censored so that their feelings are not hurt, while on the flipside, certain individuals should be allowed to say whatever they please. All of this occurred back in 2015, prior to The Division‘s launch, and since then, it seems that for the most part, this UN report, and whatever those two speakers had to say, have fortunately not had too much of an effect in either the enjoyability of games and the flow of information within the internet.

  • The negative impact that the people participating in virtue signalling have had on the world is what motivates the page quote: Tom Clancy believed that one’s word, their commitment to something, is singularly important, and this is something that those who engage in virtue signalling lack. The fight against the second rogue Division agent here in the UN Assembly, and the sheer resistance players encounter, is a fantastic visual analogue for the sort of pushback people might encounter while trying to convince the world of the fact that virtue signalling folk are acting to further their own interests without a genuine commitment to the cause they are supposedly promoting.

  • After beating the second rogue Agent in a short firefight, the time has come to take on Colonel Bliss himself. While radio chatter suggests he got away, it turns out there’s a chance to stop him yet. Bliss was originally assigned to protect Wall Street assets and performed his duties with honour until his men were abandoned. He thus joined with Aaron Keener and has employed the LMB towards furthering Keener’s goals, but is betrayed by Keener. Unlike the other bosses, who fought on foot, Bliss is in a helicopter that has access to a powerful chain gun, missiles and flares.

  • While a properly outfitted player can focus fire on Bliss’ helicopter and blow its armour away without using the automated turrets, I was minimally equipped to deal with the armour and so, I used the turrets as suggested. Once the armour is gone, any weapons the player has got will quickly weaken the helicopter and destroy it. In the aftermath, a host of high-end items dropped to the ground, and after playing around with my loadout, I found the stats that worked best for me. I subsequently proceeded to the final mission, titled “Unknown Signal”.

  • Besides playing the living daylights out of The Division, this has been a relaxing, if somewhat eventful, long weekend. I spent the whole of yesterday taking it easy (as well as tending to some cleaning), and today, I went for a bit of a walk with one of my friends on account of the nice weather, before going out for Chinese New Year dinner and catching up with family (among the things on the menu included wonton soup, grilled ribs, deep-fried pork, yi mein and crispy chicken). There’s a science fair tomorrow morning that I’ll be helping out with, as well, so as soon as I mash “publish” on this post, I’m hitting the hay.

  • The last mission leaves a bit of an open-ended conclusion to The Division, and what happens next is anybody’s guess. I’ve heard unverified rumours that The Division might be getting a sequel, and it would be quite interesting if another similar game were to be set in a European or Asian city, involving another Division’s efforts to stop Keener. His escape with the virus blueprints is particularly chilling, so a story aimed at stopping him would be the most logical next step. For the time being, however, I’m done with the main campaign, and I’ll be occasionally returning to The Division to get my gear score up, accumulate more Phoenix Credits, and experience the end-game at my own pace.

  • This is what my final loadout looked like when I finished the General Assembly and Unknown Signal missions. With this, it means that I’ve done something that some feel to be a nightmare: I’ve completed The Division‘s entire campaign solo, without once using specialised ammunition or deploying my signature skill. I did not spend any of my credits on gear, and all of these high-end items come from the drops acquired during General Assembly. Looking ahead, I don’t think there will be any more anime posts for this month – Battlefield 1‘s Apocalypse comes out tomorrow, and it seems I’ve hit level thirty in The Division at just the right time for this update. I’ll be returning to see how the new maps and weapons play out since trying them out in the CTE. As well, I’ll also be making my way into the Dark Zone to see just how survivable it is for a solo player in the near future.

All of the missions in The Division are visually impressive, but this is especially apparent in the final two missions, which definitely feel at home in a Tom Clancy novel. The interior of the Russian consulate is well-decorated with distinctly Russian elements, feeling very similar to Rainbow Six Seige’s Kafe Dostoyevsky (itself modelled after Cafe Pushkin): from the well-furnished office spaces and chandeliers in the great halls, to the bar and pool room, the place simply seems like a place where allies of the Jack Ryan administration or the Campus might operate out of. Similarly, the vastness of the UN Assembly building is captured in superb quality. The fight against a rogue First Wave agent happens in the very same council chamber where major decisions affecting the UN’s policies are made. Even amidst the chaos of each mission, I nonetheless found the time to really enjoy the environments that I was exploring. At this point in time, I adopted a slightly different play-style: switching out my cluster seeker mines for the tactical scanner pulse, I returned to the approach I utilised previously to scan out enemies before jumping into the fray, and this time, with bolstered critical damage, I began making more extensive use of the submachine guns, which I’d largely ignored up until now. Coupled with a good marksman rifle, picking my way through these missions was superbly entertaining and also much more straightforward than I anticipated. I thus ended my campaign of the game in a solid manner, and will begin my journey into the endgame with a gear score of 137. My first task is to bolster that up, and then decide where I will go from here.

Tom Clancy’s The Division: Power, Security and the Superior Loadout

“Our tools keep getting better, and as a result of that, our lives keep getting better.” –Tom Clancy

Moving through Midtown East, I push through to the Warrengate Power Plant, which has been overrun with the Rikers, a grouped formed of escaped convicts from Rikers Island unified under Larae Barrett’s rule. The site provides power to Manhattan in The Division, and the Riker presence poses a threat to the island’s electric grid. After clearing the power plant out, the time has come to pay Larae a visit and put an end to her control over the Rikers. In an intense firefight with her and two cronies, I managed to defeat her. The Last Man Battalion (LMB), however, still retain full control of assets critical to helping the JTF restore function in Manhattan, and Paul Rhodes sends players to take control of a rooftop communications array. After fighting through hordes of enemies, the engineer carrying out the repairs completes his task. The restored communications allows the JTF to better ascertain the situation, and Captain Roy Benitez decides the time has come to assault a major LMB position at Queens Tunnel. Disabling turrets and making my way into the heart of the site, I clear it out and secure weapons, as well as gear for the JTF. On the offensive now, I assist the JTF in pushing their way to Grand Central Station and manage to repel a desparate final assault by the LMB. With the completion of this mission, I wrap up all but three of the main campaign missions of The Division, and the accumulated experience has pushed me to level twenty-seven.

In the campaign’s latter half, missions remain doable for solo players, but there were missions that were trying. In particular, the rooftop mission proved exceptionally challenging: while I was able to engage enemies and reach the engineer without difficulty, the boss, coupled with close-quarters fighting and limited cover made the final fight a gruelling one even on standard difficulty. I found myself wishing I had another player to help provide cover fire while I reloaded, or else could help with flanking the enemies. Eventually, I managed to defeat the boss here and was able to continue with the game, but altogether, it took me some two hours to beat the level. Larae Barrett and her leftendants were similarly challenging: their heavy weapons shredded my player, and I began exploring the different abilities here. I eventually began running with the cluster seeker mine, a powerful crowd control option against the NPCs, and upgraded my first aid ability to the overcharge mod, which provides overhealing and is perfect for solo play. Once I became familiarised with these abilities, I was able to move through missions and control crowds more effectively. I’ve also unlocked the Survivor Link signature skill; the signature skills are powerful boosts that The Division has described as being able to turn the tide of a battle and so, should be reserved for special moments. Survivor Link increases defense and resistance to damage, as well as running speed. I’ve yet to unlock the other two – Recovery Link recovers players to full health, revives nearby downed allies and provides an overheal, and Tactical Link bolsters weapon damage. For now, I’m running Survivor Link simply for the fact that I have it, but both Recovery Link and Tactical Link look to have their own value for a solo player: the former is a fantastic safety net for the event that I sustain lethal damage, while Tactical Link looks excellent for situations where I’ve got the drop on enemies and require a damage boost. As I wrap up the last missions in The Division and finish upgrading all of the wings at HQ, I’ll unlock the last of these skills and put them to the test.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • At level twenty, with a fully specialised loadout, I began moving into the Eastern side of Manhattan. Some eagle-eyed readers may note that my ammunition capacity fluctuates occasionally; this is a consequence of equipping different backpacks, some of which provide a bonus on the amount of ammunition I can carry. I’ve found that ammunition capacity is not particularly important during the campaign missions; resupply crates are found in sufficient frequency so that I never run out before important events.

  • The Warrengate power plant is modelled on the Consolidated Edison Building on the East River at 15th Street. This facility is a natural gas-fired power station that also provides steam to Manhattan, and in The Division, is the main installation where power is generated. The Rikers have planted explosives in the entire facility, with the aim of knocking out power and introducing anarchy to the Manhattan streets.

  • The interior of the Warrengate power plant is incredibly detailed; with pipes snaking everywhere, old-school valves alongside more modern implements and the like, the facility in The Division shows a combination of the building’s age and subsequent retrofitting to use newer technologies. While most of these details might be lost during an intense firefight with the Rikers, I’m superbly impressed with all of the details that have gone into interiors in The Division.

  • While The Division is intended to be a multiplayer game, players are made to acclimitise to the game’s mechanics and gear system in the campaign. The campaign was a clever means to present a story to the players, rather than allowing some folks to skip directly into the PVP elements, and while players can group together to complete missions, I found that playing through these missions alone conferred a more immersive and authentic experience.

  • For a time, I stuck to engaging bosses with the belt-fed LMGs owing to their deep ammunition pools: the M60 and M249 each have 100 rounds available to them without any magazine modifications, and so, can deliver a blistering hail of suppressive fire down-range. While bosses are immune to being suppressed, LMGs nonetheless are a good option in fights where they are accompanied by minions, being able to continuously deal damage.

  • On a note that’s completely unrelated to The DivisionGochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? ~Dear My Sister~, the OVA following up to GochiUsa‘s second season, is set for a home release on May 30. I will work to have the internet’s first review for this post, and presently, I’m eyeing a post with forty screenshots. We recall that Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s first episode will release in March, right around when Yuru Camp△ and Slow Start‘s finales are: in light of this, I’m going to roll back the talks for Yuru Camp△ and Slow Start, as my instincts tell me that there’s rather more interest in Girls und Panzer than the aforementioned shows.

  • TheRadBrad characterised the Lexington Event Center mission as the most disturbing mission in The Division, and right out of the gates, it’s immediately apparent as to why this might be the case: the bodies of JTF operatives are hung at the front gates, with a creepy message seemingly written in blood right below. The building is modelled on the 69th Regiment Armory, a  Beaux-Arts style building that finished construction in 1906. While originally built to house the National Guard, the facility has also been used to host art shows.

  • As unnerving as the Lexington Event Center is, I cannot help but be impressed at the small details in the environments; the warm lighting and Christmas decorations are reflective of the fact that the site was to be used for hosting Christmas events prior to the Green Poison’s propagation. In the close quarters of the Lexington Event Center, I switch over to an SMG: while I typically run with an assault rifle as my primary weapon, I constantly switch out my secondary weapon to suit whatever environment I’m in. Marksman rifles and LMGs are my preferred choices, although I may occasionally introduce an SMG into the loadout to improve close quarters efficiency.

  • There’s an ECHO beacon in this room that details the fates of the dead JTF soldiers: a few were forced to drink what might’ve been anti-freeze and died from poisoning, some were shot and others were tortured for the Rikers’ depraved amusement. It’s worth taking a moment to look through all of the ECHO reconstructions, and here, I note that of all the factions, the Rikers are my second favourite to engage (the Cleaners remain first): Rikers are hulking brutes and are larger than the standard rioters encountered, making them easier to hit.

  • Once the building is cleared of Rikers, players head to the roof where they will find Sargent Ramos, a JTF operative captured by the Rikers. With a strong hatred for law enforcement, the Rikers have taken to brutalising the JTF, but at least a handful have survived. Once Sargent Ramos is rescued, he will call in other JTF operatives to help with the battle. While having the additional guns afforded by the JTF support is nice, the operatives turn out to be quite ineffective against what’s upcoming.

  • Larae Barrett is protected by two massive brutes hauling LMGs around. This was probably the first major challenge I encountered: Barrett herself stays out of the fight until the two are eliminated. I quickly found my typical approach completely ineffectual against them and experimented with a variety of skills to distract them long enough to land rounds on them. In the end, I switched over to the seeker mine, using it as a guided grenade to blow away armour and deal damage to the bosses. With enough patience and use of seeker mines, I eventually took the two brutes down.

  • In retrospect, a long-range option might’ve been better against Barrett herself, but without the two LMG-wielding brutes, she’s much easier to neutralise. Several belts of LMG and a few seeker mines later, I managed to finish what was one of the tougher missions to solo in The Division. By this point in the game, specialised items begin dropping with a much higher frequency. I still break them down to convert them into weapon parts, while standard items, I sell for credits.

  • After the effectiveness displayed by the seeker mine, I set about looking at modifications to my skills with the goal of seeing if I could further extend my survivability. I ended up rolling with the overdose modification for my first aid, which is focused on solo players and gives overheals, at the expense of a longer cooldown time and reduced effectiveness on allies. I also switched over to the cluster seeker mine, where the mine breaks into smaller mines that independently seek out targets. While dealing less damage than an individual mine, it’s great for causing multiple enemies to lose health over time.

  • The rooftop communications relay mission was probably the toughest mission I’d faced in The Division up until this point: the mission began innocuously enough: I made extensive use of my cluster seeker mines to quickly disperse crowds and move towards the communications tower at the mission’s end. From a distance, I picked foes away before moving on, and as a snowfall moved into Manhattan, I closed the distance to the antenna.

  • Once reached, players must defend a JTF engineer so that he can perform modifications to the antenna. The Rikers send several veterans and elites against the player: the cluster mines again proved their worth in crowd control, and I eventually found myself face to face with the boss, Glass, and his minion. It was here that my strategy broke down completely; I was mowed time more times than I cared to count, and the long walk back to the antenna, coupled with the wait for the exchange between the engineer and Paul Rhodes to end, was immeasurably frustrating.

  • The problem in the fight was the unique combination of Glass carrying a lethal close quarters weapon, having a powerful minion, and the fact that the rooftops offer no cover or long-range options, forcing players into close quarters. Furthermore, if players decide to attempt the long range option, Glass or his minion will make straight for the engineer and shred him in seconds. I tried a variety of tricks here, including deploying a support station with the life support modification so I could revive myself, but this was not too effective. Of all the missions in The Division, this was the one point where I wondered if I would have to break my solo-streak and matchmake with someone to help me overcome the challenge.

  • In the end, I managed to lure Glass into the lower area, hammered him with the seeker mines and grenades, as well as sustained fire from an LMG. He eventually fell, and I took to dealing with the remaining minion: without Glass around, the fight was considerably more straightforwards. After two hours, I finally managed to beat the mission: it was a thrilling moment, showing that enough determination meant that the journey to level thirty could be done solo, after all.

  • Under a brilliant blue sky, I began the Queens Tunnel Camp mission to infiltrate and seize control of the LMB communications hub. I’ve been looking through some older discussions of The Division,  and one player managed to go from level one to thirty in the span of ten days, including the completion of all of the wings. Considering the difficulties I faced with some of the missions, I wonder how many hours of those ten days were spent just playing The Division. If we assume this player put in roughly the same time that I did, then it would take around forty five hours to go from level one to level thirty. This works out to around four-and-a-half hours of The Division each day, which is hypothetically feasible provided one has a considerable amount of free time on their hands.

  • By comparison, I prefer taking my time and enjoying the sights (read “I have work and other titles to play”). Even though I’ve got some thirty eight hours of time in The Division by the time I hit this side of Manhattan, the game continues to impress me with its visuals. The buildings have become taller and more imposing, creating a fantastic skyline. On the topic of that particular individual, I think one of my goals in The Division will be to beat his gear score after hitting level thirty.

  • After punching through the tunnels, I entered a large room doubling as a makeshift server room. After clearing it, one of the NPCs had dropped a superior piece, my first of the game: these gloves far surpassed any of my other equipment. From here on out, superior equipment drops became far more common for me. I’ve heard that some folks have gotten superior gear through the Dark Zone or through crafting, but one element about the road to level thirty is that equipment becomes obsolete very quickly: playing the game normally will allow one to fully update their loadout to be effective as one levels up, making it unnecessary to expend funds and crafting materials on new equipment.

  • The Dark Zone offers a different experience for obtaining gear: some players recommend entering prior to level thirty in order to both gain a better understanding of game mechanics, become familiar with the layout, and to access better gear. However, my trick was to kill a few of the named enemies that I encountered in the regular areas to update my gear prior to the campaign missions. Here, I finish with clearing out the LMB so I could subsequently disable the servers and communications grid.

  • Once communication assets are under friendly control, players have one more task: to take control of the munitions depot and weapons stockpile. The LMB are encountered with increasing frequency towards the game’s end, and unlike the other factions, possess superior armour, weapons and tactics. I was expecting a fight akin to the one encountered with the Rooftop Communications Relay mission, but having level-appropriate gear meant I was able to neutralise the LMB sent to engage me without any issues.  I usually end up deconstructing the awards that missions give me, since better gear often can simply be found by playing the game.

  • After the Queens Tunnel Camp, the final security mission is Grand Central Station – after disabling the automatic turrets, players must take back the site. I’ve heard that the mission has a game-breaking bug where the turrets will remain active and cannot be disabled if one dies before hitting a checkpoint after the turrets but after disabling them. I’m glad I played a bit more conservatively during this part: the prospect of active turrets is an unsettling one, as these weapons can shred a player in the blink of an eye, and nothing short of finding a panel to disable them will work.

  • I therefore count myself as extremely fortunate that I did not encounter this particular issue during my run of the Grand Central Station; apparently, the bug is still occuring in the game as recently as July 2017. One of the largest train stations in the world, the current Grand Central Station building was finished in 1913, and subsequently hosted an art gallery, as well as acting as a venue for musical performances. The station saw renovations during the 1970s, and presently, is undergoing expansion, with a new terminal opening in 2023. While featured in The Division, the mission does not actually see players enter the building.

  • The tracks tunnels and collapsed tunnels underneath the station suggest at the chaos that was introduced following the Green Poison epidemic. I’ll take some time now to provide an update on what’s happening here for the remainder of February now that we’re a ways over the month’s halfway point – first order of business is that I’m rescinding my plans to write about Violet Evergarden at the halfway point as originally planned. While the world the story is set in is incredibly rich in background and vividly depicted, my experience tells me that Violet’s journey to understand the phrase 愛してる(romanised aishiteru) will span the entirety of the fourteen episodes the anime is set to run for.

  • Consequently, I do not feel that I can offer a complete and fair discussion of the anime at the present. The end result is that I will be returning once Violet Evergarden is finished to do a whole-season talk on the show, but for now, I do not believe that I can write about Violet Evergarden on account of my incomplete understanding of what the anime’s aiming to deliver to audiences. DICE has also announced that Battlefield 1‘s Apocalypse DLC is set for release on February 20, which was much sooner than I expected. These factors together influence my decision to push the Violet Evergarden talk back, and in the meantime, folks can look forward to some screenshots of Battlefield 1‘s final DLC (although I am quite certain some will unfollow me for this heresy!).

  • In the real world, work’s been a bit slow as of late, although it’ll definitely pick up in the near future. On Friday, I sat down to lunch at a nearby British pub for a delicious, well-seasoned medium-rare steak sandwich and fries. We’re now in the Family Day long weekend, and I spent most of the day playing through The Division, doing the encounters to accumulate enough wing supplies to bring each wing to a hundred percent completion. After lifting in the morning, I went to pick up some 干炒牛河 (beef hor fun) and 陰陽飯 (fried rice with a white shrimp sauce and tomato-chicken sauce). It’s been snowing the entire day, and I’m greatly looking forwards to sleeping in a little tomorrow and Monday.

  • Returning to The Division, I finally approach the Grand Central Station terminal, and after making short work of the LMB soldiers here, regroup with the JTF, who inform me that I am to dig in and repel the impending LMB assault. Naturally, this corresponds with a boss fight, and I found that the cover I so judiciously made use of on the way to the terminal now became an impediment, making it difficult to engage the LMB attackers rushing my position.

  • As with the Rooftop Communications Relay mission, the close quarters made it quite difficult to get a good shot at Captain Foley from afar, and at close quarters, I was annihilated. However, over the span of the next half hour, I figured out that Foley would not get closer to the player so as long as I did not use my seeker mines or grenades, and so, was able to fire on him until his armour and health were depleted. The firefight was so intense that my M60’s barrel began glowing red, as visible here. It’s such a nice touch that The Division included this detail. With Foley in the books, I wrap up the penultimate of the wing missions in The Division.

  • Exiting the Grand Central Station mission, I have an all-superior loadout. This is something I never imagined I’d be able to reach after The Division‘s beta ended, but here we are. Having tested it against free-roaming bosses in the light zone, I’m reasonably confident that I’ll be able to reach level thirty in no time at all, although once I hit thirty, the goal will be to transition my entire loadout into high-end items, as my current gear is rendered obsolete. During The Division‘s open beta, a handful of high-end items were available to players to encourage exploration, although these weapons would only be present in the beta: high-end items are only open to level thirty players in the final game. I missed out on getting them owing to lacking the Dark Zone funds and level during the beta, but having looked at their stats again, it turns out that even specialised weapons in the final game far outstrip them in performance.

Besides continuing to push through The Division‘s campaign as a solo player, I’ve also managed to upgrade my entire loadout to superior items. A step up from specialised gear, superior gear is characterised by their purple icons and vastly improved statistics compared to equivalent level specialised items. I’d long heard that players begin seeing superior items drop at mid-twenties, and this turns out to be true. During the Queens Tunnel mission, I encountered my first superior drop when moving into the server room; these gloves ended up being a ways better than anything I had previously, and as I continued with the missions, I began swapping out more of my inventory, replacing specialised items with superior ones. Having reached level twenty seven now, my entire loadout consists of superiors, and I’ve been experimenting with different setups to ensure a reasonably balanced setup, as well as to ensure that my equipment unlocks the pair of weapon talents available to superior weapons. These talents are separate from player talents and will passively improve the weapon’s performance in some way. My current setup uses the Enhanced G36 assault rifle, as well as the First Wave M1A marksman rifle. Occasionally, I will switch my marksman rifle out for an LMG or with the M44, which is the single most powerful weapon in my inventory: a critical shot can hit for up to eighty thousand points of damage. I’ve been trying these weapons out against the open-world bosses that roam the streets of Manhattan, and the M44 is obscene – five rounds are enough to neutralise some bosses from full health and armour to zero. With this kind of firepower, I’m curious to see how I fare in the upcoming missions, the Russian Consulate and General Assembly.

Courting Hope: Revisiting Kyou and Tomoyo’s Arc in CLANNAD At The Ten Year Anniversary

“If the results come true, it’s as if there’s only one future. If it fails, we can think that other futures exist…I want to believe that in our future, there are many possibilities waiting.” –Kyou Fujibayashi

With the drama club acquiring the requisite number of members, Tomoya and Nagisa focus next on securing a club advisor, but when they speak with Toshio Koumura, they learn that he’s already the advisor of the choral club. Nagisa decides to stand down after she discovers a letter warning her to back off, and Tomoya decides to visit Yukine. Youhei believes that a basketball game where Tomoya is victorious could get the choral Club to reconsider, but Tomoya refuses. When Youhei’s sister, Mei visits, she worries for him and cleans up his room. As she cannot stay with him, she lodges with the Furukawas, and later, Tomoya agrees to the basketball game. Kyou decides to participate, as well, and the choral Club are brought in to watch. Tomoya’s team is off to a strong start against their rookies, but the basketball team decides to switch in their starting line, who even the scores out. Tomoya manages to score the final basket when he is spurred on by Nagisa, and the choral club consents to share their advisor with them. The Student Council intervenes and states that such an arrangement is prohibited, and later, Nagisa collapses in school, forcing her to rest at home. In this time, Kyou tries to bring Tomoya closer to Ryou and ends up trapped in the equipment storage room with him. Later, Tomoya decides that, if Tomoyo were to become president of the Student Council, the drama club’s fate could be turned around. When he speaks to her after class one day, some thugs appear with the intent of fighting her; to prevent her chances from being jeopardised, Tomoya takes the blame and is suspended. Tomoyo, Kyou, Ryou and Kotomi visit him, and when he returns, he decides that the best way to help Tomoyo is to have her help out with various sports clubs. Tomoya learns of Tomoyo’s reason to become president; she wishes to preserve the sakura trees on the walk to school as a promise to her brother. Nagisa returns to classes and watches a tennis game with Tomoya: Tomoyo is participating, and during the match, Tomoya inadvertently shows his devotion to Nagisa when a stray ball strikes her. Kyou and Ryou are heartbroken with this revelation.

Initially starting his journey out of a selfish desire to stave off boredom during his monotonous days, Tomoya’s quest to revive the drama club sees him investing a considerable amount of effort into making things work. As CLANNAD progresses through its next arc, the source of his determination and persistence begins to shift: evident in Kotomi’s arc, Tomoya is driven by intrigue and a sense of duty to do right by those around him. When he finds himself making a basket during a match after hearing Nagisa’s voice, he begins to develop a greater interest in Nagisa, whom he has regarded as a friend until now. The two seemingly complement one another, and Nagisa’s absence further accentuates this sense of mystery. Tomoya begins to wonder how he feels about her, and while she remains at home, he sets about doing what he can for her. When Tomoya seeks Tomoyo to help out with resurrecting the drama club, he puts his fullest efforts into working out ways of boosting Tomoyo’s reputation amongst the students. He learns from Tomoyo that she wanted to save the sakura trees for her family’s sake, and here, it is significant that he learns of this late in the game: this is intentionally done to show that Tomoya’s efforts are entirely driven by Nagisa, rather than purely by a desire to help and drive off monotony. The extent of his efforts remain strong even without Tomoyo’s exposition to really illustrate who his efforts are for. In this arc’s final moments, where instinct kicks in during the tennis match, what Kyou and Tomoyo have suspected is confirmed: Tomoya’s fallen in love with Nagisa.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Toshio Koumura is an older instructor at Hikarizaka Private High School. Behind his understanding demeanor lies exceptional wisdom and experience: as a teacher, he is able to motivate even the most disinterested students into turning their lives around and is credited with turning unruly students into people who care about the world around them. At Hikarizaka, he acted as the drama club’s advisor previously, and noticing that Tomoya and Youhei seemed unusual, guided the two along a better path from behind the scenes.

  • A conflict arises when Nagisa learns that Koumura is already acting as advisor to the choral club; Rie Nishina vehemently opposes the proposal to share Koumura between the two clubs. It turns out that Rie was once a talented violinist who had suffered an accident that left her unable to properly grip a violin. With her hopes of performing abroad dashed, she fell into a depression, but Koumura encouraged her to find another path in singing. Since then, she’s helmed the choral club and has rediscovered her happiness, so when Tomoya and the others ask her to consider sharing Koumura’s time, her best friend feels that Tomoya is threatening to take away the dream that Rie had worked so hard to reassemble.

  • Nagisa has a difficult time believing that Rie and her friends could be behind the note left in her desk; ever willing to see the best in everyone, Nagisa is kind to a fault, and in CLANNAD, a different side of her personality begins appearing late in the game. Although normally quiet and reserved, Nagisa can become quite animated and determined when the situation calls for it.

  • When Youhei manages to call out Sugisaka, Rie’s friend responsible for the note, Nagisa steps between the two to defuse an impending physical beating and promises to listen to whatever Sugisaka says. It is here that Rie’s story is made known: Youhei dismisses it as a call for sympathy, but Nagisa is visibly moved and agrees to stand down, leaving Youhei frustrated. Youhei’s remarks, seemingly tactless, mirror the audience’s perspectives that many of CLANNAD‘s moments come from characters with uncommonly difficult or even tragic backgrounds.

  • Tomoya explains to Nagisa that Youhei’s strong reaction to her decision in standing down is a consequence of his own past: he was formerly a soccer player who was forced to quit after fighting with a senior. Recalling Tomoya’s background, Nagisa begins crying, and Tomoya comforts her, feeling it the right thing to do. The golden light of the early evening and volumetric lighting suggests to audiences that Tomoya is touched by how selfless Nagisa is, marking the beginning of his interest in her, but before anything can happen, Kyou shows up and tears Tomoya a new one for having allowed Nagisa to stand down.

  • When Youhei suggests taking the fight to the choral club, Tomoya mentions that the act would further sadden Nagisa: it’s another subtle sign that he’s concerned for her. Youhei decides to slack off, but Tomoya takes him to the reference room, where Yukine suggests a basketball game, and later, runs into Tomoyo, who is accosted by members of the judo club. He extricates her from the situation, and earns Tomoyo’s thanks. In the process, this incident is what allows Tomoya to devise his solution later, having heard from Tomoyo her goals of running for the Student Council presidency.

  • In a bold move, Tomoya takes Nagisa by the hand and brings her outside of campus to evade Youhei, who is quite enthusiastic about the idea of a basketball game to turn the choral club around. When Youhei catches up, Nagisa lies that she’s seeing Tomoya, hence their need for space. It’s noteworthy that this is the first thing that comes to her mind; she’s willing to risk embarrassment to cover for Tomoya. Once Tomoya gets over his initial shock, written all over his face, he is happy that Nagisa is willing to go to these lengths for him. In the awkward silence following, both Tomoya and Nagisa wonder how to best react, showing that the feelings are probably mutual, even if both are too bashful to be forward at this point in time.

  • Things are interrupted when Mei, Youhei’s younger sister, shows up to visit. Mei plays a much larger role in CLANNAD ~After Story~; in CLANNAD, she visits for a few days to check up on Youhei, whom she considers as a bit of a rogue element. After gifting him something he does not need, Mei helps him clear up his room. However, because of the dormitory rules, Mei cannot lodge with Youhei, so the Furukawas agree to have her stay over.

  • Source documents indicate that Nagisa was born in 1984, and Tomoya in 1985. In 1984, the MacIntosh computer was release to the market, and the Sino-British Joint Declaration was announced to outline what would happen when Hong Kong would be handed back to China in 1997. A year later, Calvin and Hobbes began running in newspapers, and Mikhail Gorbachev replaced Konstantin Chernenko as the leader of the Soviet Union. While the Furukawas share dinner with Tomoya and Mei, a glance around the Furukawa’s home suggest that the anime is set in an older time: the dates are closer to the start of the new millenium – mobile phones have yet to be common, and televisions are still of the old CRT type.

  • In a previous comment, I remark that Valentines’ Day is something I am largely neutral about. Last year, I wrote a thought experiment wondering what a hypothetical date with someone like Nagisa would be like, and concluded that it would be possible to make things work. I had planned on doing a similar talk about Miho Nishizumi, but as her Meyer-Briggs personality type is similarly consistent with Nagisa’s, such a talk would have been exceptionally boring, differing only on what a date with Miho might entail. I would lean towards a museum, and given my choices, I suppose it speaks volumes about the sort of personality I’m drawn to. It’s a bit of a surprise as to just how quickly a year’s elapsed: during that thought experiment, I also announced that I would be revisiting CLANNAD. With this series of post very nearly in the books, I look ahead to next year and wonder about how ~After Story~ should best be handled, provided that I’ve still time to write about it.

  • Kyou and Tomoya take great fun in trolling the living daylights out of Youhei when they discuss the organisational structure of their team of three; Kyou mentions the master-slave dynamic, and I’m certain she’s not referring to the cooperation concept that I implemented for a multi-agent rescue robot simulation for my project. The scene is meant to indicate that Tomoya gets along with Kyou rather nicely: for their differences, they share a similar sense of humour, and while Kyou does her best to set Tomoya up with Ryou, she comes to see Tomoya as someone she can count on, a far cry from her initial distaste in him.

  • The confrontation between Kyou and Tomoyo is hilarious – it’s the first time the two clash, and while there’s no physical violence, it’s amusing to see Kyou outmaneuvered when Tomoyo implies that Kyou might have feelings for Tomoya. It is during this arc that Kyou begins trying to put Tomoya into more situations with Ryou, with the aim of helping Ryou bolster her confidence, and as she spends more time with the two, Kyou herself begins to realise she’s in love with Tomoya. The outcome of this is covered quite separately in an OVA, and in CLANNAD proper, is addressed at the appropriate time. Similarly, Tomoya’s efforts in helping Tomoyo secure presidency of the student council leads her to see him differently, and this is also covered in an OVA.

  • When Tomoya, Youhei and Kyou begin making the junior players look bad, the basketball team bring their top line into play. The equivalent of bringing an NHL team’s first line to bear against junior players, it’s deliberately unfair, done to preserve the basketball team’s integrity, and their skill quickly evens things out. When the score reaches a tie, Tomoya manages to make a shot despite his bad shoulder after hearing Nagisa’s voice, allowing his team to take the win. This is yet another sign that Nagisa is Tomoya’s special person; I am reminded of my MCAT and the encouraging conversations I had prior to my exam. In the years following, I’ve since counted entirely on my own skill and experience to carry the day: there’s no one in my corner offering this sort of encouragement, so I fall back on myself to get by.

  • In the aftermath of the match, the basketball team captain compliments Tomoya on his hand-eye coordination and remarks that even with his injury, he might still be valuable as an asset. It seems, however, that this particular competition was unsanctioned, and when an instructor finds them, the players and entire audience make a break for it. Later, Mei remarks that in spite of Youhei’s minimal contributions to the game, she nonetheless respects him for having put forth the effort. She departs on a high note.

  • Nagisa, ever considerate of those around her, has given Tomoya (and audiences) very little insight into her background: when she falls ill for the first time in CLANNAD, audiences do not initially make too much of a deal about it, since occasional illness is a common enough occurrence. Nagisa’s absence, while seemingly insubstantial early on, imparts a noticeable change on Tomoya and his friends. He becomes sullen, while Kyou decides to spur Ryou on in pursuing a relationship with Tomoya, all the while concealing her own accumulated feelings for him. Here, Tomoya, Kyou, Ryou and Kotomi visit the Furukawas, who update them on Nagisa’s status.

  • It pains me to say that, even though I’d bought CLANNAD a year ago during a Steam Sale, I’ve yet to actually touch it. I’ve heard that the visual novel is tougher than Halo‘s Legendary difficulty, and even puts DOOM‘s ultra-nightmare setting to shame: one mistake will send Tomoya to Davy Jones’ locker. One of my readers recommends playing through CLANNAD with a guide, and I’ll probably have to do just this, since I have no intention of dying in a game that can trade blows with Wolfire’s Receiver in difficulty. The timeline for this particular endeavour will likely be when my gaming rig can no longer keep up with contemporary titles – with Far Cry 5Metro: Exodus and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown coming out this year alongside a new Battlefield title, I think that my machine’s finally met its match.

  • I’m looking at the housing market at present, so things like a new gaming rig will have to wait until things settle down, and while my current computer might not be able to run the latest and greatest, I still have a backlog I’ll need to get through, so CLANNAD will definitely be on my list of games to get into. Back in CLANNAD The Anime™, Ryou recoils in embarrassment, complete with infrared emissions and even steam, from one of Kyou’s remarks.

  • The issue of sharing an advisor with the choral club is settled, but with the arrangements in violation of school rules, Tomoya begins putting his backing behind Tomoyo’s campaign to run for the presidency of the Student Council. In exchange, she begins visiting him and Youhei each morning to encourage their punctual arrival to school, as a part of her campaign. While Youhei is constantly trying to fight her and gets his arse handed to him each time, Tomoya treats her as he does everyone else and ends up sharing meaningful conversations with her.

  • While carrying some volleyballs, Kyou runs into Tomoya after classes. Yukine had earlier shown Tomoya a charm, feeling that his feelings for someone is bothering him. It’s surprisingly specific, and it is quite telling that the first person Tomoya thinks of Nagisa. However, in her absence, Tomoya picks Kyou, feeling that the charm’s improbability means that things are unlikely to happen. His choice mirrors prevailing thoughts on the best person for Tomoya, as some find that Kyou’s fiery personality would be a good match for Tomoya’s grounded and practical mindset.

  • The charm ends up putting Kyou and Tomoya inside the storage room. Yukine refers to her spella as a charm, and under J.K. Rowling’s definitions used in Harry Potter, a charm is a spell that alters the properties of an object without changing it fundamentally. While CLANAND largely remains the realm of realistic, there are supernatural elements present to advance the story: how much of it can be accounted for by hard science and how much of it is left to the realm of magic is not particularly relevant, since the strength of CLANNAD always lie within each arc creating a compelling story that immerses audiences into whatever Tomoya is dealing with.

  • Kyou reveals her reason for bringing Ryou and Tomoya together, although she’s also flattered by the fact that Tomoya decided to think of her for the charm. There are numerous conflicting emotions here, as Kyou begins to accept that she may have feelings for Tomoya, but before anything unsuitable for CLANNAD can occur, Tomoya recalls the countercurse that nullifies the charm. He manages to stay hidden and extricates himself from one of CLANNAD‘s most amusing situations.

  • Tomoyo is confronted with a large number of ruffians, and teachers arrive to drive them off. Tomoya subsequently shoulders the blame to ensure that Tomoyo’s record is not tarnished, taking a suspension from school in the process. Tomoyo begins to see Tomoya as someone who cares about her, and she continues visiting him every morning to ensure he awakens on time. However, in the grand scheme of things, helping Tomoyo out really was a means to an end, and Tomoya’s sights are set squarely on helping Nagisa resurrect the drama club.

  • The dramatic changes between the amusing and serious in CLANNAD were one of the reasons why I enjoyed it to the extent that I did: I find that it humanises the characters so that audiences can really empathise with them. Following Tomoya’s suspension, Kyou, Ryou, Tomoyo, Kotomi and even Fuuko visits him, bearing food. What happens next is a food challenge worthy of Adam Richman. However, outside of these moments, Nagisa’s absence is taking a toll on Tomoya, who becomes more silent and grim than before. Kyou and Ryou begin to notice this, as well, and while it cast doubts on whether or not Tomoya might return Ryou’s feelings, as well as Kyou’s unrequited love, Kyou continues holding onto hope. It’s a surprisingly painful place to be, as I can attest.

  • Tomoya’s suspension concludes before Nagisa recovers, and when he returns to school, he learns that the incident has torched off rumours that are harming her chances of becoming the president for the Student Council. In response, Tomoya devises an inspired solution: having long noticed how virtually all of the athletic clubs at Hikarizaka long to recruit her, he decides to have her perform against the athletic clubs, turning her considerable strengths and skill towards something constructive to illustrate her as being a well-adjusted individual worthy of being the Student Council president.

  • Subtle imagery in this scene remind audiences that even the aloof Tomoyo has her tender moments. Stories of this class, with their multiple female characters and lone male lead, often are frustrating to watch because the male protagonist is indecisive and lacks the sort of determined personality that would make them appealing to the female leads. In contrast, CLANNAD presents Tomoya Okazaki as a kind-hearted individual who, despite his cynical views of life, can and will put forth his genuine best when asked of him. In short, he is someone who earns the affection and interest of the female characters around him.

  • As the evening sets in, Tomoyo shares with Tomoya her story: her greatest desire is to make her younger brother happy again, after he fell into a river and nearly drowned as a consequence of trying to stave off their parents’ divorce. The incident left him injured, forced Tomoyo’s parents into re-evaluating their situation, and while things appear to have reached an equilibrium, Tomoyo’s brother had a request to see the sakura blossoms. With the plans to cut them down, Tomoyo feels that her ability to honour this promise is to reach a position where she can influence the decisions of those around her to preserve the things that remind her of what family means.

  • As the evening sets in, Tomoya and Tomoyo spend a quiet moment together on the hillside. By this point in time, it’s apparent that CLANNAD sets most of its most emotionally-charged moments during the evening, when the sun is setting. Casting the landscape in golds and reds long-wavelength light serve to suggest that that evenings, long-associated with endings and unwinding, are the time when people begin relaxing. With their normal vigilance dialed back, people begin opening up, and allow others to learn more about them. It is during the evenings that Tomoya learned of Fuuko’s condition, remembers his friendship with Kotomi, watches as Nagisa yields the drama club to the choral club and hears about Tomoyo’s family: this time of day begins to create a sense of melancholy in viewers.

  • The tennis match in CLANNAD is what I consider to be the turning point of the series: after numerous hints and subtle clues, it is here that the way in which the wind is blowing becomes apparent. Tomoyo and a male tennis player begin their match, and as it increases in intensity, a stray ball hits Nagisa in the ankle. The song “Over” can be heard playing in the background: the lyrics are upbeat and cheerful, suggesting a ceaseless sense of wonder about the surrounding world, as well as the gradual ending of things. It seems to be sung from Nagisa’s perspective.

  • Instinctively blocking the tennis player’s efforts to help, Tomoya helps Nagisa to the infirmary. In this single moment, Tomoya accomplishes a triple kill, shooting down Kyou, Ryou and Tomoyo in one action. While Ryou and Kyou’s reactions make it clear that they are hurt, Tomoyo’s also feeling it. Her reaction is a bit more subtle, and she gazes up at the sky in silence. Kotomi seems largely unaffected, and she looks more concerned for Kyou and Ryou. Having experienced this before, I’m confident in saying that time will eventually heal those wounds, and that it’s definitely okay to embrace the ensuing sadness: that one feels so strongly about the loss shows that they have experienced love.

  • This outcome is what motivates my page quote: Kyou generally is optimistic and believes that there will be another way even when things fail. The outcome of Kyou and Tomoyo’s arc is that Tomoyo succeeds in becoming the Student Council president. With her position, she’s able to accomplish what she’d set out to do and save the sakura trees on the hillside road leading up to their school. As appreciation for Tomoya’s efforts, she also allows for the unique arrangement between the choral club and drama club to exist. With the drama club’s future steady, CLANNAD enters its final act as Tomoya prepares to help Nagisa realise her dreams.

A common criticism directed at narratives featuring a prominent male lead and several female leads is that the story ends up nowhere, but CLANNAD does the opposite, providing audiences with subtle hints that foreshadow which direction Tomoya takes. The love that Tomoya develops for Nagisa is a natural progression, brought on by spending time with her. His initial goal of doing something with his time besides his usual routine transforms into intrigue, and when Nagisa falls ill, he comes to appreciate her quiet and gentle company to greater heights. Never forcibly advanced by the narrative, the development of Tomoya’s feelings proceeds at a plausible pace. Once Tomoya becomes aware of his feelings, and his friends find out, the consequences are similarly portrayed in a natural manner. Tomoyo had begun showing interest in Tomoya for his resolute determination in helping her, while Kyou had been trying to suppress her own long-standing feelings for Tomoya by hooking Ryou up with him. Both see their chances with Tomoya evaporate when Tomoya stands up to look after Nagisa; it speaks volumes to how well both Kyou and Tomoyo have come to know Tomoya, as well, when they’re able to understand who Tomoya’s feelings are directed at. From this simple gesture, CLANNAD decisively settles the heading its story is moving towards. Without lingering doubts to sow the seeds for conflict, the risk for a meandering narrative is struck down. CLANNAD is able to enter its final arc at full force, with the story’s goal clearly in mind, as Tomoya deals with the greatest challenge he’s faced since meeting Nagisa for the first time.

​Slow Start: Review and Reflections At the Halfway Point

“The reactions of the human heart are not mechanical and predictable but infinitely subtle and delicate.” –Daisaku Ikeda

After Hana is frightened by a tenant upstairs, Shion introduces her to one Hiroe Hannen, whose tendency to order everyone online hides a situation similar to that of Hana’s. After the two are properly introduced to one another, Hana learns that Hiroe missed her university entrance exams from an illness, and subsequently lost all confidence, becoming a shut-in during the process. Hiroe believes Hana to be better off than her for having continued on her journey and having made friends. Hana decides to bring her friends over to help out Hiroe: they help her pick out some proper clothing to bolster her image and self-esteem. Thanking Hana, Hiroe is grateful for having met Hana, and the two become friends. Later, while deep in thought about Eiko, Kamuri forgets to wear her skirt to school. It turns out that she ran into Eiko’s sister, Miki, and subsequently became confused. Eiko clears things up, and learns that Kamuri, having mistaken Miki for Eiko a year previously, enrolled at Hoshio Girls’ School to be with Eiko again. Later, Tamate recounts her experiences working at a speciality restaurant while walking to Hana’s apartment to study. They run into Hiroe, who decides to help them. Eiko brings up some bath salts that the girls subsequently use to enjoy a warm bath in, and inspired by the water’s consistency, Tamate cooks up chop suey for dinner. Tamate brings out an old dating simulator for Eiko to try out and when Hana has difficulty falling asleep, Tamate reassures her that things will be okay. We thus stand at the halfway point in Slow Start, and with six episodes under the belt, Slow Start has begun hitting its stride, capitalising on its languid pacing to explore the cast in greater detail.

Halfway through Slow Start, it becomes apparent that Slow Start will give Hana plenty of space in which to grow close to her friends and trust them sufficiently so that she may be truthful about her situation. In introducing Hiroe, the largest catalyst is present to drive this change; Hiroe and Hana’s situations parallel one another. Hiroe never did quite recover from her setback, being remorseful of having lied to her friends, and while she’s willing to talk to Hana and the others about her situation, her recovery is a bit of a slower one. Conversely, Hana is unable to talk about her situation because she fears losing Tamate, Eiko and Kamuri, but has begun taking those steps to catch up. The two complement one another well, and it is expected that as Slow Start continues, the two will help one another out sufficiently such that they will overcome their individual challenges. In the meantime, Hiroe looks to join the regular cast in helping them out occasionally with their studies, and in exchange, receives companionship from Hana and her friends. Their interactions are amusing to behold, but aside from putting a smile on audiences’ faces, they also serve to show that slowly and surely, changes are beginning to take place in Slow Start. Recalling that a support system is probably the most powerful tool in maintaining positive mental health, the changes that Hana and Hiroe introduce into the others’ respective lives will play a substantial role in benefitting both.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After a rough start, Shion mediates the introductions between Hiroe and Hana, inviting her to dinner in the process. Shion and Hana are having Karaage (唐揚げ) here, a fried chicken made with chicken marinated in soy sauce, sake, ginger and garlic before applying potato starch and frying it in oil. It’s lighter than Southern Fried Chicken, which is rather more common in North America, but just as flavourful. In this Slow Start post, as with its predecessors, I’ve chosen to go with twenty screenshots.

  • Hiroe slips and falls after receiving one of her latest packages from Hana. As it turns out, Hiroe has lost enough confidence so that she’s unwilling to go outside even to a convenience store, and so, orders everything online, even common everyday objects such as tape and pins and…all sorts of things like, such as that. Services like Amazon are making it increasingly easy to buy things online, although I find that there’s a charm in going to a physical store and browsing through it even if I already have a very clear idea of what I’m to buy.

  • Hana’s the first person that Hiroe’s had over in quite some time, and Hiroe panics when she discovers that she’s got nothing to serve Hana, subsequently attempting to find a service that ships tea out on very short order. When she begins wondering why Hiroe orders everything online and learns of Hiroe’s story, she breaks out into tears. Hana does resemble CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa in this regard – with a kind and gentle personality, Hana is caring of those around her, and grows concerned for them when things seem amiss.

  • Hiroe grows depressed when she learns that Hana’s got friends and proceeds to sulk in the corner; here, Hana is contacting her friends to come over and meet someone. Of everyone, Eiko and Tamate become the most involved: with Eiko’s sense in fashion, she brings over some of her clothing and goes about figuring out what works best for Hiroe, who had, up until now, been clad in sweats. The grey colours reflect on her present state of monotony and isolation.

  • When Eiko is finished with one iteration, the differences are so dramatic that Tamate and Hana don’t initially recognise her. Hiroe wears Eiko’s dresses nicely, and her present choice of clothing hides a surprisingly aesthetically-pleasing figure: of everyone, she’s second to Shion in terms of asset size.

  • Clothes can make a considerable difference in one’s appearance, and Sam Hui understood this: in his 1980 song, “先敬羅衣後敬人” (jyutping “sin1 ging3 lo4 ji1 hau6 ging3 jan4”), his upbeat lyrics emphasise the importance of being well-dressed: folks who dressed poorly could be mistaken as vagrants or criminals, while smart attire would garner the respect of those around them. Consequently, one should not neglect their choice of clothing. It’s a remarkably fun song, and the closest English translation of the phrase “先敬羅衣後敬人” is “you are what to wear” (a literal translation is “people will judge you for your appearances before they judge your character”).

  • Of course, Eiko is not about to let Hiroe make off with her clothes, and after confirming the styles that work best for her, take Hiroe on a massive shopping spree to bring her wardrobe up to code. Clothes are not inexpensive by any stretch, but as noted in Sam Hui’s “先敬羅衣後敬人”, the value of having good clothing can be counted as such that it is worth skipping a meal to buy said clothing (in a metaphoric sense). I generally buy my clothes during sales, when prices can see reductions as much as eighty percent: being able to buy a 120 dollar button-up shirt for 30 dollars, or a 200 dollar pair of smart casual pants for a quarter of the price is immensely satisfying. With this, I also reveal my preferred dress style now.

  • It was superbly welcoming to see Hana and Hiroe connect with one another over their shared backgrounds, and seeing Hiroe in her situation allows Hana to open up with Hiroe much more quickly than any of the other characters. Similarly, despite their age differences, Hiroe gets along with Hana’s friends like peas in a pod, so I would hazard a guess that spending more time with Hiroe will have a non-trivial impact on Hana.

  • When Karumi becomes consumed in thought, she forgets to put her skirt on, leading Hana to worry that Karumi’s pantsu are exposed. Fortunately, Eiko is on station to lend Karumi her shorts. I’ve decided against including that screenshot: Karumi reminds me a bit of GochiUsa‘s Chino and there are lines that I won’t cross. This sort of occurrence is very unlikely to happen in reality and usually is limited to dreams: if one is dreaming about being out and about in their underclothes, it could indicate vulnerability, fear of exposure or anxiety.

  • Tamate breaks out some photographs of Eiko, and Karumi remarks that the individual seems quite different than the Eiko of the present. Given Slow Start‘s presentation of Eiko, she seems to be a minor celebrity of sorts who all shall love and despair. The limitations of anime and manga mean that particularly beautiful characters are often difficult to differentiate from ordinary-looking characters: the highly-stylised characters do not have facial characteristics of real people, and as such, writers rely on exaggerated personalities or reactions to convey this to viewers.

  • Usually confident and able to charm those around her, Eiko is reduced to trembling on her knees after instructor Enami flips her skirt to “verify that Eiko’s pantsu are not too risqué”. Done purely for comedy, this action in reality would certainly qualify as sexual harassment and result in much trouble for Enami. It speaks to the disconnect between anime and reality that this sort of thing could happen, and the way to recover from this shock is for a friend to pet the affected individual.

  • After a spirited discussion about body doubles, doppelgängers and the like, where Hana admits to running into someone who looked a great deal like Eiko, Karumi runs into the person who looks similar to Eiko. As it turns out, it’s her younger sister, Miki, who was responsible for creating the special soup for Eiko earlier in Slow Start. Some siblings look a great deal alike – I know what this feels like, as people have asked me whether or not I’ve mastered the art of cloning and the like previously.

  • Still a middle school student, Miki looks up to Eiko and her friends on account of their experiences. As the sun sets, the girls share a conversation and clear up the misunderstandings that accumulated from earlier – it is here that Kamuri learns of the happy mistake that allowed her to enroll in the same school that Eiko was attending.

  • It is at the halfway point that Tamate and Shion finally meet for the first time: the two immediately hit it off with their shared love for cooking, and Shion is impressed with Tamate’s skills with cooking. Hana later expresses admiration for how Tamate is able to get along with everyone, to which Tamate responds that it’s really more about her being excited about being able to talk to interesting people. An extrovert, Tamate is very much at home amongst a wide range of people, and amongst the friends, she’s got the strongest presence.

  • Tamate responds that Hana’s got strengths of her own, and when she becomes embarrassed with the praise she receives, Eiko pets her. I’ve heard unverified rumours that Slow Start will become less about Hana’s path to revealing her status and more about the other characters: the anime has not given any indicator of this happening as of yet, and I would further counterargue that doing this would detract from the message that Slow Start is aiming to present in its narrative.

  • After running into Hiroe outside of Hana’s apartment, Hana and the others invite her over, where she offers to help them study. Having finished high school, Hiroe is quite familiar with the material and explains that long ago, she was the student council president and well-respected by her classmates. While her confidence may have taken a dip, her mind has lost none of its potency, allowing her to help the others in her studies. With over a decade separating me from high school, most of my knowledge from high school remains intact, but I’m unlikely to be able to do mathematics with the same efficiency as I once did: math has long been my weakest subject.

  • After an immensely relaxing bath, the girls sit down to chop suey. Food in Slow Start is rendered with a reasonable degree of care so the details are visible, and large prawns are seen in the dinner that Tamate has cooked. Strictly speaking, chop suey is not a true Cantonese dish: while its origins are from Taishan county in Guangzhou province, the iteration as we know it (meat, eggs and vegetables fried and then laid on a bed of rice) is a North American creation. Following dinner, Tamate breaks out the games, and I suppose that I should not be too disappointed that Tamate did not bring the likes of Halo 2, the best sort of thing for a get-together.

  • Eiko’s uncommon talent for flustering other females extends even into virtual space, where she manages to beat a dating sim and win all the routes simultaneously. Her propensities bring to mind Ren of Anne Happy, who likewise used her misfortune of attracting all females of any species to her to her and her friends advantage. Tamate shows a surprising side to her character here, and frightens Hana.

  • Hana is not keen on ghost stories; even though the others tell weak stories that amuse rather than frighten, Hana is visibly frightened. She recalls a screw that fell out of seemingly nowhere and becomes unable to sleep for the remainder of the evening. I found this moment an interesting take on ghost stories of the present day: Eiko and the others use their smartphones to light their faces, whereas traditionally, I’ve seen people use flashlights to achieve the same effect. It’s a subtle but impressive touch that indicates Slow Start is with the times.

  • Noticing that Hana is awake, Tamate joins her and shares a conversation with her. It seems that of everyone, Tamate has grown the closest to Hana. After assuaging Hana’s fears, Hana is able to sleep and wakes up the next morning to find Tamate sleeping like a pharaoh. This brings the sixth episode to an end, and with it, this review also draws to a close. I will be returning very soon to write about CLANNAD, but until next time, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article.

Because Hana’s development is central to Slow Start, I anticipate that the slow, incremental changes over the season is what will lead to Hana eventually coming forward to Tamate, Eiko and Karumi about her situation, and that by this point in time, her friends will have already accepted her and thus, will not be too concerned with her being a year older than they are. As a result, in the upcoming episodes, Slow Start will be likely to explore directions more typical of an anime adapted from a Manga Time Kirara publication – from everyday life at school to time off and what the girls make of their breaks, from memorable events to daily, mundane conversations, audiences are likely to gain more insight into each of the characters and how they uniquely contribute to Hana’s first year back in high school as Slow Start settles into a routine, allowing Hana to ease into things and become increasingly familiar with her friends’ eccentricities, as well as her own place in the group. Manga Time Kirara publications and their adaptations have long excelled at presenting the subtle changes in characters over time, and given what has been shown thus far in Slow Start, it is a reasonable supposition that Slow Start will carry on in the same vein as its predecessors have.

A Place Further Than The Universe: Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” –Drake

Mari Tamaki is an ordinary high school student in her second year. She constantly longs to do something exciting during her youth but has the propensity of backing down before embarking on any adventures. When she finds an envelope containing a million yen, she learns that it belongs to one Shirase Kobuchizawa, who intends to travel to Antarctica in search of her missing mother. Inspired by Shirase’s resolve, Mari resolves to support Shirase, and she takes up a part-time position at a convenience store to raise the funds required to travel. She befriends Hinata Miyake, who had overheard Shirase and Mari’s plans and yearns to accompany them. When they attempt to participate in a meeting for expedition members, Kanae Maekawa and Yumiko Samejima catch on. They learn of Shirase’s aspirations and decline her requests to join. Later, Shirase, Mari and Hinata encounter Yuzuki Shiraishi, a young actress who is trying to worm her way out of going to Antarctica. Yuzuki, having spent her life acting, never made any friends and so, longs for a normal life, but when Mari invites her to hang out, she realises that she’s found friends among Mari and the others. She decides to accept the Antarctica assignment on the condition that Mari, Shirase and Hinata accompany her. The girls attend a training camp, where they meet captain Gin Todo, who knew Shirase’s mother, and later, Mari and Shirase receive a proper send-off from their school. Megumi reveals that she’d grown jealous of Mari, who’d become more independent since the Anarctica trip materialised, and Mari promises that she’ll return. Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki travel to Singapore for the first leg of their journey, where Hinata seemingly loses her passport. When it turns out that Shirase had taken it for safe keeping, an irate Mari and Yuzuki force Shirase and Hinata to eat a whole durian as recompense.

A Place Further Than The Universe, or Sora Yorimo Tōi Basho, is perhaps this season’s most unexpected anime: earnest and forward in its portrayal of a journey motivated by multiple factors, precise in its presentation of detail and striking a balance between the comedic and dramatic, there’s been no shortage of discussion on A Place Further Than The Universe out there. From the minute details in geolocation using waypoints and flags, to the portrayal of Singapore, A Place Further Than The Universe is an anime that invites praise discussion and scrutinisation. However, par the course for anime discussions wherever real-world details and drama are involved, folks often forget about the overarching themes within the narrative, which is akin to understanding how an engine works but not know what an engine is used for. There is a much bigger picture in A Place Further Than The Universe than what is presented at the halfway point, but for the present, the simpler and more immediate theme A Place Further Than The Universe aims to present is that the journey matters as much as the destination. This accounts for why, despite being presented as an anime about high school girls visiting Antarctica, the entirety of the first half deals with the preparations Mari and the others undertake before this dream can become a reality. From Mari summoning the courage to carry out one of her long-standing wishes of doing something worthy of remembrance and Shirase’s determination pushing her to continue her initially-futile goal of visiting Antarctica, to the fateful turn of events that bring Yuzuki into their group, A Place Further Than The Universe makes every effort to show the human aspects that transpire to turn Shirase’s pipe dream into reality. How the girls’ dreams begin, and their efforts to realise this dream, matter more than the end goal: Shirase’s seemingly-unattainable and foolish dream has the effect of bringing people together, and unified, the girls set out to Antarctica, each with their own reasons for undertaking this journey.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Featuring a bawling Mari is probably a strange way to open up a post, but I think I understand how Mari feels about having not done anything in her youth. Now that I’m no longer a carefree youth, the opportunity to go out and do something is rarer, and in Mari’s case, the cure to what she feels is to summon the courage and resolve to do something, picking something that balances what is feasible with what is memorable, and then executing. This forms the basis for the whole of A Place Further Than The Universe, which sees Mari’s world turned upside down once she encounter Shirase.

  • Mari is voiced by Inori Minase, who by now, is a well-known voice actress with numerous leading roles. In A Place Further Than The Universe, her delivery of Mari’s lines is such that Mari bears very little resemblance to GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu or Girls’ Last Tour‘s Chito. She’s speaking animatedly to Megumi Takahashi, a friend she’s known for a considerable period. Of the two, Megumi is the more level-headed and usually offers Mari advice.

  • After stumbling across an envelope containing one million yen (about 11550 CAD), Mari manages to find the owner; she encounters her crying about it in the bathroom, and after returning the money, learns that the money belongs to Shirase, who is somewhat infamous for her persistent attempts to go to Antarctica. Long ridiculed by her classmates, Shirase longs to fulfil her dream in order to find her missing mother, as well as to stick it to all of the naysayers who dismissed her dreams as impossible. Shirase mentions to Mari that everyone who initially displayed interest in her endeavours eventually backed down, but Mari, having long wanted to break out of her perpetual habit of backing away, decides to commit to and support Shirase’s goal of reaching Antarctica.

  • A stern-looking girl, Shirase begins smiling more once she encounters Mari and finds that Mari is serious about helping her. One of Shirase’s strong and weak points is her single-mindedness; once her sights are set on a target, there’s no shaking her from seeing things through to the end, and she’ll endure ridicule because she understands that it’s what she believes, rather than those against her, that matters the most. However, it also alienates her from those around her – Shirase is quite unwilling to deviate from a plan or find alternative solutions when things don’t work out, leading to conflict.

  • Without any clear plan of how to join the civilian-crewed expedition, Mari initially decides to start small, and takes on a part time job at a convenience store to earn some money to fund her travels. She is employed at the same store as one Hinata, who has been listening to Mari and Shirase’s conversations with great interest. The two strike off a friendship while working together, and two become three. Hinata spends most of her time working and studying independently, having long felt herself to be uncomfortable in the high school environment.

  • While in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, trying to sneak into a meeting with the expedition members, Hinata suggests using their powers to “convince” male members of the team to allow them in. Hilarity and chaos results – it turns out that Shirase is the equivalent of K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama. Aloof, stoic and serious, she’s also the most stacked of everyone and is prone to fits of immaturity. Hinata, with her energy and spirits, resembles Ritsu Tainaka, while Mari is similar to Yui Hirasawa, being quite lacking in direction but is surprisingly reliable when the situation calls for it. Like Mio, Shirase seems to be humiliated quite a bit, and here, Hinata and Mari attempt to haul her into meeting up with the expedition members. Their endeavours backfire, but Shirase is afforded an audience with expedition members. Yumiko and Kanae, who decline Shirase’s assistance.

  • On a hot summer’s day, Yuzuki encounters Hinata kicking Shirase’s ass while Mari looks on. A child actress, Yuzuki was originally assigned as the high school student who would accompany the civilian expedition team to Antarctica as a part of her duties, but longing for nothing more than friendship and an ordinary high school experience, Yuzuki has no interest in going. Tamiko, her mother and manager, overrule this, but seeing Yuzuki’s resistance and the spirit amongst Shirase, Mari, and Hinata, she decides that if they can manage to convince Yuzuki to go, then they may accompany her.

  • Up until this point, I’ve been reasonably disciplined with “funny faces”, but the time has come to throw caution into the wind. Here, Hinata and Mari attempt to convince Tamiko that Shirase is a suitable replacement for Yuzuki. While Shirase may be styled after the Japanese hime, Tamiko asks if Shirase can sing, dance and act, essential skills in Yuzuki’s line of work, but Shirase evidently lacks experience here, hence her embarrassment.

  • Despite her strict mannerisms, Shirase will cave like a stack of dominos when pressured sufficiently. After finding Yuzuki, Mari and the others settle themselves down with her and begin speaking with her about Antarctica – Yuzuki deduces that they’re here because of her mother, and while Mari manages to betray little of the truth, Yuzuki manages to learn the truth from Shirase’s reaction. It is here that Yuzuki’s story is presented, and later, after a dream where she accepts Mari’s friendship, Yuzuki decides to hang out with Mari and her friends: their first time spending a day together sees the girls visit a museum with an Antarctica exhibit.

  • Seeing Mari, Shirase and Hinata’s warmth and companionship lead Yuzuki to reach a decision: she will accept her assignment provided that Shirase, Mari and Hinata can accompany her. Logically equivalent to her mother’s requirements, it’s a win-win for everyone. Accustomed to acting and performing, Yuzuki resembles Wake Up, Girls! Mayu Shimada in terms of background and appearance. She prefers practical, comfortable clothing over excessively ornate designs, and I cannot help but wonder if Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! would have benefitted from having a well-known studio work on its animation: Madhouse has legends such as Chobits, The Princess and The Pilot and Rideback in its repertoire.

  • After Mari forges her mother’s signature on a form, her parents somehow find out, and Mari gets her face kicked in. She notices something is off when her mother presents a variety of Antarctica-related items, and in the prelude for what awaits Mari is one of history’s most amusing funny faces. A large amount of the comedy in A Place Further Than The Universe are the exaggerated facial expressions, which give Shirobako a run for its money. As punishment for having forged a signature, Mari must pass all of her exams in order to be granted permission to ship out to Antarctica, and on top of this, she’s got a summer training camp to prepare her for her journey.

  • I’m concurrently watching and writing about Yuru Camp△, and while the latter has more emphasis on easy-going camping, A Place Further Than The Universe deals with a journey that might involve an actual survival situation. As a result, Mari and the others attend a training camp to familiarise themselves with the rules and regulations required for safety. Les Stroud has never done any Survivorman episodes in Antarctica because of the extreme dangers and remoteness of the southernmost continent: it’s the last continent that humanity has explored, and its population extends only to researchers studying the continuent’s biota.

  • The closest approximation of Antarctica in a Survivorman episode would be when Les Stroud visits the Arctic Tundra near Pond Inet. Back in A Place Further Than The Universe, the girls begin with a geolocation and waypoint setting exercise. In the absence of familiar terrestrial landmarks, researchers make use of flags and GPS to ensure they don’t get lost amongst the vast ice sheet covering the southernmost continent. The girls are subsequently tasked with camping out, and unlike the gourmet cooking of Yuru Camp△A Place Further Than The Universe is rather more focused – when Mari tries to get some conversation going, the others remind her to stay on-mission.

  • Gin later is seen speaking with Yumiko about Shirase, remarking that Shirase is strikingly similar to her mother in terms of personality. After Shirase makes her story known, the others give her some space and step out into the chilly night, seeing the Milky Way and what a true night sky might look like. Staff at headquarters radio in to check up on Mari and the others; Hinata reports that the situation is normal, and the girls turn in for the night.

  • The next morning, Mari awakens to find Gin nearby and asks her about Shirase’s mother, before gazing at a majestic sunrise. Animation in A Place Further Than The Universe is of a very high standard: the characters may look a little unusual, but their design is by choice, made to accommodate a unique brand of expressiveness that very few series can convey with just facial characteristics. The end result is that characters stand out amongst the exceptionally detailed landscapes and interiors.

  • During a publicity event for the Antarctica expedition, Shiease has trouble presenting her goals in front of an audience, and Mari inadvertently evokes Yuzuki’s displeasure by implying that Yuzuki is familiar with public speaking. As it turns out, Shirase might be able to speak with absolute resolve and clarity when it’s to disprove others who doubt her, but when this opposition is not present to motivate her, she falters and reverts to a shy, easily flustered manner. This is probably Shirase’s true self, with the tough, strict persona being more of a façade.

  • It stands to reason that Mari ended up passing all of her exams, since she’s preparing for her trip here. While a bit weak-resolved, Mari’s undergone a considerable change in the space of six episodes, and here, she wonders what she’s allowed to bring with her. Equipment from Les Stoud’s usual survival loadout, which include a multi-tool, hatchet or knife, and a harmonica, are noticeably absent from the girls’ inventories: his gear is designed to help him survive in most areas except for the Arctic and Antarctica.

  • After the school sees them off, Mari receives a bouquet from her classmates. Later, Megumi warns Mari that resentment is growing amongst the student population, leading Shirase to vehemently declare a desire to root them out. Hinata suggests that they visit a karaoke bar to decompress. Shirase ends up screaming into the mic; this brings to mind Reina’s actions back in Hibike! Euphonium, and it’s supposed to be a release for stress. Known formally as primal scream therapy, I find that kiai in karate is similar in function, so rather than acting like Reina, I destress while doing kata and other exercises.

  • On the eve of the expedition, Mari’s parents and sister make her favourite meal: omelette rice with an egg tart pudding. I suppose now is a good time as any to note that Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki are all voiced by voice actresses that I’m familiar with. Shirase is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Garden of Words‘ Yukari Yukino and Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Sonoko Nogi), Hinata is voiced by Yuka Iguchi (Mako Reizei of Girls und Panzer and Tamayura‘s Norie Okazaki), and Yuzuki is voiced by Saori Hayami (Aoyama Blue Mountain of GochiUsa and Tari Tari‘s Sawa Okita).

  • It turns out that all of the ills affecting Mari, from some students finding out about Shirase’s million Yen and her parents discovering the truth about her forged signature, to the alleged rumours, were a part of Megumi’s desperate bid to keep Mari at home. She reveals that in Mari’s absence, she will become lonely and has long depended on Mari being around so she could help her. Wanting to end their friendship here, Megumi is ultimately consoled by Mari, who declines Megumi’s request.

  • While I don’t hate flying per se, the pressure differentials does make me a bit uncomfortable on long-haul flights. On average, a flight from Tokyo to Singapore, the layover on the girl’s trip to Fremantle in Australia, lasts around seven hours and forty minutes. Mari’s excitement at being at the airport evokes memories of the K-On! Movie, and while A Place Further Than The Universe initially feels far removed from the easygoing adventure that Yui and the others take while trying to find a suitable graduation gift for Azusa, the travels that both groups experience end up sharing the commonality of enriching the girls’ world views and create unique memories that they will treasure long after they return home.

  • The reason why airline food is the subject of so many comedic jokes has its roots in science: the lower pressure and cool, dry environment inside the airplane cabin dries out our olfactory systems and also lessens the sensitivity of our taste buds. In conjunction with the food preparation methods, which reduces the freshness of the ingredients and dries them out, folks have long found airline food to be a cut below conventional food. With this being said, advances in food preparation and our understanding of what’s going on mean that airlines have begun experimenting with modifying the flavour profile of foods. By using savoury ingredients and creative preparation, more enjoyable airline meals can be made. Of course, on long flights, I’m too exhausted to give a crap, and I’ll eat to replenish my energy.

  • Paralleling Yui and Ritsu’s antics whenever they travel, Mari and Hinata immediately hit up an ice cream stand in Singapore and attempts to haggle with the operator. It strikes me as strange that Mari did not bother exchanging her Yen for local currency, reinforcing the idea that she’s green to travel. This had me a bit worried, since inexperience could get her into trouble. While I don’t travel with a high frequency, I count myself as being quite lucky in having travelled before. Besides ensuring my passport is in good shape, one of the first things I do when travelling is visit the currency exchange to have the proper money: as much as I love the Canadian money, it’s bloody useless outside of Canada.

  • One’s passport is the single most important document they have while travelling: it allows one to enter and exit a foreign nation, and return home to their own nation. As such, every traveller’s worst fear is losing their passport: Hinata finds herself in a bit of a bind when her passport goes missing. It’s a lingering question even as the episode progresses, and the girls correctly identify the solution as visiting the local embassy to get a new passport. To help with procedure in the event that such an incident occurs, it’s also recommended that one keep a backup image of their passport with them: as phones are now widespread, and good PDF (or photo) apps are commonplace, there’s really no excuse not to scan one’s passport ahead of one’s travels and load it onto the phone’s local storage (I say this because WiFi is not a sure thing).

  • The anime community in Singapore is large, and when viewers from Singapore saw their hometown being depicted, they immediately set about matching all of the locations seen in A Place Further Than The Universe to their real-world equivalents. What they found was an impressive degree of realism, and this sets the precedence for what is to come. If A Place Further Than The Universe is anything like Yuru Camp△, then the Antarctica sections will similarly be faithful to how things work out in the real world.

  • Ordering dinner at hotel restaurants is always a bit more pricey than eating out, primarily because of the fact that hotels have stricter regulations on the quality of their ingredients, and also as a consequence of service costs. As well, there’s also factors related to the table turnover in hotels, which are lower than that of other restaurants. While Yuzuki and Hinata look through the menu, Mari laments the lack of Japanese options at the restaurant; they end up ordering gargantuan fried rice dishes from misunderstanding how Chinese restaurants serve food, thinking it’s individual portions.

  • By nightfall, the girls visit the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck, and Mari wonders if they can access the pool. Admissions are around 19 CAD for adults, and the pool is open between 0930 and 2200 (2300 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday). As it’s a Saturday, they could have visited had they chosen, although they likely would not have swimwear, and so, they spend the evening looking over the Singapore skyline, with Mari commenting on how it’s amazing that there are so many people out there living their lives. It’s a thought that flits across my mind when I travel, and I’m certain that other folks travelling likely entertain similar thoughts, as well.

  • After Hinata’s missing passport comes out into the open, the girls struggle to decide on what the best course of action is. In a time of crisis, the characters’ attitudes are presented to the audience and also to one another. Hinata reveals that she hates folks who put others ahead of themselves, while Shirase refuses to leave anyone behind. She eventually uses her million yen to purchase the next set of tickets to Fremantle, so as to allow Hinata enough time to get a new passport from the embassy.

  • For better or for worse, the girls resolve to stick together, and Hinata is moved by her friends’ companionship. It’s a bit of a turning point for her, having been on her own previously, seeing what real friendship is like here moves her to tears. We’re nearly done with this post, and with this, I’m now completely caught up on A Place Further Than The Universe. It seems I’ve picked a good spot to do the half-way point impressions: the girls will continue their journey to Antarctica in upcoming episodes, and it’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen from here on out.

  • However, as it turns out, Hinata’s passport was with Shirase the entire time, having handed it to her for safekeeping after exiting customs. Yuzuki is able to get a refund for the tickets, and as a result for having caused this bit of skulduggery, Shirase and Hinata are made to eat durian. I’ll say this openly: forget XKCD‘s grapefruit,  fuck durians. I might be okay with eating blood tofu and chicken feet, but the overwhelming taste of durians means that this is one food I’m not ever trying. With my complaints about durians out of the way, posts after this one will include the halfway point talk for Slow Start and a post for CLANNAD, where Tomoyo and Kyou’s arc will draw to a close ten years ago as of Wednesday.

While I was late to the party in both starting and writing about A Place Further Than The Universe, I’ve caught up with the show, and I note that I’ll do two reviews on this anime in total. From a technical perspective, A Place Further Than The Universe is impressive: the artwork and animation are of a solid quality, as is the voice acting and aural components. Of note in A Place Further Than The Universe are the distinct character designs: each of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki have facial expressions that definitely contributed to my enjoyment of A Place Further Than The Universe. I refer to these as “funny faces”, and in A Place Further Than The Universe, these are plentiful, conveying precisely to audiences what the characters are feeling. In conjunction with voice talents from some of the industry’s best, emotions in A Place Further Than The Universe are vividly conveyed to viewers, from the most hilarious of moments to those where things become more subdued and serious. As the anime pushes forward, it’s evident that reaching Antarctica will be A Place Further Than The Universe‘s end goal. At this point, it’s still early to be speculating as to whether or not Shirase will reunite with her mother or not (from what I gathered about the main theme in A Place Further Than The Universe, I’ve not been able to make a well-reasoned prediction yet), but what is clear is that the journey ahead of Mari, Shirase, Hinata and Yuzuki will put strain on their friendship and leave them with stronger bonds with one another than before. This journey will undoubtedly have a profound effect on each individual, and it will be interesting to see how the Antarctica expedition will help each of the girls mature through their mutual experiences.