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This Art Club Has a Problem!: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” –Henry Ward Beecher

Mizuki Usami is a member of her middle school’s art club, and although she’s devoted to her craft, she struggles to handle her fellow club member, Subaru Uchimaki: although a talented artist in his own right, Subaru is more interested in producing anime drawings rather than conventional art. In spite of this, Mizuki holds feelings for Subaru and struggles to express herself; she manages to convince Subaru to stay in the art club. Later, Colette joins the art club after Subaru helps her in searching for a locket, and instructor Yumeko Tachibana takes up the role as the art club’s advisor. The art club’s everyday life is characterised by chaos and heartwarming moments: from Colette creating a bit of a ruckus after doodling on one of the model heads, to a fellow classmate botching a kokuhaku with Subaru and Mizuki encouraging Subaru in entering a contest after a classmate disparages his work, life in the art club settles into a familiar and comfortable pattern. Maria Imari transfers into their school shortly after, and quickly bonds with Subaru over their common interests, to Mizuki’s displeasure. Despite her chūnibyō tendencies, Maria gets along with everyone, including Colette, who sees her as a master of sorts, and even Mizuki finds that Maria is probably no threat to the status quo, since Subaru appears interested only in fictional characters. The three share more adventures together and even go on a treasure hunt the previous art club left behind, only to find it was an adult magazine. This magazine would later cause the art club some trouble. Later, the art club’s president encounters Moeka, a little girl who’s arrived to find her grandfather: Yukio Koyama, the art club’s former advisor. Outside of their club activities, the art club’s members still must deal with exams: Mizuki and the president are decent students, but it turns out that Subaru and Colette have failed, pushing Mizuki to suggest a home study session. With her help, both pass and are ready to take on the school’s culture festival. With help from Yumeko, the art club prepare a tin can exhibit; despite suffering from setbacks, the art club manages to produce a work in time for the festival. On a rainy day, one of Mizuki’s friends, Kaori, arranges for Subaru to accompany Mizuki home. Later, Mizuki overhears Subaru asking Maria about how to make his feelings for someone whose traits resembles Mizuki’s. Certain it must be her, Mizuki attempts to do a kokuhaku, only to discover Subaru’s referring to an anime character who shares her surname. Although relieved that the status quo at the art club seems to be maintained, she promises to do her best in the future, too. With this, I’ve crossed the finish line for This Art Club Has a Problem! (Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru), an anime I was given a recommendation to watch.

Standing in contrast with the usual gamut of slice-of-life anime I typically watch and write about, This Art Club Has a Problem! represents a departure in that this anime is purely comedy-driven. There isn’t an overarching theme, a goal that unifies the episodes or a lesson to be learnt; instead, each episode consists of several, loosely-related vignettes that showcase Mizuki’s everyday life as a member of the art club, and some of the misadventures she goes on as a result of her involvement with some zany, but authentic individuals. Some of these misadventures are particularly well-written: when Colette doodles on a model head and hides it in a box to evade trouble, Yumeko stumbles upon it and faints, leading Subaru to try and revive her while Mizuki fetches help. However, the club president misinterprets the situation, reports it to Mizuki, who goes wild at the thought of Subaru doing mouth-to-mouth with Yumeko, resulting in catharsis. In another moment, after a treasure hunt finds an adult magazine on school grounds, this seemingly-irrelevant object creates trouble for the art club as Subaru and Mizuki try to smuggle it off campus for disposal. Ironically, Maria and Colette were on the search for a grimoire, and Yumeko coincidentally mispronounces the grimoire’s name as being the same title as the adult magazine. When two differing objectives converge, Subaru ends up taking the hit for things, releasing the tension from the moment. In both cases, a comedy of errors is used to create a build-up in tension, culminating in a dawning of comprehension that drives much of the humour. This is where This Art Club Has a Problem! excels, although smaller moments from character dynamics, especially Mizuki’s tsundere traits and the resulting misunderstandings, also allow This Art Club Has a Problem! to elicit laughs during quieter moments. This Art Club Has a Problem! demonstrates how universal elements of comedy (namely, dramatic irony, timing and subversion of expectations) can be successfully utilised in anime without becoming stale. In previous years, it was asserted that works driven by meta-humour were better received critically because self-referential humour was intelligent and demanded that viewers think to get the joke. This is untrue: if one needed possess a modicum of background to understand obscure cultural references or self-awareness, a work has failed in delivering comedy. This sort of thing is something that Steven Chow understood: his movies are universally regarded as excellent examples of comedy because they employ methods that are universally appreciated, making use of timing and subversion of expectations to create absurdity. To enjoy a Steven Chow film, one needn’t have a profound knowledge of Chinese culture. Similarly, here in This Art Club Has a Problem!, the anime is able to convey humour effectively because it utilises means that are universally understood.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Known as Konobi! in short, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a series that was recommended to me not too long ago. Unfortunately for me, I’ve long forgotten who made this recommendation, but on the flipside, I did get around to watching and writing about this show. The main reason why I took up this recommendation was because I’d already had one anime about an art club in the books, Sketchbook, and I was curious to see how This Art Club Has a Problem! proceeds. Right out of the gates, viewers are introduced to Mizuki Usami, who shares a family name with Locodol‘s Nanako Usami and resembles Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s Special Week.

  • With a love for the arts and a fiery personality, Mizuki is voiced by Ari Ozawa, whom I know best as Kurumi Ebisuzawa of Gakkō Gurashi, Himena Tokikawa of Yakunara Mug Cup MoYU-NO‘s Yuno and Nozomi Moritomo of The Rolling Girls. Her first act in This Art Club Has a Problem! is punching out one of Subaru Uchimaki’s works in frustration, and the first episode is appropriately-named: “these people have problems”. However, these problems are not derogatory, and it is the case that this particular art club has its share of issues.

  • Half of Mizuki’s problems come from Subaru’s enjoyment for drawing manga characters, and whenever she’s asked to model for him, Subaru invariably renders her as something else: in fact, the only detail he bothers to keep true-to-life are Mizuki’s pantsu, to her great embarrassment. However, whenever accidents befall the art club, Mizuki puts her own embarassment aside for the club’s sake. Early on, after destroying Mizuki’s competition piece by mistake, Subaru and the club president do what they can to distract her. When Mizuki learns the truth, she forces Subaru to submit one of his works as a replacement, and this ends up winning second place, to everyone’s surprise.

  • Colette is introduced into This Art Club Has a Problem! shortly after. She has a similar role to Sketchbook‘s Kate, a foreign student, but unlike Kate, who’s Canadian and relatively new to Japan, Colette’s lived in Japan for several years and has no misunderstandings about Japanese culture. In manner and personality, Colette is a cross between Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen and Hitori Bocchi‘s Sonoka. Character archetypes are often counted as dull or boring, but they serve an important purpose, giving viewers familiar characters so they can focus on how everyone bounces off one another in different contexts.

  • Mizuki’s friends swing by the art club one day to visit: her feelings for Subaru are a badly-kept secret, and they often intervene to bring the two closer together. From left to right, we’ve got Sayaka (a member of the news club), Kaori (who resembles Rifle is Beautiful‘s Hikari and The Quintessential Quintuplets’s Yotsuba) and Ryōko (a tall girl with glasses and similar vibes as K-On!‘s Nodoka). Here, Kaori challenges everyone to a drawing contest to see who can do the best job, with the loser having to buy everyone else drinks. Kaori ends up getting defeated, creating a scenario where Mizuki shares an indirect kiss with Subaru by means of a drink can.

  • Yumeko is introduced as the art club’s new advisor: she’s a cross between Locodol‘s Saori, GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori of Girls und Panzer and Dropout Idol Fruit Tart‘s Hoho, being clumsy and inexperienced, but also kind-hearted and willing to go the extra mile for her students. On her first day, she ends up observing the students, and typically leaves everyone to their own devices: Mizuki is responsible and can be counted upon to work on her art for competitions, while Subaru also produces a good amount of competition-worthy pieces despite being present only to draw manga characters.

  • Although This Art Club Has a Problem! begins in a slower manner, what kicked things up a notch was a comedy of errors that resulted from Colette defacing one of the model heads. When she conceals this in a box to avoid Mizuki’s wrath, she inadvertently knocks out Yumeko, who thought it was a real head. Spotting this prompts Mizuki and Subaru to seek out another instructor for help: while Mizuki finds another faculty member, Subaru grapples with the idea of resuscitating Yumeko via mouth-to-mouth. The club president misunderstands this and hastens to tell Mizuki. The build-up and timing of everything is worthy of Bill Watterson, and from here on out, I became more appreciative of the jokes in This Art Club Has a Problem!.

  • Aside from more intricate jokes that depend on timing and context, This Art Club Has a Problem! also falls upon more conventional jokes: after a bad draw leaves the art club to clean up the school pool, Mizuki and the others take on the task. However, true to the art club’s approach, they end up bringing some paints and make art of Subaru’s choosing. While everyone else has already changed, Yumeko struggles to fit into her swimsuit. Yumeko provides all of the t n’ a in This Art Club Has a Problem!: the opening sequence even has her posing suggestively, and throughout the show, Yumeko’s figure gives her no shortage of trouble.

  • Beyond this, This Art Club Has a Problem! is very disciplined, capitalising on its time to create jokes based around the art club’s misadventures, which result from carelessness for the most part. Here, it turns out the president’s picked up the kind of paint that’s water insoluble: there’s now no way to remove the mermaid everyone’s drawn in the pool. The president is on the hook for this, and chooses to evade responsibility by putting on the same mask Colette had worn earlier. Non sequitur humour is common in This Art Club Has a Problem!, similarly to how Sketchbook and Non Non Biyori operated.

  • Compared to Sketchbook, which had a very large cast and a busy art club, This Art Club Has a Problem! rolls things back: Colette is only a nominal member of the art club, and the president prefers to sleep rather than participate, leaving only Mizuki and Subaru to do related activities. When Maria Imari transfers into their school, a part of me had hoped that she would join the art club, too; she takes an interest in Subaru after learning they both share the same hobbies, and immediately get along, causing Mizuki no shortage of trouble.

  • Her chūnibyō tendencies notwithstanding, Maria is actually quite social and quite astute when it comes to people: she quickly spots that Mizuki’s got a crush on Subaru, and is able to elicit a response when she takes his arm. Originally, this outing had been just for Mizuki: she’d been wanting to get a new bag charm since her old one fell apart, and had been hoping to spend some time alone with Subaru. Mizuki is constantly torn between getting closer to Subaru and trying to conceal her feelings for him to others. At the bookstore, Maria’s antics cause the clerk to inwardly wish this rowdy bunch of students would hit the bricks.

  • On their way back home, Subaru, Mizuki and Maria encounter a tearful child: it turns out his balloon’s caught in a tree, and, unable to reach it, Subaru suggests piggy-backing to increase their reach. Mizuki initially hesitates, but when Maria offers to do so, Mizuki comes around. Mizuki’s been dreaming of such a moment and wishes Subaru would compliment on how light she is, but when he states the opposite, she presses her thighs together against his face in displeasure. In the end, this is unsyccessful: Mizuki is a few inches short, and it takes a jump from Maria to retrieve the balloon from the tree. She returns it to the boy, but loses herself in another soliquay that causes the boy to very nearly lose the balloon again.

  • Although This Art Club Has a Problem! has the characters refer to one another by their family names, I refer to everyone by their given names for simplicity’s sake, and here, I will jokingly remark that Subaru’s name, when rendered in colloquial Cantonese, is “掃把佬” (jyutping sou3 baa2 lou2, literally “broom guy”). In This Art Club Has a Problem!, Subaru’s name is rendered purely in hiragana, and as such, there is no hanzi equivalent to draw a pronunciation from. Here, Subaru and Mizuki are faced with a competitor who apparently knows art theory but lacks the practical skills to back it up.

  • Subaru isn’t particularly bothered, but Mizuki is left indigniant and declares that Subaru will kick his ass. To this end, Mizuki ends up helping Subaru in the competition and even models for him. The competitor remains unnamed, speaking to his insignificance in the context of This Art Club Has a Problem!, and I further see this character as a satire of folks who act high and mighty even though their knowledge of a topic is theoretical. This happens quite often in anime discussions, where some folks take it upon themselves to endlessly (and incorrectly) analyse minutiae in anime without understanding the topic, or the context behind why a particular detail was presented.

  • Fans who care excessively about the theory and whether or not an anime’s portrayal of real-world details is plausible tend to both miss out on the main messages a work strives to convey, and alienate themselves from other parts of the community. This is mirrored in This Art Club Has a Problem!, where the competitor gets wiped and Subaru wins first place. To add insult to injury, it turns out the competitor’s submission didn’t even make it to the stage where it could be featured, and he is promptly forgotten.

  • While in search of another model head, Subaru and Mizuki venture into the unused room next door, but because said room has a faulty sliding door, the pair become trapped in the room. Mizuki’s imagination goes into overdrive, and despite Subaru’s efforts to try and get them out, they are initially unsuccessful. When he attempts using a pocket light to catch the attention of a patrolling instructor, Subaru only succeeds in scaring the living daylights out of Yumeko, who promptly faints. However, when Subaru and Mizuki find some old photographs of the art club’s previous members, they spot another door that leads back to their clubroom. With this, they are able to escape the room.

  • When exams draw close, Mizuki begins studying in earnest, but quickly becomes distracted after hearing Maria and Subaru laughing in the now-open storeroom: they’re leafing through manga volumes the previous art club’s members have left behind. She orders the pair to be more respectful, but the resulting silence similarly bothers her. Despite being a straight-laced student, Mizuki is still prone to childishness from time to time, and worried that Maria will take Subaru from her, Mizuki decides to call a break. This coincides with their finding of a treasure map that was clandestinely left in the manga.

  • Maria’s knowledge of manga is extensive, but she’s unfamiliar with art. Since the treasure map was meant to be for art students, it takes Mizuki’s help to actually locate the prize, which is located on school grounds. Upon reaching the final spot on the map, expectations are high as Maria, Mizuki and Subaru dig for the treasure. To their great disappointment, they find an adult magazine inside the treasure box. Too embarrassed for words, Mizuki closes the box and promise to never speak of this moment again. However, in keeping with This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s approach for humour, the adult magazine promptly returns in the next episode.

  • This time, said adult magazine lies at the heart of a multi-directional misunderstanding between Subaru, the club president, Yumeko, Maria, Colette and Mizuki: the comedy of errors leading up to the final release was masterful, with every little event adding to the moment where Yumeko would ultimately take Subaru to the woodshed for possessing the magazine. Originally, the president had planned to dispose of it, but was reluctant to allow Subaru to do so when he’d offered to take it off-campus. I suppose now is a good time as any to remark that Nao Tōyama voices Maria: Tōyama has a leading role in a large number of the shows I watch (Yuru Camp△‘s Rin and Karen of Kiniro Mosaic immediately come to mind).

  • Later, the competitor attempts to start a rematch with Subaru, and this time, the challenge will be to see who can do a better rendering of Mizuki. Incensed by Subaru’s propensity to modify her, Mizuki roots for the competitor, causing his heart to flutter, and the pressure eventually leads him to fail, leaving Subaru to win by default. Mizuki is, aside from her tsundere traits, an ordinary character in every respect, and her frustrations would likely parallel those of how an ordinary individual might deal with the antics within a fictional world.

  • While the president is cutting class, he encounters Moeka, a four-year-old girl who had previously run into Mizuki and Subaru. It turns out Moeka has a fondness for visual arts and often wanders off on her own to visit her grandfather, who happens to be the art club’s former advisor. It is lucky that Moeka’s misadventures don’t result in much trouble, although her mother does eventually become frustrated enough at Moeka’s treks as to purchase a walking rope to keep Moeka in arm’s reach at all times. After her grandfather scolds her for running off again, he admires the work she’s created and hopes that one day, she can also join an art club.

  • Whereas Mizuki had totally pwned her exams (even going on a treasure hunt isn’t enough to throw her off her game), Subaru and Colette end up getting sucked into an anime and neglect their studies, causing them to fail their exams. Yumeko can actually be quite strict when the moment calls for it, and she prohibits the pair from club activities until they pass their make-up exams. To help them out, Mizuki suggests that they hit the books at her place. The study session does end up being fruitful: Subaru pushes himself to the limits to ensure he passes, and even Colette is putting her nose to the grindstone.

  • An ordinary study session such as this is par the course for what would happen in reality, but since This Art Club Has a Problem! is a comedy, something was bound to happen. Subaru becomes exhausted and asks to crash on Mizuki’s bed, and she consents. However, when Colette disappears, Mizuki is outraged to find her sleeping beside Subaru. In the end, both Subaru and Colette pass their exams: in this case, simply getting distracted was what caused both to initially fail, suggesting that both are reasonably competent students otherwise. In anime with a school setting, I’ve found that series with a particular focus will have characters that tend to perform well enough so that the story can focus on their activities.

  • When Kaori grows suspicious that Maria is trying to take Subaru away from Mizuki, she performs some fieldcraft that is so atrocious that John Clark and Domingo Chavez would roll their eyes. She tries to tail Maria, ends up being burnt and makes no attempt to hold a conversation with Maria. However, she does learn that Maria is genuine, and after listening to Maria speak, concludes that Mizuki’s going to be fine. Kaori is voiced by Sora Tokui, a voice actress I know best as GochiUsa‘s Maya. Hints of Maya are heard in Kaori’s voice: of Mizuki’s friends, she’s the most energetic

  • This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s episodes portray a self-contained story, and while aspects from previous episodes make their way into later episodes, events are given enough separation so that each episode can comfortably fit each story without running over. When their school’s culture festival arrives, Yumeko is filled with a desire to do something for the art club and suggests they do tin-can art to improve their visibility. Everyone’s initially reluctant, since the art club’s focus is more about competition, and since everyone’s also involved with their class’ projects, but seeing how spirited Yumeko is encourages everyone to participate.

  • The process towards building their sculpture, one of Mizuki’s design since it ends up representing the art club, is a difficult one: all of the cans collected must be washed and processed, which tires out the president. Although they begin amassing a decent number of cans, miscommunication results in most of their prepared cans being discarded. The instructor responsible profusely apologises, and with time running out, it seems that the art club won’t make the deadline. However, Subaru reasons that since the theme is using cans from their school, things should be okay as long as the drinks were enjoyed by students. To this end, the art club arranges for a drink rally, and with Maria in their corner, the event is a success.

  • The music in This Art Club Has a Problem! was actually something I found immensely enjoyable. Much as how Sketchbook made extensive use of piano to create a warm, nostalgic tone, This Art Club Has a Problem! also utilises piano to create a sense of melancholy, speaking to Mizuki’s yearning for Subaru to realise she has feelings for him. The incidental music in This Art Club Has a Problem! is varied, with light-hearted pieces complementing the more wistful songs, and this comes together to bring This Art Club Has a Problem! to life.

  • I ended up finishing This Art Club Has a Problem! last Saturday: having now settled into my new routine, I watch anime during lunch break, and on days where I work from home (but don’t lift weights), I can actually get an episode in before my day starts. This has allowed me to move through series at a much higher rate than before, and in this way, I wrapped up This Art Club Has a Problem! very quickly. I am glad to have finished this series: the reason This Art Club Has a Problem! slipped past my radar was because it aired during the summer of 2016, which had been when New Game! was airing.

  • At this point, I’d just finished my thesis defense and had returned home from my Cancún conference to begin my first job at a start-up. I had precious little time for anime, but going through This Art Club Has a Problem!, the art and animation have aged gracefully. Together with its emphasis on humour, and a cast that ends up being very lovable, endearing, I’ve no issues in giving this series a B grade (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 on a 10-point scale). Watching the characters bounce off one another and still succeed in their aims shows how despite shortcomings people might have, when their positive traits are allowed to shine, they can accomplish great things nonetheless. For Mizuki and the art club, it means finishing their sculpture on time to display it at their school’s cultural festival.

  • The finale feels more like a dénouement: on a rainy day, Mizuki becomes annoyed when Kaori takes her umbrella, but it turns out this had been a play to get Mizuki closer to him. Although this brings the pair close to a kokuhaku, a misunderstanding defuses things. In a bit of irony, a massive rainfall begun yesterday afternoon and lasted through most of today, bringing 75 mm of rain to the area. While a local state of emergency was declared, meteorologists are suggesting we should be spared of the flooding that ravaged the area nine years earlier. The rain came right as my parents dropped by with a surprise yesterday; they had managed to pick up roast goose from the restaurant downstairs, along with salted egg prawns, a delicious cabbage dish and sweet and sour pork. Goose is normally sold in limited quantities, and it’s a far leaner meat than duck. Today, the rain was joined by 90 km/h wind gusts, although the storm’s supposed lighten up by tomorrow. With This Art Club Has a Problem! in the books, I’ll be looking at Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island this coming weekend.

In a manner of speaking, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a modernised presentation of 2007’s Sketchbook: like Sketchbook, This Art Club Has a Problem! sees limited character development. Sora spends her day finding new things to draw and deals with the antics surrounding her art club, much as how Mizuki struggles to make her way in a club that only appears tangentially interested in art. However, while there’s no overarching story, no singular objective that the respective art clubs in Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! strive to achieve, humour underlies both series to showcase how colourful the world of young artists can be: in trying to capture the world on physical media, artists are attuned to things that others might miss, and as a result, are able to experience moments that are spectacular as they pursue their creations. This was particularly prominent in Sketchbook, which had been a relaxing and soothing series. This Art Club Has a Problem!, on the other hand, emphasises the humour resulting from Mizuki’s constant struggle in trying to deal with her feelings for Subaru. While this makes This Art Club Has a Problem! more rambunctious, the experience resulting from working towards an artistic piece is no less significant: Mizuki and Subaru work together to submit a piece for a competition to prove a classmate wrong about Subaru’s work, and the art club ends up building a tin can sculpture together for the culture festival, which allows them to elevate the art club’s prominance and do more around their school, as well. Both Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! emphasise different aspects of being in an art club: Sketchbook is more introspective and thoughtful, while This Art Club Has a Problem! is more boisterous and in a seemingly contradictory fashion, more melancholy, as well. Romance was not a significant part of Sketchbook, but in This Art Club Has a Problem!, Mizuki’s pursuit of Subaru’s heart is subtly hinted at through things like lighting and incidental music. The emphasis on the rowdiness is a world apart from the laid-back tone of Sketchbook, speaking to a shift in aesthetics in the nine-year gap between Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem!, showing both how even something as quiet as an art club can have excitement, as well as providing an answer for what Sketchbook would’ve looked like had it been produced more recently.

You Never Let Us Down: Watashi ni Tenshi ga Maiorita! OVA Review and Reflection

“If your actions were to boomerang back on you instantly, would you still act the same?” –Alexandra Katehakis

When summer vacation arrives, Miyako reluctantly accompanies Hinata, Hana, Noa and her mother, Chizuru, out to the countryside for a camping trip by the lake. Despite Miyako’s objections, she eventually dons a swimsuit and enters the water to join the others. As the day draws to a close, Miyako ends up helping her mother to set up the tent and begins preparing dinner, before sitting down to make s’mores with the others. When night falls, a strange noise in the bush shocks the group: they find that it’s none other than Kōko, who was originally set to join them but got lost along the way. Kōko recalls her rather one-sided friendship with Miyako, and during Halloween, while Miyako becomes excited to see what costume Hana will wear, Kōko and Yū both appear: it turns out that Kōko’s been itching to have Miyako model her latest creation, and has even managed to convince Yū to help her in persuading Miyako to give things ago. When Hinata, Noa, Kanon and Koyori show up in costume, Miyako is thrilled with how adorable everyone looks. However, Hana is late, and she’s defined expectations by showing up in a rather grotesque costume. Miyako later recalls meeting Hinata after the latter had been born, and how quickly they bonded. With this, I’ve crossed the finish line for Wataten!‘s OVA, which was released with the BDs a few months after the series had concluded back in 2019. Although Wataten!‘s initial premise had raised more than a few eyebrows, the series would come to present an endearing story about how the right influences and experiences can push individuals out of their comfort zone and also temper some aspects of one’s personality so that they may better present themselves and their feelings towards others. In Wataten!, Miyako’s effort to pursue Hana ultimately leads her to lend her own skills and hobbies towards others beyond Hinata, whom she dotes on, and in doing so, Miyako becomes better-adjusted as a result. Wataten! originally left with Hana expressing that, while she’s still occasionally put off by Miyako’s actions, getting to know her better had shown Hana that Miyako’s intentions are genuine, and not something to trivially cast aside.

Wataten!‘s OVA is contingent on viewers having already seen the original televised run: there’s four distinct vignettes weaved together to give viewers a collection of stories that show how Miyako’s changed since Wataten!‘s beginning. It is plain that for Hinata, Miyako is willing to do most anything, and so, when Hinata expresses a desire for Miyako to get out more and experience life more fully, Miyako accompanies Hinata, only to find herself enjoying things more than she’d expected. However, there is another aspect that drives Miyako’s growth: she eventually meets Kōko properly and finds herself shocked at how Kōko views their friendship. From an external observer’s point of view, Kōko regards Miyako the same way Miyako originally sees Hana, going to great (even unhealthy) lengths to win their object of affection over. From the story’s standpoint, Kōko fulfils a very important role. By making Miyako uncomfortable, Kōko is able to show Miyako how difficult she’s making things for Hana. Realising this is what leads Miyako to dial back her emotion: although she still loves Hana very much, Miyako slowly begins to master her impulses so that she’s not frightening Hana away at every turn. Of course, what would really be valuable is if Miyako could express this towards Kōko, as well: like Miyako, Kōko is well-meaning and skillful in her own right, but common sense seems to be defeated by infatuation wherever Miyako is concerned. However, Kōko’s behaviours are not fixed in stone: Wataten! has shown how over time, characters will change for the better as a result of their shared experiences, and consequently, it is not inconceivable that even Kōko could learn to reign things back some to build a more meaningful friendship with Miyako, of the sort that she dreams of in her mind’s eye. Wataten!‘s flawed but loveable characters forms a majority of the series’ charm, making this journey of development particularly enjoyable, and because everyone is distinctly human, this corresponds to the possibility for further stories to be told. This fact is not lost on the writers: a film, Wataten!: Precious Friends will premiere in Japanese cinema later this year to advance things further.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because there is a Wataten! movie, I determined that while I’ve got the opportunity now, I should wrap up my journey here before the film releases; I typically leave some time between finishing a series and the OVAs so I can return to them with a fresh set of eyes and determine whether or not the OVA is successful in capturing the same feeling the anime conveyed. The main drawback about my approach is that I have a tendency to procrastinate, and one risk about this is that I’d only realise I’d have an OVA to watch once the movie actually screens.

  • For Wataten!, the only thing I know of the release date is that it’s somewhere in the autumn, and given how anime films release, overseas viewers usually have an eight to eleven month long wait. As such, I’ll probably get to writing about the movie next September or so. Although I initially passed over Wataten! as a result of my schedule and struggled to regain my motivation in watching this series, I ended up doing so earlier this year. For my troubles, I was met with a series that proved surprisingly heartwarming and amusing despite its initial impressions.

  • Having said this, Wataten! getting a movie came as a bit of a surprise for me: the TV series had ended on an excellent note, and this OVA acts as an encore of sorts. From a thematic perspective, Wataten! had done a thorough job of portraying Miyako’s growth: she starts as someone who exudes questionable tones but, as a consequence of being open to new experiences, slowly acclimatises to interacting with others. The anime closed with Hana remarking that, while she still finds Miyako a little dubious at times, seeing her try so hard to be her best self has convinced Hana that they can be friends nonetheless.

  • Although she’d not brought a swimsuit and was intending on doing some photography, Noa and Chizuru both planned ahead: it turns out that Kōko has Miyako’s measurements on hand (and now that I think about it, Kōko feels like she’s into Miyako to a much greater extent than any of the stunts Miyako herself had pulled when trying to persuade Hana to cosplay), and both Noa and Chizuru had anticipated some resistance from Miyako, so they’d bought a swimsuit for her using this knowledge and even prepared a waterproof case for her camera.

  • The camping trip in the Wataten! OVA would suggest that while Miyako is more receptive towards hanging out than she had been previously, it still takes a nontrivial amount of effort to get her to do so. Hinata is particularly versed at coercing Miyako into doing things, and in retrospect, this is no similar than Miyako attempting to win Hana over with sweets. The joke here, then, is that despite being quite a ways older than Hinata and the others, Miyako is still child-like in some ways.

  • Back in Wataten!‘s OVA, Miyako ends up being dragged into the water, where she finally relents and joins the others. This outcome speaks to how everything can seem more imposing than it is, but once gets over that initial hurdle, it becomes easier to continue. For Miyako, now that she’s actually in the water, she’s able to relax a little and live in the moment, joining Hinata, Hana, and Noa in enjoying the lake water. The same holds true in reality; once the inertia of starting something is overcome, one will typically find it easier to get into things, whether it’s a new project or anime.

  • This particular camping site is located in a generic location: Wataten! is a series where the focus is on the characters, rather than the characters and their surroundings. In series that allow it, location hunts are an immensely enjoyable activity, allowing me to explore a setting and feel as though the events of a given work could’ve really happened. Conversely, in series that are set “somewhere in Japan”, the message I draw is that the characters are the sole stars in the show, and that the events of that story could happen anywhere and still succeed in conveying its themes.

  • As a safety measure, everyone’s donned life jackets to ensure they don’t sink in the lake: unlike beaches seen in other series, there are no lifeguards around, but fortunately, Hinata, Noa and Hana are well-behaved and keep close to shore. In this way, what started out as something she was disinterested in becomes a morning of bliss for Miyako, and in the OVA, it does feel as though the effort needed to persuade Miyako to participate was much less than what it’d been when Wataten! first started.

  • I first had their poutine when I was doing my open studies term. I vividly recall watching Tamayura ~More Aggressive~’s finale during a lunch break during mid-Autumn, and in fact,  The Fried Chicken Poutine is one of the simpler poutines on the list of poutines I’ve tried, but Waffles n’ Chix delivers such a good poutine that, when food trucks began regularly appearing on campus, I made it a point to have lunch there at least once a year. After entering graduate school, I remember enjoying this poutine again after a getting Unreal Engine set up for my thesis work, and again when I finished watching Gakkō Gurashi. According to the blog archives, they used to add a dash of maple syrup to their poutines, and while this practise stopped in 2015, their poutine remains top-tier, the perfect fuel for a busy, and productive day.

  • Back in Wataten!‘s OVA, while Hinata, Hana and Noa get dinner set up, Miyako and Chizuru pitch the tent before joining the others for dinner. Barbeque is a popular activity in Japan during summers, although anime portray skewers and thinner cuts of meat as being popular, whereas over here in Canada, barbeque means burgers, hot dogs, wings and whole steaks. I’m moderately competent with cooking, but grilling is an area I’d love to get into: there’s something immensely satisfying about the sizzle of meat on a fire, likely a consequence of our evolutionary origins.

  • It takes Chizuru a bit to light the coals, bringing to mind a similar moment from Yuru Camp△ when Rin struggled to get her binchotan fire going. While the others become worried after the third attempt, it turns out there’d been some fire starter floating around that greatly accelerates the process, and finally, the fire’s hot enough to cook on. Having watched Survivorman for as long as I have, in the absence of any additional fire-starting material like paper, my first inclination would be to gather dried leaves, punky wood, small twigs or pinecones to start the fire, and then add larger twigs or small branches to keep the fire going.

  • One returning joke from Wataten! is Hana’s propensity to butcher even the most basic of meal-prep: the slice of meat she lays on the grill crumples and falls through the grating into the fire, being burnt to a crisp in the process. Worried Hana will burn up their stockpile, Noa offers to lay the meat on the grill. Being bad with food has long been employed as a comedic device, there is a biological basis behind clumsiness: opposing dominance between one’s hands and eyes create a delay in spatial-visual perception, resulting in errors in coordination that manifest as clumsiness.

  • The TV series had presented Chizuru as being a little intimidating (she once tied Miyako to the ceiling for having spoiled the girls’ appetites), but as the anime continued, it becomes clear that she loves her children very much. Now that I think about it, Chizuru somewhat resembles OreGairu‘s Shizuka in appearance, and here, she introduces Hana, Hinata and Noa to the idea of toasting marshmallows over an open fire. This is a longstanding camping tradition that’s seen in virtually every portrayal of camping on television and in film; recalling this piqued my curiosity, and I found myself wondering how marshmallows came to be an indispensable part of camping.

  • As it turns out, marshmallows were originally intended as a medical supplement, with sap from the Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) plant being mixed with white meringue and rose water to form a candy that could help soothe the throat and boost immune response. Because Marsh Mallow sap is difficult to gather, in the 1900s, confectioners eventually replaced the sap with corn syrup and gelatin, forming today’s marshmallows, and although the origins of marshmallow roasting is lost to time, it is thought to have coincided with when s’mores became popular. After Hana’s luck runs out when she overcooks her marshmallow on one side, causing it to fall off the stick, Chizuru gives Hana an alternative recipe that is less likely to fall.

  • The addition of a roasted marshmallow to crackers produces a ‘smore, and Hana digs in. Watching Hana eat has always been adorable: I liken it to watching rabbits eat, something that I also find immensely cathartic. From what I’ve read, adorable things resemble children and activate the brain’s amygdala, triggering a release of oxytocin, which helps defeat stress. The reason why this is hardwired into people is to promote looking after offspring, and moé anime have made a science of this: such series elicit the same sense of warmth as one might experience when watching videos of small animals.

  • When night falls, Chizuru falls asleep immediately, and the bushes suddenly begin rustling. Since this is Wataten! and not a horror flick, it turns out the source of this commotion is none other than Kōko, who was apparently invited along with everyone but got lost in the process. The OVA subsequently transitions to a flashback of what Kōko makes of her friendship with Miyako: even back in high school, Miyako had been introverted and stoic, but Kōko saw this as Miyako having an aloofness about her that made her particularly appealing. However, Kōko struggled to break the ice, and settled for following Miyako around.

  • The transition over to Halloween is smooth: one of the things I particularly liked about the Wataten! OVA is how the transitions between the vignettes were handled. After realising it’s Kōko who’d been given them a scare, the OVA portrays Kōko’s perception of her relationship with Miyako, and this ends with a scene of Kōko walking past Miyako’s house with Yū. In the present, the story returns to Miyako, who’s positively aglow with excitement at the thought of seeing Hana in a Halloween costume.

  • When the doorbell rings, however, it’s Yū and Kōko who show up. Yū was a very welcome part of Wataten! despite having made only a few appearances: she’s even younger than Hinata, Noa and Hana, and befitting of a child, brings with her an adorable aura that adds to Wataten!‘s already cuddly and warm atmosphere. It turns out Kōko’s brought Yū along as a secret weapon of sorts: there’s a cosplay she’d been wanting Miyako to model, and figured this would be the best way to convince Miyako without going to further measures.

  • Kōko herself is dressed as Wendy from Where’s Waldo: created in 1986 by Martin Handford at the behest of David Bennett, Where’s Waldo features intricate drawings that require players to locate the iconic character. Earlier iterations just featured Wally (Waldo in North America), but later books would feature lookalikes and additional characters to find. Over the years, Where’s Waldo challenges have become progressively difficult, and here in Wataten!, I imagine that this would be the easiest game of Where’s Waldo anyone would have the opportunity to play.

  • Thanks to Yū, Miyako reluctantly agrees to wear the costume that Kōko’s made for her. It’s a perfect fit, and also indicates to viewers that while Miyako wears a tracksuit which conceals her figure, she’s technically no slouch in appearances: it’s commented that if Miyako were to spend a little more time tending to her own appearances as she does on her cosplay and cooking, and go out more often, she’d probably turn a few heads, although her reaction suggests that she’s unlikely to be fond of this outcome.

  • Miyako’s look of mortification says it all; for me, more so than Hana’s initial cold attitudes towards Miyako, it’s Kōko that evokes the strongest change in Miyako. While Kōko is very overbearing and even resembles a yandere at times (albeit without the violent tendencies), when the chips are down, she genuinely looks up to Miyako and has stepped up to help Miyako out previously. Assuming one could accept that Kōko’s tendencies are probably here to stay, Kōko is a good person to have in one’s corner. With her desire to see Miyako wearing her outfit satisfied, Kōko and Yū take off, giving Miyako time to change back into her usual outfit.

  • Later, Hinata arrives along with Noa, Kanon and Koyori. In a turn of events, everyone’s dressed up precisely as Miyako had envisioned in her mind’s eye (with the key difference that Miyako had imagined Hana wearing all of the outfits). Halloween has always been a fun time to dress up and get candy: this tradition is one that I grew up with, and as a child, I went as a wizard. Once I hit secondary school, I kitted myself out in an old karate gi and went as a white belt for the in-school costume event. In university, I picked up a basic Stormtrooper costume, although I’ve never bought a blaster to go with said costume.

  • Trick-or-treating used to be quite popular in my old neighbourhood, but as the demographic aged, we’d received fewer and fewer visitors, until the global health crisis hit and we sat the event out. Having now moved, I’m not too sure how trick-or-treating works now that I’m not in a detached house. However, old traditions, namely watching both It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, have endured. Regardless of whether the HOA’s rules allow for trick-or-treat or not, I do plan on picking up some KitKats (my go-to Halloween candy) and watching my favourite Halloween specials.

  • The joke’s on Miyako, who’s noticed that Hana’s late: the observant viewer will have noticed that including Miyako herself, all of the costumes that she’d imagined have now been shown, so whatever Hana’s brought to the table will be something else. The humour in this scene comes from the fact that viewers will be well aware of the fact that Miyako is expecting something adorable, but Hana will almost certainly defy expectations in some way. This comes to pass as soon as Hana shows up: while Hana herself may have captured Miyako’s heart, her definition of cute stands in stark contrast with the norm.

  • Viewers are thus left to take in the situation, and Wakaten!‘s OVA switches over to its final vignette, a flashback to how Miyako became close to Hinata. Even before Hinata was born, Miyako had been most excited to finally meet her younger sister: she’s holding a stuffed penguin in anticipation, and it’s clear that Miyako has probably asked Chizuru on how to properly hold a baby: the cradle hold is one of the easiest positions for infants, with one hand supporting the baby’s head and neck, and then the other hand supports the baby’s bottom to create a cradle of sorts.

  • From the very moment Miyako meets Hinata, she begins to realise that she’s important to Hinata: although Hinata had suddenly begun to cry, seeing Miyako soothes her, and she suddenly begins smiling. This is a sign that the sisters are closer than Miyako realises here; in this moment, Hinata’s smile is more of a reflexive smile, a response to a comforting situation, but a baby’s smile is still precious, and Miyako is immediately filled with joy to be holding Hinata. From this moment on, the sisters are as close as can be, bringing to mind the likes of K-On!‘s Yui and Ui, and GochiUsa‘s Mocha and Cocoa.

  • With this last vignette, the Wataten! OVA draws to a close, and I’m left in a position where I’m as caught up as can be for Wataten!. I don’t mind admitting that while Wataten! had been on my radar since I read the season previews back in 2019, my own doubts about the series after one episode and the fact that my schedule at the time had been quite overwhelming, so Wataten! ended up falling off my watchlist. I am glad to have picked the series up again; time and time again, I’ve found that whether they’re series on my own list, or from recommendations, I tend to enjoy most of the anime that I watch to completion.

  • Of late, I’ve finally begun my journey into Konobi (Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru! or This Art Club Has A Problem!, not to be confused with the currently-airing Kenobi): I started Konobi on recommendations from one of my readers, and although I can’t quite place when I received the recommendation, at the very least, I’m watching the show now. I’ll reserve my final thoughts on Konobi once I finish, but I can say that I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and will be writing about it in full once I cross the finish line. In other news, Battlefield 2042‘s finally got an update: titled “Zero Hour”, it will see the addition of a new map that I’m excited to try out.

  • Overall, I enjoyed Wataten!‘s OVA: this addition to the series doesn’t extend the thematic elements explored in the TV series, but instead, represents a chance to simply see the characters again before the film releases. Seeing how close Miyako and Hinata were ends up being a fitting way to enter the movie, and while I’ve no idea what the film will entail, experience suggests that Precious Friends will likely scale things up in Wataten! for the silver screen similarly to how Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!! had. Time will tell where Wataten! goes with its movie, and while the release date is a ways off for us overseas viewers, I will aim to write about Precious Friends once it’s available.

While Wataten!‘s first episode may have started things on a rough footing for viewers, folks with the patience and maturity to continue the series would ultimately find it to be a heartwarming tale of how love pushes people to be their best selves. That a film is in production speaks to Wataten!‘s staying power: not every anime series will receive a theatrical adaptation, so the fact that Wataten! is getting a movie means that reception to the series in Japan has been positive. There’s hardly any controversy surrounding Wataten! in Japan, standing in sharp contrast with some reception of the series at some North American anime news outlets. Cultural differences are not responsible for this gap; Wataten! deals with how people handle and respond to falling in love, and while different cultures may approach things differently, the process is one that people can universally relate to. As such, if Wataten! had indeed been a sub-par portrayal of these topics, its reception in Japan would have been sufficiently poor so that no movie project would have been approved. The existence of a movie similarly speaks to the fact that this series was well-received in Japan, and moreover, viewers overseas have also spotted Wataten!‘s merits and joys. Because there is a movie, the conclusion is simple enough; reception to Wataten! is positive, and the initial flaws (largely a consequence of Miyako being completely unfamiliar with social convention) are swiftly overshadowed by what the series does well in its portrayal of how meeting Hana acts as a catalyst for Miyako to better herself and become more socially apt. Since Wataten! had been a story of showing how Miyako’s experiences become the agent for her growth, one wonders what would await viewers in Precious Friends. Without much more known about what the film will cover, one can reasonably surmise it’ll be a heartwarming and humourous story; I’m certainly excited to see what’s on the horizon. Given the film is estimated to hit Japanese cinema in the fall of this year, I estimate that overseas viewers, like myself, will have the chance to watch Precious Friends once the spring or summer of next year arrives.

Lucky☆Star OVA: Review and Reflections After Another Long Weekend

“I take time to watch anime. I don’t know whether I’m allowed to, but I do it anyway.” –Larry Wall

A year after Lucky☆Star‘s airing concluded, Kyoto Animation released an original video animation for the series. This OVA consists of six acts; the first details the day of Minami’s dog, Cherry, and what occurs when various friends, including Miyuki, Patricia, Yukata and Hiyori visit. Minami is saddened to see Cherry disinterested in her dinner. Later, Kagami and Tsukasa accompany Konata and Nanako play an MMORPG. While Kagami is frustrated by the gamer-speak Konata and Nanako use, Tsukasa struggles with the game mechanics. During Golden Week, Nanako ends up power-levelling since she has nothing better to do. When Kagami falls asleep while house-sitting, she dreams about being whisked away to a Cinderella-like ball by Konata, which turns out to be a martial arts tournament. Konata’s magic depletes as Kagami returns home, leading Kagami to reluctantly recite an embarrassing spell that she says aloud, to Tsukasa’s shock. Later, Tsukasa attempts to become more noticeable by beating Kagami’s team in volleyball, but ends up failing and laments that she’ll remain a side character. The penultimate act has Miyuki recall a misadventure where their group wound up lost, and despite attempting some survival tactics, ultimately are found when Konata re-enters an area cellular coverage. Although a furious Nanako lectures them, she ends up relenting and sits the four down to a late dinner. The OVA closes up with a horror-themed segment where Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki somehow end up becoming frogs after visiting a strange pet-shop, and a live-action Lucky☆Channel segment. This unusual collection of shorts was originally intended for release in June 2008, but production issues pushed it back to September 2008. While retaining the whimsical charm of the original series, the Lucky☆Star OVA also presented Kyoto Animation a chance to explore both side stories that occurred in parallel with Lucky☆Star, as well as a fantastical and non-sequitur moment through its penultimate act. In addition to being a fun addition to the series, the Lucky☆Star OVA represents providing Kyoto Animation a means of experimenting with different visual effects: the MMORPG segment is rendered entirely in the 3D aesthetic of a JRPG, and Kagami’s going to the ball similarly presents a chance to play with particle effects. All of this is wrapped up in an addition to Lucky☆Star‘s repertoire of amusing anime jokes, so as far as experiences go, the Lucky☆Star OVA earns a passing grade.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to me that until now, I’ve never actually sat down and watched the Lucky☆Star OVA in full: previously, I’d caught glimpses of things like Kagami’s ill-fated attempt to dissuade Konata from taking her to the ball, or the MMORPG segment. In retrospect, I’m glad to have done so: while this series of vignettes does not add much to Lucky☆Star in the way of story, it does represent forty minutes of comedy. My favourite of the acts are, unsurprisingly, the MMORPG segments, which has Konata and Nanako discussing their game in gamer-speak (incorrectly identified as 1337-speak in most other places online), and Kagami’s attempts to dissuade Konata from taking her to the ball. The former is hilarious because, even though I’m not an RPG fan by any stretch (I enjoy games of the genre, but do not put in a large amount of time into things), I fully understand and follow the conversations Konata has with Nanako. Similarly, Kagami’s going to the ball and being kitted with Miku Hatsune’s outfit from Vocaloid was hilarious. While Lucky☆Star has previously shown Kagami as being tsundere with a short fuse, her anger at Konata here was taken to the next level. The Lucky☆Star OVA also brings with it surprises: Tsukasa has always been a quiet, shy character, but her being defeated in volleyball proved surprisingly poignant. Although she’s a lead in Lucky☆Star, her counterpart in CLANNAD was indeed a secondary character, so this may have been a callback to CLANNAD. Miyuki’s recounting her group getting lost in camping also proved heart-warming. With a combination of bad jokes (courtesy of Konata) and warmth (Nanako relenting in the end), this vignette shows how additional time can be used to create additional contexts for the characters to bounce off one another in. I was not particularly fond of the first or final acts, although even these have their moments, and beyond the likes of CLANNAD, numerous other series are referenced. Konata’s costume references Yuki’s witch costume in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, while the “jet stream attack” is a callback to Mobile Suit Gundam‘s Black Tri-Stars. Kagami also promises not to absorb a soul, a reference to Soul Eater. Despite a weaker opening and ending, the Lucky☆Star OVA still offers a solid experience in bringing back the antics and characters to a series that gently parodies the demographic who would be most likely to watch and enjoy such a show.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Although the Lucky☆Star OVA’s first vignette opens up in a light-hearted, comical manner, a day’s worth of trouble causes Minami’s dog, Cherry, to lose her appetite during dinner, leaving Minami saddened. Each of the stories in the Lucky☆Star OVA are standalone tales that, while lacking context, provide an additional chance for the characters to interact with one another. I would imagine that a day of attention has left Cherry exhausted, but there was a melancholy about this first act that made it a little trickier to follow.

  • Lucky☆Star began with a focus on Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki, but as the series continued, the cast expanded greatly: the show had already been quite lively even with just four central characters, but adding Yutaka, Minami, Patricia, Hiyori and Izumi created a much deeper, richer world. With twenty-four episodes, Lucky☆Star harkens back to a time when creators had more breathing room to produce anime. Today, studios work on multiple series simultaneously, so things like Gundam SEED wouldn’t be possible: year-long projects divert resources away from other series. It would be exceedingly rare for slice-of-life series like Azumanga Daioh and Lucky☆Star to receive 2-cours out of the gates, and studios would instead split the series up into several seasons, so they can work on other projects, and continue on with additional seasons only if profits are good.

  • Of the shorts in the Lucky☆Star OVA, the MMORPG act stands as one of my favourites; it follows Konata, Kagami and Tsukasa playing through a game together with their instructor, Nanako Kuroi. While Konata and Nanako are experienced veterans, Kagami is able to keep up, but poor Tsukasa struggles with the game mechanics, and at one point, states that she had assumed that spell levelling was automatic. Tsukasa of Lucky☆Star had been a little air-headed but adorable in her mannerisms, unfamiliar with the otaku world that Konata, and to a lesser extent, Kagami, know of.

  • One aspect of this vignette I enjoyed was the fact that I was able to follow everything Konata and Nanako converse about; I’m not anywhere nearly as versed in RPGs as I am in FPS, but I became familiar with the terminology, and enjoy the genre, as a result of a friend’s private Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft servers from back when we were secondary students. I will note here that the RPG jargon Konata and Nanako use isn’t “1337-speak”: it’s simply RPG shorthand. Proper 1337-speak include things like calling people n00bs, pwning foes and the like.

  • Kagami’s reaction to Nanako and Konata picking up brand-name items in-game is my own: I prefer playing games without the inclusion of exclusive items that may break gameplay. As the group go through their game, Konata, Kagami and Tsukasa note they will be offline to enjoy Golden Week, and come back to find that since Nanako had nothing better to do, she ended up power-levelling her character. Nowadays, I spend most of my long weekends out and about, enjoying the weather, do things I don’t normally do and sleep in.

  • Of all the shorts in the Lucky☆Star OVA, my favourite is when the Hiiragis go to a ball of sorts, leaving Kagami to house-sit. She falls asleep, and is surprised to find Konata at her place, insisting that Kagami secretly also wanted to go but was too tsundere to admit it. Whimsical and fanciful, this Cinderella-like arc is charming and amusing, as well: Kagami in Lucky☆Star had reigned back her tendencies somewhat and only ever expresses mild frustration wherever Konata is concerned, so dropping the pair into a dream-like world means opening things up to more outrageous moments.

  • It is here that Lucky☆Star‘s reference to other series become visible: having now seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in full, it’s easy to spot that Konata’s witch outfit is a deliberate call-back to Yuki’s costume for their movie, complete with a crude wand named similarly to the wand Haruhi supplied Yuki with. It is generally accepted that one should watch The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya before Lucky☆Star so that all references can be understood, but in my infinite wisdom, I ended up watching Lucky☆Star first. I was moderately familiar with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya at that point, so I appreciated some of the call-backs, but it wasn’t until I did rewatches of both that the genius of said call-backs became apparent.

  • Lucky☆Star makes numerous references to other series, and as a result, is seen as a series for otaku: it is crammed with references to older works, and to an unseasoned viewer such as myself, there are many things that can feel unfamiliar. This is the reason why reception to Lucky☆Star among English-speakers is so mixed. Lucky☆Star draws most of its humour from the non sequitur conversations resulting from Konata’s profound knowledge of otaku subculture, and the frustration this creates in Kagami. As a result, some of the jokes can be difficult to follow and feel out of place as a result.

  • Conversely, those who are familiar with otaku subculture, anime, manga and Japanese games will find themselves right at home. The dramatic differences in reception towards Lucky☆Star is precisely why I hold that there is most certainly not a single, universal and objective metric for gauging slice-of-life works. Enjoyment of Lucky☆Star is entirely dependent on one’s background, hobbies and interests, so what may be flat and uninteresting for one viewer may be a hilarious and thoughtful parody to another viewer.

  • The highlight in the Cinderella vignette occurs when Konata decides to swap out Kagami’s outfit for something a little more befitting of an event. After Kagami rejects the maid and miko outfits, Konata gives Kagami Rin Tōsaka’s outfit from Fate/Stay Night. Rin is probably one of the most iconic tsundere characters around, and it is befitting of Kagami. However, when even this is turned down, Konata decks Kagami out in Miku Hatsune’s outfit for kicks, complete with the giant green onion. I’ve never understood the green onion piece, but from what little I know, it’s supposed to be significant for some folks.

  • When the little star falls from Konata’s wand, Konata is unable to restore Kagami to her original clothing: to the best of my recollection, this is the angriest that Kagami gets in Lucky☆Star, and she’s a few seconds away from kicking Konata’s ass. Despite the simplicity of the art in this scene, Kagami’s indignation can be felt, showing how expressive anime can be. Luckily for Konata, she and Kagami arrive at the venue before anything else can happen, and viewers are greeted by the sight of a martial arts tournament of sorts, where participants fight for Misao’s hand in marriage.

  • In Lucky☆Star, Misao joins the main cast later on, being a spirited and athletic character who prefers track and field, and video games, to studying. Although I suppose it would’ve been fun to see Kagami actually fight, in dreams, one’s personalities and inhibitions might still be present: much as how in my dreams, I still act as I normally would in reality, everything Kagami does in her dream is consistent with how she typically acts in Lucky☆Star. Konata doesn’t push the point and prepares to take Kagami home, but delays mean her own magic wears off, leaving Kagami in a bit of a pickle. Konata reveals an embarrassing pass-phrase that would restore everything to normal, and as Kagami awakens from her nap, she recites this out loud, to Tsukasa’s horror.

  • What Kagami says exactly has been the subject of no small discussion and remained a bit of a mystery for the past 13 years: half-asleep, she slurs the go…kitai. If I had to guess, “ご一緒に行きたい” (Hepburn goissho ni ikitai) would probably be the closest to what Kagami says: literally meaning “I want to come together with…”, it’s probably a euphemism of sorts. Although the OVA cuts the line out to avoid trouble, Tsukasa’s reaction says everything the viewer needs to know. Fans have long felt that Kagami and Konata would make for a good couple, and while it is true that banter between the two forms some of Lucky☆Star‘s best comedy, there is no evidence otherwise to suggest this is the case.

  • Misunderstandings in anime are amplified by the use of time and space; Bill Watterson has, in special collections of Calvin and Hobbes, spoken to the idea that humour also entails giving viewers time to let the outcomes sink in. In newspaper comics back when panels were large enough to support this, it would mean making use of visual breaks and empty space to create an impression that time had passed. Anime is able to use pauses to achieve the same effect, giving viewers a chance to spot what’d just happened to Kagami, and really laugh at the predicament she’s now in.

  • For me, the fourth act was probably one of the more saddening ones; tired of being a secondary character in Kagami’s shadows, Tsukasa resolves to win a volleyball match over her. Mid-match, Kanata suggests using the “Jet Stream” attack: this is an iconic part of Mobile Suit Gundam, when the Black Tri-Stars line their mobile suits up in a line, with the front suits equipping ranged weapons and creating enough of an opening for the final mobile suit to use melee weapons to finish off a target. Gundam SEED Destiny has a trio of ZAFT pilots using the same manoeuvre to devastate their foes, although one must wonder how well this trick would work in volleyball.

  • However, despite her best efforts, and even with Kanata’s unexpectedly good physical ability, Tsukasa ends up taking a ball to the face and ends up smashing the ball into the net, costing her team the match.  There was something heartbreaking about seeing Tsukasa stumbling, only to get back up and continue trying her hardest, although not all viewers feel the same way, finding the punishment that Tsukasa endures to be hilarious. Lucky☆Star is a comedy, after all, but for me, I’ve never really taken enjoyment in watching people suffer unnecessarily.

  • The arc where Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki get separated from their group while on a school trip offered some interesting humour: since they’ve got no cell reception, and Konata’s left the compass and map on the bus, the four can only wander the forest in the hopes they get back together with their class. Here, Miyuki is referred to as Miwiki, a callback to the fact that of everyone, she’s got a broad range of knowledge on wide topics. After attempting to ration their food and navigate the forest, Konata is surprised to learn she’s getting a call.

  • It turns out Nanako had been trying to call them for quite some time and is furious with them at having gotten lost. Here, I am reminded of the similarities between Lucky☆Star‘s artwork and what’s seen in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which came almost a decade after Lucky☆Star. Kyoto Animation excels in both series where visual fidelity is life-like, and in series with a much simpler design: irrespective of whether or not the world is highly detailed or more basic, the animation is always smooth and fluid. I felt that here, Nanako bears resemblance to Kobayashi., but soon, her indignation evaporates, and she invites everyone to grab some curry as the day draws to an end.

  • Now that I’ve finished watching the Lucky☆Star OVA, I believe I’ve finished off everything in Lucky☆Star. I’ve heard that a spin-off, Miyakawa-ke no Kūfuku, was released in 2013: this series follows a different set of characters but is set in the same universe. I am curious to give this one a go, although per my modus operandi, I can only say that I’ll watch this one once I’ve got the chance. Looking ahead for what I’ve got lined up here, beyond a talk for Kiniro Mosaic: Thank You!, I also am looking to wrap up My Dress-Up Darling on short order and do an introspective post on how my MCAT preparations were going a decade previously.

The Lucky☆Star OVA represented a hidden addition to the series after it’d released back in 2008, and although this OVA is not necessary to a complete Lucky☆Star experience, I imagine that fans of the series would nonetheless wish to check it out for themselves such that they can wholly enjoy the series. The challenges of being an anime fan harkening back to a time when broadband and streaming services was practically nil are apparent: in this era, the viewing rooms at anime conventions became the de facto means of checking series out. This was often the only time fans could try out different series and expand their horizons: visitors to anime conventions even planned their days so that they could strike a balance between guest panels and autograph sessions, and viewing series of interest. Nowadays, with ubiquitous fibre internet and streaming services, viewing rooms have been rendered obsolete: one could easily watch their shows at any time of year, on any device of their choosing. In my experiences, I’ve seen how viewing rooms can be seen as a burden on conventions. When I had volunteered at Otafest back in 2019, the viewing rooms were nearly vacant when I made the rounds of them to check in on things. As early as late 2014, the viewing rooms had already been on the decline: I had ducked into a room screening GochiUsa to catch my breath, and it was empty. A pair of attendees came into the room, saw GochiUsa on the screen and promptly left. My experiences have made a clear case for why conventions should consider reducing the number of viewing rooms they have. Otafest screened the first six episodes of The Aquatope on White Sand as a part of its lineup this year, a series I finished five months earlier. Were I in attendance at Otafest this year, I wouldn’t have planned my day around catching The Aquatope on White Sand, and I imagine that most visitors would be present for activities such as panels, exhibitors, musical performances and cosplay contests, which to remain popular: as anime conventions move forward, the viewing room will likely represent a drain on resources, requiring a convention to pay for both additional square footage of space to rent, and licensing fees to stream the shows. Arguments to preserve viewing rooms, beyond the fact that they are quiet spaces for fans to catch their breath, such places are essential for allowing socialisation and allow visitors sample a series before deciding whether or not one should get into it. While there is merit in this perspective, I contend there is limited value in showing recently-aired series. Instead, fewer rooms, showing more obscure and difficult-to-access content, would offer attendees with more value, while at the same time, continue to provide visitors with an oasis of sorts to take five. Difficult-to-access content, today’s equivalents to the Lucky☆Star OVA, would be perfectly suited for the re-imagined viewing rooms, allowing attendees to view shows that they might otherwise not have a chance to. While the technology and accessibility has advanced dramatically since the Lucky☆Star OVA’s release in 2008, some series still remain remarkably tricky to get to, and many of these series deserve to be enjoyed.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~: Reflections and Reminiscence on A Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Five Years Earlier, and Revisiting My First Visual Novel

“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” –Donald Richie

On this day in 2017, I was sitting on the benches at the Vancouver International Airport awaiting a flight back home. Although exhausted, I was immensely satisfied with my excursion. Early in May, I boarded a plane bound for Narita International Airport. We’d arrived later in the evening, so after reaching our hotel, we had time for dinner at a Chinese-style restaurant at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport before hitting the hay. The next morning, after a full Western breakfast, we boarded our ride and headed straight to the heart of Tokyo to check out the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Tokyo Imperial Palace. After stopping briefly in Ginza for a shabu-shabu lunch, the afternoon consisted of walking the Sumida River and exploring the Kogan-ji temple. The day wrapped up with an exquisite Wagyu beef and snow crab dinner at the Hotel Heritage. Here, I had the chance to soak in their onsen: having seen the procedure countless times in anime, I felt right at home in cleaning up and enjoying the experience. On the second day of our lightning tour, we travelled deep into the mountains of Yamanashi, stopping at Heiwa Park near Gotemba to view Mount Fuji from a distance. Following yakiniku, we visited Oshino Village and Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station. From here, we drove out to Shirokabako Resort by Mount Tateshima, where we spent the night. The next day opened with a drive to Magome-juku, where we took in the quiet of the Japanese countryside and had a traditional lunch before being whisked away to the heart of Nagoya to check out Atsuta Shrine. The final stop for this third day was Gifu: we were now within a stone’s throw from Kyoto, and on our final full day, we entered Kyoto itself, stopping by the Kinkakuji in the morning. Here, I enjoyed matcha ice cream and the iconic golden-leafed walls of Kyoto’s most famous temple under drizzling skies. Following a kaiseki lunch near Yasaka Shrine, we visited Todaji Temple in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer population. The day concluded in Osaka: after taking in the sights of the Sakai shopping district, we stopped for an omurice dinner, and I swung by a local bookstore to grab a copy of Kimi no Na Wa‘s manga before turning in: the next day, I’d been slated to fly on over to Hong Kong for the trip’s second leg, so early in the morning, we made our way over to Kansai International Airport. Although a flight out usually is more a matter of procedure, a pair of surprises awaited me here at Kansai International Airport; I was able to try authentic okonomiyaki, and I came upon a copy of the Kimi no Na Wa artbook while waiting for my flight. Like the protagonist Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, I had a very short window in which to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Japan, and I similarly realised an inevitable truth: that it would take a lifetime to fully experience everything Japan’s got to offer: this game had come into my path some five years prior to my travels to Japan in 2017.

As the story goes, on a miserable late autumn afternoon, I was typing away in the quiet of my office space: having finished building a sodium-potassium pump on the same principles as the renal filtration model I’d designed during the previous summer, I was working on a term paper ahead of a presentation for my research course. As I reached the section on my findings, one of my friends appeared at the lab. His classes for the day had ended, and he had something amusing to show me: a YouTuber was playing through a visual novel about visiting Japan, and was doing a throw-your-voice style voiceover of the dialogue. I’d only been mildly interested at the time, and despite having picked the game up to try it out, Go! Go! Nippon! remained a bit of a curiosity for me until, four years after its initial release, the 2015 expansion was announced. The additional content and visual improvements were enough for me to pick this up, and I’d beaten one of the Makoto routes posthaste. However, a post never materialised, and it is with some irony that I reflect on how my typical tendency for procrastination meant that I would only write about the game a full five years after I’d returned home from my travels to Japan and Hong Kong. The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! is simple: a foreign traveller decides to visit Japan at the behest of two pen-pals he’d met in an online chatroom, and upon arriving, discovers they’re sisters, Makoto and Akira Misaki. Despite the initial awkwardness, said visitor gets a very personalised tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous destinations, and along the way, becomes closer to Makoto or Akira, depending on the choice of destinations visited. Despite its hokey premise, Go! Go! Nippon! has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, being part visual novel and part Lonely Planet travel guide: the game is remarkably detailed about the history and information surrounding some of Tokyo’s attractions, from Ginza and Akihabara, to Shibuya and Mount Takao. The setup provides players the ideal environment to acclimatise to what a visual novel is like, using a story that is relatable for overseas players who might be dreaming of one day setting foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. In this way, despite being cheesy on first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! ends up being a fantastic experience for both introducing players to visual novel mechanics, as well as providing a guide to Tokyo’s sights to the same level of depth as a travel book might. The visual novel consequently received a pair of expansions, which brought Go! Go! Nippon! into the world of HD and provided animated character models using Unity. In addition, additional locations were added along with a more sophisticated decision tree that brings with it, new events for players to check out. The concept has proven quite enduring: Makoto and Akira have since become Virtual YouTubers, and the developers, OVERDRIVE, have also been surprised with the success of this series and its characters. When they’d started the Virtual YouTubers programme with Makoto and Akira, they’d made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how if they ever hit ten thousand subscribers, they would begin development on Go! Go! Nippon! 2. This particular milestone has since been reached, and all eyes are now on OVERDRIVE as they begin work on a sequel to a game that I’m certain that no one expected to reach the heights that it did.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that I ended up playing through and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! five years after my travels to Japan; a trip to Japan costs around 2400 CAD for an individual, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! and its expansions together are two orders of magnitude cheaper (since I bought Go! Go! Nippon! during sales over the years, my total for all three games was 14.91 CAD). However, despite the dramatic contrasts in the manner in which one gets to experience Japan, there are also striking similarities, attesting to how well Go! Go! Nippon! is able to capture the feelings of travelling Japan. While on first glance, Japan possesses a dramatically different culture, set of values and customs compared to somewhere like Canada, setting foot in Japan also made it apparent that the similarities were greater in number than differences. Outside of Japan’s numerous temples, attractions and sights, I found that whether it was Tokyo, Gifu, Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, the roads and streets were filled with people getting from point A to point B. Some were salarymen headed to work, while others were students who were out and about on their daily activities, no differently than how my days ordinarily went back home. My vacation had allowed me to see Japan’s sights, both iconic and ordinary. Seeing tranquil power surrounding a shrine to the striking views of Mount Fuji, enjoy some of their finest food, including kaiseki, Hokkaido Snow Crab and Wagyu beef and iconic experiences like soaking in an onsen was lovely, but I also had a chance to order ramen in a restaurant where the staff did not speak English (or Cantonese), buy manga from a bookstore and sit down to an omurice in a department store restaurant. The scope of my experiences thus ranged from the touristy, to the everyday, and in retrospect, this is what had made this vacation especially memorable. Recalling this allows me to better understand the reason why some folks seek out authentic experiences that allow them to do what locals do now, and having now revisited Go! Go! Nippon!, it becomes clear that this is also one of the reasons behind the game’s charm: Makoto and Akira take the players to iconic locations around Tokyo, but also gives one a chance to see things from a local’s perspective, whether it be a Japanese summer festival, fireworks performance or even Comiket itself. Thus, with this being said, being able to travel to Japan for real, curiously enough, gave me a better sense of appreciation for what Go! Go! Nippon! was going for, too.

Additional Remarks, Screenshots and Commentary

  • It may surprise readers to learn that, when this blog was about three months old, I’d actually written a first impressions piece about Go! Go! Nippon!. Back then, my posts had no consistent format and style; that particular post had six screenshots, and barely covers any of my reflections surrounding Go! Go! Nippon! (the idea of a reflection would come about four months later, after I finished cell and molecular biology). This post, then, aims to offer a slightly more comprehensive set of thoughts on what is my first-ever visual novel experience on top of giving me a place to reminisce about my travels five years earlier.

  • Typically, visual novels simply entail reading the text, gaining a modicum of understanding as to what’s happening and then playing through by making decisions at critical junctures, decisions consistent with one’s own values to see what the outcome is. Depending on one’s choices, an outcome can end up better or worse, pushing players to evaluate their own decision-making in specific contexts. Go! Go! Nippon! is a little more gentle in this regard in that there are no wrong choices. One’s itinerary in Go! Go! Nippon! impacts which of Makoto or Akira players spend more time with, and this cascades into a tearful ending that, sometimes, will end with a romantic outcome.

  • On my own trip to Japan, I ended up visiting Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine just a stone’s throw from Shinjuku Koen), Ginza and Sumida Park, just across the river from the Tokyo Skytree. All of these locations are fairly close to the spots that are available in Go! Go! Nippon!: in its original incarnation, Go! Go! Nippon! had been focused on Tokyo’s attractions, but the expansions allow players to check out Mount Takao and Kyoto. On my trip to Tokyo in 2017, I did not have a chance tom visit Asakusa, one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo.

  • As a natural part of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s progression, players will “accidentally” walk in on Makoto drying herself after a shower. Of Makoto and Akira, Makoto is better-endowed, and it is in the expansion games, where the character models are animated, that players really appreciate the HD updates bring to the table. The newer games are rendered in Unity, and I imagine would use the game engine’s rigging to handle animations. Attention is paid to details: when Makoto perks up or leans forward, oscillation is also present in her model. As an aside, I prefer showering in the evening, so were I to take the protagonist’s place, there’d be no chance of this happening.

  • Dialogue with Akira and Makoto is such that players gain a bit of insight into their character; Makoto feels weighted down by expectations and is graceful, studying English at the local university, while Akira is a fantastic cook, tsundere and feels like she lives in Makoto’s shadows. In between Akira and Makoto explaining the history and details behind every location to the level of detail that would be appropriate for a Lonely Planet travel guide, one gains the sense that Makoto and Akira are full-fledged characters whom, in addition to their profound knowledge of Japan, its attractions and history, also have their own unique traits.

  • One could say that Akira and Makoto’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic: both bring up nuances and details that really illustrate the history of a given area, but isn’t something that one could readily just recall off the top of their head. To put things in perspective, while I’m familiar with the history and trivia of some of the most famous attractions in Calgary, I can’t just bring this stuff up in casual conversation with the same level of detail. Granted, this is a visual novel, which allows OVERDRIVE to thoroughly research locations and incorporate them into the game, allowing Go! Go! Nippon! to be both instructive and entertaining.

  • Folks looking to learn about the locations visited in Go! Go! Nippon! can easily look up their details online, and Go! Go! Nippon!‘s expansions include a link to Google Maps, allowing one to get the precise spot that players visit in the game. Here, I’ve opted to try an izakaya out; the Japanese equivalent of a pub, izakaya are quite different than a pub in that food is served over a duration of time and is shared by a party. Having Akira and Makoto around would make an izakaya easier to experience: while my rudimentary Japanese allowed me to order food in a more conventional setting, I’m certain that without a guidebook at my side, an izakaya would be trickier to order at.

  • On the second day, players “accidentally” walk in on Akira changing after Makoto asks them to check in and see if she’d awaken yet. Unlike Makoto, who’d taken things in stride and is swift to forgive, Akira’s reaction is par the course for what one might expect in reality, and in most anime. Akira’s dissatisfaction is most apparent when she swaps out sugar for salt in the player’s coffee, but seeing the player taking their lumps leads Akira to forgive them in the end. This is where my old post ends: in 2012, my patience for playing visual novels was nil. In the decade that’s elapsed, I’ve come to appreciate a much wider variety of games.

  • From here on out, I venture into a side of Go! Go! Nippon! that I’d not previously visited; my choice of destinations for my first full play-through of the 2016 expansion took me to destinations that were quite similar to those I’d visited in my 2017 trip. This particular trip had been billed as “美食” (jyutpimg mei5 sik6, literally “beautiful eats”) oriented: attractions had been secondary to visiting places with particularly fancy Japanese cuisine, and as a result, the places we chose to visit were a bit more inconspicuous, selected to be closer to the dining venues.

  • While we didn’t visit the Tokyo Skytree itself, or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine as a part of this trip, the locations we did end up hitting were quite scenic and enjoyable in their own right. A bonus was that the crowds here were fewer, allowing us to spend less time in lines and more time exploring. In retrospect, I am glad that I picked the 美食 oriented approach: especially nowadays, it is possible to gain a good measure of what an attraction feels like using virtual reality and Google Maps. However, there is absolutely no equivalent for being able to sit down to a meal in another country and enjoy what foods a nation has to offer.

  • Unlike the original Go! Go! Nippon!, the 2016 expansion gives players a chance to visit Kyoto, as well. Kyoto was day four for me: having spent the first day in Tokyo, our second day was in Yamanashi, and the third day was spent in Gifu prefecture. On the morning of the fourth day, the Kinkakuji was the only destination I visited; this is an iconic part of Kyoto, and because we were there on a Saturday, the crowds were immense. Here at the Kinkakuji, I remember marvelling at how brilliant this gold-leafed temple was, even on an overcast day.

  • Aside from spotting some tourists decked out in maiko outfits (it was 1100 in the morning, and real maiko usually begin making their rounds at around 1700), I also had a chance to sample the iconic matcha soft-serve ice cream. Japan’s soft serve is in a category on its own: while visiting Oshino village at the foot of Mount Fuji, I ended up going for a blueberry ice cream, as well. Enjoying these smaller things accentuated my experiences, and I had been glad to have brought the equivalent of 250 CAD worth of Yen in cash for this trip. This allowed me to buy things where credit cards wouldn’t work: while Japan is an ultra-modern society, I was quite surprised to learn most places didn’t accept credit cards.

  • The Kinkakuji is such an integral part of Kyoto that every single anime with a class trip to Kyoto will inevitably feature this park, and of note is the fact that both K-On! and Kinirio Mosaic: Thank You!! visit the area as a part of their third year class trips. Besides being an iconic landmark with a storied history, I know the Kinkakuji best as Futurama‘s “Omaha, Nebraska”, and recall that one of the Kinkakuji’s most famous tales is that it was burned to a crisp by a monk-in-training during the 50s. Its lesser-known cousin is the Ginkakuji, which, contrary to its name, is not covered with silver plating.

  • Go! Go! Nippon! captures the look-and-feel of a quiet Kyoto side street perfectly; after my visit to the Kinkakuji ended, I headed on over to Torihisa, a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which numerous small dishes are served in an artistic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch; kaiseki had been high on the list of things I’ve wished to try. Torihisa is located across the street from Maruyama Park, home of Yasaka Shrine. Maruyama Park is a fantastic place for hanami,  but I’d arrived about two months too late.

  • Although the protagonist of Go! Go! Nippon! has two full days in Kyoto to explore, I was on a more rigid schedule: as soon as lunch ended, we immediately set course for Nara Park, home to their famous sika deer. The portrayals of Nara Park in anime is no joke: the deer are very friendly towards people, and I watched one deer boldly snatch a tour pamphlet from a visitor’s hand here. After Nara had wrapped up, my final destination was Osaka. During my last evening there, I had dinner at an omurice restaurant and decided to go with a curry-katsu omelet rice; this was an all-in one that allowed me to try authentic Japanese curry and tonkatsu in conjunction with what is a contemporary Japanese comfort dish.

  • Just like that, my week had come to a close. Go! Go! Nippon! makes it clear to players that there is so much to see and do in Japan that a single week will be insufficient to experience things in full. This message is accentuated by the visual novel format; one has the opportunity to go back to a save point and make different decisions, allowing for a more complete experience. The equivalent to doing this in real life would be prohibitively expensive, but I was impressed with the breadth of my experiences over the course of a week.

  • If I had to pick the most standout moment in a vacation that was one long pleasant memory, it would be on the first full night. After we spent the day exploring Tokyo, we went out over to Saitama’s Heritage resort, a secluded retreat on the western edge of Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park. This evening saw the fanciest meal of the entire trip: an exquisite Wagyu beef nabesashimi and several small, artfully presented dishes, including unagi, pickled daikon and a side of fried potato croquettes. This was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. There is an old saying of unknown origin: the Chinese eat with their mouths (taste is king), the Japanese eat with their eyes (presentation matters) and the Koreans eat with their stomachs (a meal should be satisfying). I’m not sure where this comes from, but seeing the artful presentation of meals in Japan, I confirm this certainly holds true.

  • To round out what was an excellent dinner, I set foot inside the onsen, and because of my timing, I had the entire baths to myself. After cleaning myself off thoroughly, I lowered my body into the waters and felt all of my aches melt away. Meals on the other days were still solid: the second night saw me at a buffet at Shirakaba Resort Ikenotaira Hotel. What stood out most to me here was the fact that they had bakke and fiddlehead tempura available. We’d travelled through Yamanashi so we could see Mount Fuji from several different vantage points on this day, and although Mount Fuji remained completely obscured by cloud throughout most of the day (as Yuru Camp△‘s Rin would describe it, “wearing a hat”), we did end up hitting the Fifth Station at Narusawa for an up-close-and-personal look at Japan’s most famous mountain. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona start their ascent of Mount Fuji here in Yama no Susume‘s second season, so my second day essentially had me visiting Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume destinations.

  • On day three, we continued through the mountains of Nagano on our way into Gifu. The highlight of this day was the stop at Magome-juku, the forty-third of the stations along the Nakasendō trail. It’s a beautiful village perched on a hillside, and after venturing from the top of their main street to the bottom, we stopped for lunch at Magomekan Food Stands. Their set lunch was as beautiful to behold, as it was generous in portion sizes, and tasty to eat. Featuring rolled omlette, karaage and grilled fish, as well as a massive bowl of noodles, it was the perfect way to round out the morning’s activities.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, I’ve reached the end of my first playthrough, and thanks to the way I roll, I ended up with what is considered the best ending for the Makoto route: I chose a Makoto destination for days one and three, and did an Akira destination for day two. In this way, I unlocked the ending where players and Makoto ring a bell together. Although Makoto struggles to be forward about her feelings, in the end, she comes through and openly returns the player’s feelings. Contemporary reviewers found the whirlwind romance aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! to be completely contrived, out of the blue.

  • However, players with enough maturity will quickly realise that Makoto and Akira are representations of the joys of visiting Japan itself: in this way, Go! Go! Nippon! might be seen as a visual portrayal of falling in love with Japan over the course of a week, coming to see for oneself the nation’s pluses and minuses, and deciding for oneself if their initial impressions were on the mark or need rectification. Whether it is house-hunting, travel or romance, there are many commonalities. All involve that initial honeymoon-like phase where everything feels perfect, and how over time, imperfections manifest. What happens next then depends on the person: individuals willing to accept imperfections and embrace what they’ve fallen in love with will find happiness, while those who cannot accept the imperfections will restart the process anew.

  • In my case, nailing the Makoto route on first try was quite entertaining. However, in the spirit of playing through Go! Go! Nippon! properly, I switched over to one of my other saves so I could check out the destinations I’d not visited on my first run. Tokyo Skytree ended up being first on my list; while in Tokyo, I gazed wistfully across the Sumida river: this hadn’t been a destination we had in mind, and therefore, we skipped over checking out the tallest building in Tokyo. In retrospect, I am okay with this choice: that day had been overcast, and the view from the top wouldn’t have been quite as impressive.

  • In 2015, following my journey to Taiwan, I ended up going to Hong Kong, and here, I did check out the Sky100 observation deck, in addition to Taipei 101. On any given vacation in East Asia, Hong Kong inevitably becomes a part of the itinerary because the flights are actually more economical this way, and it gives me a chance to visit family. Whenever heading into Hong Kong, I always get the feeling that I’m going home: to me, Hong Kong simply feels like a super-massive Chinatown, where Cantonese is the lingua franca. Unlike Japan, or Taiwan, where I only know enough phrases for the basics (and in the case of Japan, enough to surprise store clerks and servers at restaurants), I’ve got level three proficiency with Cantonese and can carry out conversations.

  • While I technically are a native Cantonese speaker, I have next to no exposure in legal and professional vocabulary, so I’m unable to conduct business in Cantonese; for instance, I have no idea how to describe the process for sorting out a build error in an Xcode project in Cantonese. While my Cantonese is practically native at the conversational level (I know enough slang to keep up with things, for instance), I hesitate to say I have native proficiency on things like a resume because that would imply I can read and write, as well. If I had to guess, I have level 2 proficiency with written Chinese, and level 3 proficiency with Cantonese, having worked in a Chinese language-setting previously.

  • Here, I accompany Akira to a ramen joint after picking the “ocean” option, and she demonstrates how to properly eat ramen. While it is appropriate to make some noise in Japan, the practise is not kosher in China or Hong Kong, but when I visited the ramen place in Gifu, I followed local customs just to express my enjoyment of the noodles all the same. Sushi etiquette is a little easier to follow, and this reminiscence did leave me with a hankering for sushi. Fortunately, there’s an excellent sushi place within walking distance now, and I’m making good on my promise to try things out. Yesterday, I ordered a combo with California, Volcano and Dynamite rolls, plus salmon, tuna and shrimp nigiri with a takoyaki: this was a very tasty lunch, a welcome change of pacing just before the Victoria Day Long Weekend arrived.

  • By now, I’ve become a ways more receptive of raw fish dishes: five years earlier, I ended up dousing my sashimi into the nabe at Heritage Resort, rendering it cooked, as back then, I wasn’t too fond of raw fish (exposure to shows like Yuru Camp△ have since broadened my mind). These days, I enjoy raw fish as much as I do cooked fish: the salmon and tuna nigiri were the highlights, being excellent with a dash of soy sauce. Although it is mentioned frequently, food is only a secondary aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!: being a virtual experience, things like food cannot be adequately mimicked. While one can see Akira explaining how to properly eat a ramen, one’s imagination must kick in to fill in the rest; imagination plays a very large part of enjoying visual novels: these games are quite static, and although they provide a few cues (such as sound effects and whatever visuals are available) to convey a moment, on top of what the dialogue yields, one must let their mind’s eye do the rest.

  • One of the numerous events players can unlock in Go! Go! Nippon! is the summer festival; although absent in the original, the expansions introduce events which unlock after certain conditions (flags) are met. The summer festival is a pleasant event and would allow players to really experience an authentic Japanese celebration; the natsumatsuri is equivalent to the state fairs of North America (or for my Canadian readers, the Calgary Stampede), featuring plenty of games and eats, plus performances and fireworks. If memory serves, unlocking the summer festival requires going to specific destinations on the first and second day.

  • Visual novels have a vocabulary that is quite related to programming. “Flags” in software usually refer to Booleans that control whether or not something happens (e.g. if the “isLoggedIn” flag is true, show the home screen, otherwise ,show the login screen). In visual novels, flags keep track of a player’s state, and “events” result from certain combinations of flags being set. I normally think of events as certain actions or inputs a program listens for, but in visual novel speak, “events” are simply things to show a player. Go! Go! Nippon! allows me to demonstrate this: if I visit certain destinations on days one and two, the flag for the Comiket event are set true, allowing me to experience it. It took me several attempts to get this right.

  • On the topic of conventions and gatherings like Comiket, it’s the May Long Weekend, and that means Otafest is now in full swing. Back in February, I declined to submit an application to volunteer, feeling it to be more prudent to leave time open in the event that my move had left me busier than anticipated. In typical fashion, I’ve finished all of the essential tasks, and even got my driver’s license and banking information updated to reflect the new address, so this long weekend, I’ve actually had more time than anticipated. However, I’ve decided against attending the local anime convention; having experienced Japan so thoroughly, the appeal of visiting an anime convention as a guest has diminished for me.

  • Instead, I became more interested in taking a more active role through volunteering, which gives me a chance to give back to the local community. My plans to continue volunteering at Otafest will depend on my schedule, so I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I’ll be returning closer to next year’s application deadline. For now, my long weekend has consisted of sleeping in, tending to housework and hitting the gym, before swinging by the local mall so I could pick up some new shirts and shorts. Afterwards, we sat down to our first-ever Southern Fried Chicken at the new place. This year’s Otafest looks like it’s a scaled-back event, and there’s nothing particularly stand-out on the schedule, so I’ve no qualms with sitting this one out in favour of a relaxing long weekend.

  • Go! Go! Nippon!‘s easy-to-use UI means the user experience is solid, and in this way, I was able to go through the game several times in order to accrue screenshots for this post. Here, I accompany Akira to Mount Takao, which Hinata and Aoi hit back in Yama no Susume‘s first season. Located about an hour from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao is about a ninety-minute hike in total and offers stunning views of Tokyo. It was nice to see Go! Go! Nippon! include a vast range of destinations into the expansions: the original game only had six destinations and two possible routes.

  • This would have made it considerably simpler to complete, and in retrospect, Go! Go! Nippon! “grows up” with players. The first game truly is a suitable introduction to the visual novel format for first timers, and I’ve long felt that while the game’s subtitle is My First Trip to Japan, the title also can count itself as My First Experience With a Visual Novel: the premise of travelling and exploring different destinations is a much gentler and accessible introduction to the format compared to something like CLANNAD or Higurashi, where making bad decisions can irrevocably alter the outcome of one’s experiences.

  • First-time players will also be unfamiliar with the save mechanics. Visual novel veterans will tell players to save right before decision branches come up. This is a matter of efficiency: if one makes a bad choice, they can instantly revert and make another pick. Similarly, in a game where a choice causes the story to open up in a different way, one instantly has a snapshot they can go to. On my first playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, I saved simply when I needed to leave the game, and this made revisiting the game somewhat cumbersome. By the 2015 expansion, I was better versed in how visual novels work and more ready to explore new routes.

  • In the present day, I know enough of the ins-and-outs so that I could easily navigate the storylines of Go! Go! Nippon! and swiftly acquire screenshots for this post. I am glad to have picked up the 2016 expansion; I had debated doing so when it first came out, having already dropped coin for the 2015 expansion, but after visiting Japan in 2017, I decided to bite the bullet and complete my Go! Go! Nippon! experience when the expansion went on discount during the summer of 2018. Although I had intended to play and write about Go! Go! Nippon! back then, 2018 was a bit of a more difficult time for me: my start-up was in dire straits, and I had been in the middle of discussions to take on a Xamarin project, which meant I needed to swiftly pick up Xamarin and C#.

  • Further to this, I had been invited to Battlefield V‘s closed alpha, and Harukana Receive was airing. Between everything that was going on, Go! Go! Nippon! was benched, and for four years after that, sat untouched in my Steam Library. The five-year mark to my return home from Japan, coupled with one of my friends bringing the game’s recent successes in the Virtual YouTuber scene and OVERDRIVE’s intention of making a sequel came together to provide the encouragement I needed to finish enjoying, and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! in its latest incarnation.

  • I am glad to have done so now: the game offers an interesting parallel with my own experiences, and although I didn’t have two kawaii guides walking me through the history and etiquette of various areas, I was able to see for myself the wonders of Japan, both historical and modern. While my experience with Go! Go! Nippon! started out as a joke, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in a game meant to instruct and gently poke fun at foreign impressions of Japan, there is a considerable amount of depth in the writing. For instance, Akira’s tsundere personality is not representative of Japan as a whole, but from a broader perspective, shows how something that initially seems difficult to understand has more to it than meets the eye. Akira feels like a close friend, a companion over time as players spend more time with her destinations.

  • I’ve long been a Makoto fan, and my decisions on my first run through Go! Go! Nippon! reflect this. However, in revisiting the game, I learnt more about Akira. In time, I came to like her character, as well. Finding newfound, pleasant surprises in the familiar is something I’ve always been fond of, and much as how revisiting Titanfall 2‘s campaign allowed me to get my paws on the EM-4 Cold War in one mission, re-playing Go! Go! Nippon! let me to see a side of the game, and a set of destinations that I’d otherwise never see.

  • The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! shows players why there is incentive to replay the game again and make different choices; this outcome would extend to different visual novels and similarly encourage players to go back and try things out again. In the case of CLANNAD, for instance, players can make choices to go down the most well-written central route, which follows Nagisa, or they can opt to check out Kyou, Kotomi and Fuu’s stories. However, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! does not have a persistent state that lingers even after one has completed multiple play-throughs, CLANNAD does: certain actions can only be achieved by revisiting the game multiple times and making smart decisions. In this way, Go! Go! Nippon! can be seen as an introduction to a genre which is one that I do not play often, but one that has its own nuances, as well.

  • As a consequence of playing the Akira route with the aim of unlocking one of the events (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to succeed), I ended up with the second outcome for Akira, which has her bringing players to Toshimaen, a theme park that is quite special to Akira. After returning to Tokyo from Kyoto, the sum of a player’s decisions allow them to visit a special destination, and there is no “bad end” here in Go! Go! Nippon! in a traditional sense. Visual novels are legendary for their bad endings: unlike the average first person shooter campaign, which only has one ending, and any “bad end” is dying in the campaign, visual novels can take depravity and the macabre to the next level.

  • All told, spending a day with Akira at the waterpark isn’t a bad outcome by any stretch: it gives players a chance to see Akira rocking a polka-dot bikini. Tango-Victor-Tango incorrectly pegs Akira as being flat, although this moment also led me to wish that there was such an equivalent moment with Makoto. I’m now curious to see what the optimal route for Akira yields, but I’ll likely get around to this later in the future. The Division 2 had just opened their ninth season, and having spent the whole of last year on break from The Division 2 after completing the Manhunt event for Faye Lau, it’s been fun to return to the game and learn that my old standby, the Hunter’s Fury gear-set with the Chatterbox and Ninjabike Kneepads, is still viable. Similarly, I’ve recently resumed playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on account of an excellent sale, so between these two games, I expect to be somewhat busy in the gaming front for the foreseeable future.

  • For the remainder of my revisit through Go! Go! Nippon!, I have a bit of footage from the other destinations I ended up going to as a result of trying to unlock various events. Here, I’m back in Ginza: in a curious turn of fate, Ginza was the first place I visited when I played through Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, and it was also the first stop on my trip to Japan in 2017. Ginza is known for its high end shopping experiences, and while we browsed shops, we found that prices were jaw-droppingly high. Here, Makoto welcomes players to the district and the famous Wako Store, with its distinct clock face. I most vividly recall Ginza because we had shabu-shabu here.

  • Because of the scope and scale of any trip to Japan, I would contend that there is no right or wrong way to go about things. Anime fans tend to visit Tokyo and Akihabara, while folks looking for a more historical experience will tour Kyoto. Visitors looking for the ultimate seafood experience are best served checking out Hokkaido, while Japan’s southern section, near Hiroshima or Kumamoto, would provide a quieter experience. For me, one potential return trip would entail taking a closer look at Kyoto’s highlights; it’s a destination that K-On! and the Kiniro Mosaic movie both swing by the old capital as a part of the third year’s class trip.

  • However, this would be secondary to my long-standing wish to travel Takehara in Hiroshima. Well off the beaten track, Takehara is home of Tamayura, and even a full decade after I’ve finished watching the anime, the town’s iconic warehouse district has more or less remain unchanged. If I were to visit, I imagine that I’d be able to see the sights that Fū and her friends saw in their everyday lives. On such a trip, I’d likely choose lodgings anywhere outside of the Warehouse district: hotels right in the old town are considerably pricier. I imagine that a week in Takehara would be more than enough to explore all of the spots in Tamayura.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, for my shot at getting Makoto’s second ending, I ended up playing through a completely different set of locations, in turn allowing me to unlock a host of achievements to go with my adventures. The 2016 expansion is the only way to actually unlock achievements, but as of the 2015 expansion, Go! Go! Nippon! added Steam Trading Cards and badges. It took me a while to collect enough cards to make a level 5 Makoto card. The only way to get an Akira badge is to get foil drops, but badges cost a dollar apiece, so the logic of doing so wouldn’t be sound.

  • The CG scenes in Go! Go! Nippon! are of a varied quality: the protagonist is rendered without eyes, and this creates a bit of a disconnect whenever he’s visible. The faceless male is a long-standing element in visual novels, meant to give players additional immersion, but here in Go! Go! Nippon!, the effect is quite uncanny and looks a little off. Conversely, stills of just Makoto and/or Akira look gorgeous, and I found myself thinking that, were Go! Go! Nippon! ever to be made into an anime about touring Tokyo, I would have no qualms in watching it.

  • That no such anime has appeared a decade after Go! Go! Nippon!‘s release indicates that such a wish will remain a pipe dream at best. Here, at Tsukiji Market, I explore Tokyo’s largest fish market. After departing Japan and landing in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of checking out Sha Tin Market, an indoor wet market, while awaiting a dim sum lunch with relatives. I’ve always been fond of wet markets because they represent a very active place where seafood is sold; by comparison, most seafood is frozen at home, although some supermarkets do carry live seafood, as well.

  • Looking back, the Hong Kong side of my travels were also superbly enjoyable: I know Hong Kong like the back of my own hand, despite only having visited a handful of times, and this is largely in part owing to the fact that 1) there are English signs everywhere and 2) I speak Cantonese well enough, allowing me to ask for directions without any trouble. The MTR is also intuitive, allowing one to visit any part of Hong Kong with ease. My time in Hong Kong was characterised by spending plenty of time with family, window shopping at various malls, and experiencing Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.

  • In Go! Go! Nippon!, since Makoto isn’t much of a cook, players won’t pick up anything from the fish market here, and instead, she’ll bring players to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple that originally opened in 1617 but burned to the ground forty years later. It was moved to a new site, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923. The modern temple was completed in 1934. This does appear to be a recurring theme in Japan’s landmarks, which have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. While the buildings we see now might not be in their original form, seeing them rebuilt is a testament to the tenacity of the Japanese people.

  • Having now gone through three-quarters of Go! Go! Nippon!, it is evident that attention has been paid to the background artwork, as well. Backgrounds in this visual novel are intricate and life-like, and although some scenes are blissfully quiet, others are filled with people. This aspect is one of the most crucial elements in Go! Go! Nippon!: visual novels often feel empty and devoid of human presence, isolating players and forcing their attention towards the heroines. This was the case in Sakura Angels: although the artwork was stunning, the world felt very empty. According to my records, I began Sakura Angels in June 2015, but never finished, and the last time I opened the game was back in 2017, so the time is probably appropriate for me to go back and wrap this one up.

  • Stay! Stay! DPRK! had similarly felt quite empty, but then, it was a logical design choice because players are visiting North Korea. As such, when Go! Go! Nippon! strikes a balance between the tranquil areas of Tokyo, and the livelier ones, it gives this world a more life-like feeling: Sakura Angels exuded a sense of isolation and loneliness that is simply absent in Go! Go! Nippon: Makoto and Akira keep it lively, but cues in the game’s artwork and presentation also serves to capture the sheer energy (and volume) of crowds in Tokyo’s most iconic locations.

  • Having tea in Japan is a quintessential experience: for 850 Yen, one could stop by Nakajima-no-Ochaya for whisked matcha and wagashi. One element in Go! Go! Nippon! that initially appears inconsequential to gameplay was the inclusion of a wallet. Players are asked to enter the exchange rate (at the time of writing, 1 CAD is exactly 100 Yen), and then the game keeps a running total of how much one has spent over their travels. One could play the game as someone with infinitely deep pocketbooks, or approach things more frugally, but as far as I can tell, one’s expenses don’t affect outcomes. Having said this, the wallet mechanic helps one to ballpark how much their itinerary might cost in reality, to within a precision of ±20 percent.

  • As far as landmarks go, I know Tokyo Station best as being the home base for Rail Wars!, and in 2017, I do not believe we passed by this landmark: the original brick building was constructed in 1914, and over the years, became infamous as being the site of two high-profile assassinations. With a passenger volume of up to half a million every day, it is the busiest station in Japan and is Tokyo’s equivalent of New York City’s Grand Central Station. With the ten-year mark of Rail Wars! fast approaching, I have plans to revisit the series again.

  • On my all-Makoto run, I ended up wrapping up the day to Tokyo Station by accompanying her to a sweets shop of sorts, located in the labyrinthine interior of Tokyo Station and its many shops. Owing to the sheer volume of foot traffic at train stations in Japan, stations also double as shopping centres. This stands in stark contrast with home, where our light rail stations appear to be arbitrarily placed. Urban planning in North America is built around vehicle ownership, and while this creates sprawling cities where people have a great deal of space to themselves, it also results in inefficiency. Having now moved to somewhere within a stone’s throw of a light rail station, I am rather excited by the fact that I can now hop on a train and be anywhere in the city on short order.

  • Moments like these really serve to showcase Makoto and Akira’s personalities beyond initial impressions the original game presented: Makoto might not be a capable cook, but she absolutely enjoys her sweets. It was very endearing to see Makoto this way. This is something that was only introduced with the 2016 expansion, which really fleshes things out. I would hold that the expansions are not optional add-ons, but essential parts of the Go! Go! Nippon! experience: the expansions each give the UI significant upgrades, and the 2016 version will openly indicate which of Makoto or Akira will accompany a player to a destination.

  • This makes it much easier to determine which destinations one should visit when playing through Go! Go! Nippon!: on my first run, my thoughts were that I should bias the game slightly towards Makoto. To this end, I picked Makoto destinations for two of the three days, and then went with an Akira destination for the remaining day. If I had to guess, going with Makoto or Akira for all three days seems to create in Makoto or Akira an overwhelming sense of yearning, causing both to wish to remain with the player, whereas balancing things out gives either Makoto or Akira a chance to think things through and come to terms with expressing how they feel more openly.

  • On this route, I ended up taking Go! Go! Nippon! over to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park at the heart of Tokyo that folks know best as the setting for Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. For the player and Makoto, a rainstorm soon develops, perhaps being a clever (and subtle) callback to the events of Garden of Words, soaking Makoto to the bone. During my trip to Japan, our destinations did not include Shinjuku Gyoen, and instead, the day began with a visit to Meiji Jinju Shrine, which is a twelve-minute walk away from Shinjuku Gyoen.

  • The end result of this route sees Makoto pick up a stylish new outfit, and with this, I’ve now got two of the three possible Makoto endings unlocked. I never thought that Go! Go! Nippon! would be quite as engaging as it was; my introduction to the game had been through a friend who was watching a YouTube playthrough of the game in between classes, and the game had seemed quite hokey at first glance. However, going through the game again, I’ve come around: while Go! Go! Nippon! might be a dating simulator pretending to be a Lonely Planet travel guide, it does feel sincere in its portrayal of things.

  • This is why I’m rather excited to see what Go! Go! Nippon! 2 has in store for players; since Makoto and Akira broke into the Virtual YouTuber scene, their popularity has increased, and generated enough buzz so that OVERDRIVE seriously considered a sequel. While Makoto and Akira are unvoiced in Go! Go! Nippon!, they have the traditional “anime dub” voices as Virtual YouTubers, which makes them sound like RWBY characters. High on my wishlist for Go! Go! Nippon! 2 would be to have some proper dubbing: in particular, Ayano Taketatsu is suited for playing Akira and her tsundere personality, and Ai Kayano similarly could play Makoto: Kayano’s voice has a matronly and warm character to it.

  • Besides complete voice acting, other items on my list include a wider set of destinations, extending north to Hokkaido, and south towards Hiroshima and Kumamoto, or even perhaps Okinawa. Additional things I’d like to see include high resolution character models and 4K support: Go! Go! Nippon!‘s character models look a little fuzzy compared to their CG counterparts and the background artwork, so seeing improved assets would be fantastic. Similarly, Go! Go! Nippon! only goes up to 720p, but even back in 2016, 1080p resolution was already commonplace. A 4K visual novel with 1440p and 1080p settings would bring this series into the present. Beyond these technical aspects, it’ll be exciting to see what OVERDRIVE chooses to do with their next iteration in the series.

  • Reminiscing about my vacation to Japan and Hong Kong in 2017 a full five years later was a fun exercise: since then, I’ve only travelled abroad for business (having gone to Denver to consult on and save an app, and then to Silicon Valley to attend an F8 developer conference). Aside from statuary holidays, I’ve been putting my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, and as a result, my world now is quite different than it had been then. While I had a life-changing experience in Japan, I continue to maintain that it would be most unwise of me to uproot my life and become an expatriate in Japan (as one of my former friends had done, at the expense of their career), but now, things have reached a point where I am able to begin considering a return trip: for me, one of the biggest joys of travel, outside of seeing the world outside my routine and enjoying a culture’s best, is knowing I’ve got a home and a warm bed to return to.

Although travel is doubtlessly a large aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!, the elephant in the room is the fact that this game also has elements of a traditional dating simulator, in which player decisions impact the story’s outcome in a tangible way. The setup in Go! Go! Nippon! prima facie appears implausible, and contemporary reviewers felt the romance aspect in Go! Go! Nippon! to be wedged in as a means of appealing to the demographic most likely to look at such a title. While it is the case that the romance in Go! Go! Nippon! can appear superficial at first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! cleverly utilises the dating sim mechanic to, again, speak to the joys of travel. It is the case that Makoto and Akira can be anthropomorphic representations of what travel entails: there are goods and bads, moments worth remembering, and accidents one would rather forget. When one travels to a destination for the first time, they fall in love with the initial impressions. As one’s experiences broaden, they learn more about the destinations, both the pluses and minuses, ultimately cultivating a unique and distinct collection of memories that accompany them home, and in some cases, creates a yearning to return. With this as a metaphor, it is not so implausible to suppose that one could fall in love with someone as quickly as they do a place. Watching the player depart, and how each of Makoto and Akira handle this moment, brings to mind what happens at the end of a vacation: there always is a desire to extend one’s stay, to do more. This aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! proves surprisingly enduring, and it is, curiously enough, through a dating sim setup that different facets of travel can be explored. I imagine that OVERDRIVE had initially designed this more as a piece to ensure players would gain the classic dating simulator experience when going through Go! Go! Nippon!, but the consequences of this element, intentional or not, is that it brings additional depth and enjoyment to the game. Curiosity to see what happens when one makes different decisions to see how things with Makoto and Akira turn out also pushes one to visit, and learn about, different spots. Getting to know Tokyo and its surroundings better, then, is analogous to getting to know Makoto and Akira better. On my first run of this game, making decisions as I would in reality earned me what is considered the “best end” for Makoto: I received a kokuhaku and the story allowed us to reunite. This speaks volumes about my character, but jokes notwithstanding, I would very much like to visit Japan again in the future. Until then, Steam is suggesting that I’ve still got about a quarter of the achievements to unlock in Go! Go! Nippon!, and its successor, Go! Go! Nippon! 2, looks like it’s going to be a reality now, so I’m curious to see what this entails. This time around, I will try to complete Go! Go! Nippon! 2 at least once before planning out a return trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Harukana Receive Manga: Endgame Considerations and Whole-Series Reflection After Volumes Nine and Ten

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” –Douglas Adams

Following their victory at the Okinawan championships, Haruka and Kanata prepare for the Valkyrie Cup, a national-level competition. Akari is surprised to run into another beach volleyball player who’s searching for a partner, and it turns out that this particular volleyball player is none other than Natsuki Fukami, a skilled player whose older sister, Mika, is writing a piece on Okinawan players to keep an eye on in the upcoming tournament. As it turns out, Mika is also a coach for the pro leagues, and she’s interested in bringing both Haruka and Kanata on board. While the pair mull over their decision, Akari also receives invitations to visit a new cafe in the area. To decide who gets to go, Haruka, Kanata, Emily and Claire compete with both their exam scores and then wager on the outcome of the summer beach volleyball tournament. To help Haruka and Kanata grow, Emily suggests that they switch up partners so they’re aware of how capable one another is. In the end, the results are inconclusive, and Akari ends up receiving enough invitations so everyone can visit. Meanwhile, Ayasa reminisces on how she met Narumi, and of the promise they’d made to one another. When the Valkyrie Cup begins in Ehime prefecture, Kanata and Haruka face off against several tough opponents, all of whom have their own reasons for participating. In gruelling matches, the pair manage to earn their victories and end up reaching the finals, where they square off against defending champions Narumi and Ayasa. During this match, Haruka and Kanata initially hold their own, but a change in Ayasa and Narumi’s style throws Haruka off. Having read her opponents to gain a sense of how they play, Haruka is shocked that this pair seems unreadable. Although they lose the first set, Kanata reassures Haruka to trust her own judgement, and the pair are able to tie the series. In the end, Ayasa and Narumi win their third consecutive title. Narumi later speaks to Kanata: although Kanata might’ve lost the finals, Narumi is relieved that she was able to find her way again. Because she and Ayasa are set to fly back soon, Narumi and Ayasa decide to play another match with Haruka and Kanata.

With Harukana Receive‘s manga fully completed, Kanata’s journey finally draws to a close: although she and Haruka are unable to defeat Ayasa and Narumi in the finals to claim the Valkyrie Cup, the journey the pair take to reach this point is ultimately what gives Kanata strength to stand of her own accord. Here in Harukana Receive, the journey is plainly more important than the destination, and while Kanata and Haruka still have a ways to go before they’re able to win, their learnings over the course of a year prove instrumental in helping Kanata rediscover her own love for beach volleyball. Throughout the manga’s second half, this is a topic that is returned to time and time again, and while the volleyball remains at the forefront of events, underlying Haruka and Kanata’s desire to win, both for themselves and those around them is a desire for Kanata to rise above the emotional barriers holding her back. In playing with different partners, Kanata learns that Haruka, although still a novice, is a competent player in her own right. Haruka similarly begins to have more faith in her own abilities and makes an honest effort to lean less on Kanata’s judgement calls, in time, coming to learn how to read other players and help devise a means of overcoming them. While Ayasa and Narumi are still out of reach, the sheer progress that Haruka and Kanata make in such a short time impresses even Ayasa. As such, losing in the finals to Ayasa and Narumi isn’t as large of a blow as it would otherwise be: the fact that Haruka and Kanata could trade with the defending champions shows Narumi and Ayasa that there isn’t anything to worry about anymore. Kanata has overcome the loss of her mother, and in accepting Haruka as a partner, she’s been able to find her own way forward again. This in turn gives both Narumi and Kanata the strength they need to finally speak with one another, face-to-face. In their conversation, there is gratitude and relief, reflection and apology. In this way, while Haruka and Kanata do not win or fulfil their promise to take home the title, they have exceeded expectations in being able to perform so well together, and so, readers are left with confidence that, now that all of the past dæmons are addressed, both Kanata and Haruka are ready to take on whatever the future throws at them together.

Additional Remarks

  • This is my first-ever shot at a manga discussion, and it becomes clear that there’s a reason why I typically don’t write about manga: I normally prefer to have screenshots so I can give context to the things I discuss. It’s a little trickier to take photographs from the manga I’ve bought, and the results leave much to be desired, so I wasn’t able to include screenshots for this. With this being said, I do believe that Harukana Receive ends in such a way as to be worthy of a full-scale post. A quick look around finds that there’s zero discussion on what happens from volume six onwards. The anime concluded with volume five, so it’s fair to say that this is probably the only place where one can read about what happens after the anime finished: I hope that this post, while not in my usual format, helps to answer the question, “how does Harukana Receive end?”

  • Ever since watching Harukana Receive back in the summer of 2018, I found myself impressed with the series: I’m no beach volleyball player, but the anime had brought the sport to life in a way that was accessible, while wrapping a story of self-discovery and sportsmanship around it. After the anime ended, I learnt that the series had still been ongoing, and therefore became curious to check the manga out to see where Kanata and Haruka’s promise ended up. The end result was a fulfilling one: I’d gotten to the point where I was rooting for the pair in each match, and while I’d long known that Ayasa and Narumi represent the best of the best, I’d always hoped that grit and spirit would allow Haruka and Kanata the win.

  • However, even though Haruka and Kanata do not take the Valkyrie Cup, the amount of progress they’ve made in a year is impressive, enough to turn Ayasa’s head and even catch the attention of a former professional player turned coach. Harukana Receive‘s second half places a great deal of emphasis on the characters and provides hitherto unseen insight into how Narumi ended up so close to Ayasa. The focus on back stories meant that readers would become equally acquainted with the other characters’ experiences, in turn giving their raisons d’être more weight. This means that every match is an uphill battle, making them considerably more exciting. The advantage that the anime naturally has over the manga, then, is that it is able to convey the flow of each match better: the manga does an excellent job of showing the energy behind every play, but nothing is comparable to animating each scene and bringing it to life.

  • Although Akari had sat out competitions in the anime, Harukana Receive‘s manga has her training alongside Haruka, Kanata, Claire and Emily to the point where she ends up partnering up with someone and beginning her own journey towards playing beach volleyball. Along the way, new characters are introduced, and specifics behind Kanata’s mother are also shown. Further to this, Haruka’s mother also visits her in Okinawa, consenting to allow Haruka to choose her own future. While Harukana Receive has sports as its premise, the series is not a conventional sports story in that victory is secondary to personal growth. Themes of partners being like lovers are even more prominent in the second half, although I contend that it’s not a direct endorsement of romance. Instead, the idea here is that falling in love is broad enough of a metaphor to describe many situations in life, with partners in beach volleyball being one of them.

  • Having now finished the manga in full, questions inevitably turn towards whether or not a continuation is likely to occur. Considering that it’s been a shade under four years since Harukana Receive got an anime adaptation, I would suppose that anime-only viewers will not be seeing this series wrap up. Although an excellent all-around series, sales for Harukana Receive weren’t likely strong enough to warrant a second season to wrap things up. In spite of this, I found the journey to be well-written enough so that it deserved to be followed right through until the end: each volume costs 17 CAD, and I’ve been collecting Harukana Receive since the manga became available at my local bookstores in June 2019. Three years and 170 CAD later, I’ve got all ten volumes in my personal library, and with it, the complete experience. I don’t normally collect manga, so any series that I purchase to completion should speak volumes to how much I enjoyed it.

The ending to Harukana Receive is one that some number of the community would consider “realistic”: back when Girls und Panzer was airing, it was noted that the series would fail to deliver on its messages if Miho were allowed to win. However, what these individuals miss is that Girls und Panzer was about how Miho’s conviction in supporting those around her was enough to rally teammates to overcome all odds. By comparison, Harukana Receive‘s central focus in the manga’s second half lies with both Kanata striving to meet Narumi in a match to assague the latter’s worries for her, and Haruka learning to stand of her own accord as a beach volleyball player. The outcome of the finals, then, was never as important as what Haruka and Kanata learn as they train for the tournament and square off against players whose desire to win was no less than their own. All the while, Haruka and Kanata also learn that they have the opportunity to keep playing as a pair in the future; in order to make the most of such a future, Kanata and Haruka must first excise whatever dæmons that remain in their lives. Because this was the foe to overcome, the nationals suddenly become secondary, and Harukana Receive is therefore able to take a more “realistic” route. Had the manga been purely about a sports series, then it would have taken a more conventional route and have the pair win to show how finding the right team is essential towards achieving one’s goals. Because the themes in Harukana Receive are about how finding the right person can help one to accept their past and seize the future, victory was never the endgoal; Haruka and Kanata only needed to win the matches needed so the pair could face off against Ayasa and Narumi to show the latter that by now, Kanata’s recovered and capable of standing of her own accord, allowing Narumi to focus on being the best she can be, too. Harukana Receive thus concludes on a high note, and my four-year journey through this series comes to a close; although the outcomes were somewhat surprising, the series remains successful in conveying its themes.