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Growing Up In One Of Tokyo's Largest Subculture Hubs

December 11, 2017 12:00pm
by Isaac Wong

Once upon a time between an alley leading into Nakano Sun Plaza and a local-branch of Yoshinoya, where a small pharmacist now stands, there used to be a timeless café by the name of Meikyoku Kissa Classic. Its leaning walls, old 78 RPM records, and horribly sweet coffee had been a haven for people wanting a reprieve from the overcrowded streets of Nakano for seventy glorious, long years.

The café was something special for a long list of reasons. Having survived the bombings of World War II and the endless decadence of the early 90’s, however, it was finally torn down in 2005 when owner Yoshiko Mimasaka passed away. (A second generation location has since opened in Koenji carrying over all of the furniture and records. You can look for Meikyoku Kissa Renaissance to find it.)

To this day, Classic is still one of my favorite spots in Nakano -- even a decade plus after its destruction. It represented many of the ward’s defining quirks. Tenacious, obsessive, obscure, mysterious, weird; it was a spot that defied time and space, almost as if it existed in a dimensional warp known only to the savviest of explorers. Nakano houses many of these worlds in its endless corridors and corners. A realm for every obsession, each more bizarre than the last. Nakano was where I was born, and Nakano is where I learned that the rest of the world is not Nakano.


Walking through Sun Plaza into Broadway is like crossing the threshold of the regular human world to that of uncontrollable fantasy. The brightly lit shopping strip at the front is squarely a spot for families and hungry weekenders, unremarkable save for maybe the density of pedestrians in this age of dying shotengais. However, as you reach the end of the strip, you may begin to notice a few fast-footed geeks striding defiantly against the crowd to reach the gates of Broadway.

There is a clear distinction that Broadway doesn’t reside in the same world from the get-go. A giant wall of rare doujins to the right, a used PC parts store to the left, and a general sense of eeriness to the dim lighting. Its still populated with people, but they seem to be here for a wholly different reason than the normals outside. You’ve just entered Broadway, the Holy Land of Subculture.

From the very beginning, the Broadway building was fraught with complications. A whole book can be written on this subject alone, but the long and short of it is that it cost ¥60,000,000 to construct (in 60’s money no less) and had a laundry list of people with a finger in the same pie. One of which was the children of a former Japanese General who committed suicide after the fall of Imperial Japan.


Incurring debt was like breathing air for the people attempting to maintain development, and construction had taken a large hit for it. With the grand design altered to favor both convenience and money for those involved, corridors inevitably turned into unintelligible spaghetti, with most corners leading to painful dead-ends. Storefronts are commonly hidden from pedestrians by random walls, and escalators and elevators are often placed in the most inconvenient locations for workers and customers alike. Its a far cry from what could have been.

This was the late 80’s and early 90’s, a time when money was flowing in uncontainable streams. Shinjuku and Shibuya were booming, absorbing cash flow like a parched sponge, thus sucking up revenue from most of the surrounding areas. No sane business owner would set up shop here, much less make a profit. The chaos within the walls was much too untamable, the world outside much too alluring. That was, of course, until rent prices were so low that one individual couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.

As those fortunate enough to have visited Nakano Broadway before may already know, a good 40% of the location is occupied by Mandarake, a used merchandise, and subculture haven. With a charming Kowloon-esque aesthetic and a penchant for scaring the life out of children, there's a whole lot to be said about the now legendary location.

Founded by Furukawa Masuzo in 1980, the former comic creator-gone-psychonaut entrepreneur clearly envisioned something incredible when he modestly borrowed the initial 6.5 square meter share space that would become Mandarake. Filled to the brim with old comics, signatures of famous creators, and animation cells, the visionary was able to capture the ease of access to creators in nearby locations and bring a bit of their magic to the general public. As patronage increased, the tiny store grew steadily until he was able to incorporate in 1987, spreading like wildfire into the surrounding unoccupied spaces. Once he obtained the main space on the third floor, the entire building breathed a new life never seen before.

I remember it clearly, the first time I went up that escalator to the third floor in Broadway -- it was nearly 20 years ago. The sheer amount of information being presented to me in one moment was enough to give me a fever that night. Since then, I've been totally obsessed with the place. It was a dark portal to every material thing that I’d ever want to be around in life. Mandarake was a catalyst for every niche hobby to find purchase in at Broadway.

Stores that exclusively sold Warhammer 30k miniatures, weapon shops selling faux blades, tacky shirt stores, a dozen different branches of Recomints (now defunct), an arcade dedicated specifically to “poverty” fighting games, fashion doll stores, a real-deal military surplus store, a bookstore filled with poetry and leftist literature, a bookstore filled with really questionable pornography and more. It was the only place you could buy a rare Otomo Hiroyuki compilation comic, cross the path to get your fortune told, go upstairs to look at animation cells, and then go downstairs to the basement to get some bleeding edge Japanese fashion.

The stores were strange because that building was the only place where they could thrive without judgment, not because they had any notion of strange subcultures being cool. Just as that sentiment was starting to turn on its head, however, Murakami Takashi began his expansion into Broadway totally changing what it means to be a nerd in the modern age.

As Meikyoku Kissa Classic was beginning to be torn down, Murakami Takashi was in the middle of his big foray into becoming the pop art legend he is today. His DOB series was a giant success, and his collaborations with figure maker and sculptor Bome regularly netted billions of dollars in the art market. He had rebranded nerddom as profitable, using Superflat aesthetics to validate the previously socially embarrassing past-time. Murakami was a household name in Japan; from Louis Vuitton to Kanye West, he had permeated the zeitgeist of the 00’s in a deep way.

One of the methods he used to retain a sense of currentness was to begin hiring prolific net illustrators and artists such as JNT, ob, and the now independent Chaos*Lounge crew to aid him in creating relevant work. In order to maximize the effectiveness of his new hires, Murakami opened Kaikai Kiki Gallery so that he could feature them and other internet-based artists in a fine art context, suddenly legitimizing an art form that was essentially no-brow. Something neither low for its subject matter or high for its commercial usability. Several new Murakami affiliated galleries and stores would pop up soon after, solidly ingraining his influence in the building. Almost overnight, Broadway becomes a hub for young artists and creators as a place to connect, research, and create.

Nakano Broadway is where I learned to be a creator as well as a consumer. Its a place where subcultures collide and new worlds are born, bringing waves of new appreciators with them. Its a place I sincerely want the best for, and god willing, a long and healthy lifespan. As it stands, the new Murakami developments are bringing in new customers from around the world, all of whom I hope grasped the magic of Broadway. Every dim corridor, every nonsensical corner of this building should be protected, and every weird soul that resides it celebrated.

May Nakano Broadway Live Ten Thousand Years.

Words by: Isaac Wong

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maisou Releases Chillout New 'Fuyukan' EP

July 16, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Tokyo-based musician maisou has been making some serious waves this year, kickstarting her musical career with her self-titled heater at the end of last year, then working together with France-born Moe Shop to create "lovesick". Now we're finally getting another taste of her sound, working together once more with T5UMUT5UMU to craft her debut five-track EP, "Fuyukan". Released via Japanese netlabel OMOIDE LABEL, you can check out "Fuyukan" below:
 


From start to finish the EP embodies the exact chillout vibes necessary for these excessively hot summer days. There's no doubt that the EP is a departure from maisou's usual hard-hitting flow, but it's exciting to see a more slowed-down side of her music as well. There's an extremely raw energy to the EP, an honesty to it that feels lacking elsewhere, maisou isn't just saying words without depth. Spread out across five tracks, maisou's latest "Fuyukan" is every bit worth the listen.

Available now via OMOIDE LABEL's official Bandcamp, you can get maisou's "Fuyukan" EP as a free download, here.

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2ToneDisco and Happy Kuru Kuru Release 'Napoleon' Music Video

July 16, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Los Angeles-based trackmakers 2ToneDisco recently saw their entry into the idol world via their synth-heavy collaborative single with Tokyo's own Happy Kuru Kuru, "Napoleon," just a short while ago. The single was a departure from the group's typical high-speed sounds, yet it was still one that offered their usual sugar sweet lyrics. Over the weekend we saw the release of the official music video for the single, crossing between both Tokyo and Los Angeles with stitched footage of both groups.
 


We wrote up about "Napoleon" in the past when it first released, and not much in regards to my thoughts have changed. It's still a gorgeous utilization of Happy Kuru Kuru's vocal dynamics layered over 2ToneDisco's signature sounds, that much is certain. It's certainly cool seeing both Tokyo and Los Angeles interwoven in the music videos footage, looking through both the similarities and contrasts in the eyes of both 2ToneDisco and Happy Kuru Kuru.

Released via Los Angeles-based netlabel Attack the Music, "Napoleon" is available for free download and streaming via all major platforms, here.

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American Comics Legend Jim Lee Shows Love for My Hero Academia's All Might

July 16, 2018 8:00am
by Eddie Lehecka

American comic book legend, Jim Lee, has shown off his otaku pride with a recent sketch he shared on social media.

Lee is best known for his work in the 90's as the penciler behind Marvel Comics' X-Men #1 (still the highest selling issue of a comic ever printed), as well as a co-founder of the industry shaking Image Comics. Now he is the COO of DC Comics and keeps a very active streak on twitch doing live drawings as well as sharing new artwork regularly on Instagram and Twitter. If you're familiar with his work at all it should not be much of a surprise that he's a fan of anime & video games, showing off sketches of characters like Dragonball Z's Son Goku, and Overwatch's D-Va in the past.

Today he took to Instagram and Twitter to show off a sketch he drew of My Hero Academia's All Might, a character who in his muscle form seems ripped directly from an American comic book made in the 1990's. While this clash of a Japanese character with one of America's most prolific comic artists seems like a no-brainer when you consider the facts, we can't ignore how absolutely perfect this pairing is.

Those who know me well know that I am a massive American comic book fan in addition to Japanese manga, and Jim Lee is definitely someone who has had a lot of significance in my appreciation of the artform. The overlap between anime/manga personalities and American comic creators is something I'm an avid purveyor of, often making sure friends in my circles know about American comics & variants that are featuring art by Japanese illustrators (I might just have to do some kind of piece about that down the line), so I couldn't help but jump at the chance to get the word out about this as well.

I would love to see what series creator Kohei Horikoshi thinks about the work, maybe we'll have our answer later this week since the two comic giants will be appearing at San Diego Comic Con! In the meantime you can follow Jim Lee on Twitter, Instagram, and twitch.

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Aqours Welcomed with Dazzling Rainbow at Anime Expo

July 13, 2018 1:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

For a long time, it seemed like having a virtual idol concert outside of Japan was merely a pipe dream - after all, there was a whole world between it and the fans. But Anime Expo has proven consistently that lives can be a success overseas, and the welcome that the members of Aqours from the Love Live! franchise received at this year’s AX showcases the dazzling potential that these lives could have.

The members of Aqours were welcomed by a huge crowd of enthusiastic overseas fans this weekend at the Microsoft Theatre. Much like their Japanese counterparts, they came armed with penlights and happis, showing their dedication and love for the franchise. But they didn’t just come with enthusiasm. They came with a plan - to wow the performers with a rainbow of penlights. In precise timing with the song, fans would change the color of their penlights and raise them to create a rainbow that stretched all the way to the very back of the venue. It was truly a sight to be sold, and the performers were moved to tears.
 


Such a sight didn’t come from nothing, however, it was thanks to months of hard work and dedication by the team over at the Aqourainbow Project. Leading up to AX they tirelessly worked to raise awareness about the plan, producing a very detailed video about how the rainbow would work in the Microsoft Theatre and even handing out flyers to raise awareness about the plan outside the venue on the day of the live itself. Seeing their hard work pay off must’ve been a great feeling, and they deserve to be applauded.
 

Further projects surrounding penlight performance at the live included the Yousoroad and Kananrail Project, which while unfortunately didn’t gain as much traction as the Aqourainbow Project and therefore didn’t happen, showcased a similar level of dedication and love for the franchise.
 

And that’s what this live should be telling those who organize them - they can and do work overseas. Overseas fans are just as passionate, just as engaged, and just as willing a customer as a Japanese fan. In fact, the number of obstacles overseas fans have to climb over are more numerous, making them often even more engaged with the franchise - not only the language barrier but also sheer distance, with many Love Live! fans traveling across the country to be in with a chance to see Aquors. Multiple city dates in the US wouldn’t be unprofitable, nor would the welcome be lukewarm. It would be as warm as they get back home.

Even Japanese fans were impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of overseas fans, with some exclaiming “They really did a rainbow” and others commenting “The organization of overseas fans is really amazing!”. Furthermore, it seems like the idea for the rainbow is spreading to Japan, with attendees of the Fukuoka live taking place this weekend attempting to organise a repeat of the AX spectacle. It’s worth noting that a fair number of the Fukuoka attendees are actually overseas fans, many of whom choose to enter the ticket lottery for the Fukuoka live because there is a higher chance of winning, but pulling off the rainbow in Fukuoka will definitely inspire Japanese fans to do the same as well.

Fans are cooperating and showing their passion in other ways as well. UK-based group Aqours Tea Party are currently lobbying to get a delayed live viewing organised in the UK, the success of which could spell a new dawn for lives in the west. But as it stands, overseas fans have clearly demonstrated their passion and willingness to support lives overseas. What remains to be seen is if that passion will be rewarded. Aqours Tea Party is currently running a general interest survey in a delayed live viewing. You don’t have to be a UK resident to fill it out, so please show your support if that’s something you’d like to see become a reality.

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TiMEMAXERAS Release Debut EP 'SUGAR C and THA FRESH!'

July 13, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

There's been an undeniable resurgence in appreciation towards 80s Japanese pop music over the past few years, with many international fans looking back to the past for what they would consider a fresh new sound. It's not without good reason either, that timeframe birthed an entire generation of sounds that to this day hold their own as timeless classics. This is where Tokyo-based musical duo TiMEMAXERAS comes into play -- bringing a modern twist to the sounds of the past through their debut EP "SUGAR C and THA FRESH! " released via Attack the Music.
 


Delivering an authentic 80s Japanese sound direct to your feed, TiMEMAXERAS is fronted by both sound designer SUGAR C and image designer moji8fresh. Their debut EP, "SUGAR C and THA FRESH!", is filled to the brim with masterpiece after masterpiece, with a remix by French trackmaker Moe Shop tying the whole package together. Released today via Japan-focused netlabel Attack the Music, TiMEMAXERAS is coming in hot, and we're sure they won't be slowing down any time soon.

TiMEMAXERAS - SUGAR C and THE FRESH!

Tracklist: 

  1. MAKE IT LAST FOREVER
  2. Runaway
  3. TONiGHT
  4. Tokyo Night Flyght
  5. TiME MACHINE
  6. Tokyo Night Flyght (Moe Shop Remix)
Available now for free download via Attack the Music, further information on TiMEMAXERAS can be found via their official website.

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Neko Hacker Release New EP 'SUMMER', New Music Video

July 12, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

For a group that was quite literally formed this year, self-described "Kawaii Future Rock" band Neko Hacker most definitely have a lot going for them. This week marked the release of the duo's second EP, the fittingly-titled "SUMMER!", as well as the release of an all-new music video for the track "Night Sky (feat. Mashilo & ichika)". It's not too often that an artist can burst onto the scene and leave me clinging on the edge of my seat for their next release, so I'm definitely excited to see how much I can listen to this new EP too.
 


There really is one question on my mind, and that's how long is it going to take before Neko Hacker are picked up to start working on anime OP/EDs? There's an undisputed energy to everything they've released to date that makes for the perfect match, and I can only hope that one day it gets applied fittingly. As a little bonus, you might note featured artist Mashilo as a particularly familiar face, especially if you're familiar with the always incredible CY8ER idol group that she is a member of. 

Available now for streaming via both Apple Music and Spotify, you can find further information via their official website.

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The Original 151 Pokémon are Getting New Plush Toys

July 12, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

With the upcoming Pokémon Let's Go! games set to bring trainers back to the Kanto region -- the setting of the original Pokémon titles -- there's certainly a lot of reasons to be excited as we inch closer to the game's release. Even if the idea of the new game isn't quite hitting that same sense of nostalgia brought forward when thinking about trying to catch them all during your childhood years, maybe this will tickle your desire to collect them all. The Pokémon Company have this week announced their upcoming "Pokémon Fit" line of plush toys, offering all 151 original Pokémon in an adorable new form.


Launching across Japan at numerous Pokémon Center locations, fans will be able to pick up the initial lineup of 30 Pokémon from July 13 and then the remaining 121 Pokémon from November 2018. Priced at roughly $10 a piece, the plush toys are described by The Pokémon Company as palm-sized toys. At that price, it would cost buyers over $1,500 USD to catch them all, if you're able to get your hands on them fast enough. The first run of 30 Pokémon contains a mostly oddball collection of various creatures, while of course containing both Pikachu and Eevee.

Available from today at Pokémon Center locations across Japan, you can find further information on the Pokémon Fit toy plush collection via its official website.

Source: IGN

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