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Terrible Anime Challenge: Turning Chaos into Compassion in Seishun Buta Yarō

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge” –Daniel J. Boorstin

When Sakuta Azusagawa meets actress Mai Sakurajima, who is clad in naught but a bunny girl outfit, he is simultaneously drawn to her and begins to wonder about the mysterious phenomenon that afflicts youth. He eventually learns that no one can see Mai, and that this is related to how people remember her. Sakuta eventually confesses his love for her in front of the entire school, burning her existence into everyone’s memories, and sets about helping those around him with their own challenges in adolescence. Sakuta helps Tomoe Koga overcome her anxiety about being accepted and pretends to date her, forcing her to come to terms with her feelings for him. He next aids Rio Futaba, the sole member of the school’s science club who believes Sakuta’s experiences have scientific backgrounds until she manifests two bodies as a result of lacking confidence in herself. Sakuta manages to rectify this, and later, helps Nodoka Toyohama, Mai’s younger half-sister who felt as though she was living under Mai’s shadows, after Nodoka switches bodies with Mai. Sakuta’s younger sister, spurred on by Sakuta, decides to set goals for herself: she suffered from memory loss as a result of the trama from being bullied and reverted to a more infantile personality. After Sakuta’s efforts to help her reach her goals, Kaede reverts to her old personality, and a distraught Sakuta regrets not being able to do more for her until a mysterious visit from Shōko helps him recover from his melancholy so that he can fully support Kaede, who feels ready to pick up her life from where they’d left off. This is Seishun Buta Yarō (literally “Young Asshole”, but officially translated as “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai”, an obvious reference to Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner and Aobuta for brevity), an adaptation of a 2014 light novel about the challenges and turbulence that youth face as they struggle to learn of their place in the world. At its core, Sakuta is portrayed as a unique protagonist, being strictly mundane in manner and appearance. Unlike other light novel protagonists, Sakuta is not uncommonly intelligent or lucky; instead, he is exceedingly kind, has a particular way with words and is exceptionally faithful. The sum of these elements creates a highly focused story where audiences are confident that Sakuta will work out a solution without creating situations that typical light novels push towards, and his genuine concern for those around him results in a protagonist who is exceedingly likeable, giving viewers incentive to follow his story and root him on as he strives to help each of Mai, Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede move beyond their situations.

For its exceptional presentation of what the struggles of youth may manifest as in a visceral manner, it is unsurprising that Aobuta immediately became a favourite among viewers when it aired. Aobuta has heart, capturing the problems that adolescents see in their lives and giving them memorable metaphors that really describe what being young is like; as an adult, we tend to see problems as having a rational, logical answer, but as youth, what is obvious to us may not be so apparent, creating this chaos and conflict. However, as Sakuta demonstrates, the solution lies not in a reasoned process, but through compassion: for each of Mai, Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede, he works to understand their situation and then determines how to help the individual in question overcome their insecurities and doubts. Aobuta shows that Hajime Kamoshida evidently has a strong grasp on how to visualise youth and their struggles in a compelling manner, and this is ultimately Aobuta‘s main draw. However, while it is sufficient to focus on the human aspects of Aobuta, Kamoshida’s inclusion of quantum theory into his work as the metaphor has given the impression that a functional knowledge of matters as varied as wave function collapse, or free will versus determinism. However, these references weaken with time within the anime, and this suggests a deliberate choice on Kamoshida’s part. Taken at face value, these are ultimately are ill representations of the phenomenon that Sakuta and the others experience and end up being a minor distraction. While poorly-applied references to quantum mechanics may have had the potential to decimate the emotional impact and strength of Aobuta‘s narrative, it speaks to Kamoshida’s understanding of the human aspects that allows Aobuta to remain immensely engaging and enjoyable. Simply, knowledge of existential philosophy and quantum theory are completely unnecessary towards finding the strengths in Aobuta, a series whose emotional and interpersonal pieces far exceeded my expectations coming in.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because this is a Terrible Anime Challenge, I won’t be discussing Aobuta in my typical manner. I open by remarking that Terrible Anime Challenge shows fall into three categories (“was as good as expected”, “did not meet expectations” or “as poor as described”): Aobuta falls squarely into the “was as good as expected” group, impressing me with its likable characters. Both Mai and Sakuta bounce off one another in reasonable and entertaining ways. Asami Setō performs Mai’s voice: I know her best from Tari Tari‘s Konatsu Miyamoto and Kinuyo Nishi of Girls und Panzer.

  • For the remainder of this post, I will be dealing with misconceptions surrounding quantum mechanics, either within Aobuta itself or from the community at large. The first deals with Schrödinger’s cat, which is a description of quantum superposition where an object may simultaneously exist in two states, and which state cannot be determined until it is observed: this is only vaguely related to Mai’s situation, which is strictly a matter of how Mai sees herself. It has nothing to do with probability, but rather, stems from Mai’s doubts about herself. she therefore feels that she has become invisible to the world, and the story then goes about presenting this in a literal fashion.

  • While I enjoy considering the applicability of real-world phenomenon in fiction, ultimately, fiction exists to tell a particular story, and so, I am not particularly fond of treating intrapersonal problems as a matter analogous with science. One particularly poorly-written case argues that Mai exists in a single reality, but with multiple states as described by Schrödinger’s cat, which is supposedly rectified by pushing her towards the probability of existing or the observer. However, this explanation, besides being a pointless exercise in verbosity, does not account for why Sakuta is able to interact with Mai normally. Before I continue, here’s a lighter moment in Aobuta where Tomoe gives Sakuta a free kick after a misunderstanding occurs while he’s en route to a date with Mai; Tomoe’s perfectly-formed arse is the butt of many of Sakuta’s jokes.

  • Schrödinger’s cat is about how something cannot be known until it is observed – it has nothing to do with probabilities, and therefore, is a completely inadequate representation of Mai’s situation. This is the limitation of attempting to analyse series early into its run: without more information, it is very easy to commit fallacies because the bigger picture is not known. Early discussions suggest that Aobuta‘s theme is that “perception defines reality…and existence, as well”, which is false in light of the events that Sakuta experiences.

  • Rio Futaba is presented as being well-read, but her metaphors are lukewarm at best and outright incorrect at worse. This is by design: being quite shy around others, it is not surprising that she’s not exactly versed with social convention, and as such, analogies she raises do not match. She dispenses with them as Aobuta progresses, which is a powerful indicator that viewers were never meant to take the quantum mechanics comparisons seriously to begin with, and therefore, there is no meaningful discussion to be had by bringing such matters to the table. By comparison, Sakuta manages to distill out enough to determine what needs to be done to help the individual in question and invariably solves the problem by compassion, rather than logic.

  • Tomoe’s situation is similarly mentioned to involve a “Laplace’s Dæmon”: after Sakuta experiences a time loop akin to that of Endless Eight, Rio suggests this as the cause. This concept supposes that the outcome of any situation is known given a sufficiently large amount of information. The original concept assumed this to mean “the position of the atoms”, but this concept has been dismissed for its inability to conform with the Laws of Thermodynamics, namely, that some processes are irreversible, so no Laplace’s Dæmon could exist to reconstruct a state at time t-1 given a set of parameters at time t.

  • Determinism is most certainly not the theme of Tomoe’s arc; this is a principle that supposes that all events exist independently of human consciousness (i.e. free will). The matter of whether or not free will exists is a topic I will not cover for the present, and in the context of Aobuta, determinism has no place in discussion because the time loop’s cause is ultimately Tomoe’s inability to let go of a certain outcome and desires to keep rolling the dice until a desirable result arises. Rather than philosophy, understanding of human nature here explains why a time loop was chosen to represent feelings of longing and regret.

  • Because humans are involved, human solutions end up being what breaks the time loop. Sakuta manages to get the truth out of Tomoe: she’s fallen in love with him and cannot bear to let go. After a heart-to-heart talk, Sakuta manages to help her accept that they can still remain friends, allowing her to remain connected with her other friends without alienating them. The same folks who asserted Schrödinger’s cat needed analysis for Mai’s arc to be understood subsequently had trouble with figuring out where the Laplace’s Dæmon could hold for Tomoe’s arc. Tomoe is voiced by Nao Tōyama (Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen Kujo and Kantai Collection‘s Kongo).

  • When Rio’s arc arrives, and it turns out that two simultaneous versions of Rio exist, the individuals above assert that the two incarnations of Rio represent id and ego, principles from Sigmund Freud. I was wondering when Freud would appear in discussions. In this Freudian model of the psyche, id is supposed to represent the baser aspects of human nature, and then ego is a more rational element that maximises some goal function for the future and for satisfying the id. I’m not sure why anime fans generally hold Freudian concepts as being valid – some of his theories have proven to be cripplingly incomplete and catastrophically wrong, failing to account for why people act the way they do. In particular, id and ego are not credible concepts in any way given the complete lack of evidence to suggest that they hold true.

  • Instead, Rio splitting into two manifestations is much simpler explained as a character versus self conflict, made visceral by having her develop two physical selves. There is a side of Rio who wants to use her physical attributes to increase the attention people are paying to her, especially Yūma Kunimi, Sakuta’s best friend, who is dating Saki Kamisato, and another side who is content with the status quo but longs for more. Reconciling this internal struggle involves a human solution: Sakuta engineers a chance for Rio to come to terms with her feelings and has both Rios invite one another to the summer festival, merging the two personas back into one.

  • Throughout Aobuta, I’ve noticed a recurring trend in that as the series progresses, the focus on the philosophical and scientific aspects in discussions elsewhere diminishes in lockstep with the decreasing emphasis within Aobuta itself, and curiously, as these elements dissipate, so did some individual’s enjoyment. I’m not sure why some people demand convoluted narratives with quasi-academic elements in them to motivate their discussion, especially when it’s clear that such topics are not their area of expertise. While there is nothing wrong in learning about other disciplines, it is problematic if individuals asset to be authorities where they are not. This is what motivates the page quote: I’ve long felt that folks who act as though they are experts in a matter are more harmful to a discussion than those who are unfamiliar with the topic, and this is why I’m always mindful to not overstep what I know.

  • By the time Nodoka’s arc appears, even the most ardent efforts to force a scientific explanation on things prove ineffectual: in Aobuta itself, Rio speculates the body switching is some form of quantum teleportation and leaves Sakuta to work out a solution, indicating that science and philosophy are irrelevant. Nodoka’s problem manifests as body switching: resentful of Mai’s successes, Nodoka longs for her mother’s approval. She’s voiced by Maaya Uchida (GochiUsa‘s Sharo Kirima, Rui Tachibana of Domestic na Kanojo and Rei from VividRed Operation). The body switching exposes to Nodoka how difficult Mai’s job is, further increasing her dislike of Mai, whom she feels is flawless and a natural at whatever she does.

  • Nodoka is pushed over the edge after a concert Mai performs in, but when Mai reveals that she kept Nodoka’s letters to motivate herself, Nodoka comes to terms with who she is. Conscious transfer is a topic strictly consigned to the realm of science fiction: because the machinations of the mind remain poorly characterised, there is no satisfactory hypothesis for how a conscious manifests itself.

  • I join the ranks of many others before me in saying that the interactions between Mai and Sakuta are remarkably refreshing and genuine. While Sakuta has a predisposition for the lewd, at heart, he is trying to inject humour into what would otherwise be a fairly serious situation. As a protagonist, Sakuta is very likeable: unlike Oregairu‘s Hachiman, who comes across as being a smartass with no understanding of social structure, Sakuta does his best to relate those who are around him. Aobuta does outwardly resemble Oregairu, in terms of art style and its focus on youth, but Aobuta is ultimately more optimistic and better written, since Sakuta has clear motivations to help those around him.

  • This motivation stems from Sakuta’s fear of being unable to help his sister, and as it turns out, having been unable to prevent Kaede from suffering amnesia was what led to the scars on his chest. After Sakuta explains Kaede’s situation to Mai and Nodoka, Kaede decides to set goals for herself with the eventual aim of going back to school. In her state throughout Aobuta, Kaede is cheerful, somewhat dimwitted and fearful of strangers. However, the original Kaede was more reserved and taciturn: when Kaede recovers her memories, the time she’d spent with Sakuta and the others vanish from her memories.

  • While coming out from the shadows of something like OregairuAobuta stands out because it ultimately has a more optimistic tone, and Sakuta’s actions have a clear benefit for him, as well as those around him. By comparison, Oregairu‘s portrayal of Hachiman leaves him feeling like an apathetic misanthrope whose story ends up carrying no weight regardless of who his actions benefit: I am not particularly fond of Hachiman, and Oregairu‘s enjoyment factor came from his interactions with Yui and Yukino.

  • Mention of a scientific or philosophical concept does not mean a work of fiction intends to use it to advance the narrative further; in stories where the focus is purely on the human element, the gains to viewers are what characters learn from their experiences. Aobuta‘s phenomenon could be justified by constructs like the Infinity Stones, and the anime would still hold all of its weight. I would prefer that discussion focus on what the characters are doing and shown to be doing, rather than seeing people regard quantum tunneling and wave collapse as being literal representations of the emotional turbulence that youth experience.

  • One may wonder why I am so vehemently opposed to things that, for the want of a better phrase, “sound smart”. The answer to this is simple: one of the biggest aversions I have is ultracrepidarianism, referring to people who act like they know more than they do. An irritant at best, people who believe themselves to be more qualified than they are have the potential of causing real damage in society; an example is Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, who asserted a (nonexistent) link between vaccinations and autism, resulting in an increasing instance of people who hold his findings as true and refuse to vaccinate their children. Ultracrepidarians are one of the few things I do not tolerate, and while they are unlikely to have the same impact in the realm of discussion on fiction, such individuals can still be disruptive to what constitutes as good discussion.

  • In shows such as Aobuta, authentic discussion entails drawing from one’s own experiences, well-established social norms and anecdotal evidence as rationale in justifying (or renouncing) the actions that characters take. Attempting to play philosopher or psychiatrist on the characters is not beneficial, since the individual doing so does not have the same background or assumptions as the author would: I’ve mentioned before that Death of the Author is a very presumptuous way to approach media. The author’s intent matters because it allows audiences to understand a specific perspective on a work, which relates back to the society and its attendant conditions that led to the author expressing their thoughts into a narrative. Excluding this is to dispose of that context, ultimately resulting in a loss of information.

  • My final verdict on Aobuta is that it has definitely earned its praises: this is a solid A grade (9 of 10) for being able to vividly portray the human stories to each arc that Sakuta encounters. Aobuta is greatly helped by the fact that Sakuta is more optimistic and friendly, as well as acting as an amusing foil for Mai, with whom his interactions become entertaining to watch. Characters and their experiences drive the thematic elements, and while the series may incorporate elements of quantum theory into its run, Aobuta makes it clear that these elements were feebly presented precisely because the experiences of youth cannot be so readily compared to even more abstract concepts. In short, one does not need to know anything about the particle-wave duality, determinism or quantum tunneling to get the most out of Aobuta.

The inclusion of such abstract concepts in Aobuta as a deliberate choice allows Kamoshida to deal elegantly with one long-standing complaint I have about light novels: their propensity to force pedantic characters into the role of the protagonist. Aobuta has Rio embody this role as a secondary character, and when I began watching the series, I was unimpressed with her role in acting as a resource for seemingly explaining away the phenomenon that Sakuta encounters. However, progressing into Aobuta meant seeing the characters’ true personalities and nature be explored. After Rio herself experiences a manifestation of this phenomenon, her inclination to rationalise it is diminished: Kamoshida appears to suggest, through Rio’s increasingly half-hearted efforts to present Adolescent syndrome as having a scientific basis, that there simply is no effective way to compare something as nuanced and complex as human emotions during youth with thought experiments meant to deal with science. The pseudo-science is thus displaced by genuine, heartfelt moments as Sakuta helps Tomoe, Rio, Nodoka and Kaede in overcoming their internal struggles. Consequently, this means that viewers have no need to consider the withertos and whyfors behind why things happen: the who and the what are much more valuable. As Aobuta progresses, Rio becomes less of an encyclopaedia and into a fully-fleshed out character. The lessons of Aobuta are that a story’s enjoyability and ability to capture an audience’s interests lies strictly and entirely within its characters, as well as their dynamics. In the complete and total absence of philosophy and science, series that deal with youth can therefore remain incredibly compelling because at its core, they are about the people and how they overcome their challenges, rather than real-world principles that demand dedicated study. Beyond its execution, Aobuta featured solid technical aspects that come together to create an anime that merits praise. Having now seen it for myself, I understand why people consider this to be a strong series, and so, I can readily recommend Aobuta, albeit with one caveat: prospective viewers should not go into Aobuta thinking quantum mechanics and philosophy are requirements, as the series has numerous merits that make it exceptionally engaging and compelling.

Valentines and Hot Springs!: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid OVA Review and Reflection

“When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love.” –Horace Slughorn, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

On Valentines’ Day, Tohru is unsuccessful in giving Kobayashi chocolates spiked with a love potion. Kanna receives chocolates from her classmates and Kobayashi shares chocolates at work. Later, Kobayashi accidentally consumes the spiked chocolates from Tohru and becomes drunk. Makoto invites everyone to a hot springs; after a busy day spent relaxing and doing the sorts of things one might do at a hot springs, Tohru gives Kobayashi regular chocolates. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a unique entry among my “Terrible Anime Challenge” series in many ways – besides being an absolutely engaging and enjoyable series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid also has an OVA that accompanied the seventh BD volume. Par the course for an OVA, it’s an opportunity to have the characters play off one another in romance, and further becomes a thinly-veiled justification to put the characters in a hot springs; traditionally, episodes such as these contribute very little to the narrative. However, this is not to say that OVAs are devoid of value, and my enjoyment of OVAs typically come from presenting characters in a much more relaxed, or even whimsical moment that shows different aspects to their personalities. In Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Fafnir is given more exposition: despite his disdain for humanity, that he goes along with customs such as Valentines’ Day and hot springs trips in reasonable accordance with Makoto indicates a degree of begrudging respect for the things that humanity does.

A mile wide and a mile deep, is how I described Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in my original review: there was enough by way of themes in the thirteen episodes dealing with acceptance of new culture, the importance of family, shifts in perspective through immersion, not taking things for granted, et cetera, such that audiences could relate to various aspects of the show in their own manner of choosing. Without deliberately and forcibly pressing its messages, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid presents ideas through everyday events, having the characters learn and discover things naturally. All of this is encapsulated in comedy, making the characters more relatable. The OVA does the same in its shorter runtime – it is a miniaturised Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, condensing the style and sense of the entire series into a single episode and providing the unique brand of humour the series is known for. In particular, Tohru’s attempts to seduce Kobayashi using a love potion, and Kobayashi catching on was quite amusing. It should be no surprise that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid utilises its world well to set up humour, and the jokes seen in the OVA have lost none of their potency.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Twenty screenshots for a single OVA is usually the norm for a full-fledged series that I’m writing for, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is no exception. Had I done a more conventional review for this series, I would’ve likely given things a thirty-screenshot talk. Even now, I’m impressed that what looked to be a frivolous series could cover so many interesting topics adequately over so short a run.

  • It’s no surprise that at this point in time, Kobayashi has known Tohru long enough so that she immediately suspects that there’s something funny in the Valentine’s chocolates. While Tohru might be a dragon more powerful and terrible than even J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ancalagon the Black, Kobayashi always manages to rein in Tohru with naught more than a glance. During the screen capture session, I managed to obtain a hilarious frame of Tohru pulling the chocolates away from Kobayashi, declaring it to be a defective batch, after Kobayashi warns her about spiking the chocolate.

  • Misunderstandings involving Kanna are always defused quickly in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and after Riko wonders why everyone is so quick to give Kanna chocolates, Kanna asks for Riko’s chocolates, as well. Despite not receiving any chocolates in return, Kanna’s chosen approach, to eat the chocolate straight out of Riko’s hands, sends her into a bliss.

  • Back home, Kanna’s want for chocolate leads her to find the chocolate that Tohru’s hidden away. This is the chocolate spiked with love potion: chemicals that alter one’s brain chemistry to induce sexual desire certainly exist (aphrodisiacs), the love potions of fiction are liquid medicines that can induce feelings of love. J.K. Rowling writes that no artificial substance could recreate something as complex as love: her love potions only induce infatuation over short periods of time. Given Tohru’s reactions while adding love potion to the chocolate, one would suppose that she’s aware of this.

  • According to Pottermore, the countermeasure for a love potion involves, Wiggentree twigs and Gurdyroot mixed with castor oil. I’m willing to bet that magical substances in the twigs and Gurdyroot must interact in some way with the triester of glycerol and ricinoleic acid in castor oil to neutralise whatever agents are in the love potion. The love potions of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid work differently, and although some claim that the ethanol “cancelled out” the love potion, from a chemistry perspective, this is incorrect. The ethanol present would have been altered in some way (decomposition, or replacement) so that distinct ethanol properties (e.g. inducing drunkenness) would no longer be present. Instead, I’m guessing that the ethanol acted as a catalyst for another reaction with one of the ingredients Tohru added, or else was a non-player in the reaction that neutralised the love potion. Either way, it results in some comedy of the likes not previously seen in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.

  • The OVA consists of two distinct acts, with the second being set around the group’s hot springs trip. They reach the onsen by means of the shinkansen. It typifies anime for depicting various aspects of everyday life in Japan with high faithfulness, and one of the stories I frequently hear is that people often will visit Japan with the aim of recreating their anime experiences, right down to riding trains and the like. For me, riding the trains of Japan were no different than the MTR of Hong Kong, or the LRT back home.

  • When I was in Japan last year, one of my favourite experiences was indeed the onsen. While I live fairly close to the Rocky Mountains and the hot springs of Banff, the geothermal waters of our national parks are actually quite mild in temperature. By comparison, the waters of an onsen were perfect, and I melted in the warm waters of the pool. I had the place to myself that evening, and one thing I noticed was that the (female) cleaning staff seem to have no aversions to continuing their work while I changed.

  • Watching Elma enjoying her food in bliss is most relatable: according to meterologists, we’re significantly colder than seasonal, and the past three weeks that I’ve been back home were characterised by non-stop overcast misery, gloom, and snowfall. Coupled with the chilly weather, I succumbed to a cold and spent several hours of each day in the past week sleeping. Despite this, I’m still getting my work done, and I’m on the mend now. Yesterday, I stepped out for dinner under moody skies: having recovered a fair bit, I decided it was prudent to enjoy myself but not eat too much, so I had a chicken steak sizzling plate with mushroom and red-wine sauce, corn, egg-fried-rice and fries at the local bistro. Dark chicken meat is my go-to meat of choice when I’m not at my best – highly nutritious, it’s also tender and tasty.

  • I often feel that, if I had a sauna at hand, I could spend a quarter hour in there upon feeling the onset of a cold. One of the classic methods to lessen the severity of a cold that my parents employ, is to drink 盒仔茶 (jyutping hap6 zai2 caa4, known more commonly as Kam Wo Tea), a bitter herbal tea with centuries of history. I’m personally on the rocks about its efficacy in stopping a cold, since I always end up requiring a day to rest regardless of whether or not I take it, but as far as relieving a sore throat goes, Kam Wo Tea does eliminate it within a day if taken right when one feels a cold incoming.

  • One way or another, with this cold largely behind me, I’m going to return to my routine very soon. I’ve noticed that blogging output for this past month has dropped by half: things have been remarkably busy of late. With this being said, as we move into October, and the fall anime season, posts will come out at a slow and steady rate. A few shows have caught my eye and together with the continuation of my CLANNAD review at the ten year anniversary, I think that this blog will continue to endure for a little while longer.

  • All of the dragons have a noticeable bust, and because my previous Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid post did not do so, I’ll capitalise on this post to feature one of Elma. Her constant bickering with Tohru, weakness in foods and interactions with Kobayashi are fun to watch. Earlier, a short skit in the OVA shows Elma trying to make chocolates of her own, but fails to create anything to give away, as she ends up eating all of the ingredients. Far from Tolkien’s clever and cunning fire-breathers, or Rowling’s untamed beasts, the dragons of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid are much more human in nature despite their origins being both fallible and adorable.

  • Kobayashi’s decision to chill with Kanna draws ire from both Riko and Tohru, after Kobayashi wonders why all dragons manifest as attractive humans. When asked about what she looks like, the images of Kobayashi in dragon form are not particularly illuminating. It is common practise to drink cold milk after a soak in the hot springs, but during my trip to Japan, I did not bring any change with me for the vending machines, only having small bills the machines did not accept. However, I did have a bottle of cold water, and downed this in the blink of an eye, so I can attest to the refreshing properties of a cold beverage after exiting the onsen.

  • Because I was on a schedule, my next move was to hit the hay so as to be rested for the next day’s itinerary. The cast of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid have home field advantage: their vacation is the onsen, so they make use of the inn’s amenities, and play ping pong here. After a spirited match between Tohru and Elma, Riko and Kanna play a much slower match that Kobayashi enjoys watching.

  • Shouta immediately hits the hay after growing flustered upon seeing Quetzalcoatl and Elma. The same age as Riko and Kanna, Shouta is portrayed as being typical of boys his age – he is not so good with teasing, and earlier, storms off after Quetzalcoatl asks if he’s interested in a souvenir. Makoto has the sense to understand that Shouta was interested in the sword keychain and buys one for him.

  • While Riko and Kanna are fast asleep, Tohru and Kobayashi share another moment together. Compared to Kyoto Animation’s other works, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is comparatively simpler in terms of artwork; the impressive lighting and visual effects of things like Hibike! Euphonium or Violet Evergarden are absent, and the anime is more in line with the likes of Tamako Market in its design. However, the animation itself remains of a solid quality, and I imagine that Kyoto Animation carefully picks the appropriate level of detail for each anime that it does.

  • This is not to say that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has poor artwork: a look at the town by night shows that even while working in a simpler environment, Kyoto Animation nonetheless presents it in a rich, appropriate manner to best capture the emotions of a particular moment. The warm lights of the town here stand in contrast with the cool of the night, and sets the mood for a romantic exchange between Tohru and Kobayashi.

  • It turns out that Tohru had made chocolates properly for Kobayashi, and this time, Koyabashi decides that Tohru is being honest with her feelings in this exchange. Audiences will have also picked up on the differences – the Tohru trying to give the spiked chocolates away was more sly and mischievous, whereas here, Tohru exhibits the same nerves that might be seen when giving chocolates to one’s love interest.

  • Kobayashi accepts the gift and munches on the chocolates, before holding her hand out to Tohru and offering to walk back together to the inn. I realise that I am not particularly well-received in some places for my so-called refusal to address yuri in my discussion, and I’ve explained this previously – social and cultural ramifications are not quite as important for me when it comes to addressing this topic, and I only handle it if it is immediately relevant to a show. In shows where romance is present as a central part of or as a natural development in the plot, I will discuss it. However, where it is strictly used as humour (e.g. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? and Harukana Receive, for instance), I will typically not go into further details.

  • It was a riot when Tohru asks Kobayashi whether or not this is the part where they breed. It’s the most open attempt from Tohru yet, and while Kobayashi is quick to shut things down, there is no exasperation or frustration. It is doubtful that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid would ever reach that level, keeping things PG and only hinting at Tohru’s want to take things up a notch for humour, but this is quite okay.

  • On the way, back, Kobayashi speaks with Makoto, thanking him for having organised the tour and feeling that with everyone together as often as they are now, they’ve become friends. It is true that since Tohru’s arrival, Kobayashi’s life has become rather more colourful and exciting: for the challenges dragons bring, they also introduce company and joy that has a nontrivial impact on Kobayashi. With this post as my last for the month, I note here that I’m now six posts away from reaching my next major milestone of one thousand posts, and that I’m opening October with a return to CLANNAD, kicking the party off with ~After Story~. Following my conclusion of the first season, I remarked that I would continue to write about CLANNAD if even one reader expressed interest.

One aspect of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid that I did not cover in great depth was the overt attraction Tohru has for Kobayashi: I do not give romantic love between female characters much consideration unless it is present in a way that affects the narrative. In the case of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, the absence of this romance would mean that notions of family and discovery would not be as straightforward. Often, the strong feelings in romance drive profound changes in individuals, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is convincing in using this as a reason for why Tohru and Kobayashi change over the course of the anime. Further to this, a lack of romance would deprive the series of its ability to convey humour: in its absence, many moments would feel much drier. With this being said, it is quite unnecessary to read too deeply into this; past discussions on romance from an academic perspective have proven to be, quite frankly, a waste of time that yielded little more than hurt feelings. I’m in the business of watching and enjoying anime, not persuading closed-minded people to stop attempting to treat every series as a work demanding literary analysis and comparison with classical Japanese, after all. We step away from this matter and note that the OVA for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was released a shade more than a year ago, and with this OVA in the books, I imagine that this is the last time I will be writing about Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in the foreseeable future.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Human Lessons and Dragons in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

“Thor Odinson, you have betrayed the express command of your king. Through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war! You are unworthy of these realms! Unworthy of your title! You’re unworthy!…of the loved ones you have betrayed. I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!” –Odin, Thor

Kobayashi is a software developer who encounters a dragon in the mountains one night after becoming intoxicated, and when she removes a sword from the dragon, she earns the dragon’s gratitude. Introducing herself as Tohru, the dragon decides to become Kobayashi’s maid. While Tohru has the power of the dragons backing her, and she becomes highly efficient with housework, she struggles to understand human customs and values. Over time, other dragons Kanna, Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir and Elma show up: Kobayashi takes things in stride, doing her best to look after Kanna and Tohru while introducing them to human society and keep up with the dragons’ wild antics. Kobayashi moves to a new apartment to accommodate her new roommates, Tohru becomes familiar with the shopping district’s merchants, and Kanna goes to elementary school, befriending classmate Riko. The unlikely roommates celebrate human customs, and as they spend more time together, come to regard one another as a family. Tohru regards Kobayashi as a lover and clashes with her father, the Emperor of Demise; the devotion that Tohru shows Kobayashi also inspires Kobayashi to revisit her own family, after she accepts that she’s become quite distant from them. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon) ran during the winter 2017 season for thirteen episodes – with Kyoto Animation helming the series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was counted as a superb anime for its unique characters and their colourful interactions, striking a balance between the comedic and the introspective.

As it turns out, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid delivers more than superb character growth and interactions: during the course of its thirteen episode (and one OVA) run, the anime covers a wide range of themes. Seemingly unrelated moments in Kobayashi’s life and various experiences come together to create a powerful payout for viewers – as Koabayashi spends time with Tohru, she learns to look back on her own life and appreciate her blessings, while Kanna’s presence also brings out a more motherly side to her personality. The changes in Kobayashi’s life lead somewhere tangible and meaningful: slice-of-life comedies often present light-hearted misadventures with limited purpose, and while they can be quite successful, that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid goes a step further to show that these adventures can lead to a profound change in one’s life for the better. Kobayashi had settled into a status quo in not spending time with her family, focusing on her career, but the introduction of disruption gradually nudges her to think otherwise. Meanwhile, the destructively-inclined Tohru slowly comes to understand humanity to a much greater extent than she had previously, showing that immersion and exposure provides a perspective on things that cannot be acquired in any other way. Each of Kanna, Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir and Elma similarly find a part of human society worth appreciating, and the magic in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is thus – covering enough topics with the depth that it warrants, while at once dealing with a wide breadth of themes that viewers can relate to. The show is a mile wide and a mile deep, featuring something for everyone, and therefore, it is quite unsurprising that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was so well received amongst viewers.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tohru is presented as having romantic feelings for Kobayashi even early in the anime, as seen with her soppy expression here while handling one of Kobayashi’s shirts. While Kobayashi seems blissfully unaware of this, her treatment of Tohru goes from being that of someone to look after to an equal and a peer was one of the best transformations through Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Character development and growth is the central strength of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – things proceed at just the right pacing, with characters having a chance to bounce off one another and also take in quieter moments.

  • The title for this post is actually a bit of a misnomer: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is certainly not a terrible anime by any stretch, and under normal circumstances, would’ve earned a strong recommendation from me. The reason why it was made into a Terrible Anime Challenge post was because I accidentally watched the episodes in the wrong order and found myself buried. I decided to wait until the series ended before continuing, and my usual habits of procrastination kicked in. A year-and-a-half later, I realised I’d still not watched this yet, and so, decided to start from the beginning. With the series in the books, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is something that easily falls into the category of “it’s as every bit as good as the reception out there describes”.

  • Kobayashi has no given name, and I imagine that she is intended to represent the everyman. Described as lacking womanly features, Kobayashi is probably designed in this manner to represent an ordinary individual who finds herself with two cohabiting dragons taking human form. Her down-to-earth and hard working personality is offset by a few quirks, such as a love for maids – many viewers will relate to different aspects of Kobayashi’s character and find her a suitable perspective to observe Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid from.

  • Early on, Kobayashi is exasperated by Tohru and Kanna’s idiosyncrasies and lack of knowledge about the human world. However, she nonetheless does her best to look after them; after moving into a larger apartment, teaches Tohru the basics of human interactions to the point where she can go shopping without causing destruction, and enrols Kanna in a local elementary school to give her a chance to spend time and learn with children. As time goes on, things settle into a routine, and Kobayashi comes to regard both Kanna and Tohru as family.

  • Once Kobayashi begins acclimatising to her life with two dragons, a new status quo is reached, and to keep things dynamic, new dragons are introduced. Quetzalcoatl (Lucoa) is another dragon who was banished and friends with Tohru. She’s frequently presented as a bit of a tease and enjoys flaunting what she has, to the general embarrassment fo those around her – fanservice in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is noticeable, but for the most part, is not a serious distraction from the more interesting points of discussion.

  • Because of her origins, Kanna is exceptionally skilled with academics and athletics, earning the admiration of her peers. She initially antagonises classmate Riko Saikawa, but innocence leads her to view Riko’s hostility as a sign of friendship. After counting Riko a friend, Kanna spends a considerable amount of time with her and eventually, Riko comes to develop a crush on Kanna, becoming weak in the knees whenever Kanna touches her.

  • While Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is set in a seemingly-ordinary world, Shouta’s “summoning” Quetzalcoatl and his father’s mention of magic suggest that there’s a bit more to this universe than meets the eye. For the most part, however, the anime constrains this to the dragon’s abilities, and beyond this, their world is otherwise quite ordinary; things are focused on the daily comings and goings among the characters.

  • Yūki Kuwahara provides Tohru’s voice, and attesting to my narrow band of interests in anime, I’ve not heard of Kuwahara in her other performances besides Hai-Furi‘s Sumire Kishima. With this in mind, Kuwahara captures every aspect of Tohru nicely, from those moments where she entertains wiping the world out for fun, to doting on Kobayashi and attempting to sneak chunks of her tail into cooking by ways of expressing affection.

  • Depending on the world, dragon meat is either regarded as a delicacy or poisonous, and because Kobayashi expresses surprise at the things that Tohru might find edible, the nature of dragon meat in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid will remain a mystery. Tohru is a lovable character whose taste for wanton destruction is tempered by her devotion towards Kobayashi; that Kobayashi can talk her out of rampages is a sign of the two’s closeness.

  • Later down the line, Elma appears on earth and becomes stranded. In order to support herself, she takes up a job with the same company that Kobayashi works with. Ordinarily quite dedicated to her duties and standing directly against Tohru, she’s hampered by a fondness for sweets and often has trouble exercising restraint where they are involved. Elma is voiced by Yūki Takada, who had previously played as New Game!‘s Aoba Suzukaze.

  • Kanna comes to regard Kobayashi as a mother of sorts over time: having looked after Kanna, providing her with handmade lunches for school and taking her shopping, Kobayashi also occasionally teaches Kanna about the human world and encourages her. The joy of this interaction is that despite having had no experience previously, circumstance naturally brings out this side of Kobayashi. Nothing in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid ever comes across as being forced, and this further augments the experience the anime provides.

  • Maria Naganawa’s performance as Kanna is one that she’s become well-known for: Naganawa was cast as Slow Start‘s Kamuri later on, a petite, soft-spoken girl who greatly resembles Kanna in mannerism and appearance and later plays the platelets of Cells at Work. In general, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is more of a heart-warming experience, but Kanna also adds a degree of adorableness to things.

  • While Kobayashi originally had not planned on attending Kanna’s sports festival, she later changes her mind and makes an appearance. Kobayashi is said to have little interest in visiting her family, presumably owing to some difficulties, but as the events of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid progress, she begins to regard Tohru and Kanna as family. This gradually begins reshaping her own perspectives on what family is.

  • How Kobayashi met Tohru is told in flashback: after removing a sword from Tohru, Kobayashi spends a drunken evening with Tohru and piques Tohru’s curiosity about humanity.

  • The last anime to reference The Little Match Girl was GochiUsa, when Sharo imagined herself as the little girl of the story, who was made to sell matches and succumbed to the cold. However, in death, she is relieved of her suffering. Curiously enough, it was through anime that I heard about The Little Match Girl: this story was something I’d never heard of during my days as a primary and secondary student, and from the looks of it, the story has been referenced in anime. Shirobako and Yuru Yuri both have callbacks to this story.

  • While Riko was initially quite hostile towards Kanna, the transformation is nothing short of hilarious once the two become friends – Riko’s reaction to physical contact with Kanna is a recurring joke that is always entertaining to watch. One aspect about the dragons is that for their incredible power and distain for humanity, they can dial it back and doing meaningful things for people. During Christmas, the dragons put on an entertaining play for the shopping district; despite being fraught with tension, the play itself is successful and well-received.

  • Mochi is eaten during the Japanese New Year for luck, and in Japanese folklore, rabbits live on the moon, eternally pounding mochi. This is derived from Chinese folklore, where the Jade Rabbit aids the goddess Chang’e in pounding ingridients for the elixir of life. It so happens that today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, and while a combination of a busy schedule and inclement weather precluded enjoying moon cakes under a full moon, I nonetheless celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with roast chicken and char siu. It was a relaxing evening, which was much welcomed.

  • Admittedly, it is refreshing to write a shorter post not for Harukana Receive – time makes fools of everyone, and with the summer season drawing to a close, I look into the autumn anime season now to see what shows I am watching. The two shows that catch my eye are P.A. Works’ Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, and Anima Yell!, which I’ve tentatively decided to do talks for after three episodes and overall reviews for. Beyond this, there’s Sword Art Online: Alicization (pronounced “Ali-sa-zation”, rather than “ali-kai-tion” as I originally figured it would be) – this is a big anime, spanning four cours, and I’ll be watching this, but not reviewing it with regular frequency.

  • Tohru’s father is the Emperor of Demise and strictly believes that dragons should not interfere on Earth. In some ways, he is similar to Odin Allfather: he has little desire for dragons to ravage Earth with their war and cares for Tohru’s well-being. Seeing Tohru living on Earth with Kobayashi would be to him what Thor’s actions on Jotunheim resumed a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, lending itself to the page quote. When a one-on-one confrontation between Tohru and her father breaks out, Kobayashi intervenes, managing to convince the Emperor of Demise to relent and allow Tohru to stay. Both Thor and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid similarly involve a higher being become changed by their experiences on and becoming close to someone on Earth, as well; coming out of their time on Earth a stronger individual for it.

  • After Kobayashi stands up to Tohru’s father and succeeds in persuading him to trust Tohru, she comes to the realisation that families of all sorts will have their differences and must work out these differences. This leads Kobayashi to finally visit her parents and, showing the impact that Tohru’s had in her life, Kobayashi invites Tohru along. This brings my Terrible Anime Challenge post to an end: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is certainly not terrible, earning an A grade (4 points on the 4-point scale and a nine of ten): it’s an anime that has deservedly earned its praise, and is also a reminder to me that my usual tendencies of procrastination means that I often put off watching excellent shows for far too long. There isn’t anything I can do about this per se, but the fact is that there are many good shows out there worth watching; Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of them.

Consequently, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an anime that I can easily relate to and recommend to viewers: simultaneously hilarious and introspective, making use of both the extraordinary and the mundane, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid shows that the boundary between the normal and incredible is blurred from a certain perspective because the ordinary can be just as important, not to be taken for granted. The culmination of these messages, with the smooth and consistently high-quality animations that Kyoto Animation is known for, strong voice acting and a generally engaging story, means that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is well-deserving of the praises the anime have earned. With the manga still ongoing, this is a series I would have no trouble in following should a continuation be made, and it is only now that I will remark that the reason I had not watched Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid sooner was because I began watching the series out of order, fell behind in watching the series and then decided to shelve the series until it finished. However, I am glad that the series did not fall to the back of my mind; sufficient excitement in the community led me to pick Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid back up, to see if the series was indeed worthy of the acclaim it has garnered, and now that I’ve finished, I think that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes”.

Terrible Anime Challenge: The Absent Magic in Stella no Mahou

“Magic! More Magic! Magic with a Kick! Mag…”
“Insect!”

–Peter Parker vs. Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

Tamaki Honda is a first-year high school student who longs to join a club and make the most of her time as a high school student. Her best friend, Yumine, joins the illustration club, and Tamaki chooses to join the unusually-named SNS (“Some dead fish eyes Not enough sun Shuttle run”) Club, which makes indie games and becomes its illustrator. Although she initially struggles to fit her art into the game that her club’s members seek, support and encouragement from programmer Shiina Murakami, writer Ayame Seki and composer Kayo Fujikawa, Tamaki acclimatises into life with the SNS Club and their eccentricities, eventually helping them release a game in time for an event, having missed the Summer Comiket. Later, Minaha Iino challenges Tamaki to a face off and reluctantly spends more time with the SNS Club. Tamaki struggles from a slump, and the girls work hard to keep Minaha in the club; they publish another title for the next Summer Comiket, and Tamaki reflects on why she’d joined the SNS Club. This is the gist of Stella no Mahou (The Magic of Stella), a series that ran during the autumn 2016 season and deals with game creation and self-discovery in a slower-paced environment than the likes of New Game!, which followed game development as a career in an industry setting. On a cursory glance, Stella no Mahou is the cross between New Game! and Comic Girls, although the differences are quite apparent. While Stella no Mahou seemed to be something that is consistent with the type of series I could get behind, the end result is rather disappointing – this is a series where my own opinion is opposite to that of the community’s, and while reception to Stella no Mahou elsewhere is warm, I do not find the series to be quite as enjoyable.

The main reason why Stella no Mahou did not have a strong positive impact in my case is because of a lack of an end-goal for Tamaki’s investment in the SNS Club. Tamaki is motivated by her friendship with Yumine: having created a game that precipitate a lifelong friend, Tamaki feels that games can be instrumental in bringing people together and so, chooses to contribute to this goal with her existing skill set. However, Tamaki ultimately does not see the results of her efforts. She participates in two sales events and the impact of the games that she’s helped make is left ambiguous: the first summer sale saw a rather small sale, and while Comiket was more successful, Tamaki’s beliefs in bringing people together through games is never vindicated. By comparison, New Game! sees Aoba gradually take on increasing responsibilities at Eagle Jump as her experiences accumulate, and Comic Girls has Kaoruku draw on the sum of her experiences with her friends to create a relatable manga that is accepted for publication. Comic Girls has a colourful, eccentric cast of static, but consistent support characters similar to Stella no Mahou that contribute to their respective protagonists’ developments. However, Stella no Mahou sees Tamaki struggle more on her own as everyone is engrossed in their own goals and assignments, in comparison with Comic Girls, where the others go out of their way to help Kaoruko even when they themselves have impending deadlines. The more distant support characters and inconsistent teamwork amongst the SNS Club, coupled the fact that Tamaki’s never able to see for herself that the games she’s creating is having the impact she’s longed to achieve through creation, means that Stella no Mahou is ultimately unsatisfactory, leaving Tamaki with the short end of the stick.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The short of it is that I did not feel that Stella no Mahou lived up to the expectations that other viewers have established because the journey that Tamaki goes on through the series does not result in a satisfying endpoint for her given her motivations. Instead, the series’ outcome would have been more satisfying had she been motivated by working together with others to make something memorable, having befriended Yumine by making a game together or similar.

  • While superficial and rudimentary in themes, Stella no Mahou does not fully strike out – its strengths lie in its strong voice acting and good animation quality. While perhaps uninspired from a narrative perspective, this series is visually appealing, and the artwork is appropriate for the atmosphere that Stella no Mahou aimed to convey.

  • Tamaki’s skill in drawing mature male characters and a particular fondness for her father are suggested to be significant to the story, but beyond acting as a source of comedy in affecting her ability to create more kawaii characters suited for their game, there seems little to suggest that the notion of Stella no Mahou being a case study for Sigmund Freud’s theories as some have posited.

  • Stella no Mahou is at its strongest when the characters are either working on their game or else hanging out together, and at its weakest when conflicts are introduced that seem to leave the characters in an undue amount of trouble. Early in Stella no Mahou, episodes remained quite focused and enjoyable as Tamaki strove to create something workable for their first project. Their time spent in the club room working on their game is both rewarding and amusing to watch.

  • Outside of the clubroom, the SNS Club do occasionally have excursions, such as when they visit Tamaki’s home in the countryside. When Stella no Mahou was airing, there apparently was a bit of a commotion over translations that were said to have taken away from the inherent meaning of the characters’ dialogue.

  • To give an idea of how backwater Tamaki is, Stella no Mahou depicts Tamaki as using an older computer running Windows XP, an OS that was released in October 2001. To help her with digital art, Shiina installs PaintTool SAI, an ultralight Japanese painting software that is compatible with everything from Windows 98 to Windows 10. One individual with a chip on their shoulder, and the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic” in fiction, asked if it were possible for a Windows XP computer to run SAI. SAI’s requirements are at least a 450 MHz processor, 256 MB of RAM and 512 MB of disk space, can run SAI.

  • Another individual erroneously stated that any Windows XP-configured machine would need a serious upgrade to run SAI, but the reality is that the average PC from 2003-2004 would have had a 2.0-2.4 GHz single-core processor, 1-2 GB of RAM and 50 GB of disk space, meaning that while outdated, Tamaki’s computer should not have any issues running SAI. This is why I advise readers to take caution when reading from Tango-Victor-Tango, where folks often make like they are more knowledgable than they are. Here, Tamaki runs into Teru, a graduate who was once the illustrator for the SNS Club. An unusual character, she shows up from time to time to encourage and motivate Tamaki, although her transience means that her presence was not strictly necessary in Stella no Mahou, much less with her cat-like getup.

  • For the summer fair, Tamaki spends time with Ayame to sell their title, and while their sales are low, it’s a good experience for Tamaki, who gets her first request to do some artwork. The same folks attempting to boost their stock with the query about SAI turn their talents for questioning to asking whether or not high school students are permitted to participate, and get the response that it should be fine provided all of the proper documentation is provided. One wonders, then, why people spend so much time on the internet to learn these things, if they themselves are not directly involved in doujin publishing or similar.

  • Shiina’s pessimistic outlook on the world apparently stems from her mother, who works in software and mentions PHP and Objective-C by name in Stella no Mahou. Folks from Victor-Tango-Victor immediately claim that they know the horrors of commercial software development (where their actual experience is limited to a handful of scripts they wrote in their undergrad), and wonder if it’s possible to put an entire game together over two weeks as the girls have done. I’ve put a functional app together, with API endpoints and serialisation components, in the space of two days, so it’s definitely possible provided that the infrastructure and experience are present. Simple tools, such as the scripting engines for Visual Novels, are similarly trivially straightforwards to use, and as the SNS Club discover, having good illustrations, stories and music is more critical to a visual novel than software development skills.

  • Minaha Iino’s precise role in Stella no Mahou is not well-defined, and I found her presence to detract from the experience. From being fiercely competitive against Tamaki, and collapsing like a house of cards when bested, to treating Tamaki with hostility in one moment and concern the next, she’s the fifth character who, while certainly mixing up the dynamics among the SNS Club, also plays the most minimal of roles in helping Tamaki mature as an illustrator.

  • Minaha later storms the SNS Club’s room, with fire in her heart after playing through their game and watching as it crashes. She meets the remainder of the SNS Club here, and complains to Shiina, who makes to fix the game. Tango-Victor-Tango’s discussions continue to impress with the breadth and depth of their knowledge – here, our questioner wonders what the point of hotfixes are if games are packaged on CDs. However, it is common knowledge that CD-ROMs are merely installation media, and once the executables are loaded onto a computer, they can be patched. Maxis’ 2003 title, Sim City 4, for instance, was offered as a CD and saw several patches over its lifetime.

  • While one could argue that I’m no different than the folks at Tango-Victor-Tango with my approaches, this is a difficult case to uphold, since I typically address interesting bits of trivia by directly answering them, rather than placing the burden on others to address. My goal in writing about anime, especially for series where it might be difficult for me to say something meaningful, is to leave readers somewhat entertained. Even if it is for a post like this one, where I say that I did not enjoy something, I am going to nonetheless try and keep things fresh by drawing on assorted details in the show (or existing conversations that can be fun to disprove) to drive the discussions.

  • Moving into the second half of Stella no Mahou, focus turns towards Minaha’s attempts to constantly outdo Tamaki and inability to recognise Ayame as the author whose works moved her greatly. Minaha’s addition to the SNS club provides another illustrator, and while her conflicts with Tamaki may have been used to help bolster Tamaki’s confidence, Stella no Mahou ends up showing that the conflict only throws Tamaki into disarray. Similarly, resistance from Minaha’s sister to her participation in the SNS Club was illogical and seemed present only to introduce urgency into a series where urgency is very much a foreign concept.

  • One curiosity about Stella no Mahou discussion at Tango-Victor-Tango is that, in spite of all the questions surrounding trivialities unrelated to the narrative, no one there was able to reach a verdict on whether this series was enjoyable or not. By comparison, folks who’ve focussed on the series’ story and characters from a higher-level perspective ended up with the conclusion that Stella no Mahou was worth watching, which is what ended up leading me to give this a go, to see if the series met expectations and also, if it warranted the serious discussion some evidently felt it necessary to give the series.

  • Sentiment surrounding Stella no Mahou is positive, and more reasonable folks than myself hold that Tamaki’s growth, however minute, is present – she comes some distance from being a novice, to having helped to work on a title that sold at Comiket. This is counted a strength of the series, and while quite different than my own assessment, is a fair assessment nonetheless. However, I would not agree to claims that Stella no Mahou is superior to New Game!, which tried something different and managed to rivet me with a compelling tale of growth. By comparison, Stella no Mahou pales.

  • Teru is considered to be the keystone that gave the SNS Club the motivation and energy to out something memorable together when she was still a high school student. Coming and going as she pleases throughout Stella no Mahou, Teru feels more of a guardian spirit than a standard character, showing up to look out for the girls whenever they need the assistance. Beyond having a major impact on the SNS Club, Teru remains a bit of an enigma to both Tamaki and the viewers.

  • When it comes to slice-of-life anime, especially Manga Time Kirara adaptations, I am of the mind that one should approach these shows with a relaxed mindset, entering with the goal of enjoying what the characters do, taking in their interactions and ultimately, seeing what they get out of their experiences, rather than picking apart minute details pertaining to realism or working out thematic elements that are broader in nature (for instance, relating to social issues or human nature). Such series rarely disappoint – it is only the case when the character interactions and growth fall short that Manga Time Kirara series are unsuccessful.

  • The end of the Comiket marks a bit of a milestone for Tamaki, although it was not quite able to leave an impact on me. I’ve heard that there are a pair of OVAs that are set before Stella no Mahou proper, following life in the SNS Club while Teru was still a high school student, and these OVAs would minimally lessen the sense of mystery surrounding her, as well as providing insight into what the SNS Club was like prior to Tamaki’s arrival in Stella no Mahou.

  • The page quote is sourced from Infinity War, when Spiderman makes use of Dr. Strange’s portals to land hits on Thanos before Thanos swats him from the air, hilariously dubbing him an insect for being an irritation. It is strangely suitable for describing my reaction to Stella no Mahou, which strives to present to viewers its magic, and in my case, coming up short. The magic in Stella no Mahou was not there for me, and while I take no particular pleasure in writing about shows I do not fully appreciate, one plus about the Terrible Anime Challenge is that for some series, I am able to take titles for series and then make puns with them that are bad enough so that existing readers consider unfollowing my blog for all eternity.

  • On the whole, Stella no Mahou scores a C-, (5.5 of 10, or 1.7 on a 4-point scale), which is the lowest score that a show can score if I am to watch it all the way through (a show scoring a D or lower would be dropped). With a story that rapidly unravelled once Minaha shows up and ultimately costing Tamaki the journey to discover that her wish about game-making was true, I am not particularly pleased with how things wrapped up for Stella no Mahou. I normally don’t do negative reviews, but the Terrible Anime Challenge series has occasionally required that I step out of my comfort zone to figure out why something did not work for me. I reiterate that these are purely my opinions, and that other viewers who’ve enjoyed Stella no Mahou will certainly have their reasons for enjoying it.

The strength of Manga Time Kirara series lie in seeing the journey characters take towards a heartwarming outcome, but in the case of Stella no Mahou, the ending that Tamaki deserves is lost. Moreover, the journey feels to be a half-hearted one – depictions of Tamaki’s time in the SNS Club are interrupted by external events that seem to offer little towards her experiences, and the impediments that she faces are implausible, holding Tamaki back without providing her with a take-away message. Consequently, I found that Stella no Mahou did not meet the expectations set by existing reception. Others remark that the series is warm and relaxing, and while this alone can be reason alone to watch a series, I’ve now seen enough Manga Time Kirara series to note that every series does something slightly differently, sufficiently such that there’s a reason to keep watching it for all of the nuances (especially with respect to the characters), Stella no Mahou is missing the same magic that makes the other so interesting: it feels that the series is going through the motions of presenting the SNS Club’s journey towards making a pair of video games, and relies more so on eccentric characters than strong character development and growth, especially in its second half, which is to the series’ detriment. This is a series that I would not recommend for general viewers, although Manga Time Kirara fans and folks looking for slower-paced series featuring familiar elements will likely think better of Stella no Mahou than I did. The manga for Stella no Mahou is ongoing, but in the event that there is a continuation, I will not be continuing with this series.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Koufuku Graffiti and How Diagnosing Fictional Characters Diminishes a Series’ Meaning

“There is no right way to go on an edible journey. You can never tell what is going to be great, so you have to try everything.” –Adam Richman

After her grandmother’s death, Ryou Machiko struggled to cook dishes that tasted well until meeting her cousin, Kirin Morino. Learning that the joy of cooking comes from being able to make things for others, Ryou redevelops her affinity in creating various dishes for Karin. The two also befriend Shiina, one of Ryou’s friends, and together, share various meals with one another, their families and peers. In its run, Koufuku Graffiti‘s main theme is a simple and familiar one: activities have more meaning to them when done with peers. However, unlike Yuru Camp△, whose story depicted individual and group activities as both having their merits, Koufuku Graffiti singularly suggests that cooking with others and cooking for others is where the magic comes from. This message is driven home very early in the game, and after this became established, Koufuku Graffiti maintains this status quo: there’s very little in the way of narrative beyond Ryou rediscovering her love of cooking once episode one has elapsed, and Koufuku Graffiti offers very little in the way of substance beyond uncommonly high detail depictions of the preparation and consumption of said foodstuffs. While I concur with the near-universal perspective that food superbly represented in Koufuku Graffiti, I find myself at odds with the sentiments that Koufuku Graffiti has a more substantial message beyond this – beyond its presentation of food and the positive impacts it has, the series is unremarkable from a thematic and execution perspective. There are some long-standing perspectives on Koufuku Graffiti that do not hold up on further inspection, and in this Terrible Anime Challenge, I will take a look at the egregious misconceptions that have developed around Ryou’s mental health prior to cooking for Kirin.

The most severe and misleading misinterpretation about Koufuku Graffiti is that Ryou is suffering from major depressive disorder following her grandmother’s death. The folks making this claim do so on the basis that Ryou has lost touch with her cooking at the very beginning of Koufuku Graffiti, finding her results tasteless and uninspired. Further to this, Ryou’s parents are largely absent, and because strong social connections are a key aspect in mental well-being, it would initially appear that Ryou’s situation could lead to problems in mental health. Similarly, studies have found that different moods can indeed affect one’s sense of taste, and a diminished sense of taste is a possible indicator of depression. However, even in the first episode, Ryou does not exhibit the symptoms indicative of major depressive disorder, which is characterised by a loss of interest in activities, fatigue, impaired decision making and weight change. Ryou continues to cook, and continues to look after herself: her life, while quite colourless, is not consistent with symptoms of major depressive disorder. No inner monologues make this obvious, and while major depression can be asymptomatic, Koufuku Graffiti does not explicitly illustrate that Ryou is affected. She warmly welcomes Kirin upon meeting her, and cooks in her usual manner for Kirin. Koufuku Graffiti depicts Ryou as immediately regaining her sense of taste, which metaphorically corresponds with her near-immediate change in perspective. Recovery from major depression is not something that occurs in an instant: this is a process that takes time, and one does not simply regain their sense of taste at that speed. These are some indicators that Ryou’s condition is more consistent with situational depression, as she’s largely functional and encounter sadness on some occasions. Further reading finds that situational depression and major depression require different treatments: the former can be dealt with by being with friends and family, routine exercise and eating well, while major depressive disorders may involve clinical interventions. The absence of obvious signs, in conjunction with the fact that Ryou recovers very quickly once Kirin and Shiina comes into her life might be indicative that she’s experiencing situational depression following from her grandmother’s death, although I note that as I’ve not the qualifications to decisively say so, this is only a very broad interpetation. However, what is clear is that, once Ryou begins cooking for others, she sees a marked improvement in her well-being in very short order. So, as the MythBusters might say, that Ryou has major depressive disorder is busted.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like Anne Happy before, this Terrible Anime Challenge post will have the standard of twenty screenshots, and the figure captions will only be tangentially relevant to the screenshots at hand: the goal of this discussion is to soundly disprove any of the misconceptions and misleading perspectives that have appeared about Koufuku Graffiti. I note that for the most part, audiences have been very good about keeping focused on the aspects of the series that the authors wanted audiences to focus on. This is, of course, the food; SHAFT series or not, psychological elements are the cause, not effect, of Koufuku Graffiti. However, for this post, food is not going to be at the forefront of discussion.

  • When I first watched Koufuku Graffiti, it was a month after it had finished airing, and I was in the middle of converting my thesis project from Unity to Unreal. At the time, my focus was on playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, and getting started with The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki. Having spent most of the winter semester keeping up with being a graduate student, I was barely managing to keep the blog updated and so, did not have time to spare towards watching Koufuku Graffiti, much less dispelling some of the various untruths about the series that had arisen.

  • Ryou Machiko is Koufuku Graffiti‘s central protagonist. Voiced by Rina Satō (Gundula Rall of Brave Witches), Ryou is a second-year middle school student, aspires to enroll in a high school with a strong art programme and is highly skilful at cooking. When Kirin, her cousin, arrives, Ryou begins to cook for her and in the process, rediscovers what cooking is about. Kirin is voiced by Asuka Ōgame, whose only role I know is that of Vividred Operation‘s Momo Isshiki. Overall, I found this a touching message, but from here on out, Koufuku Graffiti has Ryou and her friends explore different dishes to cook.

  • To help jog the reader’s memories, Terrible Anime Challenge posts have three possible outcomes. They either exceeded expectations, did not meet the expectations set by existing reception for it or else was as poor as existing reception described. Koufuku Graffiti falls squarely into the second category: while I’m not fond of throwing the word around, Koufuku Graffiti is a rare instance of a show that I consider overrated. It’s a good show in that it has some entertainment value, but I fail to see what makes this title a cut above the host of other slice-of-life anime I’ve seen.

  • Shiina is one of Ryou’s longtime friends and is portrayed as being elegant but also enigmatic. She’s voiced by Mikako Komatsu (Ayame Kagurazaka of Eromanga Sensei, Sanae Kōzuki from Sakura QuestAldnoah.Zero’s Amifumi Inko, Saki Maruyama of Girls und Panzer, Tari Tari‘s Jan and Nagi no Asakura‘s Miune Miuna Shiodome). As fragile as Kirin is fit, Shiina seems to fall ill from random various causes. I never did understand why anime required their characters to have these sorts of attributes, as they detract from the immersion that more ordinary characters confer.

  • Shiina, Ryou and Kirin’s cooking results in dishes that Adam Richman would have no trouble describing as heavenly in the multitude of colourful praises that he articulates whenever he tries a particularly creative and tasty new dish. In Koufuku Graffiti, various dishes, including omuricesomen, broiled eel, oden and pizza are among the dishes featured. Its preparation and consumption are rendered in vivid detail, although I am in the minority in that I find the highly detailed lips a little off-putting.

  • Ryou is presented as being very mature for her age; she is able to live alone and manages her day-to-day life without supervision. In spite of this, she’s still a second year of middle school, which puts her as being either thirteen or fourteen. A quick glance at this here screenshot and its subject will find the latter is probably the case. Unlike Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Mimori, who shares a similar figure with Ryou, Koufuku Graffiti is remarkably disciplined in its presentation of Ryou: she’s presented with rigid-body physics in a foot race. I suppose it’s only natural, given the theme in Koufuku Graffiti.

  • The artwork of Koufuku Graffiti is solid, with generally high quality in animation and artwork, but the high-fidelity eating moments, which some viewers will find to be true fanservice moments of the series.

  • I argue that the undue focus on mental health in some discussions is highly detrimental to the overall enjoyment of Koufuku Graffiti, and the main reason for this is because of the way the series is structured. Had Koufuku Graffiti been about Ryou’s mental health, her backstory would have been presented in a much more structured fashion, and her recovery would have been presented over a longer period of time. This is evidently not the case: once Ryou discovers her raison d’être for cooking, her spirits improve considerably, and she spends her time explaining to Shina and Kirin how her recipes work. This is typical of a series that is intended to be about food.

  • The individual in question making the diagnosis (or more accurately, a misdiagnosis) is the same individual who has plagued previous discussions of the Manga Time Kirara adaptations I have watched. From assessing Rin Shima’s personality with Jungian archetypes, to deconstructing Eagle Jump’s industry practises, I’ve encountered this individual’s load of bollocks time and time again since I got into Manga Time Kirara adaptations. If they are to be believed, this individual is a polymath, an expert in fields as diverse as psychology, software engineering, statistics, economics and literary analysis.

  • Despite Ryou being well-developed for her age from what we’ve seen of her, Koufuku Graffiti has no episodes set in the hot springs or the beach as most anime of its genre are wont to doing to give the series a wanton and unnecessary justification of showing off her figure. As such, her enjoying a milk popsicle with Kirin here is about as close as it gets. The practise of drinking milk after taking a dip in the onsen is a well-known one, being both refreshing and important for rehydration. When I exited the onsen last I was in Japan, I only had water on hand, but it was refreshing all the same.

  • I’m not the only person out there who finds mild irritation with these approaches towards anime: apparently, this individual had run afoul of folks in other anime communities, and these folks stopped by here a ways back to share their grievances. In doing so, I learned that the individual in question is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a doctorate in genetics and has a bit of a checkered past. I don’t condone the practise of publishing personal information, so this is as much as I am willing to share, but I do note that this information is consistent with the behaviours I’ve seen from this individual within the anime community. I also remark that I’ve read through his thesis paper and found the research uninspired for the PhD level: my colleagues have worked on projects of similar complexity during our time as undergraduates in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme.

  • As icing on the cake, when it came to Ryou, this individual has asserted that he “[doesn’t] make disgnoses [sic] lightly, but [he] clearly [has] a hunch for it”. Having missed a diagnosis completely in their hubris, I think that this individual takes themselves too seriously, and it’s clear that they aren’t qualified to make such a call: after all, their background is in genetics, not mental health. The reason why I take exception to attempts to psychoanalyse fictional characters is that diagnosing characters with various conditions implies the intent to disregard the author’s intended reasons for writing a character in the manner that they do. “Death of the author” is a very self-centred and conceited approach towards looking at a work, since a work is written in a particular manner precisely because the author had something to say about the world they know. Thus, to disregard this is to ignore elements that resulted in a work being the way that it is and impose one’s own world-view on a work

  • The end result of this attitude is akin to playing with fire, as Karin finds out here when the girls are roasting saury over an open fire. Trying to play armchair physician does not meaningfully contribute to discussions about a story, and even if one had gotten the diagnosis for Ryou correct, this is ultimately irrelevant to the journey that they go on through the story and their subsequent development. In Koufuku Graffiti, the death of Ryou’s grandmother is the disruption that leads her to take up cooking for Kirin with the goal of rediscovering her love for cooking, but the specifics are not important in affecting how her journey unfolds.

  • Consequently, while I am of the mindset that there is no wrong way of enjoying media, seeing the misleading and outright fallacious claims have led me to make a single exception: the wrong way to enjoy fiction is to analyse it and hold the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic”. Back in Koufuku Graffiti, from a certain point of view, Ryou is reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Mocha: both characters have a warm and mature personality, enjoy looking after those around them.

  • Koufuku Graffiti‘s manga is written by Makoto Kawai, not to be confused with the neurophysiologist from Stanford of the same name. The manga concluded in November 2016, and and given the focus on cooking, I find it very difficult to believe that the manga was intended to be about mental health. It is quite convenient, then, that it is equally difficult to find any information on the author’s background, allowing folks to assert that “saying Makoto Kawai hasn’t experienced loneliness and grief is like saying Sakurasou’s Hajime Kamoshida hasn’t studied a word about autism” without additional sources to back these claims up.

  • My grievances about folks who parade their so-called intelligence in places like Tango-Victor-Tango are long-standing, and I’ve always held that in fiction, it is acceptable to break from reality when realism stands in the way of a coherent theme. This is why it is a fallacy to immediately assume that everything in fiction ought to be realistic and then use real-world observations to make a conclusion about a series.

  • I finished Koufuku Graffiti in late May three years ago, and upon finishing, I did not feel that I could write a standard post for the series without sleeping on it for a few days. Days turned to weeks, months and years; Koufuku Graffiti was modestly fun to watch, but I never got out of it the same experience that most of the viewers did. I make it a point to not write about series that I do not decisively enjoy, and I remained on the fence about this one. However, after watching Matimi0’s Terrible Weapon Challenge series, I felt that I could write about Koufuku Graffiti in a manner of speaking: I honestly feel the anime to be overrated, and the Terrible Anime Challenge would be suited for this approach.

  • This is probably my most controversial Terrible Anime Challenge to date, and I do not expect my readers to agree with me on my final verdict for Koufuku Graffiti, but that’s fine. Everyone experiences anime differently, and maybe I have a few screws loose or something, but I was not moved by this series half as much as most viewers were. I did mention that most of my figure captions would not be related to Koufuku Graffiti or food, but here, I will share with readers my favourite food item: char-broiled lobster tail with a healthy side of butter. Coming in a close second is Montréal Smoked Meat poutine and har gow. Having said this, I enjoy most everything; like Nadeshiko of Yuru Camp△, I’m a big fan of food in general.

  • Overall, I would give Koufuku Graffiti a C+ grade (2.4 on the four point scale, corresponding with a 6.5 of ten). The series is not poor by any stretch, and its presentations of food are top-tier, but there is not a substantial component on mental health, and assertions otherwise are downright wrong. With this being said, I feel that the series would’ve done better to make Shiina and Kirin more ordinary – their eccentricities make them a bit unrelatable compared to the down-to-earth Ryou and ended up being quite distracting. Having slightly older characters would have also been more logical, as well. While I do not expect my assessment to be an opinion that everyone shares, I am curious to know what about Koufuku Graffiti did work for those that did enjoy it, and similarly, if I have tread on a few toes with my arguments, I’d be quite happy to hear why I should think more clinically about anime.

Consequently, I am immensely grateful that the individual in question is not my mental health specialist – their argument amounts to a misdiagnosis, and being given antidepressants when one does not need them both would lead to some unpleasant side effects. In the realm of mental health, insistently treating all cases as though they require a clinical intervention has long proven to be ineffective. It typified some in the community to fancy themselves as professionals in a discipline that is evidently beyond their qualifications, and for my part, as a member of the audience, I feel that it is not our duty to diagnose fictional characters even if one did have the proper qualifications. The series only lightly touches on mental health – the presence of comedy means that this aspect was not meant to be a central part of the anime. Most praises around Koufuku Graffiti rightly lie with its rendition of various dishes that Ryou and her friends make. As such, if we step back from attempts to shoehorn a serious discussion of mental health into Koufuku Graffiti and return to a plane of discussion that is relevant, then Koufuku Graffiti is an average anime. The characters are bog-standard, quiet likeable and otherwise befitting of a relaxed setting. They mature and develop naturally, but in a very predicable fashion. The artwork varies from average to beautiful depending on what is being presented to audiences; in its intended purpose of showing off food, Koufuku Graffiti is successful. The only other television show I have watched where food is presented as being more than sustenance for us is Adam Richman’s Man v. Food: on his quest across the United States to find delicious pig-out spots, the preparation of various dishes are shown in loving detail and can elicit feelings of hunger among those watching, similar to how Koufuku Graffiti has managed to do the same for some viewers. As such, Koufuku Graffiti ends up being an anime that, while having a serviceable message, was also a show that was unremarkable: not the serious discourse on mental health some make it out to be, Koufuku Graffiti offers a run-of-the-mill slice-of-life with satisfactory character growth and food scenes very nearly worthy of Adam Richman.