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Interview

Interview with Cowboy Bebop Creator Watanabe Shinichiro

October 11, 2017 12:00pm
by Tatsuya Yamashita, Lachlan Johnston & Mike Tamburelli

Within the world of Japanese animation, there are few individuals more prolific than Watanabe Shinichiro. This fact has become so prevalent in fact, that the term ‘anime’ has almost become synonymous with a majority of his series — many citing shows such as “Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo,” and even his more recent “Space Dandy” as their introduction to the world of Japanese animation. As such, the opportunity for us to spend the evening with such an influential creator wasn’t something to be taken lightly, and over a series of both text and video interviews, we’ll be dwelling deep into the mind of Watanabe Shinichiro.

Sitting down with Watanabe, we spoke about his upbringings in the anime industry, as well as looked back at his long-history of creations and ideas. You can find our full text interview below:

OTAQUEST: Watanabe Shinichiro, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Kicking things off, you originally found your footing in the industry as an anime producer at ‘Nippon Sunrise.’ Of all the other active studios existent during that time, why was it you chose to work there? 

Watanabe: I felt like Sunrise was a studio that actively sought to animate original works, rather than adaptations of pre-existing manga series. If I was going to get into the animation industry, I wanted to create my own works rather than adopting someone else’s series.

OTAQUEST: Up until you joined Sunrise, were you studying anime production?

Watanabe: I self-studied pretty much everything I know about movie production and direction on my own accord. I read plenty of books on both film techniques and technology, where I then learned basics such as the 180-degree rule of camera positioning, frame-right, and frame-left. 

As for storyboarding, I learned a lot of that after entering the industry by looking at and mimicking the works of others. There was no proper education system to instruct directors in the anime industry at the time.

OTAQUEST: During that early period of time, were their any creatives who really caught your attention?

Watanabe: Kazuki Akane was kind of a friendly rival of mine — he originally debuted as a director with “The Vision of Escaflowne” at Sunrise in 1996. Even now we occasionally help each other out with projects.

OTAQUEST: Were there any anime directors that you derived a lot of inspiration from, or even those from whom you took reference from?

Watanabe: The director whom I have taken the most personal inspiration from would have to be Masaaki Osumi, who worked on the original “Lupin the Third” TV series. When the series debuted, it had a very adult tone and feel, which wasn’t bringing in the desired ratings, so he was removed from the project. He also assisted in directing the TV series “Moomin,” and it wasn’t until I myself became an adult that I realized he worked on both. 

Since entering the anime industry, I also found myself influenced by Ryousuke Takahashi, who was a part of Sunrise’s third studio and best known for his work on “Armored Trooper VOTOMS.” I learned from him that I shouldn’t rely solely on my own ability to create — I needed to learn to rely more on my staff and their abilities, all while fostering their skills at the same time. For a job done as a team, especially something like the creation of anime, that is of great importance. 

OTAQUEST: It was finally time in 1994 for you to take to the stage with your directorial debut on “Macross Plus.” Can you tell us a little bit about why you were selected to helm such a popular series?

Watanabe: At that time director Kawamori Shoji was producing a film called “Mime” at Sunrise, and it was because of our shared workspace that we originally became acquainted. Unfortunately, however, that film was shelved, but soon after planning for “Macross Plus” began. He approached me and asked if I’d be up for the task.

OTAQUEST: After Kawamori stopped working on “Mime,” his break from the anime industry was an extremely hot topic amongst fans, wasn’t it? 

Watanabe: It was pretty major news. One of the main reasons I accepted the “Macross Plus” offer was to help him make a comeback. Another reason, though, was that I was an episode director at the time, and I felt that I still wasn’t given the freedom I needed to create something of my own. I wanted to be involved with the creative process of something all the way from the beginning.

OTAQUEST: Having done just that, you moved on to work on your very first project you could truly call your own — “Cowboy Bebop.” Can you tell us a little bit about the circumstances that lead to this moment?

Watanabe: Masahiko Minami, who is now the president of Studio Bones, was someone I had known for quite some time. He approached me to ask if I had any good ideas for a new project, and after about 2-3 days of deliberating, something I had thrown together over the course of an hour known only as “Bebop” surfaced. Usually, the things that are quickly slapped together become the big hits, rather than the ones you would painstakingly deliberate on.

Around the same time, there was a very real buzz on the streets in regards to a “Star Wars” revival which had everyone excited. This piqued the interest of Bandai’s toy division in producing something with spaceships as a central element — they thought both the series and affiliated merchandise would sell well. That’s why the offering of my “Bebop” project was taken.

OTAQUEST: At that time it almost felt like robots were a given within the sci-fi genre, but there were few works in the world of anime that delved into the realm of spacecrafts. Because of that, daring to switch was quite a large risk for them, wasn’t it?

Watanabe: It definitely was, and they weren’t very happy with the way we ended up portraying the world of “Cowboy Bebop” either. Around the time we were producing the fourth episode, they actually pulled their sponsorship because they didn’t think such a dark and subdued portrayal of spacecrafts would do any favors to their toy sales. We even considered canceling production after that whole drama, but Bandai’s main film production company Bandai Visual swooped-in to save the project.

OTAQUEST: Looking back on it, it’s absolutely crazy to think that during the first airing of “Cowboy Bebop” in Japan, only the first 12 of 26 episodes were actually broadcasted.

Watanabe: Before the broadcast even began — during the production of the first few episodes, there were a lot of internal stakeholders saying things like “This show is too adult, there’s no way this will work” and “It’s just too pretentious,” as well as other cold things. These very same people began to change their attitudes when the show did manage to grow a following, where they then started saying things like “Oh, I always knew it would sell!” (Laughs) In a sense, it was accepted that things may have changed since the airing of the original “Lupin the Third” series.

OTAQUEST: When do you think the way people viewed “Cowboy Bebop” started to change?

Watanabe: Hmm, when was it that people’s views started to change? To this day, I really couldn’t tell you why “Cowboy Bebop” gained popularity and began selling; even now I still think it went way over budget. If “Cowboy Bebop” had failed, I guarantee I’d be working at a ramen shop by now. I’d be the type of ramen shop owner to get overly fussy regarding minor details and things like ingredients. (Laughs)

Anyway, we’ve spoken a bit about all these moments of misery, so why don’t we talk about something a little more fun?

OTAQUEST: Well, usually when the name “Cowboy Bebop” is mentioned, there’s another name that’s brought up alongside it — Yoko Kanno. Can you tell us a little bit about her, and why you appointed her as the series’ composer?

Watanabe: I first met Yoko during the days of “Macross Plus,” and at that time it was almost as if she was a total newcomer. That being said, however, I too was still a complete newcomer to the project I was about to face. Taking on the role of director — it felt like we had the whole world in front of us. We were also pretty much the same age, and it was almost like we could be comrades-in-arms, so to speak. 

I reached out to Yoko for the project, but when I told her the details she actually indicated that she was likely going turn the offer down because she wasn’t a big fan of jazz. If things really did go that way, and she wasn’t involved, then “Tank!” would have never seen the light of day, and “Cowboy Bebop” may never have realized its full potential. (Laughs)

OTAQUEST: So you’re saying that even though she wasn’t a passionate fan of the jazz genre, she was able to produce such an amazing soundtrack? 

Watanabe: As a result of this, however, I feel as though a genuine synergy between both music and video was created. She inspired me to create songs that I didn’t ask for, and I was inspired by her music to make scenes that I originally didn’t even plan.

OTAQUEST: Can you elaborate on that last part a little bit?

Watanabe: For example, the scene at the end of episode five where Spike falls from the window was inspired by the song “Green Bird,” and was made without having originally been ordered. It’s fair to say “Cowboy Bebop” is full of such occurrences, and that the project’s music budget may have gone well overboard. (Laughs)

OTAQUEST: Was that even allowed?

Watanabe: Normally that would have raised a lot of red flags, but “Cowboy Bebop” definitely wasn’t an ordinary project. 

OTAQUEST: I guess “Cowboy Bebop” just had that sort of power, right?

Watanabe: It honestly wasn’t just the content of “Cowboy Bebop” that was out of the ordinary — the whole production and the circumstances surrounding it were all pretty non-standard. 

OTAQUEST: I’d dare suggest that non-standard feeling has almost become a recurring theme in all of your works, with one of the better examples being the more recent “SpaceDandy.”

Watanabe: I feel like “Cowboy Bebop” was a project full of content that I wanted to create — it felt as though it was a series full of my own personal color. On the flipside, however, “SpaceDandy” was the bi-product of a more diverse pool of talent and thought. Everyone involved was having a good time piecing together the show in their own little way. 

For the longest time, I felt as though “SpaceDandy” had a totally different color to mine. Looking back on it now though, I do realize there is a fair amount of my own color too. 

OTAQUEST: On the topic of that pool of talent; how did you go about choosing such a diverse team of staff for the project?

Watanabe: When the time to assemble the staff of “SpaceDandy” arrived, I reached out to absolutely everyone I had ever wanted to work with, regardless of whether we were acquainted or not. The world of anime is quite wide, and it was through this project I met a long list of individuals; both industry veterans and newcomers alike. 


 
OTAQUEST: Your most recent animated work, “Blade Runner Black Out 2022,” released just a short while ago. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Watanabe: It was right after the offer came in to work on a “Blade Runner” spinoff that I decided the rewatch the original film. It was through this viewing that I came to remember just how influential it was in my entire career as a creator. During the entire production process, I felt an immense pressure given the enormous expectations that come with the “Blade Runner” title. The schedule was extremely tight too, so that didn’t help. 

I knew that if I hadn’t taken the job, however, that some other director would come around and mess it up. (Laughs) To put that another way, if it did end up failing, it would be my own personal failure — I didn’t want that pinned on someone else. (Laughs) 

Even though I mentioned that pressure, however, I was able to convince myself it didn’t really matter in the end. Compared to the original film and Denis Villeneuve’s continuation, my work wasn’t as big a deal. It was after I realized this that I was able to work without hesitation and tell the story I wanted to tell. 

Though the blackout incident is mentioned in “Blade Runner 2049,” it’s only in conversation, which is where my work was meant to complement the film. Taking that into consideration, I began developing my script while consolidating with members of the “Blade Runner 2049” staff and even ended up going to the set of the film for a meeting. It was there that I was able to examine not just the scenery and set, but also show my work to Denis Villeneuve and the director of photography, Roger Deakins. That was an incredible moment. 

OTAQUEST: Wrapping things up, as a veteran anime director, are there any issues that you have with the modern anime industry? What do you think will become of the industry going forward?

Watanabe: As of late we’re finally seeing the upper-limits of a business model that relies too heavily on consumer video disc sales. I also firmly believe we’re seeing too much similar work within the same genres. Now, however, with the advent of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we’re seeing a tremendous change in the way content is delivered. Similarly so, the Japanese animation industry is having to undergo some equally massive changes as well. 

 I feel as though it’s become easier to take greater risks with our projects, and that’s something I think is a great direction for the industry to be heading. On top of that, I’ve also been thinking — hand-drawn animation has a charm that you can’t simply replace. It’s become a global dependency to utilize the power of CG animation, but it’s no longer being done in moderation. I just hope more young people — both in Japan and internationally — can learn to adore the world of hand-drawn animation even more so. 
If you’re interested in checking out even more about the life of Shinichiro Watanabe, as well as all of the incredible achievements he has earned, be sure to stay tuned for even more content in the coming weeks. For now, be sure to check out some of our past interviews with creatives such as “Yuri!!! on ICE” creator Sayo Yamamoto, “One-Punch Man” director Natsume Shingo and plenty more, here.

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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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