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Interview with ‘Blade Runner 2022’ Animator Bahi JD

October 30, 2017 6:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

When it comes to interviews I’ve been dying to bring to life since the very conception of OTAQUEST, formally exchanging words with rapidly-rising animator Bahi JD was definitely somewhere near the top. There’s not a single day that passes that I don’t learn something new about the Austria-born creative, and having the chance to further develop on everything I had already discovered was something I couldn’t help but desire. If you don’t quite know his name yet, I can only hope that changes soon.

With an entire catalogue of work that can be found in series such as “One-Punch Man,” “Space Dandy,” the more recent “Blade Runner Black Out 2022,” and an ever-developing list of different titles, he’s a powerhouse force that won’t be disappearing any time soon.

There’s a lot of different reasons to appreciate his work as a creative — from his self-made position in the industry, to his persistence in everything he does, Bahi JD wins us over in every regard. That’s why we’re so excited to bring you this interview with Bahi JD, which can be found in full below:

It’s a pleasure to speak to you today Bahi JD, before we get too into things, can you give us a brief introduction?

My name is Bahi JD and I’m an animator from Austria who is currently working in the Japanese animation industry. You’ll sometimes see me working in the field of illustration too. 

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into animation, as well as the steps you took to break into the Japanese animation industry?

I’ve always been fascinated by the world of animation; as early as my school years, I’d constantly be scribbling in my textbooks to create small flipbook-style animations. Perhaps the point where I found myself completely captivated by the world of animation, however, was when I discovered the animators behind some of my favorite titles. Classics such as “Princess Mononoke,” “Akira,” Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell,” “The Iron Giant,” “FLCL,” and a long-list of others had an extremely strong impact on me.

The discovery of these animators eventually lead me to an article about an animator called Ryo-Chimo who utilized an unfamiliar tool to me at the time — the digital-drawing tablet. Ryo-Chimo was especially noteworthy due to his online-postings of his works, and his eventual breakthrough into the animation industry. It was after this I decided to pick up my own digital-drawing tablet, and began practicing animation for fun. It was at this time that I also got in contact with other animators through the internet to ask for their advice — animators such as Cindy Yamauchi, Keisuke Kojima, and Majiro are the first to come to mind. 

I made some gif-animations and sent them to anime producers, but it just wasn’t enough to land me a job. I was undeniably rejected quite a few times. 

Cindy Yamauchi gave me some particularly good advice on the aspects I would need to improve and further develop. It’s not just about being a good animator, it’s also about having strong and flexible drawing skills. You have to show you can draw anything in any style, and you need to be capable of drawing good layouts, which is perhaps one of the most important aspects. During this time I had no idea what “layouts” were, so I picked up and studied a book called “Studio Ghibli Layout Designs.” 

I kept working on my portfolio and would send it back and forward with Cindy Yamauchi, who at the time, was working on a new TV series. She showed my works to the director and producer of the company, and eventually I was hired to work on Shinichiro Watanabe’s “Kids on the Slope.” It was at the same time that director Takuya Hosogane approached me to animate for his Vocaloid music video alongside Shingo Yamashita and Ryo-Chimo. 

In those early days, there was a lot of trial and error involved for me, but the director, producer and animators were very supportive. It was during my learning process that they taught me a lot of different aspects of anime production, and it’s for that I'm very thankful.


You mentioned a few before, but what were some of the animated series you grew up on? Was there much of an anime scene in Austria, or did you have to discover it all on your own?

When I was a child, I grew up watching various Nippon Animation productions such as “Peter Pan no Bouken” and “Heidi.” Later on in my teenage years, however, I would go on to discover “Akira,” “FLCL,” “Ghost in the Shell,” as well as a number of Studio Ghibli films, all of which influenced me. I also enjoyed the animation within works such as “Gurren Lagann,” “Dennou Coil,” “Cowboy Bebop,” and held “Samurai Champloo” in particularly high regard, especially due to it’s incredible soundtrack by Nujabes and Tsuchie.

There was, and still is a strong anime scene in Austria and Germany — TV channels used to broadcast a lot of anime back then. I include Germany as well because a lot of our TV channels were actually the same; even MTV Germany used to broadcast anime. 

With all that being said, there was still a lot of anime that didn’t make it to the television. Those are the series that I discovered through both my friends and the internet. I think with the internet, there’s even more of an anime scene all over the world now. 

Jumping forward quite a bit, you most recently worked on the Watanabe Shinichiro-directed “Blade Runner Black Out 2022” anime short. Can you tell us a little bit about your work on that?

Being both a fan of “Blade Runner” and Watanabe Shinichiro’s works, I was definitely excited to work on the short. We had an entire meeting at Cygames Pictures where Shinichiro Watanabe showed me the storyboard, and we discussed which scene I’d like to work on. I animated the scene where both Trixie and Iggy are fighting the guards. The scene was split into two parts; the first part was animated by the legendary Hiroyuki Okiura, and the second part was my own work. 

It was a great pleasure to work with Shinichiro Watanabe and his team. The character designer Shukou Murase is one of my absolute favorite character-designers. The soundtrack by Flying Lotus was also really great, he captured the atmosphere of “Blade Runner” meticulously, all while adding his own touch to it. 

In your work on the animated project, there’s a mix of fluid motions and dramatic reaction. Can you describe how you went about planning this scene?

Shinichiro Watanabe had a rough storyboard for my action scene, though since it was a rough storyboard, I had a lot of room for new ideas. He allowed me to change up both the action and choreography, as long as it followed the continuity of the other cuts and worked well. You’re always able to try new things during layout and show it to the director for approval. 

The choreography was a real challenge for me, I hadn’t animated any scenes where a single character is pitted against a lot of others before this. I ended up researching a whole bunch of martial arts videos as preparation for the choreography. 

When characters are fighting, you try not to make your choreography look “choreographed.” Making it look natural, that’s always the main challenge. I wanted the audience to be able to follow the action without issue — when there’s a lot of characters on screen it can become hard to follow during fight scenes. I started very roughly with the drawings, almost like a storyboard while planning the action.

Regarding the question about fluid motion and dramatic reaction, to give an example; when Trixie jumps for a kick, I slow down the action to allow time for the motion of the leg to build up energy — in animation, we call this “anticipation.” This way when it snaps super fast, you have the reaction. You can tweak these actions by experimenting with both the “timing” and “spacing” of slow and fast motion. 


When working on the “Blade Runner” project, you had some big-name individuals working alongside you. Was there anyone in particular who really impressed you with their talent during the creation of the short?

I was honestly impressed by everyone’s work on the short film. Especially the cuts by Hiroyuki Okiura, Shinji Hashimoto, Shinya Ohira, Tatsuyuki Tanaka, and Mitsuo Iso.

Every time Hiroyuki Okiura finished a cut, I would ask the producer to let me take a look at it. I’d sit there for an entire hour just staring at each and every frame — his work is absolutely brilliant, and extremely educative. His sense for realism is incredible, and it’s totally his own imagination and skills. He doesn’t use any reference, so when you look at it, you can truly learn the technical work of a master. 

It was also nice to have Tatsuyuki Tanaka on the project. More recently, Tatsuyuki Tanaka’s mostly been active as a director, illustrator, and character designer. As a fan of his work, I was definitely excited to see his key-animation again. He’s a very strong animator, and also worked on “Akira” when he was only 22 or 23. 

In a previous interview you conducted, you mentioned you consider Shinya Ohira to be one of the greatest animators. What do you think of his work on “Blade Runner,” and did you get the chance to talk to him?

Shinya Ohira is someone with the ability to be both stylistic and realistic at the same time. He has extremely high technical skills, and a great artistic vision. On top of that, he manages to balance those two traits well. His work is emotional, expressive, and dynamic. His scene in “Blade Runner” is a flashback to the past, where I felt he captured the feeling of that “memory” very well with the rough artstyle and animation. 

I met him one time at Comiket at an animator booth with Yoshimichi Kameda and others. At Comiket, there’s a lot of different animator booths, and you can find sketchbooks, art books, and flipbooks by a number of great animators such as Mitsuo Iso, Shinya Ohira, and Yutaka Nakamura. I recommend checking out the animator booths if you ever go to Comiket, the art books are great.

From the very beginning with “Kids on the Slope,” then “Space Dandy,” and now “Blade Runner,” what is it about Shinichiro Watanabe as a director that keeps calling you back?

I’m more than happy a great director like him continues to work with me. It’s always a pleasure, and I learn a lot each time I work with him. He also allows me to be very expressive when working on his projects.

It’d be fair to say that none of the anime projects you’ve worked on have been “ordinary.” Series such as “One-Punch Man,” and “Ping Pong” immediately spring to mind, but what is it that draws you to these out of the ordinary series’?

I’m just a fan of the projects, and of the people who end up working on them. I like to work on projects where I can learn a lot as an animator from the team members. These kinds of projects can be very challenging, so it’s always exciting and interesting.

Where do you see the anime industry 10 years from now?

That’s a hard question. I’ve not been in the industry for a very long time, but in the time that I have been here, I’ve seen much improvement over the years. I see a good future for the anime industry, and things are improving step by step.

Young animators in the industry are very passionate and are improving every single day, so I think there’s going to be a new wave of big-name animators in the future. More generally, the people here work with strong passion and enthusiasm. They love to animate together, and it’s this strong passion for animation amongst these young creators that gives me hope we’re heading towards a promising future.

Working as a foreigner in the Japanese animation industry, is there any advice you’d give to others looking at following in your footsteps?

Learn the Japanese language, communication is very important. There are English speakers in the anime industry, but they aren’t always going to be there when you need to communicate with everybody.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to those following your works?

Thank you for all of your support, and thanks for appreciating animation! 

Jumping over numerous hurdles presented by the industry, Bahi JD is a name we’re certain to see for years to come. He’s a creator with clear inspiration, but also someone unafraid of paving his own paths — and we can’t wait to see where he goes next. If you’re interested in checking out more of his works, you can find him on both Twitter and Tumblr where he frequently shares what he’s working on, as well as sharing glimpses into the life of an animator.

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Today's Nintendo Direct Mini News was Anything But Small

January 12, 2018 12:00am
by Mike Tamburelli

After dropping a few subtle hints via their social media feeds these past few days, Nintendo has dropped a short, approximately 15 minute-long version of one of their fan-favorite 'Nintendo Directs,' which they have dubbed a "Mini" entry. The news contained within was anything but minuscule, however, so let's jump right into the juicy announcements!

  • Cult favorite Nintendo DS RPG The World Ends with You is getting a Switch port, dubbed The World Ends with You: Final Remix. It will feature enhanced graphics for the HD era, updated touch and Joycon control schemes, as well as an extra ending scenario. We're not getting a full-blown sequel anytime soon it seems -- but finally, some closure!


  • New Pokemon fighters are coming to Pokken Tournament DX for Switch. Aegislash and Blastoise are debuting as playable fighters, while Rayquaza, Mimikyu, Mew, and Celebi will take the stage as support characters. The content is releasing in two waves, with Wave 1 coming January 31, and Wave 2 on March 23.
  • More copy abilities have been revealed for Kirby Star Allies, like Spider and Artist. In multiplayer co-op mode, you can share abilities with friends.
  • Wii U fan-favorite Hyrule Warriors is coming to the Switch with all of that system's DLC. The game will also feature new outfits for Link and Zelda modeled after their Breath of the Wild appearances. It will launch this Spring.

  • Mario Tennis Aces is a brand-new Mario sports experience coming to the Switch, and is the first Mario Tennis title to feature a story mode since the days of the Game Boy Advance. It will be available this Spring.
  • NIS is publishing Falcom's YS VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA on the Switch. Let's just hope that it comes with that updated translation patch pre-installed! It will be out this Summer.
  • A free update is coming to Super Mario Odyssey, primarily featuring a new minigame known as "Luigi's Balloon World." It takes advantage of the game's online capabilities to allow you to perform a kind of hide-and-seek minigame with other players. You can hide balloons around the game's various stages, and compete with your friend's times to find their own hidden balloons. Also included in the update will be new outfits for Mario and photo mode filters. It will be hitting the airwaves in February.
  • In what could very well be the most outta-left-field announcement of the whole lot, a new fighter from SNK known as SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy will be busting onto the Switch. It features popular SNK heroines from accross their various games, and is presented in the popular tag-team format, allowing you two switch between characters on the fly. Incredibly, you are able to fully-customize your character models with accessories, ala Tekken 7. This is something that has to be seen to be believed.

  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is adding Donkey Kong as a new playable character via DLC this Spring.
  • When multiplayer co-op shooter Payday 2 comes to the Switch on February 27, it will come with a timed exclusive character, Japanese "computer whiz" Joy.
  • Two positively beautiful indie platformers are coming to the Switch. Moody 3D platformer Fe by Zoink! will debut on the Switch on February 16. 2D sprite action platformer Celeste by Matt Makes Games will launch on January 25.
  • One of the Wii U's best platforming adventures will come to the Switch with a new character in tow. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will release with Funky Kong, a character who makes the game a bit easier, on May 4.
  • Finally, revealed after Nintendo teased it in the absolute cutest of ways, Dark Souls Remastered will hit the Switch. The punishingly-difficult game will feature 1080p resolution for the first time, and most excitingly, allows for the first time a game in the series can be played in a truly portable way. It will release on May 25. Nintendo tweeted out the below image of adorably petite Chibi Robo yesterday, and some astute fans have quickly pieced together what it all meant.

If you are interested in all of the juicy details, and especially if you want to see footage for every single one of the above games in action, I highly recommend giving the most excellent Nintendo Direct Mini a watch below! What is your favorite announcement? Which games will you be picking up? Let us know in the know in the comments section!
 

Images: Square Enix, Nintendo, SNK

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The Osomatsu-san Spinoff That You'll Likely Never Sheeeeeeh!

January 10, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

With the development of anime streaming platforms such as Crunchyroll and Netflix, we’re seeing more Japanese content in the West than ever before. Mere minutes after original airings in Japan, eager fans across the globe can log-in to their service of choice and endulge in their favorites of the season. That being said, not everything is able to make it international — something that we could only hope to be fixed over time. Perhaps the gravest example of this as of late would have to be the currently-airing “DMatsu-san,” a collaborative 12-episode short series made exclusively for NTT Docomo’s dTV service in Japan. 

“DMatsu-san” is slated to be a 12-episode venture split up into six episode cours and released exclusively on dTV, beginning earlier this week on January 9. The first six episodes will revolve around the sextuplets interactions with Totoko, with each sextuplet receiving their own episode. The second half will revolve around each sextuplets interactions with Iyami, again with each sextuplet receiving their own episode.

It’s not much of a secret that a majority of our staff are major fans of the “Osomatsu-san” animated series, with some of our staff even referring to the show’s second season as the best thing to happen in 2017. With the second cour of the second season just around the corner, we’re excited for a fresh wave of content in the series’ incredible catalogue. That being said, the knowledge that there’s even more content out there to sink our teeth into is exciting, though for our friends outside of Japan it’s a little different.

While there is currently no word of the spinoff being released internationally, we can only hope for fans of the series around the globe that some good news does come their way. For now though, those in Japan with access to dTV can start watching the mishaps of our favorite sextuplets.

Images: Docomo

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Anime Studio Polygon Pictures Teams with Game Dev Historia

January 10, 2018 12:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

If the excitement and love of Studio Orange's 3DCG adaptation of Land of the Lustrous is anything to go by, then anime fans have seemingly warmed-up even more to the idea of entirely 3DCG anime productions. In the world of such media, Polygon Pictures is another studio that has been in the 3DCG game for a while, proudly bolstering projects under their belts including the Netflix exclusive Knights of Sidonia, and even GODZILLA: Planet of the Monsters.

When game creators approach 3D game development, a number of pre-built engines are available, allowing them ease of creation and implementation of 3D models and backgrounds. One of the most popular engines out there today is Epic Game's 'Unreal Engine 4,' which is popular with game studios across Japan and the rest of the world. Surely, there must be some room for sharing these assets across a large body of works, right? Both Polygon Pictures and Historia Inc., an Unreal Engine game development specialist, both seem to think so.

Citing the fact that 3D computer graphics are used in many different forms of media, including both anime and games, the two companies have revealed that they will form a joint venture company dubbed Elementfactory Inc.

It is now common practice for the same content to be rolled out collectively across disparate genres ranging from film and television to games, VR, and events. Additionally, game and video production technologies are being used in fields beyond the entertainment industry, such as education and architecture. Drawing on the game and CG anime production know-how cultivated by its two investing companies, Elementfactory, Inc. will take on the role of producing and developing 3D CG models which allow for efficient reuse across multiple media. In particular, the company will be developing next generation 3D CG models which utilize the globally used game development engine Unreal Engine in various forms.

It surely is an interesting idea. Take Polygon Picture's latest, Fist of the Blue Sky REGENESIS, as an example.
In addition to the anime, what if accompanying games and even VR experiences could be produced simultaneously at the snap of a finger? Would all of the projects contain the same specifications, making it difficult to tell them apart? Are character models simply going to be exported for use in gaming, so that the developers don't have to painstakingly rebuild their own models? I think that the possibilities are quite endless with collaboration taking place at this level, and if anyone possesses the expertise and is poised to make it work, both Polygon Pictures and Historia seem to be safe bets.

Best of luck then to Elementfactory -- we can't wait to see what you bring to the table!

Images: Polygon Pictures

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Gkids To Bring Three Masaaki Yuasa Films to North America

January 9, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

North America-based animation distributor Gkids have recently announced the acquisition of three films directed by Japanese heavyweight Masaaki Yuasa. The films, which include Lu Over the Wall,” “Night Is Short, Walk on Girl,” and “Mind Game,” come at a crucial point in the directors global appeal, with the acquisition offering fans even deeper insight into the mind of the great. 

With the release of animated-spectacular DEVILMAN crybaby” on Netflix earlier this month, it feels like now more that ever before Masaaki Yuasa is at the forefront of attention in the international anime community. The director has been the genius behind bringing anime such as Ping Pong” and Tatami Galaxy” to life, as well as the aforementioned DEVILMAN crybaby” adaptation. In 2017 alone he witnessed the release of two feature-length films under his name, both of which are featured in the acquisition. 

While all three animated films will be distributed in Japanese language with English subtitles, “Lu Over the Wall” is slated to receive an English dub of which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. With Masaaki Yuasa being a long time favorite director of mine, it’s exciting to see the undeniable recognition he has been receiving as of late. With a directorial style unafraid of stepping away from the norm, it seems everything he touches shines brightly amongst all else.

We’ll be sure to keep you updated as further information is revealed.

Images: Gkids

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Netflix Offers New Age of Expression in Anime

January 8, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

On January 5, 2018, DEVILMAN crybaby was released onto Netflix’s streaming platform around the globe with an R+ rating. The modern adaptation of the 1972 manga series by Go Nagai, a hyper-stylised Masaaki Yuasa directed ONA series produced by Netflix, not only introduced a new wave of anime fans to the story of Akira and his new-found powers, but also to that of the series’ adult themes and violence. For some, it was off-putting — for others, it was ushering in the return of expression through animation.

Nothing about DEVILMAN crybaby can be viewed as ordinary, though that can generally be expected from anything Masaaki Yuasa touches. When Yuasa sets his eyes on an adaptation project, you can rest assured that it’ll be as accurate as possible, while polishing a few of the finer details. That’s why when it was announced that he would be directing the modern adaptation of the early 70s manga series, there was understandable levels of excitement — and that’s why when it was announced to be produced and released by Netflix, that excitement only rose among fans.

When the original Devilman TV anime series aired in the 70s, it was difficult for it to capture the true reality presented by the manga series. Due to various restrictions on what could be shown on air, it hindered the overwhelming harshness of the source material. In the late 80s, we saw Devilman: The Birth, an OVA which ran for 50 minutes in length, finally capture the intent of the source material. The world of devils and humans isn’t a pretty one, and through its over-the-top violence it truly felt like that was accurately represented. 

It’s in similar sense that, because of the nature of Netflix not needing to abide by the rules of television thus allowing full creative control by the creators, DEVILMAN crybaby was able to accurately depict the horrors of a world filled with both devils and humans. Making the most of this new age of digital media, we’re offered a glimpse into depictions of adult content previously only available in OVA form. The unhinged nature of DEVILMAN crybaby depicted in scenes like those at SABBATH make for some of the series’ most enticing points, and simply couldn’t exist in the television anime format. 

Let’s take a look at anime series such as Terra Formars or Tokyo Ghoul, both of which suffered greatly at the hand of censorship, even while violence existed at the core of each story. Between shadows being abused to cover blood, and the tendency to exclude anything of sexual nature, it’s difficult to grasp the true horror of any given scenario in most television anime. This wasn’t a creative decision to implement such censorship, either — rather, it’s the result of a system that forbids truly mature content from airing. Had either anime been released in a modern setting, on a platform like Netflix, I’m certain the content could have thrived and expressed itself without restriction. 

With roughly 30 original anime series to be produced by the team at Netflix this year alone, it’ll be interesting to see how adventurous creators get with the relaxed restrictions on their content. If DEVILMAN crybaby is the spearhead of a new age of mature creations, then 2018 will definitely be the year that content thrives. Now it’s just up to the experimentation of the creators.

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Amazon Kills its 'Anime Strike' Service to Fans' Benefit

January 5, 2018 11:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

I would be hard-pressed to think of any more-disliked entity in the North American anime industry in recent days than Amazon's 'Anime Strike' channel. The retail giant's foray into simulcasting anime content probably wouldn't have been met with such a level of disdain if it hadn't essentially sealed everything behind a second $5 paywall -- one that was in addition to the normal cost of an Amazon Prime subscription.

Why couldn't the content be treated the same as every other movie or TV show that the service hosted? Was it to supplement licensing costs? Was it some wild assumption that anime fans were willing to shell out a premium for content that, to many, still hasn't quite reached a sort of mainstream appeal? We may never know the answer to that question, but can instead rejoice in the fact that Amazon has decided to do away with the channel altogether. Better still, all that content is still present on the site, and available to watch with a regular Prime membership.

A spokesperson provided a comment to Forbes:

"We have decided to move the curated catalogs of Anime Strike and Heera into Prime Video so that more customers can enjoy this content as part of their Prime membership."

Anime Strike had not been announcing any new licensing acquisitions for the Winter 2018 season, so many suspected that something was amiss behind the scenes.

Throughout the past year, I had experienced a small level of dread in knowing that potential anime gems would go widely unseen by people who were unable to pay for an additional streaming source for our favorite hobby. I'm a bit relieved that shows, like Made in Abyss and Anonymous Noise, can now be experienced by a wider array of fans, just like they had deserved to be from the get-go. 

Will Amazon ever acquire an exclusive anime license again? With other big players like Crunchyroll, Netflix and now HIDIVE all in the game and going strong, it's hard to say.

Images: Amazon Inc.

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OTAQUEST Japanese Pop Culture Staff Picks of 2017

January 5, 2018 8:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston


With 2017 finally at its end, and the year 2018 launching off in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, we here at OTAQUEST have been reflecting on the year that was, analyzing the trends and happenings in the world of Japanese pop culture that made it so special. There was a whole lot of great that happened in 2017, even if it's sometimes shrouded by everything else going on in the world.

When we first put pen to paper with the idea of a year in review piece, we sketched out the idea of each staff writer covering the topics of 'Anime, 'Games,' and 'Music,' but it didn't take too long to realize how secular that would be -- after all, the world of Japanese pop culture doesn't simply revolve around those aforementioned topics. Our end result came out a little less uniform, but all the more accurate, especially given there's not too much 'uniformity' about the world of pop culture.

Divided into the answers of each individual writer, we're going to be sharing three things in particular that stood out to us in 2017, that we maybe feel deserve to be known. You can find all of our answers below:


Lachlan Johnston (@xrenazuka)

1. Within the world of fashion, 2017 has been a seriously wild ride over here in Japan. It doesn't feel like all that long ago that I first caught wind of a first collaborative fashion line between both my personal favorite graphic designer, GraphersRock, and the long-established branding of PUMA. It again surfaced in the past month that the designer would be collaborating once more, and what a collection it served to be. Combining internet-age design with flashy colors and solid sneakers, GraphersRock blew me away with what he achieved in just 12 short months.


2. It'd be impossible for me to write anything about 2017 without mentioning the Nintendo Switch. Having absolutely struck all the right chords with me, it's easily been one of my year-long favorites. I wrote earlier that it had just become the fastest selling console of all time in North America, and that's with good reason. Between the stellar library of games, the ease of use while out and about or at home -- it truly feels like a console made for my lifestyle. Nintendo hit it out of the ballpark with this one, and I can't wait to see what 2018 brings.


3. For the staff over at humble lil' PARK Harajuku, the year 2017 couldn't have been any bigger. Between the release of their first anime series, URAHARA, and the announcement of their second, CO;RYU, the tucked away melting pot of cultural relevance has been going nowhere but up as of late. Even with all that took place in 2017, the staff has all just been going about their everyday lives, working harder than ever before to continue introducing the streets of Harajuku to new and exciting creators. I've got nothing but respect for PARK, and can't wait to see what comes next.


Mike Tamburelli (@Janny_Nash)

1.  2017 was the year that the mainstream gaming public finally started to hold Japanese games on a level of esteem not seen since the decade pre-2010. It was refreshing to see The Game Awards ‘Game of the Year’ category awash with nominees developed by a studio other than Nintendo. I’m not sure what it was specifically about Persona 5 that finally convinced people that JRPGs aren’t bad simply for employing JRPG mechanics, but I’m happy anyway. I’m stoked that a hack‘n slash action RPG featuring an android female-male duo delving into robotic philosophy was able to stand out in an industry full of gun-toting bearded dudes with wise-cracking sidekicks.

Some may argue that Japanese game development has finally “caught-up” with techniques in the west, but I remain ever-skeptical of that thought. The industry seems like it’s finally moving on from the rough and gruff FPS phase it’s been in, and realizing once more that some of the strongest bastions of game development creativity have been flourishing in Japan.


2.  Chunithm is a Japanese rhythm-arcade game that, while not technically being a product of the year 2017, was certainly enough of a reason to keep me coming back to arcades weekend after weekend this year to spend my hard-earned 100 yen coins. When one thinks of rhythm games, the mind tends to drift towards Konami’s Bemani titles, like Beatmania IIDX, Dance Dance Revolution, and Sound Voltex. Chunithm, on the other hand, was not developed by Konami, but is instead a product of the minds over at SEGA. It seems like game centers never have enough Chunithm machines, as they are always packed and it is not uncommon to have to wait in a line. Other games, however, are usually quite available.

The game has kept up some insane momentum by constantly collaborating with popular anime, so you’ll always be able to trace your fingers and wave your hands to some of your favorite tunes. Dare I say that this game has been enough to encourage a huge wave of players to visit their arcades week after week like I have? Is it any coincidence that operators like Round 1 and Taito are seeing improved returns? I think not -- keep your eye on some crazy arcade gaming innovations coming from Japan in the near future. I hear that VR is especially popular recently.


3.  In recent times, it has become ever more apparent that animators in Japan’s anime industry have it rough. Standards for animator pay in Japan are quite low, which is a problem when the need to pay the always costly Tokyo rent looms. There are now a few options available to industry outsiders in helping, and even changing the lives of the next generation of creatives --  the least of which is the Non-Profit Organization known as Animator Supporters. Their yearly "Animator Dormitory Projects" aim to raise money for affordable dorm-style housing for animators. Paying no more than 30,000 yen a month including utility costs, animators can skirt Tokyo's rent prices and live in an environment where they can not only survive, but thrive.

An additional goal with the dormitory project is to allow an environment where new animators can learn from the more experienced hands as they come to visit. Jun Sugawara has made a splash with his campaign this year, and Animator Supporters raised more money than ever before this year at $25,428 USD -- 170% of the original $10,000 goal. Generous souls have taken notice, and I only hope that this leads to even more meaningful change within the industry we love.


Isaac Wong (@lil_yusha)

1.  Pokémon illustrator and overall prolific artist Tokiya’s new project has been one of the most exciting things I’ve had the privilege of seeing the beginnings of. Around the middle of 2017, Tokiya reached out to me to do some cursory translations for a new clothing brand he was starting up called None Faith. This collaboration between him and Chloma owner/designer Suzuki Junya is producing some of the coolest illustrations and concepts he has ever created. I can tell you guys without revealing anything that there are more amazing collaborations to come, so keep an eye out!
2. To Your Eternity is Ōima Yoshitoki’s new manga coming off of her 2013 hit A Silent Voice, and this comic bangs like no other. It’s an adventure/road trip comic about a deathless being who slowly finds their humanity over the course of meeting and parting with the people and animals he encounters along the way. Its imaginative fantasy setting is naturalistic and believable while still being fresh, and it has a slight SF tinge to it which makes the coming issues unpredictable and exciting.


3.  Lastly, the back half of 2017 has been a JP youtube renaissance. Virtual YouTubers such as Kizuna Ai has made such an impression that imitators have been popping up nonstop for the last six months. One of which is Kaguya Luna, a noisy, boisterous virtual YouTuber whose character is a mix of Crayon Shin-chan and Annoying Orange. I love her.


Eddie Lehecka (@collectiphile)

1. Those who know me will tell you that I’m a sucker for old anime, and I also love off the wall/slapstick humor. That being the case, it would go without saying that the announcement of Season 2 of Osomatsu-san was one of the biggest moments for me this year. The new season hasn’t let me down at all either, with my personal favorite Matsuno brother, Jyushimatsu, seeing plenty of screen time and a few episodes dedicated to his wacky nature. It’s also been great to see all of the additional love the supporting characters have gotten this season so far. I can’t wait to see where they go with the 2nd half of the season in 2018!


2.  For someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to sit down and play console games, having a full-fledged console Mario game at my fingertips was easily one of the pure joys of my 2017 travel experience. Not only is Super Mario Odyssey an incredibly well designed game, but the amount of crazy stuff you can do thanks to the new movement options & physics paired with what can only be described as a love letter to Mario’s history make this very close to the top of my personal ranking for every game in the franchise. The soundtrack for the game is one of my favorites for the year as well, with "Jump Up! Super Star" still frequently stuck in my head leaving my toe tapping. It might still be a while before I hit 100% in the game due to my schedule, but the game is so fun to play that I’m going to savor every minute of the journey.


3.  There have been a lot of really great anime fashion collaborations to come out this year, but New York-based Supreme knocked it out of the park with this line. While the brand has a tendency to be pretty hard to access, I made sure to pick up several pieces from this collection for myself as a massive fan of both Akira and Supreme. Aside from Akira's notoriety worldwide being a huge selling point, what really got me on this was the use of original art from the manga rather than the anime for these pieces. The striking image of the explosion in Neo Tokyo used on several of the pieces has to be my favorite of the scenes they chose, and the subtle Supreme branding on the other shirts is a perfect way to make sure the collaboration doesn’t come off as too heavy-handed or detract from Otomo’s original art. My only complaint is that I wasn’t able to buy everything in this collection.


What do you think, was there anything in particular that you fell in love with throughout 2017? Looking back on it all, while the year was filled with high-points and very much stands on its own merit, I can't help but feel that the year was simply laying down the foundations for what's to come. If that does happen to be true, of course, then we'll only be going up from here.

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