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Shikioriori (Flavours of Youth): A Review and Full Recommendation, and Insights into Chinese Culture

浪奔 浪流 萬里滔滔江水永不休
淘盡了 世間事 混作滔滔一片潮流
是喜 是愁 浪裡分不清歡笑悲憂
成功 失敗 浪裡看不出有未有

—上海灘 (The Bund, opening song, 1980)

Flavours of Youth is an animated anthology that is directed by Li Haoling, Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing and Yoshitaka Takeuchi and produced by Noritaka Kawaguchi. Releasing internationally on August 4, Flavours of Youth (spelt Flavors of Youth in The United States, known in Japan as Shikioriori (詩季織々) and Si shi qing chun (肆式青春) in China) follows the stories of three youth in China. The first act, Sunny Breakfast, follows Beijing salaryman Xiao Ming (小明, jyutping siu2 ming4), who recalls fond memories of enjoying noodles with his grandmother. As he grows older, and the world changes around him, the things he liked greatly become more distant. One day, after eating the noodles in a Beijing eatery and missing those of his youth, Xiao Ming receives a call from his parents, prompting him to return home, where his grandmother passes away. Devastated, Xiao Ming nonetheless feels that time will heal the hurt, and that his memories of his grandmother will endure because some things never change. The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou. As the story starts, model Yi Lin (依琳, jyutping ji1 lam4) misses celebrating her birthday with her younger sister, Lulu (璐璐, jyutping lou6 lou6). She explains that she wants to both be a good sister and a successful model. However, in order to retain her physical appearance, Yi Lin exercises regularly and maintains a watchful eye over her diet. The stresses of her work, and fear of being replaced by a younger, more attractive model leads her to succumb to an eating disorder: while working on a modelling event, she collapses. She reawakens in the hospital with Lulu by her side, and contemplates quitting modelling. After a fight with Lulu, her manager, Steve(史蒂夫, jyutping si2 dai3 fu1), convinces her to give modelling one more go, and she is surprised to learn that she will model the clothes that Lulu designed. Finding that balance between work and family, Yi Lin continues modelling, with Lulu designing many of the clothes that she wears. The final act is set in Shanghai and appropriately titled Love in Shanghai. It opens with architect Limo (李墨, jyutping lei5 mak6) moving into a new apartment to focus on his career with help from Pan, his friend. He finds an old cassettes from Xia Xiao Yu (夏小雨, jyutping haa6 siu2 jyu5) and rushes off to his grandparents’ home located nearby, which is scheduled for demolition. Listening to the cassette, he relives his friendship with Xiao Yu, a studious girl who had plans to attend a prodigious high school. Determined to follow her, Limo puts his full efforts into studying for the entrance exam for the same school. Although he is accepted, Xiao Yu is not. Over time, their paths separate, but upon hearing the cassettes’ content, he is encouraged to follow his dream of running an inn. Some years later, he encounters Xiao Yu while running his inn, when she checks in as a guest. In the post-credits scene, Xiao Ming, Yi Lin, Lulu, Limo, Xiao Yu and Pan cross paths at an airport, separately setting off for their next great adventures.

Similar to Makoto Shinkai’s Five Centimetres per Second, Flavours of Youth is a three-part anthology animated by Comix Wave, and as such, shares the incredible visual fidelity with Makoto Shinkai’s movies. However, this is where the similarities end. Set in China, Flavours of Youth deals with a completely different set of thematic elements: love and distance are fleeting elements, overshadowed by themes of change. Whether it be the fading and rediscovery of memories through the taste of homemade noodles, changes in one’s career that also reinforces family bonds or how a changing cityscape sees people separated and reunited, Flavours of Youth illustrates, through each of its three acts, the transience and fleetingness of life itself. Things change, become replaced, forgotten, and occasionally, are found again: nothing in life is absolute, and each of Xiao Ming, Yi Lin and Limo live their lives out, making new discoveries and learnings with each passing day. While their experiences are steered by circumstances around them, all of the characters have agency – they learn to take ownership of their decisions and own the moment with their experiences. In doing so, Xiao Ming comes to terms with his grandmother’s death, Yi Lin finds new life in her family and career, and Limo ends up following a dream he’d lost sight of. These seemingly disparate stories ultimately act as dramatically different representations of dealing with change in one’s life, and in China, a country known for its radical change (in the past five decades, China has gone from a backwater nation to a regional power), the pace at which things advance can be quite dizzying. Through Flavours of Youth, it is shown that people embrace change in their own way, being focused in their own livelihoods. As such, the changes to Chinese society and China as a whole, do not seem so overwhelming to individuals who are simply working their hardest to better their own situations.

On Chinese Culture

While Flavours of Youth may sport the same visual style as a Makoto Shinkai film, its cultural aspects are completely different, and admittedly, it is a bit surprising to see Chinese people display the occasional mannerism typically seen in anime. However, this is a very minor element in Flavours of Youth, and I am more impressed with the cultural elements that the film does portray. I can say this with authority because I am of Chinese heritage (specifically, Cantonese Canadian): it was quite striking to see the things I see every day (and occasionally, take for granted) in an anime film that is a collaboration between Japanese and Chinese people. There are three separate cultural elements, one for each act. Sunny Breakfast is an ode to the San Xian noodles (三鮮麵, jyutping saam1 sin1 min6): noodles are as widespread as rice in China, and the importance of food in Chinese culture is such that asking if one’s eaten (“你食咗飯未呀?”, jyutping “nei5 sik6 zo2 faan6 mei6 aa1”) is a common salutation amongst Cantonese speakers. Far beyond a means of sustenance, the preparation and sharing of meals is a core part of our culture, with eating together being a big deal for the Chinese. It is not uncommon to spend hours for people to spend time at the dinner table, partaking in food and conversation, so while it may seem excessive for Xiao Ming to describe San Xian noodles in such detail, the truth of the matter is that the Chinese greatly value food, the inventiveness of making use of anything available to cook, and sharing time together as a result of meals. In A Small Fashion Show, family is core: traditionally, families figured prominently in Chinese culture, with youth raising their families and looking after their parents. However, with the rapid industrialisation of China, and with more people seeking higher education and stable careers, traditional values are upheld with less frequency as people focus on their work and a good income. Yi Lin is a model trying to hold onto both – a part of Chinese culture is that there are more expectations placed on the older siblings, and Yi Lin initially struggles to be the responsible older sister for Lulu, but the competitiveness of her occupation makes it difficult to keep up. In the end, it is a creative and inventive solution that Lulu helps Yi Lin see, that allows her to strike a balance between making it as a model and also being a good older sister for Lulu, showing that a merger of traditional and new ways is the norm as the Chinese continue to advance.

Finally, Love in Shanghai deals with notions of parental expectations and collectivism versus individualism. Seemingly a story about separation and reunion, the “love” in Love in Shanghai also refers to love for a career path and a dream. While longing to run his own inn, looking after the small details and the happiness of those around him, Limo follows a more traditional path, studying hard to gain admittance into good schools in preparation for a corporate job that he’s unable to fit into. The Chinese are rather (and perhaps unfortunately) well known for its focus on high grades and higher education – parents, having seen the power of education and the potential career stability it may bring, push their children to excel in school. This creates a culture where rote memorisation and test taking is valued above creative thinking and ingenuity. Successful individuals may not be happy, and it is the case where this drive to be the best places extreme stress on students. Limo is able to succeed with his education but works in a career at odds with his own interests. His first love, to run an inn, is rediscovered, and Limo is able to do something that seems quite easy for North Americans: he ends up following his dreams with the right spark. I mentioned earlier that I am Cantonese Chinese, but my parents ended up imbibing Canadian values into my upbringing – at a young age, my parents emphasised that effort and the determination to do well matters more than the result itself. So as long as I gave an honest effort into what I did, the results would follow if it were something I enjoyed doing. As such, I never had the pressure of needing to score perfect on everything I did and was free to discover what I enjoyed doing. At the same time, my parents stressed finding something that I could make a career out of while at once doing it – when my aspirations for going into medicine shifted, they accepted my decision for going into software so as long as I could make it work. Finding the middle of the road between traditional and contemporary approaches in education and careers is something that the older generation still struggle with; in a world that is ever-changing, I feel that, again, striking a balance between the old and new will be essential in raising a generation of forward-thinkers ready to handle whatever the world throws at them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Reception towards Flavours of Youth have been polar opposites – either viewers will like this film, or they will not. Right from the start, I will note that Flavours of Youth is not the place for a cohesive, life-changing narrative about anything in particular. It is a series of snapshots, momentary glimpses into a world that audiences rarely see, and as such, one should not enter the film with the expectations that they will see a Makoto Shinkai-style love story.

  • For this post, I’ve gone above the usual standard number of screenshots, and feature a grand total of sixty images from the movie. Further to this, I’ve included the jyutping pronunciations for everything in this post to give readers an idea of how to read everything in Cantonese. Like Makoto Shinkai’s films, there are a large number of highly spectacular moments in Flavours of Youth, whether they be landscapes, such as the rice paddies of Hunan province here, or closeups of common everyday items, such as the richly depicted bowl of San Xian noodles above: every detail, from the fried egg, to the pork, seaweed and shiitake (冬菇, jyutping dung1 gu1), is shown vividly.

  • Xiao Ming is the central character of the first act. The story is told from his perspective: he is precise and detail-oriented, poetically describing his favourite noodles and memories in his youth. For anyone who studied Chinese, they will immediately be familiar with the name Xiao Ming, which is akin to “John Doe” in English with respect to usage. Before diving any further into Flavours of Youth, I remark that Netflix spells “flavours” with the American spelling, Flavors of Youth, but I retain the Canadian spelling by muscle memory. In order to make this post visible to search engines, which I am guessing will be aggregating the film by American spelling, I make it a deliberate point to mention the original American spelling.

  • The Chinese countryside is not a setting that is often depicted in fiction outside of Chinese dramas and epic films: smaller villages remain as they have since the Qing or even Ming Dynasty, and here, snow falls over Xiao Ming’s home village. Because of its humid, subtropical climate, it is generally quite warm in Hunan, although there are four distinct seasons, and winters are surprisingly cold: snow is not uncommon, so seeing snow fall in Xiao Ming’s village is not implausible.

  • Hunan province is so-called for being literally south of Lake Dongting. Being the seventh-most populated province in China, and tenth largest, Hunan is strategically located on the Yangtze River and its warm climate is conducive towards agriculture – Hunan’s grain production was historically high, and this is why wheat noodles are such a staple of the area. Despite a few peasant uprisings in its history, Hunan remained relatively peaceful until the Qing dynasty collapsed.

  • One aspect of life that Xiao Ming notices changing around him are the noodles: as he grows older, and spends more time away from home, he feels that the craftsmanship that goes into each bowl of noodles is lessened. This is a consequence of the fact that Xiao Ming fondly remembers the time spent with his grandmother. Rather than the food itself, the taste of the food reminds him of specific, happy moments in his childhood, and this is why things seem to be diminishing with time, as Xiao Ming becomes busier. The operative word here is “seem” – in his monologues, Xiao Ming mentions that the noodles themselves aren’t necessarily bad, just different.

  • Love stories are subtly present in each act of Flavours of Youth, although they are so fleeting that they might better be characterised as a tertiary aspect: each protagonist deals with their feelings of love slightly differently, but it never becomes so persuasive as to define their narrative. Xiao Ming develops a bit of a crush on a girl with short, brown hair that passes by the noodle shop he frequents every morning, although neither make an effort to talk to one another. Many potential romances come and go in life: it’s possible to develop a bit of a crush on someone without ever feeling compelled to act on these feelings.

  • I note that while I enjoyed Flavours of Youth, there are many who find the film quite unwatchable. The reason why this is the case is simply because Flavours of Youth takes a highly unstructured, fragmented approach to its stories. It is trying to capture instances in the lives of three individuals, and as such, moments are disjointed, disorganised. While not particularly conducive for a moving narrative as Five Centimeters per Second, which took three milestones and presented them in a structured manner, the approach taken in Flavours of Youth is meant to suggest the idea that life’s moments can be fleeting and unorganised. It is contrary to what makes stories rewarding to watch, since one cannot empathise readily with the protagonist by seeing the situations they find themselves in.

  • Because Hunan is the birthplace of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party until his death in September 1976, Hunan openly supported his policies and the Cultural Revolution. I consider the Cultural Revolution one of the worst calamities China has faced in its history, surpassing even the tragedies of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Mao’s lack of understanding in disciplines from industry to agriculture, meant that under his rule, China suffered: more people died in the famines resulting from the Great Leap Forwards and the Cultural Revolution than were killed during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and it was not until Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms that China really began to recover.

  • In the present day, Xiao Ming eats a bowl of noodles at a chain shop. Food eaten hastily alone is unmemorable: this is the consequence of living a high-paced life, and the comparison Xiao Ming strikes is meant to say that shifting values in China means that living in the moment and savouring something is slowly being lost. I get being in a hurry: when I’m in the need of something to keep me from keeling over, I won’t give much thought as to what I eat. However, when the moment allows it, I will savour what I eat, whether I’m eating on my own or with others.

  • Grievances about the film’s ability to capture Chinese culture, on the other hand, is not so easily justified – I count myself as being quite connected to Chinese culture despite my upbringing in Canada, and I find that many Chinese Canadians are quite disconnected from subtleties of their Chinese heritage. As such, when someone attempts to pass the film off as “forced drama, emotional manipulation, mindnumbing[sic] boredom, and…cheap shock factor”, I am inclined to think that such individuals lack any real understanding of what Flavours of Youth aims to convey, have no interest in Chinese culture as a whole and are instead, spewing negativity for the sake of sounding more relevant than they are. One thing should be for apparent: Flavours of Youth is most certainly not a waste of time as some purport.

  • We’ve seen the inaka, the Japanese countryside, countless times in anime, so to see the Chinese countryside in the quality of a Makoto Shinkai film was quite enjoyable. The Chinese countryside is truly vast, and has a distinctly different feel than that of the inaka as seen in anime. Here, after Xiao Ming receives word that his grandmother’s health is failing, he rushes back to his home town to see her. Flights between Beijing and Hunan take roughly two-and-a-half hours, similarly to the flight time between Calgary and Denver.

  • Xiao Ming arrives home to find it more or less as it always had been. While the urban centres of China have dramatically changed in the past two decades and matching the West in sophistication, the countryside appears to have been left behind by the times. Electricity and running water are not universal, and villages may look as they did during the Qing Dynasty. The vast size of China has made modernisation difficult, although in recent years, the government has invested in agriculture and rural infrastructure with the aim of improving opportunity in rural China.

  • I find it disingenuous to pass off the comings and goings of life as “forced drama” – it pre-supposes that only some stories are worth telling, and disregards the fact that everyone will experience challenges and successes in their life. For Xiao Ming, his challenge comes when his grandmother dies in old age. Death is a natural part of life, and I do not see Sunny Breakfast as using death for drama: instead, it is presented as an occurrence, an instrument of change, in Xiao Ming’s life.

  • As it stands, the interpretation here is more appropriate for Flavours of Youth – Xiao Ming mentins that time will heal the wounds, and he finds renewed happiness in eating a bowl of San Xian noodles while eyeing another girl in the area. Things invariably change, but other things remain the same, and with this, the first act to Flavours of Youth comes to an end.

  • The second act, A Small Fashion Show, is set in Guangzhou, which has a population of 14.5 million people as of 2017. Located in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Guangzhou is, together with Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan and Zhongshan, part of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis, which has a total of 44 million people. Located just north of Hong Kong, the ultra-modern, sleek and vast Guangzhou has played a major role in modern Chinese history, being the site of foreign trade. The majority of Guangzhou’s residents are Cantonese Chinese, although their reduced contact with the Western world compared to the likes of Hong Kong means that their Cantonese is noticeably different than the Hong Kong variety.

  • I watched Flavours of Youth in Mandarin – since I could catch some of it, I concluded that it was probably Taiwanese Mandarin, which I have the least trouble understanding of all the different varieties of Mandarin. Having said this, if I were to watch Flavours of Youth in a completely authentic environment, then Sunny Breakfast would have everyone speaking Mainland Chinese (Putonghua), Love in Shanghai would see Limo and Xiao Yu speaking Shanghaiese, and Yi Lin and Lulu of A Small Fashion Show would speak Cantonese. Of all the acts, then, A Small Fashion Show would be the one where I would not need any subtitles at all to understand: despite minor differences in colloquial Cantonese with respect to slang and the like, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Cantonese are the same (similar to differences between American and British English).

  • Tall, slender and beautiful, Yi Lin is a model working in Guangzhou. With much sharper facial features than other characters, there’s no doubt that Yi Lin is supposed to be a model. One challenge in anime is the portrayal of above-average looking characters: since a lot of imperfections seen in real people are eliminated, all characters tend to look quite similar. As such, animated characters must count on exposition and interactions with other characters to convey beauty (or the lack thereof), when the visuals themselves alone cannot fully convey this.

  • Yi Lin celebrates her birthday with her coworkers: she’s presented as having a sharp tongue and is quite mindful of those around her, but is never seen as being arrogant or conceited. With this being said, Yi Lin is very much into her career, and so, when she celebrates here, the scene shifts momentarily to back home, where Lulu, her younger sister, is waiting for her with a home-made cake. Yi Lin suddenly remembers her promise to be with Lulu, whose patience has run out.

  • When a man that Yi Lin appears to hold feelings for introduces her to a younger model and remarks that this new, younger model might just be what the market is looking for, Yi Lin’s confidence takes a hit. Modelling is a highly difficult, arduous career: requiring not only a very particular set of skills, but also exceptional attention paid to one’s appearance. There are some aspects of one’s appearance that simply cannot be overcome, such as aging, and so, one might no longer be suited for modelling even if their skills remain intact. This is a very sobering thought, and acts as a constant reminder that each and every occupation has its own enjoyable aspects and drawbacks. When Yi Lin is faced with this prospect, she grows frustrated and downs an entire glass of red wine.

  • Returning home hammered, Yi Lin shares dinner with Lulu and her manager, Steve. Yi Lin is a lot more casual at home, and Steve remarks that this is an unexpected side of her he’d previously not seen. Lulu is still a student and has a profound interest in fashion design. It is clear that the two sisters are very close – Lulu is quite understanding of the difficulties that Yi Lin faces, being very patient of Yi Lin’s more unruly, lazy side and doing her best to support her nonetheless. The next morning, the linger effects of a hangover results in Yi Lin very nearly being late for work.

  • Yi Lin explains to audiences that she wants to both be successful in her career and simultaneously be a reliable, respectable older sister for Lulu. This want for everything places a tremendous amount of pressure on her, but it also shows that Yi Lin is very ambitious and committed to the things that drive her. As a consequence, I do not feel that greedy, at least in English, is the most appropriate term to describe Yi Lin.

  • Here, Steve and Li Yin share a conversation after Yi Lin fails an audition. Steve decides to slot Yi Lin into another show, and also relays a message from Lulu. Remarking that Lulu’s asking him because she doesn’t answer, the moment also reveals that Yi Lin’s bothered by her job to a nontrivial extent. With thoughts of growing too old to model on her mind, Yi Lin’s eating habits begin to shift, as well, foreshadowing the agent of change in Yi Lin’s life.

  • I remarked earlier that I was abroad for software development work, which is why this week’s Harukana Receive post is a little delayed. I’m a little surprised at how quickly this week’s passed by, and while it’s been very busy, I’m also forcing myself to slow back down outside of work hours to regroup. Besides exercising and gaming, one of my favourite ways of unwinding is to enjoy my meals: I haven’t lifted or opened an FPS all week, but I did have a chance to try the food of Denver. My first evening, I sat down to a crunchy and tasty tonkatsu with rice, tempura and California rolls. On evening two, I had a three course meal, with crab-stuffed swordfish and blackened prawns as the entrée. I’ve not had swordfish in quite some time; it’s got a sweet and slightly oily flavour to it that proved enjoyable.

  • Finally, on my final evening, I had a Mexican-style steak with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and rice. This was absolutely delicious, being an explosion of flavours. I suppose that with all three of my dinners having rice in it, I must be subconsciously missing home. Having a good meal is a major morale booster for me, and having something to look forwards to allows me to focus and regroup to face the tasks of what the next day entails. On more ordinary evenings back home, I usually game or watch movies, but I will note that unlike Li Yin, who seems to find horror amusing, I never watch horror movies if I can help it.

  • I relate to each of the Flavours of Youth stories in a unique way, in part because of my heritage and in part because I empathise with the shows that I watch. I get the importance of food as seen in Sunny Breakfast, appreciate the work-life balance shown in A Small Fashion Show, and later, in Love in Shanghai, I vividly recall my own experiences as a student, pushing to both realise a future, work towards a dream and pursue romance where I could. Of course, my own stories here can only be “how not to do it” – there are no happy endings so far.

  • When Yi Lin finds that a fellow she seemed interested in is going out with the younger model, her world shatters. Romance can end, or never reach the starting point without anything being said, and whether it be through seeing it happen in real life or from behind a screen, no words can describe how much such moments hurt. It would seem strange, even contrived that I can draw so many parallels between my own experiences and what is seen in Flavours of Youth, one may feel. However, my experiences predate Flavours of Youth, and I should note that this is a consequence of living, being mindful of one’s surroundings and being appreciative of the small things in life.

  • I’ve never visited Guangzhou before, but I’ve been to Hong Kong frequently, and every time I visit, it’s like a completely different city. With this being said, I would love to visit Guangzhou at some point: it is even busier and glitzier than Hong Kong, although because Cantonese is the de facto main language, I expect that I should not have too much trouble getting around (minus the fact that my slang might be a little difficult to get). I’ve long felt Hong Kong to be a second home, feeling very familiar even though it is a world apart from the wide open spaces and laid-back feeling that is Calgary, Alberta.

  • The desire to remain competitive forces Yi Lin to extreme measures to keep her figure within a certain standard, and Flavours of Youth implicitly shows that Yi Lin may have a mild eating disorder: she is seen forgoing meals and during a fashion event, collapses on the catwalk after exiting a bathroom visibly weakened. Refusing to yield to the younger model, Yi Lin stubbornly decides to go forward and the sum of her stress, exhaustion and inadequate nutrition catch up to her.

  • Every occupation has its own unique hazards; while those living a sheltered existence and have limited exposure to the real world might call it “forced drama”, I counter that Flavours of Youth‘s second act also is meant to show the effects of overworking and overexertion in a highly visceral manner. Yi Lin’s collapse and admission to hospital forces her to re-evaluate her priorities, and she begins wondering whether or not modelling is a career she can continue to do.

  • I’m certain that many people out there have wondered at some point in their careers, as to whether or not what they were doing was right for them. I’m still considered young by all counts, and I absolutely love software development and engineering, but even I have the odd moment or two where I wonder if this is a career I can continue to do for the decades upcoming. Just this week, I was sent out to Denver for work. The end goal is to deploy a project, which is something I am comfortable with, and while the week was very productive, there were a few points in the past week where I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “what did I get myself into?”.

  • When Yi Lin considers doing what Lulu is doing for a career, Lulu responds negatively, feeling that Yi Lin is giving up her own career on whim and at the same time, is diminishing her own aspirations. All siblings fight from time to time, and after Lulu storms out, Yi Lin comes across one of Lulu’s sketches of a dress. She realises here that Lulu is very serious about being a fashion designer. The next day, she talks to Steve about the fight, and Steve is relieved, saying that Li Yin’s at least recovered, if she can summon the energy to have a fight with Lulu.

  • As far as careers go, having a good team and mentor in one’s corner goes a very long way. Having people to confide in, or even gripe to, sometimes is all it takes for one to put things in perspective, and often, I will voice doubts out loud simply to get them out in the open. For instance, I am very unfamiliar with implementing user interfaces, much less in an environment I’ve never used before, but after outlining this in my reports, I feel as though, provided I can finish other goals and put in an honest effort to learn to do the basics, things might not be so bad. Similarly, Yi Lin is convinced to see if modelling is something she will continue with when Steve asks her to meet him at a warehouse later.

  • It turns out that Lulu’s crafted the dresses that Yi Lin remembers from their youth: their parents are implied to have passed away by this point, explaining why Yi Lin pushes herself so hard for Lulu’s sake. The reason why “forced drama” is not a valid criticism for Flavours of Youth is because real life encompasses so much, and that people have a wide spectrum of experiences, that the events seen in Flavours of Youth can hardly be said to be implausible. Instead, what I see in A Small Fashion Show is a journey of rediscovery, one that gives Yi Lin a newfound perspective on her life and career. Sometimes, it takes extreme examples for people to see problems differently, and what Yi Lin goes through is not particularly outrageous.

  • By the end of A Small Love Story, Yi Lin and Lulu have found their new equilibrium: with Lulu designing clothes and Yi Lin modelling them, the siblings have discovered the balance that allows them to enjoy one another’s company and concentrate on their careers. It’s a satisfying ending that shows that even in the high-paced world that is Guangzhou, a middle way can indeed be found, if individuals are willing to compromise and keep their eyes open.

  • We now enter the final act of Flavours of Youth, which sees Limo moving out of his parents’ apartment to an apartment of his own, overlooking an old district in Shanghai. In a flashback, Limo is performing poorly at work, with his concepts rejected as being too unsuited for the current market. The stresses of work negatively impacts his temperament, and he snaps during a conversation with his parents. I am guilty of this on occasion, too, and one of my personal goals is to always find a way to relieve my stress without making someone else’s day a bad day. To this end, I usually aim to leave work at work, and crack bad jokes often to lighten up.

  • Limo runs through the streets of Shanghai towards the old town, where his grandparents lived, after discovering an old tape containing messages from an old friend and love interest. On the day that I went through Flavours of Youth to gather screenshots, I was also packing to go on this excursion, and was listening to the song, 上海灘 (jyutping soeng5 hoi2 taan1, literally “Shanghai Beach” and translated to “The Bund”), in the process. The song expresses that everything is transient, and that things troubling people, like success, failure, love and hatred, are all temporal, being washed away with the waves of time. It is a very famous song, and back in 2010, while visiting Shanghai, I heard the song being blasted on loudspeakers while I was eating 小籠包 (jyutping siu2 lung4 baau1, steamed buns famous in Shanghai) on a shop located in The Bund.

  • Of the three acts in Flavours of Youth, Love in Shanghai has the greatest emphasis on romance. In his youth, Limo had a crush on Xiao Yu, who reciprocated his feelings. Together with Pan, the three friends spend their days peacefully together. In this scene, the subtleties of using cassette players are shown: tapes are notorious for unravelling like this, and it takes patience to wind them back together. Xiao Yu (literally “Little Rain”) resembles Makoto Shinkai’s earlier female protagonists, being very pure of heart and kind in disposition, while Pan reminds me of Tessie from Your Name.

  • Bikes are everywhere in China, and their presence in China dates back to the 1890s. An inexpensive means of getting around quickly, their popularity took off, and the use of bikes soared when factories began manufacturing bikes as a result of the Communist Government’s degree that bikes were to become the choice of transport for the masses. The mode of transportation is effective in most places in China, but back home, the cold weather and car-centric cities means that cyclists often have a tough time getting around: between icy conditions for over half the year and roads ill-suited for bikes, I simultaneously feel bad for cyclists and wish that they would stop occupying the roads that I am driving on.

  • While Limo is familiar with every crack and protruding brick in the sidewalk surrounding his home, Xiao Yu is less versed and hurts herself, prompting Limo to carry her. As the third act progresses, it becomes clear that of the three friends, Xiao Yu is the most studious, although Limo himself is no slouch, either. By comparison, Pan is a bit more carefree in nature. However, Xiao Yu also has a more playful side to her character: unlike Akari of Five Centimeters per Second, who exuded an ethereal presence, Xiao Yu is shown to be more multi-dimensional.

  • Calendars with 福 (jyutping fuk1, “blessing” or “good luck”) written at the top are very commonplace in China, and I say with confidence that many Chinese families will have at least one of these calendars in their homes. Here, Xiao Yu studies as the evening light fades; watching Love in Shanghai brings back many memories for me, and although it’s been quite some time since I’ve actually sat down and studied for an exam properly, the process remains quite fresh in my mind.

  • Of all the exams I’ve done, the most difficult remains the MCAT: I gave up an entire summer to study for it, with the aim of getting into medicine, and considering that I ended up choosing software development over medicine, I occasionally wonder if the MCAT was little more than a waste of money. With this being said, taking the MCAT did impart on me a unique approach in test-taking, and in the years following, I studied for written exams much more effectively. In addition, having scored what would be today’s 517, which isn’t terrible, I do suppose that it’s one more conversation topic that I may bring up for fun.

  • The troubles that affect Limo and Xiao Yu seem a world away now that I am the age that I am. Looking back, I have no regrets about all of the various experiences and accomplishments to my name during my time as a student save one: that I did not attempt to pursue a relationship with the same intensity and focus that I have everything else that I’d done. I typically manage fine on my own, preferring to solve my own problems and divulging little about the things that trouble me to others, but at the same time, I wonder what it would be like to have someone to lean onto, and someone who can rely on me, as well.

  • Limo’s parents are rather strict, wondering if it’s plausible for him to get into the same high school as Xiao Yu. Limo thus resolves to study his best with the aim of following her, although when asked, he flatly states that he wants to push his limits and see what is possible. This is how I’ve long lived my life: I wonder what the furthest that an honest effort can take me is, and this is why I always strive to give it my all, regardless of how challenging some things are. The outcomes of this way of living are reasonably straightforwards – either I fail and learn something in the process, or I succeed and pleasantly surprise myself.

  • For her efforts, Xiao Yu ends up failing her entrance exam and earns herself a beating. While audiences are left to wonder what really happened, it is implied that, not knowing the path that Limo was taking, Xiao Yu deliberately fell short so that she could remain with him. Romance stories always present this as admirable, but in reality, I consider it nothing short of folly to give up one’s own dreams and aspirations to pursue a romance that may or may not work out. It boils down to a simple matter of probability: if one works hard for their future, they will likely end up finding what they sought. If they pursue romance in its place, they may end up losing their partner and then be left worse for wear afterwards. Naturally, there are cases where people may succeed, but for me, lacking any finesse in the realm of romance, I am predisposed pursue my own future, first.

  • Flavours of Youth depicts the Oriental Pearl Tower during the fireworks heralding the start of a new millenium. This TV tower is a distinct part of the Pudong skyline adjacent to The Bund, and it was completed in 1994, remaining as the tallest building in Pudong until 2007, when the Shanghai World Financial Center Tower was completed. The Pudong New Area was formally established in 1993, and intended to be a financial hub. As a result, Pudong has since become the home of Shanghai’s most recognisable skyscrapers.

  • Watching Limo study for his entrance exams amidst the New Year’s Eve Celebrations brings to mind my own studying for the MCAT. I still remember that one evening where I had opted to stay home and do a practise verbal reasoning section while the Stampede 100th Anniversary Fireworks were going in full force. I’m told that I missed the fireworks show of the century, and considering that the sum of my efforts was getting a 10 in verbal reasoning, I’m not too sure if it was worth missing the best fireworks that Calgary will likely see until the point where Canada turns 200.

  • As time wears on, a distance grows between Xiao Yu and Limo; Xiao Yu’s path in life is depicted as being less clear than that of Limo’s, as a deliberate decision to show that Limo’s decided to focus on his future in full. A part of this transformation is seen when Xiao Yu remarks on Limo’s shiny new CD player: lacking the same romance as do cassettes, CDs are largely read-only media that can hold higher-quality sound files in an easier-to-access format, signifying his own intents to push towards the future.

  • Xiao Yu and Limo see one another off after Xiao Yu visits, and this conversation was marked by a marked change in tone: whereas the two had been very close previously, there is a distinct distance and a sense of formality between the two at present. Shortly after, Xiao Yu leaves to study abroad, and a traffic jam means that Limo and Pan miss her departure.

  • Construction on Shanghai’s Nanpu Bridge finished in 1991: with an overall length of some eight kilometers and a main span of 846 metres, Nanpu bridge is the fourth largest cable-stayed bridge in the world (it is eclipsed by Hong Kong’s Stonecutters Bridge, which holds the title of second-largest cable-stayed bridge in the world). The most distinct feature about Nanpu bridge is a large spiral: owing to the surroundings, it was necessary to compact the approach road leading up to the bridge, and here, bumper-to-bumper traffic is depicted on the bridge in both directions.

  • When Limo has a chance to listen to Xiao Yu’s final message, it turns out that Xiao Yu wanted to grow and stand out like a sunflower. In his mind’s eye, Limo pictures Xiao Yu, in a dress of purest white, standing amongst a field of sunflowers stretching as far as the eye can see. As youth, it is important to have dreams and an intent to follow them – this much was missing from Limo’s life after his entry into high school, and ultimately, listening to Xiao Yu’s voice served to remind him of his original dream, to create a three-story house where he, Xiao Yu and Pan could spend their days together. In the time following, Limo had attempted to pursue his dream in a much more conventional manner, and so, experienced pushback because his dreams do not necessarily align with market forces.

  • Both Xiao Yu and Limo find themselves in a world where their own dreams and aspirations do not align with the expectations of those around them. Limo realises this at the act’s climax, because Xiao Yu had expressed her feelings years earlier. Had Limo listened to Xiao Yu’s message earlier, he might’ve found his happiness a bit earlier, but an important message Flavours of Youth conveys is that it is never really too late to begin making one’s dreams a reality.

  • Some time after his epithany, Limo has become the owner of an inn, the well-kept and beautiful three-story building of his original vision. Outside, a pot of sunflowers is seen, showing that he has not forgotten Xiao Yu’s words to him. I admit that sixty screenshots is far too few a space to adequately discuss every noteworthy moment in Flavours of Youth, but for brevity’s sake, I’ve cut out many moments to ensure that I could get this post out: blogging immediately after getting off a plane is not an easy task, so I’ve decided to keep this post relatively short.

  • One day, after showing guests to their rooms, Limo comes face to face with Xiao Yu, who is in the area. From the looks of it, Limo’s inn is built in the same area that he once lived in, and although the area has changed, Limo has evidently adapted, making the most of the new while remembering the old. His inn is a sure sign of this, featuring traditional design elements and modern features, as well. Xiao Yu’s appearance at the end of the final act shows that because Limo acknowledges Xiao Yu’s contributions in helping him realise his dream, his gratitude is returned to him in a most pleasant manner. It’s a far cry from the messages of Five Centimeters per Second and is likely intended to show that “好心得好報” (jyutping hou2 sam1 dak1 hou2 bou3, literally “good heart results in good returns”, closely resembling the English phrase “what goes around comes around” in that kindness returns to the originator).

  • Flavours of Youth‘s final act shows The Bund and Pudong under a double rainbow, with sunshine breaking through the clouds after a rainfall to show a new start for Limo and Xiao Yu. The skyline shown here is likely the Shanghai of 2007-2008: the Shanghai Tower, currently the tallest building in Pudong (with a height of 632 meters and began construction in November 2008), is not visible in this image. This is one of my favourite stills from Flavours of Youth, and on the whole, the cityscapes of Flavours of Youth are absolutely stunning. One wishes that the studio would do an authentic coming-of-age story set in Hong Kong.

  • Flavours of Youth might be seen as being equivalent to a game made in the Frostbite Engine that isn’t part of the Battlefield franchise: while it has the same stunning visuals of a Comix Wave film, the narrative approach and themes are completely different. In the post-credits sequence, all of the central characters from each act are seen at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (known for its distinct interior), setting out on their own unique journeys.

  • Each of the characters have found their happiness by this point in time and are gearing up to travel for an unknown destination. The precise nature of their destination is not known, nor is it important: no one knows what the future will bring, but for the present, what is important is that each of the characters have seized the moment and are seeking to make the most of the future, as well.

  • It is actually quite amusing that I wrote out sections of this review while at the Denver International Airport – having cleared US Customs and eaten a light dinner, I was sitting at the gates, waiting to board my flight back home. I admit that I am not very fond of flying, but I do not take it for granted: it is still very much a luxury for its price (yes, even for economy-class tickets!) and so, it is an infrequent experience for me. Moreover, ever since I bought Patrick Smith’s Cockpit Confidential, my respect for all of the staff involved in making air travel possible, from the pilots themselves to the baggage handlers, increased ten-fold.

  • With Flavours of Youth in the books, I will be returning to my regularly-scheduled programming soon, and write about Harukana Receive‘s sixth episode on short order, with the aim of publishing it by no later than Sunday. With my first week in Denver over, and my initial assessment of my assignment largely complete, my schedule is slowly falling into place: there will be periods upcoming where I simply won’t be able to get Harukana Receive posts out on the same day anymore. On top of the remaining Road to Battlefield V events and another Battlefield V closed alpha, August is outright insane, so blogging will have to happen when it does.

  • For the present, however, it’s been one heck of a week, and my first priority, now that I’m back home, is to get some sleep. I think that, despite my delays in getting this discussion out, this particular Flavours of Youth talk remains the first on the ‘net to feature a sizeable collection of screenshots and moreover, a fair assessment of the film. Releasing on August 4, Flavours of Youth coincides with my favourite day of the year, and I watched it late in the day. It is my intent that with this discussion, I have covered some of the more subtle and out-of-the-way aspects about Flavours of Youth in my own way. Of course, these are merely my thoughts, and I’d love to hear what others thought of the film.

Broken up, disjointed and inconsistent are words that very much describe Flavours of Youth – there is no denying that the lack of a single, cohesive narrative in Flavours of Youth make it quite unconventional as a film. However, this tumultuous set of stories also is a reminder of reality – although we prefer our stories to be structured, with a distinct exposition, rising action, climax and denouement, the truth is that our lives our chaotic, uncertain and mutable. The strength of Flavours of Youth, then, is its ability to capture out and distill some moments in the lives of three different individuals, slow it down and encourage audiences to appreciate the small details and moments in our lives that can have dramatic impacts on what one does or becomes later. In short, it is a rather artistic film that resembles Momordica charantia, commonly known as the bitter melon. I helped my parents cook this unusual squash for the first time a few weeks ago, and they immediately told me that the bitter melon was a fantastic analogy for life: behind the melon’s bitter flavour, lay a slightly sweet and rewarding flavour. Life is very much like this: the challenges that we face sometimes hide a silver lining, and once we notice, it changes the way we look at things. Flavours of Youth can similarly be a bitter film to watch, being quite unconventional in its presentation, but once one takes a bit of time to think about what Flavours of Youth wants its audience to take away, and also takes a bit of time to consider Chinese culture, this sixty-minute long anthology suddenly takes on a new meaning. With all of this in mind, I strongly recommend watching Flavours of Youth for all viewers; there is great worth in looking at this film and its glimpse into the merger of old and new in Chinese culture, as well as how change figures in a nation that has come a considerable ways in the past fifty years.

Girls und Panzer Das Finale Part One: Review and Reflection

“On ne passe pas.” –General Robert Nivelle

While using telemetry to search for additional tanks in the Ooarai, rumours that Momo might be held back circulate. It turns out that she was not accepted to an university; this coincides with a Winter Cup, which was re-instated in preparation for the upcoming World Cup. Aiming to leave her legacy for Miho and her juniors, Momo resolutely led the search for new tanks so Ooarai’s future was assured, and when it is mentioned that some universities accept students based on extracurricular merit, Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team decide to make Momo commander, banking on a win at the Winter Club to help her with post-secondary admissions. Miho and the others decide to descend into the bowels of Ooarai’s ship. Sodoko refers area to this as the “Johannesberg of Ooarai”, and after she’s abducted by a pair of students, Mako follows in pursuit, leading them to Bar Donozoko. Miho and her friends liberate Sodoko and explain that they’re searching for a tank, but the bar’s patrons challenge them to a series of contests. Miho’s crew come out triumphant, earning the respect of the group’s captain, Ogin. It turns out that Ogin and her friends were indebted to Momo, who saved from some expulsion some years ago, and after learning that their smoker is the tank that Miho was seeking, Bar Donozoko’s crew decide to man the tank, introducing themselves and swearing to help Momo. At the opening draw, Momo draws for the first match, which will be against BC Freedom Academy. Beyond the knowledge that BC Freedom is typically eliminated from round one, Miho remarks that nothing is known about them, prompting Yukari to perform her usual reconnaissance, learning there is a deep division that runs at BC Freedom. On the day of the match, Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team is introduced to their newest group, the Shark Team and their Mark IV. BC Freedom is late to the party, but once they arrive, the match begins. They split up, leading Momo to keep her main column together and determine where BC Freedom’s armour went. Deducing BC Freedom’s flag tank location, Ooarai advances to the suspected position to engage, but when when crossing a wooden bridge, they suddenly find themselves being shelled. Surprised at the exemplary coordination BC is exhibiting, Yukari apologises for having failed in her reconnaissance duties. With the bridge beginning to fail, Miho proposes using the Mark IV as a ramp, allowing all of Ooarai’s tanks to safely leave the bridge. BC Freedom orders a tactical retreat while Miho and her forces regroup.

The opening act of Das Finale is functionally equivalent to two standard episodes, so after forty minutes of play, Das Finale’s first instalment follows in the same manner as its predecessor; circumstance dictates the recovery of an additional tank, and a match begins to set the tone for the remainder of what is upcoming in Das Finale. Das Finale is motivated by rather different reasons than the TV series and Der Film, with more senior students considering what their futures entail. With Momo in a difficult spot, Ooarai’s students rally to help her out: all of this is only possible because of the strong bond that everyone shares. Momo has long been presented as a person who has a remarkably tender spirit despite her tough exterior, and so, Das Finale‘s choice to focus on her gives an opportunity to weave a different narrative than what viewers had seen previously from Girls und Panzer. While Das Finale also retains a familiar, tried-and-true story, there are enough novel elements to keep Das Finale fresh. The comedy of watching Ankou Team somehow manage to kick the asses of everyone at Bar Donozoko is amusing, as is Ooarai’s clever use of the Mark IV as a makeshift ramp to escape a collapsing bridge. In its execution, Das Finale‘s first act is conventional, setting the stage for what lies ahead for Ooarai and their Panzerfahren team: Girls und Panzer has traditionally excelled in depicting the journey, rather than its destination, and so, while the first part moves in a highly foreseeable manner, Das Finale introduces enough new elements while returning to the skill-based roots of the TV series to result in a highly entertaining start for Das Finale. While off to a solid start, one element to keep in mind for new-coming viewers is that Das Finale is set after Girls und Panzer and Der Film: mission-critical elements are explored in earlier instalments, so in order to fully appreciate where Das Finale is going, one should take the time to ensure they are familiar with events of both the 2012 anime and the 2015 movie. The plus side about this is that Girls und Panzer isn’t particularly long, and with the second act’s theatrical screening date unknown, there is plenty of time for interested viewers to do so.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because Das Finale is releasing six movies, it stands to reason that each movie is equivalent to two episodes. From this, I will be doing what is essentially an episodic review; each post for Das Finale will feature forty screenshots, and I will attempt to ensure a reasonable distribution of screenshots for all of the critical moments in each part, or act. We open up this discussion with Momo reacting to headlines in the school newspaper about her repeating a year while on the hunt for new tanks; of all the characters, Momo is the most prone to being depicted with what I call “funny faces”.

  • Understandably concerned for her, the entire Panzerfahren team shows up to learn the truth from Momo, who is shaken. While she and Anzu were among my least favourite of the characters when Girls und Panzer‘s first few episodes aired, they quickly earned my respect in their respect for Miho and dedication to Ooarai. A subtle sign of their commitment is that during their tank selection, they went with the Panzer 38(t), a light tank with thin armour and a weak primary armament. While they would upgrade later to the Hetzner, that the student council willingly took the weakest tank illustrates that they have faith in Miho and her abilities.

  • One of Girls und Panzer‘s great strengths was being able to adequately flesh out all of the secondary characters despite only having twelve episodes to work with. By Das Finale, Miho, Yukari, Saori, Hana and Mako’s personalities are well-established, and second to Ankou Team, Turtle Team’s members figure prominantly in Girls und Panzer. Anzu and Yuzu’s characters are relatively straightforward compared to Momo; both get into their preferred institutes and performed reasonably well in matches. As such, the choice to have Momo leading Ooarai for Das Finale is a chance for audiences to see her shine, having been given the short end of the stick in Girls und Panzer and Der Film.

  • More insight is provided on Ooarai’s school ship: during the third OVA (which I wrote about a shade more than five years ago), the school ships of the Girls und Panzer universe were presented as well-maintained, orderly facilities where girls learned practical skills. Besides the default general studies group, there are also students dedicated towards the maintaining of the ships’ basic functions. Most of these folks are well-kempt and disciplined, but Das Finale shows that the sheer size of these vessels gives rise to the slums phenomenon that plagues large urban areas, as a result of inadequate resources to maintain law enforcement in all areas.

  • The depths of the Ooarai school ship are known as “Johannesberg”, a city in South Africa affected by serious urban decay, but when I see this side of Ooarai’s school ship, it bring to mind the likes of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City and Útulek Complex in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The girls’ pensiveness is evident here, especially Miho, who’s contracted in fear. While a fearsome tank commander and strategist, on foot, Miho and her diminutive 5’2″ frame is not particularly intimidating. Miho reminds me a great deal of Slow Start‘s Hana Ichinose, whom I’ve long felt to me what Miho might be like in the absence of Panzerfahren, and seeing her body language in this side of Ooarai’s school ship definitely reinforces this.

  • After falling into a wine cellar while in pursuit of Sodoko, Miho and the others find themselves in Bar Donozoko. Unfamiliar with the setting, everyone orders something with milk in it, leading the patrons to mock them. While long seen as a drink for children, nutritional experts recommend that adults continue to drink milk because it’s got a variety of compounds that make it a healthy option, and bodybuilders consume it precisely for this reason. I admittedly prefer it over coffee, and where possible, I try to have two glasses every day.

  • Each of Yukari, Saori and Mako manage to hold their own against Bar Donozoko’s challenges: Yukari’s expertise in knots allow her to quickly unknot a rope presented to her, Saori has become very versed in communications and is able to work out the semaphore message given to her, while Mako bests Rum in a thumb war. Goaded beyond endurance, Murakami makes to kick Miho’s ass, but Miho demonstrates a hitherto unseen side to her: she dodges all of the strikes and bows in apology, lifting Murakami into he air and throwing her behind the bar. Hilarious and surprising, it seems Miho is much stronger than her slender frame suggests; besides being relevant in Panzerfahren, hip strength also has other uses.

  • Frustrated by Miho and her friends’ resilience, weapons are drawn as Bar Donozoko’s patrons prepare to escalate things. Yukari readies a M24 Stielhandgranate. While there’s no white marking or relief texture on the handle to indicate thus, I imagine it is a smoke grenade variant, since it would be outright obtuse to use an explosive grenade at this range: using it would almost certainly flatten Miho and her friends along with Bar Donozoko’s patrons. Ogin steps in and says that a drinking contest, rather than an all-out fight, seems more appropriate; she’s visibly impressed with what Miho and her friends can do.

  • Because the consumption of alcohol by minors isn’t exactly sanctioned, when the drinking contest comes, a non-alcoholic rum is used. The challenge comes from it being spicy, and I imagine that it’s likely using ghost chili extract, otherwise, the taste of rum would be defeated. Hana holds her own against Ogin, who is no novice, managing to put Ogin on the floor. While presented as a gentle and polite girl, there’s a sexy quality about Hana when she becomes more serious.

  • While bearing the characteristics of delinquents, once Ogin is aware that Miho and her friends are aiming to help Momo, Bar Donozoko’s patrons immediately become more friendly and more in line with how girls from all of the other teams are. They might be a tough-talking, rowdy bunch, but they also possess a sense of honour and respect. Ogin is voiced by Ayane Sakura, better known as GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto, Akane Isshiki of VividRed Operation, Tsubaki Sawabe from Your Lie in April and Kantai Collection‘s Nagato. She reveals the location of the tank and recruits her friends to help Momo out.

  • Now that we’ve got everyone in the frame in lighting conditions that throw each character into sharp relief, from left to right, we have Murakami, Cutlass, Ogin, Rum and Flint. They respectively become the gunners, commander, driver and radio operator for the Mark IV. Momo reacts in joy to seeing them here, pleased to see them again after all this time, and that Momo once saved them from expulsion provides further insight into her as a tough-but-fair individual who is actually quite driven by emotions: of everyone in Girls und Panzer, she cries the most.

  • Glimpses of other schools can be seen during the Winter Cup’s ceremonies, including the rather interesting team just ahead of Ooarai, whose dress style is evocative of the Spanish Legion. Girls und Panzer has hinted previously that there are a very large number of schools, and that Panzerfahren is an international sport. While I wager that the series was created as a one-off, the world-building has been handled well enough so that the series is very scalable: keeping things fresh is as simple as adding more schools and ensuring that they’re properly written. I’ve mentioned this somewhere at another point in time, but to re-iterate, I’d love to see a Canadian-style team featuring all of the Canadian stereotypes.

  • Should a Canadian team be featured, I expect to see stereotypes including: a love for the winter matching Pravda’s, non-stop chatter about ice hockey (so, the girls would argue about whether some goals should be waived off for being offside mid-match), adding Maple Syrup to bloody everything and apologising for every kill, even more than Miho. Such a team would also fight with the ferocity of a beaver: mirroring our actions at Vimy Ridge. Back in Das Finale, Momo’s draw sends Ooarai into a match with BC Continuation school. Looking back on Das Finale‘s first act, while Yukari will later believe that it’s an act, the animosity at BC Academy is quite real according to supplementary materials.

  • With their opponent known, Yukari sneaks off to BC Freedom Academy and learns that the school has two distinct factions as a result of a merger. This setup is based off the divide in France during the Second World War, with the BC faction being more relaxed and easygoing than the strict, disciplined Freedom faction. The division in ideology means that brawls are common on the BC Freedom Academy school ship, and during her excursion to BC Freedom, Yukari is caught in one such fight, learning very little about their opponent beyond a seeming lack of unity. The video she presents includes a knockoff of the LucasFilm™ logo; to quote Bubblegum Tate from Futuama, “Hello, lawsuit”.

  • Yukari is distinctly woebegone after returning from her reconnaissance mission, but is in fine spirits; a school such as BC Freedom would be at a disadvantage during Panzerfahren matches owing to their division, similar to Mao Zedong’s Communists and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists, who nominally cooperated to repel Imperial Japanese forces, but otherwise, considered one another worse enemies than they did the Japanese. The implications of BC Freedom’s factions could lead to the impression that they are a pushover, but par the course for Girls und Panzer, it’s more likely that BC Freedom has a few tricks up their sleeves.

  • Many familiar faces make a return in Das Finale‘s first act; each of the schools previously seen discuss their future directions in Panzerfahren, and audiences learn that Darjeeling plans to study in the United Kingdom, while Maho’s gone to Germany for her post-secondary education. I’ve chosen not to feature all of those moments here, since doing so would drive the screenshot and figure caption count above what I’m willing to commit to writing this post, but on the topics of time and the future, it’s been five years since Girls und Panzer first aired. A lot can happen in five years; I finished my Bachelor and Masters’ degrees, began working and I’m a ni-dan now.

  • The higher-ranked delegates and officials prepare for the match’s opening. A St. Chamond tank is visible on the table: only four hundred were manufactured, and lacking a turret of modern tanks, it nonetheless is considered as a development in armoured warfare. With a 90 HP gasoline-electric hybrid engine, the St. Chamond could reach a maximum speed of 12 kilometers per hour despite its mass, and later models were armed with a 75mm cannon. Its design made it unwieldy and unsuited for crossing trenches, but its Battlefield 1 incarnation is surprisingly fun to operate: it’s my second-most used tank after the Mark V.

  • BC Freedom Academy’s late arrival to the match leads Saori and the others to wonder if they can win by default; while Ooarai remains hopeful for such an outcome, from a narrative perspective, this approach is impossible (I formally define impossible from a mathematical perspective as “this event is not in the set of events that can occur”), as it would cause the story to end too quickly and lead to a large number of disgruntled viewers. Indeed, BC Freedom Academy arrives fashionably late to foreshadow that they are not necessarily what they seem.

  • The patrons of Bar Donozoko are made operators of the Mark IV tank that Miho and the others found in the bowels of Ooarai, giving their tank a pirate theme. The predecessor to the Mark V, which is seen in Battlefield 1, the Mark IV is the most iconic tank of World War One, being the fourth model in a line of vehicles designed to smash through fortifications and break stalemates. Battlefield 1 presents the Mark V is a superb platform for offense, and while it’s the slowest tank in the game, it’s got the best offensive options for anti-armour engagements. By the time of World War Two, the Mark V and IV would have been woefully inadequate, with its low speed, outdated armament and armour making it vulnerable to period armour. In Girls und Panzer, it is appropriate that the pirate-themed crew helm the Mark IV, whose lineage is informally referred to as “Landships” in Battlefield 1.

  • Compared against the immaculately clean uniforms of Ooarai, Oshida (closest to the viewer, blonde hair) and Andou (between Marie and Oshida) are visibly beaten up, having been seen fighting with one another on the way in. Marie displays a degree of flippancy in refusing to bow (like Gōjū-ryū, we bow to our opponents before beginning a competition), and with the formalities out of the way, the teams are off. Unbefitting of this blog and its usual manner, I remark that Miho’s seen some “character growth” since the events of the first season and movie, being a subtle sign that time is passing.

  • The faded grey skies and yellow-green terrain is a reminder that this battle is set during the winter; while the match against BC Freedom is set in a temperate grassland with some woods as cover, one cannot help but wonder if we’ll see more winter combat in later instalments of Das Finale. The setting admittedly reminds me of Battlefield 1‘s Somme Map from the Apocalypse DLC; I’ve been playing Battlefield 1 only intermittently as of late thanks to The Division running a series of global events, but while working on some community missions, I’ve seen a dramatic improvement to my performance, and have really enjoyed the upgraded SMG 08/18, which is nigh-unstoppable.

  • Based on information from Duck and Leopon teams, Miho deduces that most of BC Freedom’s forces will have taken the high ground. Because the aim of a flag tank match is to kill the flag tank, the match can be concluded in a very decisive manner very quickly. Miho is seen drawing on a Magna Doodle-type device, which operates by using a magnet in the stylus to align magnetic particles. While unsophisticated compared to an iPad, Magna Doodles do not require dry-erase markers, ink or graphite, making them a powerful reusable tool that reduces the need to carry writing equipment into the field.  Miho’s choice of equipment underlie her personality: while she can seem quite childish, Miho is also remarkably practical, making use of the best tools for the task at hand.

  • Despite being quick to bark out orders under normal circumstances, Momo is unaccustomed to fulfilling the role of commander, and is seen constantly asking Miho for advice. Miho encourages Momo and provides feedback to ensure that Momo makes the calls for Ooarai that will lead to victory.

  • The artwork in Girls und Panzer‘s original run was of a high quality, but with the release of Der Film and Das Finale, the amount of detail that’s gone into landscapes and lighting effects have much improved. From crisp blades of grass on the ground to details in the trees and volumetric lighting effects, Das Finale looks and feels amazing. While the improvements are not as pronounced as the jump from Battlefield 3‘s Frostbite 2 Engine to Battlefield 4 and 1‘s Frostbite 3, subtle differences nonetheless indicate that that Actas is constantly improving the visuals to ensure they are eye-pleasing.

  • The number of World War One tanks in Das Finale‘s first chapter brings to mind DICE’s return to World War One for Battlefield 1; one of the most challenging aspects that Girls und Panzer faced following the TV series’ conclusion was designing an enemy more potent than Black Forest. Der Film was somewhat unsuccessful, falling upon an enemy that was superior in terms of equipment alone, and with Das Finale, the introduction of BC Freedom Academy has allowed the series to return to its roots in a skill-based battle over sheer spectacle alone.

  • The volleyball team move into a deserted urban area in pursuit of BC Freedom Academy’s tanks. The urban combat in Das Finale‘s first part is minimal, and they manage to locate a part of the BC Freedom armour before coming under fire. The small number of enemy armour encountered and light combat insofar serves to build the suspense. I experience the same in any shooter; when the map becomes too quiet and I’m given a great deal of resources, I prepare myself for a massive engagement.

  • While scouting ahead, Momo and Yukari locate BC Academy’s main force. Yukari is seen using the same Entfernungsmesser EM 1M R36 binoculars that she used in Der Film. They spot BC Freedom’s students playing games and relaxing on the hill. Some viewers will note that the images cannot be expanded to be viewed in greater detail: I’m treating Das Finale like an episodic review rather than a special movie review, and so, won’t give this series the silver screen review treatment.

  • While attempting to traverse a rickety wooden bridge, Miho’s forces find themselves under heavy fire from the BC Freedom Academy tanks. They begin targeting the unstable wooden support columns and manage to trap a majority of Ooarai’s armour on the bridge. A plunge in the river would spell certain doom for Ooarai here, and the situation looks quite dire for Ooarai, who have walked into a trap of sorts. It’s a bit of a callback to the second episode of the TV series, when Miho finds her tank caught on a bridge between their classmates’ tanks during training, and the first sign of trouble is optics glint that the Student Disciplinary Committee spot. This is why I do not run with high-powered optics in Battlefield 1 unless necessary: seeing scope glint prompts me to immediately take cover and find a different route, so as a sniper, I could stand to lose kills once the opposing team’s players are alerted to my presence.

  • The flag tank that BC Freedom Academy selects for the match is the Renault FT-17, a revolutionary light tank that formed as the predecessor to modern tanks. With its revolving turret, rear-mounted engine and front crew compartment, its design forms the basis for all tanks as we know them. The FT-17 was successfully deployed in 1918 against German forces, and continued to be used into World War Two, but they were completely outmatched by period armour. In Das Finale, it remains to be seen as to whether or not the FT-17 that Commander Marie is fielding is outperformed, or if it is as capable as the FT-17 seen during Battlefield 1‘s open beta, during which I managed a 20-streak with it. The FT-17 has since been re-balanced, with a lower ammunition capacity and longer self-repair time to counter the fact that it was nigh-unstoppable during the open beta.

  • Realising that this is probably the first time she’s let Miho down with her intelligence-gathering, Yukari is seen with tears in her eyes, and even with Miho’s reassurances, the fact remains that elimination could very well be imminent. BC Freedom Academy’s execution here is what motivates this page quote. French for “They shall not pass”, it’s an idiom for expressing determination, and the sustained shelling has a noticeable moral impact on Ooarai’s crews. Miho retains her calm and begins working out a solution, asking Momo to pass on the orders for the option that she’s devised.

  • When Marie realises what the Ooarai tanks are doing, she recoils in shock. Rarely seen without a cake in hand, Marie is a call-out to Marie Antoinette, a rather infamous figure who personified the ills of the old French monarchy. Marie’s cakes are likely a reference to the phrase Qu’ils mangent de la brioche, better known in English as “let them eat cake”. Commonly attributed to Antoinette, there is actually no record she said this; the misconception comes from a line in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography.

  • BC Freedom employs a hybrid style between Napoleon I’s manoeuvre warfare to disrupt the enemy, and a defensive approach inspired by the Maginot Line. While BC Freedom Academy had such a difficult time getting the different schools to cooperate, both approaches were formed into a “Marriage Approach”. It is this that Ooarai squares off against during its match, but even BC Freedom cannot anticipate the innovative methods Miho applies towards Panzerfahren.

  • In Das Finale‘s first act, BC Freedom is seen fielding the ARL 44 heavy tank, which was designed off older heavy tanks, such as the Char B1. They were intended to trade blows with the Tiger II, but saw no combat during World War Two, only making it into production in 1949. The model proved underwhelming, and only sixty were produced; their role would be fulfilled by the American M47 Patton. Besides the ARL 44, BC Freedom also uses the SOMUA S35, a cavalry tank that could fulfill both anti-personnel and anti-armour roles. Historically, the S35 proved effective in battle, but were also expensive to produce.

  • Working with Miho means an acceptance of the unorthodox; while each of the other schools (save the University team) retain a structured, well-known strategy based off their historical equivalents, Ooarai’s approach to Panzerfahren has become one of improvisation, actively attempting to understand the environment and determining how to best utilise it to gain an advantage. Through Miho’s examples, each of the tank teams have since adopted a penchant for improvisation, and it speaks volumes to Ooarai’s capacity for improvisation when using the Mark IV as a ramp to escape the stricken bridge does not qualify as one of the most outrageous things they’ve done.

  • A glance at the calendar shows that March is very nearly over, which is bewildering. This month has evaporated, and things at work are turning around as spring returns to the world. This post comes right as the winter anime season draws to a close, and after a lunch of garlic-herb breaded sole fillets with fries, I turned my attention towards getting this talk on Das Finale live: nowhere near as large as the post on Der Film, it’s nonetheless taken upwards of four hours to assemble.

  • While Das Finale predominantly makes use of incidental pieces from Girls und Panzer‘s original run and Der Film, there are some new songs that accompany the BC Freedom Academy’s moments. No news of a soundtrack has yet reached my ears, so we return to the actual combat: on the topic of aural elements, Das Finale performs much better than Der Film did. The sounds from each tank firing their main armament sounds much beefier in the former, whereas in the latter, some of the cannons sounded like a marksman rifle from Battlefield 3.

  • Seeing that the hunter has become the hunted, Marie orders all of her tanks to make a withdrawal. Inspection of the exchange of shell fire finds that Ooarai’s gunners hit a few of their marks, but deal glancing damage. The fact that both teams still have their armour suggests that the narrative is going to go in a direction where it’ll be a showdown between Ooarai and BF Freedom’s flag tank, and I wager that Momo will finally land her first kill, having spent the whole of the TV series and movie missing even the most trivial of shots.

  • Having driven off BC Freedom Academy for the present, Miho apologises for having put everyone in such a situation. Thankful everyone’s alright, she rallies her forces and states that they will regroup. Ending the first act of Das Finale on a cliff-hanger and no known release date for part two means we’re likely in for a long wait before seeing how Ooarai manages to best BC Freedom Academy. Having said this, we know now that there will be a three-month gap between theatrical screenings of Das Finale and the subsequent home release, so once the opening date for act two is known, we can reasonably estimate when the attendant home releases (and subsequent opportunity to talk about the different acts) can occur.

  • Retreating to the plains, BC Freedom Academy’s students begin singing a variation of the French song, Chant de l’Oignon (Song of the Onion). A funny-sounding song, it’s thought that the song came from Napoléon, who saw some of his soldiers adding onions to their bread and remarking on its taste. Napoléon replied that this was the taste of victory, and so, the march was born. This brings my Das Finale post for the first part to an end, and with the learnings from this writing this post, I think it’s safe to say that I will try and have Das Finale talks out within two to three days of the home release. Posts coming in the near future include a talk for Slow Start‘s finale and A Place Further Than The Universe‘s finale, but for now, it’s time to take a bit of a breather.

Consequently, with the first act of Das Finale in the books, it would not be surprising to anticipate that the remaining instalments will likely play out in a similar fashion. However, as we are only the equivalent of two episodes in, it is not appropriate to consider thematic elements that apply in Das Finale just yet; the journey is just getting started. With this being said, I will take the time now to note that I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Girls und Panzer; a technically superb series in characterisation, animation and sound engineering, Girls und Panzer is simultaneously stymied by a production challenges and a release pattern as uncertain as that of Half-Life 3. The long release time and decision to release Das Finale as six movies rather than a weekly programme makes it superbly difficult for the narrative to retain its momentum and draw anticipation in viewers. Similarly, one of Girls und Panzer‘s greatest strengths is the incredible attention paid to depicting the tanks and their engagements in a plausible manner, but the emphasis on detail also has created unrealistic expectations for what Girls und Panzer ought to be. For me, a credible advancement of the story and presentation of entertaining, logical stages in the narrative is more critical than whether or not the tanks and their operators behave precisely as they should in the real world. This particular perspective is not shared by everyone, and there have been some interesting situations where I’ve run into folks who believe that realism is paramount, to be favoured above all other elements in a show when determining its worth. Numerous disagreements about the characters’ behaviours and actions have surfaced over the years, and it’s a bit wearing to deal with individuals who are unwilling to look past this and consider Girls und Panzer as a whole. Summing this up, I love the series for what it is, but I’m not big on its release pattern and some members of the community. Overall, as Das Finale continues, a part of me would prefer that Girls und Panzer would have concluded with the film, sparing me both the long waits and the occasional lecture on why my beliefs make me unfit to count myself as human, but on the flipside, I am reasonably confident I’ll continue to enjoy Das Finale – the opening is off to a good start, and while the second act will release at an unknown date in the future, it will invariably deal with the outcome of the match between Ooarai and BC Freedom Academy.

Nekopara OVA Review and Reflection

“Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.” –Garrison Keillor

While unpacking in his new confectionery shop, La Soleil, Kashou Minaduki learns that Chocola and Vanilla, two of his family’s Nekos, have stowed away with him. Kashou is initially unwilling to let the two stay, but later relents and allows the two to remain with him upon seeing their determination. Kashou’s younger sister, Shigure, later visits with the other Nekos and remarks that for Chocola and Vanilla to work at La Soleil, Chocola and Vanilla will require a permit exam. Despite their initial difficulties, the two pass their exams, leading Kashou to bring Chocola and Vanilla to an amusement park and aquarium in celebration. When Kashou develops a fever from exhaustion later, Chocola and Vanilla try to reach a doctor’s clinic but forget to bring their bells with them. Kashou arrives and manages to sort things out before the authorities take them away. Later, Shigure decides to bring in the other Nekos to help out with work at La Soleil. With its origins in a series of visual novels, Nekopara‘s OVA was first announced in July 2016 in a crowd-funded project. Interest in an OVA became apparent when the crowd-funding campaign reached its goal within a day of launch, and the OVA itself was completed in November 2017. The OVA was scheduled for release on Boxing Day. During its fifty-minute run, the Nekopara OVA covers the first chapter of the visual novel (there are four in total), and for folks who’ve played through the game, one of the strongest aspects about the OVA is how faithful it is to the original.

At its core, Nekopara‘s OVA presents a gentle, heart-warming story about Kashou’s gradual acceptance of his Nekos in life at his confectionery shop and the misadventures that they share, along with their more tender moments. The OVA, and Nekopara itself, brings to mind the sort of antics seen in the animated series Nyanko Days. In both, anthropomorphic cats are present, with human-like traits and intellectual capacity. The similarities end here – whereas Nyanko Days is purely about the everyday lives of Yūko’s cats and features tiny Nyanko, the Neko of Nekopara are more similar to humans in stature to accommodate for the sort of narrative that Nekopara presents. With this in mind, the OVA is more family-friendly than the visual novel and therefore, more similar to Nyanko Days than its visual novel incarnation, preferring to focus on the adorable and amusing rather than the risque. However, because there is a male protagonist and human-like Nekos, as opposed to the kitten-like Nyanko, the OVA opens the floor to conventional jokes surrounding misunderstandings that are usually seen in romance-comedy anime. With this in mind, the OVA can be seen as either a fine addition into the Nekopara franchise for current fans of the visual novels, as well as being a bit of a barometer for the undecided to determine whether or not the Nekopara games are within the scope of their interests.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I suppose it would be fair to open with the remark that I’ve never actually seen “Neko” being used in plural as I have: in Japanese, we would probably say 猫たち (neko-tachi) to refer to cats in plural.  However, in this post, I will use it to refer to the cat-girls in plural for convenience’s sake. I’m not sure how exactly Nekos work from a evolutionary and biological perspective; they are human-like in anatomy save for their ears and tails, possess intelligence comparable to that of children and are omnivorous, but otherwise, their minds are cat-like. However, the documentation states that interbreeding between humans and Nekos are not possible, which technically should mean that Nekopara should be family-friendly through and through.

  • The protagonist, Kashou Minaduki, is a pâtissier who comes from a family of Japanese chefs and is distant with his parents for his interests. Resembling Itsuki Koizumi of The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Kashou is the generic protagonist and is unremarkable. Chocola is the first of the Nekos seen in Nekopara: she is the more energetic and outgoing compared to her twin, Vanilla. The two Nekos are the youngest the Minaduki family has: Kashou and his sister found them around nine months ago, and they have been caring for the Nekos ever since.

  • One aspect about Nekopara‘s game form is that it makes use of 3D animated characters, in contrast to static 2D characters of traditional visual novels. As a result, there’s a slider for altering the modulus of rigidity in the game, which is utterly pointless: I bet that in Nekopara, elasticity is a pre-rendered animation rather than involving real-time physics calculations, so changing the settings with the aim of stress-testing a computer set up isn’t even worth it. With this in mind, if I should ever decide to buy Nekopara, I’m going to set the modulus of rigidity to zero: Chocola and Vanilla don’t exactly require any other setting, and soft-body dynamics is computationally expensive.

  • A miscommunication results in the delivery of additional hardware to La Soleil, and while a Herculean task seemingly awaits Kashou, Chocola and Vanilla lend their skills towards sorting out the boxes to find the ones containing Kashou’s orders in an efficient manner, leading to much happiness from the delivery lady.

  • While Kashou is initially not keen on keeping Chocola and Vanilla around, Chocola up front lets Kashou know that he means a great deal to both of them, recalling a story where he looked after the two and brought them to the hospital after the two fell ill from a combination of stress, cold and a weakened constitution. In a moving display of kindness that Kashou counts as common sense, Chocola and Vanilla would recover and became quite fond of Kashou, to the point of following him when he moves out to open La Soleil. It takes some negotiations, but Kashou eventually relents and allows the two to live with him.

  • Kashou reluctantly agrees to let Vanilla and Chocola help him out at La Soleil. They run into a strangely-attired customer later revealed to be Kashou’s younger sister. A capable Neko owner and elegant in her own manner, Shigure is responsible for training the family’s Nekos. In the OVA, she’s quite ordinary, although in the visual novel, it’s said that she holds unrequited feelings for Kashou, which doesn’t appear to be a rational narrative device considering what Nekopara is about.

  • From left to right, the other Nekos in Nekopara are Maple, Cinnamon, Azuki and Coconut (Shigure is in the middle, wearing the kamino). Each of the cats sports a bell that signifies their qualification to hold what Nekopara calls an “Independent Action Permit” (abbreviated IAP for short and not to be confused with the shorthand for “In App Purchase”), which allows a Neko to travel alone without human supervision. In order to have Chocola and Vanilla helping out at La Soleil, the two must also pass an examination to hold an IAP.

  • Nekos have a modified digestive system that allow them to enjoy cakes and tea along with food more consistent with what cats should be given. It should go without saying that Nekopara is the last place on earth one should go to learn about cats – cats have no sweet receptors and won’t enjoy sweets the same way humans would. Further, the presence of dairy products in cake can be cause digestive issues for cats, and theobromine in chocolate can be lethal. Of course, this would result in a dull visual novel.

  • Cinammon (to the right) is the third oldest of the Nekos and here, is seen giving Vanilla a crash course on flowers, somehow becoming turned on at the thought of reproduction. It brings to mind the jokes that I sat through as a high school student in biology, where my instructor remarked that only an ineffective instructor would be distracted by reproductive biology and said that from scientific perspective, there should be nothing particularly embarrassing as to how life works. Having said this, while I’m not particularly bothered by what would be considered indecent, there is a limit to what I can and can’t show on this blog in order to maintain the PG-13 rating.

  • N. cataria has a profound effect on Chocola and Vanilla, who are affected by the nepetalactone present. The compound, a two-ringed, ten carbon molecule, produces a relaxing effect in cats in conjunction with sleepiness and drooling. Nepetalactone has no impact on humans owing to physiological differences, so it stands to reason that Nekos likely have a different nervous system composition than humans despite their physical similarities. Curiously enough, nepetalactone doesn’t seem to affect a third of all cats, and this is apparently not Mendelian trait.

  • I have a feeling that the sustained application of science will outright ruin Nekopara: the origins of Nekos and the implications on technological levels in society would probably cause readers to count me a non-team player, a wet blanket. This is because if we could genetically engineer a species with human and cat-like traits as having near-human intelligence, it would imply that our medical knowledge is remarkably sophisticated. This would then raise the question of why things like FTL and fusion are not present in Nekopara. Hereafter, I’m going to do my best not to mention scientific elements in too much more details from here on out and return things to the OVA, where Chocola and Vanilla are shown to have successfully passed their IAP exam.

  • As a celebration, Kashou takes Chocola and Vanilla to an amusement park, which Chocola has expressed an interest in visiting. Most apparent in this scene is the level of detail and intricacy in both Chocola and Vanilla’s dresses. At the time of writing, the Nekopara OVA is only available on Steam to the wider world and retails for 34 CAD, which is only slightly less than the Nekopara bundle, which costs 36 CAD in the absence of a sale (for a scant 18 CAD, one can buy all four volumes of Nekopara on Steam during a sale).

  • Today’s been a bit of a more festive one: I spent most of it at a New Year’s Eve brunch. After driving the treacherous roads to get there, I settled down to the warmth of home-made Eggs Benedict, turkey bacon, potato pancakes and hash browns, plus the most impressive array of cookies, Nanamo Bars and other sweets I’ve seen in a while. Conversation during this brunch lasted into the late afternoon, during which the weather remained incredibly frigid (-29°C before windchill).

  • Once I got back home, it was very nearly evening, and I arrived just in time for my family’s annual 火鍋 (jyutping fo2 wo1, better known as “hot pot”, and folks familiar with anime will refer to it as nabe even though the Chinese version isn’t really thus). The combination of a warm soup with beef, lamb, chicken, shrimp, fresh scallops, squid, fish ballsbak choy, cabbage and lettuce, plus yi mein, is the perfect ward for the cold winter’s evening, and with dinner now done, it’s time to watch as the final hours of 2017 draw to a close.

  • After their outing to the aquarium, Kashou develops a fever that greatly concerns Chocola and Vanilla. Their understanding of human health being limited, they attempt to call for medical assistance upon seeing Kashou’s state, as opposed to letting him sleep it off. Typically, bed rest and hydration is the best initial means of dealing with a fever – medical attention is sought if the fever is very severe or persistent. After Kashou falls asleep, Chocola and Vanilla head into the night to reach a clinic.

  • While Nekopara may not have Makoto Shinkai or Kyoto Animation level visuals, the simple, clean artwork works in the OVA’s favour. I took a quick glance at the Steam system requirements for Nekopara‘s OVA, and they’re identical to K-On! The Movie, which is also available on Steam. The act of streaming videos is not a particularly demanding task: any dual core CPU, 2 GB of RAM, 500 MB of space (presumably to act as a cache) and a 12 Mbps connection will be sufficient for enjoying anime from Steam.

  • Shigure and the remaining Nekos decide to join the ranks of employees at La Soleil, much to Kashou’s surprise. This sets in motion the whacky antics that are seen in the remainder of Nekopara, and given the setup, I imagine that the OVA was largely intended to be a bit of promotion for newcomers such as myself as much as it is intended to entertain current fans of the game.

  • With the entire family of Nekos geared up and ready to help, the stage is set for later volumes of Nekopara, which deal with the antics surrounding Kashou as he acclimatises to Nekos working at his confectionary shop. As a kinetic novel, Nekopara has no branching decisions and can be seen as an electronic story of sorts. In a manner of speaking, the OVA and game are different interpretations of the same story, and if the OVA had been more extensive, I would likely prefer watching the OVA to playing the game.

  • From the perspective of those who’ve played Nekopara and subsequently watched the OVA, the OVA seems to have done a passable job of bringing Nekopara to life in the anime format. While not perfect, these individuals have found it entertaining. From my perspective, which is that of someone who’s seen the OVA and are wondering about the game, I think that the OVA could inspire some to pick up all four volumes of Nekopara and give things a whirl to see what happens at La Soleil after all of the Nekos come on board. However, for me, I have my own reasons for not buying Nekopara: for one, I feel that my Steam library has hit saturation, and there are simply no more games that I’m keen on checking out for the present.

  • The exterior of La Soleil is simple and clean, set in front of a backdrop of skyscrapers. It’s well designed and aesthetically pleasing, so I figured I would feature at least one screenshot of it during this discussion, which now comes to an end. This is my final talk for 2017, and I am going to spend the remaining few hours of the year taking it easy. Upcoming posts to kick off 2018 will include Wolfenstein II‘s Uberkommando and Episode Zero talks, the final impressions for Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! and the final episode of Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter. I also have plans to write about Violet EvergardenYuru Camp and Slow Start in the upcoming season.

One of the more interesting elements in the OVA that the world that Kashou inhabits feels much more lively relative to the visual novel. This aspect is likely by design – in the visual novel, the absence of other inhabitants save mission-critical characters places greater emphasis on Kashou and his Nekos, as well as reducing the amount of resources spent drawing extras. However, the animated format has additional background characters to give the sense that there is a world beyond the characters players interact with. This is one of the strengths of the animated format confers for adapting visual novels: the worlds that characters live in can be made to feel a bit more alive. The OVA certainly has done a solid job of bringing Kashou’s world to life: while nothing groundbreaking or remarkable, the visual quality and artwork in the Nekopara are of a high standard, as are the aural elements. Overall, the Nekopara OVA succinctly captures the basics of Nekopara in a modestly entertaining fashion, and here, I remark that while the OVA was fun to watch, I’m not too sure if I will be adding Nekopara to a Steam library whose existing titles include DOOM, Half-Life 2 and Far Cry 4 in the foreseeable future: I prefer my games to involve über-micro, after all.

A Photogrammetry Exercise in Kimi no Na wa (Your Name): Determining the location of Taki’s Apartment and a fly-through from Tokyo to Hida

“Where is Taki’s apartment located?”

This question was posed by one of our readers shortly after Your Name began screening in Japan, and at the time, information about the film, especially amongst the English language anime community, was limited. Consequently, when I received the question, I wondered if it were even possible to answer it accurately. For one, metro Tokyo is the world’s largest city, and even Tokyo Proper has a surface area of 2187.66 km² and a population of 13 617 445 as of 2016. By comparison, Calgary has a tenth of the population, and it’s already tricky enough to find things here — it took me ages to realise that Pure Pwnage‘s Lannagedon event was hosted at the Bowness Community Centre, for instance. However, the challenge was an intriguing one, and I began wondering how to go about solving it. When I recalled an episode of The Raccoons back in July, I felt that I had my answer: in the episode “Search and Rescue”, Bert Raccoon and Cedric Sneer go looking for a meteorite that lands on Jack Pine Island in the Evergreen Forest. Assuming that recovering the meteorite is a day trip, the two do not leave any information behind as to where they went, and when their raft floats off from the island, the two find themselves stranded. Despite the effort of their friends, who search the Evergreen Forest through the night for them, the two are not found until the next morning. After Lady Baden-Baden reveals that she saw the meteorite, Professor Smedley-Smythe is able to use triangulation to work out where the impactor landed, leading to Bert and Cedric’s rescue. The concept of triangulation is a reasonably simple one: if there are at least two known points, then the location of an unknown point can be determined by forming a triangle by means of the existing points. The version in The Raccoons is the simplest one: the baseline distance and angles are not used, as a map is available. However, slightly more involved forms allow for a distance to the unknown point to be determined provided that one knows the baseline distance between two observes and the relative angle of this baseline to their line of sight. In this exercise, I apply a variation of the technique, plus several landmarks in the Tokyo, to form the starting point for answering this question.

Locating Taki’s Apartment

  • Figure I: Taki viewing Tiamat’s fragment splitting up in the eastward direction. The Yoyogi Tower and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building are highlighted in this image for clarity. All of the images in this post can be expanded for viewing at full resolution.

  • Figure II: A section of the Tokyo skyline seen in Your Name. Here, I’ve highlighted some of the buildings visible in the image. Landmarks with a red label were used in my preliminary estimates to narrow down which area Taki’s apartment is located in.

  • Figure III: Approximation of where the skyline in Figure II might be viewed from. Using the four landmarks and roughly their angles, the area one can begin looking for Taki’s apartment is highlighted in blue, enclosed by the sightlines. All of the map data in this discussion are sourced from Google Maps and have been modified to improve clarity.

From footage in Your Name, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the nearby Yoyogi Building is visible from Taki’s apartment (Fig I). In the image, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is right of the Yoyogi building. Inspection of a map allows us to work out that Taki’s apartment must be east of these buildings. The second set of points we can use can be derived from the fact that Taki is seen leaving home with Tokyo’s skyline visible on the horizon (Fig II, Fig IV, Fig V, Fig VI, Fig VII). Visible in the frame’s left-hand-side is Akasaka Palace, accommodations for visiting state dignitaries. Tokyo Tower is also visible, along with the Embassy of Canada as the frame pans right. Thus, we can use Tokyo Tower and the Embassy of Canada as the first of the known points for our calculations: in the images, the Tokyo Tower is left of the Embassy of Canada, so we can reason out that the scene is taken from a point north of these buildings. The estimated sight lines allow us to constrain Taki’s apartment to an area in Shinanomachi, Wakaba, Yotsuyasakamachi (Fig III). These are densely-built up neighbourhoods, and while we’ve worked out roughly where Taki’s apartment could be, exploring the area bit-by-bit would still take a while. Fortunately, we have two more points that makes the calculations easier to approximate: Akasaka State Property is visible in the frame shown when Taki (Mitsuha) is looking over Tokyo. We use this to further constrain the possible region to an area west of the Akasaka State Property (Fig II). The second point is rather more subtle – there’s a small apartment complex called the Meiji Park Heights, and it is visible in the image’s lower right hand corner (Fig VII, VIII). This apartment is located southwest of Taki, so using the same technique and tracing backwards, we find a line that passes over a community centre north of the Chou Main Line (Fig IX).

  • Figure IV: Identifying buildings visible from the perspective seen in Your Name. When we zoom in to the area highlighted in Figure III and rotate the camera, we find a distinct set of landmarks not dissimilar to the buildings seen in Figure II. I use some of the more distinct skyscrapers in the image as comparisons.

  • Figure V: The equivalent spot from Figure IV in Your Name. Amongst the buildings I’ve looked at include the 43-story Park Court Akasaka: The Tower, a residential complex that was completed in 2009, the Sogetsu Concert Hall and the Embassy of Canada. The Embassy of Canada was chosen as a point primarily because of its distinct roof. This building was completed in 1991.

  • Figure VI: Panning east from the perspective in Figure IV. When the camera pans right, other buildings become visible, including Tokyo Midtown, a mixed-use building that is, with its height of 248 meters (814 feet), the second-tallest in Tokyo. By comparison, Brookfield Place East of Calgary will have a completed height of 247 meters (810 feet). Other buildings highlighted for their visibility include the International Medical Welfare University Graduate School, Honda Welcome Plaza Aoyama and the TK Minami-Aoyama Building.

  • Figure VII: The equivalent spot from Figure IV in Your Name. With the number of familiar landmarks visible in Your Name, we can say that Taki’s apartment must be located close to the Akasaka Imperial Property. There is one final structure that is present when the camera pans, and this is the Meiji Park Heights, with its distinct roof and windows.

  • Figure VIII: A closer view of Meiji Park Heights. Despite its unassuming appearance from 3D imagery, the building houses spacious, luxury apartment units and is conveniently located to two train stations, as well as the Akasaka grounds. With two-bedroom units that have a total area of close to 1125 square feet (110.41 square meters), rentals start at 350000 Yen per month (3900 CAD), more than double that of an equivalent in Calgary (1500 CAD per month).

  • Figure IX: Using the Akasaka State Property and Meiji Park Heights to constrain the possible region of Taki’s apartment further. The Akasaka State Property was visible in Figure II, and together with the Meiji Park Heights, allow us to say that Taki’s apartment must be in a narrow area where both structures are visible. Using the sightlines running east-west, the possible location of Taki’s apartment can be searched for in the highlighted area.

We now have an area small enough so that we can start looking around manually, and immediately north of the community centre are some apartment complexes. We are left with several options: Taki lives in an apartment with an outdoor hallway, which allows us to eliminate a larger apartment nearby with windows facing south, as well as a green-roofed apartment (Fig X, XI). Adjacent to the green-roofed apartment is a slightly taller apartment, and while it has south-facing balconies, this is our candidate, located at the address 〒160-0011 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Wakaba, 1 Chome-22-15. The building itself is called 離宮ハイム (Rikyū haimu), and from details in the film, Taki lives on the sixth floor. Despite the descrepancies in design, especially with respect to the placement of balconies and the angle of sunlight seen in the film, when we descend down for a closer look along a road, it becomes apparent that we’ve located Taki’s apartment. Details in the road he’s seen running along, both to school and to meet up with Miki for his date, line up with what is visible from the site’s real world location (Fig XII, XIII, XIV, XV). Without the use of too much trigonometry, we’ve found Taki’s apartment with some reasoning, a bit more guesswork and liberal use of Google Maps. I remark that a more precise and sophisticated technique can be applied here: because we have the heights of the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, clever use of a clinometer and the screenshots can also allow one to approximate the distance to the buildings and determine where the screenshots are roughly located.

  • Figure X: Highlighting Taki’s apartment and the route he’s seen taking to school and on his date with Miki. Taki’s apartment is highlighted in blue, while the route we see him take is given in red. From exploring the area given in Figure IX, Taki’s apartment was located in the space of around two minutes.

  • Figure XI: Corridor outside of Taki’s aparment. Close inspection of the unit numbers find that Taki lives on the sixth floor, although his apartment has a covered corridor compared to the unit located in the real-world location. However, as the structure needs to be suited for plot-related elements, the discrepancies are readily accepted without much concern.

  • Figure XII: Street-level view looking south from the road leading from Taki’s apartment. Quite ordinary and unremarkable by any definition, it is possible to use Google Street View to approximate a small section of Taki’s route, and I imagine that folks in Tokyo familiar with the region can trace his path to school and the route he takes when meeting Miki for a date with total accuracy.

  • Figure XIII: The equivalent spot from Figure XII in Your Name. The extent to which details are reproduced are incredible: whether it be the placement of mirrors, the potted plants beside the apartment on the right, the vending machine or the skyline, we have a near-perfect reproduction within Your Name of the location.

  • Figure XIV: The road going down the hillside leading from Taki’s apartment. The real-world location is filled with shrubbery, with the skyline barely visible, whereas in Your Name, there is less vegetation that allows the skyline to be more clearly seen.

  • Figure XV: The equivalent spot from Figure XIV in Your Name. While I never visited this spot during my time in Tokyo back in May, the closest I got from Taki’s apartment and the Suga Shrine would have been around 2.6 klicks, when I visited the Meiji Jingu Garden. This was the first destination that was on my itinerary in Tokyo.

The Giant Flythough Kimi no Na Wa

During the opening credits to Your Name, there’s also a brief moment where the camera flies from Taki’s apartment in Tokyo, through the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, out to rural Japan and eventually, Itomori (Fig XVI). This is undoubtedly an impressive feat of animation and a visual treat to behold on its own, but there is a pleasant surprise to this, as well – if one were to project a line from Taki’s apartment in the heading as depicted in the film, they would end up in Hida, Gifu, passing over Lake Suwa along the way (Fig XVII, XVIII). In total, roughly 237 kilometers of distance separates the location of Taki’s apartment in Tokyo from Hida in the Gifu prefecture. While some might consider this a mere coincidence, the level of detail Makoto Shinkai and his team put into their art is nothing short of exceptional, so I imagine that this was a deliberate design in keeping with the thematic elements within the movie. Whereas Shinkai’s earlier themes were more about distance, Your Name deals predominantly with connections and how distances can be closed: the Chinese term “緣份” (jyutping jyun4 fan6, “fate”) describes the movie neatly, as it appears that supernatural forces compel Taki and Mitsuha to meet. That their homes lie along the same line is a clever element added to the film, and while subtle, serves to reinforce notions that Taki and Mitsuha must meet in order to convey the thematic elements in the movie. With this in mind, it is likely that Shinkai and his team worked backwards, choosing the rural location and then corresponding it with a location in Tokyo; it is considerably more difficult to pick a rural location suitable for Mitsuha, whereas in Tokyo, the dense urban build-up means that Taki could have been placed anywhere in central Tokyo without any substantial impact to the narrative.

  • Figure XVI: Stills from the opening scene in Your Name depicting a fly-over from Taki’s apartment in Tokyo to Mitsuha’s house in Itomori. Starting from the roof of Taki’s apartment (1) and flying east over the Tokyo cityscape (2) towards the Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building (3), the camera moves through the gap between the two towers (4) out into rural Japan after a transition (5), eventually landing in Itomori (6).

  • Figure XVII: Approximation of the route covered by the route seen in the opening in the real world. The red path highlighted shows this: in the upper left, the route covered between Figure XVI’s (1), (2) and (3) are shown. The opening shortens things after (4) is reached. Curiously enough, the line intersects Suwa Lake before landing in the small town of Hida in Gifu. During my visit to Japan, we passed by Suwa Lake after leaving the Ikenotaira Hotel beside the shores of Shirakaba Lake en route to Nagoya and Gifu.

  • Figure XVIII: Overhead view of the entire route from Tokyo to Hida, Gifu, intersecting with Lake Suwa. The total distance separating Taki’s apartment from Suwa Lake is 154 kilometers, while the full distance from Hida to Tokyo as the mole digs is 243 kilometers. To put things in perspective, Red Deer to Calgary is a little less than 154 kilometers, while Edmonton and Calgary are separated by a distance of 270 kilometers.

Closing Remarks

An interesting point to note is that only 480 metres separates Taki’s old apartment from the Suga Shrine. This entire exercise only took around five minutes to complete, although the post itself took a ways longer to draft out: from exploring the areas by means of Google Maps’ Street View and 3D utilities, it becomes clear that, as with Suga Shrine, Your Name takes some creative liberties in recreating locales for the film but nonetheless retains considerable accuracy. That it is possible to apply a bit of triangulation and make use of a commonplace tool to precisely determine where the events of an anime film occur, is itself a testament to how far technology has come in recent years. Sophisticated techniques for obtaining stereographic data to create 3D maps has made photogrammetry, the process of using imagery for locating structures and objects, increasingly accessible to all users: Google has optimised their 3D maps so even computers with an Intel Iris GPU can view maps in 3D. Such tools make it effortless to figure out where one’s destinations are, what road layout and traffic controls lie along a hitherto unexplored route and gain a preview of what things look like on the ground at a location halfway across the world. With tools of this calibre, quickly ascertaining locations within anime becomes a much more straightforwards task, especially if one is familiar with a handful of landmarks in the area of interest. All of these sophisticated tools means that hopefully, I’ve adequately answered the question posed: when asked “where is Taki’s apartment located?”, I can suitably respond “〒160-0011 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Wakaba, 1 Chome-22-15“. Back in The Raccoons, for Bert and Cedric, being lost on an island now simply means sending out a phone call and tagging their location to simplify the search and rescue process. Having said this, some lessons, such as informing others of their intended activities and destinations, continue to endure even if the technology we’ve presently got far outstrips anything that was available in 1989.

New Game!!- Final Review and Reflections

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” —Benjamin Franklin

Tsubame is faced with challenges after presenting her mini-game, and is given additional features to implement, while Nene pushes on with her own assignment to build a physics game prototype. Impressed that Nene has satisfied the minimum requirements and went the extra mile, Umiko encourages Nene to continue exploring, assigning her to a debugging and testing role. Later, Rin and Kō share an evening together at the office. Later, Nene learns from Momiji that Tsubame’s determination to make it as a programmer stems from her background and a desire to step away from the family business. When Umiko and her team discover bugs in Tsubame’s work, Nene decides to help with the process and they manage to debug things fully before the deadline. The two reconcile and participate in a demonstration of the final product prior to shipping it. Rin becomes dismayed to learn that Kō has plans to leave Eagle Jump. After their promotional event, where Kō gives credit to Aoba for her role in making the artwork possible, she reveals to the company that she intends to leave for France to further her skills, inspired by Aoba’s drive to improve. On the day of departure, the entire art department, with Umiko, Nene and Tsubame, come to bid Kō farewell. When Eagle Jump’s latest title goes on sale, it is well-received, inspiring Aoba to continue working harder. This is the gist of what happens in New Game!!‘s final quarter; with a solid conclusion, the second season comes to a close. With its depiction of interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, New Game!! manages to differentiate itself from its first season, which had a heavier emphasis on comedy. This is in keeping with anime adaptations of Manga Time Kirara works: after establishment in the first season, the anime can take a new direction in allowing characters to explore a more diverse set of interactions to ensure that the continuation is novel.

In New Game!!, the overarching theme is improvement. Complacency leads to a lack of innovation, which is essential in an ever-shifting market, and as such, New Game!! aims to show the importance of striving to further one’s craft, whether it be through Aoba, whose determination to better her skills as an artist to have the same impact on customers that Kō had, or through Nene, who is constantly working to become a better programmer and pursue her dreams of working alongside Aoba someday. Through long hours, conversations with their seniors and taking a step back to keep the big picture in mind when things get tough, their spirits have a profound impact on those around them. Aoba, despite being the junior, inspires Kō to develop her skills and talents by travelling overseas to learn: watching Aoba’s persistence leads her to feel that she’s become complacent, and that Eagle Jump might no longer allow her to reach further. This constant drive of betterment is an admirable one, being a mindset that can create new opportunity, and through its combination of more serious moments with the light-hearted ones, New Game!! captures this particular message in a succinct and approachable manner. The second season certainly presents a more tangible idea than its predecessor, and on the whole, this was a fantastic series to watch for portraying the sort of journey people might take while pursuing their goals.

“I also dabble in empathy, and if you think you can even consider denying Tsubame with your sad, maladjusted caveman beliefs and a few seconds of conversation, you’re the reason this species is a failure, and it makes me angry!” —Rick Sanchez, Morty’s Mind-Blowers, Rick and Morty

A secondary theme in New Game!! is related to Tsubame and Nene: while Momoji and Aoba end up being friendly rivals early on, with Momiji becoming reluctantly admiring of Aoba’s work and work ethic, Tsubame is initially hostile to Nene. While Nene takes this as a sign to further her own skill in programming, the relationship between Nene and Tsubame take an immediate turn once Nene learns about Tsubame’s background, and when Tsubame fails in her assignment, Nene is more than understanding, reaching out to give her a hand. Tsubame, for her earlier perceptions of Nene, realises that Nene isn’t an enemy, and the two work together to complete a shared goal. By the end of New Game!!, the journey that these two share towards a common objective also allow them to better understand one another; they’re certainly on cordial terms, if not friends, by the finale. Through Nene and Tsubame, New Game!! shows one possible path in conflict resolution, as well as how situations make it necessary for people to work with one another for the team’s sake, and how in doing so, people can set aside personal differences to succeed together. The message here is consistent with the overall objectives and directions in New Game!!, reinforcing how working with an established group of characters and introducing a small number of new characters can give sequels an exciting new direction, allowing them to differentiate themselves from their predecessors. Consequently, when I hear assertions that Tsubame is somehow unfit to be an Eagle Jump employee or similar, I am inclined to dismiss these claims. One of the more blatant offenders has gone so far as to say that, in Nene’s place, they would “would have take adventage[sic] of the mistake and finish of [sic] destroy you”. The individual is plainly lacking in basic human decency and patience: this is most certainly not a team-oriented behaviour; to hire folks with this sort of attitude would be detrimental to the team and company, and it is unlikely people who act out these beliefs would find success. The quote above, sourced from Rick and Morty, mirrors my perspectives on such individuals. Conversely, what occurs in New Game!! is precisely in keeping with the themes the anime has sought to present: Nene puts aside her personal differences to help Tsubame out because it’s for the company’s benefit, and there’s the bonus of her reconciling with Tsubame in the process, reinforcing themes established within the second season.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The reality of things is that requirements continue to shift as a project advances, and it’s up to project managers and team leaders to determine how to best accommodate the changes without compromising the programmers. In New Game!!, such moments are intentionally played for humour, and one of the aspects about the second season that I particularly enjoyed was the frequent switches between more serious and relaxed moments. Overall, New Game!! retains the lighter tones of its predecessor, but expands upon character interactions and conflicts to keep things entertaining.

  • One of the things about New Game!! is that, while the anime itself is of a high standard and enjoyable on all counts, there are some parts of the community discussing the anime that hold themselves in too high of regards. In my previous New Game!! post, where I presented my thoughts on why Tsubame’s actions are appropriate from a narrative perspective, an individual countered that Tsubame should continue to be regarded as “worst girl” on virtue that their conflict was inconsistent with the themes in New Game!!. The individual further asserts that it’s possible for a few seconds to ruin an entire anime.

  • I’ve not heard from them since, but the events of New Game!! have shown that my assertions, not theirs, ended up being true. This demonstrates that New Game!!‘s writers understand how to go about presenting themes that span across a series; conversely, people who contend that “a few minutes (or even seconds) can potentially ruin a show” are narrow-minded to be making a judgement before the entire series of events is presented. Back in New Game!!, in exchange for a nabe at Yun’s place, Hajime gives her a toy sword for one of Yun’s siblings.

  • After hours, Aoba and Nene go out for dinner. The finale for New Game!! came out a little less than a week ago, but on my end, things have been quite busy. Between work, a growing cold, the Battlefield 1 BattleFest event and the Call of Duty: WWII Open Beta, there’s been precious little time to put a discussion together. However, I figured that I should probably roll mine out the gates so that I do not get inundated with incomplete drafts once October comes full-swing – while the Call of Duty: WWII Open Beta is running until October 2, I’ve found the Call of Duty-style mechanics and map design not to my liking compared to the approaches seen in Battlefield 1.

  • I’ll discuss my full thoughts on Call of Duty: WWII in a separate post. After everyone’s left, Rin and Kō share a moment together, with Kō giving Rin a gift under soft candlelight. Kō prepares to spend the night and begins stripping down, leading to much embarrassment from Rin when she sees Kō in her pantsu, but owing to my limited desire to make another 40-image post, I’ve omitted that moment from this discussion: this final impressions talk on New Game!! will have the standard of thirty images.

  • After palatable tensions lead Nene to work in the canteen, she runs into Momiji and Kō. It is here that she learns of Tsubame’s background; she’d taken up programming and is intent on excelling so she can find employment such that she is not relegated to taking up a post at the family inn. Nene understands the situation Tsubame is in, and all irritation with her evaporates. With this evaporation comes evaporation of all remarks from the individual in my comments earlier – I’m genuinely curious to hear their thoughts on developments.

  • Later, Nene is recalled to the office after Umiko learns that Tsubame’s work is riddled with bugs. Tsubame reveals that in the name of speed, she only tested more obvious cases, leaving boundary conditions untested. One of the more arrogant viewers have said “that was too newbie of a mistake for [them] to take when [they were] at Tsubame’s age”, and I find myself disappointed with some parts of the community again – the individual in question has no experience in programming or software development (akin to if I start talking about statically indeterminate structures despite having no engineering knowledge). Conversely, I feel that the reason why this occurs is because of Tsubame’s ego coming ahead of her judgement, done to advance the narrative rather than because Tsubame “deserved it”. In this moment, she realises the scope of what’s happened and fears the worst, that her career ends here.

  • Nene steps up to the plate and resolves to help Tsubame fix things; when Tsubame asks why Nene is doing this, Nene responds that while she did hate Tsubame, learning of her story and helping the team out is what prompts her decision. Ultimately, it is this moment that handily disproves assertions that “Tsubame is worst girl” or similar: she turns around and accepts Nene’s kindness, understanding that her own actions and decisions must be for the team’s, rather than her own, benefit. This growth from Tsubame contributes to the messages that New Game!! aims to convey.

  • With no time to lose, Umiko gives Nene and Tsubame their assignment. With their newfound resolve to work on the necessary fixes and plenty of Red Bull, they work late into the evening. It is here that I note that every developer and programmer has their own preferred stress-management measures for working under pressure. While my coworkers enjoy their Kurigs, I personally dislike coffee for its effects on my renal system and for the fact it makes me jittery long after the boost has allowed me to finish a task. Instead, I prefer a good tea and a ultra-sonic humidifier in my face to keep me refreshed. Red Bull is not an option for me, being a concoction of concentrated caffeine and sugar that would be akin to drinking coffee with worse side effects, and because I do not agree with their marketing methodology.

  • After much sweat and tears (this isn’t a war, so there’s no blood), Nene and Tsubame submit clean code with no bugs. The term is often thrown around by people whose expertise lie outside of the term, but strictly speaking, “bug free code” is code that does not exist and is not written. Instead, a good developer knows that any piece of non-trivial software, while never truly be bug-free, can and should be tested, updated and improved so that the end-user has a good experience. Nene and Tsubame will continue down this path of improvement as they continue to work together, and while Nene longs to become a developer, her role in software QA is no less important.

  • With ten days left to deployment, the entire art and programming team gather to test the deployment version of PECO out. In this moment, a lava lamp is visible; back when I was with the university, I brought in a lava lamp to act as decoration for my work area. I would stare at it while contemplating features or required bug fixes for the Giant Walkthrough Brain. The lamp inspired one of my colleagues to get a little USB-powered plasma globe.

  • Nene and Aoba watch during a demonstration of their final deployment version of PECO. I’ve not mentioned the game by name until now primarily because the nature of PECO has not been relevant to discussions; for completeness’ sake, PECO is an RPG where the goal is to infiltrate a world of plushies and liberate it from an evil sorceress, brutally ripping apart plushies with the same violence as the Doom Slayer does to Hell’s Dæmons, to gain their powers and blend in with the environment.

  • At a press conference, Kō is asked to take centre stage and recount her experiences with the art in the game. At Eagle Jump, it would appear that there is no dedicated department for handling the story and world-building of the game; we’ve seen each of Aoba, Hajime and the others contribute in their own way to the story within PECO. Is PECO the sort of game that I would buy and play? Aoba and the Eagle Jump team’s efforts notwithstanding, the answer is “maybe, during a sale”: PECO is not of the genre I typically enjoying playing, and to buy it at full price without understanding what the game entails is not how I typically roll.

  • During presentations such as E3, gameplay is typically demonstrated, but in New Game!!, none is shown. The E3 of this year was quite exciting: I’m most looking forwards to Wolfenstein II: The New ColossusFar Cry 5Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown and Metro: Exodus, and with the release date on Wolfenstein II coming this month, I’m looking forwards to seeing if the game is worth the price of admissions close to launch. I’ve seen some new footage as of late, and the game itself looks stunning.

  • The magic moment of Kō’s speech comes when she asks Aoba to join her on stage. Appreciative and understanding of the efforts that Aoba put in to make PECO happen, even though Aoba was never credited with the original ideas or allowed to submit promotional artwork for the game, Kō decides to express her thanks and acknowledge Aoba’s contributions in front of an audience. It’s the recognition that Kō feels Aoba deserves, and illustrates the extent that Kō cares for Aoba and her development as a professional character artist.

  • It is clever and appropriate that Aoba’s efforts come back in the finale to their fullest; many viewers felt vindicated after seeing this, as they’d felt shafted when publishers adamantly refused to have Aoba’s work or name mentioned anywhere, fearing that sales might take a hit if a new designer were to be named as in charge of the project. Of course, with the media aware of Aoba now, the market’s confidence in a game bearing Aoba’s name in the credits is slightly stronger, marking the beginning of growth in her career.

  • While New Game!! could have ended here and now, there is one more thing on the table: Kō had revealed to Rin her intents to leave Eagle Jump prior to their press conference. Looking back, Kō’s decision to have Hifumi act as team lead and giving Aoba a chance to drive character designs, were made to determine if her team could function on their own without her, indicating that Kō has been interested in pursuing a career elsewhere for some time. It’s the final conflict in New Game!!, disrupting the status quo and forces the entire art team to grow into Kō’s shoes, now that their leading talent has decided to seek new opportunities.

  • It turns out that Kō is leaving for a company in France. The name is not explicitly mentioned, but the one company where Kō can develop her skills further is Ubisoft, a veritable giant behind Tom Clancy branded games, as well as the Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed franchises. The sheer diversity of games they publish, plus the fact that they have their own in-house development team means that Kō is likely working with Ubisoft in Rennes, rather than for one of their subsidiaries. While visibly saddened by this announcement, Shizuku decides to drive things ahead and plans a combined launch-and-farewell party. In the final half of New Game!!‘s finale, the mood changes between the maudlin and irreverent at the drop of a hat: the sudden transitions can be a bit jarring and brings to mind Futurama‘s iHawk, who had an actual switch that allowed him to go from being saddened by warfare in one moment to cracking jokes the next.

  • In spite of Kō’s impending departure, she’s rather ill-prepared, leaving it to Rin to pick up after her. They’re celebrating at a nabe place here, bringing to mind the nabe place I visited in Kyoto back in May after touring the Kinkakuji. One of the challenges was sitting down on the floor to eat, and since my joints don’t move that way, seiza is out of the question for me, leaving me with the agura position instead. I imagine that here, Aoba and the others are sitting normally, since the restaurant has a sunken floor below the low table. I am much more familiar with conventional tables, if only for the fact that I can eat more while sitting upright: despite an insane cold, I was able to fully enjoy dinner last night at a restaurant I’d not visited for quite some time. Their dishes are seasoned and cooked well, incredibly flavourful and in large portions: we had 金沙蝦, duck in a savoury sauce, pea-shoots with abalone, fresh fish, one of the absolute best 小炒王 dishes I’ve ever had, 咕噜肉 and 乾燒伊麵.

  • After dinner concludes, half of the characters are hammered: Hajime is supporting Yun, and Christina has devolved into a drunken rant of sorts. Television as a whole depicts ours as a drinking society; I’ve noticed that beers come out pretty frequently in New Game!!, as well as in the likes of Sakura QuestFuturamaSimpsonsRick and Morty and the like. I’ve never really had any problems with avoiding drinks at social gatherings: the unique combination of being the designated driver and a biologically-valid explanation is sufficient to get people to understand why I don’t drink. Of course, there are exceptions: I won’t mind cracking a champaign, cuba libre or lemon daiquiri on special occasions.

  • Rin’s feelings and longing finally come out in full force; she tearfully asks Kō not to leave. From a certain perspective, it is possible to simply say that Rin’s very fond of Kō as a friend and is not mentally prepared to deal with a world where she’s not there to look after Kō. However, my perspective seems to be the minority; most folks find that Rin sees Kō in a romantic light. New Game!! certainly does seem to convey this through Rin’s reactions of jealousy and bashfulness where Kō is involved, but on my end, I’ve never been too concerned with this sort of thing because of its limited impact on the narrative as a whole.

  • There’s probably a detailed, technical explanation from an evolutionary biology perspective as to why male members of a mammalian species find female interactions to be more interesting; if it exists, I’ve not learned about it yet. Apparently, this pattern extends beyond H. sapiens, if the book “Fish That Fake Orgasms and Other Zoological Curiosities” is to be believed. However, to explore that would be going well outside of what is within the realm of what New Game!! is about, so I’ll return things to the point where Rin and Kō reach an understanding with the arrangements in the days coming.

  • To clasp hands as Rin and Kō are doing is probably a sign of trust: in Gōjū-ryū, there’s an arm lock technique that involves interlocking someone’s fingers in a similar position, with the result that any application of force can prove very persuasive. Our seniors joke that there’s hardly any application for the move, except when one might have an incapacitated opponent and no hand-cuffs on hand. Right when things between Kō and Rin begin to get a little more interesting, Shizuku and Christina march off into the night, shattering any mood that has accumulated during Rin and Kō’s conversation. Careful inspection of this screenshot will find that Rin is blushing through her hair somehow;

  • Aoba is rather similar to K-On!‘s Azusa Nakano in appearance and manner, as well as for being viewed as kitten-like in their presence. Unlike Azusa, Aoba is a bit more truthful about how she feels with respect to those around her. When running into Momiji the next day at work, Momiji coaxes out of Aoba that the latter has many unsaid things on her mind, once the waterworks start coming out when Aoba begins stroking Mozuku, and on the spur of the moment, decides to go to the airport to see Kō off.

  • One of the things about Japan and Hong Kong that I am particularly envious about is the extent and efficiency of their mass transit infrastructure. In Hong Kong, the Airport Express MTR line (機場快綫) makes it possible to go from Central out to the airport in no time at all, and I imagine that there are efficient train lines in Tokyo, as well. By comparison, the LRT line does not even reach the airport; folks travelling between the Core and the airport are dependent on a dedicated bus line, and the existing bus services only cover the city’s northern end. On the plus side, Calgary is not so obscenely large yet that travelling from one side of the city to the other requires more than an hour.

  • The last time I made mention of this was back during the Someone’s Gaze talk: four years may have elapsed since I wrote that post, and while I might be a bit more well-travelled now compared to my self of four years ago, my old assertion still holds true – airports really are places where tears may be shed for sadness surrounding a departure and happiness from a reunion. In New Game!!, it is the former, and despite her initial hesitancy, Aoba finally lets out how she feels about Kō. Conversely, all Momiji can think about is how Kō will order food once she’s in France.

  • Despite all of Kō’s shortcomings as a person, from her sloppy manner and casual attitude, Aoba has learned more from Kō over the past year than she’d ever anticipated and has come to see Kō as a role model. Aoba even takes a leaf from Tom Clancy’s playbook, calling Kō a “ばかやろう” out of frustration that she’s departing to fulfil her own dreams at the expense of leaving everyone behind. Moved by Aoba, Kō explains to Aoba that it is actually seeing Aoba’s ceaseless determination to improve that led her to decide to seek new pastures; while Kō’s enjoyed working at Eagle Jump greatly, seeing the same scenery means she’s reached a sort of plateau with respect to what she can improve upon as a character artist, and a completely different environment is likely what it will take for Kō to further her skills.

  • Some folks wonder why Kō has chosen France and western games, believing that working on Rainbow Six Siege or Far Cry character models might “ruin” her skill, but I argue that this is a suitable change of scenery, since some western elements can feed back into the anime art style and bolster Kō’s ability to work with different character designs. Western art is certainly not “dropped drastically in these recent 5-10 years” to the point where there’s “nothing to learn from them anymore”: the number of counterexamples are limitless, including the work that DICE and Machine Games produce. If anything, Western games are far more sophisticated from a mechanical and technical perspective than Japanese games, which tend to have more involved narratives and memorable art styles. I argue that both Japanese and Western games can learn from one another, taking advances and innovations to produce games that are increasingly enjoyable to experience.

  • The entire party shows up after Kō shares a final conversation with Aoba to see her off, and this departure is one of optimism, as everyone wishes Kō the best of luck in her new endeavours. It’s a fitting end to New Game!!, and with it, comes the ending of this post. It means I can go back to sleeping it off: the signs of a cold started on Thursday, but I figured it was minor right up until yesterday, when I began aching all around. I’m hoping that fluids and sleep will be sufficient to fight it off, but this cold’s been pretty strong, even closing off my airways. While being sick is unpleasant, I’m glad that I got sick now, as opposed to next week, which is Thanksgiving and when the Star Wars Battlefront II open beta is available.

  • I can’t believe it’s October already: my review of New Game! last year was posted in September. When New Game!‘s first season ended, I remarked that it was a fun series that was unexpectedly entertaining. The first season would probably earn a B+ on my grading system. The second season earns an A for taking a familiar concept and successfully treading new ground with it, strengthening the sort of themes that are conveyed throughout the anime. With both seasons in the books, my new verdict is that the first season is now worth watching because it sets the stage for the second.

With New Game!! over, I am going to miss watching Aoba, Nene and the others work towards their goals. However, one thing I definitely won’t miss will be the parts of the community that take the fun out of New Game!. On the whole, New Game!! proved to be very entertaining for crafting new character dynamics and exploring aspects of Eagle Jump that audiences did not see in the first season. It’s easy to recommend this anime for folks who enjoyed the first season; the second season does not disappoint in its execution. For those who’ve been on the fence about New Game! as a whole, the build-up in season one yields a payoff in the second season, and it is worthwhile to get acquainted with New Game!’s characters before dropping into the more thematically solid second season. I’ve read that New Game!! covers events right up until the sixth volume, which released a mere three months ago. With this in mind, a continuation of New Game!!, in the form of a third season, is unlikely to materialise until there’s more material to adapt. Having said this, there is a spin-off of volume five, which leads to the possibility of there being an OVA at some point in the future. For the time being, New Game!! ends on a high note, and it’s certainly been an enjoyable ride to see Aoba and the others work on games and continue growing as they move further in their careers.