The Infinite Zenith

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Kaginado: Reflections and Understanding the Effective Amusement in Crossover Parodies

“I think a lot of the time, you just parody yourself.” –Dylan Moran

Whereas Key adaptations have garnered a reputation for being heartbreakers and portray tragedies, Kaginado is a parody series produced by Liden Films Kyoto Studio and acts as a massive crossover for Key’s most iconic series, including CLANNAD, Kanon, Air, Little Busters! and Rewrite. As a part of the twenty-first anniversary celebrations, Kaginado brings back memorable characters and their traits from their stories, allows everyone to mingle in a shared space, and derive amusement from the antics that follow; Ryou laments her lack of presence compared to Kyou, Youhei challenges Mai, Lucia, Koutaro and Yuiko to a soccer game after he receives complaints, Yukito finds his puppeteering skills completely outmatched, and Kouko invites the older sister characters to discuss what they admire most about their younger siblings, only for things to devolve into a baseball game in which the younger sisters unleashed their repressed dissatisfaction at their older sister. Later, the male leads discuss the frustations of being a protagonist in their respective stories, and everyone prepares for a massive culture festival, only for the finale event to be crashed when Yuri announces she hates this world and plans to take the fight to this school with her SSS members. Hilariously light-hearted and poking fun at virtually every aspect of Key’s best-known works, Kaginado is a gentle series that shows Key as having a sense of humour about their previous titles. While I have seen Angel Beats!, CLANNAD, Kanon and Air, coming into Kaginado, I did not have any familiarity with Little Busters! or Rewrite. In spite of having two shows I’d never watched before, Kaginado‘s setup nonetheless created a novel experience in which I would find all of the moments funny.

By definition, parodies are dependent on a priori knowledge of a work to drive its humour. When I was in middle school, The Matrix and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was all the rage, and I spent many an hour laughing at the outrageous portrayal of The Matrix and Star Wars as fans poked fun at all aspects of these films. However, from the humour, it became very clear that one needed to have seen the originals in order for half the jokes to work. For instance, watching the Merovingian’s henchmen using weapons like an inflatable banana and a board with a nail in it as weapons against Neo during the chateau fight is dependent on having seen the original chateau fight. Someone lacking the context would not likely find these details amusing, and as such, watching Kaginado thus became an exercise in understanding what makes parodies work – whereas a traditional parody will often only focus on a single work, Kaginado is a crossover, and this allows characters from multiple stories to mingle together. Commonalities that the characters share allow one to gain a better of measure of how they act in their own series, as their combined interactions often create chaos in this shared environment. Since the problem of context is eliminated, one needn’t have seen every work in full to enjoy things, since knowing even about just one or two of the works can be enough to understand the context of a joke or exaggeration. This is where Kaginado succeeds as a parody, and even provides the incentive for one to give the other Key series a chance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While CLANNAD presented Ryou as being shy and timid, Kaginado gives her a more sullen and moody disposition. Here, she does fortune telling for some of her classmates, and the results leave Kano bleeding. The visual style in Kaginado is quite similar to what World Witches Take Off! did, with both chibi and blood being used in a highly stylised manner. The characters look adorable by default, but they can also convey humour exceedingly well: in fact, of all of the slice-of-life parodies I’ve seen, Kaginado most closely resembles World Witches Take Off!, which I similarly enjoyed for its over-the-top exaggerations.

  • Much as how World Witches Take Off! had done, Kaginado episodes start out being self-contained experiences, but over the course of the series, the episodes begin to tell an overarching story. Some of the humour in Kaginado is inappropriate: during a soccer match where Youhei challenges the swordsmen of Key, Youhei and his team have their clothes blown off. As memory serves, soccer was a big deal in CLANNAD, being the reason behind how Youhei and Tomoya reconcile during the events of ~After Story~, but here, the soccer game is purely done to drive a few laughs.

  • The chibi art style is meant to be cute rather than alluring, so Kaginado is able to further make fun of things by having the characters rendered normally. Despite only running for three minutes each, Kaginado‘s episoldes pack a considerable amount of laughs into its runtime, using everything from gags and timing, to visual elements. However, unlike the Flash parodies I watched back in middle school, the art style in Kaginago is consistent, and the voice acting is spot on: all of the voice actors and actresses reprise their roles.

  • Seeing Nagisa again immediately brought back memories of ten summer earlier, when I’d been watching CLANNAD to unwind from my busy and demanding schedule. I had entered CLANNAD because, after Angel Beats!, I became curious to see what Key’s other works were like. At around this point a decade earlier, I also joined the AnimeSuki forums with the aim of promoting this blog and getting to know other fans better. Although I was unsuccessful in gaining new readers, I did end up befriending a few of the forum’s members, most notably, Ernietheracefan, Wild Goose and Flower.

  • These were exemplary members of the AnimeSuki community, being the precursors to the current community I’m with. While Wild Goose and Flower are now inactive, I still converse with Ernietheracefan from time to time at alternate venues. Over time, AnimeSuki’s community has become increasingly inactive, with only a handful of regulars still discussing anime: over the past few years, some users begun emphasising politics over anime to the point where the political threads are more active than the anime thread. For this reason, I do feel that I’ve done everything I could there, and while I’ll continue posting links back here, it feels like it’s time for me to call it quits.

  • Back in Kaginado, during a flea market of sorts, Yukito spots an opportunity to try and make some coin by showing off his puppeteering skills, only to be promptly defeated by everyone else. In Air, Yukito’s success was already limited, and he ultimately made ends meet by taking up odd jobs around town. Here in Kagonado, the most successful business by far is Kyou, who has Kotomi put on a lethal violin recital and then “convince” audience members to pick up earplugs. Small details, like Kotomi going barefoot, show Kaginado‘s commitment to authenticity: Kotomi originally eschewed shoes for comfort.

  • Yukito’s luck runs out when Ayu runs through the scene, trying to escape a taiyaki vendor that she’d just stolen from. In the process, she tramples Yukito’s puppet and destroys it totally. Early in the series, Kaginado explains what its title means: かぎなど simply means “Key et cetera“, and this is fitting considering that it takes Key’s works and adds on a comedic piece to it. Ayu’s entrance is almost entirely dependent on being familiar with Kanon and how Ayu initially greets Yuuichi.

  • Kaginado is at its best when the characters act contrary to their usual selves, and here, Ryou, Shiori and Haruka share a hi-five after deliberately thrashing their older sisters with baseballs and calling them homewreckers. Ryou and Shiori certainly wouldn’t have done this in CLANNAD and Kanon, so the humour comes from seeing this dramatic contrast in actions. What makes the moment doubly strong is how confident Kyou and Kaori are in their younger sisters’ love for them, speaking to a disconnect that can only result from how the stories were originally written.

  • For me, the segments of Kaginado that were most difficult to follow involve the characters outside of CLANNADKanon and Air, but even in scenes featuring characters from Little Busters! and Rewrite, so long as characters from the Key series I’ve watched were present, I could still follow what was going on. Aiding in Kaginado‘s ability to elicit a smile was the fact that the incidental music used is sourced from other Key series, which similarly creates a disconnect; while the music is wistful and has a visual novel-like feeling, the mood in Kaginado does not match what they music conveys.

  • The final few episodes of Kaginado are dedicated to a school-wide culture festival, which sees Kanna, Ryūya and Uraha arrive to check in on Misuzu. This was a surprising development, and I remember that when watching Air, it had felt quite jarring to suddenly be transported back into the Heian Period. While this explained Misuzu’s unfortunate curse of being forced to die and reincarnate whenever she discovered friendship, Air‘s ending was a little tricky to follow. It turns out that Yukito’s kindness would manifest in a crow, and Haruko ends up loving Misuzu as her own daughter, so when Misuzu dies, she is at peace. These memories return to Kanna, breaking the curse.

  • Back in Kaginado, Fuuko, Ayu and Shizuru reunite after originally disagreeing on which form of marine life is the best. Until Kaginado, I’d never thought it was possible to see Ayu and Fuuko in the same room together, and it turns out that Shizuru loves saury. Jun Maeda is fond of giving characters a favourite food in his works, citing that it helps to give them a unique identifying trait which allows his characters to be distinct. This works well enough for each work, and the bonus is that, when a crossover like Kaginado is made, it allows similar characters to naturally group together.

  • While the characters from different series might be similar, they have their own unique personalities and idiosyncrasies, so humour results from them clashing despite their commonalities. However, there are some characters that simply get along with everyone, and here, Sayuri passes cake to Michiru in a moment that warms up all of the café’s spectators.

  • Kaginado‘s variant on the café simply has patrons watching the students act adorable, which is something I’ve never seen before at any school festival: normally, shows would prefer to have students actively work on an experience that attendees can then enjoy, but as a crossover parody, Kaginado is free to completely disregard convention. In this way, Kaginado has all of the same spirit and creativity of the Flash parodies I watched back in middle school. My favourite of them remains The Matrix Has You, which had been a collaboration between several animators.

  • Kaginado neatly answers what would happen if Kanna actually met Misuzu. Moments like these are only possible in crossover parodies, and while Misuzu doesn’t have quite as active a role here in Kaginado as she did in Air, the moments that were portrayed were hilarious: my favourite would be when Haruko breaks a scene by suggesting that Misuzu is going to be late for school after she slowly steps towards the goal line as she had in Air‘s final moments. One would imagine that such a meeting, seeing Misuzu at peace with her world, would be Kaginado‘s equivalent of Air‘s resolution.

  • While Makoto enjoys a BBQ pork bun and spends time with Mishio Amano, I decided to return to campus today for kicks: back in 2017, it was announced that the story of Leon the Frog was restored to its original glory, and having never climbed the stairs of the social sciences building from basement to the thirteenth floor when I’d been a student, I decided to make the ascent. After returning to my favourite outlet on campus, the Korean BBQ House, for their grilled chicken and beef combo with a side of tomato salad and honeyed potatoes (which tastes exactly as good as I remember), we swung by the building and made the full climb: the entire experience took around twenty minutes, and it was fun to read it from the bottom floor to the top floor, including one H-scene whose relevance to the story still eludes me.

  • I note that I have previously mentioned the Social Sciences building in my post on Magia Record‘s “Breakup Staircase”, and folks curious to see what those stairs look like will finally have some photos. Back in Kaginado, when the culture festival’s beauty contest comes on, Tomoya and Yuuichi decide to take to the stage themselves after Mio suggests Riki would’ve won. Hilariously, Nagisa doesn’t seem quite so worried that Tomoya’s kitted out in the girls’ uniform, and she seems more concerned as to whether or not Tomoya might actually win. Here, it suddenly hits me that the protagonists of each Key series appear to be given less time on screen than the secondary characters, which really allow them to shine, and as such, when Yuuichi and Tomoya attempt to take back the spotlight by force, one cannot help but laugh at how absurd everything is.

  • Nayuki doesn’t actually get much screen time in Kaginado, and here, she attempts to stop Akiko from selling her special jam with Sanae’s bread: Akio’s already down fore the count from attempting to consume Sanae’s bread when it’s already been given some jam. The combination has been implied to be potent enough to knock a grown man out: CLANNAD ~After Story~ had something similar happen during a fight between Tomoya and some of the city’s rival gangs, but back then, it was only implied that Sanae had managed to get her hands on Akiko’s jam.

  • The resulting hilarity from the beauty contest has Mei so embarrassed, she can only cover her face in shame. Kaori is completely unamused by what’s unfolding before her eyes, while Shiori is content to simply keep eating her ice cream. The beauty contest’s setup is actually reminiscent of a faux cosplay contest that Otafest had hosted in some years, and while I myself could never don a seifuku and walk across a stage with confidence, I can easily see that events of this sort are treated as being highly entertaining.

  • In the end, even Tomoya and Yuuichi’s efforts fail: in a stunning twist, Angel Beats! Hideki Hinata takes the top crown, and Yuri Nakamura reveals herself. Since Angel Beats!‘ cast had been absent from the other eleven episodes, their appearance was all the funnier, and I found myself wishing that they’d shown up earlier. While Angel Beats! had been quite poignant, the series had numerous comedic moments, as well. However, this finale is not the end of Kaginado: a second season began airing back in April as a part of the spring season, and I’ll be looking to watch it, as well.

  • Overall, Kaginado is a series that will appeal to fans of Key and have some background of the series (I would suggest that having watched at least two or three Key works is sufficient to understand the jokes), and I certainly had a blast with this short anime. My Kaginado experience thus draws to a close, and I’ve only got one more post left for this month: I will be revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie to commemorate the five year anniversary to its release. Beyond this, it’s full steam ahead as I enter September. The month will kick off with Jon Creator’s Showcase, and then it’s onto ARIA the Benedizione, which I’ve waited for quite some time to share my thoughts about.

Through its caricature of aspects from Key’s prior works, Kaginado proved to be a delightful series of shorts that also had the unexpected side effect of sending me on a journey down memory lane. I picked up Angel Beats! after curiosity got the better of me, and I wanted to see the anime behind the Lia’s My Soul, Your Beats!. When I watched CLANNAD, I was staring down the MCAT. Three months later, my enjoyment of CLANNAD ~After Story~ led me to give Kanon a whirl, and in trying to hunt down music from Kanon, I came upon Natsukage, an iconic song from Air. Seeing all of the characters returning in chibi form to bounce off one another in a zero-stakes environment proved most cathartic, and as a result, I found Kaginado to be a fantastic way of lightening up the mood from series that were otherwise emotionally-charged journeys. Kaginado gives Youhei a chance to shine where Tomoya had previously dominated, shows Ryou and Shiori’s repressed anger surrounding their older sisters, openly confirms what happens when Akiko’s special jam and Sanae’s artisan breads are combined, and even has Tomoya and Yuuicihi take to the stage for the beauty contest to show how things are done. Having all of the characters retain their old personalities, but otherwise act in ways that are contrary to how they’d act in their respective series serves to remind viewers that as serious as Key’s works usually are, if the tragedy were stricken from their worlds, the characters would experience life in an over-the-top manner, one that is sure to put a smile on viewers’ faces.

Among Trees: Reflections on Introspective Survival and Thoughts About Returning Home at Journey’s End

“Going away won’t change anything if you’re running from yourself.” –Joyce Rachelle

An adventurer begins a new life in a pristine forest somewhere over the horizon. After bringing a derelict cabin back to running order, the adventurer explores the surroundings and locates the materials to craft an axe. As the days pass, the adventurer begins learning the different plants and mushrooms in the forest, identifies several landmarks and gathers the materials for expanding the cabin. Over time, the cabin becomes outfitted with a crafting room, kitchen, storage room, sewing room and even a brewing room, allowing the adventurer to cook delicious meals and build the materials needed to further explore the forest. Meanwhile, the adventurer has learnt to fish and successfully evades bears that patrol certain parts of the forest. As the days turn to weeks, the adventurer begins travelling further into the forest, befriends a fox and encounters rare materials required for crafting a new coat and backpack. Eventually, there is no corner of the forest that has remain untravelled, and the adventurer is now thriving, having mastered the art of fishing and cooking wild edibles into delicious meals. The fox becomes an old friend, faithfully accompanying the adventurer on their adventures into the furthest reaches in the forest. With a fulfilling adventure under their belt, the adventurer crafts a hiking pack for returning back to civilisation and home, where others are awaiting them. This is Among Trees, a highly relaxing and cathartic survival simulator developed and published by FJRD Interactive. Released in November 2021, Among Trees is a vibrant and colourful experience that represents a departure from conventional survival games in that, beyond the existence of a pair of bears on the map, and the risk of potentially freezing to death if one were out too late exploring the forest, there are no tangible threats to the players. While the game is polarising owing to its lack of content, it represents a wonderful portrayal of the universal fantasy of packing it up and escaping one’s obligations – in a temperate forest by the summer, there’s no distractions from the hustle associated with living among people. One spends their days gathering wild edibles and materials to better their existence, and one is enveloped in infinite solitude. However, there is a gap in starting out on this new journey: in the very beginning, it is immensely difficult to know what one’s next move should be, and without any a priori knowledge, making it on one’s own in a completely new environment can feel intimidating, even overwhelming. However, the feeling of discomfort begins lessening after one puts their home together, and has a place to consistently return to. In the beginning, Among Trees gives very little indicator as to what exactly players must do to survive, and leaves said player to work out what their biggest priority should be.

Among Trees conveys the feelings associated with starting out extremely well – in the beginning, things can seem quite difficult because people are hardwired to operate within routine, and worry about the outcomes of one’s actions, as well as the route it takes to reach said outcome, can make a journey feel insurmountable. Once one takes the plunge and overcomes the initial hurdle of starting, things become significantly easier. Armed with my own knowledge of Survivorman, I approached Among Trees as Les Stroud might: having the right items in my kit would doubtlessly have been helpful, and so, I set my sights on putting an axe and lockpick together with the materials scattered around points of interests. Now that I had access to enough resources to begin crafting, my ability to survive opened up considerably. In this case, the combination of having some idea of what to do, coupled with the knowledge that things do get easier after one can get past the beginning, allowed me to make headway into Among Trees. In this way, Among Trees acts as a very visceral representation of why things always seem to become more straightforward the longer one is in the game – as one becomes more experienced with how things work, one can make increasingly better decisions to improve survival. There are obvious analogues in reality, grounded in the fact that with experience, one is able to see patterns and optimise their solutions for things. For instance, six years ago, I struggled to understand how information from one view controller could be sent to another in an iOS app. In the present day, I would immediately suggest using delegates. In Among Trees, once players survive the toughest first few days of the game and gain access to the three most essential tools (the axe, lockpick and map), the game really opens up. A water canteen allows one to wander the drier parts of the map without worrying about dehydration, and a tent lets one overnight outside. The storage attic lets one hang onto a much larger amount of materials for crafting, and the kitchen allows one to turn even poisonous or low-nutrition foods into a delicious meal. Fishing becomes a reliable and enjoyable way of acquiring protein, which sates hunger effectively and even heals the player to some extent. As players become more familiar with the resources available to them and how far they can travel, a new routine forms. Gradually, the mystery of living in a tranquil forest is replaced by effective survival – food is no longer a concern, there’s always a supply of fresh water, and knowledge of where resources are allows one to craft the game’s more effective gear, extending travel range and eventually allowing players to fully explore the world and discover every bit of flora available to them. Having now survived, and thrived in such a location, there hardly seems any new experiences to be had, and so, Among Trees offers players one final note: it’s time to head back to civilisation, where one’s loved ones and responsibilities await.

In its portrayal of an ending, Among Trees provides a very meaningful and unexpected message to players; no matter the sort of adventure one goes on, one will eventually need to return home, back to their loved ones, and back to their responsibilities and obligations. As enjoyable as living in an idyllic forest is, and how calming it is to foraging for wild edibles and enjoying a campfire under a setting sun in the great outdoors might be, one cannot escape society and other people forever. There comes a point where every journey, no matter how grand, must draw to a close, and a major part of making this palatable is knowing that there is a home for one to return to when they leave. In Among Trees, there’s a sort of finality after the hiking kit appears; one knows they’ve know become sufficiently versed in the game such that they can easily craft all of the resources needed to prepare for a trip back home, and that their time in the forest is finite. Folks who take this route will end the game and learn that while a break from routine is pleasant, if such excursions were to be for the long-term, then a new routine would inevitably form. This speaks cleverly to the idea that the novel soon becomes the familiar if experienced with sufficient frequency, and the charm wears off. In Among Trees, for instance, it is initially a thrill to catch one’s first-ever Perch, but as one becomes comfortable with fishing, one will soon acquire a stockpile of trout. Exciting first experiences, like camping outdoors for the first time, or creating the first Wormwood brew, similarly become routine with enough time. Going home is a part of the journey, as well, and this is what makes things like travel and vacations worthwhile. Given this message, it stands to reason that Among Trees also vindicates one of my own thoughts – some of the folks I know who’ve become expatriates haven’t done so out of a genuine desire to broaden their horizons and find the sort of fulfilment that their home nation could not provide. Instead, they became expatriates to escape something that had hurt them, hoping that being in a new country would help them to rediscover themselves and dull the pain of past failures. However, in the long term, this isn’t viable because the weight of one’s problems will always follow one around. In short, it is impossible to run away from oneself because no matter where one goes, their self will always be present. Becoming an expatriate might be helpful in the short term, allowing one to gain perspective, but there comes a point where one must return home and deal with what was troubling them. In Among Trees, the game gives players a chance to take this route: whether it was to try something novel for two months or escape a problem, spending time among trees helps the player to understand that, as relaxing such an existence might be, the same kind of fortitude and courage to have started such an adventure is also what one needs to face their problems. This is an encouraging thought, and Among Trees suggests a route of moderation: when faced with adversity in life, taking some time off to regroup and reassess things is helpful, and it is among nature one can accelerate this process.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When players start Among Trees for the first time, they’ll be met with a derelict cabin. Scattered around the cabin are a large number of sticks and fir planks. Once gathered, they can be used towards bringing the cabin into a livable state. The cabin acts as the player’s home base: the game can only be saved here, and for the first while, is the only place one can sleep.

  • Among Trees offers players with no instructions beyond restoring the cabin, and so, one is left with the freedom of choosing what their first priority is. I ended up playing Among Trees using the knowledge I picked up by watching Survivorman, so with shelter taken care of, I decided that the next order of business was to deal with water and food. There’s a stream just north of the cabin that provides unlimited, fresh and clean drinking water. Conversely, food must be gathered. It is scattered throughout the world, and range from mushrooms to berries and root vegetables.

  • The button mushroom was the first bit of food I found, and while the game indicates that cooking the mushrooms will make them more nutritious, eating them raw will refill one’s hunger meter on short order. Among Trees doesn’t have the best resource management system in that hunger meter depletes significantly faster than it should: players must eat with the same frequency that they drink water, whereas in reality, one could go for upwards of three weeks without food, but dehydration sets in within three days. I would’ve preferred to have seen the hunger meter drop at about half the rate of the thirst meter.

  • The health meter needs no explanation: if it drops to zero, the player dies. The sleep meter will deplete consistently and reach zero after every day, so in the beginning, it isn’t possible to stay up long periods into the night. Similarly, after night falls, the temperatures begin dropping, and the coat one is equipped with is unable to handle the cold effectively. This forces players back to the cabin, and early in Among Trees, it does feel as though one is tethered to their cabin, foraging for mushrooms and berries by day, as well as topping off on water.

  • Survival in Among Trees during those first few days is tricky for this reason – one lacks the ability to explore, and it feels like the act of keeping one’s hunger, thirst, warmth and sleep attended to can consume all of one’s efforts. As such, the initial priority in Among Trees is to get familiar with the area around the cabin first and get a feel for how long it takes to get somewhere and back. Once this is done, the next step is to get the crafting wing going. The rationale for this is inspired by Survivorman: the cabin has a kitchen as well, but the raw mushrooms and berries do a satisfactory job of keeping hunger at bay, and can be found in reasonable abundance.

  • Since Les Stroud always mentions the importance of a good kit, especially of having a good, sharp hatchet or axe as a tool for crafting survival items, I reasoned that being able to craft items would be helpful. To this end, I ended up travelling to nearby points of interest, marked by the presence of large, collapsed warden’s towers. At these locations, wooden crates, locked boxes and piles of raw materials lay strewn about. Things like steel wire, nails, bolts, rags and rope are survival essentials, but in order to get to these materials, one must have an axe or lockpick.

  • It therefore makes sense that the first item one should craft is the axe, and if there are enough materials on hand, the lockpick should immediately follow. Having access to these tools allows one to collect all of the raw materials to craft other items, and the axe also provides one powerful new capability – one can now chop down trees for wood. Larger trees yield three fir planks and three sticks, while smaller trees yield two sticks each. It takes a single stroke to fell a small tree, and large trees will take eight strokes to cut down. Wooden planks and sticks stop being a problem now, allowing one to quickly gather the materials needed to build other wings of their cabin.

  • Once the axe and lockpick are crafted, the next step is to begin visiting the other points of interest. Blueprints begin appearing, and these provide access to various items, including a tent, campfire, watering can, map, canteen and compass. Some of these items are more useful than others at the onset: the map is the biggest asset, allowing one to keep track of where they are in the world at all times. Initially, the map is covered in a fog of war, but as one explores, landmarks and locations become identified.

  • Having access to the map makes it easier to locate areas with specific resources: larch resin and limestone is only found in certain places. However, the map also has one additional advantage in making it easier to keep track of all of the spots one has visited, including especially scenic areas. Among Trees is a visually impressive game, and every part of the forest is gorgeous to behold. Here, I pass through a field of tall grass en route to my next destination.

  • The trickiest of the blueprints to acquire is probably the tent, which allows one to overnight outdoors for up to three evenings. It is found near a bear – there are no other threats in Among Trees, but bears are hostile by default and can kill players in two swipes of a paw. One can evade bears by crouching in the tall grass and sneaking around: when crouched in grass, players become nearly invisible to bears and can access valuable resources without being spotted. I took the same approach, but at the same time, crafted a first-aid kit in the event stealth failed. In this way, I managed to find all but one of the blueprints in the game.

  • Ten days into Among Trees, I’d become more familiar with survival, and I was surprised to find a fox in front of my cabin. Upon petting him, the fox became a pet of sorts. The fox only takes bleak fillets as food, so at this point, it became important that I master the art of fishing as quickly as I could. In exchange for fish, the fox will faithfully accompany players to the furthest reaches of the map and can even hunt down elusive loot for players. Of course, the biggest advantage about having the fox around is having company: my favourite act is to pet the fox.

  • As I began expanding out the cabin, Among Trees pushed me to explore more of the map, and in this way, I came upon some of the most scenic places in the whole of the game, including the larch grove. There’s a certain tranquility about Among Trees I’ve not found anywhere else, and how I came upon Among Trees is actually quite a touching story – I’d added the game to my Steam wishlist some time ago, and one of my friends, whom I’ve long lost contact with, suddenly appeared and gifted me the game as thanks for having been there with them through some tough times during our university days.

  • Said friend disappeared as quickly as they appeared – they dropped off social media and didn’t reply to my thanks for having gifted me a free title. Curiously enough, I was wondering how they were doing after getting back into Jetpack Joyride; after the move, I hadn’t set up my desktop and spent that evening play Jetpack Joyride, which I first learnt of after watching said friend playing it while we were waiting for Otafest Aurora to start many years ago. Jetpack Joyride still reminds me of the university’s downtown campus, and playing the game was a trip down memory lane. Here, I arrive at the larch groves; the trees are positively radiant, with a warm, golden glow.

  • Les Stroud has commented time and time again on the importance of having a good fishing tackle, so as soon as I was able, I crafted myself a fishing rod. While fishing initially was difficult, once I figured out that I could use mouse movements to control for tension, I was successful on all of my fishing trips. I now had no shortage of protein energy for myself, and I was assured of a food supply for my fox. Eating fish raw in Among Trees has no deleterious effects (the game abstracts out parasites and other pathogens), although cooking the fish greatly bolsters its nutritional value.

  • As I became familiar with the game, and survival became more routine, I was able to really appreciate the graphics of Among Trees. The game looks its best during the sunset hours, and despite its simple visuals, Among Trees actually has steep hardware requirements – an i7-4770 CPU and GTX 970 is recommended. My GTX 1060 and old i5 3570k would’ve handled this game without, but on my current build, things have been very smooth with respect to framerates and visuals.

  • Among Trees became the first Steam game I’ve had where I was able to unlock every achievement after a single play-through – most of the achievements are pretty straightforward and come with exploration, while others require playing a certain way. Most tricky of all are the achievements to complete every bit of exploration the game offers, and surviving fifty days – it is easy enough to find all of the landmarks and build every cabin wing, but some plants can be quite elusive to find. I spent several sessions looking for the Black Void Mushroom. Similarly, surviving for fifty days is a challenge for players because after one learns to fish, survival becomes significantly easier, and most do not feel any inclination to continue playing.

  • I ended up focusing my attention on sewing a new coat and backpack to pass the time. The base backpack only has 12 inventory slots, and this fills up very quickly, especially if one’s carrying many equipment items with them. Similarly, the base coat offers no protection against the element and is only moderately comfortable. A better coat actually increases stamina and running speed on top of improving cold resistance. Once I had a better coat, I could run to locations for longer periods, and this increased my range to the point where I was now reaching places that previously would’ve demanded an overnight stay.

  • Because Among Trees‘ premise is such that players are treated to a purely cathartic game, and the only real challenge is the pair of bears that roam small areas of the map, some folks consider Among Trees to be a bit of a disappointment – traditional survival games are much more intense in that there’s a much wider range of threats that can prematurely end the game, and this creates an incredible amount of tension, driving the stakes up. The difference in aesthetic notwithstanding, most players are more concerned by FJRD Interactive’s original promise of adding more content to the game, only to rescind this promise when a new project came up.

  • While Among Trees might not have the best reception, I’ve not found any indicator as to what precisely people want out of the game – all discussions seems to be focused on how the developers were being unfaithful to the players, et cetera. Upon finishing the game, I found that Among Trees actually does a satisfactory job of creating a relaxed survival experience with the content already available: there’s a satisfactory gameplay loop, and the idea of the game becoming “boring” actually stems from the fact that, once the player has enough to survive comfortably, things do become more routine.

  • However, a creative player will find ways of making the most of their time, and in this way, one isn’t just surviving; they’ll thrive. Here, I throw a tent up as night falls – the tent is limited to three uses, and there’s an achievement that requires players spend three nights in the tent. I originally made use of the tent to explore the furthest corners of the map for chicory, a rare flower that only spawns occasionally. While a large number of guides out there suggest that chicory only spawns at dusk and by night, in specific part of the map, all of the chicory I’ve found were found during the mornings and day. Moreover, I found them in random areas of the map.

  • Attesting to how rare chicory is, I only ever found five during my entire play-through of Among Trees. While it can be cooked and eaten, it has a much more useful purpose: four are needed to craft the game’s largest backpack, which has a total of sixteen slots. There is an intermediate backpack with fourteen slots, and while two slots doesn’t seem like much, being able to hang onto two more types of material can make the difference between being able to bring back the resources one needs to craft something, or being forced to turn back around and leave resources behind.

  • As such, a backpack with four more slots than the base backpack would extend one’s range further. I decided to save my resources for the larger backpack. By this point in the game, I’d also began working on the brewing room. Although it seemed a bonus addition to the cabin, some of the elixirs that can be crafted are downright useful: the wormwood brew acts like a strong coffee and allows one to stay out for longer. This is a lifesaver, allowing me to travel far without needing to bring a tent. On some occasions, I’ve run into elk in the forest, although the elk are harmless and immediately take off upon spotting the player.

  • The feather larch outfit would become my preferred coat – offering some stamina increase, its biggest attributes are greatly increasing one’s resilience to cold, and boosting movement speed. These two properties make it possible to cover great distances quickly, and now, I was able to sprint across the map and reach a spot before the sun had fully risen where previously, it would take me a half-day to reach the same point. Coupled with the elixirs, there suddenly was less of a need to bring a tent with me on resource-gathering runs.

  • Upon completing the best backpack and coat for my play-style, I felt that Among Trees had reached a point where I was now able to not just survive, but thrive. At the cabin, I had a large stockpile of mushrooms, beets, radishes and fish. Thanks to the storage attic, I filled my other bins with wooden planks, bolts, nails, wire and pipes. With all of the essentials crafted, I had resources left over to begin really sprucing up my cabin – the game allows players to create decorative elements around their cabin, and in the beginning, such items feel extraneous.

  • As one begins to build the essentials and get the basics taken care of, they can turn their attention to creativity. Among Trees doesn’t provide these instructions to players by default, but the order in which one should get things done is reasonably easy to figure out. I have seen some guides suggest that the kitchen be built first so one can greatly boost the nutritional value of the food they find, but for me, the best order is the crafting room, followed by the storage attic. The brewing room and greenhouse should be the last elements constructed.

  • The further I got into Among Trees, the more the game’s message became apparent to me – things are always difficult at the beginning, but as one finds their flow and becomes familiar with routine, they become increasingly efficient. Things become easier, and over time, the unfamiliar becomes comfortable. Of course, the problem with this is that all experiences eventually stop being novel. Along this brand of logic, even travelling can become routine and unremarkable. This is what leads me to draw the conclusion that I do: some folks value creating memories and seeing the world, while others would prefer to establish their career and developing financial stability. The choice of choosing one or the other is a hotly-debated subject amongst millennials, and countless articles defending one side over the other have been written on the topic over the years.

  • I believe that early on, one should focus on their career and finances first – life is a game of momentum, and if one doesn’t get in the habit of conducting themselves with discipline, it can be tricky to do so later down the line. If one has a steady career and a game plan for the future, then with a bit of planning, one can still fit in windows with which to see the world with: one doesn’t need to spend a full year in a foreign nation to appreciate another culture. A lot of the proponents of travelling while one’s young suggest that one will have plenty of time later on to catch up, but many professional skills are analogous to lifting weights. Much as one needs to train consistently in order to make appreciable gains, one must constantly hone their craft in order to remain effective in their field.

  • However, in moderation, travel is indeed a form of catharsis, a means of broadening one’s horizons, and a pleasant way of breaking up the routine. When done appropriately, travelling and taking breaks leaves one better prepared to handle things. I note here that this is approach is what works for me: what I do may not work for everyone, and I do not presume to say that any one method is superior to another. I get that people tend to be quite vocal about their positions because their choices, and the path that it led them on, is very much a part of their identity. Ultimately, I maintain that, if one accepts responsibility for the outcome of their decisions, I will not challenge their choices or identity.

  • Back in Among Trees, I’ve finally reached the northeastern edge of the map. Here, a vast lake creates a natural boundary. Some guides call it the ocean, but mountains can be seen on the other side, and moreover, platers can drink out of this lake, indicating that it’s fresh water – drinking salt water is deleterious, with the high salt content accelerating dehydration to a dangerous extent. Conversely, since Among Trees lets players walk up to the water and drink it, it stands to reason this is fresh water. Here, I’ve set up a campfire and cooking kit along with my tent, creating a moment that is quintessential camping.

  • The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that I’ve written two posts today; this time of year stands as my favourite, consisting of warm days spent enjoying the outdoors and savouring foods that are associated with the summer. This past long weekend, I took advantage of the Monday off to cook a Swiss-and-mushroom melt burger with a side of thick-cut fries (washed down with a tall glass of Ginger Ale and chased by freshly-picked cherries) for lunch. The day had been very hot, bringing back memories of the past two Heritage Day long weekends in previous years. However, since the move, I’ve been rather spoiled by the fact that the new place has air conditioning.

  • This prevents me from forwarding the ports my private server needs to run properly. This means that, in the foreseeable future, I won’t be able to revisit Stormwind by nightfall, or return to the Stonetalon Mountains. Having said this, there are many other experiences I’ve got on my plate. Back in Among Trees, I’ve thrown my tent up beside a pond as night sets in: after checking out the lake, I head back into the forest in search of the remaining plants that have eluded me, including the Death Cap and Black Void mushrooms.

  • To help with navigation, I’ve finally crafted a compass. While a map is superbly useful, having a compass allows me to travel in a direction with greater certainty, and here, I pass through a more heavily wooded area of the forest. It was quite amusing to know that, armed with the axe, food to replenish one’s energy and plenty of patience, one could hypothetically try to chop down the entire forest. However, in between sessions, trees regenerate, and some items respawn. The only exception are the crates and lockboxes at points of interest: if one visits and opens them, but leave the materials in place, they will disappear later on.

  • Towards the end of my time in Among Trees, I returned to the lake one last time while on the hunt for the elusive Black Void mushroom. I ended up finding my target on this run, and in the process, also caught a glimpse of an elk along the shore. With the Black Void mushroom, I’d found all of the plants in the game, explored every landmark and built every extension to my cabin. Among Trees awarded me an achievement for my troubles and alerted me to the fact I could now craft the hiking kit. This was the remaining item I was missing from my crafting library, and as it turns out, this is the last item one can assemble, being meant as an item that brings Among Trees to an end.

  • The Black Void, Death Cap, Dotty and Angel mushrooms are poisonous – consuming them raw runs the risk of poisoning the player, but cooking them renders them safe to eat in Among Trees. Real life, unfortunately, doesn’t work this way, and even the high temperatures of cooking aren’t enough to denature the proteins. It goes without saying that Among Trees is not to be considered as being a resource for outdoor survival. I tended to avoid picking these mushrooms in-game, knowing that the other mushrooms and berries can be eaten raw (making them more valuable for situations where I was not near my cabin or had a cooking kit on my person).

  • Armed with the best jacket possible, plus brews for bolstering body temperature and ward of drowsiness, I am finally able to explore the forest by night. For my troubles, I am rewarded with the light of a crescent moon. One thing I noticed in Among Trees is that weather patterns are quite limited, and cosmetic in nature. It’s either sunny or rainy, and rainfall does little to impact the player. In reality, rain and wind can lock people down, making it difficult to travel great distances. Additional weather patterns in Among Trees would add to the depth of this game, but I imagine it would also represent challenges from an implementation standpoint.

  • Towards the endgame, I’ve fully made use of every facility available to my cabin. The cook stove allows me to cook highly nutritious and delicious meals. Sticks are needed to fuel the stove, but they can be easily acquired by chopping down trees. The resulting meals can fill the hunger bar to a hundred percent, and I made it a point to eat breakfast every morning before setting out, and then along the way, I would top off with the various mushrooms, berries and roots I find.

  • Observant readers will have noticed that I’ve now got potted plants, sculptures and other artworks around the cabin. Once most of the essentials are crafted, any metal one finds no longer has any use, so it is perfectly okay to turn them into art for sprucing up the cabin interior. I spent most of the game travelling around, hunting for resources, but at the endgame, I stayed at the cabin to craft things, and also to tend to my greenhouse. Having now collected seeds from the points of interest, I planted them and waited a few days for the turnips and radishes to grow, all the while watering them periodically.

  • The greenhouse is the most photogenic part of the cabin, and when all of the visual effects are cranked to maximum, it is gorgeous in here. Among Trees only allows players to plant radishes and turnips, and upon harvesting them, they occasionally drop seeds that allow one to have access to more vegetables. These roots do take some effort to cook, and radishes can only be eaten cooked, but having vegetables means not being reliant on the mushrooms and berries that spawn throughout the world.

  • All adventures must come to an end, and after fifty days of surviving in the forest, I finally put my hiking pack to use – in real-time, I’ve spent about thirteen hours over the course of a month in Among Trees, and I feel that the game has proven to be a remarkable experience, both from a gameplay perspective and from a thematic perspective. The thematic piece proved to be quite unexpected, a consequence of my own experiences feeding into how I approached the game, and I would imagine that a different individual playing this very game would likely come out with a completely different set of thoughts.

Among Trees is able to tell a compelling story that speaks to the values I hold despite being a sandbox experience that never quite reached completion; I’ve heard that FJRD Interactive originally had plans to improve the game’s complexity and depth, but shortly after, abandoned development in favour of other projects despite wishes from the community to wrap the game up. As enjoyable as Among Trees is, there are numerous elements that appear that the game wished to add, including more options for backpacks and coats. A more complex system would allow one to choose their gear more carefully (e.g. a higher-capacity backpack might reduce one’s movement speed). The game does not allow one to pick clams off the beach from the forest’s northeastern corner, or lay down crab pots. Similarly, while one can spot rabbits and elk in the game, there is no option to fashion traps and snares to catch smaller critters for meat, or perhaps hunt larger game with a bow. The greenhouse only allows players to grow beets and radishes, but it would be nice to let players farm their own berries and mushrooms. Besides expanding the crafting and clothing system, as well as adding a hunting system, Among Trees also would benefit from providing players with a variety of terrains to survive in. The game currently sets players in a warm, temperate forest during the summer, when temperatures are comfortable, and wild edibles are in good supply. It would be enjoyable to see the game use its temperature, food and hydration meters more effectively by providing players with a tropical island, desert and arctic tundra map to mix up what one should prioritise in a different region of the world. In the arctic, hydration may deplete more slowly, but temperature will always deplete quickly. A desert setting may cause the sleep and hydration meters to wear out more quickly. This would force players to look more closely at different goals, and add considerably to the game’s depth. However, as previously mentioned, it appears that FJRD Interactive has ceased development on Among Trees, and as such, the items on my wishlist are unlikely to be realised. Although Among Trees has an incredible potential to become a sort of Survivorman experience set in beautifully crafted and highly cathartic settings, lack of future work means the game’s current state is likely all players will get for the present. In spite of this, it isn’t all doom and gloom – the game does have an excellent message for players, and for me, a single play-through from front to back, wholly exploring every corner of the map, collecting every plant and fungi I could, and building my cabin to completion, took a total of thirteen hours. Consequently, Among Trees is a worthwhile experience when it’s discounted; although steep at full price, it is a fun game that is quite unlike anything I’d played previously, and having now taken a break from my usual shooters, it’s time to return to my favourite genre with a fresh set of eyes.

Routine Feat: Remarks on the Importance of Structure as a Route to Success and A Calgary Rodeo Reflection

Late night, come home
Work sucks, I know
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares

–blink-128, All The Small Things

Developed by Alexandre Ignatov, who had previously published ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, Routine Feat was actually written before IT’S WINTER, but the assets were reused to create a very moody and contemplative experience. However, unlike IT’S WINTER, Routine Feat has additional depth to it – it puts players in the shoes of an office worker who appears stuck in a routine of monotony: day in and day out, the office worker heads to a dreary job where, in his office, he’s scrawled onto a piece of paper “My work does not bring joy and is not so important for me and the people around me, but I cannot quit it. Otherwise, what will I eat?” Between his duties, the office worker toils away on his own novel, occasionally struggling to come up with ideas, but over time, his perseverance pays off: on a sunny, peaceful morning, the office worker submits his finished manuscript and heads to work. Coming home, the office worker spots a letter and a pile of cash in his mailbox – the publishers love his book and have already placed an order for a hundred thousand copies, saying that such a book will move millions. At first glance, Routine Feat appears to follow in the footsteps of IT’S WINTER in conveying a sense of melancholy and longing. Note scattered around the office worker’s home and workspace suggests someone who’s living day-to-day, seemingly without purpose or motivation. However, the office worker’s novel is the one ray of light in his life, and by investing time into this project in between his work, while at the same time, doing his best in a daily routine despite his boredom and melancholy, the office worker is able to create something of worth and find new value in his life. Among the monotony of routine comes new joy, and in this area, Routine Feat shows that there is nothing wrong with routine. While social media glamourises spontaneity and travel, and relationship guides claim (without evidence) that dating spontaneous people is the singular key to happiness, experts universally agree that routine is vital in maintaining one’s mental health, reduces anxiety and increases resilience against adversity. People who follow a consistent routine sleep more soundly, and may also enjoy improved physical health on top of mental wellness. Having a routine creates familiarity which allows one to do more – knowing one’s always going to have an hour in the morning means being able to lift weights before starting one’s workday, and being assured of an hour of rest before turning in means I’m confident that I could get some writing or gaming done that day.

The melancholy and monotony that is seen in Routine Feat contrasts sharply with the beautiful summer weather – when players open Routine Feat, they are met with the same apartment complex seen in IT’S WINTER. However, this time, sunlight fills the rooms with the warm golden glow of a mid-summer’s morning, and the sky is a pale azure. The landscape is verdant and lush with vegetation. Even though there isn’t another soul around (I’m the only person around), and it feels as though the weather is mocking me, it’s clear that Routine Feat is not trying to convey the same sense of hopelessness that only a bitterly cold winter’s night could. The change of seasons is what sets Routine Feat apart from its predecessor – long days filled with sunshine instills a sense of hope, and having light out increases the incentive to stop to take a breath and live in the moment. Although it might not be a life-changing journey to Japan, there is a certain joy about being able to feel the warmth of sunshine while waiting for the bus. Similarly, more sunshine means after coming home from work, it’s still light enough to enjoy the last rays of sun before returning one’s attention to their pursuits. It is therefore appropriate that here in Routine Feat, looking beyond what superficially appears to be a dull and dreary life, one finds a world filled with nuance and excitement. It is unsurprising that the office worker is able to write a book under such conditions – no longer trapped by the winter, one is really able to stretch their feet and allow the long days of summer to provide inspiration. The combination of routine in Routine Feat has its basis in reality; I am reminded of spending endless days during the summer of a decade earlier indoors with MCAT preparations while the world around me enjoyed everything the summer had to offer. However, even though I was not engaged in activities associated with the summer, the warm weather and beautiful skies gave me a sense of comfort and reassurance. This sense of well-being, coupled with the fact that I’d settled into a fairly consistent routine, of studying, lifting weights and unwinding, meant that what had appeared to be an insurmountable foe would suddenly look more manageable. On this day ten years ago, it had been a gorgeous morning, and while the family had stepped out to enjoy the Calgary Stampede, I remained behind to brush up on verbal reasoning. It had been a particularly fine day, and after hitting my quota for the morning, I walked out to the local sandwich shop for a pork rib sandwich. I was struck with a thought: appreciating small things in life is what makes things worthwhile. Routine Feat makes it a point to convey this, and while the game might initially seem repetitive and pointless, once players take the time to slow down and figure things out, there’s an unexpectedly uplifting and optimistic message about how, in the throes of routine, people can optimise their schedules and come to do great things with the time that is available to them. I managed to have what was, in retrospect, a pretty enjoyable summer ten years ago despite having spent so much of it on the MCAT (I would later go on to travel and even put out a journal publication). The office worker in Routine Feat may live a routine life, but in growing familiar with his day-to-day patterns, manages to optimise things and find the time to pursue his own interests, chipping away tirelessly until things finally come to a head, and his efforts are rewarded.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I became intrigued with Routine Feat after playing IT’S WINTER and discovered the game was free to download from Ignatov’s website. However, when the game became available on Steam back in May, I decided to pick it up to support Ignatov: both Routine Feat and IT’S WINTER speak to some of my own experiences with loneliness, of being trapped during both winters and summers during my time as a university student. In 2013, I earned my Bachelor of Health Science degree, but between all of my friends heading off to pursue their careers, and a one-in-a-century flood knocking out my summer plans (which entailed a kokuhaku), I fell into a mild depression.

  • As that summer drew to a close, I began dreading the imminent arrival of winter; the individual I had wished to deliver my kokuhaku to had left for an exchange programme in Japan, and I was left to pursue open studies while awaiting the results of my second shot at getting into medical school. In the depths of winter, my applications fell through, and I got a sneaking suspicion the person I was hoping to ask out would not wait for me. However, it was not the end; upon hearing about my applications’ outcomes, my supervisor immediately extended to me an offer of admissions into graduate school, as well as a position on what would become the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. Spotting an opportunity to walk a different path, and to immerse myself in something that took my mind off things, I accepted immediately.

  • This proved to be a pivotal moment for me, and I attribute my recovery to this turn of events – keeping busy with a project that would contribute to scientific communication in the community took my mind off the hurt of what had amounted to a rejection, and I thus focused my entire effort towards learning Unity. While I would slowly find my way again and ended up becoming an iOS developer as a result of my experiences in graduate school, I remained quite hostile towards winter for some time after. However, even this dislike wouldn’t last forever; I would come to take stock in the fact that, no matter how cold winters got, summers would always return, and until summers did come back, I had somewhere warm to return to every day.

  • IT’S WINTER spoke to me about this fact: while the game is supposed to convey an overwhelming sense of isolation and sadness, I found that the game actually captured something quite unexpected. To be able to wander outside in a bitterly cold winter’s night, and then returning to the warmth and comfort of the player’s apartment was quite reassuring: no matter how far my wanderings took me, I could always go back to somewhere with light, heat and food. It was with this mindset that I approached Routine Feat, which was similarly written to be a game that speaks to depression and melancholy associated with an unremarkable life.

  • When players start Routine Feat for the first time, they are met with blue skies and the light of a summer’s morning. I remember numerous such mornings in all of my summers, especially during the year I took the MCAT. Like the office worker of Routine Feat, I would board the bus and head for campus to either attend my preparation course or lift weights, before hitting the books and returning home. Buses to the university are practically empty in the summer, adding to my sense of isolation. However, while my MCAT year should have been lonely, I found that having a routine helped me to focus effectively.

  • The reason for this is simple: knowing what to expect on a given day creates confidence in having control. Having structure in one’s day provides certainty and reassurance, allowing one to know that they’ve got time blocked out to get certain things done. This is why, when the global health crisis hit some two-and-a-half years earlier, I was able to cope with things. I woke up early in the mornings, ate breakfast and got to work. Every day at 1030, I would stop for a yogurt break, and then I’d resume work until 1200, during which I’d break for lunch.

  • Lunch breaks would last precisely an hour, and then I would work until 1500. Here, I’d stop to enjoy the refreshing tang of a mandarin orange. Once this break was over, it was a straight shot until the end of the day. After work, I would either do light exercise in the basement or, if the weather allowed me to, go for a stroll around the block. Between my routine, I found enough time to game, blog and chat with friends. While I greatly missed being able to go to restaurants and my favourite places in town, knowing my days were well-organised, and that I was still getting things done, gave me some reassurance.

  • In this way, when restrictions began rolling back, I would come to look forwards to grabbing takeout from the local Cantonese restaurant, or spending some time in the nearby parks on weekends. This new routine has worked well for me: despite beginning a new position last April and moving house this year, old habits died hard; I ended up following the same work and life patterns I previously did, with the main exception that I’m doing more housework now. Curiously enough, doing housework is when I’m most at ease, as it gives my mind a chance to wander and unwind.

  • Having now moved for a shade over three months, I’ve formed a new routine by merging old habits with nuances of the new place, and this has in turn allowed me to acclimatise to life in a new part of town; there is enough time in a day for me to work, look after the new place, exercise, sleep well and on top of all this, continue to keep this blog going. Back in Routine Feat, I will note that the game gives players full freedom to do whatever they choose to. In mornings, a bus will appear at regular intervals, and boarding will take players to work.

  • One can choose to deliberately miss the bus without penalty: buses will keep coming ad infinitum, and the game will only advance if one boards, so one could spend as much time as they wish to explore the environment. Unlike IT’S WINTER, where there’s a soft boundary that will transport players back to the heart of the map, Routine Feat features hard boundaries at the map’s edges to prevent them from going further. The map is actually a ways bigger than it was in IT’S WINTER, and one can thoroughly explore the woods surrounding the office worker’s apartment block.

  • The lack of deadlines means Routine Feat is free to give players full agency over their decisions. This is especially important, since many things in the game can be interacted with. One can choose to cook a scrumptious breakfast with the ingredients in their refrigerator as a way to start the day, or go for a stroll in the woods surrounding the apartment. Reading the notes on one’s desk will also lead one to realise that the office worker is an aspiring author, and while he may occasionally struggle to come up with ideas, for the most part, the office worker can find inspiration to write.

  • One thing that I didn’t notice was that, in order to make any progress on the novel, one must type on the typewriter, and then when a page is done, it must be manually inserted into an envelope on the office worker’s desk at home. Every morning and evening, the office worker will produce two to four pages before calling it quits, and so, to finish Routine Feat quickly, one must make it a habit of writing every day, before heading for work, and then before turning in. However, there’s no obligation to move at such a breakneck pace: Routine Feat won’t punish players for finishing slowly, nor will it reward players further for finishing quickly.

  • Observant players will have noticed that in Routine Feat, mornings will look slightly different when a new day starts, and similarly, players arrive home from work at varying times of day. Sometimes, the sun is just setting when one gets off the bus, and at other times, it’s fully nighttime, with a full moon in the sky. On one of my mornings in Routine Feat, the sky was overcast and brought back memories of last year, when extensive forest fires a province over devastated entire towns and filled the skies with smoke.

  • This year, the weather’s been quite the opposite – we’ve been fortunate that no heat dome settled over British Columbia, keeping the forest fires at bay, and moreover, near-normal precipitation and temperatures have made for both green surroundings and comfortable days. July and August are the times of year best suited for summer adventures, and unlike the previous two years, this year, I am hoping to slowly ease back into planning out excursions on weekends to take advantage of the long and warm days that I’ve long expressed fondness for.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I’ve not yet shown a screenshot of the office worker’s bedroom. Although the quarters are spartan, especially for folks who’ve grown accustomed to living in a detached home of at least 1200 square feet, looking around the office worker’s apartment still gives a very inviting sense. Everything is reasonably clean and well-kept, and while there’s no living room, the bedroom is very large. Were I to live here, the only adjustment I’d make is to move the bed over to the right, closer to the heater by the window, and then put the TV stand underneath the tapestry.

  • Because of variability in the weather, on some mornings in Routine Feat, I wake up to sunlight filling the bedroom. This is how bright my room gets in the morning during the summers – it’s gotten to the point where I don’t need an alarm clock to wake up on days where it’s sunny, and I’m always filled with a feeling of peace whenever it looks like this. I’ve noticed that sleep is never really a problem in Routine Feat; inconsistent sleep is often associated with depression, as depression can create feelings of regret, sadness and longing that result in thoughts that wholly occupy the mind.

  • Players have no trouble sleeping in Routine Feat, and falling asleep is as easy as looking at the bed and pressing “E”. Once asleep, Routine Feat treats players to fantastical dreamscapes. According to Ignatov, the dreams themselves don’t have any deep or specific meanings, being meant to represent spaces that are quite different than the office worker’s home and day-to-day life. I’ve always been fond of creators who step up to clarify things and remind folks to take it easy: it’s not lost on me that, perhaps as a result of North American literature courses, people are taught to pick works apart and focus on nuances like symbolism and literary devices over the overarching themes and character experiences.

  • As it turns out, the approach of analysing every last element in a work is known as the reader-response criticism theory, in which practitioners can interpret a work independently of the author’s intentions, and in this way, produce any end conclusion because the reader’s interpretation is treated as the main authority on things. A handful of anime blogs out there subscribed to this approach and at their height, took things one step further by asserting that works can be analysed independently of cultural and individual influences to produce an “objective” interpretation. Behind the Nihon was fond of this, but I found their methodology flawed on the grounds that it produces a very narrow and limited view of the work, since Behind the Nihon Review’s writers still brought their own subjective tastes and backgrounds to the table.

  • Conversely, I always strive to pay attention to what the author attempted to convey, since how they present and execute a work is influenced by how they perceive their experiences. Reconciling the differences between what I experience, and what the author’s intentions are, produces the richest understanding of things. Routine Feat, for instance, is a game that conveys sadness and melancholy from routine, but because the game chooses to give the player an end-goal (of writing a book) that they do succeed in, the game also shows the nuances of following a routine. This is Ignatov’s intention: “if you stop and take a breath of air, then you might like [Routine Feat]“.

  • On a quiet morning with blue skies, I managed to get all twenty pages of the book written out, and submitted the manuscript to the publisher. What awaits the player is another day at work, but this time around, there’s a faint sense of excitement this time around. Routine Feat doesn’t have a large number of goals, but the office worker’s act of writing a book does advance the story. However, it is worth noting here that Routine Feat does not have any save points, and as such, one must play through several days in order to write all twenty of the requisite pages: leaving the game at any time will reset one’s progress.

  • Earlier today, I had awoken to gorgeous skies and a forecasted high of 26°C. However, it was no typical day: I was set to attend the Calgary Stampede with the company, and to ensure I arrived in time for lunch to begin, I left earlier. Today marked the beginning of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and this event traditionally kicks off with a large parade downtown. The light rail line runs right through the downtown core and intersects with the parade route, so the wisdom of leaving early became apparent. After arriving, I made my way to the Rotary House, which had been marked as closed for a private function (i.e. ours).

  • Once lunch ended, we moseyed on over to the Grandstand for my first-ever rodeo show, which featured Saddle Bronc, Barrel Racing, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Bareback and most exhilarating of all to watch, Bull Riding. The afternoon had begun with the entire grandstand bathed in sunlight, but a cool shadow stole over the venue as the afternoon wore on. While I’ve attended the Calgary Stampede in previous years, I’ve only ever checked out the midway and exhibitions, but otherwise, had never actually seen any rodeo events, so it was quite a unique and memorable experience to watch the events that are at the heart of the Stampede.

  • After enjoying the Unagi Sushi Taco, I ventured into the exhibition halls to see what arts were being displayed. This year, the BMO Centre is undergoing some dramatic changes: like the University of Calgary, which has seen massive construction projects, the Stampede Grounds are being upgraded. They had begun demolishing the Stampede Corral in 2020 after an assessment in 2016 found it was no longer viable to bring the building up to code. At present, the framework to the new structure is up, and it is expected that construction will conclude next summer. Fortunately, the exhibitor hall and Western Oasis art displays were still present, and I cooled off in here with a root beer before heading back home.

  • With today’s events, I’m reminded of why Calgary’s workforce jokingly remark that for 10 days of July, all work grinds to a halt as workers from all occupations take time off, whether it’s personal time or company events, to visit the Stampede. Today was quite far removed from my usual routine: I am usually found sitting at my desk and churning away at my IDE, or else pacing around whilst conceptualising solutions. This Stampede visit was a nice break from routine, and I’m left ready to relax this weekend before returning on Monday to continue with my current assignment.

  • Back in Routine Feat, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter from the publisher and a pile of money in my mailbox after submitting the book. Players receive a small amount of money in their day job in Routine Feat, so to see this kind of money come in would probably be a shock. All of a sudden, melancholy and loneliness turns to joy. In reality, things would happen over a longer timeframe, but the outcomes are undeniable; hard work and perseverance is what brings about success, and having a routine allows one to be able to achieve their goals. Routine Feat works in a meta-gaming perspective: once players figure out the routine, they can easily advance the story and see the office worker realise his dreams.

  • I ended up taking the letter back into my room to read it, and it was a remarkably pleasant feeling: the office worker’s novel turns out to be a smash hit. The publishers have already ordered a hundred thousand copies and expect the book to sell very well. I did notice some HTML tags in the publisher’s letter, and in a few areas in Routine Feat, there are spelling mistakes, but these are comparatively minor, especially considering the rest of the game works smoothly. It felt fantastic to see the office worker succeed in his dreams, and the epilogue suggests that the office worker is able to pursue his own dreams freely now.

  • As a means of celebration, I gathered some of the items from the fridge and made the office worker a very nice meal: the usual eggs on toast was accompanied with sausage, cheese, tomato and cucumber, and then I decided to have an apple and banana, washed down with a glass of milk. Routine Feat automatically restocks the player’s refrigerator every time the player returns home or wakes up, so there’s always sufficient provisions. This aspect of Routine Feat was one I particularly liked, since it showed how while the office worker’s days might be monotonous, he’s still able to support himself well enough to pursue his own interests.

  • To wrap things up, I’ve climbed to the rooftop to get a look at the neighbourhood. There’s a bunch of beers up here, and after successfully publishing a book, it felt appropriate to crack open a beer and enjoy the summer evening. Routine Feat might be simple, but there is no denying that the game is successful with its messages. Further to this, aside from a few rough spots here and there, the game is polished. I’m impressed with how much fun I had in Routine Feat: while the game is not “fun” in a traditional sense, it was very instructive. I relate quite well to the environment and themes that Ignatov sought to convey, and so, Routine Feat became quite refreshing to play through.

Ignatov has expressed that the minimalism in Routine Feat and IT’S WINTER is deliberate: the game’s Steam Store description indicates that the theme is “overwhelming loneliness” that arises in a world dominated by isolation and abandonment. However, even on beautiful summer days with no one else around, Ignatov writes that one may find a sense of peace in taking the time to stop and smell the roses: the game was written with this in mind, and Ignatov has mentioned in an interview that the aim was to create a world that players could get lost in. Interactivity lies at the forefront of things in Routine Feat, and like IT’S WINTER, one can also deliberately choose not to hop on the bus and go to work. Instead, one could whip up a fantastic breakfast with the ingredients in their refrigerator, reorganinise their apartment and clear up the trash strewn about, or even go for a walk around the apartment block and take in the calm melancholy of a gentle morning. While Routine Feat offers this freedom to players, choosing to follow one’s routine by going to work, and then spending a little more time on the office worker’s novel, is where the game’s true genius shines: Routine Feat suggests that although one might seemingly be bound to monotony in their everyday lives, life is also what one chooses to make of things, and the familiarity offered by routine is what makes excitement so remarkable. This is why my own Calgary Stampede experience this year is particularly memorable: it was my first time attending the rodeo show as a part of a company-wide event, and after a lunch at the Rotary House, a rustic event venue, we watched the afternoon’s performances at the grandstand. I never imagined that, a decade after the morning I’d made the call to stay home and press forwards with MCAT revisions, I would have the opportunity to experience the Calgary Stampede in the most traditional way possible. On most days, my routine entails sitting down at my desk, reading through my day’s assignments and then opening an IDE to begin chipping away at my work. To be able to take a break of this sort was especially refreshing, although here, I note that things like the Calgary Stampede are so enjoyable precisely because they represent a break from routine.

Air: A Reflection At Summer’s End

“Isn’t that a romantic thought? That your true self is in the sky!” —Misuzu Kamio

Yukito Kunisaki is a wanderer with an unusual talent: the ability to use limited magic in animating a puppet. He travels from town to town with the aim of supporting himself, while at once seeking out a “Girl in the Sky”, a function he inherited from his late mother. Upon arriving in the coastal town of Kami, and after failing to impress the local children, he falls asleep on the seawall, only to encounter Misuzu Kamino. Enticed by her offer of a free meal, Yukito soon becomes friends with her and manages to convince Haruko Kamio, Misuzu’s foster mother, to allow Yukito to sleep in the garden shed. Yukito also meets Kano Kirishima and Minagi Tohno, coming to learn of a legend from a thousand summers previously. Borne of a curse from the Heian period, when the ancient winged being Kannabi no Mikoto (Kanna) escapes from captivity with the help of Ryūya, a member of her guard, and the Force-sensitive Uraha. While their escape was successful, priests soon caught up to them and cursed Kanna to eternally die and resurrect whenever she discovered love. It turns out that Misuzu was the latest reincarnated form of Kanna, and so, after kindling a friendship with Yukito, she fell in love with him. Misuzu’s story is later recounted from the perspective of a crow named Sora, and it turns out following Yukito’s mysterious departure, Haruko and Misuzu spend more time together as mother and child up until Misuzu’s death. This is Air, the first of the Key adaptations and the second series the Kyoto Animation produced: dating back to 2005, Air nonetheless has a timeless feel to it thanks to Kyoto Animation’s technical prowess, which was apparent even this early in their career, as well as the unusual and riveting story from the source materials itself.

From a narrative standpoint, Air is predominantly about how even if love is a transient state, the treasured moments that two individuals spend together are well worth the pains because they create a unique bond. This love is represented in Air both in terms of familial love, as well as romantic love. Despite their short time together, Yukito grows to care greatly for Misuzu not merely because of her being the individual he was fated to seek out, but because of her kindness. Similarly, in accompanying her and showing her friendship, Misuzu comes to love Yukito. While their time is cut short, their emotions and experiences remain genuine. Following the Summer arc, the bonds between Misuzu and Haruko are developed: having long regarded Misuzu coldly for fear that she would forget her, Haruko decides to make up for the lost time. While building a bond with Misuzu does end up causing Haruko great pain when Misuzu does eventually die of the curse, the pain is offset by Haruko having creating priceless memories and making the most of Misuzu’s remaining days. Then, no matter how short-lived love might be in some cases, it by no way diminishes its authenticity when it does manifest, and that the cost of love is far outweighed by the worth of having had the experience. This imagery is vividly presented in Air, augmented by extensive use of the summer season as a visual backdrop: like love, summer is a beautiful season occasionally marked with inclement weather, and is finite in length. However, it is in this brief period where things are truly magical, and while summers inevitably end, the memories they wrought remain with one forever.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Misuzu Kamio is Air‘s heroine. She is very similar to CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa and Kanon‘s Nayuki Minase in terms of personality, being kind and gentle, with a somewhat immature predisposition at times. While Yukito initially grows tired of her seemingly boundless optimism, her persistence in befriending him leads him to come around. Misuzu was voiced by Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011 and also played Aria‘s Athena Glory, The Girl from the Illusionary World of CLANNAD and Sayuri Kuruta of Kanon.

  • Air is set in the coastal town of Kami, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The choice of location, a quiet town with a small population with a lack of activity, creates a deliberate sense of solitude that forces focus to be on Yukito and Misuzu. Anime taking this approach tend to feel very lonely and melancholy, creating a sense of yearning and wistfulness, and for me, there’s an appeal to series with this particular aesthetic.

  • Yukito comes from a line of sorcerers with the ability to manipulate objects to a limited extent. While is puppeteering skills are initially weak, his time with Misuzu helps him appreciate what his audience seeks from his plays, and over the course of Air, he is able to impress audiences to a greater extent. Of the male protagonists in a Key adaptation, Yukito has the least development of everyone in comparison to Yuuichi and Tomoya, since he’s supposed to represent the player character.

  • A short walk in Kami leads one out of town into the rural areas. The gentle quiet of the countryside amplifies the feeling of isolation, although Yukito is not without good company. He encounters Kano, an unusual girl who wears a ribbon around her wrist to seal her “magic”. It turns out that after coming into contact with a cursed feather, Kano manifested an unusual condition, and the ribbon was meant as a means to help her cope.

  • Aside from setting the standard for Kyoto Animation’s visuals, Air also would set the precedence for the quality of music that would go into its works. Air‘s soundtrack is a timeless collection of vocal pieces from Lia, which capture the empty majesty of the sky, and Jun Maeda’s incidental pieces serve to both set the mood of a moment, as well as convey additional aspects of a character. In particular, Misuzu’s theme, Natsukage, has become a favourite of mine: if there was a single song that captures how the summer feels, then this would be it.

  • Out of the gates, Air makes extensive use of supernatural elements to capture the idea that human emotions, both good and bad, sometimes defy known understanding and therefore can only be captured by means of magic. This is a recurring theme in Jun Maeda’s works – the way things works out in reality sometimes can appear to be the work of a higher power. In Air, the lack of contemporary implements such as phones give the setting a timeless feel, making it feel more plausible for magic to exist as a natural part of the world.

  • Hijiri Kirishima is Kano’s older sister, and after running into Yukito, decides to offer him work. In Kami, Yukito also runs into Minagi and Michiru; the former shares many unusual conversations with Yukito, while the latter is fond of pranking him. While the characters initially appear disconnected, they are all related to an ancient story from a thousand years earlier. Elements of reincarnation and rebirth are present in Air, although it is presented as a curse rather than a blessing.

  • While initially appearing dull and lifeless, Yukito’s background from a family of sorcerers and his connection to the “Girl in the Sky”, coupled with a kind disposition despite his cold appearance, means that he’s an integral part of the story. Over time, he grows to care for Misuzu even as her condition fails: the curse of a thousand years means that when she discovers love, her health and memories fade and condemn her to death.

  • The wide open skies above Kami are deliberately presented as vast: Air itself makes extensive use of imagery associated with birds, flight and feathers to signify a longing to soar into the expansive sky and explore. Society’s rejection is then a refusal to explore what could be, and how despite a laggard society’s effort to suppress curiosity, it will always linger. I imagine this to be a secondary theme in Air, and admit that it took me three revisitations to really get a handle on what the series was about: unlike Kanon and CLANNADAir is a bit more abstract in its presentation.

  • The mysteries in Air are indicative of the notion of curses being extremely long-lived, to the point where for future generations, they simply become something that they adapt to. Yukito and the others are not fully aware of the story, but bits and pieces of it are told over time, filling in the mystery. The feathers will occasionally manifest, and these snow-white feathers of purity speak of bygone times, of something unspoilt and untarnished.

  • Misuzu holds the rather romantic belief that one’s self exists in the skies above, unfettered by worldly concerns and untroubled by the comings and goings of the world. A long time ago, I had a friend who shared similarly romantic beliefs, and although time resulted in our drifting apart, these thoughts remain behind. One wonders what it would be like to have the sort of freedom a bird might, and it attests to humanity’s incredible resourcefulness that we’ve both been able to soar into the air as a bird might with aircraft, as well as replicate the experience with microprocessors and LED screens.

  • Minagi’s story was perhaps the most rushed in Air; after events of her past, Minagi’s own mother forgot about her existence, but Yukito ultimately helps to set things right when he speaks with the irreverent Michiru and determines on how to reach a solution. With things settled, Minagi departs for an unknown destination, and Misuzu collapses unexpectedly, setting in motion the final events of Air.

  • The origins of the thousand-year-old curse is found in the Heian Period, which spanned from 794 AD to 1185 AD. This period was characterised by a substantial Chinese and Buddhist influence, and is known for its artwork. It turns out that long ago, there were winged beings of great power, and society’s fear of them led to their extinction. Samurai Ryūya and Force-sensitive Uraha strive to protect Kanna from the pursuers after they manage to fulfill Kanna’s wish of locating her mother, and eventually, after Kanna is cursed and killed, Ryūya and Uraha conceive a child together with the aim of breaking this curse.

  • The third segment of Air follows things from the perspective of a crow named Sora. Here, Misuzu stands outside on a hot summer’s day. The alternative perspective offers new insight into Misuzu’s world, and that despite her lack of friends, her world is one of optimism and making the most of things. Her appearance in this moment here is the anthropomorphism of what I’ve come to long for in the summer: an encounter with someone like Misuzu or Nagisa in a verdant field and endless skies. Of course, this is just a dream, and given the geographical setting of where I am, such a dream is unlikely to come to fruition.

  • Following Yukito’s disappearance, Haruko resolves to look after Misuzu, whose health worsens by the day. Eventually, Misuzu’s father comes to pick her up, and while the old Haruko would have no objections, over the past while, she’d come to bond with Misuzu and sees her as a daughter. Misuzu’s father reluctantly allows Haruko to look after her for a few more days. With her hair short, Misuzu resembles Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya. Having covered two of Key’s biggest titles, my sights are now set on writing about Kanon: I watched it after finishing CLANNAD and felt it have less of an impact, but the series remains exceptional, worthy of being counted as a masterpiece.

  • While I’ve referred to the town of Air as Kami, the real Kami actually does not have a hill overlooking the sea and is quite flat. Contrasting her initial cold treatment of Misuzu, Haruko comes around and begins regarding her as a proper daughter. Despite their short time together, the memories they share become priceless: each of the three arcs of Air appear to be unified by the idea of how transient and fragile relationships can be, but still have great importance and worth nonetheless. Air covers numerous other themes, as well, but at a very basic, broad level, the theme I’ve found Air to be most forward with is thus.

  • In this post, partially a reflection of Air and partially me reflecting on the last day of August, I’ve featured moments that predominantly have the blues and greens of summer. Air, however, also makes use of other times of day: like KanonCLANNAD and virtually the rest of Kyoto Animation’s works, the colouring and time of day become critical in conveying a certain mood. Intense saturation during the evenings, for example, indicate emotional distress or troubling times.

  • Misuzu’s death is inevitable, and one of the most difficult moments was watching her struggle to stand and walk over to Haruko. Misuzu eventually dies on the beaches she loved, in Haruko’s arms. While the curse appears to claim yet another life, the combination of time, Yukito’s befriending of Misuzu and willingness to return as a crow to retain the lost memories, and Haruko’s accepting of Misuzu as her own daughter, the sum of these actions allows the curse to lift. In this case, Air is really about showing how compassion and kindness has a nontrivial impact in ending even something as powerful as a curse.

  • In the end, the children at the end don’t have any significance to the story. Air is regarded as being somewhat difficult to understand, but in spite of this, still retains a moving story. With Air done, I will be turning my sights towards Kanon at some point. We now enter September, and I’ll be doing reflections on both Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell nan Kilo Motteru once their finales air. Beyond this, I am pushing through Metro Exodus at a high rate and will be looking to finish before mid-month, so there will be posts on this. Finally, Battlefield V will be getting a post, as well: while the game has seen numerous setbacks, there are still a few things to consider, especially as I pass the one-year anniversary of Battlefield V‘s open beta.

Whereas I’ve actually finished Air some years ago, I encountered considerable difficulty until a recent re-watch of the series that led me to consolidate what I had to say about things. Being the earliest of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations, Air bears all of the hallmarks of later series, featuring exceptional presentation of the different stories, and initially, I appreciated Air purely for its technical aspects. The story itself came across as being more challenging to follow, but after revisiting the series and its persistent use of endless blue skies along a quiet coastal town as a backdrop made it explicitly clear that the summer was very much a core aspect of Air. Besides representing a season of life, exploration and possibility, summer also ends more abruptly and noticeably than any other season. It is the season whose presence is most strongly felt, and whose temporal nature is most apparent. As Air is set in the summer, it stood to reason that the choice of season was almost certainly to augment the themes in Air. This connection, on closer inspection, seems very natural: the love portrayed in Air, while transient and short, is very poignant, moving and powerful precisely because it is not endless. Thus, Air seems to also indicate to viewers that the ending of summer is not something to dread or despise, since the finite nature of summer gives more value to the memories created during its course. This is appropriate, given that August now draws to a close, and while winter may approach with a tedious inevitability, there is always the consolation that the days will grow warm again.

Ano Natsu de Matteru: Reflections on the Infinite Skies and Wistfulness of a Past Summer Day

“Summer break was about to start, one we’d never be able to forget. I’m sure everyone felt the same way. Happiness and sadness, even pain, all of it put together in one package. There’ll never be another one like it.”

Kaito Kirishima is a high school student who enjoys recording with an old 8mm video camera belonging to his late grandfather. While out filming one evening, he encounters a extraterrestrial craft that crash lands nearby. The next day, Ichika Takatsuki transfers into their school. Drawn in by her beauty, Kaito invites Ichika to join him and his friends, Tetsuro Ishigaki, Kanna Tanigawa and Mio Kitahara in a summer project. Ichika’s classmate, Remon Yamano also joins in. Under the long summer days, the group work on their film, which Remon claims will have the same quality as a Hollywood production with her helming the script, and also struggle to come to terms with their feelings: Kaiton begins falling in love with Ichika, and Kanna feels increasingly left behind. Meanwhile, Tetsuro also deals with his unreciprocated feelings for Kanna, while Mio longs to make her feelings for Tetsuro known. As the summer progresses, Ichika’s background as an extraterrestrial is revealed. Kaito and his friends have no issue with this, but Ichika protests that her people’s government have begun searching for her, and explains that she arrived on Earth to find an important location. With her time on Earth limited, Kaito and his friends, with help from Remon and her connections to government assets, aid Ichika in finding this location. She ultimately is retrieved by her people, leaving the others with an incomplete film. Some years later during graduation, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio reminisce about the past and watch the now-completed film, suggesting that Ichika had returned at some point to complete it. Airing during the January of 2012, Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer) is counted as the spiritual successor to Please Teacher!, which was also written by Yōsuke Kuroda: it is therefore unsurprising that both works feature similar elements and themes surrounding adolescent relationships and how these impact a group of closely-knit friends both by bringing people closer together and further apart simultaneously, as well as making the most of a moment because of how transient and fleeting experiences can be.

While Ichika, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio’s dealing with their feelings forms the core of Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s conflict, and the sci-fi aspects add an additional dimension of intrigue to the dynamics between Ichika and the others, there is an oft-overlooked component in Ano Natsu de Matteru: similar to its predecessor, Please Teacher!, the anime is set in Nagano, a prefecture known for its mountains and beautiful landscapes. The vast verdant fields, distant mountains, towering clouds and endless blue skies capture the feeling of summer, of openness and opportunity of a long day, but also creates a sense of melancholy. Without the hustle and bustle of a city, or the excitement of a coastal town, the landscape of Nagano paints a simultaneous picture of possibility and of wistfulness. This unending desire, this longing to be with someone. These are unsurprisingly the very same feelings that are experienced during the nascent stage of a relationship, and the choice of a landscape allows Ano Natsu de Matteru to visually represent how each of the characters are feeling. Indeed, the beautiful weather offered by the summertime creates a natural inclination to explore and capitalise on what a long, warm day has to offer. Longing and wistfulness permeate the whole of Ano Natsu de Matteru, and when coupled with the impermanence of certain moments, really adds to the sense that falling in love is a matter of great happiness, as well as of sadness. The use of a landscape to augment the thematic elements is nothing new: Please Teacher! and Yosuga no Sora have both made deliberate use of their respective settings to create another avenue to explore what falling in love feels like. However, in taking after its predecessor, Please Teacher!, Ano Natsu de Matteru uses a rural setting to present longing, rather than loneliness and isolation as Yosuga no Sora had done. Whereas Yosuga no Sora‘s setting allowed the series to convey how lonely the couples were outside of one another, Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please Teacher! both use the long days of summer and a remote setting to present a more positive, if still somewhat melancholy outlook on falling in love.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This first screenshot sets the precedence for what the remainder of the screenshots of this summer-themed post will look like: I’ve chosen to only showcase moments with the endless blue skies of Nagano, and here are the principal characters: from left to right, we have Tetsuro, Kaito, Mio and Kanna. Their entry into the summer season is marked by a sense of longing and of new experiences, especially for Kaito, who encounters Ichika one evening while filming near a pond.

  • Ichika is Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s Mizuho Kazami: this time around, their age gap is much smaller, the concept of “Standstills” is absent, and the difficulties of concealing a marriage is replaced by a much more gentle awkwardness between Kaito and Ichika. Without distinct aspects in Ano Natsu de Matteru, the whole of the story is focused towards those feelings that arise in the summer as a result of long days spent together – compared to Please Teacher!Ano Natsu de Matteru is less comedic and more natural.

  • Four summers ago, I wrote about Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s OVA, which I found to be superbly enjoyable and also a trip down memory lane: this time around, we return to the original run of Ano Natsu de Matteru, which aired during the winter of 2012. During this time, I was in the throes of biochemistry, bioinformatics and cell and molecular biology: while I’d been watching Rinne no Lagrange, and held an interest in Ano Natsu de Matteru, my goal at the time was surviving all of my courses and ensuring I did not drop below satisfactory standing in any of them.

  • Thus, watching Ano Natsu de Matteru was something that ended up being deferred into the late spring and early summer, when I had finished the physics course I had taken to replace the course I’d withdrawn from earlier, and had also made substantial headway into studying for the MCAT. Looking back, it turns out there was a lot more than just CLANNADK-On! The Movie and various Discovery Channel programmes that kept me motivated: watching a host of anime and shows helped me to relax and regroup.

  • There is a beauty about the Japanese inaka (countryside) that is found nowhere else in the world, creating a sense of melancholy and yearning. This is captured especially well in Ano Natsu de Matteru, where the framing creates a sense of distance – the rest of the world seems far away, seemingly a part of the sky itself. This gives the impression of isolation as the characters work out their own feelings: everyone has their own experience with relationships, and the imagery suggests that in the end, it is up to the individuals to determine a solution.

  • While both Ichika and Kaito reciprocate the other’s feelings, an awkwardness surrounds the two that make it difficult for both to be honest and forward with their feelings. To compound things, Kanna also has feelings for Kaito, and Mio has feelings for Tetsuro. Remon, on the other hand, acts as the amused observer, pushing the characters ahead with wisdom that is clearly beyond her apparent age. Remon is the counterpart to Ichigo, who was similarly mature for her physical age as a result of her “Standstill”. Remon lacks any of these problems and ends up playing the role of facilitator, catalysing many of the events that bring Ichika and Kaito closer together.

  • Ever since I received my complimentary Oculus Quest, I’ve only made use of it to play Superhot VR and use Wander, the VR version of Google Street View. The latter has actually been remarkably fun to use, allowing me to truly immerse myself in another location in the comfort of my armchair: I am now able to visit locations such as the fields and valleys of Nagano simply by putting on a headset, forgoing the need to drop a considerable amount of coin and time for flights and accommodations. While VR has advanced in a big way, however, there is no substitute for the real experience, and Wander will not allow me to experience the wistfulness and melancholy of summer love.

  • Kaito ultimately decides to film a movie, which puts his videography skills to use while simultaneously bringing everyone together in such a way so that they spend more time around one another. Remon claims that she’s done work for George Lucas previously and therefore has the qualifications to write a script, which is surprisingly accurate with respect to Ichika’s status as an extraterrestrial. Her easygoing manner implies that she knows a lot more than she appears to, and she maintains a very calm, mischievous demeanour.

  • Kaito’s use of an 8mm video camera to film scenes for the movie creates a sense of nostalgia and timelessness in Ano Natsu de Matteru, rather similar to how Please Teacher! has a very timeless feel to it. A full seven-and-a-half years after its initial airing, Ano Natsu de Matteru still feels current. The absence of contemporary instruments like smartphones has no impact on the story, leaving viewers to focus purely on the relationship challenges and filming process.

  • Mizuho brought the biological terminal, Marie, with her in Please Teacher, and Ichika is similarly accompanied by Rinon, who serves a very similar purpose. Besides managing Ichika’s vessel, Rinon also can teleport Ichika to specific spots and remotely manage Ichika’s gear. While Kei worked hard to conceal Mizuho’s extraterrestrial origins, Kaito’s friends take Ichika’s background in stride once they learn about it, and do not appear too surprised at Rinon’s appearance.

  • While the plains and valleys of Nagano already project a summer atmosphere, the beach and ocean are noticeably absent: the nearest coast is around a hundred kilometres away as the mole digs. By a turn of fate, Tetsuro’s older sister acquires some tickets for a trip to Okinawa and suggests that he use them. Thus, Kaito and the others find themselves on the shores of a beach in Okinawa, enjoying the beautiful weather and beaches in a summer fashion.

  • While Kaito and the others are filming, they run into Kaori Kinoshita and Chiharu Arisawa: Kaori’s known Kaito since childhood, and is overjoyed to encounter him again after all this time. It turns out that she’d come on a trip to Okinawa to escape feeling of despair after she was rejected, seeking a change of scenery to help her forget. There’s definitely a sense of loneliness in Kaori’s story, and because she was not initially forwards with what happened, both Kanna and Ichika get the wrong impression.

  • Despite her own feelings, Kaori agrees to help Kaito and the others out with their movie, showing that at the end of the day, she’s still a kind person at heart. On the other hand, Chiharu is much more aggressive and immediately takes a liking to Tetsuro, who is put off by how forward she is. When he steps away to retrieve something from the cabin, Chiharu immediately confronts him and overpowers him. Intervention from Mio prevents anything from getting out of hand, but also reveals that she’s a nudist.

  • The misconceptions that everyone brings with them to Okinawa are washed away on the shores of the island’s warm, inviting beaches – Kaori and Ichika come into the open about how they feel, Ichika and Kaito sort out some doubts between them, and the conflict between Mio, Tetsuro and Chiharu are rectified after Tetsuro rejects Chiharu’s advances before reassuring Mio that there’s nothing wrong with her nudism. For Kaori, she remarks that while she went to Okinawa to escape from her troubles, it turns out that Chiharu’s heart was broken in the process, showing the tumultuous nature of romantic love.

  • As a result of what’s happened in Okinawa, it becomes clear that the distance between Kaito and Kanna widens, and Mio becomes more confident – having spent most of their time in a jacket, she boldly decides to discard her jacket on their last day on the beaches. One of the points about Ano Natsu de Matteru that I enjoyed thoroughly was that all of the characters proved to be relatable in their own way, showing just how complex and messy love can be.

  • After returning home from Okinawa, Ichika and Kaito draw closer. Remon’s been manipulating things behind the scenes and suggests that everyone visit a local summer festival together, where she’s got a “Test of Courage” planned out. These are common in anime, playing on the individuals’ fear of the dark to get closer to one another. While there is nothing to be feared from the darkness itself, there are dangers associated with running around the forests at night with naught more than a flashlight. It is here that Kanna realises the depth of Kaito’s feelings for Ichika, and where Ichika’s extraterrestrial origins are revealed to everyone.

  • This time of year is marked by the Heritage Day long weekend, and is one of the reasons why I’ve been able to get two posts out on the same day in previous years. This year, I spent the whole of the long weekend constructing new furniture, which includes a new wall unit for hanging onto clothes and a corner desk, which allow me to run a dual-monitor setup. A two-screen setup would have been superbly useful for my university and today, two screens simply increases my efficiency when it comes to blogging. I presently feel that dual monitors might be cool, but otherwise wouldn’t confer much of an advantage in my other tasks. I also spent most of today building a wardrobe closet to replace an ancient one that was falling apart.

  • With Ichika’s revelation, and the fact that the rescue probe was destroyed, Ichika worries that her time on earth will be cut short – her original goal was to find a special spot in her memories, and so, with the clock ticking, the pacing in Ano Natsu de Matteru amps up as the entire group strives to help Ichika complete her goal, while simultaneously finishing their movie before the inevitable moment where Ichika must leave the others.

  • As the drive to finish the movie and find the place in Ichika’s memories increases, so does the emotional intensity surrounding the relationships amongst everyone in the group. Kanna makes her feelings known to Kaito, who gently rejects her, and she in turn rejects Tetsuro. Both Tetsuro and Kanna demonstrate exemplary courage for being open and truthful about their feelings, believing it is better to at least have made an effort than to never attempted at all. Mio is devastated to know of Tetsuro’s feelings, but after his failed kokuhaku with Kanna, she consoles him in her own manner.

  • In relationships, hurt feelings and pain are often inevitable if multiple individuals are involved. Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s outcome is such that Kanna ends up with the short end of the stick: Mio and Tetsuro end up deciding to enter a relationship to see if things could work out, while Katio retains his feeling for Ichika, who reciprocates his feelings. One review I recall reading for Ano Natsu de Matteru, which was written shortly after the series’ finale, making the heartwarming wish that their readers will eventually find their own happiness, as well.

  • Because today is special, I have an inclination to also impart some wisdom that can only accompany the inevitable process of growing older. I feel that this happiness can extend to beyond just relationships, encompassing fulfilment with one’s station in life regarding career and health. A rejection, or several, is not the end of the world, and as much as I say this to my readers, I also say this for myself: there will always be another way. Happiness comes in many forms, and ultimately, a life spent making others happy, no matter what approach one takes, is a life well-spent.

  • After the distress signal is sent, Ichika’s older sister arrives on Earth and immediately sets about trying to bring Ichika back. As it turns out, Ichika’s people are highly evolved and regard humanity as being at a level of technology sufficiently low as to not warrant intervention. Given their ability for FTL and teleportation, it stands to reason that Ichika’s people are at least as advanced as Halo‘s Forerunners.

  • While content to simply manipulate things from behind the scenes, Remon comes out to help Ichika and the others once the extraterrestrials show up. As it turns out, she’s a member of the Men In Black (whose membership also include Will Smith, Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson), an organisation that specialises in dealing with extraterrestrials. They possess a range of high-tech equipment that seem moderately effective against the droids that Ichika’s people send to retrieve her.

  • With the feelings between Ichika and Kaito apparent, and remaining conflict between Kanna and Ichika resolved, the final segments of Ano Natsu de Matteru deal with the rush to locate the spot Ichika was originally looking for. The science fiction elements come to play here: having been subtly present throughout the series, space aliens and technology exceeding that of human comprehension are openly employed here to create a memorable climax.

  • For folks wondering, I have indeed finished Please Teacher! by now: having been intrigued by Ano Natsu de Matteru, I decided to check it out. The similarities are very visible, although the latter is much gentler in mood and features more humour than the former, which is more serious by comparison. Despite their similarities, the thematic aspects of Please Teacher! differ from those of Ano Natsu de Matteru, showing the importance of constantly moving forwards and making the most of the hand one is dealt, as well as how there are limits to persistence.

  • My original interest in Please Teacher! actually stemmed from the fact that Mizuho is voiced by Kikuko Inoue, who provided the voice to Ah! My Goddess‘ Belldandy. At the time, I was still relatively new to anime and was curious to know what other series Inoue appeared in. However, a combination of a busy schedule resulting from making the transition from high school to university meant that Please Teacher! fell to the back of my mind, and it was only with Ano Natsu de Matteru in conjunction with time that I managed to finish the series some seven years after I started.

  • Ultimately, Ichika and Kaito are able to reach the coordinates that the former had been searching for: it’s a tree by a nondescript pond bearing an ai ai kasa carved onto a tree. It turns out that the extraterrestrials had been to Earth previously and presumably found the spot worth remembering. In the present day, the extraterrestrials receive memories of this location, as well, and with this, Ichika is retrieved, parting ways with Kaito.

  • With Ichika gone, Remon transfers back to the Men In Black. She leaves Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio with the incomplete film, but some time later, the group of friends decide to show the now-completed film at a school festival shortly before their graduation. The memories of a long-distant summer remain as vivid as though they’d happened yesterday, but the film’s completion indicates that Ichika was able to return again.

  • While I’ve been reiterating that wistfulness and yearning permeate Ano Natsu de Matteru, folks with more familiarity than myself have also described this series as nostalgic. They refer to the exploration of Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s thematic elements, which, while nothing innovative or novel, nonetheless comes across as being authentic, genuine and sincere. However, the timeless setting of Ano Natsu de Matteru also brings about a wish to revisit the older days, when things were simpler. In this sense, nostalgia is very much a part of Ano Natsu de Matteru.

I’d actually been meaning to write about Ano Natsu de Matteru for quite some time: a few summers ago, I wrote about the OVA, which was an epilogue of sorts for the series. When I picked Ano Natsu de Matteru up, it was the summer of 2012, a time when I was preoccupied with studying for the MCAT, and upon finishing the series, I found it an enjoyable coming-of-age story that showed how awkward love matures into something more full-fledged and meaningful through persistence. Ano Natsu de Matteru‘s setting contributed greatly towards accentuating the different emotions that each of Ichika, Kaito, Tetsuro, Kanna and Mio felt and correspondingly, the enjoyment factor. However, in addition to the setting, Ano Natsu de Matteru also possesses a cast of relatable characters whose actions and emotions are plausible, the appropriate dose of science fiction, a balance between the dramatic and comedic, and finally, excellent opening and ending songs that fully convey the different emotions that Ichika and the others experience throughout the series. Ray’s Sign captures a very Kotoko-like tenour akin to that seen in Please Teacher’s opening, which had a very upbeat but distant feel, while Mami Kawada’s In The Forest of The Sky and Yanagi Nagi’s Bedoro Moyo share a slower, more melancholy pacing. The similarities between Ano Natsu de Matteru and Please Teacher! resulted in my eventually checking out the latter, and I found a very similar series with its own unique merits when I finished: Ano Natsu de Matteru is much lighter in tone and can be seen as being more approachable. Overall, I credit Ano Natsu de Matteru with establishing my association of the summertime with the juxtaposition between exploration and longing: for the longest time, I struggled to put these thoughts into words, accounting for why I’ve not fully reviewed Ano Natsu de Matteru. With this in mind, I have no trouble recommending this series for viewers seeking a romance-comedy with a science fiction flair and hope that anyone who’s seen this, or are planning on seeing it, find (or found) it as enjoyable as I did.