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Terrible Anime Challenge: An Unexpected Journey in Machikado Mazoku

“In those days, I was always on time. I was entirely respectable, and nothing unexpected ever happened.” –Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

When high school student Yūko Yoshida awakens with horns and a tail one day, she learns that she’s the latest descendent in a family of dæmons that was cursed to poverty by the forces of light. Yūko learns from Lilith, her ancestor that, in order to break free from this curse, she must defeat the area’s magical girl, Momo Chiyoda. However, things don’t go quite so smoothly: Yūko has limited magical prowess but no physical strength whatsoever, and her efforts to thwart Momo invariably end up in failure. Over time, Yūko begins to grow concerned for the stoic and unsociable Momo: despite being enemies officially, the two gradually come to care for one another. When Momo falls ill, she inadvertently wipes away some of Momo’s blood with a cloth that comes into contact with the statue of her ancestor, fulfilling the terms of the prophecy and lifting the curse on the Yoshida family. This comes at a cost to Momo, whose powers diminish, and she asks for Yūko’s help in defending their city. Yūko thus begins training under Momo more frequently, meets Mikan, another magical girl, and over time, develops a genuine desire to learn more about Momo. In the process, she discovers the truth behind her family’s situation, and confronts Momo about it. Momo reveals that she’s long been wanting to search for her older sister but is bound to her duty. While Yūko proposes swaying Momo to the Dark Side, Momo refuses on the condition that Yūko has yet to properly best her. Machikado Mazoku (The Demon Girl Next Door) was originally a four-panel manga running in Manga Time Kirara Carat and was adapted into an anime in the summer of 2019.

Shortly after I began watching Machikado Mazoku, I found myself superbly bored: Yūko resembles the comic villain with no discernible method towards achieving her goal, and early in the series, she suffered endlessly for comedy’s sake. However, as Machikado Mazoku progressed, my boredom gave way to engagement, and then enthusiasm as I watched the dynamic between Momo and Yūko mature. When everything is said and done, Machikado Mazoku is about the unexpectedness of life, and how things can still work out in curious ways despite the path being quite crooked and uncertain. For Yūko, her initial assignment of obtaining blood of a magical girl and offering it to Lilith seems daunting owing to how weak she is. However, rather than the traditional route of training having any tangible impact, Yūko’s sense of compassion and empathy allows her to take a different approach in fulfilling her task. Her success ultimately comes when she least expects it, and she “defeats” Momo no through strength of arms alone, but rather, through kindness. By taking the well-worn concept of light-versus-dark and inverting it, Machikado Mazoku shows that long-standing grievances and conflicts may no longer make sense after generations, paving the way for a new approach Yūko can take even in spite of her decidedly-inferior combat capabilities. In doing so, Yūko ends up doing something her ancestors could not: become friends (in all but name) with her mortal enemy. The end result is incredibly heart-warming, and fits Machikado Mazoku‘s endearing theme – friendship and kindness is far more effective of a tool than force and hostility, leading Yūko to a solution that had, until now, been difficult to resolve, giving Yūko a new status quo to learn and navigate.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I did Machikado Mazoku as a part of the Terrible Anime Challenge because I had procrastinated on watching it, and therefore only knew of the series that it was a particularly well-received one. However, when I started, the anime felt a bit weaker, counting on gag humour like Momo’s nanosecond transformations and Yūko’s endless low-level misfortunes to carry the humour throughout each episode.

  • However, as Machikado Mazoku continued, the series became increasingly engaging: the early episodes are deliberately slower simply because the time is used to give viewers a good measure of Yūko and Momo’s characters. As it stood, neither would clash in a titanic battle that Yūko’s ancestor, Lilith, envisioned, and viewers would need to get used to this fact, as well: Machikado Mazoku is an adaptation of a Manga Time Kirara work and therefore, bears the hallmarks of other series in this category, possessing lovable characters and situations that evoke a sense of pathos.

  • Yūko is voiced by Konomi Kohara, who is currently voicing Koisuru Asteroid‘s very own Chikage Sakurai (one more reason why I’ve taken such a fondness to her character). Besides Yūko and Chikage, Kohara has also voiced Azur Lane‘s HMS Sheffield and Domestic na Kanojo‘s Miu Ashihara. Kindhearted and caring for those around her, Yūko’s greatest weakness is her general lack of physical and mental prowess, leaving her quite unable to take the fight to magical girls as she’d hoped. Her family is cursed and unable to make and spend more than 40000 Yen (538 CAD at the time of writing) per month; this curse is what motivates Yūko to live up to her ancestry and lift the curse once and for all.

  • One of the most hilarious parts of Machikado Mazoku is the little statue that Yūko carries around with her: it is the vessel for Lilith, her ancestor’s spirit, and this statue, like Yūko, is subject to all sorts of misfortune, being dropped, thrown, kicked and used as a paperweight in spite of its status as an heirloom. In such times, Yūko pitifully shouts out gosenzo-sama! in response, although owing to the statue’s properties, Lilith never suffers from any lasting damage.

  • Lacking the strength to face Momo in a one-on-one, Yūko considers use of weapons or magic to assist her, but these are so shoddily constructed they would not even harm ordinary humans. This was probably meant to show that conventional means will not be effectual in Yūko’s situation, but it doubles as a moment of comedy, as well. Most of Machikado Mazoku‘s early episodes follow Momo’s misinterpretation of Yūko’s actions as a desire to get stronger, and as such, feature hilarious incidents surrounding Yūko’s weak abilities, many of which end with her running off in frustration, shouting out to Momo that things aren’t over yet.

  • When Yūko takes on a part-time job to help make ends meet, she learns of Momo’s poor lifestyle choices and recommends that she pick up some of the cocktail wieners. The next day, Momo reveals her lunch will consist solely of these cocktail wieners and hot dog buns. Surprised at how Momo lives, Yūko begins to take a greater hand in looking after Momo, and while she outwardly asserts that this is to have a fair fight when the time is right, the reality is that Yūko’s kind heart influences her decision-making more so than her ancestry and its associated obligations.

  • The Yoshida family is ultimately an adorable one: after Momo lends Yūko a laptop so that her younger sister, Ryoko, can learn the art of image processing and editing, Yūko barely manages to get home, but then spills a foreign liquid on the laptop. The entire family dissolves into a panic, but it turns out Momo had foreseen this and protected the laptop with a shock, impact and liquid resistant case. Such is life with the Yoshida family, whom, in spite of their misfortunes, are very happy people.

  • When Momo falls ill, Yūko pays her a visit to ensure she’s alright. She ends up cooking for Momo, and when Momo sustains a small cut, Yūko helps her clean this wound up. Unbeknownst to her, this blood comes into contact with Lilith’s statue, and from this point on, the curse afflicting the Yoshida family is lifted. It marks a major shift in Machikado Mazoku, and it was here that my interest in the anime shifted from one of moderate interest, to full engagement. The effect of something this subtle has non-trivial effects on Momo, who becomes weaker from the experience overall.

  • With the curse gone, the Yoshidas celebrate with onokonomiyaki, with Yūko treasuring the moment. Throughout the anime, I’ve long felt that Yūko’s mother, Seiko, bears a strong resemblance to Non Non Biyori‘s Hotaru Ichijo in manner and appearance: doing her best for Yūko’s sake, she’s soft-spoken and gentle in disposition. Once Yūko is given a bit more agency, Machikado Mazoku becomes much more fun to watch, and it is here that the slower, more repetitive jokes of the first half give way to a more spirited series.

  • While out for work, Yūko encounters another magical girl, Mikan. With Momo’s remark about the existence of magical girls more powerful than herself, Yūko immediately panics, fearing that Momo’s weakened state has caused the Light Clan to send in someone to clean up the mess. Mikan, of course, is not heavy cavalry, and simply happens to run into Yūko, growing worried about her in the process. Yūko becomes a moment away from relieving herself, and engages her 危機管理 (Hepburn kiki-kanri, jyutping ngai4 gei1 gun2 lei5, literally “Crisis Management”) form in a desperate bid for freedom.

  • Yūko’s entry into the transformation is adorable: shouting 危機管理 when she’s distressed will start what is one of the most fun transformation sequences I’ve seen in any anime, featuring an adorable piece of incidental music. The end result is that Yūko is given a slight boost in all of her attributes at the expense of leaving her in an immodest outfit. This renders her about as physically and mentally capable as the average person (consider the parallel in that, for the rotund Jedi, his Force Leap is your regular jump). The phrase “crisis management” is awkward-sounding in English, as it has six syllables to the original Japanese’s four, but after it was introduced, I came to look forwards to seeing the circumstances that would compel Yūko to transform.

  • While Mikan and Yūko start on the wrong note, they do get along with one another, even though one of Mikan’s core eccentricities is that she causes localised disasters to manifest whenever she becomes flustered. Highly unique traits to an individual are a commonality in Manga Time Kirara works, and I remember a time when these traits formed the basis for the discussion throughout the course of a series. I’ve never been too focused on these elements, since exaggerated personal characteristics and idiosyncrasies are mean to accentuate the idea that everyone in a series is unique.

  • Mikan’s arrival in Machikado Mazoku adds life to the series, keeping things fresh: the dynamic between Yūko and Momo have reached a sort of equilibrium now, with the two helping one another out where they can, and while this remains endearing, Mikan shuffles things up a little. Over time, Yūko begins to get closer to Mikan as well, spending a day with her at the movies to help her reign in her curse.

  • The joy of watching Manga Time Kirara adaptations is that such series are inevitably relaxing, and from a big picture perspective, almost always have a heartwarming but relevant life lesson to convey. Machikado Mazoku‘s is that one’s path in life is uncertain, and unexpected things can happen, but the unexpected isn’t necessarily bad, and moreover, can lead to positive things happening, provided one maintains an equally open-minded outlook on things. There is a very famous example, of course, on how the unexpected can be a good thing in the long run: J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit is about this, and the protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, comes away from his quest to help dwarves take back Erebor a different Hobbit, indirectly setting the stage for his nephew, Frodo, to save Middle Earth from Sauron’s influence and usher in a new Age of peace.

  • Yūko herself resembles a pet or small child in mannerisms, and one cannot help but feel simultaneous pity and happiness whenever she encounters a setback. However, Machikado Mazoku manages to up the ante when the girls attempt to give Lilith a physical body to inhabit. Done purely out of vain curiosity, the resulting product is so cute that screenshots and words are insufficient to describe what goes down. When Lilith realises she has mobility, she begins plotting Momo’s downfall, only to learn that Momo’s caught every word, and the link they share is apparently bidirectional. As punishment, Momo has Lilith perform dances.

  • Ryoko is highly astute and mature for her age, doing her best to support Yūko in her duties through means of research and scientific approaches. In spite of this, she’s absolutely convinced that Yūko is far more successful than she is, viewing Yūko’s friendship with Momo and Mikan as a sign that she’s got control over two magical girls. Yūko, Momo and Mikan only agree to keep things up for Ryoko’s sake, but from a certain point of view, the dynamic of friendship amongst the three can be seen as an exercise of soft power in that, should the need arise, Yūko could call in a favour or two from Momo and Mikan as friends. The unconditional trust and understanding in a friendship is more powerful than the relationship in the sort of master-slave dynamic that Ryoko imagines.

  • In Machikado Mazoku, Yūko is typically referred to as “Shamiko” (Shadow Mistress Yūko) for short, a consequence of Momo shortening her full title into something that rolls off the tongue more casually. Yūko initially rejects this nickname, but as she spends more time with Momo, her objection to this nickname dissipates. Lilith is referred to as “Shamicen”.

  • Towards the end of Machikado Mazoku, it is revealed that Momo’s older sister was directly responsible for the Yoshida’s circumstances: to ensure Yūko had as healthy of a childhood as possible despite the curse, she intervened and exchanged their father’s existence for Yūko’s health. Their father is now the box in the centre of this screenshot, and the girls suddenly realise that this box is extraordinarily durable. Momo believes that Yūko does have every right to hate her, but instead, Yūko wants nothing more than to talk things out with Momo.

  • In talking to Momo, Yūko learns that Momo’s biggest desire is to find her now-missing sister, and offers to sway Momo over to the Dark Side of the Force: if Momo were to turn away from being a magical girl, then she’d no longer have those obligations and be free to do as she wished. Momo considers this, but ultimately rejects it, feeling the tradeoff to be too costly and noting that Yūko still has a ways to go yet before she can be leading anyone. This one moment shows the impact of soft power, that Yūko and Momo’s friendship has grown to the point where Yūko can at least get someone like Momo to consider joining the Dark Side: such a feat would have been impossible at Machikado Mazoku‘s beginning.

  • Overall, Machikado Mazoku lived up to expectations: the community painted it as an excellent series (at least, the community that isn’t Tango-Victor-Tango and their small-minded critics), and while this is not apparent early in the series, having the patience to continue on is met with a strong payoff. This anime is not terrible by any stretch, and using the scoring system, I have no trouble giving Machikado Mazoku a solid 8.5 of ten, an A- (3.7 of 4.0). With this post in the books, a look ahead at the calendar shows that we are nearing the end of the winter season, meaning I will be focusing on Koisuru Asteroid‘s final two episodes, Magia Record after its finale airs, Heya CampΔ and Azur Lane‘s remaining two episodes.

The unexpected directions and twists in Machikado Mazoku, in conjunction with an engaging cast of characters, made the journey through this series worth it. In particular, Yūko’s character was particularly well-written: she is designated as the show’s punching bag and therefore is prone to an uncommon level of suffering relative to the other characters. This typically comes to a series’ detriment; any time a character is made to suffer unnecessarily, it detracts from the comedy. However, for Yūko, her misfortunes are minor, setbacks are temporary, and over the long run, Yūko sees several minor wins that, while seemingly inconsequential, have a knock-on effect on her life for the better. Consequently, the misfortunes Yūko encounters, and her ensuing reactions, are not so different than gently teasing a small child or pet and watching their endearingly heart-melting responses. Owing to its execution and outcomes, Machikado Mazoku is a series whose charm lies in its ability to demonstrate how even polar opposites may coexist in hitherto unexplored ways, and moreover, is a shining example of the virtues of patience: while I had been unimpressed with Machikado Mazoku after three episodes, the series really picked up and kept me excited as it continued. Had I followed through with my usual approach of watching three episodes to decide on a series’ worthwhileness, I would have likely missed out on something phenomenal, so I am glad to have stuck this one through.

Terrible Anime Challenge: On Poor Decisions and Pushing the Limits of Viewer Endurance in School Days

有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒 –Cantonese Idiom

Makoto Ito grows enamoured with Kotonoha Katsura after running into her every morning on the train, and shares with Sekai Saionji, a spirited classmate who agrees to help him get closer to Kotonoha. However, as Sekai provides tips and creates situations that push Makoto and Kotonoha (who returns Makoto’s feelings) together, Sekai begins to develop feelings for Makoto. After a few dates where his advances are deemed hasty, Sekai offers to provide “lessons” to Makoto. After a group outing to the local water park, Makoto begins to grow listless and begins pursing a relationship with Sekai. The two manage to keep this secret until Kotonoha overhears Sekai declaring her love to Makoto. She refuses to believe it, even in spite of having caught the two kissing earlier. However, with Sekai spending more time with Makoto, Setsuna, Sekai’s best friend, begins to believe that Makoto is dating Sekai. She wants Kotonoha out of the picture, but Makoto, feeling remorse at having left Kotonoha alone, promises to dance with her at the school’s culture festival. When the culture festival comes, Makoto learns that Setsuna never really forgot about how’d they met, and after a day’s work, Setsuna kisses an exhausted Makoto while Kotonoha sees this go down. On the second day of the culture festival, Otome, a classmate of Makoto who’d known him since middle school, takes him to a special “break room” where she forks Makoto’s branch. As the culture festival, Makoto regenes on his promise to Kotonoha and dances with Sekai instead. However, Setsuna is not convinced that Makoto is separated from Kotonoha and aggressively kisses him in front of her. When Sekai sees the secretly-captured footage, she demands to see Makoto, but runs into a depressed Kotonoha. Sinking into a depression herself, Sekai begins skipping school, while Makoto boffs Hikari. Soon after, Otome’s friends begin taking Makoto on a twelve-city all-percussion concert. When Sekai develops nausea and vomits, she assumes she’s pregnant with Makoto’s child and announces it to the class. Makoto’s so-called friends-with-benefits distance themselves from him, and while out looking for someone to shag, runs into Kotonoha. Realising the hurt he’s caused her, he apologises and tearfully embraces her. Kotonoha and Makoto go out for dinner, and upon returning to his apartment, he encounters Sekai. They fight, and Kotonoha forcefully kisses Makoto, prompting Sekai to leave. Pressured by Kotonoha and Makoto to abort the unborn foetus, Sekai seeks to talk with Makoto, but recalling the pain he’s caused, she stabs him to death instead. When Kotonoha arrives, she’s driven over the edge by Makoto’s corpse. Kotonoha calls Sekai out to the school rooftop, where she executes Sekai and disembowels her, learning Sekai had lied about being pregnant. Taking Makoto’s remains with her, Kotonoha rides into the sunrise on a sailboat and proclaims she can spend eternity with Makoto. This is School Days, an anime whose reputation preceded it, and a series I had adamantly refused to watch until the Twitter anime community compelled me to do so. For my troubles, I was rewarded with a series whose thematic elements is about as subtle as a brick through a window.

“All hail the conquering hero. Let us remember him as our protector and not the one who gave us…this. As our saviour, and not our betrayer! Let us see him forever as you, and not as you. All hail the conquering hero, the one who was supposed to save us all! But now, I must save us…from you.” -Kotonoha Katsura, #TeamKotonoha

“This…is this what you wanted? Is this what you were looking for? Was everything you’ve compromised, everything you’ve done, worth it? Was it? Your relationship is over, Makoto. Mine is just beginning.” –Sekai Saionji, #TeamSekai

Despite its rather nasty and brutish reputation owing to its ending, through its rather vivid and overt imagery, School Days‘ core theme ultimately speaks to the price of indecision, infidelity and a lack of faith. Makoto begins his journey as being infatuated with Kotonoha, but Sekai’s interference causes his heart to waver, and throughout School Days, he devolves from a caring and kind individual into someone who cares little for those around him beyond the pleasures of the flesh. In its original form as a visual novel, School Days allowed players to take Makoto on a moving story where he chooses someone and cultivates a meaningful and honest relationship, or make enough mistakes that would cost him everything. However, mirroring the knife’s edge that life sometimes is, mistakes hit and hit hard: the anime adaptation of School Days shows just how perilous of a dance relationships are: the possibility for error lies around every corner, and when one ill turn deserves another, Makoto ends up paying the ultimate price for building multiple, simultaneous relationships around lust and lies. The visceral conclusion of School Days therefore acts as a grim warning to those who lack the commitment and ability to take responsibility for their actions. Throughout School Days, Makoto is shown as making the decisions that consistently worsen his situation, and while his actions might be seen as being so poorly placed that one might have to consciously be aware of them to make them willingly, this aspect of School Days is one that is forgiven on the virtue that Makoto, Kotonoha and Sekai, whose age means that their frontal lobes have not yet been fully developed, are being driven by their hormones and irrational desire rather than a mediated course of action rooted in reason. As such, School Days covers off this particular aspect that may come across as jarring; younger characters with a propensity towards decisions that adults will find irrational means that there is little benefit to attempt an analysis on why Makoto chooses to act in the way that he does. The answer to this lies with the narrative: in order to convey the costs of unfaithfulness and lies, Makoto necessarily must act in a way that allows the story to both highlight the consequences, as well as showcase what kind of outcomes can exist in the visual novel. At the expense of portraying Makoto as a degenerate piece of scum, School Days succeeds in its original function.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • What starts out as a basic romance-drama very quickly devolves into a tragedy brought on by hubris and a complete disregard of the consequences: one episode into School Days, the viewer with no familiarity would not be aware that the anime would venture into territory that would evoke a strong sense of revulsion in viewers. At the story’s beginning, Makoto is spurred on by Sekai to pursue a relationship with Kotonoha, and things start out with a sort of innocence and excitement that brings to mind the atmosphere seen something like Da Capo.

  • As a Terrible Anime Challenge, School Days falls into the camp of “it lived up to existing expectations set by the community”: the anime is infamous, and this reputation is well-earned. However, having now seen the entire series, the outcome where Makoto pays the ultimate price for his lack of commitment does not seem so outrageous, and in fact, the challenge I faced in watching this series ended up coming from how Kotonoha was treated, and the generally flippant attitude Makoto was portrayed as having as the series wore on. Encouragement from the Twitter community was ultimately what led me to keep going.

  • I never would have watched School Days of my own volition, but a challenge from the anime Twitter community led me to join a group of anime bloggers in watching this series. Over the course of the discussion, I’ve seen attempts to rationalise Makoto’s behaviour, but I never really found them satisfactory, since Makoto’s actions seem to be guided by baser instinct rather than anything resembling logic. Freud is similarly irrelevant here since, even if we take his theories to hold true, there is no conflict between the id, ego and super-ego as Freud would have envisioned – Makoto is all about plowing as many people as he can get his grubby mitts on, even in the knowledge he is going to hurt Kotonoha in the process.

  • The page quote I’ve chosen for this talk, comes from a Cantonese idiom “有敬酒唔飲飲罰酒” (jyutping jau5 ging3 zau2 m4 jam2 jam2 fat6 zau2, literally “refusing to drink wine offered to you, and drinking the cursed wine instead”) that roughly approximates to “refusing a favourable offer only to take punishment”. In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase is rendered as “敬酒不吃吃罚酒” (pinyin jìng jiǔ bù chī chī fá jiǔ, where one “eats” the wine rather than drinks it): I’ve using colloquial Cantonese in mine simply because it’s more amusing that way.

  • How does the page quote fit in with the themes of School Days, one asks? The answer is simple enough: Makoto is given a perfectly good setup and the path forwards seems clear, but he ends up picking the set of decisions that end up being the worst for him. Hence, instead of taking something favourable, he takes the cursed route instead. With that cleared up, I offer a screenshot in lieu of a lengthier explanation as to why I’m on #TeamKotonoha, in the knowledge that this is probably not an adequate reason. From this moment alone, I knew that I was watching the uncensored version of School Days and would be getting the full experience later down the line.

  • While Freud is useless throughout School Days, Makoto’s actions are probably best described as a very visual and tangible description of the shortcomings of greedy algorithms. These algorithms work by trying to do what’s best at the current step with the aim of finding some global optima. Further to this, greedy algorithms are designed make whatever choice seems best in the moment, and then solve any problems that arise later. However, in practise, greedy algorithms typically fail to find the global optima, usually get stuck on some local optimum instead, and may even find what’s known as a “unique worst possible solution”, which is the worst possible outcome (e.g. in a travelling salesman problem, the longest path that can be taken to hit all of the vertices in a graph).

  • Makoto’s behaviour mirrors that of a greedy algorithm in that at some point in School Days, he acts in a way that satisfies his biological urges in that instant, which is a local optima. Whenever the situation changes, Makoto acts in such a way as to ensure that he can continue sating his desires in the moment, without considering the consequences of his actions. This is evident in how Makoto jumps between Sekai and Kotonoha early in the series, falling on Sekai to fix any problems that arise with Kotonoha, and then eventually growing “bored” of Kotonoha enough to openly mess around with Sekai.

  • In practise, greedy algorithms are usually frowned upon because they don’t provide a global optima as a result of not knowing all of the data available. However, there are some scenarios where they are utilised. In particular, networking solutions often have made use of greedy algorithms to reasonable success, and greedy algorithms are generally faster from a time complexity perspective, making them acceptable for approximating solutions. I’ve now given readers the elevator pitch equivalent to greedy algorithms: School Days captures what the risks of using greedy algorithms are in an anime format spaced out over twelve episodes, and while one might not recall all of the terms, this is how I’d describe a greedy algorithms to folks who don’t have a computer science background.

  • Of course, for folks looking to learn more, there’s plenty of materials out there, and I won’t bore readers any further with what belongs in a university, rather than an anime blog. Makoto’s infidelity initially has limited fallout: he’s struggling to choose between Kotonoha and Sekai. The problem is compounded by the fact that Sekai’s friends, Setsuna and Hikari among them, seem to think that Makoto is dating Sekai. Sekai’s initial desire to help Makoto does not have any altruistic motives: she hopes that over time, Makoto will break up with Kotonoha and then be with her.

  • The topic of altruism is a challenging one, and this was one of the papers that I wrote for my second university course on research methods and the fundamentals of logic in persuasive writing. One of the biggest strikes against evolutionary altruism was the idea that altruistic acts, seemingly selfless, actually help the individual committing it to begin with, and the individuals knows this, hence their decision to do something that may lower their fitness in the short term. This may take the form of reciprocal altruism (i.e. “if I help you, you’ll help me”). From Sekai’s perspective, School Days supposes that true altruism does not exist, and she’s clearly expecting some form of payoff in the long term.

  • After the culture festival, School Days takes a nose dive and sends Makoto on what would be known as a “non-recoverable” path: once Setsuna kisses him and reveals her desire to have him be with Sekai, as well as recalling that she did have feelings for him to some extent, Makoto’s moral compass takes a total leave of absence, and Makoto’s decisions become increasingly poor, making it impossible to sympathise with him: while he’d been agonising over whether Sekai or Kotonoha was a better partner and was subject to difficult choices early in School Days, after this point, any sympathy a viewer may have had for him disappears entirely.

  • The other two quotes on this page are from Halo 5‘s #HuntTheTruth marketing campaign. Both quotes are chosen to mirror the different factions’ thoughts on Makoto: Sekai seems less literate and would talk in blunt terms, while Kotonoha is well-read and would therefore be more poetic. There are some who believe Sekai is the better choice for Makoto, and others (like myself) who hold that Kotonoha is the winner. The latter would vote #TeamKotonoha, and the former would back #TeamSekai. My reasons for being on #TeamKotonoha are simple enough: Kotonoha’s loyalty and unwavering feelings mean that she embodies commitment, a trait I admire and respect in people. In the end, Sekai comes across as being an interfering busybody who created her own demise.

  • As School Days wears on, Kotonoha begins to be neglected and mistreated, both by those around her and the circumstance that Makoto’s put her in. Feeling bad for Kotonoha becomes an inevitability, doubly so owing to the fact that viewers have seen Kotonoha’s younger sister, Kokoro, and the joy that she expresses at the thought of Makoto becoming Kotonoha’s partner. Thus, even without actively knowing, Makoto will end up hurting Kokoro, as well, with his decisions. Having not played School Days myself, I cannot say for sure whether or not it’s possible to save Makoto with good decisions if we’ve already gone down this path: perhaps one would need to mod the Infinity Stones into School Days in order to save Makoto from himself.

  • Of course, if we consider things from a more rooted perspective, Makoto is quite beyond salvation. Seeing Kotonoha in this state was particularly difficult, and it was ultimately this piece, coupled with Makoto’s blinding arrogance and stupidity that made School Days a difficult series to watch: School Days never got to a point where I felt an inclination to stop watching, but I’ve never done well with seeing good people made to experience terrible things. Kotonoha’s suffering only really began after she met Makoto, and when Otome learns of this, she does everything in her power to make life difficult for Kotonoha, as well.

  • Towards the end of School Days, Makoto begins getting it on with everyone within arms’ reach: during the culture festival, he and Otome end up screwing one another in the secret “relaxation lounge”, which was subsequently filmed and broadcast for the whole world to check out. It’s a crippling blow to Sekai, and coupled with Setsuna’s sudden departure for France, proves too much to handle: she begins skipping school wholesale after.

  • Before we enter the final stages of this School Days discussion, I’ll provide a brief overview of the community initiative that sent me down this path: it’s called AniTwitWatches, and involves watching older anime in real time to discuss them. The criteria for inclusion is that the anime must be available by legal means, and each Monday, participants will offer snippets of their thoughts on that week’s episode. The programme is a relatively new one, having started in July 2019, and I joined the School Days party later on the game, motivated by a friendly group of participants and a desire to see what would happen if I pushed myself through a show I had adamantly refused to watch.

  • The outcome of this was a host of bad jokes and wisecracks that I’m sure alienated the community. In spite of this, I am still invited to participate on the next one, so I’ll have to reassure the others that I’ll play a little nicer. Girls’ Last Tour appears to be the anime of choice, which is an excellent one. This series, I remember best for its surprisingly deep and meaningful messages despite a seemingly simple setup. I will have much more to share with AniTwitWatches on this one than just bad jokes.

  • Once Kotonoha is spurned, her eyes take on a dull character that became iconic of all yanderes in later works; she spends several episodes in a right state, exhibiting signs of delusion as she acts as though she’s still with Makoto. When Makoto realises the extent of the damage his actions have caused, he takes her back. Life returns to Kotonoha’s eyes. Entering the final episode, whose outcome is so infamous that it is no longer counts as a spoiler, I admit that I was glad to watch this one reach its conclusion.

  • While I’ve no qualms showing blood, guts and gore on this blog (see my DOOM and Wolfenstein posts), intuition tells me that, were I to show Sekai killing Makoto and leaving him to bleed out, or Kotonoha disemboweling Sekai, the search engines would not take to that too kindly. I’ve stated this before, but I’ve never had any trouble with over-the-top violence in video games, whereas in anime, gore nauseates me. I’m not sure why this is the case, but primarily for my own sanity (and a lack of desire to see this blog scrubbed from search engines), I’ve therefore left the most explicit moment of School Days out and leave the curious reader to check the series out for themselves.

  • Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge post, I’ll need to provide a scoring summary of School Days. I think it would be fair to assess this series a B- (7 of 10, or 2.7 on a 4-point scale): having a very clear story and message works in School Days‘ favour, and Kotonoha is hawt. However, between all of the characters who come across as little more than assholes, I saw no incentive to follow anyone to see them improve over time: I believe School Days marks the first series I’ve seen where characters regress as time passes. There’s no reason to root for anyone save Kotonoha, and viewers feel a perverse sense of satisfaction when the characters suffer (again, save Kotonoha). I’m not about this life, and I’m much happier seeing people make discoveries that make them better for their troubles.

Prior to the Twitter community’s decision to watch School Days, this anime had admittedly been on my list of shows to never watch during my lifetime by reputation alone. Besides the ending that became infamous owing to the finale’s coincidental timing with a murder in Japan, and a protagonist that was impossible to get behind, School Days‘ theme and goals are the polar opposite to those of the shows that I do choose to watch. With School Days in the books now, my opinion of the show remains quite unchanged: it excels at its intended objective, but remains quite difficult to watch. In particular, the anime’s treatment of Kotonoha is disturbing. Despite being a sweet and kind girl who’s into books and exhibits loyalty to a fault, she’s cheated on by Makoto, bullied by Otome and her circle of friends and betrayed by Sekai. Suffering misfortune after misfortune following her decision to date Makoto, her reactions to the events of School Days were an inevitability with a terrifying implication, that in people, there is a potential for great evil if one is pushed far enough. Supposing this to be the case, School Days has one more additional message for viewers: that there is nothing to be gained through acts of bullying. Despite having now sat through an anime that remains quite notorious even a full thirteen years after its airing, I find that School Days and other similar series remain quite outside the realm of shows I would willingly watch. Makoto’s stupidity and the suffering that Kotonoha endured, coupled with Sekai’s interference, means that going through the episodes proved to be even more of a test of patience than Glasslip, which is saying something. While I was able to discern School Days‘ theme and objectives, this series nonetheless remains one that is remarkably difficult to stomach, and in the end, I only endured thanks to a combination of the support of a friendly segment of the anime Twitter community and a limitless pool of bad jokes.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Asking Questions of the Stars in Hensuki

“I hate to break it to you, but what people call ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, rise above, Focus on science.” –Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty

When high school student Keiki Kiryū finds a love letter and a pair of pantsu accompanying it one day following his calligraphy club activities, he enlists the help of his best friend, Shōma Akiyama, to determine who this might be. As Keiki works through the clues based on the timing of who happened to be in the club room at the time, he deduces that the pool of candidates must be limited – senior Sayuki Tokihara, the assistant librarian Yuika Koga, Nao Manjō or student council vice president Ayano Fujimoto. Intending to find the girl behind the love letter, Keiki spends more time with each of Sayuki, Yuika, Nao and Ayano, only to learn that each possesses a unique perversion that makes them quite unappealing. When Keiki runs afoul of third year Koharu Ōtori, he decides to help her become closer to Shōma and ends up finding her to be helpful in seeking out the girl behind the unknown letter: with help from Shōma and Koharu, Keiki ultimately eliminates Ayano, Nao, Yuika and Sayuki as candidates. It turns out that Keiki’s younger sister, Mizuha, had sent the letter, having long been in love with him: she had been adopted after her own parents’ passing, and while Keiki’s regarded her as a sibling, she’d always seen him as something more. While Keiki struggles to accept Mizuha’s feelings, the two do reach a resolution at the series’ end. This is Kawaikereba Hentai demo Suki ni Natte Kuremasuka? (English title Are You Willing to Fall in Love with a Pervert, as Long as She’s Cute?) or Hensuki for brevity, an anime that had aired during the summer. Hensuki‘s outlandish and deviant premise means that one would be hard-pressed to find instructive discourse on the series: discussions elsewhere have drawn dubious references to Japanese law and psychology to make sense of the character’s actions, and end up yielding little in the way of a useful outcome relevant to Hensuki – while I suppose that some viewers go to great lengths to use intellectualism as a cover for some of the series that they watch, it should be evident that requisite knowledge of psychology and law are strictly not needed to figure out what Hensuki was aiming to accomplish with its raunchy story.

At its core, Hensuki draws upon hyperbole to present the idea that falling in love is unpredictable and commands its own price: Keiki is presented as being quite interested in pursuing a relationship with someone, and actively dreams of a romantic experience, so when he receives the initial love letter, he is ecstatic. However, as he delves into figuring out who’d sent the letter, he comes to understand more about Sayuki, Yuika and Nao: Keiki is also subject to each of the girls’ unique and terrifying whims. Sayuki desires nothing more than to be treated as a pet, while Yuika aims to dominate Keiki. Nao has no interest in a relationship and is head-over-heels about yaoi. Spending time with each exacts a toll on the hapless Keiki, who desires nothing more than a storybook romance with an ordinary girl. Hensuki thus acts as a bit of a cautionary tale about relationships, warning viewers to be mindful of what they wish for. In Keiki’s case, Saiyuki, Yuika and Nao are rather more than he’d initially expected, bringing with them their own unique perversions that they expect him to fulfil, and while each of their tendencies are greatly exaggerated, it does act as a rather colourful representation of the idea that entering a relationship extends beyond displays of affection and courtship: one must also be prepared to accept eccentricities about their partner. Keiki ultimately decides that the extremities that Nao, Sayuki and Yuika command simply isn’t worth it, and he laments having spent an entire summer single despite the female attention on him. Hensuki ultimately conveys these learnings through comedy: as viewers watch Keiki suffer, the message becomes quite apparent.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While Hensuki has its shock moments, the central premise of Keiki trying to work out who was responsible for the unknown love letter proved to be engaging enough for me to watch this series at a reasonably smart pace. Keiki’s initial attempts in figuring out this mysterious party’s identity gives Hensuki a bit of a thriller vibe, and the entire crux  of the series is focused on the sorts of discoveries and experience Keiki has after it is shown that members of the Calligraphy Club have feelings for him to varying extents.

  • Keiki’s reaction of shock and disgust whenever Sayuki and Yuika force themselves on him is perhaps more of a plausible reaction: reserving physical intimacy for a much closer relationship is a sacrosanct component of relationships, and how forward Sayuki and Yuika are with Keiki ends up creating him much discomfort. Sayuki is a masochist of sorts and longs to be treated as a pet. She knows that her ample bust is something that Keiki is partial to and constantly exploits this whenever competing with Yuika for Keiki’s attention.

  • In the Terrible Anime Challenge schema, Hensuki fits under the “it was enjoyable, contrary to expectations” category: this series certainly is not going to be for everyone, and there are some moments that certainly can be a bit over the top. With this in mind, simply because I got a few good laughs and a good message out of Hensuki does not mean others will share this experience. However, this is no reason to bring in an incomplete knowledge of the belief–desire–intention model to figure out the character’s end goals, as everyone’s objective is simple enough: get close enough to Keiki to satisfy their own goal functions.

  • Since Yuika might not have the same figure as Sayuki, she resorts to even more direct methods of forcing Keiki to have eyes for none other than herself: after Keiki takes her on a proper date to see if she’s the person behind the love letter, Yuika manages to corner him at school, and then forces him to eat pantsu, causing him to pass out. Sayuki is voiced by Ayana Taketatsu (K-On!‘s very own Azusa Nakano, Fū Sawatari of Tamayura, Oreimo‘s Kirino Kōsaka, Ayana Taketatsu from Kiss X Sis, and even Hotaru Shidare from Dagashi Kashi), while Yuika is voiced by Rina Hidaka (Rinon from Ano Natsu de MatteruKantai Collection‘s Kisaragi and Ako Tamaki from And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online?).

  • While Nao seems the most normal of everyone in the calligraphy club, it turns out that she’s into yaoi and wants to get closer to Keiki purely so she can gain new story ideas for her work, which has Shōma and Keiki as the lead characters for a manga. Despite being disinterested in a relationship, she is quite attuned to pushing Keiki’s buttons and initially, in the absence of knowledge surrounding Nao’s interests, viewers do initially believe that Nao could be a viable candidate. Iori Nomizu plays Nao: besides her role as Upotte!‘s Funco, I’m not familiar with her other roles.

  • Sayuki and Yuika use Nao’s work to extort attention from Keiki, intending to show it to Mizuha and ruin her opinion of him should he fail to comply with their absurd requests. While Keiki appears to have average willpower and abstains from doing anything too questionable unless he’s cornered, he greatly cherishes his role as older brother for Mizuha and fears that she might be corrupted by the others’ actions.

  • While contemplating the order of events at the calligraphy club’s room, Keiki saves student council vice president Ayano Fujimoto from falling off the stairs, and she quickly takes an interest to him, luring him into the student council room and crafting an atmosphere that leads Keiki to fall asleep so she can collect his scent. The characters of Hensuki are intentionally exaggerated to make clear the point that relationships have their pluses and minuses.

  • One of the leading complaints about Hensuki outside of its setup was the suggestion that the art and animation here are substandard compared to other series. While Hensuki uses simpler artwork than other series, there are no moments that are so blatantly poor that they come to mind. While the quality of animation and artwork do impact my thoughts on a series, I am not going into each and every work expecting a Makoto Shinkai or Kyoto Animation level experience. As long as things are sufficiently smooth and consistent as not to distract from the characters and their experiences, this aspect earns a pass from me.

  • I find criticisms of Hensuki in the community unconvincing, with some folk enforcing their own perspectives on what a proper relationship should look like and then dismissed Hensuki as implausible or even as a form of wish fulfilment. While analysing the individual episodes yielded little more than “could have, should have” suggestions towards what Keiki should do in his situation and critiquing the story for being a “cop out”, my own approach means that I tend to look at the series from a wider perspective. Rather that studying Keiki and the others’ actions, it is the sum of all character interactions over the course of the series that matter: this lead me to a different conclusion about what message Hensuki aims to present.

  • Overall, I would say that of everyone in Hensuki that isn’t Mizuha, Sayuki is probably the individual who would be most easy to accept and tolerate as far as her preferences go. Nao’s focus on yaoi means that pursuit of anything there wouldn’t be particularly fruitful, and Yuika’s tendencies border on the realm of nightmarish. The post title comes from a line in Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King when Gandalf speaks of the decline of Gondor. Asking questions of the stars can be taken to mean astrology, a pseudoscience that supposes future outcomes can be foretold by astronomical patterns and is known for its wildly inaccurate outcomes.

  • Astrology does have one legitimate stake in history: interest in tracking stellar and planetary motions formed the basis for astronomy and led to developments such as Kepler’s Laws and Newton’s Theory of Gravitation, the outcomes of which can be found in the form of six lunar landers on the lunar surface. Because Mizuha and Keiki are often seen watching a television channel programme that does horoscopes, it seemed appropriate that, in conjunction with the task Keiki is presented with, the sense of uncertainty he encounters does seem like he’s relying on something as unreliable as astrology to figure out who the unknown sender of the love letter was.

  • Conversely, the page quote is sourced from Rick and Morty, and while it may not look it at first glance, it does appear that the theme in Hensuki, considering all of the trouble Keiki goes through for the want of spending his days together with someone ordinary, is that relationships aren’t always as they appear. When things work well, they work really well, but when things go south, they can get ugly very quickly. Rick certainly seems to believe this: despite having conquered every unknown and every challenge known to infinite realities and timelines, love is something that even Rick does not fully understand or have control over.

  • When Ayano receives a free day pass to the municipal pool, she is unable to go. Ayano thus gives the ticket to Keiki, who invites everyone and plans to unveil who had written the original love letter. He provides commentary on everyone’s swimsuits, and is particularly impressed with Mizuha, whose figure is surprisingly, only second to Sayuki’s. Mizuha’s been largely a background character up until the final segments of Hensuki, offering support to Keiki where needed, but otherwise had more of a quiet role. Mizuha is voiced by Kaede Hondo, whom I know best as Urara Meirocho‘s Kon Tatsumi, Koyume Koizuka from Comic Girls and Iroduku‘s Kohaku Tsukishiro.

  • After a day spent frolicking about at the municipal pool, the girls are enrolled into a kokuhaku competition that sees Sayuki, Yuika, Nao and Mizuha compete in. Each of the girls end up presenting a confession that mirrors their own reasons for being interested in Keiki, but ultimately, it is Mizuha who wins. This foreshadows who the love letter’s sender was, and as it turns out, Keiki already had an idea of who it is going into the penultimate episode.

  • Mizuha is revealed to be Keiki’s secret suitor: having spent most of the series watching from afar and offering him advice on how to best get along with Yuika, Sayuki and Nao, Mizuha herself had housed feelings for Keiki for most of her life. She and Keiki are not related; after her parents had died from unknown causes, she was adopted into Keiki’s family. Keiki had always viewed her as a sister, and even after recalling this fact, his view on Mizuha has not changed at all.

  • Hensuki‘s remaining episode is spent dealing with this revelation, and up until now, Hensuki had been proceeding at a smart pace. I admit that this took me by surprise: Mizuha being quite unrelated to Keiki came completely out of left field, and for me, is an instance of what is called cutting the Gordian Knot. Hensuki had created a love tesseract that immobilised Keiki: between Sayuki, Yuika, Nao and Ayano, Keiki is troubled by their perversions, but they each intend to seduce him and have him for themselves. By having Mizuha be the suitor, this defied all expectations.

  • Keiki’s reaction to Mizuha’s romantic feelings for him has him becoming lethargic and confused. He eventually gets caught in the rain and develops a cold after leaving home to gather his thoughts, and eventually succumbs to his cold, forcing him to return home. Sayuki and Yuika come to visit him and end up sparring with one another: while it is completely off-mission, it seems that Yuika’s desire to dominate others would actually mesh well with Sayuki’s desire to be dominated. Keiki eventually comes to terms with Mizuha and the two resume their lives as siblings, although Mizuha’s flirting becomes more brazen.

  • Overall, for having a surprisingly relevant theme wrapped with a seemingly frivolous premise, and for the amount of hilarity I got from watching Keiki suffer at the hands of Sayuki and Yuika, Hensuki earns a solid B-, a 7.0 of 10 or 2.7 of 4.0. I entered Hensuki with the singular aim of watching Sayuki mess with Keiki in the way that only she can, but ended up with a quasi-whodunit mystery that also had an unexpected message about relationships and a twist I didn’t see coming. I appreciate that everyone won’t see this series the same way, so it’s more than acceptable if there are folks who didn’t like Hensuki.

  • Of everyone, Mizuha looks the most normal, being soft-spoken and having skill with housework, but perhaps unsurprisingly, she has a”thing”: exhibitionism. Outwardly resembling a more voluptuous Miho Nishizumi and having a voice reminiscent of SaeKano‘s Megumi Katō, Mizuha was the last person I’d expect to be the letter’s sender, and Keiki refuses to see her as a romantic partner as Hensuki draws to a close. With this, my post on Hensuki draws to a close, and I hope that this will partially make up for my lack of content over the past few weeks. With the delay in Hibike! Euphonium: Chikai no Finale, I actually have no more conventional posts scheduled for this month beyond the halfway point impressions for Kandagawa Jet Girls, so one of my challenges will be to find stuff to write about and not spend all of my available free time in Battlefield V.

The question of who the unknown suitor is ends up being a lingering question throughout Hensuki, and after numerous red herrings and Chekov Guns that distract and foreshadow the suitor’s identity, after much comedy viewers share at Keiki’s expense, Hensuki reveals that this suitor is none other than Mizuha. This ramifications of this outcome are irrelevant, but its impact on the story simply serves to show that one does indeed miss the forest for the trees: this outcome was completely unexpected, and Keiki notes as much, having decided that the odds of Mizuha sending the letter were zero. Hensuki thus ended up being a bit of a surprise to watch, and while it might be a bit of a depraved series to watch, Hensuki manages to command a certain amount of curiosity that Keiki experiences as he works towards figuring out the love letter’s sender. In conjunction with some moments that are truly outrageous (Yuiki forcing her pantsu into Keiki’s mouth, to name one), Hensuki ends up being a romance-comedy-thriller that gives viewers reason to stick around. Underneath its perversions is a surprisingly relevant and straightforward theme, and ultimately, Hensuki did turn out to be modestly engaging: folks looking for a good laugh from Keiki’s misfortunes might find Hensuki to be a worthwhile title, although for most viewers, Hensuki isn’t going to be particularly meaningful to watch. Irrespective of whether one chooses to watch Hensuki or not, one thing should be abundantly clear: endlessly psychoanalysing the characters to predict their actions and intents is a Sisyphean task, clouding one’s perspective from the broader narrative. I’ve stated this before, but it is worth reiterating that the reductionist approach’s limitations are quite evident in the realm of anime: knowing how a character reacts to certain stimuli is completely insufficient towards working out what a story’s aims are. Hensuki is ultimately something simple that can elicit a few laughs with its straightforward theme, and folks looking to give this one a go should at least know they are not obligated to have a professional understanding of psychology to enjoy this one.

Terrible Anime Challenge: An Etymological Examination of Style in Blend S

“What’s your shtoyle?”
“My style? You could call it the art of fighting without fighting.”

–Parsons and Lee, Enter The Dragon

In order to provide funds for her desire of studying abroad, Maika Sakuranomiya decides to take on a part time job. She is turned away from several places owing to her sadistic-looking smile, but a chance encounter with Dino, an Italian fellow who runs Café Stile, results in her working at this unique café whose staff take on character archetypes from anime. Here, she meets Kaho Hinata, a bubbly and friendly waitress who is fond of video games and has a tsundere role, Mafuyu Hoshikawa, whose role as an energetic younger sister conceals a stoic personality, and chef Kōyō Akizuki. While Maika initially has trouble adjusting to customer service and consciously strives improves her smile, her unintentional lapses into sadism is a hit with customers. All the while, Dino deals with his crush on Maika, who is blissfully unaware of his feelings for her, and his attempts to get closer to Maika usually end up backfiring. Together, Blend S presents a wonderfully light-hearted, hilarious story of life at Café Stile and Maika’s becoming closer to the team there as she is joined by doujin writer and older sister figure Miu Amano, as well as the cross-dressing Hideri Kanzaki, who aspires to be an idol. Being outwardly an amalgamation of key moments in Maika’s time at Café Stile, Blend S shows that there is a place for everyone, and that in the right company, one can nonetheless find acceptance and worth. Maika might unintentionally be sadistic in appearance, but her heart is genuine and kind, so being able to show her true self at Café Stile helps her grow and, while working towards her dreams of studying abroad, also experience a different sort of journey that broadens her worldview.

While Blend S might be a Manga Time Kirara adaptation, its premise and employment of darker humour led some to folks to decide that a better understanding of Machiavellianism (a personality trait that gauges one’s willingness to manipulate others, be emotionally cold and indifferent to others) was mandatory towards understanding the series. Maika’s unique personality left some wondering whether or not her actions were deliberate or accidental. Maika’s treatment of Café Stile’s customers ventures into realm of torture: she verbally denigrates those who visit, and even waterboards a customer, and so, it seemed logical to delve into personality psychology to figure out how Maika fit into things. As it turns out, Maika’s actions, and those of Café Stile’s other staff, are simply optimised for humour. Maika is merely a naïveté in the ways of the world, and her well-meaning intentions to helping improve customer experience backfires in her eyes whenever she makes a mistake. While Maika may be disheartened, her customers appear to enjoy her service the point of returning to Café Stile for the experience. Consequently, because Maika is intrinsically kind and wants to be effective in her role, Maika would likely score low on the Mach IV survey (which gauges Machiavellianism) – her sadism traits are purely intended for humour rather than for harm, and as such, discussions on Machiavellianism do not particularly apply to Blend S, where the humour and setup is consistent with that of a Manga Time Kirara series, through and through; this allows one to enjoy Blend S as one would something like GochiUsa or Kiniro Mosaic.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As long as there are anime that I procrastinate in watching, there will be material for the Terrible Anime Challenge series: Blend S originally aired two years ago alongside Kino no Tabi and Girls’ Last TourYūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter and Wake Up Girls! Shin Shou. I was already flooded with shows at the time and while Blend S looked up my alley, I never got around to watching the series. When the fall season ended, Yuru Camp△ and Slow Start kicked in. It was only when I gave Yuri Kuma Arashi a whirl that I found the time to pick up Blend S, and here we are.

  • On the categorisation of Terrible Anime Challenge shows, Blend S is a series that meets expectations of being an enjoyable slice-of-life series. Neither great nor terrible, Blend S‘ strength lies in the contrasting personalities amongst the characters, both between one another and the differences between their role at Café Stile and their usual selves. It’s a series that I can recommend to Manga Time Kirara and comedy fans. Conversely, Blend S is not for folks who prefer clearly defined stories, and I further remark that anyone looking for an intellectual journey would be disappointed.

  • One of the comedic aspects of Blend S comes from Maika’s unintentional mistreatment of customers despite her efforts to give them a good experience. Far from dissuading them from returning, some customers have become fond of the sadism that Maika brings to the table. Over time, Maika becomes acclimatised to her role, and it turns out that the level of sadism from Maika we’ve normally seen can actually be ramped up several notches, resulting in server who’d likely be bad for business.

  • When a customer drops an R-rated doujin, the staff struggle to find its owner and learn that it belongs to Miu, an older patron who resembles GochiUsa‘s Blue Mountain in manner and style. Kaho becomes deeply embarrassed when reading it and reacts strongly to the ideas that Miu has. Kaho herself is an amalgamation of GochiUsa‘s Rize and Himouto‘s Umaru, being very fond of games while at once retaining a cheerful personality. Mafuyu reminds me of Sansha San’yō‘s Shino Sonobe. With its colourful cast, there are no dull moments in Blend S, a series that further has the distinction of two male leads.

  • The page quote comes from Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, when a man decides to bully the others on board a ship. When he faces off against Lee, Lee manages to win the fight without lifting a finger, citing his style as “fighting without fighting”. It is a play on Sun Tzu’s remark that the greatest victory is achieved without fighting – by outwitting the man, Lee shows that martial arts is about more than just fists, it is a matter of discipline and creative thinking. Café Stile certainly has no shortage of shtoyle, and while Stile itself refers to a small passage consisting of steps, I imagine that Café Stile itself is merely a deliberate misspelling of style for shtoyle points.

  • With respect to Blend S, I have definitely been fighting without fighting – while the folks who believe themselves to be more intellectual have pored hours into trying to figure out whether or not Blend S possesses the characteristics of a Manga Time Kirara series, I came in much later with the goal of merely enjoying the series as it was. Rather than arguing with individuals who intend to lecture rather than learn, I’d rather wait them out and then counter their points once a series has concluded, when I have the big picture. It should therefore be no surprise that after finishing the series, Jungian archetypes and Machiavellianism do not figure at all in my discussions beyond me doing a beat-down on why it shouldn’t figure in discussions.

  • I have stated this previously, but my main reason for not involving psychology and philosophy in anime is because most of the principles that fans gravitate towards have in fact, been discredited or else have not been properly applied to the series. A work that requires functional knowledge of these elements must have a good reason for incorporating them, and while a series with a particular theme or story may find these more complex elements useful, they invariably have little relevance in slice-of-life series, where the goal is simply to share a few laughs and watch characters develop.

  • Instead, more nuanced and enjoyable discussion on slice-of-life series stems from understanding what different characters get out of their experiences, and then relating these to one’s own experiences and values are. The successful slice-of-life anime will allow a viewer to reflect on their prior knowledge, and even add additional perspectives on how one may approach life. My thoughts are likely considered heretical by some: I find that those who attempt to inject philosophy, psychology or politics into something as simple and harmless as Blend S usually are those who reject life’s lessons.

  • While Blend S might deal with Maika’s life at Café Stile, the team is shown in settings commonly seen in other slice-of-life series set in a high school environment. When the summer rolls around, after Dino takes Maika shopping for a new swimsuit, the staff decide to host a river-side barbeque and then visit the beach. It is here that Kōichi’s embarrassment whenever gazing upon Kaho’s ample bust becomes apparent, and he later develops a pronounced overreaction whenever Kaho is around.

  • If I had to single out one moment in Blend S that made the series worthwhile, it would be when Dino decides to transform the entire café into a jungle setting. The foliage is so dense that Maika gets lost in here, and Mafuyu takes on the roll of an energetic imouto dressed as a monkey. The visual humour is top-notch and hilarious, but also remarkably well-balanced. When the staff begin experiencing challenges with the artificial jungle, Dino decides to restore the café to its former glory.

  • For some, the most controversial moment of Blend S involves Hideri, a new hire who fulfils the idol archetype. Despite dressing like a lady, Hideri is actually a guy, leading to endless, cyclic speculation on his orientation and whatnot. Because Blend S doesn’t focus on the other characters’ acceptance of him, this is shown to be a given, leaving the series to instead portray the humour that accompanies such a character. I’ve never gotten the whole fuss with such characters: if they are well-written into and contribute to a series as Hideri does, I have no issues. I similarly have no qualms about individuals of all sorts in real life: I judge and respect people based on not who they are, but what they do.

  • Maika has an older sister and older brother, both of whom dote on Maika and worry that she’s got no friends. When they learn that Maika’s working at Café Stile, Maika’s older sister decides to swing by for a visit. While her older siblings can be somewhat intimidating, Maika herself can frighten them into standing down. Such setups in reality would not be accepted as normal, but the realm of fiction allows for outrageous situations to be presented in a lighter fashion.

  • Once Maika’s settled into her position at Café Stile and becomes more comfortable with serving customers, Blend S takes time to explore the other characters’ interactions. Kaho and Mafuyu is one such combination: when Kaho fails an exam, Mafuyu agrees to tutor her, and over the course of an episode, Kaho manages to learn the ropes and succeeds on her replacement exam. All of the characters in Blend S are likeable, and while I had entered the series wondering if this was going to be untrue, this was, to my pleasure, not a problem at all.

  • One wonders what my beef with Jungian and Freudian principles are: I have no issue with studying derelict or discredited theories, since they are the stepping stones towards contemporary knowledge. The theory of spontaneous generation and a geocentric model of the universe are such examples, and I have no qualms with the origins of their theories. The problem lies in the application of such theories within trying to enjoy fiction, and when folks telling others that characters and their interactions should be interpreted a certain way using an outdated theory that sounds intimidating, I cannot say I am fond of this behaviour.

  • Towards the end of the series, the relationship between Dino and Maika are explored in more depth: having long been shown to be head-over-heels for Maika, Dino’s efforts to be closer to her inevitably end up in failure, partially a consequence of his own ineptitude and thanks to intervention from Mafuyu. When the two are permitted a moment to themselves, they get along swimmingly: when visiting a dog park with owner (a dog that Dino ends up adopting), others assume Maika and Dino to be a couple.

  • Because this is a Terrible Anime Challenge post, it means I get a bit of liberty with respect to choosing what screenshots I feature, and I think by this point in time, even though I’d not mentioned it explicitly, Kaho is my favourite character for many reasons. Readers who’ve seen my earlier Terrible Anime Challenge posts may have noticed that all posts in this series have rather long or unusual titles. For Blend S, the title comes from one individual who demanded an etymological examination of whether or not we should refer to Blend S (originally ブレンド・S in katakana) with a hyphen simply because Crunchyroll did so.

  • Focusing on these details is foolish to the point of hilarity, and talking about this sort of thing is unproductive: arguing about pointless semantics detracts from one’s enjoyment of a given show. Similarly, I don’t particularly care that Blend S is etymologically derived from the pun between a brand of coffee some shops blend and “Do-S” (which supposedly means DoSadism): knowing that adds nothing of value to one’s enjoyment of the show, and yields no insight about the themes of Blend S. Good discussion is about being inclusive, not about dropping random details to show the depth of one’s knowledge.

  • As such, when such serious discussions were conducted surrounding Blend S, I wondered if I would enjoy this series, since my own knowledge on Japanese products and colloquialisms are certainly not that extensive: I can tell the difference between genuine maple syrup and normal pancake syrup, as well as different varieties of TimBits, but I am not familiar with things in Japan to the same extent. Time and time again, the answer I get from simply watching a show is clear: the sciolists don’t possess more knowledge that are necessary to enjoying a show.

  • Towards the end of Blend S, the Café Stile crew go on a team vacation to the mountains for skiing. Here, Dino attempts a kokuhaku on Maika while teaching her to ski, but ends up failing in a hilarious manner. While anime is often filled with implausibility, challenging these elements results in disappointment: the whole point of fiction is to abstract out systems and removing some constraints of the real world so specific ideas can be explored. Blend S is no exception, and while not particularly noteworthy, good comedy carries the series through from a strong start to a satisfying finish.

  • Overall, Blend S scores a solid B+ from me (3.3 of 4.0, or 8 out of 10) for being able to consistently create humour with its unique setup. With Blend S now in the books, I’m just in time for the entry into November. While I am officially supposed to hold the announcement, the release of Battlefield V‘s Pacific Theatre content has prompted me to move my schedule up. My announcement is that I am going to be hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase for the month of November. I’ll have more details on this come the first, and in the meantime, I will be enjoying Iwo Jima and Pacific Storm thoroughly.

Having established that a working knowledge of personality psychology is not required to optimally enjoy Blend S, the next item to attend to is what makes Blend S so enjoyable. At the heart of Blend S lies a cast of characters whose job at a cosplay café requires they adapt a different personality than their usual selves, and this aspect is deployed in a spectacular manner to create humour. Maika might be sweet and kindhearted, but as a server, her sadistic tendencies rivals those of outlandish villains seen in other series. Kaho is excellent with the tsundere personality, but beyond this is a cheerful and approachable manner. Mafuyu’s imouto personality fits her appearance more so than her usual mien, that of a jaded and quiet college student. Hideri might be an idol concerned with all things cute, but when flustered, he reverts to a boyish mindset. Despite conveying the air of an older sister while working, Miu makes Blue Mountain look like a rank amateur when it comes to lewding characters for story ideas. The sum of these dynamics means that Blend S never has a dull moment, and all of this is in conjunction with Dino’s genuine, but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to court Maika. Blend S consistently maintains its comedy, resulting in a show that is sure to amuse. While Blend S may lack a single theme that drives its events, and is average from an audio-visual perspective, the setup at Café Stile means that the characters and their interactions are the series’ biggest draw. One only need to sit back while everyone bounces off one another to enjoy Blend S, and so, for the folks who figured that a more serious discussion involving psychology was needed to get the most out of things, I take a leaf from Bruce Lee’s playbook and suggest that that they don’t waste themselves.

Worst Anime Challenge? How to Have Fun in Yurikuma Arashi, or, A Response To Invalid Methodologies In Existing Discussions

“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me. I thought by simplifying half of the symbolism from Yurikuma Arashi discussions, the other half would thrive, but you’ve shown me that’s impossible. As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those that are unable to accept what can be. They will resist.”
“Yep. We’re all kinds of stubborn.”
“I’m thankful, because now, I know what I must do. I will shred Yurikuma Arashi down to its last pixel, and then, with the symbols you’ve collected for me, create a new discussion teeming with value that knows not what it has lost, but only what it has been given. A meaningful discussion.”
“Born out of lies.”
“They’ll never know it, because you won’t be alive to tell them.”

–Thanos, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, Avengers: Endgame

When bears turned against humanity following the destruction of a far-off planet, humanity constructed a massive wall to defend themselves. However, Ginko Yurishiro and Lulu Yurigasaki infiltrate this wall and masquerade as people, registering as students of Arashigaoka High, with the aim of getting closer to one Kureha Tsubaki, who’d lost her memories long ago after befriending Ginko and made the ultimate sacrifice to turn her into a human after seeing her suffering in the realm of bears. As Kureha and Ginko remember their shared past, those around them begin to oppose their friendship, regarding it with hostility. Fighting against the norms of society, Kureha and Ginko end up demonstrating the strength of their love for one another. The deities recognise the two’s love as authentic and whisks them away to an unknown location where they spend the remainder of their days in happiness, while society continues forwards. This is Yurikuma Arashi, a rather curious title directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, known for his distinct approach in his anime. Airing in 2015, Yurikuma Arashi is ultimately about the costs of love, what potentially can be if one stays true to their conviction in one another and also the absurdity of a society accustomed to maintaining normalcy. Using vivid imagery in the form of bears, and a long-standing conflict to show how individuals on opposite ends of the spectrum still share commonality, Ikuhara illustrates that true love can manifest between most anyone regardless of station, background or appearance, being something that is both fragile and resilient like a flower. By comparison, the students of Arashigaoka High, members of the Invisible Storm, are presented as an unaccepting, closed-minded group whose xenophobic attitudes and devotion to their search of evil are ludicrous; the series is an open criticism of the inherent irrationality of intolerance and hate. While presented with a highly turbulent structure, Yurikuma Arashi ultimately shows the outcome of tolerance, acceptance and open-mindedness in society, suggesting that relationships between anyone are to be celebrated and not feared even if they are not conventional. From a technical perspective, with consistent animation, a curious setting making use of construction implements and walls to show the absurdity of keeping out the unknown, and a soundtrack that captures the tenour of Yurikuma Arashi exceedingly well, the series does manage to deliver its messages despite being riddled with idiosyncrasies and repetition that impede the narrative’s flow. At least, this is what my assessment of Yurikuma Arashi would be in a sane world – there was nothing sane about the discussion and reception in the anime community concerning Yurikuma Arashi that subsequently followed.

In a vacuum, Yurikuma Arashi tells a rather heartfelt story, albeit one that is a bit turbulent in places and a little too forwards at times, but existing discussions promoted the series as being an “intellectual fantasy” whose journey demands an uncommon knowledge of the symbols that Ikuhara uses and where the message is supposed to be obfuscated by Ikuhara’s style to the point where one should consult a friendly neighbourhood analysis to follow along. The symbolism in Yurikuma Arashi, not the characters and their interactions, are supposed to tell the story, and these obscure elements are argued to be essential to the experience. An old nemesis from my Glasslip days, Helene “Soulelle” Kolpakova, argues that the key themes in the series are about the gap between sexual and platonic romance, and how the wall is supposed to represent a separation of the two, dividing one so that it falls into the natural order and excluding the other from consideration. Through the events of Yurikuma Arashi, Kolpakova claims that the bears themselves are “beneficial to humanity”. To this end, yin-yang is argued to be critical in the series, speaking of the divide that separates chaos from order, and moreover, that Sigmund Freud’s Ego and Id are relevant to discussion. This, Kolpakova states, is essential to understand why the wall becomes a major symbol and why the Lily Court exists, to sort out whether or not one’s feelings are legitimate. Striking a balance between the Id of desire and the more rational Ego, the Super Ego is allegedly equivalent to Abraxas, a being independent of good and evil in Hermann Hesse’s Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth. This novel deals with duality and how both sides of a spectrum are necessary: Abraxas rules over the good as well as evil in the world, hence the necessity of accepting both. From Kolpakova’s perspective, the absence of this knowledge renders Yurikuma Arashi without its meaning, and so, even ahead of messages of determination in love and the absurdity of exclusion, Yurikuma Arashi is to be about duality. For the folks who have not studied the Bildungsroman literary genre, then, Yurikuma Arashi remains inaccessible, out of reach and meaningful only to a limited few. This particular brand of thinking is not unique to Kolpakova, and others have since followed suit in composing obtuse, pedantic discussions of the supposedly complex and obscure symbols of Yurikuma Arashi, with the most gratuitous being a seventeen-part talk that ends up being about nothing useful. While the sheer number of analysis pieces out there imply that Yurikuma Arashi is indeed an intellectual’s journey that remains out of the scope of what common folk must understand, this is evidently not the case. Yurikuma Arashi‘s native story, and Ikuhara’s heavy-handed use of repetition actually does the opposite, making the thematic elements quite plain even if it does interfere with the series’ delivery of said themes.

“In all my years of discussion, reviews, reflection, it was never personal. But I’ll tell you now, what I’m about to do to your stubborn, annoying little analysis, I’m gonna enjoy it: very, very much.” – Thanos, Avengers: Endgame

While it may seem that a Herculean tasks lies ahead for refuting the analysis pieces, there is actually no need for such an endeavour: each of these makes the flawed assumption that literary allusions in a given work are meant to represent, one-to-one, the the themes and ideas of the works being alluded to. Allusions are employed to encapsulate complex themes and symbols from another work with the aim of drawing a comparison and further the author’s own work. Allusions may take different forms, but are primarily done either to apply a particular context to a new situation or else is used as an opposition to a particular idea. However, allusions are never meant to be viewed as a sign that a work has completely adopted an idea from another source whole-sale. For example, in Frankenstein, Mary Shelly alludes to Prometheus, a Greek Titan who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humanity, his creation. He was sentenced to have his liver consumed by an eagle for his troubles, and is intended to be viewed as a symbol of intelligence. Subsequent Western Classical works viewed Prometheus to be a representation of the price of scientific progress, and Frankenstein’s monster in particular was intended to illustrate this notion. However, Frankenstein and Prometheus differ wildly: whereas Prometheus sought to help his creations, Frankenstein condemned his out of guilt and horror. This contrast is merely one instance where an author uses an allusion to rapidly establish a particular idea, but then subsequently goes on to use their own characters and setting to convey their intended message. It is then ludicrous to suppose that simply because an allusion to Freudian or Hesse’s duality might be vaguely present, the concept of Id and Ego, or themes of Demian, must necessarily be mirrored in Yurikuma Arashi. Ikuhara may use imagery from these works to establish a certain idea, but the trials that Ginko and Kureha experience tell a very different story about themes of persistence in love and resistance society offers where forbidden romances are involved. Duality is only used to motivate the theme (rather than forming the entire theme as Kolpakova suggests), and Freudian notions are far removed from what Yurikuma Arashi portrays. The premises that Kolpakova and others utilise is therefore incomplete or false, and one cannot soundly establish that the premise results in the conclusions seen; while the conclusion may or may not be true, it does nothing to prove the premise. The outcome is similar to making use of a flawed methodology in a scientific experiment that results in data that may or may not be trustworthy, invalidating the outcomes.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because this post is a bit on the wordy side, I’ll provide an elevator summary of things – existing analysis can be misleading or incomplete because they presuppose that the symbols here match up 1:1 with usage in their original context, and contrary to expectations, Yurikuma Arashi does have merits of its own independent of the “intellectual” piece. There are multiple ways of approaching Yurikima Arashi beyond a strict academic mindset, and I do not suggest drawing on any one discussion as being more or less valid than another. However, starting an argument with a false premise results in a conclusion whose truthfulness is unknowable, and in this post, I aim to show that Yurikuma Arashi is both enjoyable in the absence of an academic mindset and that most academically-styled discussions out there invariably end up committing a fallacy of incomplete evidence.

  • With that out of the way, this talk on Yurikuma Arashi is categorised as a “Terrible Anime Challenge” post, meaning I need to provide a verdict on whether or not the show met expectations or not. If I were to approach it purely as an anime, then the answer is yes, Yurikuma Arashi provided a coherent theme and story worth watching, that matches reception set by parts of the community I consider reliable. From this perspective, I would score Yurikuma Arashi a C grade (2.0 of 4.0, corresponding roughly to a 6 of 10) – not great, but not terrible, either. Conversely, if I were made to regard Yurikuma Arashi as the “intellectual fantasy”, I would not have fun because I would be unable to reach the same conclusions as those reached by the analysis in the community, and this score would drop down to an F grade.

  • What Yurikuma Arashi does well is that it sets the initial precedence that bears are supposed to be the antagonists, and that humanity are the protagonists, but then these boundaries are quickly shattered. Ginko’s forwardness with Kureha immediately shows that these initial assumptions do not hold true: if it were the simple case that bears consume humans, then Ginko would have already destroyed Kureha. The narrative in Yurikuma Arashi is linear but filled with flashbacks and recollections, which the anime helpfully makes clear is the case.

  • The exclusion rituals carried out are done so with a mindless synchronisation, and the animation itself speaks volumes about how exclusion is absurd in a society where acceptance ought to be the norm. One element that is seen frequently are prints evocative of Maurits Cornelis Escher’s prints, which are known for their repetitive mathematical patterns. Kolpakova argues that the seagull motifs (yurikamome, specifically, Chroicocephalus ridibundus) are supposed to represent the dark side of yuri, when in fact, seagulls are commonly used to signify resourcefulness. In this case, the mathematical patterns imply the determination and lengths that the Invisible Storm members will go to exclude others.

  • How did I end up having fun watching what was supposed to be a test of the limits of my powers of reasoning? I ended up watching Yurikuma Arashi with my mind on the bigger picture, with also an appreciation for the art style, use of familiar anime facial expressions and more conventional comedic approaches. Despite its highly distinct setting, unlike Puella Magi Madoka Magica, some visual traits from more light-hearted series do appear in Yurikuma Arashi, relaxing the atmosphere. Kureha ended up being a character I could get behind and learn more about, along with Ginko and Lulu – Yurikuma Arashi provides no shortage of exposition so everyone’s goals and stories are out in the open.

  • Escher’s famous work does suggest duality, but this is not a theme in and of itself as Kolpakova suggests. Instead, the transformation from fish to seabirds foreshadows Yurika Hakonaka’s hidden nature. Despite being a teacher at Arashigaoka, she’s actually a bear who knew Kureha’s mother and ate her out of jealousy. Similarly, the filing cabinets do not represent a cage, but instead, Yurika’s own desire to preserve that which is good. Symbols in a literary work are meant to be used to succinctly indicate a particular concept or idea, and so, while they are useful for foreshadowing or augmenting a theme, they are by no means the single element that must be examined to understand a work. It is for this reason I am not inclined to say that Kolpakova’s conclusions, or the seventeen-part analysis out there, are particularly valuable for anyone seeking an explanation of Yurikuma Arashi.

  • The main issue that I do have with Kolpakova’s psychoanalysis of Yurikuma Arashi is that the Court of Severance’ judges are supposed to represent Freudian principles of Id, Ego and Super-Ego. Sigmund Freud proposed that the human psyche had three interacting pieces that governed one’s actions, and while radical for his time, Freud’s speculations remain little more than pseudoscience on the virtue that there is no testable (and therefore, refutable) hypothesis, or any vigourous application of the scientific method, for that matter. Introductory psychology classes open with arguments refuting Freud, and his claims are regarded with the same respect as the theory of spontaneous generation, which supposed that living matter could arise from non-living matter (it is now accepted as fact that micro-organisms produce the observations).

  • Knowing that Freud’s propositions are largely incorrect and incomplete should be sufficient in discouraging folks from using them in an argument: anyone arguing for spontaneous generation would be swiftly destroyed in argument with overwhelming evidence for microorganisms and their properties. However, especially amongst the anime community, Freud remains popular for conducting any sort of “intellectual” discussion because behind the jargon, Freud’s concepts are actually very rudimentary and quick to pick up, while simultaneously being obscure enough to give the impression of being well-read. For this reason, some light novel authors (such as Nagaru Tanigawa, who wrote The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi) use fundamentals from Freud to quickly reference something.

  • While it is not the Tanigawa’s (or any author’s) intent to suggest Freud is correct, mere suggestion of an older philosophical concept, regardless of merit, causes some to gravitate towards using it in their own discussion. Kolpakova is one example, and while the Court of Severance might initially appear to be personifications of the Super-Ego, Ego and Id, the fact they reach the same conclusion every time illustrates how where love is concerned, the results are deterministic because love is irrational, and therefore, cannot properly demonstrate the interactions between the concepts Freud postulated to be true. With a false premise, claims that Freud is relevant and applicable to Yurikuma Arashi are incorrect, and I’ve long felt that folks who fall back on Freud end up accomplishing little more than indicating that they wish to appear smarter than they are.

  • If everything in Yurikuma Arashi is a symbol, then do the bullets and rifles mean anything? The answer is probably not, beyond illustrating the extent of the prejudice that the humans have against the bears. The Remington 750 Woodsmaster that Kureha and the other members of the Invisible Storm use is a semi-automatic rifle that was produced between 2006 and 2015. I expect that the Invisible Storm version of the rifle, which is outfitted with a ten-round magazine and 4x optics, is chambered for the .30-06 Springfield round, which has reliable stopping power against bears at medium ranges.

  • Contrary to the initial expectation that a profound understanding of German literature and Freudian psychology was integral to an enjoyable Yurikuma Arashi experience, I ended up finding aspects of the series enjoyable for completely different reasons. The character design and exposition gives viewers reason to back Kureha, Ginko and Lulu, while the distinct architectural elements create the same sense of distance that Puella Magi Madoka Magica was able to create. Like the isolation that Madoka, Homura and Sayaka experience from their world, Kureha is noticeably isolated from her surroundings. This allows for her interactions with Ginko and Lulu to be emphasised, while simultaneously reminding viewers that she’s very much excluded from other humans.

  • The music of Yurikuma Arashi is particularly strong: the incidental music bears some similarity with Yuki Kajirua’s compositions for Madoka Magica, and Bonjour Suzuki’s haunting, ethereal performance of the opening theme, Ano Mori de Matteru, brings a ecclesiastical quality to what’s happening in Yurikuma Arashi. This is accentuated by the church bells and prayer-like delivery of the first few lines, after which Suzuki delivers the line zutto (absolutely or always) with a seductive, sexy voice before delving into a higher-paced stanza. The music in Yurikuma Arashi is exceptionally strong, contributing to the story as well as the visuals do.

  • Ultimately, Yurikuma Arashi is an anime whose reputation precedes it – because it is described as an “intellectual fantasy”, the series drew viewers with a particular mindset to it, and their resulting response to Yurikuma Arashi gave the impression that anyone reaching a conclusion that deviated from what was established by these individuals were lacking. Ergo, the intent of this post was partly to look at some discussions out there and illustrate that they are not as airtight as their tone and style might otherwise suggest; viewers should trust their own judgement over those presented elsewhere – everyone has their own interpretation of a given work, and to suppose otherwise is counted a form of gatekeeping.

  • The so-called Wall of Severance is always seen to be under construction. As a physical barrier between humanity and bears, the wall itself is presented as being perpetually ineffectual thanks to the special portal; that it is constantly being expanded shows the ineffectiveness of intolerance. Yurikuma Arashi‘s setting design and in particular, use of the school rooftop as a significant setting, is similar to how Madoka Magica‘s similarly set Mami, Sayaka and Madoka’s conversations on the school rooftop, creating a sense of distance and isolation that forces viewers to focus on the characters.

  • While Kureha spends the first section of Yurikuma Arashi stating her hate for bears and declaring her intent to “ruin” bears (破壊, hakai, literally “destroy”), Kureha’s feelings are actually locked behind removal of her memories. Once the extent of her old friendship with Ginko is recalled, she does everything in her power to realise her feelings, even if it means pushing Ginko and Lulu away for their own safety once the Invisible Storm begin ramping up their extermination efforts – they somehow procure a particle beam weapon that is absolutely lethal against the bears.

  • The white lily is supposed to represent purity and innocence in both Western and Japanese culture, but became used as a term referring to girls love fiction in the 1970s. The contrast between the purity these flowers signify, and the decidedly more lewd aspects of love form a jarring comparison, reminding viewers that love is simultaneously pure and not pure. The flowers themselves can be eaten and in Chinese cuisine, are said to have medicinal properties: the Cantonese, for instance, add 百合 (jyutping baak3 hap6) to 木瓜糖水 (jyutping muk6 gwaa1 tong4 seoi2, a kind of papaya sweet soup), although personally, this is definitely not to my liking.

  • In the end, Kureha and Ginko’s love win out over the opposition from society: Kureha transforms into a bear and delivers unto Ginko the “promised kiss”. Yurikuma Arashi is very insistent with its terminology, which is beaten into viewers at every turn. Similarly, idiosyncrasies such as kuma shock and yuri dark appear far more often than is necessary – viewers get that something is going down, and it’s obvious even without the extra help. Enduring past these eccentricities, however, is rewarding for being able to see the outcome of Ginko and Kureha fulfilling a longstanding promise.

  • The Invisible Storm are shocked that such a phenomena could manifest, and in its aftermath, the leader hastily declares a mission success. Of the Invisible Storm, Uchiko Ai stood out to me: after the events of the finale, she begins to question the Invisible Storm and finds Konomi in a box marked “defective”, befriending her. Even more so than Kureha and Ginko’s love, the newfound friendship between Uchiko and Konomi moved me greatly. Overall, while themes of duality are present in Yurikuma Arashi as Kolpakova suggests, duality is meaningless in and of itself: Yurikuma Arashi shows that the for superficial differences, seemingly different sides of a coin are actually more similar than we realise and cannot exist without the other.

  • Because I come so late to the party, I doubt that my recommendations here, namely, to always use one’s own judgement towards a work and to be skeptical of opinions on the internet, will be regarded as being useful by anyone looking to make heads and or tails of Yurikuma Arashi at present. Shortly after Yurikuma Arashi‘s airing, the sheer volume of discussion claiming to “explain” Yurikuma Arashi that developed was unreal: anime convention panalists even hosted discussions on the series’ contributions to academia and society. It took me considerable effort to push through this series, and I only gained momentum to finish once I was halfway through, although once things picked up, I’m glad to have stuck the course this time around (I’d dropped the series three times before).

  • Because this was not a conventional post, I meandered and wandered quite a bit. Bringing things back together as we draw to the end, I personally found that in the absence of any sort of intellectual expectation, Yurikuma Arashi exceeded my initial expectations – while the repetition dulled my enjoyment somewhat, the honesty of the story, together with the sound and visual elements made it rather more fun to watch. However, I stand by my beliefs that Yurikuma Arashi does not represent a significant contribution to contemporary understanding of society or philosophy, nor does the series require an extensive appreciation of classical literature and psychology to appreciate. Watching Yurikuma Arashi demonstrates that for the most part, I can find positivity in the things that I do. The next post I have lined up for the Terrible Anime Challenge series will deal with Blend S, which I’m told is a deep psychoanalysis on work culture and is supposed to be superior to GochiUsa; those there are fighting words, and I look forwards to seeing if these lofty assertions hold true.

With this in mind, it is not the objective of this post to refute everything Kolpakova and others have stated: from a certain mindset, there could be merit in their conclusions. Instead, the goal is to note that their conclusions are not made with sound methods or a full appreciation of literary analysis, and that there is actually more to Yurikuma Arashi than just analysing the symbols and themes from older works. In fact, true literary analysis is a very broad field, and any analysis can be conducted from a variety of angles, all of which are equally valid. I typically look at a work based on its ability to speak to matters of personal growth or the implications an author has made about science and technology using their work because that is my background, while others might choose to approach from a social perspective. Others may view a work as being insightful into the political or economic state the author strives to convey, while some individuals may choose to discard the author’s intentions outright and view it from their own perspectives. This is why my own conclusions about Yurikuma Arashi should not be regarded as being the only one available, and similarly, the conclusions Kolpakova and others reach are not necessarily the only way to approach this anime (or others, for that matter). The premise that Yurikuma Arashi is an “intellectual fantasy” ultimately comes across as being more than a gimmick to sell the fact that Yurikuma Arashi is very fanciful in its use of imagery, and for the numerous flaws the series possesses, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that underneath all of the obscure symbols, sometimes-inane repetition and unsteady fæirytale-like presentation, there is a rather touching story about the strength of love and how it can prevail over prejudice. In short, one does not need an extensive understanding of philosophy or classical literature to enjoy Yurikuma Arashi. While I would not recommend this anime to readers who are accustomed to my usual realm of interests, folks who greatly enjoy the yuri genre or enjoy series with a great deal of imagery may find Yurikuma Arashi worthwhile. Finally, as to whether or not Yurikuma Arashi lives up to the question posed by this post, the answer is going to be either a relief or disappointing – P.A. Works’ Glasslip and R.D.G. Red Data Girl remain in the unfortunate throne of being the second worst and worst anime I’ve seen to date.