The Infinite Zenith

Victory costs. Every time, you pay a little more.

Backstory and Thoughts

All these anime share one common element: fanciful worlds that explore plot elements driven by sorcery or technology. My earliest exposure to anime was Ah! My Goddess The Movie back in April 2007. The entire movie blew me away with its plot, artwork and music, and I soon found myself more open to anime than I had been previously. I eventually went online to download Coro Di Dea, or Chorus of the Goddesses, from the movie. Eventually, a friend showed me the first episode of the TV series on his Pocket PC in 480p, which was the top of the line back then. My interest in anime eventually picked up from there and today, includes a collection of 18 completed series and an assortment of episodes.

The main aspect about the types of series below is how it captivates the mind's eye and soars with it. The unusual worlds, sweeping blue skies and unique characters combine together in synergy to really explore concepts and relationships between people under a universe that has diverged from our own. Since reality is reality, it is a refreshing break to see how worlds similar to our own still possess their own uniqueness, and the consequences of such design. I choose to watch series similar to these for a particular reason: unlike long-running series (e.g. Naruto and Bleach), the worlds are not radically different, nor are the series written for other unusual purposes (e.g. High School of the Dead).

Navigation

Ah! My Goddess

Ah! My Goddess revolves around the story of college freshman Keiichi Morisato, who, because of his pure heart, has been chosen by Yggdrasil, Heaven's computer system, to receive a single wish. The "angelic" goddess Belldandy is sent down to Earth to ask for his wish, and tells him that he can potentially wish for anything that he wants, from becoming a billionaire to destroying the world in an instant. Keiichi first thinks that this entire meeting is a prank set up by his seniors, but during their short meeting, he soon realizes that she's the only person who truly understands and appreciates him. Being enchanted by her, Keiichi wishes that someone like Belldandy would stay with him forever, under the condition that the offer is valid. Ironically, he does not fully comprehend the outcome of his wish, and is stunned on realizing that Belldandy will now be living with him. The manga/anime follows their relationship as they become closer to each other.

Personal Opinion

Ah! My Goddess is an excellent anime series (having read the manga itself, I can relate to some of the stories better) for a fair number of reasons. I prefer the TV series over the other reincarnations, and for that reason, my subsequent pages focus heavily on the TV series. Firstly, it has an excellent plot; secondly, the character development is nicely done and third, I enjoy the romance stories throughout the series. It is a good anime for people who usually don't watch it, or else are interested in a good love story (with the flare of sorcery and motorcyles). The art is superlative, and the characters look excellent (compared to some series, where character design was obviously flawed due to so called 'budget cuts'). In general, unless you hate love stories, it is an excellent anime.

  • "From now on, I'd like you (Keiichi-san) to watch over me, too". Belldandy after Keiichi manages to recover the audio data for the wish that started the whole series. Ah! My Goddess was the first anime series I followed, and I was impressed by the art: sunsets looked as spectacular as they do in the real world, and objects have a distinctly more realistic feel to them.

  • "Yes!" -After Keiichi asks if Belldandy would like to visit his home town in Hokkaido. During this scene, Keiichi and Belldandy are at a museum (which suggests how far their relationship has come thus far into the story- recall that Keiichi's idea of a date is inviting his date to a museum).

  • Belldandy's original concept was loosely based on a depiction of Miyuki Kobayakawa, one of the main characters of You're Under Arrest, which was also created by Kosuke Fujishima. Miyuki was featured as a goddess in an advertisement for a You're Under Arrest t-shirt giveaway and appeared as a goddess character in a "four panel gag strip" in the You're Under Arrest manga. The Belldandy we see today is radically different than the original goddess that lead to the developement of the Ah! My Goddess series to begin with.

 

  • Another side of Belldandy's personality provides one of the biggest plot points in the Ah! My Goddess movie and some of the episodes in the TV series: Belldandy's possessiveness of Keiichi could make her an easy target for manipulation or even brainwashing, if the right buttons were pressed.

  • In 2007, Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings, a two-episode special to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the original publication of Oh My Goddess!, was released. The scene here occurs after everything is restored, ending with a discussion related to magic.

  • Belldandy's capacities and talents are diverse, whether magical or worldly: she is a superb cook and excels at household chores. Her singing skills are also held to be the best in the heavens. This arises from the fact that Belldandy believes that everything done should come from the bottom of one's heart, with the intent of creating an end product that reaches the feelings of the recipient.

  • Belldandy reflecting on what is to come in the far future, should she and Keiichi ever be separated. Keiichi promises her that they will remain together no matter what. Critics of the series have mentioned that the rate at which their relationship progresses is too slow, although it does pick up a little at the end of the TV series. I was very impressed with the art in this particular episode, and even more impressed by the story (again, it's one of those few things that can bring me to my knees, emotionally speaking).

Angel Beats

Otonashi awakens only to learn he is dead. A rifle-toting girl named Yuri explains that they are in the afterlife, and Otonashi realizes the only thing he can remember about himself is his name. Yuri tells him that she leads the Shinda Sekai Sensen (Afterlife Battlefront) and wages war against a girl named Tenshi. Unable to believe Yuri's claims that Tenshi is evil, Otonashi attempts to speak with her, but the encounter doesn't go as he intended. Otonashi decides to join the SSS and battle Tenshi, but he finds himself oddly drawn to her. While trying to regain his memories and understand Tenshi, he gradually unravels the mysteries of the afterlife.

Personal Opinion

Angel Beats! bears the typical hallmarks of popular anime in that viewers remain sharply divided by opinion regarding said anime's content. It is business as usual, then; I say that because this anime is here, there were aspects that made it worthwhile. Angel Beats does indeed have merits through its diverse cast and their unique setting: a world modelled after a Japanese high school that acts as an intermediate transitioning area of sorts in the cycle of life, which gives people more time to accept that they’ve died. This world provides a peaceful place for souls to prepare for their transition beyond. As such, the storyline in Angel Beats is driven by people who have not come to terms with their passing. The series is also marked by its casual transitions between comedy and drama; the latter makes the characters' motivations more pronounced and the former simply breathes a human side to all of the characters. There are a lot of faces to get used to for such a short anime; Yuri, Yui, Iwasawa, Kanade and Otanashi's backgrounds are explored in the greatest depth. The remainder of the characters, such as Hinata, Shiina, TK and Matsushita, serve to diversify the group dynamics further. While the constraints prevented their stories from being discussed, they nonetheless add a degree of depth to the series that could not have been attained with fewer characters. Aside from the traditional elements of friendship, Angel Beats! proposes that while life is unfair, there are nonetheless moments that make everything worthwhile. This is evident in Otanashi, whose death occurred shortly after he had reformed his life and was en route to an entrance exam when his train was trapped in a cave-in. After helping the other survivors, his last act was to sign an organ-donor card. His heart is eventually donated to Kanade (known early on as "Tenshi"), who remained in this world and maintain it long enough to find the individual who had saved her and thank them. The ending was most poignant as Kanade had fulfilled her wished and moved onwards, both she and Otanashi appear to meet once more in the real world. Yuri represents another interesting case: she was the original founder of the SSS and resists the world for having cost her the lives of her siblings. This loss drives her desire to demonstrate herself as a capable leader and forms the bulk of the motivation behind the early SSS missions. Complex stories underlie each of the characters, although given the practical constraints (the anime was supposed to span some 26 episodes rather than 13), the backgrounds of half the characters are never discussed. Aside from this limitation, the unique setting alone makes Angel Beats! worthwhile. Coupled with a diverse cast and spectacular audio/visual elements, Angel Beats! is definitely worth checking out.

  • Tradition now dictates that I introduce the characters of a show as soon as I can so people know what's going on. From left to right, foremost to rear, we have: Shiina, Naoi, TK, Takeyama, Fujimaki, Yui, Matsushita, Yuri, Takamatsu, Ōyama, Noda, Hinata and Kanade. Members of Girls Dead Monster are not present. Iwasawa, Irie, Sekine and Yui are members of this band, who act as a diversion during missions.

  •  The SSS (Shinda Sekai Sensen, kana 死んだ世界戦) is an organization she founded and leads which fights against God for the cruel fates the SSS members experienced in life.The Guild is an organisation that mass produces weapons out of dirt and supplies them to the SSS. This is the SSS operations room, where planning for missions occur. Typically, the objective is to secure lunch tickets en masse.

 

  • Angel Beats! was made in 2010, the same time as K-On!! and a year after the re-release of Suzumiya Haruhi. As such, it hardly comes as a surprise that PA works capitalised on the popularity of high school light rock concerts and featured them, this time as a cover for the SSS to conduct their operations. While Girls DeMo (shorthand for the band) execute some good music, it is the opening (My Soul, Your Beats!) and the insert (My most precious memory) that are the two most memorable songs. For me, the opening song evoked memories of a trip to the Suzhou-Hangzhou region.

 

  • Angel Beats! concludes in a logical manner, with the remaining members of the SSS partaking in their own graduation ceremony. The last episode was poignant and executed well, but also felt rather lonely, as the cast was reduced to just five people. It is a reminder that all things eventually come to an end, and that new directions must be taken regardless of how intimidating they initially appear. This is the crossroad I find myself at the time of writing, as I am about to enter the final year of my undergraduate studies...

Ano Natsu de Matteru

When a group of friends decide to make a movie over a long summer holiday, they end up learning a little about filmmaking and a lot more about each other and themselves. What begins as a simple way to avoid the summer doldrums quickly turns into something much more complex, intimate and revealing, as the maturing relationships between the members of the young cast take on new, and sometimes very unexpected, turns.

Personal Opinion

Ano Natsu de Matteru is of the romance-comedy genre, a class of anime I have not watched since Ah! My Goddess. I was not particularly familar with anime at all when its precursor, Onegai Teacher, was aired. I've heard numerous times that Ano Natsu de Matteru (which I will simply refer to as 'Waiting in the Summer' from this point on) was a refreshed build on Onegai Teacher, in the same vein as how Halo CE Anniversary is the application of 2011 graphical programming to a 2001 FPS. This comparison finds some validity in this case: Ano Natsu de Matteu is well-crafted and brings successfuly concepts from a successful show from many years ago into the modern era, while giving a new, unique spin. From readings, fans of Onegai Teacher will doubtlessly view Waiting in the Summer as a brilliant reexecution of an old classic, while for viewers such as myself, Waiting in the Summer will simply be an excellent anime about the relationships within a group of friends and how things play out when Ichika arrives. What follows is an engaging story that reaches beyond the scope of traditional romance comedies and also depicts each of the characters coming to terms with their feelings for one another, aspects revealing the strength of their friendship and the ever-so-subtle thematic element of opportunity: that there are appropriate times for taking them, and that the payoffs outweigh whatever challenges are presented so as long as one is willing to persist and work towards their goals. In Waiting in Summer, Kai's persistence and determination in making his feelings for Ichika clear demonstrate love at its finest. While reality is hardly as kind, the anime is determined in reminding viewers that there is such a thing as true love, and that much of it is opportunity based: even if seizing the opportunity fails, one should not regret at least having tried. Love stories never get old, and neither does the hope that everyone eventually experiences these things for themselves: even if the road is bumpy, the end result is one that is worthwhile.

  • Ichika Takatsuki and Remon Yamano in classes: the former was directly inspired by Mizuho Kazami from Onegai Teacher, while the latter's personality curiously parallels Konata Izumi from Lucky Star. Remon's suggestions and ideas drive the interactions. I won't say anything about the level of technology present in the series: from the types of cameras and phones being used, I'd say this series happens in the 1990s. In the present era, almost anyone could shoot and edit a reasonable (nothing approaching theatrical levels, of course) film using the cameras mounted on their phones.

  • Remon prepares her camera while Tetsurō Ishigaki and Mio Kitahara look on. Tetsuro develops a closer relationship with Mio after knowing of her problems and her own crush on him. While she may be timid at times, Mio is not only observant and selfless (a trait shared by Kanna and Tetsurō as well), out of her friends she is the most well rounded and has been described as "strong" by Tetsurō himself. After Tetsurō confesses his love for Kanna only to be rejected, Mio comforts and once again, offers kind words to him. While eluding the Federation, Tetsurō asks Mio on a date to the movies.

  • Kaito and Ichika meet up at shrine during their trip to Okinawa. As a general rule, there is always a beach episode somewhere in romance comedies. This held in Ah! My Goddess and Onegai Teacher, and it certainly holds true here. Ano Natsu de Matteru is one of the few anime out there that emphasise story over everything else, and the beach episodes turn out to set the perfect backdrop for the characters to become closer as they work on their film.

  • Summer festivals are also a strong part of such anime. My decision to classify Ano Natsu de Matteru under the 'science fiction' section stems from Ichika's origins as an extraterrestrial who crashed on Earth. Some of the comedy in the series initially comes from her being unaccustomed to life on Earth; her actions may seem weird in the eyes of others, but she is quick to correct herself if only to hide the fact that she is an alien

 

 

  • At the series' conclusion, it is implied that Ichika has returned to Earth to complete their movie. Therefore, the series has a solid ending that yields a reasonable outcome for everyone.

Broken Blade

The story is centered around a young man named Rygart Arrow, an 'un-sorcerer' born into a world where people can use 'magic'. This magic is the ability to control and empower quartz, doing many things from creating light to operating machinery to riding giant mecha called 'Golems'. Rygart, however, is one of the few exceptions; he cannot utilize quartz, making many aspects of life difficult as well as being looked down upon by the rest of society. Despite this 'limitation', in his youth he managed to befriend Hodr and Sigyn, the future King and Queen of the Krisna Kingdom and Zess, the younger brother of the Secretary of War of the Athens Commonwealth.

Years later, Rygart is reunited with Hodr and Sigyn where he learns the Athens Commonwealth has begun an invasion of Krisna. Rygart is also shocked to learn that their old friend, Zess, is leading one of the strike forces. While at the capital, Rygart discovers that he has the ability to pilot a recently discovered ancient golem which cannot be piloted by magic users. Despite its ancient origins, the golem possesses capabilities and systems far more advanced than any modern golem, and could be key to turning the tide of battle. While hesitant at first, Rygart soon gets involved in the war between Krisna and Athens, in an attempt to save Hodr and Sigyn, and Zess.

Personal Opinion

Broken Blade is eerily similar to Gundam Unicorn in many aspects; for one, both mecha series were derived from a written work and made into a six-part animated series. I could go on forever about the similarities between the two series, whether it be the gorgeous artwork, questions raised about the morality of warfare or simply the fact that we have a seemingly ordinary individual fall into the cockpit of an obscenely powerful mobile suit; only this time, they're called Golems, and the battle takes place in a desolate region of an alternate world. Ultimately, Broken Blade offers a unique setting for the mecha genre; the unusual world means that quartz crystals and sorcery drive technology rather than the silicon microprocessors we're used to seeing. While this premise comes across as a bit unusual, it drives the protagonist, Rygart's, story. Rygrat is a archetype of the classic male character, lacking any real understandings in the complexities of warfare. His motivations for fighting stem from simply protecting his friends from the conflict; while he comes across as immature and inexperienced, his insights demonstrates how a naiveté mind can express the triviality behind why wars are fought: in this case, the entire conflict is owing to a quartz shortage. In history, wars have been waged to control crucial resources like water and crude oil under other contexts, which forms the basis for the story. Storyline and characters aside, the other standing point about Broken Blade lie in the Golems, quartz-powered mobile suits that are used as the main armours in the universe. In keeping with the (rather archaic) technology, we see pneumatic pressure guns in place of directed-energy munitions, and the lack of force-fields mean that armour plays a major role in combat. This is a refreshing departure from traditional mecha, which rely on increasingly powerful engines and shields to function: instead, we see that the performance of a golem is dictated by the pilot's skill, as well as the quality of its frame. The technology also leads to chaotic (not to mention bloody) combat sequences between Golems; we see bullets chip away armour, blades chipping and entire golems crumbling away when struck down. My final assessment on the anime stands as thus: beautiful artwork and the attention paid to detail makes Broken Blade a unique experience for mecha fans. While the storyline (which was a little short) and character development (archetypical characters) may not be top-notch, both are strong enough to stand on their own merits, with the end result being an enjoyable mecha anime set in an unexpected setting. 

  • From left to right: Rygart, Hodr, General Baldr and Sigyn. The names of the characters have a flavour distinctive to that of Norse Mythology. Rygart is an archetypical hero, being a farm boy thrown into the middle of a war, and while his characterisation has been a staple of many forms of filmed entertainment, the relationships and interactions he has with the rest of the cast forms the bulk of his motivation to defend Krisna.

  • The Delphine is an ancient Golem and cannot be operated using quartz-sorcery. Rygart takes on the Athens' Artemis class Golem, a lightweight unit designed for high-mobility combat. Despite lacking any formal training since his days at the military academy, the Delphine's superior hardware allows Rygart to hold his own against opponents of superior skill.

 

  • Following her capture, Cleo eventually gets to know Sigyn better. She realises that warfare isn't always a one-sided affair with the heroes squaring off against the monsters; instead, nations have different reasons for going to war.

 

  • The blue Golems belong to General Borcuse's elite squad. Borcuse is a brilliant general, only equalled by Baldr, but unlike the latter, he is willing to resort to extreme measures to secure victory. While his tactics are effective, they are considered to be brutal even by his own subordinates.

 

  • The Delphine challenges Borcuse's forces. Broken Blade was produced by IG Studios, and as such, has incredible artwork and sound. In particular, the opening song (Fate) is beautifully done. When all is said and done, Broken Blade is a well-polished anime and is recommended for fans of more traditional mecha series: the unusual systems may take some getting used to, but the metrics of combat seen in Broken Blade are found nowhere else (for instance, damaged mobile suits in Gundam explode rather than crumble).

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below

The film centers on Asuna, a young girl who spends her solitary days listening to the mysterious music emanating from the cat's whisker receiver her late father gave to her as a memento. While walking home one day, she is attacked by a fearsome monster and saved by a mysterious boy named Shun. However, Shun disappears and Asuna embarks on a journey of adventure to the land of Agartha with her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, to meet Shun again. Through her journey, she comes to know the cruelty and beauty of the world, as well as loss.

Personal Opinion

We will begin by disregarding the obvious for now: it is a fact that Makoto Shinkai's latest film is visually stunning, and evokes the splendour of a lost world in a highly unique manner. I am certain that the images I supply will do a better job of describing the mythical world of Agartha than I can in words, so that's about as far as I will go. As it stands, Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below is a unique story that delves into Shinkai's views of loss and acceptance. Paired with Tenmon's musical talents and spectacular arts, we now turn our attention to why this movie is worthwhile. 

The central thematic element in Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below is death, and the acceptance (or inability to) thereof. Death is a difficult topic to consider for a wide range of reasons, simply because of how distant it usually is in one's daily livelihoods. As a result, when death of a loved one occurs, individuals often find themselves ill-prepared to handle and accept it. This is immediately apparent in Asuna's desire to properly say farewell to Shun, driving her desire to visit Agartha with the purpose of doing just that. Through the course of her journey in Agartha, she eventually comes to terms with the living and the dead: something that Mr. Morisaki is unable to do. He is a member of the Arch Angels, an underground society that seeks the ancient wisdom of Agartha for their own gain. He is motivated by the dream of bringing his wife back from the dead, and has sought out this underworld for a long period of his life. These wishes and desires direct the adventure through Agartha, whereupon it becomes apparent that Asuna develops a deeper understanding of life and death as she learns more about Agartha's past and its interactions with civilisations on the surface. The composition and execution of the story is consistent with a story of this nature; events fall into place cleanly as they occur, and serve to emphasise the significance of previous scenes. The end product is a simple story about how some elements in life must be understood through journey, reminding me of an old Chinese Proverb, which reads "讀萬卷書, 不如行萬里路" (It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books). Indeed, this is the best side of Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below: ultimately, the entire point of the story is, quite simply put, a tale of a journey to understanding death.

 

  • Awesome scenery is a staple of Makoto Shinkai's works. This time, the story starts out in Rural Japan, with Asuna ending her day at a cliff overlooking her home town. The landscapes feel distinctly similar to the styles used by Max Jacquiard, a painter well-known for his oil painting of Canadian Pacific Railway trains.

 

  • Asuna is portrayed to be a young girl (probably around age 12-14) who is exceedingly competent at household tasks, as well as being a highly motivated student. She hears mysterious songs from her special radio from time to time, which is powered by a crystal memento from her father. Contrasting Five Centimetres Per Second, emphasis is placed on sweeping landscapes more than the fine details in mundane everyday objects, and as a result, the landscapes have a distinct, oil-painting feel to them.

  • Asuna finds herself face to face with a Quetzal coatl on the bridge, and is saved by Shun's timely intervention. She realises that it is his final song that was heard over the radio, and that the song was both distant, yet familiar. Asuna leaves hastily after Shun imparts upon her a blessing, and the latter soon passes from this world into the next...

  • Mr. Morisaki is a member of the Arch Angels and has been seeking a clavis (the crystals that possess mysterious attributes and power Asuna's radio), a key into Agartha. Asuna is fascinated by the story that Morisaki presents to the class, and heads to her school's library to read more on the story; irony arises from the fact that Morisaki is aware of the sadness one incurs when bringing the dead back into the world of the living (not unlike the Tale of the Three Brothers), but continues to pursue his goals anyways. 
  • Fascinated by her curiosity, Asuna visits Morisaki at his residence and learns of his involvement with Agartha. The military hardware the Arch Angels use are consistent with the hardware found in the mid-60s: they are seen using an AH-1 Cobra with a modified front gun. They are deployed to prevent Shin from reacquiring the clavis. 

  

  • Asuna and Morisaki successfully find the gate to Agartha. After a journey through an ancient substance known as aqua vitae, they arrive in a temple in the heart of Agartha. Ancient stories have told of a mysterious form of water that allows for normal respiration in addition to holding buoyant properties. Mimi, Asuna's cat, proves to be a helpful asset when it helps convince the guardian to permit their passage.
  
  • Asuna's innocence and cheerfulness allows her to survive most anything. In Agartha, her first thoughts are to find a suitable meal for Morisaki and herself. She comes across potatoes, reminding me of a PBS special on Botany, and how North American demand for Russet Burbank potatoes results in monocultures, a relatively dangerous practise in agriculture.
  

  

  • The Elders reprimand Shin for allowing outsiders passage into Agartha. They assign him a new task: to confiscate Asuna's clavis. I personally found their architecture to be remarkably similar to Tibetan-Buddhist designs.

  

  • Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below represents a departure from the more family-friendly designs of his previous films; there is a lot more horror elements, including the appearance of the Izuko and bloody elements. While it isn't the same as Dark Water or The Ring, they nonetheless aren't exactly something that would be suitable for small children. The Izuko are a cursed faction that are bound to preserving the equilibrium in Agartha, lacking the ability to move in light and water. 

  

  • Morisaki's flashback tells the story of how he lost his wife to disease while he was fighting a war, and how his inability to let go has led him to search for the means to overcome this grief. The timeframe and context implies that he fought in World War II in the European theatre, firmly establishing that this movie occurs in 1965.
 
 
  • Morisaki, Asuna, Shin and Manna (a young girl who lost her ability to speak following her mother's passing) are welcomed into a village by the elder following the Village's guards turn them away for being outsiders. It is here that much of Agartha's history with the outside world is learnt; throughout much of history, individuals such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin sought out the secrets of Agartha and exploited them to their own ends. Most viewers find the story difficult to follow, as the history of Agartha seems scattered and poorly-explained, but this only arises because of the film's structure. One must be attentive to catch all the details and fully appreciate the movie.
  • The elderly man turns out to be Manna's grandfather. He has experienced much of that which has led to Agartha's decline, and unlike the other villagers, are more accepting of the presence of individuals from the surface. Asuna assists him in making dinner and finds herself in a local dress. In all honesty, I love the way these scenes are animated; the food in Agartha appears to follow the styles present in Northern Chinese cuisine.
  • There is some resemblance to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring at this point in the story. Having escaped the Izuko (Khazad-dum), they stop briefly in a village (Lothlorien) and then head across a lake (The Great River) to continue their journey. Asuna's experiences allow her to part ways with Mimi, a cat-like being who has been with her all this time. Mimi is, incidentally, the name of every cat encountered so far in Makoto Shinkai's works. 

 

  • Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below address similar points as Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows with respect to the matter of Death. In the Tale of the Three Brothers, the middle brother asks for a resurrection stone to restore his late girlfriend into the world of the living, but she only returns as a memory. The physical distance between them drives him to extreme depression, and he commits suicide to fully join her in the dead. The moral here is that the dead have already moved onwards, and as such, the living should do so, as well. This is something that Shin understands, and Asuna eventually grows to understand. However, Morisaki is consumed by regret and is unable to realise this. 
  • The journey is nearing its conclusion, but the three guards from earlier make another appearance. Armed with muskets, they open fire on Morisaki and Asuna. Morisaki is equipped with an Uzi sub-machine gun, a personal defense weapon that is effective up to 50 metres. Before any of his shots land, Shin appears and fights off the guards.


  • This is finis terra, the location where God himself answers to the wishes of the mortal man. Morisaki resolves to climb down to the bottom (presumably a distance of a kilometre), where he finds a portal that leads to the next world. Asuna finds herself at a fork in her path here, and is ultimately unable to continue onwards.

  • Asuna makes the trek down the mountain and encounters a swarm of Izuko, who take advantage of her weariness to capture her. Broken emotionally and near death, it is Shin who saves her once more. One typically feels a great deal of sympathy for the characters that Shinkai conjures; while things proceed smoothly most of the way through, one finally understands the situation Asuna finds herself in.

  • This feels like the Inner Mongolian pastures in Northern China. The movie clocks a total of 115 minutes, and I certainly enjoyed all of the visuals that are present. The story is enjoyable in its own right- coupled with the graphics, it is most certainly worth checking out. I only present a few of the images here, and even then, those are insufficient to really convey the splendour of the art. The only solution is to acquire a copy in at least 720p and enjoy it that way.

  • When Morisaki makes his wish known, he damages his physical body and sacrifices Asuna to resurrect his wife. Shin manages to destroy the clavis, saying people should be living for the present rather than the past and saves Asuna once more. As a I've read some rather poorly written "reviews" out there asserting that Makoto Shinkai has followed too closely in the mannerisms of Studio Ghibi in the design of this story. I do not find that to be the case; a fantasy world and character archetypes are insufficient to make one artist's work derivative of another's. If people are seeking a "life changing" story, they've come to the wrong place. This is a point I'll make clear now: if the so-called anime critics seek such a story, they would do better to go to their local bookstore and pick up classic novel.

  • Aside from the totally awesome visuals, Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below is worthwhile for its depiction of a journey towards acceptance of death in the natural world. As humans, we constantly advance medicine and sciences in our attempts to cheat death, even as we seek out the secrets to immortality, ultimately, we must understand the consequences of doing so. This movie is well-executed and suited for anyone who wishes for adventure in a mystic world, who will be treated very nicely.

Eve no Jikan

In the not too distant future androids have come into common usage. Taking the androids for granted, humans treat them as if they were common everyday tools, while on the other hand, some people empathize with androids due to their human-like appearance (save for a digital ring floating above their heads). This has become a social problem and these people are frowned upon as a result. Rikuo, one who has taken androids for granted for his entire life, one day discovers that Sammy, his home android, has been acting strangely and finds a strange phrase recorded in her activity log. He, along with his friend Masaki, traces Sammy's footsteps and come upon an unusual cafe. This cafe's main rule is to not discriminate between humans and androids.

Personal Opinion

Time of Eve holds pleasant surprises for both anime fans and individuals familiar with Isaac Asimov's I Robot (1940). Superficially a more concise and mature successor to Chobits, Time of Eve is essentially similar anime delving into the relationship between man and machine, especially with respect to how sentience in machines have a consequence on the way humans potentially behave. This notion was first explored in Asimov's Robbie (originally titled "A Strange Playfellow"), where the protagonist, Gloria, shares a close relationship with Robbie, a household robot who accompanies her and develops a fondness for the stories that Gloria tells. When her mother sends Robbie away, the emotional impact it has on Gloria is profound and suggests that Gloria views Robbie very much as human, rather than machine. This human-machine dynamic is revisited in Time of Eve, where Rikuo struggles to come to terms with his own android's actions. Similar to Robbie, Sammy is depicted as having a very insecure personality and also cares very much for the feelings of those around her. The relationship between humans and machines are further elaborated upon through Masakazu and his own interpretations of robots and people as a consequence of his past experience. In fact, Masakazu and his android, Tex, share more similarities with Gloria and Robbie relative to Rikuo and Sammy: Tex was Masaki's primary source of emotional support at a time when his mother and father were separating. However, Masaki's father, an anti-robot activist, commanded the robot never to speak again. Masaki blames Tex for being undependable at a time he needed him the most and believes they are incapable of emotions and empathy, until Tex was defends Masaki from an android sent by the Ethics Committee. By being able to make clear his true thoughts and emotions that he was holding back for several years, Masaki was ultimately able to accept Tex and androids once more as sentient, feeling beings. This contrasts the events in Robbie, where Gloria is seen to have gradually lessened her relationship with Robbie as she grew older. Aside from the underlying theme of sufficiently complex machines possessing human attributes, Time of Eve also references Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics quite frequently, further reinforcing the notion that the anime is an animated reinterpretation of a classic science fiction novel. With intricate ties to Asimov's original works, Time of Eve makes excellent use of camera and computer effects, weaving details seamlessly with the story's underlying elements. This acts to convey the emotions in a scene clearly without additional elements. This aspect, when integrated with the diverse cast of characters, brings the atmosphere of the cafe to life, whether it be the sights, sounds or patrons. Each individual patron has a unique story that is told, ultimately culminating in the question of whether machines and man are really all that different. Through the story, viewers experience events as if they were a patron of the cafe themselves, bringing to life the notions first traversed in Asimov's I Robot series and presenting them in a fitting manner. Anime fans will see a surprisingly thought-provoking anime about human-machine relationships, while avid science-fiction readers familiar with Asimov will find Time of Eve to be a fitting retelling of Robbie. Did you enjoy the Time of Eve? I know I did.

 

  • Rikuo Sakisaka performing a system diagnostic on Sammy, his android. The anime is depicted in the near future, with computers wielding processing systems powerful enough to accommodate for self awareness (Sammy has 5.2 PB of RAM, or for us currently, 5.2 billion GB) and digital cameras in the gigapixel range. At the current rate our hardware and software advances, I would not be surprised to see computational power of this order within my lifetime reach the consumer level. Consider that portable tablet devices of the present era are as powerful as laptops from back when I first made this site in 2007.

 

  • Masakazu Masaki and Rikuo Sakisaka are friends; the former has a rather curious backstory (which I shall not reveal here) and is quick to remind Rikou constantly about Issac Ismov's Three Laws of Robotics, which were designed to show that self-aware machines can be designed with these specifications to prevent events, such as those in the Second Renaissance, from occurring.

 

  • The diverse clientèle of the Time of Eve ranges from a couple to an elderly man and a small child. The cafe is perhaps one of the most unique ones I've ever seen, and it is here where much of the story's events unfold, as Rikou and Masakazu delve deeper into the relationship between man and machine. The inquisitive fan will discover that the Evelend blend that is served here has recently been put into production, and according to Wanaka (a member of Kalafina), has a strong, distinct taste. While I drink coffee on occasion, I prefer tea or hot chocolate.

 

  • Akiko is one of the regulars at the cafe and possesses a bright, cheerful personality. She is the first of the patrons to strike a conversation with Rikou, but this personality is limited to her time in the cafe; she behaves like any other android outside the cafe.

 

  • Sammy's desire for happiness and independence is a prime example of emergent behaviour: what impressed me most about this series were the indicators that machines are capable of human behaviours, such as love. This is another instance of emergence in machines; androids are learning machines. Coupled with the fact that they are constantly in contact with humans, traits they pick up from their environment eventually become a part of how they act when they are not bound by the constraints of the law, such as in the cafe. The end result is that the androids develop thought patterns that mimic human emotions, despite never being programmed to behave in such a manner. The idea of emergence is expressed in Koji and Rina's relationship, as well as Sammy's desire to learn music. Whether it is love or hobbies, sufficiently advanced systems in the appropriate setting will eventually become integrated with it and pick up on its surroundings. This is the premise for emergent programming, with the hopes that we will eventually be able to mimic natural events accurately based on relatively simple rules. 

Girls und Panzer

You may have heard of kung fu, but the girls at Oarai High School practice gun-fu – really, really BIG 75mm gun-fu, in fact. It’s called Sensha-do, and it’s the martial art of operating armored tanks! They take it seriously too, and since winning the national Sensha-do championship is such a huge deal at Oarai, they sometimes go to extreme ends in order to get the best students from Panzer class to sign up. Which is how Miho Nishizumi, who HATES operating tanks, gets drafted to join doomsday-driven driver Mako, even-triggered gunner Hana, highly receptive radio operator Saori and combustible tank-fangirl and loader Yukari as the incomparable Anko Team. They may not be on the half-track to fame and fortune, and maybe a few of them would rather shop for tank tops than become tops in tanks, but once their focus is locked and loaded, they’re absolutely driven.

Personal Opinion

Girls und Panzer is, for good reason, the top anime of the Fall 2012 lineup, reminding viewers that their prima facie expectations of a series may not necessarily be an accurate indicator of what an anime has the potential to be. I myself came in with moderate expectations and an open-mind, something that would later prove to be a viable decision. Having started the series later than most, I eventually caught up and found myself in great anticipation of the final two episodes. When said episodes delivered content that exceeded expectations, I was most impressed. The series ultimately reflects on the quality and quantity of research that goes into ensuring the minute details are correct, with the end result that the technicalities are polished, consistent and fun to observe. From a story-and-characters point of view, we have high school girls (common) doing Panzerfahren (completely unexpected): while this potentially had the risk of being reduced to cliché and unoriginal story, the directors of Girls und Panzer are able to completely avoid this. The story is standard, but the character interactions are not unrealistic, themselves being fun to observe. Thus, I conclude that Girls und Panzer represents what anime in general should be: unique, refreshing and most importantly, fun. Lacking any major fanservice and yuri during its main run to distract from its primary goal, the series is entirely dedicated to telling an underdog story and their journey towards the top. armed with a solid story and premise, reasonable animation (while generally good, the CGI moments are a little rough) and a fitting soundtrack, Girls und Panzer ends up being one of the most novel and innovative anime I’ve seen for a while. Individuals looking for a series with a great deal of mechanised warfare would do quite well to pick this up, although truth be told, this series could be enjoyed by almost everyone, save the most closed-minded of self-proclaimed anime critics. 

  • From left to right, we have Mako Reizei, Saori Takebe, Yukari Akiyama, Hana Isuzu and Miho Nishizumi, of the Ankou Team. Initially fielding a Panzer IV Ausf D., they upgrade to a Panzer IV Ausf. F2. Girls und Panzer initially appeared to be another Strike Witches remake, with tanks being featured in place of magical striker units, and indeed, the first episode did not indicate that that this series had anything special in mind, being primarily focussed around Miho and her then unknown past with Panzerfahren. However, looks are deceiving.

  • The Student Council operates a Panzer 38(t) that is later converted into a Hetzer. From left to right, we have Momo Kawashima, Anzu Kadotani and Yuzu Koyama. Initially presented as a cold organisation with a hidden agenda, they reveal to the school that their reasons for forcibly drafting Miho into Panzerfahren was because they would be closed if they failed to win the championship. After this revelation, I warmed up to the Student Council considerably, and even more so for their heroics in the later episodes. 

 

  • Viewers are treated to equal parts slice-of-life and armour engagements throughout the course of the anime. Similarly, inspection of the soundtrack find an equal number of songs suited for battle and for the more relaxing moments Miho spends with her friends.

  • The trick of zooming in to a character's expression while simultaneously depicting background elements hails from an older era, where it was difficult to discern faces from a crowd. In the age of 1080p, this isn't strictly necessary. Saori et al are seen here in a tank-themed café, where orders are delivered via small carts to their appropriate tables. The presence of such cafés indicate that Panzerfahren is deeply ingrained in this world: for a true appreciation of the extent of this integration, a trip here will be necessary.We are 

  • Yukari is presented as an excitable girl who loves everything armour-related. Despite being lonely in her childhood, she finds herself right at home at Ooarai, and ultimately contributes to their success on two separate recon missions. A sharp-eyed observer will note the presence of many model kit boxes for tanks: it is no coincidence that after this anime released, models featured in the anime saw a significant increase in sales.

  • I've deliberately held back on the number of images and discussions concerning the tank battles here: the battles with St. Gloriana and the first half with Saunders may be found here, while the results of the showdown with Saunders and Pravda may be found here. This decision was because I would surpass most system's ability to load my web pages if too many images are present, and in fact, Girls und Panzer is probably one of the final anime I'll recommend under the science fiction category here.

  • My blog provides significantly more detailed posts concerning the penultimate episode and the finale for curious parties (as well as a rehash of the overall opinions concerning this anime). At this point, I will reiterate what has been said on my blog: Girls und Panzer is at its strongest wherever armoured combat is involved. The sheer amount of detail that went into the technical specifications, match-ups and combat performance, as well as the strategy, made this anime the strongest one of the season.

  • This is Maho Nishizumi, Miho's older sister. Despite being presented as cold and distant, she plays that acts in a manner fitting of the Nishizumi style so that Miho can find her own way of Panzerfahren (Miho believes the Nishizumi style to be too cold, strict and unfeeling for her liking). Despite her facade, Maho apologizes to Miho when she upsets her by acting coldly, and is disturbed by their mother's intentions of disowning Miho.

 

  • The final battle between Miho and Maho is presented in a duel-like manner, after two episodes of brilliant, heart-stopping combat. At the time of writing, it has been exactly a month since the finale was released: if this image constitutes as a spoiler, I counter that claim by stating that this outcome has long been predicted by those with astute knowledge of warfare and media, much to the chagrin of those serious fans on anime forums, who cited such an ending to be generic and cliché.

  • Even as Girls und Panzer ends, the possibility for a second season does indeed exist, and should one be released, I may make a return to talk about it. For now, we are left with an anime that easily is one of the most recognisable and innovative shows that has graced the airwaves. Individuals looking to get a little more out of Girls und Panzer would do well to watch the OVAs and read the mangas (especially Little Army). If, for whatever reason, a reader has found themselves completing this article but has not seen the anime, I contend they would do well to immediately go hunt down a copy. For parties more interested in trivia or random jokes I've come up with, these can be found at my blog: all the latest and most interesting news may be found there.

Real Drive

It is 2061 AD. Fifty years have passed since mankind developed the Network society. It was anticipated that this new infrastructure would realize a utopia where people connected with each other at the level of consciousness. This was called Meta Real Network, usually abbreviated as "the Metal." Following a diving accident fifty years previously that left him in a coma, Haru awakens as an old man into a vastly-changed society. People, no longer content with reality, have turned to a metaphysical reality called the Metal to fulfill their desires – and it’s up to "cyber divers" to save these souls when something goes wrong. With the help of the cheerful girl Minamo and the android Holon, Haru strives to become a cyber diver, discover the secrets of the Metal and ultimately discover the reason why his life has slipped away.

Personal Opinion

Real Drive is not quite a science fiction anime, nor can it really be considered as a slice-of-life anime. Rather, the design most closely resembles a speculative fiction, given that the most prevalent aspect of Real Drive is its exploration of the potential consequences of the growing prevalence of the internet.The premises behind Real Drive deal with the impact of the Internet and networks on human societies. Even today, the internet occupies a large portion of our lives and raises questions about how our social interactions are gradually changing around this global network. Within Real Drive, the ubiquitous nature of the Meta-Real network is such that individuals have begun to neglect their real-world experiences, which subtly hints at how the current form of the internet has impacted our lifestyle choices and society. This underlying theme is bound with the most noticable aspects about Real Drive: the rather unusual premise involves placing a slice of life story in the middle of a speculative fiction story. The end product gives each episode as a self-contained story that seamlessly integrates aspects of the Metal with Minamo's coming-of-age story.

 

  • The central characters from left to right: Holon, Minamo, Haru, Sota and Kushima. Contrastingall of the slice of life anime discussed thus far, the character design offers distinct characters, each with their own personalities and objectives. As the story progresses, Real Drive presents the idea that antagonists may, oftentimes, turn out to be misguided rather than evil.

  • Being produced by IG and written by Masamune Shirow, we are treated to spectacular graphics and scenery. Haru Misamichi is the central character, being one of the new cyber divers who act as network recovery to some level. His story focusses on his adjustment to life fifty years following his accident and his quest to rediscover his purpose. Coupled with the intuitive and optimistic Minamo, his friendship with Minamo makes this one of the most optimistic series I've seen for a while.

 

  • Minamo with Sayako and Yukino enjoying parfaits at the local cafe. The food in Real Drive is beautifully rendered (even more so than the scenery). I've heard comments about the different art style of female characters in the show; specifically, they are more...well-rounded...than females found in other series. Whether this was a decision to render them more realistically (compared to the stick people found in other anime) or because it was a preference from the artists' end, it is one additional unique factor about this particular series.

 

  • If electronic media does progress at the rate it currently does, books will become obsolete in the near future. Lacking a cyber-brain herself, Minamo does most of her reading and interactions naturally, although she requires a special HUD helmet to participate in class activities. In the modern era, society is constantly seeking new means of integrating interactivity with education. The LINDSAY Virtual Human is no exception, and aims to make medical education more accessible for students and educators alike.

 

  • Real Drive has a soundtrack that ranges from songs that rival those of Howard Shore's works to more conventional background music. Taken together, Real Drive is a worthwhile experience, although it is interesting to note that the anime remains relatively unknown to most of the anime community.

Rideback

In the near future, an organization called the GGP has taken control of the world. Rin Ogata was a promising up-and-coming ballet dancer, but suffered a serious injury and decided to quit. Years later in college she comes across a club building and soon finds herself intrigued by a transforming motorcycle like vehicle called a Rideback. She soon finds that her unique ballet skills with balance and finesse make her a born natural on a Rideback.

Personal Opinion

The story of RideBack is divided into two halves which gradually merge into one story: Rin's desire to find a new source of light in her life and the GGP's actions as a government eventually become intertwined as Rin's actions drag her into the spotlight of the government and media. The short length of the series means that it is a challenge to fully explore every aspect of Rin's character, although what we do see is satisfying to behold. Rin's character is one of the most well though-out ones; she appears to be unassuming under normal circumstances, and only genuinely shines when she's on a stage. This aspect (for me, anyways) forms the centrepiece of the anime, as Rin struggles to come to terms with her choices and desires. Those who have had past experiences with setting aside a dream or interest will certainly relate to Rin's character. The establishment of Rin's backstory is one of the indicators of quality in Rideback, although the role of the GGP is not immediately apparent until later. This particular aspect of the plot is somewhat distracting, although it will a uniquely enjoyable one as we see how everything gradually comes together. The series as a whole is a well polished and designed one; with incredible art and characters that one can relate to, the only real shortcoming is the fact that there are only 12 episodes- the plot does feel rushed at times, reflecting on how RideBack could easily a 24-episode series and still successfully retain the viewer's interests.

  • The opening sequence really captivated me: I was watching this in 720p and with surround sound. I recall the days when DVD quality was considered to be top-of-the-line, but that has changed with the way technology has been progressing. RideBack definitely falls under the science fiction category, although, like Real Drive, has more speculative fiction elements. What stops this anime from being a slice-of-life anime is the way things are structured: only Rin really gets any character development, and the plot focusses on events around her rather than her impact on events.

  • Rin doing some ballet with Feugo, the Rideback in this scene. For Rin, the Feugo becomes more than an extension of her body, becoming more of a crutch for her lost dreams. For the first few episodes, Rin's potential as a RideBack operator is explored, but it is later revealed that fire and chaos brings out Rin's old self the most strongly.
  • Left to right: Tamayo Kataoka and Haruki Hishida are two members of the Rideback club. While Tamayo is a highly celebrated rider, Haruki lends his technical expertise into the field. Their skills are later called upon when Rin's actions lead the GGP to declare martial law in the name of capturing the BMA resistance organisation.
  • Suzuri Uchida is initially introduced as a major fan of Rin's dancing, and later, her RideBack skills. Her admiration for Rin fuels their friendship, and her own decision to learn to operate a RideBack is a consequence of this inspiration.
  • What starts out as a basic slice-of-life anime eventually becomes one of the most well-executed stories about how the government can affect everyday lives, and how our perspectives about right and wrong are driven by the factions we associate with. In particular, development regarding Rin's desire to find a new purpose in her life and her regrets for the events that unfold rebuilds her perspective on the world.

Rinne no Lagrange

Madoka Kyouno is an energetic girl who is full of passion. As the proud, and only, member of the Kamogawa Girls' High School Jersey Club, she goes around helping people in need. Madoka's life is turned upside down when she is suddenly asked by a mysterious girl named Lan to pilot a robot. Motivated by her desire to protect the people and city of Kamogawa, Madoka agrees to pilot the resurrected Vox robot to fight against extraterrestrials that have come to attack Earth.

Season One- Personal Opinion 

Rinne no Lagrange is a new addition to the mecha genre, and given that we've been treated to the likes of Gundam Unicorn, few things would prima facie be capable of coming close in terms of story and production value. That said, Rinne no Lagrange brings something unique to the table in terms of both the mecha design and integration of story-relevant elements with the character's growth. This first season of the anime is primarily character rather than event-driven; similar to a slice-of-life anime, character dynamics are moderated by traits present in each of the characters. Thus, while each of the characters have elements from their pasts explored, they are shown to have been able to accept such misfortunes and live in the present. While these stories give insight to each of the character's backgrounds, they do not serve to direct any of their current motivations, and instead, provides some contrasts between their past and present lives. Thus, the anime will feel distinctly like a slice-of-life: Rinne no Lagrange dispenses with complex themes and motifs, instead focussing on the relevance of friendships and how the character's actions are directed by the present. That isn't to say the anime is devoid of symbolism: for instance, the chairs act as motifs that yield insight into each of the character's psycological states after a particular episode and enriches the importance of characterisation over a complex plot. The characterisations, coupled with the mecha designs, give Rinne no Lagrange a unique sense of light-hearted fun found rarely in other mecha series. Whereas something like Gundam Unicorn focuses on the significance of life and death in combat, the mecha battles in Rinne no Lagrange switch playful and more serious moments; this aspect is reflected in the battlefield's environment, as well as the very design of the mecha themselves; depsite being touted as dæmons, the mechas have a smooth, fluid design to them. These two factors give rise to a mecha/slice-of-life hyrbid that succeeds in capturing the feelings experienced by the characters as they experience events within their lives and portraying them as an anime. I will most certainly be watching season two in the summer for the excellent art, awesome music and of course, maru!

 

  • From left to right, Fin E Ld Si Laffinty (Lan), Muginami and Madoka Kyouno. They are the three Ovid pilots, and form a close friendship as they come to know each other better. Here, Lan is told that her trademark 'woof' is in fact, not a standard human greeting. 

  • Madoka's optimism and willingness to give all of her goals her fullest effort is her defining trait, Whether it is getting odds and ends done for the school festival or stepping into the cockpit of an alien machine. She also has the tendency to rush into situations without fully understanding what is going on, being motivated by goodwill alone. These characteristics initially appear to make for an infallible character, but Madoka does not appear overconfident or arrogant, setting her apart from other anime characters.

  • Lan wields a baseball bat in the incorrect orientation as a result of her limited understanding of Earth culture, contributing to some of the humour within the series. Rinne no Lagrange is highly successful in using subtle elements to augment the mood present in a particular scene, making use of minor facial shifts or changes to an environment's details.

 

  • These mobile suits are called Ovids: I've been waiting a long time to make this joke, but Ovid is also a database I use to search for papers. According to the documentation, the Vox Aura and its sister units were designed by Nissan. They are roughly the same size as a Gundam, standing at 17.3 metres in height. Here, Madoka and the Vox Aura engage the Libertas, piloted by Kirius. I find the Vox's transformation from waverider mode to mobile suit mode to have a similar feel to the Unicorn Gundam's transformation, despite them being completely unrelated.

  • The Vox Rympha and Vox Ignis in combat: the former is piloted by Lan, and the latter is piloted by Muginami. Battle sequences are visually spectacular, with colourful lights and particle effects flying around. The Vox units do not actually receive weaponry until episode six, and here, Muginami pushes Lan out of the way of a stray laser bolt from an enemy battlecruiser.

  • Water effects and landscape elements are beautiful in Rinne no Lagrange, along with all particle and light effects. I was blown away by the art quality in the anime, and equally as impressed by the soundtrack. The Rinne no Lagrange OST is written by Suzuki Saeko in collaboration with music production duo TOMISIRO and features some of the most spectacular songs offered in a 2012 anime soundtrack. Of note is the track 4 441,  a hybrid track that integrates orchestral elements into the shimmering and evolving electronic harmonies, accompanied by the Kamogawa theme. When I first heard it during the Vox Aura's first transformation, I got the chills. I look greatly to the second season: with the haunting legend of the Voxes and the characters' backstories established, we now delve into more of the conflicts that form the story's backbone.
Season Two- Personal Opinion
 
Whereas season one eventually developed Rinne no Lagrange's cast of characters very nicely, season two emphasises the true nature of the Voxes and the intergalactic war between Le Garite and De Metrio, a conflict that stems out of necessity, as well as the slew of plot twists and motivations underlying the two kings. Contrasting the political atmosphere in Gundam, Rinne no Lagrange delves into the what-ifs behind an intergalactic war and how leaders may react to problems that they cannot solve. The depiction of the interplanetary conflict presents it as one of significance, but in-show, the conflict really appears localised to a small number of major players. With that in mind, political problems are already sufficiently difficult to address in reality, but in fiction, idealism seems to prevail, and Madoka's character appears to personify human idealism at its finest, being both naive and determined at the same time. Her approach of beating up people with differences might be sufficient to (temporary) settle differences, but as reality has demonstrated, such an approach would be counter-productive. Thus, Rinne no Lagrange presents to the viewers a world where idealism and optimism is king, which admittedly led me to think "if only things were so simple in real life!" With its depiction of a hybrid mecha/slice-of-life composition, Rinne no Lagrange ends up being one of the most unique anime of 2012, and successfully forges into new territory (assuming I'm not reading incorrectly, Rinne no Lagrange is an anime first) by presenting original material with a new twist and encouraging viewers to enjoy the small, subtle things in life. This is a thematic element common to slice-of-life anime, but because the fact that mobile suit-like vehicles are present, this anime firmly remains a science fiction work.
 
  • I don't think anyone outside of Madoka has ever tried to prevent an intergalactic war while simultaneously trying to decide on her own career options. This first for an anime has made it reasonably unique and sets it apart from traditional mecha series. Yes, there's some fanservice, but at the end of the day, we have a more action-packed season, and that's nothing to complain about.
  • Season two features a lot more alien architecture and design, with more events being set in Le Garite and De Metrio battlecruisers and the occasional depiction of their planets. A great many anime take advantage of the 'humanoid-alien' concept, and Rinne no Lagrange's second season does a very nice job of filling viewers in on all of the details that were merely touched upon in season one.
  • Apparently, the way to activate the Vox System is through anger, sorrow or shame. The Chairman (right) is able to provoke Madoka into shame through some choice words, set to a scene not dissimilar to that found in Azumanga Daioh during Nyamo's drunken human courtship lecture. While Rinne no Lagrange is about conflicting factions and an ancient power, it integrates slice of life and comedic elements into its plot. Detracting at times, the combination nonetheless serves the series well.
  • Vox combat sequences occur at a much greater scale compared to season one, including fleet-to-fleet warfare. That said, none of the excellent visuals have been lost in any way. Season two features all of the glorious attention to detail and subtle elements, making the series as a whole, a visual treat.
  • The notion of an intergalactic war and disagreement is perhaps a little incredible at times, coming across as too personal rather than significant. Rather than addressing the underlying issues, it would appear that personal motives come into play here, very nearly trivialising the entire conflict. Then one recalls that Rinne no Lagrange can be interpreted as "the will of a single high school girl", making Diezelmine's sudden change of heart an issue that can only be addressed by Madoka, rather than reason. Moid's motivation for instigating the entire conflict is depicted as a trivial one, and his fate is quite amusing to behold.
  • Once the dust settles, Muginami, Madoka and Lan give viewers their unique victory poses as each set off on their next great journey. Madoka's decision for her future is to extend the Jersey Club's scope of activity. With a clean, decisive ending that offers full closure, Rinne no Lagrange successfully explores territory not frequented by other anime, and remind viewers that simple things (i.e. friends, memories) in life make life worthwhile.

Sora no Woto

In a lonely corner of the world, on the edge of No Man’s Land, sits Clocktower Fortress. It is home to the 1121st Platoon of the Helvetian Army, and their newest member is a 15-year-old volunteer named Kanata Sorami, who enlisted to learn how to play the bugle. When she was a child, Kanata was saved by a beautiful soldier and found inspiration in the clear, golden sound of her trumpet. From that day forward, Kanata decided music would be her life. As the other platoon members train her how to be a bugler and a soldier, Kanata's enduring optimism will inspire them to look for happiness and beauty, even in a world haunted by war.

Personal Opinion

As with all media, anime is not immune to becoming derivatives of other works. However, every so often, we have something that takes existing concepts, returns them to their foundations and then builds something new with it. Sora no Woto is one such anime. The central plot is a curious integration of conflict with Kanata's desire to gain insights into the music and her world; this particular aspect means that the series will feel similar to a slice-of-life anime, and indeed, we find that each of the characters bear a degree of resemblance to those found in slice-of-life anime. However, the similarities end with their outward appearance and personalities, as the characters themselves are defined by their setting, and evolve fluidly in response to events in their world. Taking place in Seize, a town located in present-day Spain, it is immediately apparent that this world is a radically different one, despite possessing architecture, landscape, culture and flora remarkably similar to our own. This world was ravaged by warfare, except that the consequences were far more damaging, and reverted humanity to pre-WWII era technological levels. Warfare is something that is always subtlety present in the series, and astutely tied with Kanata's desire to express her thoughts through music. Inspired by a trumpeter's rendition of Amazing Grace, she is driven forward to learn more about how humans can communicate through music that they might not normally otherwise be able to. We have already seen the importance of understanding one another, but Sora no Woto presents things from a different viewpoint: forgiveness and redemption. It is implied that the state of the world is an attribute of human nature, as humanity has been unable to let go of past events. In effect, Sora no Woto is the story of five soldiers coming to terms with their past and seeking to pass on a new peace, with these intangible thoughts being expressed as a simple, yet powerful song. Sora no Woto is a short series, spanning only 12 episodes; assuming that we accept that brevity is the wit of the soul, the spectacular animation and touching friendships the characters share make Sora no Woto a worthwhile series to watch. 

  

  • Ever since Gundam 00 raised the bar with its HD animation, most anime in the modern age are beautifully animated; the opening train sequence gives the impression of a peaceful world, but we soon find that this is not the case. I myself long to see an anime about the history of the Canadian Rockies, set to music similar to Tenmon's composition for Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below.

  • From left to right, Filicia Heideman, Rio Kazumiya, Kureha Suminoya, Kanata Sorami and Noël Kannagi. The first few episodes depict the daily activities of the 1121st, whether it be training,exploring the town or relaxing in general. In this sense, the story is structured in a similar fashion to Strike Witches, being relatively easygoing and fun to watch. However, there is also a serious side to the story that tells of the war and its consequences on the characters.
 
  • The owl that steals the pennant turns out to be the Mascot for the Clocktower Maidens. His behaviours are fairly amusing, as he constantly puffs out his feathers or folds them to change his appearance. I've heard repeatedly that Sora no Woto is essentially K-On: I can only partially agree with this, as the similarities in the characters end with their outward personalities. For the sake of comparison, Kanata is Yui, Noël is Ritsu, Mio is Rio, Felicia is Mugi and Kureha is Azusa.
  • Filicia was a support gunner in a battle fought long ago against unknown forces; the loss of her entire squad is the basis for motivating her actions. Despite being very easy going (she shares traits and the same voice actor as Miyuki from Lucky Star), she is a capable officer and tends to follow her own sense of right and wrong rather than orders from her superiors if she feels that they are morally wrong.

  • Forgiveness is understanding of the highest order; Aisha tells Noël that despite her involvement with a biological warfare project, they are nonetheless friends in the present. Noël is initially presented as a stoic character who does not express her emotions (and in fact, appears similar to Sanya from Strike Witches), but her friendship with Kanata leads her to become more open.
 
  • There are two bonus episodes; one involves grilled steak, apple cider, a mock battle and getting drunk, and the other focuses on Kanata's desire to learn more about the character's individual dreams. In the case of the former, some unmentionable stuff happens to Kureha when everyone else gets drunk, leading to her reaction here.
 
  • Kureha and Kanata celebrate the ceasefire. A casual observer might be inclined to think that this is Azusa and Yui celebrating the end of a concert; indeed, the way the characters are drawn here make them strongly resember their K-On! counterparts. 
 
  • This is the Takemikazuchi, a highly mobile spider tank from an ancient era. It is under repairs throughout most of the series, until the final battle, where it single-handedly decimates much of Colonel Hopkin's rogue forces. It features computer systems and mechanics of a level beyond that of what is present in their era, implying the war with "Them" had far reaching consequences, enough to regress humanity and destroy a large portion of the Earth's terrestrial regions.
 
  • Kanata is infaturated with this glass dolphin, a work of a glass blowing master. Kanata and Noël visit a glass making factory to procure the glass lens necessary for the targeting optics on the Takemikazuchi. When Noël asks Kanata about her thoughts on a machine that held the potential to destroy, Kanata simply replied that it would be the operators that made a machine terrifying, rather than the machine itself. Here, Noël subtly references her own past as a biochemical weapons engineer. I visited the Corning Glass Museum during the summer of 2011; this episode and the Moonraker fight in a glass museum came to mind. I was treated to an impressive demonstration of glass blowing.
  • Single shot bolt action rifles are the standard issue for the Clock tower maidens. The military uniforms and gear are modelled after the German Wermacht.

  • The sheer amount of detail in this area is phenomenal, with much of the scenery being evocative of old European towns, villages and countryside. Kanata cleans herself up here, which is a faithful representation of the Las Casas Colgadas from Cuenca, bearing testament to the amount of effort that went into the art. These 'hanging houses' lie on eastern edge of the old city, opposite the mouth of the River Huécar and were common in the 15th century, but in the present day, only a few remain. As well as the visual style of the settings, the show also includes a number of European references (e.g. Helvetia is Switzerlandand Romans speak German), all of which contribute to the depth of the series, immersing the viewer in a richer universe.

 

  • Kanata becomes an accomplished trumpeter once she realises that playing more naturally allows the sound to resonate better. She shares many traits with Yui Hirasawa; in fact, some anime fans wrote off Sora no Woto as "K-On meets the army", although this is far from the reality. K-On! is character driven, while Sora no Woto is setting driven- the latter has characters responding to events outside their control and rising to the challenge, and it is for this reason that there is a solid story in Sora no Woto. Kanata's innocence and idealism relative to those of the other soldiers has a major impact how each of them eventually come to view the world

Strike Witches

The year is 1939 - it was then that the Neuroi appeared. Nobody knew where they came from or what their ultimate agenda is, but the fact remains that their attacks drove people out of their towns and cities. In order to take arms against them, humanity develops a new anti-Neuroi weapon called the "Striker Unit." Using the power of magic to fight against the monsters, this new device enhances and amplifies the power of female magic-wielders. To use this device, young witches from all over the world have been brought together to form an elite task force unit called the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, commonly known as the "Strike Witches." The anime tells the story of Yoshika Miyafuji, a Fuso witch whose desire to uncover her missing father's fate eventually lead her to join with the Witches to repel the Neuroi presence, and in doing so, learn what it means to be a “Strike Witch” fast as she struggles to bond with her comrades and fight an enemy she neither understands nor hate.

Personal Opinion

For the present, we will disregard the obvious aspect that has caused a large number of individuals to pass on this series. Strike Witches is an unique anime in several aspects; set in the World War II era, the series possesses elements from both a war film and a slice-of-life series. These two elements mesh together to form the basis of the plotline, cycling between character development (which is given a lot of attention to and shows positively in the series) as well as the state of the human-Neuroi conflict. The latter is actually one of the secondary aspects of the show: there is no central plot outside of shooting down a Neuroi every week, and in this respect, is the weak end of things. However, the characters breathe life into the show; depicting the livelihoods of the 501st, much of the enjoyment value is derived from watching the characters interact and mature. Every pilot of the 501st was based off a real pilot from WWII, so for individuals with a strong background in history, subtle details such as the military tactics, weapons, aircraft and events will demonstrate the effort that went into generating a story that hints at the actual events of WWII. In fact, sufficiently knowledgible individuals with a keen ear will note that every striker unit possesses a slightly different engine sound. The Striker units incorperate elements of WWII planes and turns the girls into anthropomorphic combat aircraft; taken together, the implementation of such a concept gives rise to appealing visuals during combat sequences. Meanwhile, the Neuroi are depicted as mysterious antagonists with no speaking roles. Following Awakening of the Trailblazer, such aliens aren't too much of a surprise, and have the effect of simplifying the plot further, which in turn allows for extended focus on the characters. When everything is considered, Strike Witches is a visually rewarding anime, with character development being its strongest suit. The presentation of the plot is a unique and pleasing one, despite being a touch shakey at times. For fans who are sufficiently mature to get over the fanservice, there is much to be enjoyed from this series.

  • A newly appeared Neuroi hive annihilates the old one and renews the war against humanity, leading to the events of season two. This image gives you a sense of scale: the small black structure is the original Neuroi hive the Witches fought last season.

  • All the screencaps below are from season 2: since AIC took over from GONZO (who did season 1 but went bankrupt), the quality of the animation has shot through the roof. This is Yoshika Miyafuji, the protagonist of the series. Her natural talent in magic and desire to protect people forms her motivation to fight across both series.

  • Yoshika Miyafuji beside Charlotte Yeager and Francesca Lucchini; the reintroduction of all the characters in the second episode of season 2 was a particularly epic moment, as all the members of the 501st return to shoot down a Neuroi with a mobile core, set to an instrumental version of Egao no Mahou. The music across both seasons is excellent, having elements reminiscent of fantasy-themed RPGs, such as Ragnarok Online and Final Fantasy.

  • While Yoshika is generally a kind hearted individual (who gives Belldandy a run for her money), she is a capable fighter. By the events of the second season, her magic output overloads her old striker and troubles her combat performance, but she later receives a new model to accommodate for her performance.
 
  • Lynette is wielding a Boys anti-tank rifle and fulfils the role of the sniper. She sometimes finds it difficult to concentrate on shooting while flying, so Yoshika assists her by taking her mind off flying. The two form a close friendship over the events of season one.
  • Aside from going out and blowing up a Neuroi, side stories involve new hardware, personal issues and shopping trips. When Yoshika mentions that she is buying something for Gertrude to Charlotte, the latter finds it difficult for the former to be wearing such an outfit. 
  • Despite being part of the same team, not all of the witches get along together that well. This rivalry is especially apparent between Charlotte and Gertrude, who fight over everything, including fries. 

  • Mio Sakamoto flying in formation with (Z ordering) Erica Hartmann, Charlotte Yeager, Perinne Clostermann and Francesca Lucchini. The accuracy of the weapons and the fact that the striker units resemble original WWII aircraft are a reminder that the anime focusses more on subtle detail and character development over a moving plot.
  • All witches are able to project a shield as a means of self defense against projectiles, lasers and even the vacuum of space. Yoshika deploys her shields fairly commonly in practise, and is said to have one of the most effective one amongst all the witches.

  • Lynette Bishop and Yoshika Miyafuji during a mission briefing. Strike Witches is a good anime all-around, demonstrating that even in a military setting, the absence of a single overarching plot does not detract from the anime itself when the characters carry the show.
 
  • High ranking witches like Minna spend most their time pushing papers while the lower rank witches are training, drilling or doing maintenance work or catering for themselves and running for supplies. The depiction of how life in an air-force works is realistically rendered; along with the unique propeller sounds of the striker units and the rifles the witches carry, these subtle details make the anime worthwhile.
  • What is the take home messages of Strike Witches? For fans who are mature enough not to care about the lack of pants, the message seems to be about friendship and choosing between morality or orders. Yoshika is the first to question the Neuroi's intentions, and is the first to attempt and make peaceful contact with a Neuroi, despite this being a direct violation of her orders. Later, she sacrifices her entire magic well to save Mio, reflecting on her determination and will to protect those around her, no matter the cost. 

Strike Witches Movie

In 1945, Yoshika Miyafuji, who lost her witch powers during the Strike Witches’ last assignment, has been studying to become a doctor. Shizuka Hattori, one of her cadets in the Imperial Fuso Navy, then arrives to deliver a message: Yoshika is to be transferred for study abroad in Europe.

Personal Opinion

The Strike Witches Movie is an extension of the TV series set in the movie format, as per its title, and as such, inherits all of the characteristics of the TV series. These traits include the casual plot progression and impressive visuals, as well as the formulaic development of the story. Much like how the K-On! movie amplified every positive and negative aspect of K-ON!, the Strike Witches movie does the same, featuring visuals that surpass those of the TV series, while protracting the languid plot pacing further. That said, the joys of watching Strike Witches lies not in the story itself, but the presentation and delivery of the material. The movie introduces several new characters, giving insight as to the sheer number of witches in the universe and their interactions with the witches in the 501st. While these stories are being told, Yoshika’s own travels with Shizuka Hattori form the backbone for the other side of the story. Upon reaching Europe, Yoshika finds herself unable to participate in combat operations and medical missions to the same extent she was once capable of in the TV series, but nonetheless attempts to help in any way she can. In a sense, the Strike Witches Movie draws some curious parallels with the Gundam 00 Movie: firstly, fans of Strike Witches will enjoy the movie, much like how Gundam 00 fans will have found their movie enjoyable. However, the assumption that viewers have a general familiarity with the story means that, like the Gundam 00 Movie, the Strike Witches Movie will leave new viewers behind in some of the terminology and expository elements. It is certainly possible to enjoy the movie as it is, although the experience is improved with a bit of knowledge concerning the aforementioned expository elements. The second set of similarities have to do with depiction of the Neuroi, which exhibit ELS-like attributes with respect to appearance and swarming behaviours, and finally, there is an uncanny parallel between Setsuna’s activation of the 00 Qan[T] and Yoshika’s recovery of her magical abilities in the final moments of their respective films. The last element is a textbook example of deus ex machina, and conveniently clears up the conflict that the rising action built on. While some view this as laziness, alternative interpretations would suggest that unique circumstances may arise in the midst of a crisis and act to produce miracles of sorts. These events are not impossible even in reality, so an open-minded viewer may be willing to suspend their disbelief and merely enjoy the story as it progresses. This claim neatly summarises my own opinions of the Strike Witches Movie: for current fans, it is most enjoyable, although newcomers will probably find that their time would be better directed at other shows, if only for the fact that such series require a bit of background that not everyone may commit time to familiarise themselves with. The movie is strong where the TV series is strong (character interactions, graphical and audio details), and weak where the TV series is weak (story progression rate, derivation in plot-advancing elements): overall, it serves as a worthy extension to the TV series and is sure to be an enjoyable watch for fans of the franchise. 

  • The greatest challenge to writing this review was obtaining the screenshots. I had originally uploaded several images to my blog to get the review out there: the review here is slightly different than the one found at the blog. The Strike Witches Movie represents the first time where I've tried to review something in the absence of subtitles. Having seen the movie translated, it seems my skills are sufficient to obtain a general idea of the anime: my opinion of the movie has not changed since I've seen the subtitled version.

  • This is Heidemarie W. Schnaufer, a highly capable Karlsland Nachthexe (night witch, in the same vein as Sanya. Despite having a poor social disposition, Heidemarie's commanding abilities are high and she became the commanding officer of the NJG1's 4th Flying Corps, helping the 501st in their missions in the movie.

 

  • Yoshika's introduction is depicted in more or less exactly the same way as the past two seasons. She goes over a waterfall trying to save a puppy and is rescued by Shizuka Hattori, a new cadet in the Fuso navy, who is honoured to take Yoshika to study abroad in Europe.

  • The first combat sequence involving members of the 501st occur in Venice, where Shirley and Francesca take down a neuroi following a high-speed race through the canals in Venice. It is here that the quality of the movie really shines; this trend has held for almost all of the anime movies I've seen in the past few years.

 

  • Yoshika reviewing traditional medical concepts en route to Europe. She was invited to study at the Helvetican Medical School and immediately accepts. Back in 1943, medical school applicants had to pass the Moss Test, the forerunner to today's MCAT. In 1946, the Moss Test was replaced by the Professional School Aptitude Test, which was subsequently renamed to the Medical College Admission Test. I wrote the last of the MCATs before the MR5 advisory committee's revisions take place: changes will be made to the MCAT to encompass biochemical sciences and sociology in 2013, with the revised exam being formally fielded in 2015.

  • Yoshika is reunited with Lynette Bishop, whom she befriended following the events of the TV series. Hattori cannot help but feel a little disoriented with the cultural differences in Europe. The movie excels at integrating the new with the old; there is an introduction outlining the basic premise of the Neuroi and witches, making the movie sufficiently standalone for first time viewers.

  • Perrine was one of my least favourite characters in the first season, but the events of the second season and the movie have altered those perceptions. Here, she is seen providing education fo sorts to children orphaned by the Neuroi attacks.

  • Elia and Sanya depart the 502nd division to regroup with the 501st. This was one of the few scenes I had difficulty understanding in the absence of subtitles; the lack of subtitles proved problematic for many viewers. A small group of viewers decided to create their own version with subtitles, but a well-known group beat them to the release.

  • A typical element present in science fiction in response to ever shifting technologies is to introduce newer, more radical plot devices to ensure that current level science is not sufficient to overcome any adversities, such as aliens. Doing so gives the author justification for introducing unique elements of their own to combat these adversaries. This explains why there are Strike Witches to begin with, drawing parallels with other works of science fiction. When H.G. Wells first wrote War of the Worlds, battleships and 12-pound guns were the norm, and we see a handful of Tripods get shot down by conventional means. To emphasise the threat the Tripods posed, the 1953 film introduced the idea of an energy shield to offset the considerable advances in military hardware by the 1950s; these shields were capable of repelling even nuclear weapons.

  • I think I've successfully chosen images for the website review such that no two images are alike between the blog and website. The post on the blog possesses more discussion of in-story elements, whereas I've gone on a handful of tangents here about the movie.

  • Major Sakamoto makes a return in a biplane to deliver the Shinden for Yoshika. Despite having lost her magic on their previous assignment, she remains as boisterous as ever, even sporting the same laugh as in the TV series. Sharp-eared listeners have noted that the laugh has changed since the changing of voice actors and complained about quality shifts, but personally, that's hardly relevant, given that it is the spirit of the laugh that the voice actor delivers that matters.

  • Deus ex machine is the only way to account for how Yoshika recovers her magic. There are several possible mechanisms, but for the time being, I will be content to let the unexpected return of Yoshika's magic act as a segue into the movie's final scenes.

  • I've drawn numerous comparisons between the Gundam 00 Movie and the Strike Witches Movie owing to the sheer number of similar elements present in both films, especially with regards to how the protagonists are initially separated and reunite for combat, as well as how the main protagonist recovers their function and soar onto the battlefield to set things right.

  • Having been frustrated and confused with Yoshika's mannerisms throughout the movie, Hattori comes to terms with Yoshika after the latter participates in an enthralling battle with the Neuroi. The music in the movie is similar enough with that in the TV series, again, being parallel with the Gundam 00 Movie. The soundtrack includes new tracks, as well as familiar ones, and my personal favourite, Yakusoku no sora e- watashi no ita basho, the movie's ending theme.

  • The Strike Witches Movie offers nothing revolutionary or ground-breaking in ways of story telling, and can in fact be seen as a carbon copy of the framework employed by the TV series. With that in mind, the movie nonetheless ends up being highly enjoyable to watch, telling the story of adventure. Besides, most adventures are not instigated with a pre-set path or anything, and instead, unfold as events culminate and accumulate. As a final note, the level of fanservice in the movie is far more moderate than the TV series: aside from innovative camera angles during combat, nothing beyond that is seen.

Infinite Zenith