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I Won’t Break: Harukana Receive Impressions and Review At The Halfway Point

“I’m really gonna wipe you now.”
“Bring it on, bro!”

Finn and Jake, Adventure Time

Emily discerns that Kanata’s game plan with pokies must have another goal, and back on the court, Kanata is able to send the ball across the court. Mai is exhausted in trying to keep up, slipping on the sand and slowing in her ability to receive the ball. Harukana thus catches up on the scoreboard. They reach the match point, and Haruka realises that she can use a drop shot after Ai spikes the ball: this unexpected action allows Harukana to win over Aimai. In the aftermath, Haruka and Kanata are overjoyed to have won their first game as a pair and embrace, while Ai and Mai resolve to continue playing beach volleyball as a pair, with both confiding in the other that they were worried about letting the other down. The junior tournament winds down with Claire and Emily victorious; Haruka and Kanata were defeated in their second round. Undeterred, Haruka remarks that she’s greatly enjoying the experience, and when Claire announces that there are two slots for the Valkyrie Cup, a national-level competition, the girls resolve to train hard and meet one another at the national tournament. Kanata begins drilling Haruka on hand signals, and in the post-credits scene, Akari asks Kanata if she’s a member of their high school’s beach volleyball club. We thus reach the halfway point for Harukana Receive, and with six episodes in the books, Harukana Receive has remained very consistent with expectations as to what sort of messages it intends audiences to take away from the series: sportsmanship, self-discovery and improvement are core to Harukana Receive, and nowhere is this more apparent than with novice Haruka, whose spirits seem imperturbable. Instead on dwelling on loss and failure, Haruka is always intent on pursuing the next challenge, and this drive is beginning to move the needle for Kanata, as well.

Interpersonal growth is evidently the core of Harukana Receive: beach volleyball merely acts as the vessel for driving the narrative, providing something concrete and tangible that the characters can work towards. Had Harukana Receive done something similar with ping-pong or tennis, the messages would still hold true as they do now. It is clear that both Haruka and Kanata are learning: Kanata strives to teach Haruka more of the technical elements, while Haruka’s energy continues to inspire and motivate Kanata. However, I am perhaps unique in thinking about the series in this manner: discussions elsewhere have fixated on technical elements surrounding Kanata’s strategies, and purport that the approach Kanata took towards besting Aimai will not be viable against any skilled pair. While it is the case that Haruka and Kanata lose their next round, Harukana Receive chooses deliberately to not show this round; this indicates that the details underlying beach volleyball matter less than interpersonal and intrapersonal growth. Matches are shown when they contribute to a pair’s development, and from the looks of things, omitted when specific details are not immediately relevant to the thematic aspects. As a result, I hold that looking up the fundamentals of beach volleyball and then trying to apply them to discredit Kanata is to miss the point of what Harukana Receive is about. The series is not the novice’s introduction to beach volleyball, it is about how it sometimes takes a bit of disruption for people to change their status quo and the sorts of learnings one picks up after this disruption occurs.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the past week, it’s been non-stop discussions about why Kanata’s repeated use of pokies are unwise and the like. I will say this outright: anyone who’s acting like they know beach volleyball when their only exposure to it was through Harukana Receive should take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves what they’ve made of their lives. The phenomenon is colloquially referred to as “Engineer’s syndrome”, but applies to all disciplines involving expertise. The short of it is that folks who are highly skilled in one area imagine that their abilities may also extend outside of their field.

  • To act like one knows more than they do only results up in humiliation when anyone learned in the matter (beach volleyball, in this case) actually enters the discussion. As a result, I’ve not placed too much focus on the technical aspects of the sport because I do not feel that I can adequately cover it, although even if an anime does deal with my areas of expertise (biology and software development), I will not bother with technical details more than is necessary because it is not my intent or duty to provide an undergraduate’s introduction to those areas.

  • I further wonder why Manga Time Kirara shows are especially susceptible to discussions where people present themselves as being more knowledgeable than they are on various topics. I would speculate the presence of attractive female characters subconsciously inspires a desire to impress among some individuals; if the reason isn’t actually thus and is something else, I’d love to hear about it. We finally return to Harukana Receive proper, where exhaustion is driving Mai to make increasingly poor plays.

  • While discussions raged about on whether or not Kanata’s tactics were efficacious, I already was convinced that with Kanata’s experience, she picked her approach for a reason. However, messing with an opponent isn’t always the most viable of tactics and only really works if one is going against folks who are weaker than oneself: consider the example of Battlefield, where I sometimes roll with unusual loadouts (such as repair tool or Kolibri-only) for an assignment or amusement. Against poor players, it can be amusing, but against skilled players who are playing for keeps, frustration results.

  • Just so search engines do not get the wrong idea, there is no imminent threat to Mai here: she’s merely drenched from having exerted herself to the extent that she did. Admittedly, without any context, people’s imaginations may run a little wild imaging the sort of beating that Aimai is on the receiving end of, or even the sorts of things that shall never be mentioned here. This turn of events is what motivates the page quote, which is sourced from Adventure Time‘s “Who Would Win” episode, when Jake and Finn are fighting one another. After falling down a canyon, Jake and Finn’s fight gets desperate, devolving into a variety of dirty moves.

  • The pacing of the match’s second half is a bit more dynamic, although slow motion stills are still very much the norm in Harukana Receive. I would tend to think that this is also deliberate, to give viewers a much better idea of what the players themselves are thinking at various stages of a match. Close-ups allows this story to be told, and since facial expressions can convey feelings quite effectively, it further stands to reason that the human aspects of beach volleyball are rather more relevant than the technical.

  • At the halfway point, Haruka remains my favourite character, although Claire’s a very close second, as well. As this match progresses, Haruka is still in the process of learning, and while she may have raw talent, her skill level is not quite there yet: she lacks precision. However, with her own innate talent and suggestions from those around her, Haruka picks things up very quickly. The choice to have Haruka as being a natural athlete means that her advances in skill are not so jarring, in turn allowing for the story to progress without being constrained by Haruka’s ability to play beach volleyball.

  • As the match between Harukana and Aimai progresses, things become a bit more tense as the scores draw even. Insofar, pacing in Harukana Receive is much less even in that some episodes cover a considerable amount of ground with respect to character development, and others focus on beach volleyball in a blow-by-blow capacity. This could make the series’ objectives unclear, inducing a sense not dissimilar to sea-sickness. However, much like how looking at the horizon can help alleviate sea-sickness, the pacing in Harukana Receive is less of a bother if one watches it from a higher-level perspective.

  • The inconsistencies in Harukana Receive means that some episodes will invariably have a great deal of content to cover, and in others, things will be slower, forcing me to get creative with my writing. However, the one thing in Harukana Receive that’s keeping me around, even ahead of Haruka’s aesthetically-pleasing figure, is the fact that every episode (so far) is set under a brilliantly blue summer sky. The forest fires a province over have returned, meaning that in my area, the skies are smoky and hazy now, saturated with ash and dulling the sun. By comparison, Harukana Receive provides consistently beautiful weather.

  • Yesterday was said to be the hottest day in Calgary’s history: the termometer reached 36.8ºC, eclipsing the previous record of 36.1ºC (which was reached on July 15, 1919, and July 25, 1933). After arriving at the airport, I was hit with a wall of heat when walking through the jet bridge. Things have thankfully cooled off for the weekend, and after a full day of smoke yesterday, a thunderstorm rolled in when I was sitting down to dinner. Back in Harukana Receive, one of the things that the show does excel at, through the use of slow-motion moments, is to building suspense and anticipation for the outcome of a particular rally.

  • After Harukana manage to even the scores up, Claire attempts to signal to Haruka, who is at a complete loss as to what Claire’s message is. The Thomas sisters appear to be very serious and no-nonsense on first glance, and while Emily remains quite quiet, Claire is rather boisterous under most circumstances. This dichotomy is one of the reasons that I’m so fond of Eclaire.

  • I’ve heard arguments that people take Harukana Receive seriously because the show takes itself seriously. However, because of how comedy figures in Harukana Receive, such as Haruka’s total confusion at what Claire is trying to say to her, it stands to reason that Harukana Receive cannot be approached with this mindset. The balance of serious and humourous means that while good discussion can be had, people should not be tearing characters down when they act in a manner that may seem contrary to common sense. I liken watching Harukana Receive to watching an MCU film: there’s definitely meaningful topics being explored, although the humour also reminds audiences to also enjoy the show.

  • I doubt I’ll get tired of featuring Haruka screenshots: I’ve heard complaints about fanservice in Harukana Receive, and to exacerbate things further, here’s a random bit of trivia. Haruka’s given name is Ōzora, 大空. But, in Cantonese, 空 (jyutping hung1, “sky”) is phoenetically identical to 胸 (jyutping hung1, “chest”). So, all I hear is “大胸 Haruka”, which lends itself to some hilarity for Cantonese speakers (I’m not going to bother explaining the joke, as sticking this into any machine translator will quickly show why I won’t go into more details). With this being said, I don’t think Haruka’s the most stacked of anyone in the cast, and further remark that this joke does not work in Mandarin Chinese (空 is kōng and 胸 is xiōng).

  • Kanata later aims a serve deliberately out of bounds to score a point by surprising Aimai. Compensating for wind is another aspect of beach volleyball that Kanata’s using to her advantage, and this point sets the stage for Haruka’s drop shot, which ends up winning the game. When I played badminton as a student, the one move I was ill-equipped to deal with were drop shots. Haruka’s realisation that this can be a powerful tool comes in a timely manner, and with this, Harukana’s first game is over.

  • Without further context, this image could also get me turfed from search engines, so I will explain what’s going on here. After Haruka scores the game-winning point, Kanata is overjoyed and makes to hug Haruka, knocking her over in the process. There’s nothing dicy going on whatsoever, despite the use of this style of imagery in other series to imply thus: I would prefer that viewers think of this as what happens when players score goals in ice hockey and embrace one another after each goal.

  • At the end of the day, sportsmanship and other interpersonal skills matters more than technical aspects of beach volleyball. Harukana and Aimai thank one another for a good match before parting ways. On my end, I definitely have embraced the idea that soft skills are more important than technical skills in an individual now – technical skill can be taught and learned to a reasonable extent, but it is much harder to cultivate good people skills. As a result, I tend to respect folks with good soft skills even if their technical skills are slightly weaker, and on that note, I will not automatically give respect to people with strong technical skills if they are lacking people skills.

  • Par the course for a Manga Time Kirara series, defeat does not mark the end of the road. After Mai and Ai tearfully make their feelings and intents clear to one another, they decide to stick it out and continue playing beach volleyball, having found that their time together has, more than anything, created a powerful friendship between the two that made their journey together in beach volleyball worth it.

  • Haruka and Kanata are defeated by their next opponent – considering that Harukana Receive does not show how this occurs, it further gives credibility to the fact that specific details to beach volleyball aren’t as relevant. In spite of this loss, Haruka is elated to have been able to complete and test their capabilities. The series is advancing a bit more quickly than I thought it would: the junior tournament is already over, and the girls set their sights on the national-level Valkyrie Cup.

  • The stakes are rapidly increasing at the halfway point, although Haruka’s happy-go-lucky disposition and Claire’s antics prevent Harukana Receive from being full-on serious. I anticipate that the lessons that Haruka and Kanata learn along their journey will remain at the forefront of the narrative. It is meaningless to break down individual plays as TSN or Sportsnet do – understanding specifics behind how Harukana play their game is insignificant next to seeing the journey of growth and self-discovery that each of Haruka and Kanata experience, and if one wanted serious beach volleyball discussions, they would do better to watch the sport for real, rather than an anime about it.

  • When Kanata drills Haruka on hand signals, her turtle manages to give correct answers before Haruka does, leading to another amusing moment. Post-credits, Akari speaks with Kanata for the first time: she’s apparently a first year student, which means that previous speculations of her being a coach are incorrect. Her role in the upcoming episodes will be of interest, and with this, I cross the finish line for the halfway point talk. I will be able to write about episode seven on time, and I anticipate that the talk for episode eight will have similar scheduling to this post.

Moving into Harukana Receive‘s second half, I am excited to see how Harukana improve their performance: it seems that Claire’s called in a favour from their mother, and once the skill gap becomes a lesser concern, I expect that Harukana Receive will be able to continue dealing with character growth and convey this message to audiences. Focusing on the specifics behind beach volleyball techniques and ignoring the bigger picture will invariably diminish enjoyment of this series; Harukana Receive is not about providing specific instruction on how to play beach volleyball, but rather, focuses on how disruption can be a positive force of change for individuals. I’m excited to see how far Haruka and Kanata will go, and in the upcoming episodes, it would appear that Akari will formally be introduced to the cast. As well, Haruka and Kanata may receive some special training from Claire and Emily’s mother, which will give the two increased performance. As the girls improve their technique, their judgement will improve with it, allowing the pair to make better decisions and play in a match. All the while, audiences will doubtlessly be treated to a visually appealing show that has plenty of compelling reasons to hold one’s attention well beyond the slow-motion frames (and the associated opportunities to stare at Haruka’s body) that have come to dominate Harukana Receive‘s beach volleyball sequences.

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

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

—上海灘 (The Bund, opening song, 1980)

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

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

On Chinese Culture

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely, Someday You Will Understand “Love”: Violet Evergarden OVA Review and Reflection

“Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it.” –Lou Rawls

Violet is asked to help opera singer Irma Fliech write a love letter following a performance. What initially looked to be a simple assignment proves to be much more difficult than Violet had imagined, when Irma rejects every letter that she writes. Looking through books for inspiration and even asking her friends, Violet finds herself at a dead end, despite realising that Irma is looking for lyrics to a song. However, after speaking with Irma’s assistant, Ardo, Violet learns that Irma is working on a modern play, hoping to push people into the future. While sharing with Irma her background as a soldier, Violet also discovers that Irma’s boyfriend, Hugo, had perished in the war. She later runs into Roland, who shows her love letters; realising that love is a feeling to be conveyed, Violet pours her heart out into her next composition. When she shows her work to Irma, Irma is moved to tears and accepts the lyrics for her song. Violet and her friends watch Irma’s latest opera at the theatre, and when the performance concludes, Violet applauds with the audience, feeling that she’s come one step closer to understanding the meaning of aishiteru. Set between episodes four and five, the Violet Evergarden OVA illustrates one more step in Violet’s journey towards learning Gilbert’s final words to her, using music as the medium to help convey what love is to Violet. Long considered to be the form of expression transcending linguistics and cultural barriers, music is a powerful means of conveying emotion, and its use in Violet Evergarden suggests that by being involved in writing lyrics, Violet also comes to really appreciate the power that letters and words can carry: we recall that Violet really began embracing her role as a Auto Memory Doll after helping coworker Iris with her own troubles, and this OVA presents a compelling story as to why.

Through giving Violet a particularly difficult assignment, the Violet Evergarden OVA showcases Violet’s dedication and resourcefulness in completing her assignments. At this point, Violet is still very much a novice Auto Memory Doll, without the experience in capturing and expressing the clients’ emotions as quickly as would someone like Cattleya. When faced with Irma’s request, she begins by falling back on a concise, terse approach that she’d become familiar with in the military. Failing this, she consults various resources, in books and existing texts, to try and gain a better understanding of how to craft Irma’s letters. This is unsuccessful, so she accepts help from her coworkers, and gains a modicum of inspiration when learning Irma’s letter is really meant to be a song. This pragmatic approach, coupled with Violet’s eventual learning of Irma’s background and how the war had affected her, ultimately help to shape her ability to create a final product that meets Irma’s specifications. When she reads through the old letters with Roland, the sum of her experiences up until now give her the eureka moment, where she is able to finally understand how to best express Irma’s feelings in words. It was not any individual event, but the sum of the events, that allow Violet to succeed in her assignment. The same holds true in reality: while people may often think that success comes on a moment’s notice, through a stroke of inspiration, the truth is that behind the magic moment was hard work, commitment and dedication. Thus, when such a magic moment does materialise, one is able to recognise the pattern and then make the breakthrough. This is the theme that the Violet Evergarden OVA aims to convey – that eureka moments are the consequence of a substantial, honest effort.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been a while since I last wrote about Violet Evergarden, and one thing I noticed upon coming back into this series is the incredible detail in the visuals: from the clothing to interior shots, everything in this series is ornate, rich and above all, purposeful: while there may be a lot of stuff in a scene, none of it comes across as being clutter. Here, Violet meets with the opera singer and playwright Irma Fliech.

  • For this OVA post, I will be running with the standard of twenty screenshots. Violet’s task initially seems simple enough: write a letter that conveys feelings of love to a distant individual. While Violet has slowly become more proficient in conveying emotions for others, her letter for Irma is much more challenging because Irma herself seems uncertain of what she’s looking for in the letter, only knowing that it’ll work when she sees it, and as such, Violet initially stumbles in her task.

  • At the end of the day, however, it is the product for the customer, not the producer, that matters, and so, the mark of a good company is one which goes to great lengths in order to ensure that their customers are happy. Violet’s efforts and struggles show that she understands this; all too often, employees of some companies leave their customers in the dust and create PR disasters that tarnish a brand.

  • I’m certain that many in the audience will be familiar with the feeling of a request or assignment that is insurmountable. Whether it be an assignment that seems to involve material beyond what was covered in a course, or the struggles of scope creep, challenges can often be overwhelming. However, the same is true of anything worth doing: I turn again to the classic example of the Apollo program and its aim of putting man on the moon. It would have been frustrating to watch as the Soviets made strides in their space program while American rockets failed, but over time, perseverance (and a serious commitment of funds) resulted in the world’s first successful moon landing.

  • A natural reaction to adversity is the want to sink into the walls and disappear entirely. A part of the joy in Violet Evergarden was seeing such human reactions in the characters: Kyoto Animation is known for many things, but top in my books is their ability to capture human postures in a very fluid, life-like manner surpassing those of other studios. Even without words, Violet’s dejection is evident here, when she slumps against the bookshelf after coming up unsuccessful in finding inspiration.

  • While Violet may have gotten off to a rough start with her coworkers with her terse, blunt mannerisms, her time with them leads to an increased degree of cordiality amongst one another, to the extent that Iris and Erica become concerned for Violet when she struggles with this task. Here, I remark that the Violet Evergarden OVA came out precisely a month ago, being bundled with the fourth BD volume. However, other commitments meant that I’ve not had a chance to watch the OVA until now. Even with this delay, I believe that this post remains the only comprehensive discussion on the Violet Evergarden OVA at this point in time.

  • The first real bit of assistance comes when Violet encounters Ardo, Irma’s assistant, who shows her the format behind Irma’s request. It turns out that Irma intended for Violet to write the lyrics to a song, rather than a standard letter, and with this bit of information, Violet changes her approach. However, composing music is no easy feat; because music is such a powerful means of communication, getting everything right so it can convey a particular emotion or idea requires skill and a modicum of talent.

  • Even with her coworkers assisting, writing lyrics for Irma’s song is quite difficult. The fact that music can transcend linguistic and cultural barriers is one of the reasons I enjoy listening to music of all languages: I have a large collection of Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese songs that I frequently listen to. Even in the case of Cantonese music, my weak command of more poetic, formal Cantonese means that the meaning of most songs are lost on me: the only artist whose songs I understand without effort are those of Sam Hui’s. His music gained popularity precisely because common folk could understand the lyrics. By comparison, I have a very difficult time in discerning what is being said in the songs of other famous Cantopop artists (e.g. Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung, Danny Chan, Paula Tsui and Sally Yeh), although to be sure, I love 80s Cantopop.

  • After Ardo explains Irma’s motivation for creating a contemporary play to tell a relatable and moving story to spur audiences to find a world beyond the war, Violet insistently follows Irma with the aim of trying to learn more about her. This simple action is both endearing and telling – the best way to understand what someone is seeking is to understand that individual, to empathise with them, and Violet’s persistence results in Irma yielding; she tells Violet of her own connection to the war after Violet explains that she was once a soldier who’d lost a loved one of her own during the conflict.

  • As it turns out, Irma’s partner had been enlisted into the armed forces and despite his promise to come back to Irma, never did. The war’s consequences are very far-reaching, and a recurring theme in anime is that outside of politics, there are no winners when total wars are fought. This became the case when World War One was fought: advances in technology meant that slaughtering fellow humans could be done to the same scale as mass producing consumer goods. Much as how society has become increasingly sophisticated in our ways of communication, we have also devised increasingly lethal and devastating weapons to harm one another with.

  • The whole of the OVA really is about the path Violet takes on a challenging assignment, and it shows that the way to a solution, seemingly straightforwards in hindsight, can sometimes be long and convoluted. Cracking a particularly difficult function can be like this: one can spend hours and days wondering why a call is not behaving as it should, and then encounter a solution out of the blue either when another pair of eyes is brought in or stroke of inspiration is found. More so than any of the episodes, which come together to tell a story about discovering the meaning of love anew, the Violet Evergarden OVA is more about one of the snapshots in Violet’s journey towards becoming a capable Auto Memory Doll.

  • I’ve heard that there are substantial differences between the light novel and the anime adaptation, with stronger human aspects in the anime, and a more prevalent military component in the light novels. Given how Violet Evergarden‘s anime turned out, I am glad that the focus in the anime was about love and moving on without forgetting: the broader narrative of the light novels were distilled into a single cohesive message for the anime’s thirteen episode run. Looking back, I would tend to think that if there were more episodes, then additional stories from the light novels could have been adapted.

  • While I am very happy with how Violet Evergarden turned out, it would have been interesting to see Violet wield Stormbreaker Witchcraft, a custom battleaxe that grown men cannot lift. With this being said, now that the war is over, there would not have been much of a context to incorporate it, so unless there is another conflict brewing, I do not think it is strictly necessary to show the weapon. Having said this, there is a Violet Evergarden movie in the works, and while its precise contents are not known, it could give audiences a chance to see a side of the light novels not seen in the TV series.

  • The true turning point in Violet’s assignment is when Roland brings her to a warehouse where they find letters that never made it to their intended recipient. See all of the motions carried within the words in each letter, coupled with listening to Irma recount how her own boyfriend never returned from the war, gives Violet the inspiration to really write her song. I got a very similar feeling from watching this scene as I did when the anthropologists found the bag of letters in Letters from Iwo Jima, and upon pouring the letters out, the voices of the soldiers resounded. Letters are meant to capture and convey emotions and experiences; in a sense, it’s transferring one’s feelings onto paper, and this romanticism is lost with modern technologies, such as email and instant messaging.

  • Violet’s final submission unsurprisingly passes Irma’s requirements, and is powerful enough to move Irma to tears. Far more than any series I’ve seen, Violet Evergarden is able to evoke strong feelings in audiences. One of my criticisms in Violet Evergarden‘s original run was that most of Violet’s best moments stem from learning to understand sorrow, but looking back, Violet does undertake several assignments that see her grow in different ways, too.

  • Completing difficult assignments are all the more rewarding, and despite (or because of) my upbringing, I’ve always longed to take on the things that are difficult precisely because they are difficult. However, for the most part, the rest of the world never sees the journey, only the outcome. As a result, I am very satisfied with the path that the Violet Evergarden OVA ended up taking.

  • I’ve long been fond of OVAs that are set in-between the events of the main series, as they add a sense of depth to the characters beyond what we’ve seen in the main series proper. Traditionally, OVAs are usually bundled with home releases, but a new trend is that some of the longer OVAs are screened theatrically, akin to a smaller-scale movie: OVAs have always been a bit more difficult to watch, as they are not simulcasted on popular steaming platforms; like movies, some OVAs can take a considerable amount of time to become purchasable.

  • The song that Irma performs is LETTER, which is included in the Violet Evergarden vocal album, “Song Letters”. I’ve never been to an opera performance before, although in my time as a student, I’ve attended my share of live performances before. There’s a certain degree of magic and fun to watching a play compared to a movie: the performers on stage use all of their acting skills, the set and environment to convince their audience of an unreal reality. Lacking the editing trickery and special effects of films, the effectiveness of a stage play boils down entirely to the actors.

  • I believe that with this OVA in the books, Violet Evergarden really draws to a conclusion for now, at least until the film comes out in 2020. For the present, however, there is plenty of other anime films and OVAs on the table that merit a look: I definitely have plans to write about Flavours of Youth (Shikioriori), which came out earlier today, and Non Non Biyori Vacation will première later this month, along with I want to eat your placenta (no joke, that’s the real title) and Penguin HighwaySayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms), a PA Works film that released earlier this year, will be getting a BD release in less than three months, as well. There is no shortage of things to do in the interim, and one of the challenge I stare down will simply be to find time to enjoy all of these films and write about them on top of the other things that I do.

The Violet Evergarden OVA is a very powerful and well-written addition to the series – despite being a standalone story with a clear message, it fits in very well with the anime’s main narrative, showing one of the moments that allows Violet to grow and discover. Because Violet’s prowess as an Auto Memory Doll grows quite quickly in the anime, seeing her stumble, and get back up in the face of a difficult task shows that her improvement comes not from her existing skills alone, but also from her own determination and attitude. Seeing this OVA thus gives audience a chance to see an instance where Violet uses a variety of means to complete her task: she naturally grows into her role as an Auto Memory Doll over time. This accentuates the human elements of Violet Evergarden, which were finely presented during the televised run back in the winter season. At this point in time, the series has reached a conclusion, but there is word of a film that will release in 2020. Its precise contents are unknown, and speculation remains quite open because the anime ended on a very definitive note – what the movie entails is anyone’s guess, but the one commonality is the hope that the upcoming Violet Evergarden movie will not be a compilation film.

Until You Break: Harukana Receive Episode Five Impressions and Review

“I must break you.” —Ivan Drago, Rocky IV

Haruka and Kanata participate in the junior volleyball tournament, where they find that their first match is to be against Mai and Ai, who Haruka had run into earlier while shopping for their swimsuits. The first set begins with Mai making mistakes that Haruka and Kanata take advantage of: between this and Kanata’s tactics, Haruka and Kanata take an early lead and win the first set. However, upon realising Kanata’s intents, Mai and Ai strike back in the second set, taking the lead. Kanata asks Haruka to put her faith in her as they fall further behind in this set. Meanwhile, after defeating their opponents, Claire and Emily decide to watch Haruka and Kanata’s first match, where Emily wonders why Kanata’s pokies have such a poor form. Harukana Receive‘s fifth episode marks a return to beach volleyball, with the narrative moving to the point where Haruka and Kanata have practised sufficiently to the point where they feel confident in participating in the junior tournament: quite some time has advanced, and while things may have progressed very quickly during the previous episode, this episode’s focus on beach volleyball means that progression slows down as details behind a match are shown. Harukana Receive makes exclusive use of slow motion and close up shots, forgoing more dynamic camera angles from a distance to show the intensity of matches. Slow motion and close shots are generally used for emphasis, so when all of the angles are done in this manner, the weight of individual plays are diminished, and the pacing of the sport is lost: this would have been understandable with early practise matches, when Haruka and Kanata were getting into the swing of things, but to slow down a tournament match means that advances in Haruka and Kanata’s skill cannot easily be seen. This advancement is central to Harukana Receive, so the anime’s decision to predominantly use slow motion diminishes its ability to visually express the progress that Haruka and Kanata have made.

The focus of episode five is Mai and Ai, two indoors players who have a different background and reason for participating in a tournament. As it turns out, Ai invited Mai to play volleyball previously, stating that it was a sport where shorter people could still prove their great worth. However, during a competition, her school’s team was eliminated, leaving Mai heartbroken and Ai determined to show that Mai could do well in volleyball despite her height. In offering backstory for Mai and Ai, their motivations for playing beach volleyball are also shown, emphasising to viewers that every team in the competition have their own reasons for being here; consequently, each match will be an uphill battle demanding each team’s best. This approach is a staple of anime, intending to create an emotional connection so audiences can see what drives everyone. For Harukana Receive, past defeats and failures become things that lead individuals to want to redeem themselves; Ai is fighting to prove that volleyball can be for everyone, and Mai similarly wants to win with the aim of proving that she can do so. Having said this, anime with high school aged characters tend to end up dramatising the characters’ raison d’être to really convey this message, although with a liberal application of more light-hearted moments, Harukana Receive does not come across as a series that takes things too seriously. Striking this balance allows Harukana Receive to tell an engaging story without the characters coming across as being stiff or unrealistic: the humour aspects, such as the shocked expressions following Mai’s failed spike, or the rivalry between Haruka and Mai, add dimensionality to the characters.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If one were to book a flight to Okinawa, and walk the beaches of Nishikawa Kirakira beach, they would find that Harukana Receive does indeed faithfully reproduce the landscape around the area: in Google Maps, beach volleyball nets are set up by the beach resort building, just as audiences see in Harukana Receive. This beach is located some forty minutes south of where Haruka and Kanata live.

  • The rivalry brewing between Haruka and Mai is a hilarious one: Haruka has not yet gotten over Mai buying the swimsuit she’d been eyeing, and Mai is salty about how tall Haruka is. Upon meeting, Mai pokes her finger into Haruka’s side, resulting in a hilarious moment that my screenshots won’t be able to capture: one needs sound to fully enjoy Haruka’s reaction. There’s a bit of a firework that goes off in this moment, and I leave it to readers to make of that what they will.

  • Ai is more mature and more of a sportsman, asking Mai to settle things on the court. Ai and Kanata shake hands, intending to have a good match, but the more immature Mai and Haruka glare daggers at one another. From this screenshot, Ai is slightly taller than Haruka is, and with the two playing a more substantial role in Harukana Receive, it’s a good as a time as any to note that Mai is voiced by Riko Koike, while Ai is voiced by Akari Kitō, two voice actresses I am not familiar with.

  • Every beach volleyball pair in Harukana is referred to by their portmanteau name. The series takes its name from Haruka and Kanata’s names, while Ayasa and Narumi are known as Naruaya. Emily and Claire become éclair, while Ai and Mai are Aimai. At this point in Harukana Receive, there are enough teams so that it makes sense to refer to them by their team name, rather than typing out both members’ names every time. I will begin using this convention from this point on for brevity.

  • The beach resort building is visible here: with the match between Harukana and Aimai under way, the first bit is characterised by a bit of friendly fire: in her haste to school Haruka, Mai sends the ball directly into the net, and with several mistakes, Harukana take an early lead. However, it’s little consolation for Haruka, who is reeling from the near-miss of having the ball smoke her in the face.

  • Kanata explains to Haruka that Aimai are indoors players; we briefly recall that outside, players must also compensate for wind, so Kanata feels that they might be able to capitalise on Aimai’s reduced exposure to outdoors beach volleyball and play to their strengths. However, by targeting Mai, Kanata’s own doubts remain with her. This particular limitation is something that Kanata will journey towards rectifying, and for now, its effects do have an impact on how Harukana plays.

  • Because they are still a novice team overall, Harukana plays a very unique brand of beach volleyball that throws off Aimai’s rhythm. This phenomenon, more commonly known as “Beginner’s Luck”, manifests because new players have not discovered their own tactics or approaches yet. By being open towards trying anything, they might employ strategies or methods that seem contrary to expectation, surprising experts. Beginner’s Luck is definitely a thing in things like Battlefield or board games: players unfamiliar with something with likely look for local optima in their choices that seem illogical to experienced players, and do things that are unexpected.

  • The mental aspects of beach volleyball come into play in the fifth episode. Having fallen into a bit of a hole, Aimai are unperturbed and regroup, doing their best to continue keeping up with the early successes that Harukana enjoys. Over time, Mai begins picking up on Kanata’s strategy, which she claims is obvious, and once the first set draws to a close, Harukana are pleased to be performing moderately well.

  • I’ve seen discussions elsewhere on Harukana Receive, and they differ radically from my own, covering a variety of different topics and areas. Athletes and sports fans tend to talk about the sport aspects of the anime, while others deal predominantly with the interactions amongst the characters, and here, I deal with random, various topics for fun. For the technical details surrounding beach volleyball, I am not particularly familiar with the sport to decide for myself as to whether or not Harukana is making the right play on the court: ice hockey with NHL rules is the sport I am the most comfortable talking about, although I highly doubt we’ll have an anime about the NHL any time soon.

  • It would seem that enough time has passed between episodes four and five so that Emily and Claire have both found a swimsuit that they can agree with. When their match begins, it is played with such intensity and control that team Éclair draw a sizeable audience watching them. Their experience and skill are so that their opponents are obliterated very quickly, and Kanata later reveals that Éclair placed second nationally, presumably losing out the top spot to Naruaya. Personally, a duel between titans is always fun to watch, although given where Harukana Receive is going, I do not imagine audiences will have a chance to see the ultimate match between the best.

  • Mai is quick to warn Harukana that her objective is nothing short of breaking them completely, prompting the page quote, which is sourced from Rocky IV. This line is very famous: Mai is almost certainly using it to mean that she and Ai will utterly defeat Harukana to the point of making them quit, while Drago is making it clear to Rocky that he has no intention of losing and will win even if it means destroying Rocky. Because he speaks so rarely in Rocky IV, every syllable that Drago says is meant to carry great weight; all nine of Drago’s spoken lines in Rocky IV have become well-known in their own regard.

  • My personal favourite Drago line is “If he dies, he dies”. I doubt there will be a chance to use that in Harukana Receive, and back in the episode, during a break between sets, Haruka wishes that her timing would be more on point, but Kanata reassures her that her performance is improving. Kanata is evidently familiar with beach volleyball, and beyond her concerns about being short, retains a considerable amount of skill and coaching capacity: she knows how to encourage and pick up others, as well as regrouping in the face of setbacks and demonstrating sportsmanship.

  • It turns out that the reason why Mai and Ai are set on winning is to right their losses from earlier. Ai had recruited Mai to play volleyball on the promise that skill, rather than height, made a difference, and after they’d lost to a team of taller players, Mai was devastated. Ai feels responsible for this loss, having convinced Mai to try anyways. This raison d’être comes across as being a bit superficial, but the strength of their conviction also seems to suggest that Aimai’s loss happened recently.

  • While slow motion shots cannot capture the pacing of beach volleyball as effectively as real-time shots do, one advantage is that there is reduced motion blur, which in turn makes it much easier to watch the beach volleyball sequences and capture screenshots for them. One challenge of writing for Harukana Receive is that there are many screenshots that I could potentially include in a post, but to keep things from becoming longer than necessary, I force myself to stick with twenty screenshots per post.

  • By set two, Kanata’s returning balls with nothing but pokies, befuddling Aimai. Harukana takes a hit on the scoreboard for it, but with Mai angrily declaring that she’ll stop Harukana at every turn, there might be more reason to why Kanata has adopted this play-style. We recall that reading an opponent is a part of beach volleyball, like in any other sport; because Mai is so easily flustered, Kanata might be goading her in some way, setting up for a stronger finish in the final set.

  • If this is to hold true, then Kanata is also doing a pretty good job of concealing her aims: lending credence to this supposition is that she asks Haruka to trust her. As the episode draws to a close, it’s true that Harukana are trailing to Aimai, but the set does not appear to be over yet. This marks the first time we’ve seen a clear indicator of a continuation in Harukana Receive, showing that things are getting knocked up a notch.

  • After their match, Claire and Emily shake hands with their opponents and head off to watch Haruka and Kanata with their game. A handshake and a smile is the strongest way to lose gracefully, and I generally count myself a good sport, being able to win and lose gracefully. One must always be ready to work hard for a win, but the fact is that winning all of the time is simply not possible. As such, losses, with their attendant lessons, can make us stronger and wiser.

  • Akari Ōshiro is seen making several appearances in Harukana Receive‘s fifth episode. Her precise role in Harukana Receive has not been shown in the anime, but with art depicting her as being without a partner, one would reasonably surmise that she is a coach of sorts. Akari carries herself differently than the other characters, and while she looks quite young, no older than the girls playing beach volleyball, I imagine her to be a ways older than Haruka and the others. This is not so unrealistic: I was mistaken to be a participant at a science fair when I was judging a year ago, which suggests that I look ten years younger than I am.

  • Emily finds Kanata’s pokies to be of an unusually poor form, and various shots show Mai as slowly being worn down from trying to block everything Kanata’s throwing at her. Because Emily’s known Kanata for quite some time, this suggests that something is off, and what this is will likely be seen next week. I suppose that now is as good of a time as any to mention that I will not be around next week to do a timely review of the series at the halfway point: I am going to be travelling for my work, and simply won’t have the time or energy to write about Harukana Receive when I get back next Friday. To this end, I am going to delay the post by up to two days and write about it for Sunday at the latest. The remainder of August is similarly dicey, as I am not too sure how often I’ll be flying around.

  • The fifth episode of Harukana Receive is now in the books, and knowing that things are going to get very interesting very quickly once the long weekend is over, I have decided to wrap up two posts that have been on the horizon for quite some time: I will be talking about what I’d like to see in Battlefield V and also my thoughts of the Violet Evergarden OVA. Once those posts are done, and this month progresses, my blogging frequency will fluctuate greatly. Once I know a little more, I can keep you, the readers, informed; it should come as no surprise that real life takes priority over recreation without question, but you will know if there are any dramatic changes to my blogging patterns.

With the fifth episode ending on a bit of a cliffhanger, the next episode will certainly deal with the outcome of this match. Because Harukana Receive has already shifted to the junior tournament, my expectation is that Haruka and Kanata will narrowly win this first match. In subsequent games, Haruka will still be learning as she goes, while Kanata guides her and in turn, receives encouragement from Haruka as they progress further in the tournament. The basis for this is that having Haruka and Kanata defeated so quickly would extinguish the narrative; I do not anticipate them winning the tournament, given that Kanata openly expresses the skill level that other players demonstrate. Claire and Emily’s match are an indicator of this: they have no trouble vanquishing the team they play against, and as such, it would be implausible for a novice pair to pull off a victory against a highly skilled pair, such as Narumi and Ayasa. However, for series such as Harukana Receive, victory is not the end-all: the journey and experience have traditionally held much more weight than the destination in Manga Time Kirara series, and even if Harukana Receive is a part of Manga Time Kirara Forward, which is where more serious works are published, the entire line of manga remain focused on the subtleties and process, rather than the endpoints. The halfway point of Harukana Receive nears, and with it, I am of the opinion that this anime is proving to be quite enjoyable for what it does get right: the things that Harukana Receive does well outweighs my dissatisfaction with the animation of beach volleyball sequences.

Isn’t This Perfect For Us?: Harukana Receive Episode Four Impressions and Review

“Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about. They didn’t do it for individual glory. They did it because they loved one another.” —Vince Lombardi

Haruka transfers into her class and meets her new classmates, who ask her if she’s available to visit a local shopping area. Haruka later spots Kanata practising outside and runs into Claire; she expresses her concern that Kanata still feels a little distant to Claire, and turns down her classmates’ invitation to practise with the beach volleyball club. Claire begins Haruka’s training on fundamentals behind blocking and sets her to do jumping exercises, but notices that Haruka’s swimsuit is a little loose in the wrong places. After being reprimanded for sharing a story about how Emily’s swimsuit once malfunctioned, the girls decide to shop for swimsuits together. Haruka is decides on a pink swimsuit they’d seen earlier, but run Ai Tanahara and Mai Sunagawa when they are buying the swimsuits that had caught Haruka’s eye. Haruka agrees to Kanata’s selection and later modifies their swimsuits with a small ribbon sporting the minsa pattern, much to Kanata’s surprise and embarrassment. While Haruka and Claire practise to get Haruka up to speed at an indoors facility, Emily shares with Kanata her promise to Narumi years previously. The matter of practical swimsuits now sorted out, Harukana Receive‘s fourth episode also marks the proper beginning of Haruka and Kanata’s partnership in beach volleyball: pairs wear the same swimsuit, and with this now settled, things will move ahead as the pair begin training with Claire and Emily in preparation for the tournament. The story of how Emily and Narumi feel about Kanata is also presented: both have known Kanata previously, suggesting that she was once a powerhouse who’d also been familiar with those she faced on the court, and Kanata had once left enough of an impression for Emily and Narumi to wish for her to keep playing. The specifics behind the past are slowly being brought to the forefront of things, and serve to illustrate that friendships can remain very powerful once individuals begin to know one another.

The strength of the connection between two members of a pair in beach volleyball is intentionally apparent in the fourth episode. Trust, respect and understanding amongst the two are essential for a team to perform well, and this bond is physically represented by the fact that both members in a pair wear the same swimsuit design. Harukana Receive suggests that the level of closeness, to be able to appreciate the other’s strengths and weaknesses, is compared to the closeness in a couple: Haruka’s choice of the minsa pattern, an Okinawan textile design with alternating squares of four and five, means “love forever” and was traditionally a gift from a woman to a man. In conjunction with the episode’s depiction of partners as being extremely familiar and close to one another seems to further accentuate the idea that the bond in a beach volleyball pair is very similar to the bonds seen in a romantic relationship; because relationships entail very powerful emotions, of commitment, trust and compromise, Harukana Receive aims to show that a good team is not so different than the traits seen in a healthy relationship, by making use of one of the most powerful of human emotions as an analogy. This is certainly effective at getting the notion across to viewers, that the choice of a partner in beach volleyball is a serious matter of faith and understanding. With a good partner, one can go very far and conquer challenges together as a part of a team, and so, with Haruka (inadvertently) setting the tone for her partnership with Kanata, I imagine that the two will advance and support one another more strongly as Harukana Receive continues.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve chosen not to have any screenshots of Haruka at school because the point of Harukana Receive is not to showcase the interior design or architecture of the local high school. For that, we’ve got other anime series, and with episodic posts for Harukana Receive constrained to twenty screenshots so I’m not sitting here for an inordinate amount of time, trying to find something to say, I’m going to go for as many outdoors moments or pivotal moments as possible: if events at school happen to have a substantial role, then I will use the screenshots as required.

  • My first and immediate remark on the fourth episode as a whole is that I’m certain that folks dissatisfied with my general tendency to ignore notions of female romantic relationships will be thinking that I am now eating my words. I personally don’t object to being wrong, as making mistakes is very much a part of being human. In the case of Harukana Receive, strong symbolism that has moved away from the subtle means that romantic elements do come into play in this series, which means that in order to effectively consider the themes of Harukana Receive, I will need to consider romantic elements in conjunction with everything else.

  • I don’t mind admitting that I would be wrong to completely dismiss these elements, but my goals are, first and foremost, to ensure that my discussions of a series are fair and comprehensive; I will not stick to a failed approach just to hide the fact that I made a mistake. However, what is not a mistake is this screenshot: having taken another look at the documentation, Claire is 171 cm tall, and Emily is 168 cm in height. They’re above average height and in their company, Haruka is not uncommonly tall.

  • After Claire explains to Haruka the basics of blocks and how to cover the court, the two set about with practical drills. In training, I’ve found that similar personalities between Claire and Haruka allow the pair to operate at a good pace, similarly to how Emily and Kanata train well together, as well. Conversely, Claire’s enjoyment in teasing Emily means that when the two train together, they often clash.

  • While Haruka is jumping, Claire sees something that certainly would cause a bit of a ruckus had it been rendered at ultra 1080p60 (besides the obvious problem of an overheated GPU), and would send Harukana Receive from being safe for human eyes, to something I’d drop in a few seconds. Of everyone, Haruka oscillates the most, and even with modifications, her current swimsuit’s limitations for beach volleyball are quite evident.

  • In last week’s discussions, readers wondered if it would be possible to see an “accident” involving swimsuits having tops with structural weaknesses. The answer is given in episode four: it’s likely happened, considering Emily’s violent reaction to Claire’s attempt to tell Haruka about it. However, to see such a thing go down and stop a match (or evening training) would be disruptive and detrimental to the otherwise friendly and easygoing atmosphere in Harukana Receive.

  • As an interim solution, Haruka asks Kanata to help her readjust her swimsuit. Considering Kanata’s reactions previously to seeing Haruka’s posterior previously, it is not unexpected that an embarrassed Kanata similarly smokes Haruka with a volleyball out of nowhere. The girls subsequently go swimsuit shopping, and I imagine that this is the last we will see of Haruka’s old swimsuit for the present.

  • We recall previously that Emily and Claire still have yet to agree on a swimsuit for their team: Claire prefers something a bit flashier, while Emily is more level-headed and chooses something more practical. Going from the key art alone, it appears that Claire will eventually relent and agree to the design that Emily chooses.

  • Everyone ends up with different designs: Kanata’s choice is a very practical one, and a closer look shows that it is the choice that she and Haruka will wear into competition together. Emily similarly picks something that is simple and practical. Conversely, Claire picks something that looks very ill-suited for athletics and immediately gets an earful from Emily. Kanata is not opposed to Haruka’s swimsuit, but Emily explains that the frills would make it difficult to append a number to her and likely prove an impediment during a volleyball match.

  • Haruka later decides to go with a pink swimsuit sporting stars that they’d seen earlier, but find two other beach volleyball players trying them on with the aim of buying them. After some grovelling, Ai figures it’s fairest to settle things with rock paper scissors. Ever up for a good challenge, Haruka accepts and is wiped out. Going from Ai’s reaction to meeting Kanata, it stands to reason that Kanata also knows them to some extent. Despite having lost, Haruka remains in fine spirits and agrees to the design that Kanata picked out.

  • While waiting for Haruka, Claire, Emily and Kanata share a conversation. Kanata is glad that things unfolded the way that they did, and here, the deep blue colours of the sky, and the contrast between the sunlit pavement and shadows cast by the overhang serve to emphasise that it is very hot in Okinawa. Even without being physically present, the choice of colours convey a sense of warmth: with its humid tropical climate, temperatures in Okinawa reach an average high of 32°C and rarely drops below 27°C during July.

  • While returning from the facilities, Haruka passes by a textiles shop. Okinawa has distinct textiles owing to its climate and culture: the islands were formerly home to the Ryukyu, who were famous for their colourful dyes and bold patterns. Their proximity to China and other Southeast Asian nations mean that influences from other culture can also be seen in their textiles. The patterns seen on the sign to the shop here foreshadow what’s about to come, and the colours of this storefront give the impression of an inviting shop with interesting textiles.

  • When Haruka returns, her friends wonder what she’s so pleased with. Haruka’s playful personality is always a joy to watch; her resemblance to Mocha Hoto and Takami Karibuchi makes her quite distinct from Claire, whom I find to be similar to Fū Inubouzaki. While individuals might be grouped into being extroverts and introverts, seeing subtle differences between the various characters of Harukana Receive is a welcome reminder that at the end of the day, everyone is unique in their own manner.

  • The surprise that Haruka has for everyone is that she’s found a textile bearing the minsa pattern. It was here that I realised Harukana Receive is using romance as the analogy for its themes of friendship: the choice of symbols and resulting reactions are consistent with expressions of love. My modus operandi is typically to only consider elements directly relevant to the thematic elements, and romance is no exception: since Harukana Receive presents it as such, I will consequently need to account for it.

  • If I may spare a joke: anyone would react this way to a kokuhaku from Haruka, even me. However, in all seriousness, the sort of love being discussed in Harukana Receive is not so surprising. The page quote comes from Vincent Lombardi, an American football player and coach who headed the Green Bay Packers. With a win rate of 72.8 percent, Lombardi is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time, believing that teamwork and an attitude to win drives all progress. I certainly agree with his perspectives, and that players care about one another holds true in reality as much as it does in Harukana Receive.

  • In fact, Flags of our Fathers also mentions this sentiment: in the film’s final moments, the monologue speaker mentions that while American soldiers may have fought at Iwo Jima for their nation, they died for their friends and fellow soldiers – such is the power of camaraderie. While I do not think that Harukana Receive will present things with the same gravity as Flags of our Fathers, the sentiment remains the same. At a dormitory, Narumi receives a message from Emily, detailing Kanata’s return to beach volleyball in full, and smiles. Ayasa tries to get out of Narumi the reason that she’s all smiles, and is unsuccessful.

  • Kanata and Emily share a conversation where Emily recounts a conversation with Narumi some time previously where Narumi had asked her to look after Kanata. Even though Kanata might have quit, Narumi felt that Kanata could return someday, and vowed to excel as a beach volleyball player to fulfil her end of the deal. As such, while Narumi may have acted coldly towards Kanata earlier, the fact is that Narumi is simply not particularly good at expressing herself. Even with the introduction of Ai and Mai, every pair in Harukana Receive has an extrovert and introvert, which reinforces another theme in Harukana Receive, that opposites can complement one another.

  • After their walk, Emily and Kanata come across Claire and Haruka practising in an indoors facility. Practise on the beach makes sense when it’s day out, as it also allows players to become familiar with the sun and wind effects, although indoors facilities have more consistent lighting and less turbulence to disrupt basic training. Haruka had intended to surprise Kanata with her progress, but Kanata instead wants in on practise, feeling that if they’re a team, then they should train together. This is again, reminiscent of another quote from a great: George S. Patton is credited with saying that “An army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team”, and furthermore, that “…this individual hero stuff is bullshit”, during his famous speech to the Third Army.

  • While perhaps more eloquent than Narumi, Patton’s feelings about teamwork are clearly the same, and the fourth episode draws to a close with Haruka being pleased to have Kanata and Emily joining them for practise. We are now a third of the way through Harukana Receive, and I am happy with the direction it’s gone in thus far. Elsewhere, I’m seeing a lot of griping about Kanata’s reasons for leaving volleyball and adopting the style that she does, but I feel that a great many are also conveniently forgetting their own times as adolescents, during which the immature frontal cortex has not fully developed. As such, what may seem foolish to adults might be something that youth consider reasonable – I do not feel that Kanata’s attitudes are implausible. With this post in the books, I will be returning to write about Gundam: The Origin‘s finale very soon, having recently had a chance to watch it in full.

Use of powerful concepts to clearly convey an idea is a major aspect of literature, and Harukana Receive‘s likening of beach volleyball partners as akin to lovers sends a very clear message to viewers about what it takes to be effective as a team. While these notions were very subtle in previous episodes, they come out very strongly in episode four: any doubts would have been dispelled the moment Haruka chooses the minsa pattern to adorn her and Kanata’s swimsuits. This simple action is also a bold one, signifying to opponents that she and Kanata are very close, understand one another and therefore, will be a force to contend with. Because of the messages this conveys, it is therefore reasonable to expect that as the pair get to know one another better and play more matches, they will become quite formidable on the volleyball court and become quite the team to watch, as well. Having said this, Harukana Receive is not the first to showcase the importance of trust and closeness in situations where pairs work together: as the most basic unit of cooperation, pairs are romanticised in fiction. Sniper-spotter pairs depend on one another, as do Jaeger pilots in Pacific Rim. Because of these elements, it is fair to say that in partner cooperation, romantic partners are really just a special kind of cooperation, and that because of its symbolic nature, is one that audiences can immediately pick up on, making it an effective means of conveying what partners mean to one another. With the fourth episode introducing Mai and Ai, all of the main pairs seen on the promotional artwork for the series have appeared in the anime now; upcoming episodes will likely see Mai and Ai’s stories presented, in addition to showing the path that Haruka and Kanata take towards the junior tournament.