Gust’s Blue Reflection, originally released as part of its “Beautiful Girls Festival” initiative alongside Nights of Azure 2 and Atelier Firis, is one of the most heartfelt, touching video games in existence.
Focusing on the adventures of a girl named Hinako as she comes to terms with both a life-changing injury and her new life as a magical girl called a Reflector, it offered a wonderful blend of slice-of-life interaction with Hinako’s peers and RPG-style exploration, questing and combat. But you know all that already — or if you don’t, permit me to take a moment of your time and educate you further.
While well-received by those who actually played it and who were willing to engage with it on its own terms, for much of the mainstream — at least here in the west — the game passed by largely unnoticed. Which is why it was such a pleasant surprise when Koei Tecmo announced that not only would Blue Reflection be getting a sequel, there would also be a companion anime.
Dubbed Blue Reflection Ray, the anime series is an all-new adventure rather than an adaptation of the original game’s story. No knowledge of the original game is required to enjoy the anime, though as always with anything like this, being familiar with certain concepts and characters beforehand may enhance your appreciation somewhat. Alternatively, the anime provides a straightforward and accessible way into the franchise, and you could then check out the game if you enjoyed what the show had to offer.
Blue Reflection Ray is set to follow the exploits of two girls named Hiori and Ruka who are seemingly polar opposites in terms of personality. Initially, the show follows Ruka’s arrival at Tsukinomiya High School and her first encounters with both Hiori and the strange world that Reflectors have to deal with; as the series progresses, it seems there’s a more significant, epic plot at play but we’re yet to learn any details as of the first episode.
As an aside, the setting of the original Blue Reflection was Hoshinomiya High School (星ノ宮高等学校); this can be translated as “shrine/temple/palace of the stars”. By replacing the first kanji of the school’s name (星) with the one for “the moon” (月), we get “Tsukinomiya” (月ノ宮高等学校), or “shrine/temple/palace of the moon”. It’s a nice little touch that provides a bit of continuity between the anime and the game while simultaneously making it clear that we’re in a new environment.
The core concept of Blue Reflection as a complete franchise is that human feelings have power. To quote the show, “feelings are strange; they can be soft and round, or harsh and jagged. They’re always in your heart, but you can never touch them.” In the original game, we saw how protagonist Hinako was all but destroyed by an injury that meant she could no longer follow through on her own dream; we also saw how by accepting the help of others and by allowing those others into her heart, she was not only able to begin the healing process — in mind if not in terms of body — but also to help others, too.
Ruka’s situation seems similar at the outset of Blue Reflection Ray. It’s plain to see that she’s introverted from the moment we meet her, but it’s also obvious that this is more than simple shyness; she’s appears to be carrying around great sadness and possibly trauma. This leads her to leave notes for herself about not making the same mistakes twice, and sees her absolutely convinced that doing something simple and unimportant like knocking a stack of books over is “messing up”.
They’re common symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the original Blue Reflection game certainly didn’t shy away from exploring those things over the course of its narrative. The idea of blowing minor “mistakes” well out of proportion in your own mind and then continually ruminating on them is a particularly powerful subject to explore — and one that a distressing proportion of the modern anime audience can probably relate to — and so far, it appears that as Ruka’s character develops, we’re going to see her undergo a similar arc to Hinako in the original game.
The other protagonist of Blue Reflection Ray, Hiori, is an upbeat and cheerful girl who is popular without being arrogant about it. In the first episode, she is sharply contrasted with a girl named Miyako, who appears to have adoring fans, but she knows that they’re only interested in her because she has money and isn’t afraid to use it to treat herself to, say, a sparkling phone case.
Hiori, meanwhile, is the sort of girl who will rush down from the top floor of the school into the courtyard if she sees someone down there who appears to be crying — just to make sure they’re all right. At the time this happens in the first episode of Blue Reflection Ray, it’s obvious that this is something that Ruka wanted to do, but seeing Hiori actually do it seems completely unfathomable to her.
“You didn’t know her, did you?” demands Ruka. “So how could you just talk to her? You have no idea… you have no idea what she might be feeling.” Ruka had this lesson delivered to her first-hand earlier in the episode when she attempted to strike up a conversation with the aforementioned Miyako, only to be rebuffed on the grounds that “she wouldn’t understand”.
“Yeah, I have no idea,” replies Hiori. “Because her feelings belong only to her. But, you see, we can think things over together, so I was hoping we could. I had someone do that for me all this time, too.”
It’s that power of empathy and connecting with others that gives Reflectors their power in the world of Blue Reflection. In the game, Hinako and her allies gained power by building trust with the people around them and accepting their feelings — even the ones buried deep. In the first episode of the anime, we see Hiori trigger a transformation into her magical girl Reflector form by sheer strength of feelings; a strong desire to save someone from a seemingly inescapable fate.
Yes, it was obvious before even starting the show that both Hiori and Ruka were going to end up as Reflectors, but there are still a number of mysteries surrounding them at this early point — even for fans of the original game. Most notable among these are the fact that Hiori is in possession of a Reflector’s ring that seemingly once belonged to her now absent sister — and that there seems to be a group of red Reflectors who are up to no good, drawing negative emotions out of others for their own as yet unknown ends.
The anime also places a strong emphasis on Reflectors doing their magical girl thing in the real world. This occurred in the original game during major story beats and chapter-ending boss fights, but the majority of the action unfolded in The Common, a world that represented the collective unconscious.
Blue Reflection Ray, meanwhile, occasionally shifts its action to a world outside time in which one’s surroundings are recognisable but distorted — in this case covered in oddly unsettling plant life — and only those with the power of a Reflector are able to move or have any awareness of what’s going on.
This is in keeping with the original game; as Hinako built up relationships with the various characters in the cast, she would give them a ring that symbolised their bond, and possession of this ring would allow them to remain conscious and even help Hinako out during the game’s major boss fights. And since both Hiori and Ruka have two such rings — with Ruka coming into possession of hers mostly by accident — you probably know where this is going.
Going by the first episode, Blue Reflection Ray looks like it’s going to be a good time, and a faithful adaptation of the concept and setting that the game established. The relatively slow and gentle pace — not to mention the strong emphasis on feelings and emotions — might not be to the taste of those who prefer a bit more face-punching action from their magical girl shows, but at this point it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed the game, the anime is definitely worth a watch.
It’s a beautifully presented show, with the pale colours and subtle shading on the characters evoking strong feelings of Mel Kishida’s original designs, and there are lots of gorgeous environmental details — something which the original game was oddly good at, too, with some extremely high resolution textures on its backgrounds. And yes, you’ll be pleased to know that the soundtrack has plenty of twinkly piano and smooth solo strings lines in it. We’re yet to have a dubstep battle theme, though — hopefully they’ll keep that in for full authenticity!
On top of all that, it’s pretty obvious, both from the tone of the original game and one scene in particular in this first episode, that Blue Reflection Ray is going to be wonderful for yuri fans, too. So hooray for that! Everybody loves girls kissing, or at the very least the strong implication of girls kissing!
Ahem. Anyway. Blue Reflection Ray. It’s good. More soon.
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