The Infinite Zenith

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Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Your Lie in April, A Journey in Vanquishing Past Dæmons and Discovering the Colour of Love

“Maybe there’s only a dark road ahead. But you still have to believe and keep going. Believe that the stars will light your path, even a little bit. Come on, let’s go on a journey!” –Kaori Miyazono

After his mother died, child pianist Kōsei Arima withdrew from competition and consigned himself to an ordinary life with his best friends, Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. However, when he encounters Kaori Miyazono and her wild, free-spirited violin performance, his world is flipped outside down: despite claiming to have developed a crush on Ryōta, Kaori hauls Kōsei to be her accompanist. Kōsei’s skill at the piano had decayed, and he suffers from an inability to hear his playing, causing his performance to suffer, but the won’t-take-no Kaori continues to push and encourage him, even forcibly signing Kōsei up for a competition. Spurred by her boundless energy, Kōsei gradually realises that irrespective of what had happened in the past with his mother, her spirit endures within him, and that for all of the bad moments, there were an equivalent number of treasured moments, as well. Kōsei’s return to piano also inspires Takeshi Aiza and Emi Igawa to step their game up: after seeing Kōsei’s phenomenal performances years previously, both sought to surpass him and reach the standard that they believed Kōsei had set. While Kōsei continues to suffer, constant support from Kaori and Hiroko Seto (a renowned pianist and friend of Kōsei’s mother) allows Kōsei to rediscover his style and express his gratitude through his music. While he does not progress in the competition, Takeshi and Emi realise the extent that he’s matured. Kōsei later agrees to be Kaori’s accompanist again, but she falls ill, leaving Kōsei to perform on his own. Through an emotional performance, Kōsei comes to terms with his mother’s decisions and is able to cast off the spectre haunting him. However, Kaori’s illness begins taking its toll on her, and Kōsei struggles with his growing feelings for Kaori and fear for her well-being, while at once agreeing to mentor Takeshi’s younger sister in piano. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is forced to deal with her own feelings for Kōsei: she dates a senior to take her mind off things, but her mind never strays far from Kōsei. An ailing Kaori decides to accept a highly experimental surgical procedure, gambling her life with the hope of playing alongside Kōsei one last time, but the operation is unsuccessful. She dies on the same day that Kōsei is set to compete, and midway through the competition, Kaori’s spirit provides Kōsei with encouragement. He puts his fullest effort and feeling into this song as a farewell of sorts for Kaori, and in the aftermath, Kaori’s parents leave Kōsei with a letter that reflected on her heartfelt enjoyment of their time together, as well as how she had been in love after all this time. Tsubaki catches up to Kōsei and reminds him that he’s not alone, promising to be with him from here on out. This is Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, or Kimiuso for brevity), which was adapted from Naoshi Arakawa’s manga as an anime that ran from October 2014 to March 2015, and over the course of its twenty-two episode run, viewers found a series that was profoundly moving and meaningful.

Using music and Kōsei’s initial inability to perform with a piano, Your Lie in April integrates multiple themes into its story. There are two central elements that stand out: Your Lie in April‘s first half deals with the idea that the dæmons one faces are largely self-created. Moreover, these spectres can only be solved by oneself, but encouragement and support from others is absolutely critical in starting this particular journey. Time and time again, Your Lie in April presents Saki, Kōsei’s mother, as a cold and unforgiving parent determined to craft Kōsei into a flawless pianist in her own image, fulfilling her own wish of becoming a pianist where she suffered illness and being so focused on this objective that she is willing to physically punish Kōsei for any mistake. Kōsei subsequently grew to resent this and wished Saki to die; when Saki’s illness finally overtook her, Kōsei was devastated and held himself accountable, feeling that his ill-will ultimately cost Saki her life. The resulting trauma manifests as Kōsei’s inability to hear himself play. When Kaori appears and begins forcing Kōsei out of his comfort zone, Kōsei is made to confront his past dæmons. Your Lie in April portrays this as a gradual journey, one that is filled with pain: Kōsei initially succumbs to his guilt when playing the piano and loses his composure, but undeterred, Kaori pushes him forwards anyways. As he begins to appreciate Kaori’s actions and willingness to stay with him, Kōsei begins to play the piano with more conviction and resolve, putting his feelings for her into each keystroke. By taking up piano once more and rediscovering what music meant to him, Kōsei also comes to see his mother from a different perspective. It turns out that Saki was not as cold and unfeeling as viewers are originally led to believe: between learning more about “Love’s Sorrow” and speaking with Hiroko, Kōsei discovers that Saki had always intended for him to grow into being a pianist, demanding the best from him so his fundamentals were strong enough for him to develop his own style. Kōsei recalls that there were cherished memories, as well, and ultimately, is able to come to terms with both the good and bad. With his past no longer haunting him as a result of Kaori’s inspiration and his own decision to do something for her sake, Kōsei is able to overcome his dæmons and return as a pianist.

Entering Your Lie in April‘s second half, the leading theme switches over to how contrasting personalities play an integral role in changing one’s world views, to the extent that one cannot help but fall in love with the agent that catalyses this change. When Kōsei starts his journey to rediscover piano, his world is devoid of colour and joy. Kōsei is content to live life out without taking charge, but a fateful meeting with Kaori throws his world into disarray. The juxtapositions between Kōsei and Kaori’s manner are apparent: whereas he is quiet and low key, Kaori is brash and expressive. The fantastic energy that Kaori brings to the table, manifesting from her desire to live life as fully as possible, is infectious, and a reluctant Kōsei slowly comes to enjoy the joy she brings into his life, even when Kaori will happily thrash Kōsei for any slights, imagined or otherwise. Not a day goes by without some sort of excitement, and Kōsei begins realising that there are things in the world to live for and work towards. His improvement is mirrored in his ability as a pianist: the more time he spends with Kaori, the more he experiences happiness, which translates to playing the piano with more emotion and intensity. The right individual and the right level of persistence ultimately is what breaks Kōsei out of his rut, and ultimately causes Kōsei to fall in love with her. While most stories are content to end here, with the idea that opposites in personality are able to offer one with a different perspective and help them grow, Your Lie in April cruelly cuts things short with Kaori’s illness. This additional factor suggests that nothing is to be taken for granted: the time Kōsei spent with Kaori is priceless beyond measure. Despite being so fleeting, its impacts were very tangible and genuine, showing that true love can exist in all forms and durations. During the short time they spend together, Kaori is glad to have had met Kōsei, who similarly is grateful that someone with such wild abandon could remain in his company and help him into the next, more colourful chapter of his life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Your Lie in April was airing, I was busy with graduate studies and therefore did not have time to watch the series. While I’d heard nothing but praise for the series, a full schedule precluded any chance to watch it while it was airing. However, after I finished watching Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s second season, I noticed that many familiar names (Risa Taneda, Ayane Sakura, Inori Minase, Saori Hayami and Ai Kayano) were present in the cast. Between the positive reception and half of GochiUsa‘s cast, I entered Your Lie in April intending to enjoy seeing the characters in a different role than the happy-go-lucky world that is GochiUsa.

  • What happened next should not come as a surprise: I went through Your Lie in April, enjoyed it thoroughly and found that Kōsei’s experiences were superbly written, challenging my views on love and pushing me towards introspection. Your Lie in April is as much of a journey of self-discovery as it is about falling in love, and openly gives the impression that both events are interconnected, dependent on the other. In other words, Kōsei falls in love with Kaori because she helps him accept his past, and his return to piano leads him to fall in love with Kaori.

  • Kaori is voiced by Risa Taneda (Rize Tedeza of GochiUsa and Aya Komichi of Kiniro Mosaic, to name a few). Here, Taneda presents Kaori as being superbly energetic, bold and rowdy, contrasting the shy, reserved manner of Rize and Aya. Kōsei is voiced by Natsuki Hanae, whom I know best for his roles in Nagi no Asukara as Hikari Sakishima and Aldnoah.Zero‘s very own Inaho Kaizuka. An all-star voice cast convinced me to check out Your Lie in April, but even just a few episodes in, it became apparent that Your Lie in April‘s cast was but one of its many strengths.

  • While I’ve opted to focus on Kōsei and Kaori for my own reflections, the supporting characters play a much greater role in giving weight to Kōsei and Kaori’s stories, far more than I’ve gone into detail in this post. Even early in the game, Kaori’s insistence on hanging with Kōsei suggests that she’s been longing to spend time with him, and while they get off to a rough start (with Kaori making her best effort to paste him into the ground with naught more than a recorder), Kaori’s positive energy means that Kōsei has little choice but to go along with her.

  • The artwork of Your Lie in April is of an exceptional quality: the anime was done by A-1 Pictures, who are known for their incredible series. Colours in Your Lie in April are especially vivid and like series before it, they often serve to tell the true story of how the characters are feeling in a given moment even when their dialogue is unclear or in contradiction with their feelings. Having been in the anime game for a shade over a decade now, I’ve come to count on visual metaphors in helping me read a moment – colour and lighting usually speaks volumes about things, being a typically reliable way of ascertaining how everyone is feeling in a given scene.

  • Particular detail is paid to concerts, with every key and cable of the piano animated as Kōsei performs on stage. His early performances are marred by a sense that he’s drowning in an ocean, and occasionally, the spectre of Saki appears to haunt him. Saki comes to represent Kōsei’s own guilt and regret: while Your Lie in April is no horror series, these manifestations are nonetheless terrifying in their own right and convey to viewers the horror and desolation that Kōsei experiences.

  • Kaori’s diving off a bridge into the river below is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of her free-spirited manner. I was originally intending to write about Your Lie in April during April, but a busy schedule precluded that. I’ve encountered considerable difficulty in putting a proper discussion of Your Lie in April together because this series had a very strong emotional impact and it was challenging to coherently explain what appeals make Your Lie in April a masterpiece.

  • While Kaori is ostensibly in love with Ryōta, Kōsei ends up spending a great deal of time with her as the two gear up for concerts and competitions. Kaori’s approach borders on the insane, and one of her most outrageous acts was to scatter sheet music in impossible quantities throughout locations that Kōsei frequents. However, in spite of all the fighting the two engage in, they also share quieter moments together, such as when they return to the school by night.

  • I’ve not featured too many moments in this reflection, but one of the aspects in Your Lie in April that stood out was the over-the-top degradation of facial features and animation at certain moments. These are deliberately utilised to convey a particular emotion, whether it be shock, frustration or even joy in a comedic context: of note is whenever Kaori believes Kōsei to be acting inappropriately, as seen in their first meeting. Like CLANNAD, the juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy is used to great effect in Your Lie in April, bringing the characters to life.

  • Takeshi and Emi are two accomplished pianists whose remarkable skill and devotion to piano can be traced back to being inspired by Kōsei’s playing. Both view Kōsei as a role model, and are also absolutely determined to best him, having failed time and time again previously, but when they encounter him and learn that he’s in no shape to compete, find themselves disappointed. As Your Lie in April progresses, their view of Kōsei shifts: he goes from being an unbeatable competitor to a fellow human being.

  • At his best, Kōsei is a masterful pianist known for his precision. Despite still being plagued by an inability to play all the way through, Kōsei’s recovery is marked by his resolve to continue performing, even if it means starting again from the beginning of a piece. I am no pianist, and my musical ability is nonexistent despite my having played the trumpet and clarinet back in middle school. As a result, I’ve opted not to discuss any of the technical elements behind the music in Your Lie in April: besides the area being outside the realm of my knowledge, the main messages in Your Lie in April are thankfully not dependent on musical theory.

  • The changes in Kōsei, and the resulting shift in the interactions he has with Takeshi and Emi are one of my favourite secondary stories in Your Lie in April, as they reinforce sense that Kōsei is maturing because of his time spent with Kaori. I recently watched the live-action adaptation of Your Lie in April and found it an equally enjoyable experience. With only the core narrative present, the live-action film is much more focused and concise, succeeding in delivering its emotional impact. I count the film to be a conference publication: short and succinct, while the anime is a thesis paper, with the time and space to explore more.

  • Where I live, there are no fireflies, but their symbolism is evident enough, representing illumination and gentle support in most cultures. In Japan, fireflies also signify love. After a competition, while Kōsei did not make the cut for stopping play, he spends time with Kaori and remarks that she was why he was able to regroup and continue in spite of himself. It’s a tender moment that indicates Kōsei’s feelings for Kaori.

  • Love’s Sorrow (Liebesleid) is the second part of Alt Wiener Tanzweisen, a series of three pieces written by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano. While the exact date that Kreisler wrote them is not known, they were published in 1905. Saki enjoys Love’s Sorrow most of the three parts because of its transition from the minor to major key: I previously noted that I am no expert in music theory, but I do know enough to say that songs written in the minor key sound sad, while passages in the major key are happier. Thus, Love’s Sorrow can be seen as sorrow giving way to happiness.

  • Shown as an eyeless spectre up until now, it turns out that Saki had wanted the best for Kōsei and her resorting to physical punishment whenever Kōsei failed to play flawlessly stemmed from a desperation to see him realise the dreams that she could not. As time goes on, Saki’s illness worsens, and with it, comes the desire to see Kōsei play piano where she was unable to. However, when she was well, Saki genuinely loved Kōsei and the two have as many happy moments together as they did the more painful memories that Kōsei vividly recalls.

  • Understanding that he is drawn to Kaori, Kōsei agrees to be her accompanist for a performance. Even when Kaori falls ill, Kōsei takes to the stage and plays with his heart, delivering a moving performance that shows his acceptance of his past. His playing is sufficiently moving that he is asked to perform an encore despite the performance being centred around violins. With his past no longer an issue, the second half of Your Lie in April moves towards Kōsei and his growing feelings for Kaori, which are tempered by his fear of getting closer to her.

  • This fear comes from the fact that Kaori suffers from a terminal illness of unknown nature: she was unable to make the performance earlier because she’d collapsed, and the illness is likely fatal. Hence, Kōsei worries that if he allows himself to fall in love with her, the inevitability of Kaori’s death would leave him hurt. Kōsei thus occasionally fails to visit Kaori unless otherwise hauled in, drowning himself in piano once more.

  • Tsubaki is a central character in Your Lie in April, and while I’ve not mentioned her much, she is Kōsei’s neighbour and has known him since their childhood. Tsubaki is constantly feeling conflicted: Kōsei rediscovering his love for piano also means his falling in love with Kaori. While Tsubaki wants Kōsei to be happy, she’s been in love with him for a long time, and fears that he may forget about her in the process. Ayane Sakura voices Tsubaki, with the inevitable result that Tsubaki sounds identical to GochiUsa‘s Cocoa and VividRed Operation‘s Akane.

  • Nagi, Takeshi’s younger sister, also comes into focus during Your Lie in April‘s second half: after a chance encounter with Kōsei, she reveals some skill with the piano and attempts to get Hiroko to become her instructor so that she might keep an eye on Kōsei. Hiroko instead assigns Kōsei to instruct Nagi, wherein he begins picking apart her playing, and while Nagi is initially resentful towards Kōsei, she comes to see him as a proper mentor and develops a crush on him in time, as well.

  • Your Lie in April‘s use of colour is exceptional, but nowhere is the choice of palette more apparent than with Kaori’s hair – ever since her hospitalisation, her normally golden hair takes on a faded shade of yellow, indicating that she’s unwell. It’s a very visceral reminder that Kaori’s time is limited, but in spite of this, her spirits remain: she surprises him with a visit to their school. While Kōsei seems to be headed down the route of the oblivious protagonist, the carefully-tuned writing in Your Lie in April makes it clear that Kōsei’s heart lies only with Kaori, and ultimately, budding feelings elsewhere never take away from the central story in the series.

  • As it turns out, Nagi picked up the piano to impress Takeshi, and it is here that Kōsei openly admits that he is in love with Kaori. The progression of love in Your Lie in April is rather different than that seen in CLANNADAngel Beats! and Tora Dora!, series that I’ve found myself thoroughly impressed with for their genuine portrayal of how people come to fall in love. They’re a rather different beast than romantic comedies, which chronicle the mishaps and chaos that surround falling in love. Of course, I am open to both approaches, but the more natural-feeling love stories invariably have a much greater emotional payoff when I watch them.

  • The realisation that Kōsei is actually quite similar to her leads Nagi to develop nascent feelings for him, as well. This particular aspect was absent from the film, and I imagine that it’s meant to show audiences that Kōsei has a great deal of impact on those around him. Truthfully, Your Lie in April has enough moving parts so that writing about this series in an episodic manner would be warranted, as there’s a great deal going on; because of the complexity in Your Lie in April, this post has not covered every noteworthy matter that is relevant to the anime. Similarly, forty screenshots is actually an inadequate amount of space to cover every scene or moment that holds a high emotional impact.

  • While Kōsei is instructing Nagi and asks to perform with her in a school festival, Tsubaki struggles with her feelings for Kōsei. Having done her utmost to stem them, these feelings have only strengthened. The fellow she was dating notices this and decides to break up, feeling it unfair to himself, Tsubaki and Kōsei to continue what was essentially a sham. Tsubaki’s best friend, Nao, has been looking after her during this time and offers advice. While seemingly knowledgeable in the realm of relationships, like myself, Nao’s understanding of relationships is entirely theoretical.

  • The song that Nagi and Kōsei perform is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano arrange of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, a four-handed piece that requires two players simultaneously. During their performance, Nagi senses the emotional intensity of Kōsei’s playing and attempts to match his performance, resulting in a thoroughly impressed audience. Takeshi is moved, as well, and demands to face off against him one day in competition.

  • Towards the end of Your Lie in April, the buildup that resulted from the earlier arcs and episodes create a sense of connection between viewers and the characters: having taken the time to develop everyone’s stories gives every individual a raison d’être that gives audience members reason to root for and care about them. The moments of comedy and friendship come together to create individuals that are lifelike. Thus, entering Your Lie in April‘s endgame means that viewers must now confront the harsh reality that Kaori is not going to recover.

  • In spite of this, Kaori is in sufficient condition to compliment Kōsei’s playing and remarks that his actions have inspired her to take up music again. She reveals that she’s agreed to a highly experimental operation that may extend her life expectancy long enough for her to play alongside Kōsei once more. The framing provides a subtle hint as to how things will turn out: Kōsei and Kaori are in the distance, foreshadowing the reduced probability of a successful operation. The odds notwithstanding, Kaori feels that a chance of hope is better than no hope, and she elects to go forward with it.

  • It is not difficult to imagine that under different circumstances, Kōsei could have ended up friends with Emi and Takeshi much earlier: as he plays piano increasingly for those around him rather than purely for the sake of playing, his heart opens up, and both Emi and Takeshi would’ve seen a human being behind the stoic and seemingly-distant pianist. While late in the making, the three get along as friendly rivals and fellow pianists would late in Your Lie in April.

  • Throughout Your Lie in April, Hiroko’s child, Koharu, can be seen accompanying her. Voiced by Inori Minase (GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu), Koharu deeply enjoys Kōsei’s piano performances and is often seen clinging to Hiroko, being quite bewildered and amused by the events around her. Small children are rendered in a very distinct manner in Your Lie in April, and as CLANNAD had done so vividly with Ushio, Your Lie in April similarly captures the innocence and wonder that children have of the world. Minase does a spectacular job of playing Koharu, adding to her impressive repertoire as a voice actress.

  • Kaori is such a memorable and distinct character that when I saw the initial trailers for Violet Evergarden, I identified Violet as Kaori to one of my friends by mistake. Because Your Lie in April carries the distinction of creating such noteworthy characters and giving viewers reason to root for them, as well as for covering themes of love, recovery and discovery with a masterful balance of breadth and depth. Because of this, the series was able to appeal to a very wide range of audiences, and the only real criticism I have to level at Your Lie in April is that the first half proceeds a bit more slowly, before things accelerate wildly towards the end. This is a very minor complaint, as it does not diminish the impact that the series ultimately has.

  • As the day of the competition nears, Kōsei fears that with Kaori’s imminent operation, playing the piano will be bound to the loss of two people he greatly cared for and loses the will to play. Kaori insists that he proceed, and when Kōsei is set to compete, he wonders if he can continue. Hearing Tsubaki sneeze in the crowd, Kōsei is reminded that for his losses, there will always be people in his corner, and regrouping, Kōsei begins to perform. His world fades away, and he becomes enveloped in his music, deciding to give this performance everything he’s got for the girl who’d given him so much.

  • At the same time as Kaori’s performance, Kaori’s operation is unsuccessful, and she dies. However, her spirit endures for a few moments: she plays alongside Kōsei and is able to appreciate his music one last time. The visual impact of the final performance is beyond words, creating a feeling of longing, hope and finality that brings Kōsei’s music to life, as well as making tangible his feelings for Kaori that would otherwise have been remarkably difficult to put into words.

  • As a series that utilises music to drive its characters forward, the soundtrack in Your Lie in April is unsurprisingly of a solid quality. From highly emotional vocal inset songs, to a varied collection of incidental pieces that capture the light-hearted and emotional moments in the series, each song in Your Lie in April serves a purpose. Of note are are the main themes and original songs that project a melancholy sense of longing.

  • Besides the soundtrack and vocal pieces, Your Lie in April also makes extensive use of classical pieces. From Beethoven, to Chopin, Kreisler and Tchaikovsky, classical piano music is also provided in a dedicated album. Folks with a background in classical music and musical theory will doubtlessly be able to tie the meaning of each song and draw on symbolism inherent in the music itself to appreciate what Kōsei is experiencing at a given time. For me, while I appreciate classical music, my background is not extensive, and therefore, I’m not able to make these connections quite so readily.

  • After Kaori dies, her parents give Kōsei the letter Kaori’s written for him. Even at its dénouement, Your Lie in April manages to hit viewers with another poignant moment. Viewers are already aware that Kaori had been in love with Kōsei, but hearing the contents of the letter was particularly rending. While mere words on paper, each character carries a weight to it that really emphasises the extent that Kaori had reciprocated Kōsei’s feelings. I was forcibly reminded of the letters I’ve received over the years and recall with a striking clarity forgotten promises of old. This is why it was so tricky for me to write for Your Lie in April: I did not wish to impose upon readers irrelevant recollections as I explored what made Your Lie in April work.

  • I’m not sure if this post can be considered to be hopelessly sentimental to the point of foolishness, but I do hope that I’ve been able to capture what made Your Lie in April so enjoyable for me, and also what aspects led it to change my world views on love, namely, that falling in love can compel individuals to rise above their problems in a spectacular fashion. It was through Your Lie in April that I appreciated why falling in love was akin to jumping into a colourful world from one that was previously monochrome, and also reminded me that for everything else I’ve done so far, my world is still very much monochrome.

  • As a child, Kaori had been so moved by Kōsei’s performance that she immediately wanted to drop piano and take up violin with the sole objective of being able to play alongside him. This scene was adorable, and A-1 Pictures flawlessly captures the excitement of a small child whose world was unequivocally moved. For all of the sorrow in Your Lie in April, there is also great joy, and it makes it very plain that Kōsei has done many things for those around him, even if he does not know it.

  • Kaori was thus overjoyed when she learnt that she was going to the same middle school as Kōsei, but wondered how to best approach him. She decided to re-imagine herself and then make a single lie with the goal of getting closer to Kōsei. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas is often compared to Your Lie in April, with the former being a streamlined version that does away with music in favour of purely focusing on the relationship between the two central characters. This is true to an extent, as the series even share a central theme, but Your Lie in April is much more comprehensive and utilises its secondary characters in a much greater capacity, as well as music itself to tell its story. At the end of the day, both series are enjoyable, and my verdict is that if an individual finds one enjoyable, the other will also be worthwhile.

  • The image of Kaori walking into the distance is a striking one: her remarks on life being a journey and that one should trust to hope is an uplifting way to approach the world. The gentle optimism of her words remind me of CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa, and while Kaori is rather more animated than Nagisa, the two ultimately share a great deal of similarities in being able to motivate a brooding male lead and help them come to terms with who they are, as well as embrace their respective futures.

  • It may seem cruel to say so, but Tsubaki’s unwavering feelings for Kōsei also indicate that, while there is indeed loss in life, there will always be people willing to provide support. Tsubaki had been present throughout Your Lie in April to support Kōsei in her own way, even when it meant risking losing him to Kaori. As it turns out, Tsubaki does make another attempt to make her feelings known to Kōsei, and his original desire to learn the piano was actually to cheer up Tsubaki when her grandmother died. It can therefore be reasoned that Kōsei and Tsubaki could find happiness together.

  • The photograph here shows that Tsubaki and Kaori had known one another for a long time, and Kōsei’s decision to frame this picture shows that he is able appreciate everything Kaori and Tsubaki have done for him. This brings my talk on Your Lie in April to a close, and I hope that this talk was of a satisfactory standard. This Your Lie in April is now in the books, marking the first time I’ve written with a dual-monitor setup. With a pair of monitors, I’ve cut the time it takes to make a post down by a third, and with this, I am shifting my attention next to Metro Exodus and HBO’s Chernobyl. It is not often I write about live actions, but the themes and subjects explored in Chernobyl hit very close to home and merit consideration.

Your Lie in April has many moving parts beyond Kōsei and Kaori; his exceptional skills as a pianist means that Kōsei’s acted as inspiration for Takeshi, Emi and Nagi. His gentle nature and longtime friendship with Tsubaki means that she also loves him dearly. The complexities of each character in Your Lie in April shows that for what Kōsei sees his world as, he ultimately is in a place where there are many people who care for and respect him. Being able to accept Kaori’s friendship means Kōsei is able to mature and open his eyes to the world that he previously ignored, allowing him to rediscover joy anew. These elements together transform Your Lie in April into a masterpiece that touches viewers. Giving Your Lie in April this particular honour was a relatively easy call, but what was not easy was summoning up the resolve to write this post: I finished Your Lie in April three years earlier, but the series touched upon matters of the heart, and long have I lacked the maturity and strength to write about this series without my thoughts straying back to my own inexperience. I admit that even now, writing this post was a challenge, but for thoroughly exploring the role that each of the secondary characters play without compromising the focus on Kōsei and Kaori, breathing life into their world through stunning visual metaphors (such as Kōsei’s feeling of drowning in an ocean of silence when he attempts to play the piano earlier on), the exceptional audio engineering that went into the series, heartfelt voice performances from the cast and a top-tier, emotional soundtrack, Your Lie in April represents a milestone series that illustrates how love can manifest and what miracles might occur as a result, a series that is definitely worth sharing. Watching Your Lie in April was a very emotionally-charged experience, and with the series covering such a wide range of ideas, well beyond what’s been discussed here, it is evident that there is something in this series for everyone, whether it be love, persistence, perspectives or even just the complexity of animation that went into the performances. With this in mind, I can confidently recommend Your Lie in April for all viewers irrespective of their backgrounds.

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: K-On!, A Portrayal of Discovery Through Exploration and a Ten-Year Anniversary Reflection

“To the me back then, you don’t need to worry. You’ll soon find something you can do, something you can set your heart on.” –Yui Hirasawa

When she enters high school, Yui Hirasawa struggles to decide on which club she ought to join. Meanwhile, Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama strive to find members to save Sakuragaoka High School’s light music club from being disbanded. Managing to recruit keyboard player Tsumugi Kotobuki, the club also convinces Yui to join. From picking up a guitar for the first time to learning chords, Yui settles into life with the light music club, which becomes known as Houkago Tea Time after Ritsu extorts instructor Sawako Yamanaka into acting as the club’s advisors. From training camps at Mugi’s summer home to performing for Sakuragaoka High School’s cultural festival, Yui finds joy in spending her time practising and drinking tea with Mio, Ritsu and Mugi. A year later, Houkago Tea Time performs at the welcome celebrations, capturing the heart of a young freshman named Azusa Nakano. She decides to join the Light Music Club, but disappointed at how lax the girls are, considers quitting until she confides in Mio about how she feels. Mio says that while it’s true the girls are slackers who’d rather drink tea than practise, being with them is fun, and this is the feeling they convey whenever they perform. Convinced to stay, Azusa practises with the others for another school festival. While Yui falls ill and is forced to stay home, she manages to recover before the concert. Despite forgetting her guitar, she recovers it and makes it to school just in time to perform the band’s second song: their concert is a success, and the girls are asked to do an encore, as well. Originating from Kakifly’s manga, Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of K-On! began airing in the spring of 2009 and left a considerable mark on the industry, with proponents praising the series’ sincerity and genuine portrayal of what having fun entails. K-On!‘s animated adaptation propelled the manga to fame, received a sequel and a movie, and also resulted in a collection of albums that performed strongly, as well. Musicians have cited K-On! as inspiration for their own careers, and even ten years after its initial airing, anime continue to be inspired by elements from K-On!.

Covering the first two manga volumes, K-On!‘s first season is a casual romp in the world of music: the first half focuses on Yui’s gradual progression as a guitar player, and the second half introduces Azusa into the narrative to present the idea that what makes something worth doing isn’t the technical strength, but rather, the members’ synergy in one another’s presence. Immediately upon hearing their music for the first time, Azusa is deeply moved and inspired to join the light music club, but is surprised to learn that the talented musicians on stage are ultimately a raggedy-ass bunch. Being the most mature and focused of the bunch, Mio relates to Azusa and ultimately puts into words for her what makes Houkago Tea Time special: it’s the fact that the girls are boundlessly carefree and manage to find fun in what they do. As such, the sum of their experiences together, and all of the treasured memories they make, feed into each of the songs that they perform. K-On! chooses to highlight these moments rather than portray the girls practising, and while this creates the impression that no one ever practises, the reality is that the girls practise off screen, giving both the manga and anime more time to focus on exploring the moments that the girls come to treasure. Even with practise, Houkago Tea Time are not professionals, but while the girls may be technically inferior as musicians, playing out of sync or committing mistakes, the rawness of their music creates a sense of genuineness that creates emotional impact in each of their songs. The outcome of taking this approach in K-On! creates a very simple, but powerful theme: that in the company of the right people, if one genuinely loves what they do, the inclination to improve and push the envelope for what is possible will follow. One’s companions will drive them along to new heights; as Yui and Azusa find, one will always have the support and encouragement they need to have a good time and excel among the light music club.

The message in K-On! is concealed up underneath a layer of fluffiness that arises from the girls’ adorable mannerisms. Much comedy is derived from watching Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa bounce off one another: Yui is air-headed, Ritsu is energetic, Mio attempts to act mature but invariably fails, and Mugi simply goes along with things, while Azusa is doing her best to keep up with the eccentricities of each. Such a diverse and varied group results in hilarious moments of chaos, as well as equally heartwarming and endearing ones where the situation calls for it. Because their interactions drive the events (and misfortunes) that audiences see in K-On!, it is very easy for thematic elements to be lost as viewers laugh at, and with each of Yui, Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Azusa as they experience various events as members of the light music club. The total absence of a significant conflict, and the fact that goals are very loosely defined (Ritsu and Mio endeavour to perform at Budokan, a famous venue for martial arts that has also seen rock performances historically, but this goal quickly fades away over time) gives the impression that K-On! has not a clear direction. While this is true, it is not to K-On!‘s detriment; a focus on life in Houkago Tea Time reminds viewers that ordinary, mundane moments are worth enjoying, especially considering the rigid structure in one’s life. High school students study and focus on getting into their post-secondary institutions of choice, leaving very little time to smell the roses, and so, moments such as those that Yui spends with Mio, Ritsu, Mugi and Asuza are incredibly valuable: viewers may take for granted the smaller things in life, and by placing a great deal of emphasis on things that may seem unremarkable, K-On! creates the sense that even the simplest things can be very enjoyable, and meaningful, to experience.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • K-On!‘s protagonist is Yui Hirasawa, a first-year high school student who initially has no idea as to what she wants out of high school. Despite her careless mannerisms, she is very capable when the moment calls for it, although she remains very prone to being lazy. Aki Toyosaki provides Yui’s voice, which has a very soft, fluffy character to it. Mio and Ritsu are the light music club’s initial members: Ritsu strong-arms Mio into joining, and after recruiting Mugi, the three perform for Yui, who decides to join after seeing what light music is about.

  • Light music (軽音楽, keiongaku) refers to the North American equivalent of pop music, and is ultimately what gives K-On! its name. While Yui is moved by the initial performance, she has no experience with music beyond the castanets. However, this isn’t really a problem – K-On! is about the journey, after all, and watching Yui learn enough to put on enjoyable performances despite her lazy attitudes made the series fun. Ritsu is voiced by Satomi Satō (GochiUsa’s Chiya Ujimatsu, Kiniro Mosaic‘s Sakura Karasuma and Eru Chitanda of Hyouka), while Yōko Hikasa (Infinite Stratos‘ Houki Shinonono, Yama no Susume‘s Kaede Saitō and Kō Yagami of New Game!), plays Mio.

  • The light music club is best known for its elaborate afternoon tea setups. With Mugi (Minako Kotobuki, Hibike! Euphonium‘s Asuka Tanaka and Chihiro Miyoshi from Tamayura: Hitotose) providing a range of sweets and tea, there is rarely a dull moment for this fledgling club: Mugi comes from a wealthy family and has access to tremendous resources, but despite this, longs for nothing more than an experience of everyday life. Both Mio and Ritsu have experience with music: Mio is a bassist, and Ritsu is a drummer. The two have known one another since grade school, and despite a turbulent and even violent dynamic, the two are close.

  • While it is a foregone conclusion that I greatly enjoyed K-On!, the story of how this came to be is something I don’t think I’ve ever fully shared. During the winter term in second year of my undergrad, an uncommonly difficult course-load had my GPA drop below the minimum needed to remain in satisfactory standing in my faculty. Between organic chemistry II and data structures II, I was unable to keep up – attempting to understand Diels-Alder reactions and how balancing a B-tree works was too much. Most of my peers only needed to focus on one or the other, and those who were in my stream ended up dropping data structures II, which I felt to be the wiser decision in retrospect.

  • I foolishly resolved to remain behind, and pushed forward. By March, my performance had dropped, and I finally had to withdraw from an option, having neglected this course to keep my program requirements in satisfactory condition. I had also been involved in a freak accident during an organic chemistry computer-based quiz, and the department of chemistry had intended on disciplining me despite clear indications that things resulted from a happenstance series of bad luck. The tumultuous situation was getting the better of me, and so, I decided to give K-On! a spin, having been curious to watch it ever since seeing various parodies of its music and becoming intrigued by the vocal pieces.

  • As I pushed through the first season, term began ending: the lighthearted comedy of K-On!, in conjunction with support from my friends and peers, allowed me to figure out a way. I ended up helping organise a study session for data structures II and spent as much time as I could asking the TA for help: in data structures II, I ended up with a B on the final and pulled my C+ to a B-. Similarly, in organic chemistry II, studying with my friends allowed me to earn a B+ on the final. The other incident was eventually sent over to my home faculty, who dismissed it on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to ever have suggested that this incident was anything other than an accident. One at a time, these problems were resolved.

  • I attribute watching K-On! to helping me relax, keep a cool head and systematically address each of my problems, one at a time. I ended up barely meeting the requirements for satisfactory standing and then entered the summer with a scholarship for research, which ended up being one of the best in memory – the work I did ended up acting as the basis for my undergraduate thesis. Back in K-On! itself, Yui has finally acquired a guitar: she ends up with a Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar, which goes for north of 4500 CAD. Having chosen it purely for its aesthetic, Yui decides to take up part time work to fund it, and in the end, having fallen slightly short of the mark, Mugi pulls a few strings in order to allow Yui to buy it.

  • K-On! also had one unintended side effect: it led me to watch Sora no Woto, as well. I had been looking for series similar to K-On! and chanced upon Sora no Woto, which had been held to be similar. While Yui and Kanata outwardly resemble one another, and each character in Sora no Woto has a functional equivalent in K-On!, the themes are dramatically different. Here, Yui presents her test results to the light music club: she’s done so poorly that she’s prohibited from club activities unless she can pass her exams on a second attempt.

  • All of Yui’s friends, including Nodoka, show up to help her out: Nodoka’s known Yui the longest of everyone except for Ui, being someone that Yui came to depend upon. With their aid, Yui manages to pull through and gets excellent scores on each make-up exam, although this comes at the expense of her guitar-playing. As K-On! progresses, however, this aspect of Yui’s character fades away: K-On! does not recycle jokes to show that the characters subtly mature over time.

  • Summer training camps are an integral part of K-On!‘s first season, and while ostensibly for the girls to get away from distractions so they can practise, all training camps devolve into the girls having fun on the beach. These seemingly extraneous side trips actually serve an important purpose in K-On!, showing how the girls always move at their own pace regardless of wherever they are, and admittedly, also provides a bit of an opportunity to show off Mio in swimwear: of everyone, Mio has the best figure.

  • It was to my pleasure that the K-On! manga was sold at my local bookstore: I ended up buying all six volumes in the series, although the second volume was one I had considerable difficulty in finding. After picking up volumes one, three and four, plus the two volumes that were sent following K-On!!, I decided that for the sake of completion, I would order it online. Reading through the manga, I found that the anime to be a superbly faithful adaptation: some anime series take creative liberties with the source material, but K-On! successfully uses the space provided by the anime format to augment the story.

  • The summer camp episodes also show that, for their propensity to slack off, the girls put their heart into practise when they are properly motivated. Enough instances of the girls practising are shown to indicate that they don’t just enter a concert blind, but because the technical aspects of music are not the focus of K-On!, audiences are not treated to the same level of insight as series that are more focused on music. One common criticism of K-On! was that the emphasis on music was insufficient, but this criticism only arises when one ignores the fact that K-On! is not about music. Instead, music acts as the catalyst that drives the formation and maturation of a deep friendship amongst the light music club.

  • It was moments such as these that made Mio such an agreeable character for me: while she is mature, hard-working and focused, Mio can also be prone to moments of childishness, and in particular, is frightened by anything macabre. She recoils in fright whenever things like blood or ghosts are mentioned, and her over-the-top, yet adorable, reactions became widely known amongst the anime community. While amusing when sparingly seen, incessant reference to these moments at various forums and image boards may have also contributed to the dislike of K-On!.

  • While the light music club may get along well, the club still lacks an advisor. Instructor Sawako Yamanaka is eventually strong-armed into taking on this role: Sawako was once a member of Death Devil, the predecessor band that was known for its death metal-like lyrics over-the-top style. Sawako retains most of her skills from her high school days, and after she berate the girls, Ritsu decides to extort Sawako: it turns out that Sawako most desires to maintain the image of a professional and approachable instructor, but fears that her students might lose respect for her should word of her past get out.

  • Because Mio is intrinsically shy, she prefers playing the bass because it is more of a support role (mirroring one of my characteristics). If the circumstance calls for it, however, Mio will step up to the plate against her own reservations. While trying to prepare Yui to perform the vocals for their first-ever performance in front of their school, Yui becomes exhausted and loses her voice in the process, forcing Mio to take on the role.

  • Mio does an admirable job with the performance, and delivers Fuwa Fuwa Time with a mature, sexy voice. Yui’s version is cuter by comparison. The school festival sets the stage for one of K-On!‘s most infamous moments – post performance, she trips on a power cable and moons the entire audience. The manga is very clear as to what happened, showing everything in what is one of the most overt pantsu moments ever to make it into a Manga Time Kirara series, whereas the TV series is more implicit. In a hilarious coincidence, I happen to have a striped rice bowl of the exact design seen in K-On!, except that the stripes are yellow rather than blue.

  • Ui is Yui’s younger sister, and despite sharing Yui’s gentle and friendly manner, is the polar opposite to Yui: she is dependable, reliable and focused, being an excellent cook, good all-around student and capable of picking up almost anything without much difficulty. The two siblings are as close as siblings get, and while Ui is always looking out for Yui, Yui always does her best to find ways to make Ui happy, as well.

  • Going back ten years and watching K-On! again has shown just how much the anime’s aged. Despite being a Kyoto Animation production, the artwork is somewhat inconsistent in places and minimalistic, while the animation is not smooth in some places. The first season was probably produced with the aim of being a 12-episode series aimed to promote the manga, and while overall, was of a passable quality from a visual perspective, its execution and delivery was strong enough so that reception to the series was overwhelmingly positive.

  • The K-On! Christmas party sees shenanigans of an unexpected variety when Sawako shows up at Yui’s place unexpectedly. When I began watching K-On!, I was closer in age to Yui and the others than I was to Sawako. At the time of writing, that has irreversibly and unequivocally changed – I’m now older than Sawako, and found that K-On!‘s portrayal of Sawako as being only somewhat more mature than Yui and the others plausible. At the Christmas party, all sorts of crazy stuff happens, and while Mio is again, made to bear the brunt of the humiliation, everyone ends up having a good time.

  • During the New Year’s, only Mio dons a kimono. The girls share with one another what they did over the winter break, and it turns out Yui spent the entire time under the kotatsu. As a high school student, I spent most of my winter breaks studying for exams: in university, I ended up spending time with friends (notably, I went skiing one winter break) and generally relaxing more, since my exams would have been done. Besides catching up, the girls also pray for the success of their light music club in the new year.

  • K-On!‘s first half was about introducing Yui and the others to viewers. The second act brings Azusa “Azu-nyan” Nakano to the party: as Yui and the others enter their second year, Azusa begins her journey into high school. Armed with prior experience in playing the guitar, she initially has the same trouble as Yui did and cannot decide on what club to join. The art style in the second half begins taking on a more consistent form, and animation begins improving slightly compared to the first half.

  • Yui attempts to recruit Ui and her friend, Jun, into the light music club, but Jun prefers to join the jazz club, being inspired by a senior. Ui does not join any clubs that I can remember. With the challenge posed by recruiting new members, the light music club decides to continue onwards anyways towards the welcoming reception for the first year students. When Yui and the others graduate, both Ui and Jun join the Light Music Club to keep Azusa company.

  • Besides Fuwa Fuwa Time, the light music club also prepares a pair of new songs for the reception performance: Curry Nochi Rice and My Love is a Stapler are part of the line-up. I’m very fond of the music in K-On!, and even a decade later, the pieces Yui and the others perform are as fresh and enjoyable as they were when I first watched K-On!: the lyrics to Mio’s songs are spectacularly sappy, but the musical composition of each song is wonderfully done.

  • The welcome performance moves Azusa to tears, and she decides to join the light music club, adding a second guitarist to their ranks. Unlike the others, Azusa has had previous experience with the guitar, and she comes in with the expectation that the light music club consists of dedicated members who can help her improve in music. The reality comes as a bit of a shock to Azusa when she learns that the club is about as frivolous as it gets, favouring cakes and cosplay over practise.

  • Armed with upwards of seven more years of life experience since I last watched K-On!, I find that Azusa’s experience is like joining an top-notch software team, only to learn that during work hours, they crack bad software jokes and spend more time talking about Philz Coffee than coordinating on builds. Azusa feels short-changed when she spends a day with everyone and begins to wonder why someone like Mio hasn’t peaced out already for another band. However, the reality that keeps Azusa going with the light music club is equivalent to the idea that, despite this gap, the team gets along with one another and when the chips are down, are responsible, active developers who take pride in their work and follow best practises.

  • The manga did not cover this aspect, but Azusa’s doubts about the viability of the light music club leads her to dissolve in tears one day when even Mio has trouble motivating Yui and Ritsu to practise. Mio ends up answering the question on Azusa’s mind: the light music club’s strength comes from a bond amongst the team members, and while it may not look it, this fun-loving team can definitely pull their weight and then some when the moment calls for it. It is probably naïve for me to say so, but this is actually what I value in a team – members who are easygoing and authentic people, but who are competent, determined and focused so that they can always rise to the occasion when things get serious.

  • It suddenly strikes me that many of my own experiences, both during university and after, parallel those of K-On!. This is likely a consequence of the fact that that of everyone, I most resemble Mio – ironically, I also have Mio’s fear of the macabre despite my love for things like DOOM, and refuse to watch horror or slasher movies. Every team and group I’ve worked with, I tend to be the quiet and focused one, although once I warm up to a group, I’m known for creating a sense of reliability and an endless supply of bad jokes.

  • Mugi’s family is always looking for ways to keep her happy, but they sometimes go overboard – during the light music club’s second training camp, they stock the summer house with expensive welcome gifts and have even prepared a yacht. Mugi immediately requests that they stand down here, so the girls can enjoy things as normally as possible. The girls subsequently enjoy another beautiful day together on the beaches, under skies of deepest blue. The finale to K-On! aired ten years previously, two days before the start of summer, and up here in Wildrose Country, the weather of late has been excellent, and the lengthening days are well suited for enjoying fresh home-made burgers under sunshine.

  • Having two summer camps in the space of twelve episodes does seem a bit excessive, and prima facie appears to be little more than a flimsy excuse to showcase Mio’s excellent figure in a swimsuit. The manga, after all, spaced the summer camps over two volumes. However, the summer camps also act as an opportunity for the characters to bond with one another. Seeing how someone is outside of a professional or organised setting offers insight into their character and traits, so by seeing Yui, Ritsu, Mugi and even Mio without their instruments, Azusa can gain a better sense of what the atmosphere of the light music club is like.

  • After preparing dinner in a most amusing way, the girls set about practising, and make it in a short ways before burning out and setting up a classic “test of courage”. They run into a disheveled Sawako, who resembles an onryō, and later soak in the onsen. K-On!‘s immense popularity drew the ire of narrow-minded viewers who adamantly refused to see any merits in the series. In particular, the folks of Behind The Nihon Review would write numerous posts arguing that K-On! was, amongst other perceived slights, “mediocrity at its quintessence”.

  • Only mediocre reviewers use the word mediocrity seriously – Behind The Nihon Review’s writers operated under a perpetual belief that K-On! was “harmful” to the industry because even though the show does not advance the medium in any way, it was successful. These thoughts stem from a very limited understanding of what K-On! was about. K-On!‘s success does not come from its sense of humour, nor does it come from watching the characters bounce off one another. The meaningful message the series shows is that having heart makes a major difference, and is why Houkago Tea Time is able to perform at the level that it does despite the technical shortcomings amongst each members.

  • The light music club ultimately takes its name “Houkago Tea Time” (“After School Teatime”) after an irate Sawako runs out of patience as the girls struggle to come up with a band name during registration of their club. Mio prefers something a lot sweeter-sounding, but Sawako’s choice is both appropriate and iconic, perfectly describing what the girls’ band is about. With Azusa now a full-on member of Houkago Tea Time, a few other side adventures, such as Yui learning to look after her guitar properly, are presented. It turns out that everyone’s named their guitars: Yui calls her guitar “Guitah”, while Mio calls her bass “Elizabeth”, and Azusa names her Mustang “Muttan”.

  • Yui has never done any sort of maintenance on her guitar, and invariably, its performance starts degrading. After taking it in to get it serviced, the shopkeeper, who is familiar with the Kotobuki family, offers it free of charge to Mugi’s friends. Yui’s inexperience with everything is meant to indicate that being a musician has numerous nuances that one must be mindful of, and even though any musician will likely find Yui’s attitudes towards music to be blasé, K-On! is intended for the average viewer who may not be familiar with music.

  • Jealous that Mio is becoming more friendly with Nodoka, Ritsu becomes more distant from the others. Azusa attempts to mediate things and even puts on the cat ears that she’s normally too embarrassed to wear, showing just how far Azusa has come with Houkago Tea Time. However, even this is ineffective, and it takes Mio visiting Ritsu when the latter develops a cold for the two to reconcile.

  • For the school festival, Sawako wonders what to best outfit Houkago Tea Time in, and decides to use Mugi as the model. Even Mio participates in the selection process, and ultimately, the girls decide to go with a short yukata that Azusa takes a liking to. The others agree, feeling that it has a nice aesthetic but unlike more elaborate costumes, would not restrict their movement as to interfere with their playing.

  • While I count K-On! to be a remarkable series for its execution and messages, ironically, for a series whose focus is on music, the incidental music to the TV series is ordinary in every respect. It does convey a light and fluffy mood, but beyond this, does not elevate the K-On! experience: when K-On! first began airing, the technical aspects were strictly average, improving in season two and by the time of the movie, both incidental music, artwork and animation reach a very high standard. Coming back from the K-On! The Movie really makes the first season feel primitive by comparison.

  • Yui eventually falls ill after catching a cold, and is made to stay home so she can recover. Ui decides to stand in for Yui and swiftly masters the guitar, but is busted when she addresses Azusa as Azusa-san rather than Azu-nyan. Yui recovers just in time for the concert, but forgets her guitar at home and rushes off to retrieve it. K-On!‘s finale shows that while Yui’s come a long way since joining Houkago Tea Time, she’s still her. This aspect is revisited during the second season and movie.

  • While K-On!‘s incidental music might be unremarkable, the vocal pieces are solid. For their final performance, the girls bring Fude pen, Boru pen to the table. The curiosity in the music of K-On! is what drew me to the series, and I was particularly drawn to the song Tenshi ni Fureta yo!. It’s not often that music can bring me into a series, but ultimately, I am glad to have followed my curiosity. I finished the first season just as winter term ended, and began the second season shortly after exams ended.

  • Because of the impact K-On! had on me personally, in helping me regroup and survive a difficult university term, I’ve since come to regard well-done slice-of-life series as a tonic of sorts for life, acting as a source of stress relief. This is why criticisms of K-On! end up being something I do not expend effort giving any consideration to: the series does something very well, and stays true to its form. Watching characters grow and learn in a slice-of-life is something that I look for, and how favourably I regard a particular slice-of-life (or whether I choose to watch it at all) is driven by whether or not this component is present.

  • Ten years later, while the original K-On! might not have aged quite so gracefully, the sum of its themes and what the series resulted in remain as powerful as they had back in 2009. Whether or not critics admit so, the reality is that K-On! left a tremendous impact on anime. I will be returning at some point to write about K-On!!, the second season, and remark that I’ve written about the movie on enough occasions so that another review is quite unnecessary. With this one in the books, I’ve done all of the larger posts for this month, and in the remaining days of June, I plan on covering Yama no Susume: Omoide Present, as well as the final thoughts I have for Valkyria Chronicles 4 and my experiences in Battlefield V now that a new map has been out.

The sum of a minimalistic, yet effective theme, fun characters and the presence of good music contributed to K-On!‘s runaway success during its initial airing in 2009, and even a decade later, the aspects that make K-On! particularly enjoyable remain effective, being seen in other series such as GochiUsa, Kiniro Mosaic and numerous others, speaking to the strengths of K-On!. Coming right after the likes of CLANNAD, K-On! does not hold a candle to its predecessor in emotional impact, animation and art quality: the technical aspects have not aged gracefully, and the first season looks very dated. However, the series did ultimately come to make its own presence felt in a very distinct and enjoyable fashion, capturing audiences with its endearing characters and excellent music. Even if K-On! has not aged well, it sets the stage for future developments that propel the series down a path where it is able to explore the more subtle and intimate aspects of friendship. K-On! will continue to present a genuine and heartfelt story surrounding how a group of people ultimately are brought together by music, become friends through their shared experiences and ultimately use music to convey how they feel about one another, and so, the first season’s contributions are that it sets the stage for the events that have yet to come, bringing Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Mugi and Azusa together to start a journey that results in the creation of treasured memories that are irreplaceable. Hence, even if K-On! had been polarising during and after its run, indicating that it is not suitable for everyone, I find that K-On! is something I would recommend without hesitation because it marks the beginning of a remarkable adventure that is heartwarming, relaxing and amusing, irrespective of what critics may make of the franchise.

Mirai no Mirai: A Review and Full Recommendation

“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way.” –Pamela Dugdale

Accustomed to being showered with love and adoration, Kun is a four year old boy who lives in Isogo-ku,Yokohama, spending his days with Yuuko (the family dog) and his train sets. When his parents welcome Mirai into the family, Kun grows jealous of the attention his baby sister is receiving. After one tantrum, Kun runs into the courtyard and finds himself face to face with Yuuko in human form: he learns that Yuuko has been left behind somewhat ever since he was born, and subsequently passes along to his parents that Yuuko should be better treated. Each of the more substantial tantrums that Kun throws activates the tree in the courtyard that sends him to another time. He comes face-to-face with a middle school-aged Mirai, who warns him about mistreating her and enlists his help in putting away dolls the family has set up for Girls’ Day. Kun also is transported back in time to when his mother was around four after refusing to put his toys away and learns that she too was scolded for making a mess of things. After Kun’s father focuses his attention on a crying Mirai at the park while they were originally set to help Kun learn to ride a bike, Kun grows angry and runs off. Here, the tree in the courtyard transports him to his great-grandfather’s workshop. His great-grandfather suggests to him that the key to overcoming fear on any vehicle is to look ahead. Later at the park, Kun manages to learn how to ride a bike on his own. When the family prepares to go for a trip, Kun refuses since his favourite pants are unavailable. He is seemingly left behind, finds himself at a train station and boards a train despite an older boy’s warnings. Arriving at a vast station, he grows fearful and tries to find his parents, but the attendant remarks that without verification to his identity, he is unable to help and sends Kun to a train that sends him to Lonely Land. Seeing the baby Mirai about to board the train, he acknowledges his identity as Mirai’s older brother, having refused to do so until now, and the older Mirai retrieves him. She then takes him on a journey through the family history, and when Kun returns to the present, he decides that the pants suddenly don’t matter so much anymore, cheerfully joining his parents and Mirai for their day trip. Mirai no Mirai (literally “Mirai of the Future”) is a film that released in July 2018 and is notable amongst the 2018 anime films for being the first anime film that is not from Studio Ghibli to receive a nomination as Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.

Running for an hour and forty minutes, Mirai no Mirai is a fanciful and vivid tale of discovery, acceptance and understanding. In particular, this is a film that all older siblings will connect to: the arrival of a new sibling in a family and the shift in attention is an occurrence that all older siblings must go through, and the feelings of jealousy, resentment and loneliness are universal regardless of one’s culture. Children’s media, such as Arthur and The Berenstain Bears each have their own portrayals of this topic, presenting the transition and gradual acceptance of a new sibling in families as a journey. In Arthur, D.W. comes to accept Kate as her sister after running away but realising that Kate needs an older sister to show her the things that only sisters get. The Berenstain Bears‘ Sister is shown a family video of her as a baby and learns that every baby is given a great deal of attention, coming to terms with how her new sister, Honey, is an integral part of the Bear Family. Both presentations are very down-to-earth, and Mirai no Mirai stands out in applying these lessons with a twist: the film utilises bold visuals to express the tumultuous thoughts in one’s mind during childhood. Whether its a bustling train station or luxuriant garden, Kun’s lessons seem come from within: his own discoveries act as the lessons that push him towards accepting Mirai and his parents. The generous use of these flights of fancy indicate that children are very complex and capable of finding their own answers; whether it be Arthur, The Berenstain Bears or Mirai no Mirai, no adult explicitly explains why babies draw attention away from the older sibling. Instead, the older sibling, through their experiences and observations, comes to terms with things on their own. It’s a journey that has a bit of mystery to it: children are observant and bright, but may have trouble articulating their thoughts, and so, with its imagery, Mirai no Mirai aims to both show how remarkable families are, as well as make tangible something that we otherwise might take for granted. It is a story of the extraordinary amidst the ordinary, and so, Mirai no Mirai is very enjoyable to watch.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Mirai no Mirai is set in Isogo Ward of Yokohama, the largest individual city in Japan by population (with 3.7 million people). Attesting to the film’s incredible visuals, the ward and Yokohama’s downtown area are faithfully reproduced, to the point where it was a trivial exercise to find this spot using Google Maps. The view zooms in on Kun’s house: because his father is an architect, they live in a rather unusual house on a narrow lot, with a courtyard and lone tree visible. This post will have thirty screenshots, and I note that thirty is not enough of a space to cover off everything.

  • Kun and Mirai are the only named human characters in Mirai no Mirai: their parents are only known as “mom” and “dad”, reminiscent of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson explains that their names aren’t needed because from Calvin’s point of view, his parents are mom and dad. Similarly, in Mirai no Mirai, Kun’s parents are only referred to as such because the film is told from his perspective. Kun is a play on the honourific for boys, and is equivalent to The Berenstain Bears‘ Brother Bear, who was known as Small Bear before Sister was born. One wonders how names work in Bear Country, and curiously enough, everyone else has standard names.

  • Kun’s mother is an executive of an unnamed company: the couple leads a busy life that only becomes more hectic as they raise two children, and this chaos is conveyed to viewers right from the start. I’m sure that parents will immediately connect with this; Mirai no Mirai‘s portrayal of a baby and four-year-old child as being tricky to look after has its basis in reality. I’m told that when I was four, my curiosity made me a bloody nightmare to deal with. Up until I was seven, I was constantly in trouble for going out of bounds and doing who-knows-what. My second year primary instructor wondered if I could channel this towards reading, and instead of exploring the world physically, I took to counting on books to sate this curiosity. The “me” of the present day is a consequence of this.

  • Kun experiences a mixture of curiosity at the new baby and also jealousy that attention has now left him. On several instances, he causes Mirai to cry, landing him in hot water. This is one of the hazards about having two children very closely together. While some rivalry might exist if there’s a three to four year gap, the older child is generally more independent and therefore is less prone to jealousy. In the case of Mirai no Mirai, it would appear that Kun’s jealousy is more consistent with a two year gap; his age is presumably chosen so that we have a protagonist with more independence and a larger vocabulary, as well as the attendant personality. It’s not particularly implausible, and Kun is described as being somewhat spoiled.

  • Whenever Kun gets into trouble, the tree in their courtyard begins glowing, and he is taken into an alternate world. Initially, I was not sure of who the scruffy-looking man was, but when he introduces himself as a former prince, the only individual that came to mind was Yuuko, who would’ve been previously the only individual Kun’s mother and father would have looked after. Flights of fancy in Mirai no Mirai, such as Kun becoming a dog after stealing Yuuko’s tail, give the film a more fantastical feeling that elicits a sense of magic in how children might approach the world.

  • Now that I’ve made the Calvin and Hobbes comparison, it does feel like the case that Kun’s mother and father are parallels of Calvin’s mother and father in terms of appearance. Both Calvin and Kun’s father have black hair and glasses, while Calvin and Kun’s mother both have brown hair. The similarities end here: Calvin’s mother is a stay-at-home parent, while Calvin’s father is a patent attorney. I’ve long been a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and having gotten one of the special collections for a birthday years ago, I gained a unique insight into how Bill Watterson created his comics.

  • Mirai is voiced by Haru Kuroki, and as a baby, Kaede Hondo provides her voice. While I’ve not seen Kuroki’s other works, Hondo has also been Comic Girls‘ Koyume Koizuka and Kohaku Tsukishiro of The World in Colours. Despite the film being named for Mirai, Kun’s development forms the bulk of the story, and I am left wishing that Mirai had a more substantial role. However, it seems that rather than being a direct source of guidance for Kun, Mirai acts more to nudge him along and help him make his own discoveries.

  • At dinner with Kun’s grandparents, his parents discuss how their great-grandparents met. It’s a nostalgic story: the great-grandfather was a mechanic who was injured during the Second World War and convinced the great-grandmother to a foot race; she stipulates that if he can best her, then he may have her hand in marriage. Moments like these show that in every family, there is a great deal of history in the past, of triumphs and trials.

  • Taking care of the housework when one is accustomed to working with a keyboard is definitely a bit of a change: Kun and Mirai’s father is shown to struggle initially, leaving him quite unable to have any time left for Kun. Closeups of his work are shown, and he runs a MacBook Pro: most anime have a pear rather than an apple to indicate an Apple computer. From my end, I treat housework as almost a break of sorts: my mind wanders while I vacuum, iron or cook to some extent.

  • After Kun puts crackers on a sleeping Mirai’s face out of boredom, he is whisked away into a tropical conservatory, coming face-to-face with an older Mirai. She’s come from the future with the aim of getting their father to put the dolls away, citing that each day they’re not properly stowed is another year her marriage will be delayed. There are a great many superstitions in East Asian cultures: attesting to this is that each year, my parents explain to me a superstition about Chinese New Year that I did not know previously.

  • Mirai and Yuuko manage to get everything put away without their father noticing, and Kun helps by providing a distraction. Later, when their mother returns, Kun remarks that he’d helped out, befuddling their father, who’s unsure as to how everything managed to work out. The events of Mirai no Mirai are quite implausible, but they provide a very solid visual representation of how children might see the world. I am inclined to believe that these highly vivid sequences are a highly stylised metaphor.

  • Mirai resembles Mitsuha of Your Name to some extent. Originally, my expectations entering Mirai no Mirai was that Mirai’s older self would have a much more substantial role in the film than what I eventually experienced. However, from a thematic perspective, this makes sense: the future Mirai is more of a guide who helps Kun make his own discoveries. In this way, Mirai no Mirai strongly suggests that self-discovery is a major part of growing up, and that some things can’t be taught.

  • Visuals in Mirai no Mirai are impressive: while perhaps not quite as grand as those seen in Maquia, artwork and animation are still of a superb quality. From large-scale settings to something as simple as pancakes decked out in blueberries and strawberries, everything in Mirai no Mirai is impressive to look at. It suddenly strikes me that we’re now in February, and it’s been the coldest few days of the year so far: temperatures yesterday bottomed out at -29°C, with a windchill of -40°C. Winter has set in now, and ahead of this on Friday, a friend and I got together at one of the best barbecue places in town to catch up. Amidst conversation, I enjoyed a hearty plate of prime rib beef bones (smokey and flavourful, especially with their in-house sauce), plus a side of yam fries, fried green tomatoes and cornbread; this is something I’ve not had since the summer Your Name came out, and a good plate of smoked ribs is precisely what one needs to stay warm in the true Canadian winter.

  • I again fall back on anecdotal evidence for what I was like as a child when it came to cleaning my room. I know that this is a chore for some children, but as far as I can tell, I was always (and still are) a stickler for organisation. My younger brother found it hilarious when I dumped our toys wholesale from their containers, but we’d always clean up afterwards: I think that it was a fear for getting an earful that motivated this, but this eventually became a habit: it’s much easier to find the stuff one’s looking for if everything is nice and tidy (齐整, jyutping cai4 zing2, as I’m fond of saying).

  • Kun’s tantrum over cleaning sends him on a journey into the past, where he runs into his mother as a little girl. At this point in time, she’s fond of cats and remarks that she’d get one; she’s writing a letter and placing it into her mother’s (Kun’s grandmother) shoes, feeling that it could help her wish come across. As it’s raining, the two take off for his mother’s place, where Kun learns that his mother was once as free-spirited as he was. They proceed to make a bloody mess of things.

  • Kun’s mother sends him on his way after her mother returns, and she’s made to endure a tongue lashing. Kun later realises that his mother was once similar to him and realises she’s probably going through a great deal at present. I’ve heard that one’s shortcomings as children will manifest again in their children, which means that in the future, I should probably grit my teeth and find a way to best manage the curiosity in any child of mine.

  • Because Kun’s father is preoccupied in looking after Mirai, Kun grows angry that no one is giving him the attention to ride a bike. I’ve never been much of a physical individual as a child and did not learn how to ride a bike until I was twelve: after my brother expressed a desire to learn, I figured that I probably should, as well. On the second day of his lesson, I joined my parents and within a half hour, figured it out. After that, I took to biking around the neighbourhood during the summer, and found a profound joy in coming home exhausted after a good bike ride.

  • Running off and finding solace in the tree once more, Kun encounters his great-grandfather. His advice is to focus on something in the distance, citing that horse, bike or plane, the principles are the same. This scene is exceptionally well done, fluidly showing a post-war Yokohama as his great-grandfather knew it. Kun notices that he walks with a limp here, and the latter shrugs it off, saying that it’s something he’s come to accept. Later, it is shown that after an Allied bombing during the Second World War, his will to live drove him to swim for safety.

  • To me, biking came somewhat intuitively: I’m not sure I can explain how I learned it, except that after half an hour, I was zipping up and down the neighbourhood. I subsequently got too excited and zoomed down a hill, crashing the bike and landing in some bushes. Kun recalls his great-grandfather’s suggestion, and soon after, manages to figure out the basics. The other children are impressed and invites him to ride along with them.

  • In this moment, Mirai no Mirai‘s theme is abundantly clear: that learning is a very natural process and sometimes can occur without us even realising it. In spite of this, it’s something to be celebrated, and much as how Kun has learned to ride a bike, Kun’s father has acclimatised to taking care of Mirai, who no longer cries when he holds her. I’m told that as a baby, I largely could get along with anyone who held me, whereas my brother could only be held by my parents. The opposite seems true these days: my brother is more outgoing than I am and is more adept at taking the initiative in conversation with people, whereas I am inclined to listen more than I talk.

  • While I cannot speak for all children, I can say that I probably had a few moments like these at Kun’s age. Looking back, it’s pretty foolish, but at the time, I imagine that choice of favourite clothing did make all the difference in the world. Kun’s latest antics indicate that he acts up for attention’s sake, and my parents note that children are rather cleverer than they look: they are fond of sharing the classic story of seeing a little girl throwing a tantrum at a mall, right in the middle of a major area. The parents of that particular child were undeterred and said, “it’s cool, we’re heading off”. Realising that her show had no effect, she packed it in and ran off to join her parents, who’d diffused a situation without raising their voices, embarrassing and inconveniencing no-one.

  • The vast scale of the train station is impressive, bringing to mind the interior of fantastical locations like Platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter. The golden tones convey a sense of warmth, a world far removed from the extreme colds of today. The weather is expected to persist into the Chinese New Year: tonight was Chinese New Year’s Eve, and I celebrated with the family. We had crispy pork, char siu, roast duck, pork leg, beef tripe, white-cut chicken abalone, pan-seared shrimps, and fat choy with winter mushroom and lettuce, closed off with a refreshing lotus root soup. Each of the items is phonetically similar to something fortuitous and chosen so that when eaten, good fortune follows.

  • Despite the older boy’s warning, Kun gets on the train and is initially awed by the sights. However, when he realises that he is lost, he seeks out an attendant. Without more identifying information (unlike database entries, people don’t exactly have primary keys or UIDs that they memorise off the top of their heads), the attendant is unable to help him and sends him down to what is more or less Hel. I recall that when I was much younger, I got lost at a mall and went to one of the people at the information desk to ask them to make an announcement for my parents to come to the information desk. To this day, my parents are still whiskey tango foxtrot about that particular incident.

  • Kun barely escapes the force pulling him into the dæmon train set to take him to Hel, and when he notices Mirai about to be pulled in, he pushes her out of the way, as well. Wishing none of this had happened, and openly declaring that he’s her older brother, Mirai vanishes before his eyes, reappearing in middle-school aged form. With the powers of flight, Mirai takes him out on a flight out into the city above, rescuing him from a terrifying fate.

  • It turns out that the tree in his family’s yard represents a record of his family’s history: the animators have gone to great lengths to create the family history in a manner reminiscent of the Tree of Life: here, I refer to the biological sciences construct that describes the evolutionary distance between all organisms. Its complexity is deliberate to suggest at the nature of family histories, and while such things might be seen as above Kun’s comprehension, I again stress the wonders in the mind of a child, and a tree is not an unintuitive way of describing family history.

  • It turns out that Kun’s great-grandmother threw the race because she reciprocated the great-grandfather’s feelings. Mirai comments on how everything that has happened now was the result of numerous small decisions coming together, and how it is important to make sure one always does their best to make these decisions so that a better path to the future is paved. During this travel, it is shown that Kun’s father was physically weak and took a while to master the bike, while his mother developed a dislike for cats after a cat killed one of the birds. Many things happen in our lives that shape who we are, and Kun comes to understand that he does have a choice here.

  • A part of growing up is taking increasing ownership and responsibility for one’s decisions and actions. As we push through our daily lives, we often forget just how far we’ve come from our days as children, and films like Mirai no Mirai, which return us to the side of childhood not characterised by rose-tinted memories, are reminders that as children, we each have our own triumphs and failures that help us learn and understand others better. I’m probably not the first blogger to say so, and I certainly won’t be the last – I have numerous flaws, as well.

  • One thing I never captured in this talk were the numerous “funny faces” various characters exhibit, whether it be from anger, stress or joy. I’ve opted to stick to more conventional moments and leave readers with experiencing the hilarity of beholding such moments for themselves. Here, an older Mirai and Kun share a short conversation, giving insight into how Kun is as a teen: he’s more reserved and distant, but given Mirai’s interactions with him, he’s also probably been a reliable older brother, as well. This is what motivates the page quote – older siblings can grow accustomed to protect and look after their younger siblings, making them quite observant and mindful of those around them.

  • The greatest strength in Mirai no Mirai is that it is able to capture the imagination of children and drive a story from the perspective of a four-year-old without losing the viewer’s interest. After his return from the latest journey, the most profound change in Kun is observed: he fully accepts Mirai as his younger sister and begins playing with her as an older brother would. This is the conflict that Mirai no Mirai resolves, and now that Kun is genuinely happy to have Mirai as his sister, the film can come to an end. One of my peers found it to be an abrupt ending, but now that I’ve crossed the finish line, I can see why Mirai no Mirai may end like this: life isn’t characterised by hard stops, but rather, a series of milestones. Mirai no Mirai shows a few notable milestones in Kun’s life that shape who he is, and accepting Mirai is a pivotal point in his life – the film is showing how he comes to reach this stage.

  • The reader who’s gone through this entire post will have learned quite a bit about myself, perhaps more than they would’ve liked or expected – this speaks to the strength of Mirai no Mirai, as it was able to evoke these memories and recollections that I might otherwise not consider in discussions about other series. With seven months between its theatrical screenings and home release, there was a bit of a wait for this movie, and I feel that the wait was worth it: it’s a solid movie that’s earned an A grade. February is a solid month for movies: I will be writing about Penguin Highway in the near future, and Non Non Biyori Vacation is coming out towards the end of the month, so I intend on writing about this in March. Finally, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown released on PC last Thursday, and it is a solid game worthy of all the praise it’s gotten: I naturally will be sharing my experiences here, as well.

Mirai no Mirai is a visceral representation of the sorts of emotion that older siblings go through with the arrival of a younger sibling. As an older sibling myself, I only have the vaguest recollection of what things would have been like: if my parents’ recollections were anything to go by, I was fairly mild (read “not anywhere as vociferous as Kun”), and I certainly cannot remember what the turning point was. What I do know is that the sort of friendship in some siblings can be very strong, and as such, stories like Mirai no Mirai are particularly moving to watch. Mirai no Mirai also deals with Kun’s father initially struggling to do housework and look after the children; his attempts at cooking and cleaning are fraught with accidents, and he’s unable to hold Mirai without her crying. As time wears on, he figures things out and becomes more proficient over time. Mirai no Mirai‘s portrayal of a husband and wife continuing to learn gives the movie additional depth and is another reminder that parenthood is a time of adjustment and discoveries for the parents, as well. It was rewarding to see Kun’s father going from bumbling through household tasks to having more competence: by the film’s end, he’s holding Mirai without any trouble. Themes of family and learning permeate Mirai no Mirai, and in conjunction with the movie’s solid visual component, it’s easy to see why the film has earned a nomination for an Oscar. Even if the film does not win (I expect that Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse will win the Best Animated Feature category), Mirai no Mirai remains an excellent film that offers a refreshing take on families as seen from the perspective of a four-year-old, and for this, I have no trouble recommending this film to readers.

K-On! The Movie (Eiga Keion!): A Review, Recommendation and Revisitation after Seven Years

We’re buddies from here on out!
Pictures of us together,
Our matching keychains
Will shine on forever
And always, we thank you for your smile

—Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!

With its theatrical première seven years previously, K-On! The Movie has aged very gracefully from both a thematic and technical standpoint. The film follows Houkago Tea Time shortly following their acceptance to university. With their time in high school drawing to a close, the girls attempt to come up with a suitable farewell gift for Azusa, who had been a vital member of their light music club. Feeling it best to be a surprise, they try to keep this from Azusa. When word nearly gets out, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi wind up fabricating that their “secret” is a graduation trip. The girls decide on London; after arranging for their flight and accommodations, the girls arrive in London and sightsee, before performing at a Japanese pop culture fair. Upon their return home, the girls perform for their classmates and finalise their song for Asuza. Simple, sincere and honest, K-On! The Movie represented a swan song for the K-On! franchise’s animated adaptation, making the extent of Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s gratitude towards Azusa tangible: K-On! The Movie is a journey to say “Thank You”, and as Yui and the others discover, while their moments spent together might be finite, the treasured memories resulting from these everyday moments are infinitely valuable. Ultimately, representing the sum of these feelings is done by means of a song; music is universally regarded as being able to convey emotions, thoughts and ideas across linguistic and cultural barriers, and so, it is only appropriate that the girls decide to make a song for Azusa. However, Yui and the others initially struggle to find the right words for their song. It is serendipitous that a fib, done to keep Azusa from knowing about her graduation gift, sends the girls to London. During this trip, Azusa undertakes the role of a planner. She handles the logistics to ensure that everyone can visit their destinations of choice and on top of this, fit their travels so that they can honour a commitment to perform at a festival. At the top of her game in both keeping things organised, and looking out for Yui, Azusa is exhausted at the end of their travels.

Once they agree to writing a song, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi set about composing the lyrics for it. When they begin to draft the lyrics, they come to realise how integral Azusa has been to Houkago Tea Time, a veritable angel for the club. This is the birth of Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! (Touched by an Angel), an earnest song whose direct lyrics convey how everyone feels about Azusa. Because everyone’s spent so much time together, Azusa’s presence in Houkago Tea Time is very nearly taken for granted. It takes a trip to London for Yui and the others to discover anew what Azusa has done for everyone: from planning out the trip and fitting their itinerary to everyone’s satisfaction, to keeping an eye on the scatter-minded Yui, Azusa’s actions during the London trip act as the catalyst that reminds everyone of how her presence in the Light Music Club has helped everyone grow. Azusa is also evidently selfless, worrying about others ahead of herself: when the others notice her slowing down in the Underground, Azusa mentions that her new shoes are somewhat uncomfortable. She insists it’s fine, but Yui figures they can buy new shoes for her. Because of Houkago Tea Time’s easygoing approach to things, this detour into an adventure of sorts at Camden. However, K-On! The Movie is not an anime about travel; sightseeing is condensed into a montage, and greater emphasis is placed on the girls’ everyday moments together. Subtle, seemingly trivial moments are given more screen time than visiting the London Eye, or David Bowie’s House, reminding viewers that Houkago Tea Time is about its members, not where they go. While it is likely that any destination would have accomplished the same, visiting London, the birthplace of many famous musicians whose style have influenced the Light Music Club’s music, proved to be an appropriate choice that also sets the stage for the girls to compose their song for Azusa, showing that London had a role in inspiring Yui and the others.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This revisitation can be seen as an exercise in nostalgia: I was primarily curious to see what a review on K-On! The Movie might look like were I to return to it again, with at least six years more of accumulated experience. I’ve previously written about K-On! The Movie and explored some of the aspects that made it worthwhile to watch; because the film was released in December, the time seemed appropriate for me to watch the film again. In particular, the opening song, Ichiban Ippai (Full of Number Ones), has a very Christmas-like quality to it.

  • On watching the film in full for the first time in a few years, I’ve come to pick up a few things that I missed earlier, and in conjunction with a keener eye for subtleties, this post is the result; my conclusion about the film’s central theme is a little more specific now, with a focus on Yui and the others crafting a memorable farewell gift for Azusa in gratitude for her participation in Houkago Tea Time. My earlier reviews focused on friendship at a much higher level, and looking back, I think that this review captures the reason for why I enjoyed the movie a shade more effectively than the earlier reviews.

  • Gratitude is the first and foremost theme in K-On! The Movie, with everything else being an ancillary aspect that augments the film’s strengths. The movie, then, succeeds in conveying the sort of scale that Naoko Yamada desired for viewers, showing the extent of everyone’s appreciation towards Azusa. This underlines Azusa’s impact on Houkago Tea Time, and so, when one returns to the televised series, all of those subtle moments suddenly become more meaningful, and more valuable.

  • The movie’s original première on December 3, 2011 is now a distant memory. I vaguely recall concluding my introductory Japanese class and finalising my term paper on the role of a protein in iron transport for bacteria. At the time, I was focused on simply surviving that semester and save my GPA, which had taken a dive after my second year, and for most of the winter term, I was similarly focused on maintaining passable grades in biochemistry and and cell and molecular biology. I exited that term on a stronger note, and with my final exams in the books, I learned that the movie would release on July 18.

  • I had decided to take the MCAT earlier that year, and this represented a major commitment from my part. From the film’s home release announcement to the day of release, time passed in the blink of an eye. K-On! The Movie was well-timed, and the day I watched it, I had spent the morning going through a full-length exam. The movie’s first forty minutes are still in Japan, and it provided plenty of time to establish the witherto’s and whyfor’s of how Houkago Tea Time end up travelling to London.

  • With its slow pacing, K-On! The Movie is very relaxing: as it turns out, Houkago Tea Time ends up overhearing classmates discuss a graduation trip and then, while focused on their own goal of gifting something special for Azusa, hide their plans by saying they’re also doing a graduation trip. This turn of events is precisely the way things Houkago Tea Time rolls, although it is notable that even while planning for the trip takes precedence, Yui’s mind never strays far from their original goal of figuring out how they can give Azusa a memorable gift.

  • Throughout the film, Yui’s determination to figure out something and efforts to maintain secrecy lead Azusa to wonder if something is amiss. If she did suspect something, things are quickly shunted aside when the girls’ plan to visit London become realised. Here, Azusa takes on the role of a tour guide, planning and coordinating itineraries for the others. The joys and drawbacks of travelling are presented in K-On! The Movie to the girls: while K-On! has long favoured gentle escapism, the movie adds an additional dimension of realism to its story through linguistic differences and challenges associated with travelling, such as the girls trying to figure out which Hotel Ibis their booking was for or when Mio’s luggage is seemingly misplaced.

  • For the most part, K-On! The Movie was very well-received, with praises being given towards the direction, sincerity and ability of the film to remain true to the atmosphere in the TV series, while at the same time, capitalising on the movie format to do something that could not have been done in a TV series. Criticisms of the film are very rare – I can count the number of the film’s detractors on one hand, and most of the gripes centered on the film’s relatively limited focus on travel, portrayal of London citizens and gripes that the film was protracted in presenting its story.

  • For the most part, my travels have never put me at a linguistic disadvantage because I can get by well enough with English, Cantonese and Mandarin in the places I visit. When I visited Laval in France for the first time for a conference, I had trouble getting around because I could not speak a word of French. Seeing Mugi and Azusa struggle with English might’ve been amusing when I first watched this, but after the humbling experience in France, I took on a newfound appreciation for all of the languages around the world. When the girls reach London City’s Hotel Ibis, it is thanks to Mio who is able to interpret things and set the girls on track for their hotel in Earls Court.

  • Skyfall was screened in November 2012, a few months after K-On! The Movie’s home release and nearly a year after its original screening in Japan. The only commonalities the two films share are that they have scenes set in London, including the Underground. While Yui and the others use the Underground to reach Earls Court, Skyfall saw James Bond pursue Raoul Silva through the Underground after he escapes MI6 custody.

  • On their first day in London, Yui and the others have a busy one as they try to make their way to their hotel. It’s misadventure after misadventure, but in spite of these inconveniences, everyone takes things in stride, going to Camden to buy Azusa new shoes, casually enjoying the Underground and, when trying to grab dinner, end up playing an impromptu performance on account of being mistaken for a band.

  • In spite of their surprise at being asked to perform, Houkago Tea Time’s showing is impressive. While it seems a little strange the girls travel with their instruments, the last several times I boarded a plane, it was with a laptop or iPad in tow, as I was either set to give a conference presentation or be involved in work. Carrying additional gear while travelling is a pain when one is alone, but with others, it’s much easier – one can simply ask their companions to look after their belongings.

  • Movies typically are scaled-up TV episodes, with superior visuals and music accompanying it; K-On! The Movie is no different, feeling distinctly like an extended episode. I particularly loved the soundtrack, which features both the motifs of the TV series and new incidental pieces that gave a bit of atmosphere to where Houkago Tea Time was while at the same time, reminding viewers that it’s still K-On!.

  • K-On! The Movie depicts London with incredible faithfulness, and perusing the official movie artbook, the precise locations of where the girls visit are given. Abbey Crossing, David Bowie’s House, West Brompton, and many other areas are on the list of places that Yui and the others visit. Their travels are set to the upbeat, energetic Unmei wa Endless! (Fate is Endless!) in a montage that highlights the girls enjoying themselves in London in their own unique manner.

  • The montage in K-On! The Movie is ideal for showing that while in London, Yui and the others have an amazing time sightseeing: the tempo would suggest that the girls’ experience is very dream like, hectic and dynamic, reminder viewers that when they are having fun, time flies. Vacations often seem to go by in a blur, and so, a montage is a very visceral way to capture this feeling. In condensing out the travel and sightseeing, the montage creates the impression that K-On! The Movie is not about London, but at the same time, it also allows the focus to remain on the girls’ aim of working out their gift for Azusa.

  • London, Japan and Hong Kong share the commonality in that they have left-hand traffic, an artefact dating back to the Roman Empire; right-hand traffic is the result of French standardisation, while Americans used right-hand traffic out of convenience for wagon operators. For Yui and the others, traffic in London would be identical to that of Japan’s, but when they encounter a “Look Right” labels on the road, they conform. These labels are also found in Hong Kong, as well: for folks like myself, they are very useful, since I instinctively look left before crossing most streets.

  • I’ve long held that the best way to truly experience a culture is to experience their food, and so, when I was in Japan, having the chance to enjoy snow crab, Kobe beef, okonomiyakiomurice and ramen was high on the highlights of my trip. In K-On! The Movie, the girls end up stopping at The Troubadour on 263–267 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court. Opened in 1954, The Troubador was a coffeehouse that has since become a café, bar and restaurant. Catching Yui’s eye early in their tour of London, the girls have breakfast here. Their Eggs Benedict is shown: it costs £9.95 (roughly 16.88 CAD with exchange rates).

  • Despite her initial reservations about all things with angular velocity, Mio is convinced to go on the London Eye. With a height of 135 metres, it is more than double the size of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel and during K-On! The Movie, was the highest public viewing point in London. Since the movie’s release in 2011 (and the home release in 2012), The Shard opened and now offers London’s highest observation deck.

  • The girls rest here near The Royal Menagerie on the west end of the Tower of London, a major landmark that has variously been used as a mint, armoury and presently, the home of the Crown Jewels. Adjacent to the Tower of London is a modern office block and fish and chips shops. While it would be a tight schedule, the girls’ tour is possible to carry out within the course of a day. To really take in the sights and sounds, however, I would imagine that two to three full days is more appropriate.

  • Ritsu and the others run into Love Crisis following their performance at the sushi restaurant, and are invited to perform at a Japanese Culture Fair. The girls agree to the performance even though the timing will be a bit tight, and when Azusa hesitates, the others reassure her that it’ll be fine. Because they are to be performing in front of an English audience, Yui and the others feel it might be useful to translate some of their songs to English. Strictly speaking, preserving the meaning is of a lesser challenge than finding the words with the correct syllables to match the melody.

  • The Ibis at Earl’s Court, while being a bit more dated, has attentive staff and is situated in a good location, being close to public transit. By comparison, the Ibis London City is located a stone’s throw to the London city centre and the Tower of London. The choice to have the girls book lodgings at Earl’s Court, in a comparatively quieter part of London, allows the film to also show Yui and the others spending downtime together while not sightseeing. Here, they begin working on translating their songs for their performance at the Japanese culture fair.

  • The performance itself is set at the Jubilee Gardens adjacent to the River Thames and London Eye. The introduction into the culture festival features a sweeping panorama over the area, taking viewers through the spokes on the London Eye. It’s one of the more impressive visuals in K-On! The Movie and really shows that this is no mere extended episode: I’m particularly fond of movies because they provide the opportunity to use visuals not seen in TV series. Here, the girls react in surprise that Sawako has shown up.

  • During their performance, Yui is spurred on by a baby in the crowd and plays with more energy as the concert progresses, even improvising lyrics into Gohan wa Okazu. Whether or not Houkago Teatime plays for the people they know or not, this has very little bearing on the enthusiasm and energy the girls put into their song. Personal or not, each performance is spirited conveys that Houkago Tea Time’s music is universally moving, whether they are playing for a crowd of folks in London, or for Azusa as a thank you gift.

  • It turns out that as a place to have a graduation trip, there is no better option than London, England: Houkago Tea Time’s style draws inspiration from British artists, and the songs produced for K-On! have a mass appeal for their simplicity, earnest and charm found from the saccharine nature of the lyrics. After the concert draws to a close, the girls depart home for Japan, with Azusa falling asleep immediately from exhaustion. A snowfall begins in London, bringing the girls’ trip to a peaceful close.

  • Back in Japan, Ritsu and the others attempt to convince Sawako to give them permission to host a farewell concert for their classmates. To her colleagues and other students, Sawako presents herself as professional and caring, attempting to distance herself from her Death Devil days, but in front of Houkago Tea Time, she’s less motivated and occasionally partakes in actions that are of dubious legality. At the end of the day, however, Sawako does care deeply for her students, and so, decides to allow the concert.

  • One of the other teachers is opposed to the idea of a concert and on the morning things kick off, Sawako does her utmost to keep him from finding out. While unsuccessful, this instructor does not seem to mind Houkago Tea Time quite as much, suggesting that Sawako’s Death Devil band were rowdier back in the day to the point of being a nuisance.

  • Compared to the more colourful segments in K-On! The Movie, the final segments depicting the girls drafting out their song for Azusa are much more faded, almost melancholy, in nature, hinting that all things must come to an end. Kyoto Animation has long utilised colour to make the emotional tenour of a scene clear in their drama series; from CLANNAD to Violet Evergarden, time of day, saturation and the choice of palette are all used to great effect. Traditionally, comedies have seen a lesser dependence on colour and lighting, so for these effects to appear in K-On! show that the series has matured.

  • The K-On! The Movie‘s home release was only twenty four days from the day of my MCAT, and one of the dangers about this was that reviewing the movie so close to the MCAT might’ve taken my focus from the exam. In the end, watching the movie and writing about it was very cathartic, and I found myself lost in each moment: seeing Mio and the others sprint across the school rooftop with a carefree spirit was a light moment that really captured what K-On! was about. The movie helped me relax, and in conjunction with support from friends, some time management skills and the usual efforts of studying, I ended up finishing the exam strong.

  • Audiences thus come to learn how Tenshi ni Fureta Yo! came about. This is the song that got me into K-On!, and curious to know how the series reached its culmination, I stepped back and watched everything from episode one.  With this modernised talk on K-On! The Movie very nearly finished, I note that it was very enjoyable to go back and rewatch this film under different circumstances, then write about it with a new perspective and style.

  • Like a good wine, K-On! The Movie improved with age. My original score for the movie was a nine of ten, an A grade. However, revisiting the movie and seeing all of the subtleties in the film, coupled with recalling watching the film to unwind from studying for the MCAT, led me to realise that this film had a very tangible positive impact on me. Consequently, I am going to return now and give the film a perfect ten of ten, a masterpiece: for a story of pure joy that was successful in helping me regroup, and for being every bit as enjoyable as it was seven years ago, K-On! The Movie had a real impact on me.

With crisp animation, attention paid to details, a solid aural component and a gentle soundtrack, K-On! The Movie is executed masterfully to bring this story of gratitude to life for viewers. Its staying power and timeless quality comes from a story that is immediately relatable: many viewers have doubtlessly wondered how to best express thanks for those who have helped them through so much, and more often than not, found that simple gestures of appreciation can often be the most meaningful. Naoko Yamada mentioned in an interview that one of the challenges about K-On! The Movie was trying to scale it up to fit the silver screen. This challenge is mirrored in the film, where Yui wonders how to create a gift of appropriate scale to show everyone’s appreciation for Azusa; in the end, just as how the girls decide on a gift that is appropriately scaled, Yamada’s film ends up covering a very focused portrayal of Houkago Tea Time that works well with the silver screen: less is more, and by focusing on a single thing, the movie ends up being very clear and concise in conveying its theme. A major part of K-On!‘s original strength was instilling a sense of appreciation for the everyday, mundane things in life; the film’s success in scaling things up is from its ability to take something as simple as finding a gift to express thanks and then meticulously detailing how this gift matured over time into the final product viewers know as Tenshi ni Fureta Yo!. K-On! The Movie remains as relevant today as it did when it first premièred seven years ago: even for those who have never seen K-On!‘s televised series, the movie is self-contained and the themes stand independently of a priori knowledge. After all this time, I have no difficulty in recommending K-On! The Movie to interested viewers; the film is every bit as enjoyable and meaningful as it was seven years previously.

Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms): A Review and Full Recommendation

“I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” —Arwen

Maquia is a member of the Iorph, an ancient race of beings with uncommonly long life. They spend their days weaving Hibiol, cloths that chronicle their history. However, the peace is broken when Mezarte, a neighbouring kingdom, attacks: many Iorph are killed, and Maquia’s friend, Leilia, is taken captive. Maquia herself is tangled in the Hibiol and hauled into the skies when one of the Mezarte’s flying mounts, Renato, succumbs to disease and goes berserk. She crashes into a forest and comes across an ambushed caravan, where she finds a baby in the arms of his mother. Maquia decides to take the baby in, naming him Ariel, and travels to a village where a woman named Mido takes them in. Meanwhile, Mezarte’s Renato begin dying off, and the king attempts to hold onto power by introducing Iorph blood into their kingdom; Leilia is forced into an arranged marriage with the prince of Mezarte. When Maquia learns of this, she travels to Mezarte with Ariel to try and save Leilia. Their rescue is unsuccessful, and Maquia moves to Dorail, where she takes on a job as a waitress. Ariel becomes a young man. Struggling with his identity, he rejects Maquia as his mother and joins Mezarte’s armed forces. Ariel marries Dita, while Krim, frustrated by the turn of events, kidnaps Maquia and convinces the other nations to declare war on Mezarte. During the invasion, Maquia stumbles upon Dita and Ariel’s home, where she helps Dita deliver her child. Krim confronts Leilia and is shot in the process, bleeding out. Leilia later sees her daughter before flying off with Maquia and the last Renato. In his old age, Maquia visits an elderly Ariel, who had lived a full life, and watches as he peacefully dies. She cries for the pain of the loss, but also feels that there was happiness in equal measure. Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Let’s Decorate the Promised Flowers in the Morning of Farewells, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms in English and Sayoasa for brevity) is a P.A. Works film that was released in February of this year in Japan, marking the first original feature-length title that Mari Okada (who’d previously worked on The Anthem of the Heart) has directed.

During its run, Sayoasa explores notions of familial bonds, love and the passage of time in a high fantasy setting, making use of the Iorph’s longevity to convey the range of experiences that one might encounter in raising a child through Maquia’s perspective. Blessed with a long lifespan, Maquia’s chief, Racine, warns her about the risks of becoming attached to those with a shorter lifespan, but in spite of this warning, Maquia chooses to take in a baby and raise him as a mother would. Although initially lacking in experience, and always prone to tears, Maquia is shown to be doing her best. From happiness to sorrow, Maquia experiences the full spectrum of emotions present in life, a far cry from the static, isolated state of being the Iorph live in. Maquia learns that outside of her old world, things are constantly changing and do not stand still as she’d previously known: in raising Ariel, Maquia comes to appreciate everything from joy to despair, and that happiness can accompany pain, as well. This is contrary to Racine’s warnings early in the film, and in its presentation, Sayoasa suggests that it is precisely the coexistence of happiness and sorrow that constitute a life well-lived. While immortality (or extended life) is often considered to be a blessing when folks are asked about it, fiction often explores the idea that doing something meaningful with the time that one is given has a greater value than spending an eternity locked in tedium. J.R.R. Tolkien briefly touches on this through Arwen, who chooses a mortal life with Aragorn. Despite knowing the sorrow that Aragon’s mortality might bring her, she accepts this. By comparison, Tolkien’s Elves are portrayed as being tragic, who have become encumbered with watching life transition to death: Tolkien describes mortality as the “Gift of Men”, that a finite life and the rest following life is not a curse. To follow one’s heart in a finite life with its sorrows and joys is the path Arwen chooses. While Maquia might be confined to the realm of a long life, she will carry her experiences with her forever – the Iorph are not immortal like Tolkien’s Elves, but Maquia’s interactions with the outside world gives her a much fuller, richer experience than the status quo that she’d lived in previously.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Iorph’s homeland is designed to convey a sense of bygone splendour, of a once-great civilisation whose time has passed: vast crumbling structures suggest a mighty society in decline, and furthering this feeling are the Iorph themselves, who spend their days chronicling their histories in cloth without much thought towards the outside world. One of the greatest challenges I encountered for this post was cutting down the number of screenshots down to thirty: there’s so much scenery that it was difficult to pick screenshots that showcase some of the artwork in Sayoasa and those that are relevant to the narrative.

  • Maquia is an orphan and is someone who fears loneliness; the chief of their clan advises Maquia that the only way to stave off pain is to avoid seeking out attachment. While a possible answer for avoiding pain, the reality is that neither happiness nor sorrow can exist in the absence of the other. This moment indicates that the Iorph have become a passive society, choosing to avoid trouble rather than confront it. Their ways create a sense of antiquity, which in turn provides audiences with a context for Maquia and her development throughout Sayoasa.

  • Unlike Tolkien’s Elves, who remain excellent craftsmen and healers, as well as being able serve as warriors, the Ioprh seem defenseless against aggressors. When the nation of Mezarte attack, it is unsurprising that the Iorph are overwhelmed. The Mezarte bring with them dragon-like mounts called Renato: a cursory glance suggests that they are named after the Latin name “Renatus”, which is “to be born again”, and are probably named to signify the rebirth of something glorious.

  • The diseased Renato flies off into the night skies after crashing through the temple housing the Hibiol weavings. In the chaos, a distressed Maquia is hauled along for the ride. This accident sets in motion the remainder of Sayoasa, and here, one can get a sense of scale of the landscapes in Sayoasa: there are moments where things look photo-realistic, attesting to the incredible visual quality within this film.

  • When Maquia comes to, she finds an infant in a tent, and decides to take him in. My initial impressions were that this caravan was probably attacked by the Mezarte forces en route to the Iorph, but regardless of who the perpetrators were, it is the moment where Maquia meets Ariel and decides to look after him. A fair portion of Sayoasa has Maquia struggle to understand what being a mother means, although her lack of knowledge is offset by a desire to preserve life.

  • After leaving the caravan with the infant in her arms, the sun breaks over the horizon, bathing the land in a warm light. The moment is magical to Maquia, who comes to associate the scent of an infant with that of the sun. After the terror of the night, sunrise indicates a new beginning. The prominent use of of yellows and oranges in this scene creates warmth: sunrises in different contexts hold different meanings, and usually, the combination of saturation and hues serve to communicate to audiences what that sunrise is meant to evoke.

  • Wandering through the countryside, Maquia eventually finds a cottage and meets Mido, who takes them in. She eventually names the infant Ariel, a Hebrew name meaning “Lion of God”. While a male name, English-speakers have used it as a female name, as well. Mido has two other children, Lang and Deol, who initially regard Maquia and Ariel as little more than a curiosity. However, as Maquia spends more time with Mido, Lang and Deol come to regard Maquia and Ariel as family, as well.

  • The passage of time in Sayoasa is quite ambiguous: were it not for a change in setting and Ariel’s aging, it would be quite difficult to tell the passage of time. The passage of time in The Fellowship of The Ring is something that Peter Jackson modified in his adaptation, being set in a much shorter time period. Tolkien originally had Frodo set out seventeen years after Bilbo’s 111st birthday, but in the movies, Frodo leaves within weeks of the party. The condensed timeline is likely intended to convey a sense of urgency, since Tolkien’s original text had the hobbits move at a much slower pace, one that would’ve slowed the movie experience.

  • Mido admits that being a mother is largely something that one must learn through experience, and despite her own difficulties, manages to get by. This moment allows Maquia to listen to Mido’s experiences and gain from them. Mido later dyes Maquia’s hair a light brown to match Ariel’s, helping conceal her identity as an Iorph: while Helm’s inhabitants are largely neutral towards them, their remarks also suggest that the Iorph might be regarded with some mistrust, or even hostility, because of their isolation from the world.

  • The pastoral setting in and around the village of Helm is reminiscent of The Shire, a verdant and peaceful location far removed from the worries of the world. Like Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the RingsSayoasa makes extensive use of colours in the environment to clearly indicate the atmosphere. In Sayoasa, life and death are presented as natural events in life: Ariel’s first learning about death comes when the family dog passes away. Maquia is still green with respect to this, and she dissolves in tears, as well. Lang makes her promise to be stronger for Ariel’s sake.

  • Maquia is shown to care deeply for Ariel, and teaches him how to weave the Hibiol cloth, as well. Looking after Ariel, and helping out Mida, the seasons pass in this sleepy village. However, other children in the village, including Dita, find Ariel’s relationship with Maquia unusual and tease him for it. Dita later returns to apologise, but because of sudden news that Leilia is now entering an arranged marriage, Maquia leaves and heads for the capital to try and save her. She takes Ariel along, and Dita is unable to deliver her message.

  • On a vessel to the capital, Maquia encounters Krim. A male Iorph, Krim is voiced by Yūki Kaji (Hanasaku Iroha‘s Koichi Tanemura. Maquia is voiced by Manaka Iwami (Hotaru Hoshikawa in New Game!!), while Miyu Irino (Saji Crossroad of Gundam 00 and Amanchu Advance‘s Peter) provides Ariel’s voice. Some familiar names also return in Sayoasa: Racine is voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro (Strike Witches‘ Perinne H. Clostermann, Masami Iwasawa from Angel Beats! and Sword Art Online II‘s Sinon), Ai Kayano plays Leilia (Saori Takebe of Girls und Panzer, Mocha Hoto from GochiUsa and Chisaki Hiradaira from Nagi no Asukara), Dita is played by Yōko Hikasa (K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama), to name a new.

  • The capital of Mezarte is a beautiful city, resembling the Commonwealth of Athens’ capital from Break Blade. Fantastical settings in anime have always been of an exceptional calibre, and P.A. Works did a phenomenonal job in Sayoasa: it is a compliment when I say that the locations of Sayoasa are comparable to those of Peter Jackson’s Middle earth. The capital of Mezarte has the same glory as Minas Tirith, being a vast city built in a beautiful location.

  • Thirty screenshots is not enough of a space to capture every moment in Sayoasa, but in the interest of keeping the post of a manageable length, thirty screenshots is what I will have. Here, I’ve got one of the Renato, being used as a stead to carry Leilia during the day of her wedding. Krim and several other Iorph agents manage to infiltrate the processions and create a disruption, allowing Krim to take Leilia.

  • The rescue is ultimately unsuccessful: when Maquia learns Leilia is pregnant, she hesitates, and decides to leave Leilia. Maquia and Krim go their separate ways here: while Maquia consents to leave Leilia (and in doing so, represents the choice to look to the future), Krim resolves to do what he can to save Leilia. The next time they meet, Krim will remark that Maquia’s life was one of general happiness, as she was able to experience a wide range of things, whereas Leilia became confined within the Mezarte capital after her child did not appear to display any Iorph characteristics.

  • The moody industrial town of Dorail is where Maquia and Ariel settle down next. Initial struggles cause Maquia to lash out at Ariel, but the two later reconcile. Maquia takes up a job as a waitress in a tavern, while Ariel begins working in the forges. In Dorial, vast industrial machines can be seen, covering the area in eternal gloom; it’s a far cry from the blue skies of the capital, and the open spaces in Helm.

  • As he grows older, Ariel becomes increasingly embarrassed by the notion that his coworkers have of him: Maquia outwardly resembles someone who is fifteen, and with Ariel at roughly the same age, some wonder if he and Maquia have eloped or similar. While working, Maquia encounters Lang at the tavern: he’s become a soldier for Mezarte and upon meeting Maquia, they spend time catching up.

  • The monarchy in Mezarte is presented as being ineffectual and weak: the rulers seem to place an undue emphasis on power and the symbols of power, at the expense of their nation. With the Renato dying off, and Leilia failing to bear any offspring with Iorph characteristics, Mezarte’s leadship grow desperate, indicating that their hold on the world wanes while other powers rise. Details like these, while never explicitly naming the state of the world, serve to nonetheless help with world-building, and Sayoasa‘s world is as intriguing as those seen in P.A. Works’ other titles.

  • For her perceived failures, Leilia becomes locked away and forbidden from seeing her child, driving her to despair. Forgotten and abandoned, Leilia’s only question is how her daughter, Medmel, is doing. The prince of Mezarte appears powerless to do anything about her situation, mirroring the nation’s own decay over time. This brings to mind Gondor and its decline over the ages: in its quest to recruit ancient powers to preserve their rule, the monarchy in Mezarte appears no different than the rulers of Gondor, who cared more for their past than their present.

  • Maquia is devastated when Ariel announces his intention to join the armed forces. Prior to leaving, Ariel encounters Lang and laments not being able to do more for Maquia, and when the time comes, the two part on uncertain terms. Maquia is taken by Krim here to an unknown location subsequently. When other nations begin mounting an assault, Krim leaves for the royal palace, and Maquia makes her way outside. During the combat sequences, the incidental music marks a shift to the motifs that Kenji Kawai is best known for, resembling the music from Gundam 00 and Ip Man.

  • When I first began watching Sayoasa, I had no idea that Kawai would be composing the music for the film: the motifs for the Iorph and Maquia are quite unlike anything that I’d previously heard from Kawai. However, I began recognising his signature style in some of the more melancholy pieces, and by the time the fighting in Mezartes began, there was little doubt in my mind that Kawai had composed the film’s soundtrack. Krim and Leilia had once been in a relationship, and when his efforts to bring Leilia back fails, he attempts to immolate them both. Krim sustains a fatal wound subsequently,

  • The invasion of Mezarte begins with a naval bombardment. While Mezarte might be a dying empire, with a decadent and ineffective leadership, audiences nonetheless feel compelled to back their armed forces because of the personal connection: both Lang and Ariel are fighting for their lives against the invading forces. At this point, soldiers on both sides have access to single-action rifles, but the close quarters forces combatants on both sides to rely on their bayonets. The fighting and death is interspersed with scenes of Maquia helping Dita give birth after the latter goes into labour.

  • When Ariel and Dita’s child is safe, Maquia finds Ariel on the battlefield with an injury. Years of concern and regret manifest here: Ariel is genuinely sorry for having left Maquia’s side so suddenly, and addresses her as mother once more.  The two reconcile and part ways: Ariel returns home to Dita and finds their child, while Maquia frees the remaining Renato and takes to the skies.

  • Leilia gains closure when she meets Medmel. Feeling as though she’s finally found peace, she jumps off the edge of the palace, and Maquia catches her. The two fly off on the Renato back to their homeland. I note that owing to release patterns, any search for the term “Maquia” will yield results for the film first, rather than for the district in Peru’s Requena province or a family-run inn in Pontevedra, Spain. While I’m early to the party as far as bloggers go, the film’s screening in theatres around North America mean no shortage of reviews for the film are available for reading.

  • Reviewers universally found Sayoasa a generally enjoyable film. Poignant and sentimental, the film is described as being imaginative and heart-melting, praised for its exceptional visuals and critiqued for leaving some items unresolved. In a rare instance, I am largely in agreement with existing reviews for Sayoasa, although personally, I enjoyed the film enough to give it a recommendation and be more generous with my scoring – I think that the film has earned its A grade (a nine of ten) for being very captivating and immersive in spite of its flaws.

  • Now that Daylight Savings has ended, this side of the world has darkened again, and the autumn has given way from the cool, sunny days to cold and wet days. I am someone whose disposition is impacted by the weather, and weather of late has resulted in greater melancholy and lethargy, as well as declining motivation. However, there are ways of combating this – under rainy skies today, I went out for dim sum at a local restaurant that has some of the best deep-fried squid this side of the city. Good food is a phenomenal tonic for the spirit, and despite the rest of today being rainy, I was in good enough spirits to write out this post, vacuum and push further in Destiny 2, which I got for free as a part of the promotion for the Foresaken expansion.

  • Sayoasa returns Maquia to the sleepy village of Helm, where an elderly Ariel passes away peacefully after a full life. Life and death is always a very tricky topic, and death inevitably brings sadness. In Chinese culture, death is accepted as a natural part of life, not to be feared, but also is something rarely discussed for fear of bringing about ill fortune. However, for Maquia, separation is still something that she finds difficult, and so, cries for his passing and the treasured memories they shared together.

  • I still recall hearing about Sayoasa during the midsummer of last year, watching beautiful trailer and reading that director Okada intended Sayoasa to be a film about human drama, meetings and departures that audiences can relate to. Catching only glimpses of the Iorph settlement and closeups in the film, I had no idea what the movie would entail. The movie released in Japan in February and became available in July across North America, and I was avoiding all spoilers. The Blu Rays became available in late October, allowing me to finally watch and write about the film.

  • Having spent the entirety of Sayoasa portraying the bonds between Maquia and Ariel, audiences can tangibly feel the sense of loss that Maquia experiences. The weather stands in stark contrast to Maquia’s sorrow – it is the same beautiful blue skies that she and Ariel have known. The choice to have Ariel’s death come on a beautiful day is a reminder that life and death are very natural parts of reality, and that for better or worse, things do continue on.

  • This post represents a small sample of the beautiful moments in Sayoasa, and for anyone who did end up reading all the way to this point, I remark that one might have wasted their time: Sayoasa is something to be experienced, rather than read about. If you’ve not done so already, kindly stop reading this post and go check the film out. I won’t be bothered: I’m more concerned about pushing my way through Destiny 2‘s campaign and debating whether or not Battlefield V is worth getting, especially considering that the Arras map looks almost identical to this screenshot. In blog news, I’ve fully migrated the site’s screenshots now, so there’s no worry about screenshots disappearing once Flickr actions their promise to delete old photos, and looking ahead into December, besides another instalment in CLANNAD ~After Story~, I will also be writing about The World in Colours and Anima Yell, the latter of which I’ve fallen quite far behind on.

From a narrative perspective, Sayoasa deals predominantly with a direct theme, in depicting the experiences one has over the course of a lifetime, and the complexities of the world around Maquia that she is made to adapt to. There are numerous secondary stories that are told in a broken pattern; like real life, it is not possible to know of every individual’s story in full, and that our impressions of others are constrained to what we see of them. The story thus stands well enough on its own: there’s enough going on to keep viewers engaged, but not enough to overwhelm them. Maquia herself is likeable as a lead character, stumbling through things she’s unfamiliar with, but also displaying enough resilience to adapt to her circumstances. The core of Sayoasa, already enjoyable, is augmented by P.A. Works’ exceptional visuals and the musical genius of Kenji Kawai. From the structures of the Iorph homeland, to beautiful countryside around Helm, the vast capital city’s majestic structures and the industrial gloom of Dorail, every location is rendered in incredible, life-like detail. Subtle elements, from the lighting to water effects, further enhance the strength of the artwork, immersing viewers into Maquia’s world. Meanwhile, Kawai’s music creates incidental music that genuinely captures the wistfulness and sorrow that permeates Sayoasa. In this film’s soundtrack is quite different from the bombastic tones that Kawai is best known for (e.g. Gundam 00, Ip Man, Higurashi: When They Cry and the live-action Death Note movies); use of strings and harps gives Sayoasa‘s music a very distinct feeling, capturing Maquia’s feelings. However, traces of Kawai’s style can be heard in the more dramatic pieces, such as when Maquia rescues Leilia after she reunites with her daughter, or during the combat sequences. Altogether, Sayoasa is a highly entertaining film that presents a message of what makes life worth living in a highly visceral, tangible manner; this is a movie I can easily recommend for viewers.