The Infinite Zenith

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yama no Susume Season 3: Whole-series Review and a Full Recommendation

“Mountains are only a problem when they are bigger than you. You should develop yourself so much that you become bigger than the mountains you face.” ―Idowu Koyenikan

Hinata visits Ikebukuro on her own when Aoi is busy with work, finding herself lonely without Aoi’s presence. Meanwhile, Aoi manages to put her knowledge of cakes to practise and recommends a cake to Kokona’s mother, who is looking to buy something for Kokona. Later, because of communications challenges, Aoi ends up planning a trip to Gunma with Honoka, while Hinata plans a visit to Mount Akagi on the same day. While Hinata climbs up the steep trails of Mount Akagi with Kokona, Aoi and Honoka explore the shrines of Gunma before stopping by a hot springs. Hinata becomes increasingly jealous of Aoi when further miscommunications lead Aoi to spend time with Mio, Kasumi and Yuri in Ikebukuro, feeling Aoi is becoming more distant. Kasumi also comments on the changes in Aoi’s personality since she’d taken up mountain climbing and hopes that the confident Aoi will be able to spend more time with those around her. Kaede decides to invite everyone out to camp on a multi-day hike to Mount Mizugaki and Mount Kinpu after Yūka, but when Aoi and Kokona are nearly late, having spent the previous evening cooking for everyone, Hinata snaps and lectures Aoi for being late. She becomes distant from the others and while climbing ahead, injures her knee. On the second day, en route to Mount Kinpu, Hinata’s injury worsens, forcing her to abandon her climb. Aoi volunteers to stay behind and escort Hinata back to camp, while encouraging Kokona and Kaede to finish the ascent. Aoi reassures Hinata that she’ll always be best friends with her, and the two reconcile. Autumn begins giving way to winter, and Hinata’s birthday approaches. Aoi struggles to come up with a good gift for her, and accidentally reveals plans for Hinata’s surprise birthday party. When Aoi expresses worry that she doesn’t know Hinata all that well, Hinata reassures her that this is what being friends and spending time together is about. The two exchange secrets, and Aoi gifts Hinata a handbag for her birthday. This brings Yama no Susume 3 to a close, and with it, my journey reaches an end for the present. Like its predecessors, Yama no Susume 3 excels in covering different aspects of friendship, and with it, comes a very clear theme on both the good and bad that can come with change.

With its focus on a broad spectrum of events that can occur in friendship, as well as mountain climbing, Yama no Susume 3 seamlessly weaves together interpersonal discoveries with the joys and challenges of climbing a mountain. While the first half to the third season progressed at a breakneck speed, the second half puts the brakes on after Hinata’s worries and doubts begin manifesting. Aoi has slowly become more confident and outgoing over the course of Yama no Susume: from making herself heard to taking the initiative and realising her goals through a combination of persistence and determination, Aoi begins to feel more at ease in her surroundings, whether it be in a classroom with peers, or on a tricky mountain trail. She thus opens up and begins to take charge of a situation, making things happen, rather than passively allowing others to drive things. This new Aoi is a mark of her growth, and while positive, also leads Hinata to feel left behind. When Yama no Susume started, Hinata was evidently more outgoing and strong-armed Aoi into hiking with her, but with Aoi finding her own wings, Hinata fears that Aoi may leave her. This is a very natural worry, since Hinata has come to greatly treasure her friendship with Aoi since the two reunited. Worries manifests as hostility, and Hinata uncharacteristically snaps at Aoi, finding it difficult to express herself in an honest manner. However, on the slopes of Mount Kinpu, the combination of injury and Aoi’s understanding of things allows Hinata to reconcile. While this might be considered a magic of the slopes, the process comes as a consequence of Aoi’s growth: she’s now able to take stock of a situation, understand it and then honestly express how she feels about things. Being able to put things in the open help both Aoi and Hinata move ahead, strengthening their friendship further.

While life lessons come at the forefront of Yama no Susume 3, they are presented on the slopes of Akagi, Mizugaki and Kinpu: true to its core, Yama no Susume 3 includes some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the whole of Yama no Susume. From the stunning night view at the top of Tsukuba to the autumn foliage at Kinpu, Yama no Susume spared no expense in crafting a highly vivid, detailed presentation of the Japanese mountains. This is unsurprising, given that Yama no Susume has consistently presented mountain climbing and hiking with realism, and in a bit of a coincidence, I decided to take a hike yesterday to Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country, located a short ways from Calgary. The Chester Lake hike is characterised by a steep start that gives way to more level terrain that also yields a stunning view of Mount Chester, and is rated as a moderate hike that takes some four hours to complete, spanning a distance of 9.1 kilometres. After the ascent up the first third, the going became easier to the point where I managed to reach the lake within an hour and a half. We’d heard that there had been an adolescent grizzly bear on the north side of the trail near the lake, and many hikers had decided to give this bear his space. Sure enough, when we reached the top of the trail, there was indeed a bear here, minding his own business. We stopped briefly at lake, which had become rather quiet, and to a rocky area known as the Elephant Rock. After a brief lunch and climbing further, we reached the end of the trail at a remote pond and sat down for some granola bars before turning back for the trail head. Armed with plenty of water, the knowledge of pacing ourselves and good hiking shoes, this hike proved to be remarkably enjoyable, and as Aoi discovered during Yama no Susume 2, the descent back down the trail can be quite tiring. I’ve been a casual hiker for two years now, and are somewhat familiar with the ins and outs of hiking. To see Yama no Susume so faithfully represent these aspects is a very rewarding, indicating the series’ commitment to excellence and conveying its message effectively; by reproducing technical details around mountain climbing accurately, Yama no Susume convinces audiences that its portrayal of the events that Aoi and the others experience are very much real, augmenting the weight of each learning and discovery that Aoi and her friends encounter.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Aoi’s classmates notice her improved confidence when they visit the bakery that she works at, and during the course of her day, Aoi helps a little girl out when she buys a small slice of cake to gift to her mother to celebrate a new baby sister: the manager waives the taxes, remarking that the little girl’s spirit is most honourable and that a part of the joys of working is helping others to realise their wishes.

  • With the day drawing to an end, the bakery prepares to close, but a lady shows up, and the manager allows her in. Despite the lady’s selection being limited, Aoi works out something and helps her to pick out a cake for her daughter. It turns out that this lady is Kokona’s mother, and Kokona is thrilled to have a mountain-themed cake. Like the finale post for Yama no Susume 2, there’s a bit of ground to cover, and so, this talk on Yama no Susume 3 will be a ways longer than a standard post.

  • While Aoi is gaining confidence and spreading her wings, Hinata begins feeling a bit left behind when her efforts to invite Aoi and the others out fails. Despite having come so far, both Aoi and Hinata still feel doubtful in their friendship, expecting the other to try and engage the other. However, because both lack the initiative, their misunderstanding builds, and it takes a few episodes to sort this out – contrary to their (rather immature) perceptions of one another, both Aoi and Hinata are actually more independent than they otherwise let on. The gap between Aoi and Hinata here visually represents the distance that is developing between the two.

  • Aoi had previously spent time with Kokona when they two had hiked up the Hanno Alps together after running into one another on the trials, but Mount Akagi marks the first time that Hinata and Kokona have spent time together without Aoi or Kaede around. The mark of a solid slice-of-life series is having different subsets of the characters interacting with one another in a more personal setting, which allows for new dynamics to be shown. GochiUsa was an excellent example of how novel moments could be created by simply putting different characters together as pairs.

  • Aoi finally has a chance to visit Gunma, Honoka’s home. There’s a 110 kilometre distance separating Gunma and Hanno, but thanks to how the trains work, most rides take around three and a half hours. The visit is therefore a momentous moment, and while Honoka would’ve liked to show Hinata around, as well, only Aoi was available to make it. Despite this, Aoi enjoys exploring Gunma with Honoka, who shows her the various shrines of the area. After climbing a set of 365 steps, one for each day of the year, the two reach the gates of the Ikaho hot springs.

  • The hike up Mount Akagi is tougher than expected: both Kokona and Hinata struggle to make it to the top. However, amidst the overcast skies and colourful autumn foliage, the two make it, finding a spot to set down and take a breather before continuing to the summit. My typical strategy is to ease into a hike first, and then depending on the difficulty of the path, space out water breaks. Hiking is ultimately no different than lifting weights, and taking breaks at measured intervals is key to preventing fatigue.

  • While I’m generally fond of clear days and express my displeasure at overcast days, I find that during a hike, overcast weather is actually a blessing – exertion during a hike has very pronounced effects, and it can become somewhat uncomfortable on a hot day when the sun is baking down. However, the cooler weather and lack of direct sun on overcast days actually makes hikes more enjoyable, allowing one to stay slightly cooler.

  • Aoi displays a more adventurous side to her when she picks up a metal cup and samples some of the Ikaho Onsen‘s spring water. The water is rich in dissolved iron and therefore has a very distinct taste: the official site advises drinking this water after dinner, and avoiding tea and coffee because polyphenols, such as tannin, found in these beverages can inhibit iron uptake (iron is essential for blood production).

  • Aoi remains quite embarrassed to go into the onsen, and Honoka reveals that all of the constraints Aoi’s mentioned are not an issue at all. With little choice other than to go in, Aoi eventually relents and joins Honoka, finding an immensely relaxing experience. By being nudged out of her comfort zone, Aoi continues to grow as she explores new horizons and becomes acclimatised to things that once made her uncomfortable.

  • It suddenly strikes me that Aoi resembles GochiUsa‘s Cocoa Hoto in appearances. Here, Honoka passes her a Gunma-chan towel: Gunma-chan is the prefecture’s mascot. Taking the form of a horse, Gunma-chan has been utilised by the prefecture government to promote the area. The prefecture’s name itself, 群馬 (jyutping kwan4 maa5) literally translates to “group of horses” and refers to the fact that the prefecture was an ancient place for horse breeding shortly after people arrived from the mainland.

  • While Kokona and Hinata might not have a relaxing soak in the onsen, they instead get to glory in a successful ascent to Mount Akagi. With a height of 1828 metres, the average hike up this mountain takes three hours, which is considered to be a dormant volcano. Akagi gave its name to the IJN Akagi, one of Japan’s aircraft carriers involved in the attack on Pearl Harbour and which was later sunk during the Battle of Midway.

  • At Mount Akagi’s summit, Kokona reveals that she’d prepared some cookies, scones and tea for their excursion. Hinata is genuinely impressed, and praises Kokona, who remarks that this is the joy of the effort. Bringing tea to the summit of Mount Akagi means that Kokona’s brought elements from K-On! into Yama no Susume, and here, a portable burner can be seen. Both Yama no Susume and Yuru Camp△ both showcase more elaborate setups for food options while hiking and camping: while most portable burners are used for heating up simple meals, I’ve also read about how a cast-iron pan and griddles can be used for some creative recipes while one is camping, as well. Midway through their tea, the sun breaks through the clouds and yields Crepuscular rays, creating a magical moment.

  • After the onsen, Honoka and Aoi head towards the Haruna Shrine, which is indeed a spirtual “power spot” that is said to have at least 1400 years of history. Its gods look after blessings and health, and it is located some 3.1 kilometres away from the Ikaho hot springs. While this ordinarily requires a 40 minute walk, Honoka’s older brother is on station to provide a ride: Honoka’s annoyance is quite visible, and it is perhaps a blessing that this car ride lasts only seven minutes. Once Aoi arrives, she makes a wish to successfully complete the Mount Fuji ascent.

  • Kokona and Hinata end up buying good luck charms for success on their future adventures. As their day comes to a close, they run into a film crew who is shooting a commercial spot with Gunma-chan. Kokona’s great love for all things Gunma-chan takes over, and she runs off to embrace Gunma-chan. The precise results are unclear, but one can reasonably work out that the film crew would have no trouble with someone like Kokona showing up unexpectedly.

  • While Hinata’s fear of being left behind have begun manifesting in subtle ways since Yama no Susume 3‘s second half, it becomes quite apparent on the train ride back home, when Aoi begins sharing photos with Kokona and seemingly leaves Hinata out of the conversation. This is unintentional on Aoi’s part – her budding confidence gives her more drive in being able to share her experiences with others, and upon hearing about how Aoi’s been doing fine with Honoka, wonders if she’s been replaced.

  • Later, after yet another miscommunication where Hinata had assumed she was going to the theatres with her family on Saturday rather than Sunday, she suddenly has a free day while Aoi hangs out with the same classmates from karaoke. They end up following a very similar itinerary as Hinata did, visiting the planetarium and sharing a long wait in line for crêpes. While Aoi’s come far in managing her acrophobia since Yama no Susume 2, she’s not completely past her fear of heights and also missed out on a few things.

  • One empathises with Hinata’s situation: when her scheduling falls through, she suddenly has no plans for the day and wanders the streets of Hanno, eventually running into Kaede and Yuuka. With Yuuka furiously pushing Kaede to study for her exams ahead of post-secondary admissions, Kaede’s presence throughout Yama no Susume 3 has been reduced. Here, Hinata wonders how Kaede and Yuuka get along so well; that their personalities clash and complement the other’s is what forms the strength of their friendship.

  • As Aoi’s day draws to a close, Kasumi reveals that she and the others had been in her class since middle school, but because Aoi had been so withdrawn, she never paid attention to those around her. After seeing the new Aoi, Kasumi yearns to strike up a proper friendship with Aoi and requests that Aoi should not forget anyone this time around. Realising this, Aoi accepts and promises to keep everyone in her mind.

  • Colouring is utilised in Yama no Susume to create atmosphere – subtle hints in the colour can speak volumes about how characters are feeling, and here, the washed out, desaturated hues suggest a sense of unease. Looking at anime from a more human perspective offers the most value, and while slice-of-life shows are often dismissed as being little more than “cute girls doing cute things”, a properly-structured slice-of-life show offers a suitable medium for showing a journey of how life lessons are discovered and learnt. This is why I personally approach such shows with the mindset of seeing how meaningful this journey is, and count elements like comedy as being secondary to one’s enjoyment.

  • Yuuka believes Kaede has made satisfactory progress with her studies and allows her a weekend to regroup, reasoning that letting Kaede rest will be beneficial. Kaede relishes the moment, and in a flourish, declares the liberty and limitless potential of not having to have her face in a book. Yama no Susume 3 is certainly not a comedy, and the joy in watching the series instead stems from watching the presentation of how one gets from point A to point B. With her (temporary) new-found freedom, Kaede suggests that everyone go on an overnight trip to Mount Mizugaki and Mount Kinpu.

  • The night before the group’s outing, Kokona and Aoi stay up preparing the ingredients for their evening meal. However, Aoi very nearly oversleeps, and when the alarm goes off, a desperate Kokona shoves Aoi out of bed to wake her. It’s a welcome surprise to Kokona’s character that was hitherto unexpected – despite her gentle disposition, Kokona is willing to do what is necessary to ensure that things work out.

  • On board the train, Hinata lambastes Aoi for being late. While the Hinata of old would have likely shrugged it off, her recent feelings of resentment and loneliness rushes out here. In spite of these feelings, Hinata does stay within the realm of the issue at hand, restricting her lecture to Aoi on punctuality before Kaede intervenes and says that Hinata’s point is clear. While Hinata’s actions are in keeping with how not to escalate a disagreement, not being able to get to the root of her troubles means that Hinata starts the adventure with a sullen heart.

  • Thus, while the scenery of Mount Mizugaki is beautiful, subtle use of camera angles show that even as Aoi, Kaede and Kokona enjoy their adventure, Hinata remains unhappy and is shown with her back towards the camera. As the girls ascend along the trails, these feelings mingle with the sense of majesty and wonder associated with mountain climbing.  Here, the distinct outcrops of Mount Mizugaki are visible: with a maximum elevation of 2230 metres, the hike along Mount Mizugaki takes roughly three hours and is said to be quite easy.

  • When the girls arrive at the top of Mount Mizugaki, the view is stunning. I’ve found that timing estimates for how long trails take to complete are typically on the more conservative side: during my hike out to Chester Lake, the estimated time to complete the entire in-and-out hike was five hours, indicating a two-hour hike to Chester Lake itself. However, we managed to reach the lake in the space of 90 minutes, and that was with periodic breaks along the trail. While there is joy in reaching the end of a trail, I find that a large part of the fun also comes from seeing things on the way up to the destination. In the end, we trekked a total of 13.5 kilometers with an elevation gain of around 400 metres.

  • In my case, it’s usually things like crystal-clear streams flowing down the side of the mountain and stunning views of unspoiled nature: for the most part, visitors to natural areas are very good about leaving naught more than footprints and taking naught more than photographs, so on the various hikes I’ve done, the most I’ve noticed about a human presence (beyond running into happy hikers on the trails) are the occasional footprint. Here, the girls stop at the summit of Mount Mizugaki to enjoy a tea. Again, everyone is in fine spirits save for Hinata, who’s now sustained a minor knee injury on the trails and is doing her best to conceal it for fear of ruining everyone else’s experience.

  • As evening sets in, Aoi, Kokona and Kaede admire the star-filled sky. This was the moment that Yama no Susume 3 opened with, and while Hinata’s absence is noticeable, viewers won’t think too much of it. However, with more context now, Hinata’s decision to not check out the stars is felt more significantly. I’ve noted previously that some anime under-represent light pollution, indicating that it is possible to see a night sky filled with stars and even the Milky Way itself. However, Yama no Susume 3 nails this detail correctly: at Mount Mizugaki and Mount Kinpu, the skies have a darkness of 21.67 mag./arc sec².  This corresponds with a Bortle scale 3, where magnitude 6.5 stars being visible and where the complex structures of the Milky Way can be seen.

  • The girls prepare to retire for the evening, and Aoi shares a tent with Kaede. The next morning, Aoi is paid back in full for being late when Kaede, who moves in her sleep, punches Aoi out. After breakfast, Kaede suggests that Hinata lead the group today, but Hinata’s injury soon becomes apparent as they ascend Mount Kinpu. The music takes on a more ominous tone akin to what is seen in Les Stroud’s Survivorman when Stroud describes a tricky situation. Stroud notes that being injured in the backcountry makes survival all the more difficult, and that out in the bush, one’s priority should always be to minimise exacerbating an injury further.

  • The beautiful scenery of the path leading up to Mount Kinpu does nothing to diminish the fact that she’s injured, and ultimately, Aoi volunteers to look after Hinata and walk her back down the trail to base camp while Kokona and Kaede push forwards. This singular action shows how Aoi’s matured now: taking a leaf from Kaede’s playbook, Aoi sets about ensuring the safety of her best friend and assures both Kaede and Kokona that things will be fine.

  • On the way back down the mountain, Aoi carries Hinata’s gear as well as her own. Watching Aoi take these measures to ensure Hinata’s injury does not worsen is the surest sign of her friendship with Hinata, indicating to audiences just how far Aoi’s come mentally and physically since Hinata invited her to scale Mount Tenran back during Yama no Susume. It is on the descent that Hinata finally is truthful to Aoi, explaining that she’d felt jealous and left behind ever since Aoi was not able to visit Mount Akagi with her.

  • While Hinata and Aoi may not be at the summit of Mount Kinpu, the cliff they choose to rest at still offers an incredible of the world below. Aoi reminds Hinata that no matter the circumstance, she’ll always regard Hinata as her dearest friend, reaffirming their friendship. Having reconciled with Aoi, Hinata’s spirits are restored, and even her knee injury seems to lessen as the two continue back down the mountain together. The mountains bring out the best in everyone, and one of Yama no Susume‘s long-standing themes across each of its seasons was how being made to square off against nature is an exercise that improves one’s character.

  • The strength of the themes in Yama no Susume are encouraging, inspiring, and for having compelled me to consider climbing Ha Ling Peak at some point in the future, Yama no Susume as a whole is counted as a masterpiece (A+, 4.0 of 4.0). Overall, Yama no Susume 3 similarly earns a perfect score for using mountain climbing as a highly visual, immersive metaphor for self-discovery. Like any journey in life, not every step of the way is easy, and there are some downright challenging moments that test Aoi and Hinata’s resolves. Like mountain climbing, there are peaks and valleys, ups and downs: what matters is being able to see the next peak, setting one’s sights on a goal, and knowing how to pick oneself up during times of difficulty.

  • At the time of writing, Ha Ling Peak is closed while crews maintain the trail, so when I’ll actually get around to doing so is unknown. The best I can manage for now will be to promise to climb it before Yama no Susume 4 is announced. Back in Yama no Susume 3, Aoi and Hinata welcome Kokona and Kaede back; the latter is utterly spent and totally content with having conquered yet another mountain: the rush of being tired post-hike is always a rewarding feeling to experience, and after completing Chester Lake, I note that while my legs and glutes are fine, my shoulders are feeling a little sore, indicating that when I train, I should definitely work on my shoulders more.

  • Yama no Susume 3 features no new incidental pieces: the soundtrack across all three seasons was released in July 2018, covering all of the instrumental music used throughout the series, including Omoide Present. Having had a chance to listen to the music more closely, my favourite track is 駆け出す思い (kakedasu omoi, or “feelings that rush out”), which is played at pivotal moments whenever Aoi makes a new discovery.

  • After packing up, Kaede, Kokona, Hinata and Aoi bid the mountain farewell. Like Yama no Susume 2, this is where my post would end, were it not for the fact that following the climactic climb, there is always a falling action episode that has very little to do with mountain climbing. It acts as a quiet, peaceful denouement to Yama no Susume and neatly wraps the series up. Overall, I found the presentation of Yama no Susume 3 to be appropriate: while some folks felt the rift between Aoi and Hinata to be unnecessary, the reality is that such moments are inevitable.

  • The inclusion of the feelings that Hinata experienced therefore makes Yama no Susume 3 more, not less, realistic. Saying that such problems have no place in Yama no Susume 3 is like saying Aoi should’ve made it up Mount Fuji in one go: to do so would completely eliminate the learnings that are gained through adversity, and diminish the strength of the themes. By the events of the final episode, everything’s been resolved, and things go back to Aoi being on the rocks as she struggles to determine what the best birthday gift for Hinata could be.

  • Hinata has known Aoi long enough to know when something’s off, so when Aoi seems unlike herself, Hinata manages to learn that Aoi’s been troubled by being unable to find what to give Hinata for her birthday. After sharing a laugh, Hinata explains that friendships are built over time, so it’s okay not to know everything about one’s friends, and that sharing time together to make these discoveries is what makes it worthwhile. This Hinata seems quite far removed from the surly, jealous Hinata seen in the past few episodes, and indicates that adolescents can demonstrate both great maturity and childishness as they skirt the gap between youth and adulthood.

  • In order to help Aoi along, Hinata suggests sharing secrets with one another that leave the other surprised. With Hinata’s revelation, Aoi finally decides on what to get Hinata for her birthday. This brings Yama no Susume 3 to an end, and during the credits, Hinata’s birthday party is shown, with Honoka doing a video call in owing to her distance. After enjoying the cake that Aoi’s bought and cooking from Hinata’s father, Hinata unboxes her gifts: a handbag from Aoi and makeup from her parents.

  • With this post, a journey that began in April comes to an end for the present: when I first began watching Yama no Susume, I remarked that this would be an excellent way to occupy the time while waiting for Yuru Camp△‘s second season to air. Three months later, it appears as though I’ll now be making use of Yuru Camp△‘s second season to wait for Yama no Susume‘s fourth season, which has no known release date. The only reason why I can be confident about a fourth season is because there remains Aoi’s promise to complete her conquest of Mount Fuji before high school ends.

  • This confidence is justified by the end card to Yama no Susume 3, whose text indicates an intent to eventually return. The use of footprints as exclamation marks is a particularly clever touch, and with all seasons of Yama no Susume in the books, it is a little saddening to learn that my journey comes to an end for the present. We are also nearly halfway through July now, and this July is a noteworthy one, being the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, as well as the fifth anniversary of the Giant Walkthrough Brain. While I have plans to write about Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru?, these special topics posts will take priority.

Yama no Susume 3‘s finale is similar to its predecessor, being set away from the slopes of a mountain. This time, the conflict stems from Aoi’s inability to pick a suitable gift for Hinata’s birthday. While Aoi may have grown from her experiences, she’s not infallible, and likewise, while Hinata’s insecurity can come across as being somewhat immature, Hinata also possesses a reasonable degree of maturity and insight. The dynamic between the two friends, where Aoi and Hinata both complement one another, allows both to be strong for one another. While the process of mountain climbing doubtlessly helps Aoi, that Aoi and Hinata both share their experiences together allow the two to grow and improve as people. Yama no Susume be about mountain climbing, and the requirements involved to appreciate the hobby, but its greatest strength is that it masterfully utilises mountain climbing as a metaphor for personal growth and moreover, presents this journey in a highly visceral, visual manner. The mountains become a secondary (but nonetheless majestic) backdrop for a trek that at its heart, is about how one’s experiences strengthen one’s resolve and broadens their horizons. Together with solid aural and visual elements, I deeply enjoyed Yama no Susume, and Yama no Susume 3 is a much-welcomed addition into the series. This is a series I can readily recommend to all viewers for its gentle but moving presentation of life lessons, with the mountains acting as a spectacular setting in which said life lessons are presented. With all three seasons in the books, I’ve now reached the end of the path, and thoughts invariably stray towards whether or not there will be a continuation. While a stage play was announced back in December 2018, news of a fourth season have not yet materialised. With this being said, Yama no Susume‘s manga is still ongoing, and moreover, with Hinata and Aoi’s friendship having come out of the third season all the stronger, the stage is set for Aoi to conquer Mount Fuji in a titanic act that represents both the distance she’s come, as well as the closeness between Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona. Once more volumes are produced, it is inevitable that a fourth season will be announced.

Yama no Susume Season 3: A Review and Reflection at the Halfway Point

“Beauty has so many forms, and I think the most beautiful thing is confidence and loving yourself.” –Kiesza

With autumn setting in, Aoi decides to take Hinata on a night climb to Mount Tsukuba and express her thanks to Hinata for having gotten her a souvenir from Mount Fuji. The beautiful landscapes at the top of Mount Tsukuba motivate Aoi to reattempt Mount Fuji, but after learning that Mount Fuji’s trails and facilities will be closed until next summer, Aoi decides to pick up dedicating hiking shoes instead, and ascends Mount Tenran to test them out. Later, Aoi decides to hike the trails of the Hanno Alps, and while finding it a challenging experience, she runs into Kokona and visits the shrines in Nenogongen. Back in school, when Mio, one of Aoi’s classmates, strike up a conversation with her, Aoi finds herself accepting an invitation to karaoke. Encouragement allows Aoi to be herself and have a good time. Aoi, Hinata and Kokona meet up with Honoka to visit Lockheart Castle uin Gunma. With their cameras, they capture memories of their experiences. After Aoi learns about mountain coffee, she decides to pursue the art of brewing and enjoying it, sharing her coffee with Hinata at the Kanhasshu Observation Platform and learning that contrary to her imagination, Hinata actually drinks her coffee with milk and sugar. Halfway into Yama no Susume‘s third season (Yama no Susume 3 for brevity), the series marks a triumphant return of a series that has done a phenomenal job of capturing the ins and outs of mountain climbing, growing friendships and interpersonal discoveries, as well as intrapersonal growth as a result of taking up a new hobby and spending time with newfound companions. Yama no Susume 3‘s run began last summer, and having run the gauntlet of having to catch up, I’ve now reached a point where I can begin my journey into Yama no Susume‘s latest instalment.

Immediately after beginning Yama no Susume 3, it is apparent that this third season’s more condensed runtime has a non-trivial impact on each episode’s pacing; whereas Yama no Susume 2 had twenty-four episodes and therefore, plenty of timing to portray Aoi’s experiences in greater detail, the third season only has half the episodes. Consequently, each episode feels a lot more concise, skating over more subtle or mundane moments in favour of highlights. The end result changes the dynamic of Yama no Susume 3 from those of its predecessors, making the anime feel much more determined and to-the-point. While this change does detract from the slower pacing of Yama no Susume 2, it serves one important narrative function – the higher pace reflects Aoi’s growing confidence. As a result of climbing mountains in a literal sense, Aoi has also matured by overcoming metaphorical mountains. Moments that were momentous milestones now become more commonplace, and so, focus on such instances is diminished as Aoi sets herself the concrete target of conquering Mount Fuji again, and then works towards preparing for the task by improving her endurance and picking up new shoes. Along the way, Aoi also becomes more open towards those around her. In showcasing the more pivotal moments for Aoi, Yama no Susume 3‘s pacing conveys to viewers Aoi’s excitement for a rematch with Mount Fuji: the series has always been successful in doing more with less, and halfway through Yama no Susume 3, it appears that things will continue at a brisk, smart pace.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Yama no Susume 3‘s initial airing during the summer of 2018 was coincided with Harukana Receive‘s airing, and in conjunction with the fact that I had not yet begun my journey with Yama no Susume yet, I only chose to keep the series on my radar. Having taken the superbly enjoyable journey through the first and second season, I finally reach the third season’s opening, which wastes absolutely no time in establishing Aoi’s desire to express her appreciation to Hinata.

  • On a suggestion from Hikari, her coworker at a local bakery, Aoi decides to take Hinata to Mount Tsukuba by night with the aim of showing her the night landscape here. This hike is quite unlike any other that Aoi had done previously: while early morning hiking was a part of the itinerary for Hinata during the Mount Fuji ascent, Aoi was out with altitude sickness and never completed the climb.

  • With a maximum height of 877 metres, Mount Tsukuba is known as the Purple Mountain and on a clear day, offers a panoramic view of Tokyo. Mount Fuji is also visible from the summit. Characterised by an abundance of vegetation and wildlife, Mount Tsukuba is also a popular destination for couples because of the two peaks, which represent the male and female. Hikari suggests this mountain to Aoi, under the impression that she’s seeing someone.

  • One element that never ceases to put a smile on my face are the characters’ dynamic personalities, which constantly remind viewers of how life-like the characters are. While Aoi is usually shy and reserved, and Hinata is more energetic and outgoing, Aoi can be smug and childish around Hinata, showing a side of her character that indicates what she’s like when she’s become close with someone. Under the dark of night, the ascent becomes a completely different one, creating an additional sense of mystique in the landscape.

  • At the summit, lights of the Tokyo skyline spread out towards the horizon. It is here that Yama no Susume 3‘s opening episode marks the series triumphant return to the screen, showcasing the solid artwork that Yama no Susume possesses. While pronounced visual shortcuts are occasionally taken, on the whole, Yama no Susume has excellent visuals. The third season explores a greater range of unique settings, and the first episode sets the precedence for what is upcoming.

  • At the summit, under a peaceful night sky and the gentle scenery below, Aoi resolves to re-attempt Mount Fuji. After her failed first effort, Aoi spent the remainder of the second season rediscovering her love for the mountains, gradually picking herself back up and spearheading the climactic climb to Mount Tanegawa to fulfil a long-standing promise with Hinata. While Aoi worried about the aftermath of this hike, she also would meet Honoka, and as Yama no Susume 3 presents, a new destination is established now that Aoi has set her sights on Mount Fuji once more.

  • Up until now, Aoi had been hiking with conventional shoes, and when Kaede learns that Aoi intends to climb Mount Fuji again, recommends that she pick up a proper pair of hiking shoes, which can run for around 42000 yen (506 CAD). With a rigid sole, hiking shoes offer superior support and stability when traversing rocky terrain. During my first hike at the Big Beehive in Lake Louise, I used my running shoes and found that the soft sole made it difficult to properly set my foot down, since there was the risk of the sole bending and causing my balance to be lost.

  • I ended up purchasing a pair of hiking shoes for a much more reasonable price and used them during a hike to the Windtower Pass, where the trails were poorly marked and where I ended up squaring off against a section where the trail was a foot wide and adjacent to a ten metre drop. Having good shoes gave me the confidence to negotiate this part of the trail, and as Aoi discovers, a proper set of shoes makes a world of difference.

  • Later, when Aoi goes to hike the Hanno Alps trail to improve her stamina and endurance, she finds that the solitude of being alone is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. Despite being able to take things at her own pace, exhaustion also means the lack of support. It is for this reason that hiking is typically recommended to be done with at least one other person. For me, the non-trivial risk of running into bears and cougars means that having at least one person with me allows a conversation to be carried out, which gives wildlife plenty of notice that we’re around.

  • After stopping to rest, Aoi encounters Kokona, who is hiking the Hanno Alps trail in search of wildlife. Morale immediately shifts, and Aoi’s spirits lift considerably. Hiking in groups allows everyone to encourage one another, and being able to talk does make a hike go by a lot more quickly. Typically, when I go on hikes along trails I’ve never done previously, I prefer pacing myself so that I don’t become unnecessarily exhausted. While the goal is to reach a destination, there is also something to be said for enjoying the journey there.

  • Yama no Susume 3 places a much larger focus on Aoi, whose growing confidence is mirrored in the series’ pacing. This does mean that other characters, most notably Kaede, have a reduced presence. Yama no Susume had always predominantly been about Aoi – Kaede is present to provide knowledge and pass on experience to Aoi, while Kokona seems to represent the tranquility and gentleness of nature itself. I praise Yama no Susume for its characterisation of Aoi and Hinata, but Kaede and Kokona do seem a bit more static in their growth.

  • Attesting to attention in detail, Kokona is seen wearing the hiking shoes her mother had gotten for her birthday back during season two. While subtle, such touches add considerably to the authenticity in Yama no Susume, and here, the two share a lunch: Aoi’s mother had created two vast onigiri for Aoi on the assumption that she would be hanging out with Hinata, but Aoi’s serendipitous encounter with Kokona means that things work out fine.

  • Upon reaching the Nenogongen shrine, Kokona and Aoi learn more about the lore of mountain climbing and pay deference to the mountain kami, praying for good health: the gods here deal with hip and leg health. The real shrine is indeed home to the world’s largest sandals, which have a mass of two tons in total, and can be reached from either the Agano Station or Nishi-Agano Station on the Seibu Chichibu Line on foot; this walk takes around an hour and a half.

  • When Aoi’s classmate, Mio, strikes up a conversation with Aoi, the topic naturally flows from Aoi’s love for knitting to the mountains. Intrigued by Aoi, Mio invites Aoi to join her and some other classmates at karaoke. While Aoi is a bit surprised and nervous, Hinata was also invited, giving Aoi at least one familiar face in a group she typically does not hang out with often. I see myself in Aoi, being perfectly content to be left to my own devices, but folks around me contend that I’m not entirely an introvert, either; on a spectrum, I feel that I’d be closer to the middle, slightly favouring solitude over crowds.

  • Aoi is initially pensive about singing, fearing that she’s not familiar with any of the songs, and upon finding songs she knows of, also worries that her peers may mock her for her selection. However, seeing Hinata sing the Mountaineer’s Song prompts Aoi to sing Natsuiro Present, the opening theme to the second season. I have a particular fondness for this song, as well as the third season’s Chiheisen Stride.

  • Aoi and the others meet with Honoka at Lockheart Castle, a castle that was built in Scotland in 1829 and transported, brick-by-brick, to Japan by Masahiko Tsugawa, a famous actor. With a particular fondness for European culture, Tsugawa used his wealth and connections to purchase and move the castle in 1987. Its location in Gunma brings to mind the Enchanted Forest near Revelstoke, British Columbia, which began when Doris Needham purchased some sixteen hectares of forest and began building a home there. By 1960, Needham opened the location, now dubbed the Enchanted Forest, to the public. Although the original attraction only had a small shack and a giant mushroom, visitors continued to visit. Needham expanded the site with a stone-floored castle and nature trials: by 1970, the Enchanted Forest had over one milion visitors. The site was sold and today, continues to be a family business, enchanting the young and old alike with its attractions.

  • On the topic of the Enchanted Forest, I passed by last week during the Canada Day Long Weekend en route to the Okanagan. This excursion out into what is essentially the California of Canada had been in the works for some time: since the trip out there for the salmon run, a desire to visit one of the most beautiful places in Canada turned into a trip. While the weather was rainy on the first day, the weather cleared up by the time we got to Kelowna. Stopping for dinner at an Italian restaurant, we then walked the shores of Lake Okanagan as evening set in: it’s been three years since I was last in Kelowna for a performance of the Giant Walkthrough Brain, and it was such a joy to be back during the summer, where the weather and atmosphere are a world apart from the cold, grey weather I experienced three years previously.

  • On Canada Day itself, we prepared to drive back home: stopping in Sicamous to enjoy the fresh ice cream at D. Dutchman’s, the remainder of the journey home was uneventful until we crossed the Alberta border and passed Canmore, wherein a large traffic jam stopped us cold in our tracks. We ended up taking the Bow Valley Trail to bypass the traffic, bringing an end to this highly enjoyable excursion where time itself appeared to stand still and where I could live in the moment. Such moments are common in series like Yama no Susume, which encourage slowing down to savour the smaller things in life.

  • At Lockheart Castle, Aoi, Honoka, Hinata and Kokona explore to their heart’s content. After touching a stone in the castle that’s supposed to help with emotional development, and Hinata pretends to get stuck in a pillory, the girls stop for lunch, bringing out their cameras and decide to photograph their time spent together. Everyone has a different type of camera, mirroring their own respective backgrounds. Honoka’s camera is a sophisticated one that speaks to her hobby, while Hinata uses an instant camera that represents her forward and living-in-the-moment manner. Kokona uses a disposable film camera: as an older medium, film is more romantic, forcing one to really consider what they’re capturing and waiting to see its outcome (at the same time, also giving a hint about Kokona’s background). Aoi uses her smartphone’s camera: while not a photographer, Aoi’s become more adept with adapting to a situation, and contemporary smart phones, such as Aoi’s iPhone 6, are capable of taking pictures of reasonable quality.

  • My favourite part of Honoka and company’s visit to Lockheart Castle comes when everyone comes decked out in elegant dresses that make each of Honoka, Kokona, Aoi and Hinata resemble princesses. While Lockheart Castle is known for housing a sizeable Christmas collection, visitors can indeed try on various dresses as the girls do. Folks interested in visiting Lockheart Castle will note that there’s a 1000-yen (12 CAD) admission fee for adults (and 800 yen for students, about 9.70 CAD). The castle is around 20 minutes west of Numata by car, and is open from 09:00 to 17:00.

  • The outcome of the girls’ trip to Lockheart Castle is that, on top of additional precious memories of spending time with one another, Honoka also learns that some of the best moments come about naturally, when Kokona decides to photograph her. Later, Honoka’s brother appears to pick her up: he’s a carefree fellow who seems to embarrass Honoka, but Aoi and the others don’t regard Honoka’s older brother as a nuisance.

  • After Aoi learns about mountian coffee, she begins practising the methodology behind brewing a cup so she might be able to enjoy hiking with a more mature spin to it. Her mother is impressed with Aoi’s determination but also wonders if Aoi’s done her homework yet: Aoi seems to be the sort of individual who does well enough in her studies when the moment calls for it but otherwise prefers to spend time on other things. Here, I note that Aoi’s mother, Megumi, is voiced by Aya Hisakawa, whom I know best as Ah! My Goddess‘ Skuld.

  • One of Aoi’s biggest weaknesses as a character is that her imagination tends to get the better of her: her interest in coffee is spurred on purely by a baseless thought that Hinata, who’s begun drinking coffee, regards her as immature. The real Hinata, while occasionally nudging Aoi for fun, is shown to be considerate and caring for Aoi. For her carefree and boisterous manner, Hinata is also has a more thoughtful, sentimental side.

  • While looking through a coffee shop in search of a good coffee, Aoi encounters Kaede and Yuuka, who suggest to her not to push herself in doing something purely for appearances. To warm her up to coffee, Yuuka believes that Aoi should stick with what she likes: Yuuka’s advice is spot on, and while it is tempting to succumb to peer pressure, the height of being cool (or lit, or dope, as folk say these days) is to be true to oneself.

  • Aoi eventually works out a coffee to make for Hinata, and in the process, drinks a substantial amount of coffee. On the day of her walk to the Kanhasshu Observation Platform, Aoi is tired from having not slept very well, yawning frequently. This is the main reason why I don’t drink coffee: despite my love for the smell and taste, the effects of caffeine on me aren’t those that I particularly like, so given the choice, I will drink tea. On the flipside, I will almost always pick coffee or mocha-flavoured sweets if those are available, whether it be ice cream, cakes, chocolates or hard candies.

  • Hinata, noticing this, offers to carry the gear that Aoi’s brought along. The side of Hinata that became more pronounced in Omoide Present is shown once again, giving audiences the sense that time is passing and that both Hinata and Aoi have matured throughout Yama no Susume.

  • The Kanhasshu Observation Platform is located in Hanno, and with an elevation of 771 metres, it is a relatively popular spot for locals because of the views that it offers. On a clear day, Mount Fuji is visible from here, and while some visitors feel the trailhead is a bit out of the way, on the whole, visitors are impressed with the scenery. Watching Hinata and Aoi visit more out-of-the-way spots near and around Hanno is actually what prompted me to plan trips to places like Peachland and the Okanagan Lavender Farm: such spots are invariably skipped if one is looking to see major attractions, but smaller attractions have their own charms and typically do not have the same crowds, making them highly rewarding experiences.

  • Once Aoi reaches the summit, she begins preparing the coffee, grinding her own beans. Hinata remarks that Aoi’s become very proficient in the process and allows her to prepare the coffee. Aoi wears a look of determination on her face: as she sets about the process, her thoughts are on delivering the best possible experience to Hinata to dispel any misconceptions that she’s immature. However, it turns out that Hinata prefers her coffee with milk. After the initial shock wears off, Aoi and Hinata share a laugh together and enjoy their coffee under the brisk autumn skies.

  • Having just passed the halfway point to Yama no Susume 3, my goal now is to wrap this series up in a timely fashion such that I may begin this summer’s anime: Sounan desu ka? (Are we shipwrecked?) and Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru? (How many kilos are the dumbbells you can lift?, and informally Do you even lift: The Anime) have caught my eye, so I have plans to write about those once their third episodes have aired. Beyond this, I also have a pair of special posts planned out for this month.

While the short length of Yama no Susume 3 precludes Aoi returning to Mount Fuji for a rematch against the mountain, the comings and goings in Yama no Susume 3 continue to show that the series is about the journey, rather than the destination, and it is the small things, whether it be training for more strenuous treks or picking up the right equipment, that inevitably set in motion much larger changes. Yama no Susume might be billed as a relaxing series, but it also offers a plethora of relevant life lessons. This particular aspect of Yama no Susume is what makes the series worth watching, dealing with often-times tricky lessons in a very gentle and accessible manner. Because Yama no Susume 3 is on the shorter side, I anticipate finishing this one on very short notice, and while there’s been no news of a continuation, given the fact that the manga is still on-going, and the fact that Aoi’s goal of ascending Mount Fuji has yet to be realised, I anticipate that at some point in the future, a fourth season will be released. I am thoroughly enjoying Yama no Susume – each and every episode puts a smile on my face, and I greatly look forwards to wrapping up season three.

Yama no Susume OVA: Omoide Present Review and Reflection

“The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.” –Robert Holden

August is drawing to a close. When Kokona’s mother is asked to work over the weekend they’d originally planned to spend together, Kokona decides to take a walk around Hanno and rediscovers the places that she and her mother had previously visited. After coming across a lost child, she helps the girl find her mother, and discovers a herb garden nearby. Later, Kokona’s mother says that the weekend after, she’ll really have some time off to spend with Kokona and promises to make it an enjoyable experience. During October, while hanging out at Aoi’s place, Hinata comes across an acorn hairclip and recalls that prior to moving years previously, the two had made acorn ornaments for one another, promising they’d never forget their promise to reunite. However, Hinata begins to worry when she realises that she’s misplaced Aoi’s gift to her. She confesses this to Aoi, who tells Hinata not to worry. The two decide to make new acorn gifts for one another, and Hinata recalls that while she may have lost her old gift from Aoi, Aoi had outright forgotten her when they reunited during the first day of high school. The OVA for Yama no Susume, Omoide Present, is actually made of two separate acts rolled into a single title and released in October 2017, spanning the gap between the second season’s conclusion and the opening of the third season, which came out in July 2018. Omoide Present presents two simple stories that acts as a warm-up act to the third season. The first act accentuates Kokona’s open-minded view of the world and how this leads her to create wonderful memories of her own, while the second act details the friendship Hinata and Aoi share, from Hinata’s perspective. These serve to jolt the viewers’ memories of Yama no Susume: season three aired three and a half years after Yama no Susume 2, and quite a bit can happen during the course of this time.

Kokona’s story is an immeasurably warming, presenting her as being remarkably mature for her age. Rather than lamenting what time she cannot spend with her mother, Kokona makes the most of every day to enjoy what she does have. Memories of spending time with her mother come to the forefront of her quiet day out, from walking the same sidewalk in a costume to wondering what theatres were, each moment reinforces the idea that Kokona always makes the most of what she has. This is a wonderful way of looking at the world: people often are so focused on the what-ifs that they neglect to count their blessings in what they have. Happiness can often be found in being grateful for what is, and this gentle acceptance Kokona demonstrates allows her to spend a day making new memories, even discovering a new herbal garden. For viewers, Kokona’s outlook on the world is met with a blessing, when her mother reveals that the weekend after, she will definitely have time off. Hinata’s act has a different message for viewers and shows that, for her boisterous manner, Hinata is very mindful and appreciative of her friendship with Aoi, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye with any frequency. Insofar, audiences have seen a noisy, carefree Hinata, but it turns out that Hinata can also be sensitive and worried about her friendship with Aoi: it greatly troubles her that she’s lost a momento representing their promise, and of the two, she alone remembered their original promise where even Aoi had forgotten. This adds a new depth to Hinata’s character. Altogether, being able to see the depths of Kokona and Hinata’s characters shows that Yama no Susume‘s characters are very life-like, and going into the third season, it will be interesting to see which direction each of Aoi, Hinata, Kaede, Kokona and Honoka will take.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Kokona’s mother ends up busy for work, Kokona decides to make the most of her day anyways, enjoying a hearty breakfast before going out for a walk. Despite the sudden change of plans, Kokona shows no sign of being bothered, and sets about enjoying the last day of August in her own manner. There’s a joy about watching Kokona out on her own adventures: being a full year younger than Aoi and the others, there’s an endearing trait to everything that Kokona does.

  • Six years previously, on the first day of summer, the Bow River overflowed its banks and led to some of the most devastating flooding in the province’s history. After the dark, rainy skies gave way to the sun, the scope of the damage became apparent, and by Canada Day, officials were fervently working to bring the Stampede Grounds up to speed for the annual Calgary Stampede despite the flood damage. I remained at home during the duration of the flooding, since campus was closed, and while I attempted to work, the weather was as beautiful as it is here in Omoide Present: I ended up going out for a burger before spending the afternoon gaming.

  • While Kokona might just be walking the familiar streets of Hanno, there is no shortage of marvels to explore. Kokona stops by a temple, where a group of cats have gathered. One of the more unusual aspects about Kokona’s story in Omoide Present is the application of a fish-eye lens-like effect when the world is presented through Kokona’s eyes. This is likely done to show that Kokona is reminiscing, as well as suggest that the world is quite large from Kokona’s perspective, and therefore, always full of new things to discover and find.

  • The consistency of the artwork and animation in Yama no Susume is solid: while the first season had slightly simpler lighting and textures, by Yama no Susume 2, the series had hit is stride and scenes are beautifully portrayed. The colouring and tone give the sense of a hot summer’s day: passing under a rail bridge, the heat can be felt. Kokona is walking underneath the Seibu Ikebukero line along a small side street, and like countless anime, real world locations are reproduced in stunning detail.

  • Treading along familiar streets causes fond memories of the time that Kokona and her mother spent together resurface. As a child, Kokona was very fond of wearing various outfits: she’s decked out as an angel here, and has been seen in different costumes throughout Yama no Susume. Most notably, the one time Kokona had dressed up as a firefly was also the first time she met Aoi and Hinata, although neither seem to remember.

  • On her walk, Kokona encounters into Kaede and Yuuka, who are on their way to the public library to study. While Kaede is presented as mature and knowledgeable, it turns out that this does not extend to her desire to study: she was shown as being unable to help Aoi on her homework, having forgotten everything, and seems to depend on Yuuka to bail her out. While the Hanno City Library is a beautiful, clean and modern structure, locals also find it to be a bit too noisy to be a good spot for studying.

  • Kokona stops on a footbridge passing over Misugidai Street. After she finishes her lunch and resumes her walk, she encounters a small child who’s lost. Recalling a similar moment when she had gotten lost, and how she managed to find her in the end, Kokona accompanies the child through Hikari Park and runs into her mother after passing through a playground area: it would appear that this child had simply taken a wrong turn and gotten lost.

  • As thanks, the child’s mother gifts to Kokona some herbs. The buildings to the Hanno-Shiritsu Misugidai Elementary School are visible in the background. By my admission, I was not originally intending to go location hunting in this post, but curiosity got the better of me, and I managed to find the locations mentioned in this reflection. There’s actually a very simple process that I follow to hunt down locations using tools like Google Maps: after locating a landmark, it’s a matter of tracing possible paths that characters take to get to their next destinations.

  • Finding all of the locations in Omoide Present took around 15 minutes in total. Pushing on ahead, Kokona comes across the Yakkosoen Medical Herb Garden, located just across the road from Hikari Park. While Kokona only visits the park, there’s a store that sells the herbs, and this store doubles as a cafe with a pleasant selection of dishes for visitors to enjoy. In general, patrons are very pleased with the Yakkosoen Medical Herb Garden, and I note that visiting such obscure locations, if one were to really visit these locations for themselves, would confer an unmatched experience.

  • Kokona’s appreciation for what already is, rather than what could be, is admirable, as the day draws to a close, she reminisces about how she’d once come here with her mother, as well. At the end of the day, Kokona runs into Aoi and Hinata, who have some baumkuchen from the shop that Aoi works at. They spend time together before Kokona heads home, where she learns that her mother’s got next week off for sure.

  • The second half of Omoide Present follows Hinata and her quest to find an old keepsake. Yama no Susume had presented Hinata as being rather boisterous and happy-go-lucky, so to see a more contemplative, sentimental side of her character was a pleasant change of pace. I found that the depth of each character in Yama no Susume contributed greatly to the enjoyment factor, giving each individual a life-like feel and showing that despite their outward archetypes, everyone experiences a very broad and deep set of emotions. This is how to properly convey depth of characters: I was speaking with a friend earlier about how to best convey nuances in characters, and he cites Durarara!! as a series that was a little too aggressive in trying to show that everyone has a hidden side.

  • As the first day of the summer, today is the longest day of the year, and all days subsequent will begin shortening. However, while summer is typically associated with blue skies like those seen in Kokona’s story, the weather today greatly resembled the rainy conditions of six years ago, when the Great Flood devastated the city center and surrounding towns. While the rain was fortuitously nowhere near as intense, we still had a severe rainfall warning for much of the day. This didn’t stop me from celebrating the solstice with my first visit to a food truck since I was a university student: I ended up having a ginger fried chicken poutine that was a fusion of Asian and Canadian flavours.

  • Back home, Hinata is troubled by the fact that she’s lost the acorn figure Aoi had made for her. The nuts of Quercus trees, acorns are produced as a means of dispersing seeds and can also be consumed by humans, although having been displaced by grains, usage of acorns as food has decreased greatly. Looking around the intertubes, it’s somewhat of a surprise that Omoide Present has not received more coverage: I’ve only found one short discussion on the series.

  • Hinata’s doubt deepens when she speaks with her father, who’s kept a leaf that Hinata had found for him while they were walking when Hinata had been much younger. In the end, it is not the worth of the gift, but the intent behind it, that counts for something, and this is something that my parents are quick to remind me: the gesture of taking the time to think about someone and what they like is already a powerful show of compassion and care.

  • Aoi and Hinata are adorable as children: on the day that Hinata moves, it’s a tearful departure, but the girls hold their tears back long enough to give one another their gifts. Aoi’s made a stick figure out of acorns, hinting at her skills with crafts, while Hinata, be less proficient, carves her name into the acorn. The two go their separate ways here and reunite at Yama no Susume‘s beginning, when high school begins.

  • One thing I’ve not mentioned about Yama no Susume is the soundtrack: the music is composed by Tomohiro Oshima and Tomohiro Yamada, and the incidental pieces range from gentle, to encouraging and even chaotic at times, capturing different facets of the girls’ experiences, both on the trails and in their everyday lives. Omoide Memory has its own soundtrack, featuring orchestral pieces that create a majestic sense of wonder and also of nostalgia, for each of Kokona and Hinata’s stories.

  • Ultimately, Hinata decides to be forward with Aoi about having lost the little acorn figurine. Aoi only vaguely remembers and dismisses things, since it happened so long ago: the two decide to make new acorn ornaments for one another and head to the local park, where they search for new acorns. Here, the distinct red arch of Wariiwa Bridge can be seen: its colour makes it a distinct part of the Hanno cityscape, and the bridge is prominently featured in Yama no Susume.

  • As it turns out, while Hinata may have lost the acorn figurine, Aoi had outright forgotten Hinata and their promise: Yama no Susume‘s first episode made this clear, so the two are evidently even, and so, Hinata’s losing of a small memento becomes inconsequential. Here, the two friends share a joyous moment together amidst the beautiful autumn foliage: Omoide Present‘s second act is set in late October, a time when back home, all of the trees have long lost all of their leaves and a noticeable chill has crept into the air.

  • Omoide Present feels as though it foreshadows what is to come in the third season. Having finished the OVA, we’re also entering the final days of June. I actually have no more anime related posts planned for this month, although I am going to attempt to write about Battlefield V and the experiences I’ve had during the third Tides of War chapter, as well as my final thoughts on Valkyria Chronicles 4.

With Omoide Present in the books, I now advance into the final act of Yama no Susume: the third season came out last summer, and praises for this third season is actually what had prompted me to give Yama no Susume a go. Readers will have doubtlessly seen the procrastination that I am infamous for, and it was only now that I’ve finally had the chance to watch Yama no Susume. Despite being a series of shorts, Yama no Susume loses none of its potency and depth in its messages; the shorter length of each episode forces Yama no Susume to ensure that every scene contributes to the story. The result is an anime that is genuine, engaging and also concise: adaptations, such as for K-On!, protracted scenes to ensure they would fit into a standard runtime, and while this can be beneficial for things like performing concerts, it also results in some jokes that seem as though they last much longer than they should. Yama no Susume is built off a similar setup, but shorter episodes allow the series to really focus on their characters and their discoveries. The third season looks to be continuing on in this path, and I look forwards to beginning Yama no Susume‘s latest season. Readers will have my assurances that I will be finishing this series in an expedient fashion: as Aoi learnt, once one gets started, forward momentum makes it easier to continue moving forwards, one step at a time.

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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