Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 11: A whole new game

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The manager tells Midori about a competition

Once again, we’re back with Midori’s game. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I actually think the progress that she makes in this episode is cool, and her background contextualizes her game quite well. It feels a bit weird that next week’s episode is the last one. I wonder where it will go. The end of the episode almost suggests a return to Miki’s insecurities.

Midori introduces her improved game

To Midori’s credit, she definitely takes the criticism in this episode much better than before. It’s not like she was overly rude about it in the previous iteration, but she was clearly shying away from it. I also liked how this episode uses the game as a window into her past, since it would make sense that she would base the game on an experience she felt was important.

Midori finds the right path to her game

I think this episode initially comes off with a typical message of creating something you’re happy with rather than catering to an audience. However, I think it does more to approach the importance of gameplay through strategy. It sounds like the real issue with Midori’s first game was that she was restricting paths to victory. As a result, people tended to fall on the same approach to playing the game.

Aya is excited

The strength of the final iteration seemed to come from giving the players more ways to play the game. That’s why the conversation on strategy arises, since the girls are now able to come up with numerous unique playstyles.

Miki notices the similarities between Midori and Emmy

Asi I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have an issue with Emmy’s character. It’s great that she’s supportive of Midori throughout the episode, but she still seems way too perfect. She knows exactly what Midori’s thinking, and she doesn’t seem to be wrong at any point. There’s something off-putting about that.

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 10: Relationship building

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Aya's father returns home

I feel like it’s probably sad that we’ve gotten so far in this series before it showed a game I’d actually played before. I’m probably going to get judged for this. That aside, this week’s episode seems to look more at Aya for a bit. I still think the pacing in this series is weird overall. Both stories in the episode seemed too quick, and I would have honestly preferred if the entire episode was devoted to building the relationships from the second half.

The game is introduced

It was fairly brief, but Blokus was a game I played in high school. I didn’t realize that it was designed in France, so that’s cool to know. I tend to like these kinds of spatial/strategy games.

Aya tells her father to stay away

To be honest, I had a hard time finding Aya’s argument with her father convincing. I think she’s perfectly justified in being upset with him, but she seems to forgive him too easily to me. I get that she probably just needed some time to vent at him, but the context of the game seemed weak.

Emi shows off a new game

Was it just me who didn’t really get the game in the second half? I got the sense that I was missing some key information about how the game was played, and it was mostly just an excuse to pair the girls up. To be fair, I kind of like the pairings in this episode, but I think the episode would have benefited if this section was given more time.

Miki thanks Yoshioka

I’m guessing the idea behind the episode was to showcase the girls’ individual personalities through the shopping aspect, but that would have come out better if the rules were clear. I can’t tell whether Miki was just being naturally modest or if she was playing towards some kind of strategy.

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 9: Game design classes

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The group breaks for exams

I guess we’re getting into some new territory now that the cast is complete. I don’t particularly have a problem with Midori feeling insecure after having met Emmy, but I think that the two characters would be better off if they balanced each other out. It’s still early, so there’s definitely still hope for that, but that was the main thing that bothered me in this episode. Other than that, I liked how it approached the universality of playground games and basically defending homebrew rules.

Emmy tries to find the shop

As I mentioned before, my main concern with this episode is that it seems to validate Midori’s insecurities. Emmy seems to have a real knack for game design, and she comes from the lauded country of Germany. It’s true that Midori needs to swallow her pride, but I would prefer if Emmy had her own set of flaws too. The episode starts off by joking that she has a bad sense of direction, but that doesn’t translate to much.

Midori is unable to clear all of the locations

I like that the episode gives Emmy the win in Elfenland. Combined with her flashback to her friends in Germany, it feels like she deserves that win. Also, I don’t know if it was just me, but I have no real sense of why her final move was able to win the game. Is this something for people more familiar with the game?

Miki explains the game

This episode takes a weird digression into childhood games, but it ties it together well. I liked how it touches on the shared concepts in the playground games of different countries. I’m more familiar with “Red Light Green Light”, but I can still see similar concepts in the Japanese version of it. I’ve also coincidentally seen the Korean version as well, and that version is even subtly different in its own way.

Emmy tries to improve the game

In some senses, a playground game is kind of a weird example. It makes sense for the rules to be simple since children play these games. That being said, I do like how the episode naturally gives Emmy the chance to modify the game by using somewhat basic concepts. I know people can often get a bit straight-laced with the rules, so it’s nice to see the girls embracing the adaptations.

Emmy tries to handle Midori

All in all, I think this setup is promising so far. Emmy mentions that she initially wanted to develop a game with her childhood friend, so I take this episode as the beginning of her potential partnership with Midori. I think it would be cool to see the two working together.

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 8: Double feature

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Emilia welcomes the group

These episodes with two board games always feel so awkward. I enjoy seeing more games, and I thought both games in this episode were especially cool. However, I do get the sense that the pacing is harder to balance when there are more games in an episode. In this week’s episode, it felt like Dobble didn’t get a fair shake.

Emilia joins in the game

I do think that the episode balanced the two new characters decently, though. Emilia is a nice addition to the main group, since she has game knowledge similar to Midori’s. However, she’s not just a carbon copy. She takes games seriously like Midori does, but she excels in explaining game strategy to Miki and Aya.

Aya sees the scoring

In previous games, Midori tends to explain another player’s mistakes to them after they make them. In contrast, Emilia explains the thought process behind the discard mechanic to Aya immediately, giving her a better tip. Additionally, I like that Emilia takes her loss in stride despite her prideful comment about never losing. I feel like this shows that she’s more willing to give away her own advantages in the game to make it more fun for everyone.

Miki tries to put a game together

On the other hand, Yoshioka is another fresh-faced newbie, but it’s nice that his first interaction with board games is through Miki. She was in the same position recently, and the episode does a good job of showing Yoshioka’s own reluctance fading as the game progresses. To top it off, Miki is the one pushing him along.

Miki explains the game

As I mentioned before, I would have liked to see more of Dobble. It felt like Yoshioka was hitting on something when he commented on the vague nature of the game. Maybe there’s something to giving a less restrictive description of a symbol. In that sense, this game feels more like a casual game, which is nice to see from time to time.

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 7: Volcano pressure

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Maki finds Miki alone

I think we might have sacrificed some gameplay time this week to give Miki some alone time with Maki. I’m okay with this trade. We’re back to introducing new characters, with this week giving a formal appearance for the student council president. The series sure is taking its time introducing the transfer student, huh?

Maki proposes a game

We start with a pretty fun sequence. Maki whisks Miki away for some fun, and the two get to know each other. It’s cool that their names are similar, and they’re being introduced as polar opposites, which is even reflected in the games they play. Maki overwhelms Miki with insults, and Miki gets her revenge with compliments. Maki’s got a cute side, I suppose.

Maki talks about her past

I think it makes sense for Maki to have a past like this, but I think the presentation could have been better. I think it’s probably a side effect of the multiple stories in this episode. I got the sense that her harsh childhood story comes out of nowhere and ends just as quickly. Maki also seems like the kind of character who deserves the time to tell her story well. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Fruits Basket.

Midori explains a new game

In a similar vein, I think the explanation for the game in this episode gets a bit gimped because of the time constraint. I didn’t feel like I got a good grasp of the game’s movement rules, so it was confusing when the characters took their meeples off of boats.

The game ends

I think my favorite part of the episode was watching the camaraderie between Aya and the student council president. Aya seems to have finally gotten her own brother in arms, which is hilarious.

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 6: The joys of game design

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Casually playing board games in a bar

Surprisingly enough, this week’s episode doesn’t introduce the character that was hinted at last week. Instead, we get a refreshing shift to Midori rather than another episode about Miki. I have no way of knowing about board game culture in Japan, but I’m not the biggest fan of how hopeless the episode makes it look. Still, I think the episode is a strong moment for Midori, as she learns to rely on her friends some more.

Midori is criticized

Honestly, Midori’s situation in this episode resonated a lot with me. I’m no board game designer, but many of these principles can be applied to anything creative. Midori’s personality reminds me of myself when it comes to blogging. I’ve historically had a fear of showing an incomplete product when it comes to posts. It’s often better just to foster the discussion, rather than putting together some perfect piece on your first try.

Midori explains her game

I do like how Midori’s game is portrayed in the episode. When she brings out the playing cards, you can start to see where the game is becoming more complicated. The game elements start feeling like additional layers stacked on top of the main concept.

Miki and Aya give suggestions

Personally, I would have liked to see a little bit more from this scene. I certainly know how Midori feels here, since it’s often crazy how obvious the suggestions of others might seem. However, I’ve been in this situation as part of my job, and I think it’s often too easy to say these things when you’re not the one who has to implement them. I think there’s a balance to be found when giving even solicited advice.

George gives some advice

This is a nice line to have in the episode. As I mentioned before, these concepts can be applied to many different things, and this tends to be my view on blogging. It’s easy to get defensive about something you spent time crafting, but reacting to criticism is often the easiest way to grow.

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 5: Exploring new places

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Aya wants to see the sea

I feel like there was a surprising amount going on for this obligatory beach episode. Miki’s past seems to once again be the central focus, but I thought it was a fun interlude. I guess we didn’t technically get a new character introduction in this episode, since Takashi seems like a one-off.

Miki's aunt notices her behavior

I do think that the series does a good job of capturing slow progression with Miki. It’s natural for her family members to point out how much she’s changed with her new friends, but it doesn’t seem particularly drastic or anything.

Midori talks about Goita

Surprisingly enough, we finally get a Japanese board game in this episode. Goita seems fairly similar to Western paired trick-taking games, but I think the reuse of shogi pieces is cool. I was also worried in the beginning when the first game was quickly glossed over. I thought Goita might end up being a prelude to a completely different game, but we got a decent explanation of the game after all.

Midori explains the game's rules

I think the rules of Goita as they were initially explained were a bit more confusing for me. When I saw how it was played, it made much more sense, but the “attack” and “match” explanations threw me off. I also think that there’s an element of the game that could have been called out. The explanations make it clear that the strategy heavily relies on being able to guess your opponent’s hands, which is why the face-down pieces have a certain significance.

Midori tries to teach Takashi

I also think it was great to see Miki attempting to play off of Takashi to give him a better sense of the game. I know I’ve been in situations in the past where someone initially tells me that a game is simple if you play a certain way. Then, you just get bombarded with exceptions as the game goes on.

The girls enjoy the beach

Oh hey, I guess the girls have to hit the beach at some point, right?

Houkago Saikoro Club Episode 4: Recruitment tactics

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Midori isn't able to help

It’s nice that the series is shifting focus away from Miki towards its other characters. While following its trend of introducing a new character per episode, it shines the light on Midori and her past for a change. To be fair, her motivations are interesting, but her story is fairly straightforward so far. I’m hoping there’s more to it for the future.

Ren is bored with the ideas

The main driving force for the episode is Ren Shibusawa, the vice chair of the student council. She has a particular attitude that I dislike, but I like how Midori responds to her. Ren’s got a pushy attitude as she tries to impose her way. Even though her intentions seem positive, the episode kind of portrays them as a facsimile of the student council chair.

Ren can't believe Midori's dream

That being said, I can appreciate that Ren’s trying to improve herself, even though she often stumbles, so I don’t think she’s a bad person. Based on her description, Midori actually seems like a decent counterpart for Ren, since she’s generally more obstinate.

Midori explains the game

The game for this week is 6 nimmt, which certainly seemed like a fun and quick number game. As usual, it would have been nice to see more of the game. It definitely seemed simple, but I wonder how much the randomness of the cards factors into strategy.

Ren wins one

This was probably my favorite scene in the episode. It’s just another screenshot in the game montage, but it’s funny that Ren celebrates pulling one over on Aya, a character who has already shown the audience her terrible luck in these games.

Ren admits defeat

Well, I guess I have to hand it to Ren for not being a sore loser.

Houkago Saikoro Club First Impressions (1): Bust out the German board games

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Miki tries to get her teddy bear back

Well, it’s basically another cute girls doing cute things show, but I can get behind this. I hope this isn’t a sad commentary of myself that I’m so willing to spend time watching other people play board games. My excuse is that I’m always looking for new games to play, so it works out. For that reason, I’ve been enjoying this show, since it’s showing me games I’ve never heard of (despite recognizing some of the games in the store from the first episode).

Miki is the cat master

The series itself follows Miki Takekasa, a shy high school student who runs into the cheerful Aya Takayashiki. Having just arrived in the city, Aya forces Miki to show her around town, and they both notice the class rep, Midori Oono, on her way to her part-time job in a board game shop. Intrigued, the girls bond over a game and start to try out more games together.

Trying to get a game together

I really like how the episodes so far have generally featured a new character being pulled in by some kind of casual interest. I feel that way all of the time when I see people playing board games. Hopefully, that doesn’t make me sound too weird.

Kyouko introduces herself

The series so far has tended to focus mostly on Miki’s timid personality. Most of the non-game moments involve her thinking about how she acts around others. Personally, I find her somewhat relatable, so I wonder if there are people who find her character annoying or something.

Midori explains the rules

As fair warning, the episodes so far have spent about a quarter of the run time on Midori as she explains the rules of the game the girls are about to play. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this yet, since it often seems like a shorter period of time is devoted to the game itself (which is what I’m more interested in). However, I recognize that I wouldn’t want these scenes gone, since the context is necessary.

Kyouko guesses Miki's past

Switching more to the specific, I wanted to say that I liked how this week’s episode was framed. Miki ties the game into her own personal struggle throughout the episode near the end. As she delves deeper into her frightening memories from middle school, she’s able to find a treasure in the end. The twist that Kyouko wasn’t actually Miki’s bully is a nice touch, since it makes the journey feel like it had a true reward, like the game.

Miki takes a risk

Overall, I’d say I like what this show has been doing so far. My main comment is that I would like to see the other girls do well. It seems like Miki tends to do unnaturally well on games that rely on a substantial amount of randomness.

Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho Review: The grand adventure

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Exploring Antarctica

Quite possibly my favorite series that aired in 2018, Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho is a tale of adventure to one of the most desolate places on Earth. I’m not going to lie. Part of the reason I stalled this review is that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write a good one.

Mari realizes that she hasn't done anything in her high school years

The story follows Mari Tamaki, a girl with dreams of seeing the world who realizes that she’s spent the majority of her high school life without any progress on those aspiration. However, she’s given her chance when she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a girl determined to visit Antarctica.

Shirase is driven by the disappearance of her mother, who was lost on her own expedition to Antarctica. Desperate to understand her mother’s passion, Shirase is willing to go to any length to go to Antarctica herself. Inspired by her, Mari decides to help her and join her on her trip.

Mari has trouble with her own plans

To be fair, this series was bound to appeal to me, as my family is one that travels fairly often. As a result, I’m the type of person who enjoys going out to see the world. That being said, I did find myself identifying heavily with Mari, the character with the most fear when it comes to travelling.

And that’s because I’ve found that I can be similarly hesitant to travel on my own. Despite having been to plenty of places in the past, I can understand her ability to talk herself out of her plans when the slightest thing goes wrong. I am pretty indecisive, after all.

Shirase invites Mari on her trip

As you may expect, Antarctica isn’t exactly the safest place in the world, so Shirase and Mari face a heavy amount of opposition for their proposed trip. The series itself is largely a story of overcoming that adversity in order to reach their dream. The two are eventually joined by two other girls, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them working together, especially since they all come from very different worlds.

Mari wins a million yen

From a technical standpoint, I appreciated how much effort went into visuals in this series. From the vast landscapes in various locations to just general scene layout, it was enough that even I could notice. The screenshot above is one of my favorite moments. It shows Mari after having just picked up a million yen standing in front of an advertisement for winning a million yen. It’s a great visual joke.

While the major plot points in this series tend to have a harsh reality to them, the series is pretty lighthearted overall. I also really liked the emotional aspect of the ending, but I won’t go too much into that. If you’re not into cute girls doing cute things, I can understand, but I think this series has enough going for it to warrant a shot nonetheless.

Overall Score: 9/10