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[Interview] Discussions with 'Maquia' Director Mari Okada

July 20, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It’s no small secret that within the anime industry right now, there’s no name more prominent than that of scriptwriter-gone-director Mari Okada. She’s been the driving force behind some of the biggest animated titles in recent memory, from “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day” to her most recent Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, Ms. Okada really is showing no sign of slowing down. 

Recent times have seen a particular spotlight on the creative, only further fueled by the English-language release of her heart-wrenching autobiography From Truant to Anime Screenwriter: My Path to “Anohana” and “The Anthem of the Heart”. During this year's Anime Expo event, we were given the incredible opportunity to sit down and have a one-on-one discussion with Mari Okada ahead of Eleven Arts’ nationwide theatrical release of Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms in North America.

Our full interview can be read below:

OQ: It’s well documented throughout your incredible autobiography “From Truant to Anime Screenwriter: My Path to anohana and The Anthem of the Heart” that your life before joining the anime industry was anything but easy-going. Now being regarded as one of the greatest anime screenwriters of all time, how does it feel to know that you carved this path yourself?

MO: This time around when writing my autobiography, I looked at a lot of my old journals to take a look at what my thoughts were during that time. It was kind of startling to see all the old thoughts that I had at the time, though at the same time felt like there was a lot I could learn from my old self. I think at the time I thought of myself as “shit” in a word, even going as far as wanting to disappear, but looking back now I feel that I have a lot of respect for that person. So even the young people now who are struggling, if they look back on their lives I think they’ll see a lot that will help them understand themselves.

OQ: Jumping back to something you mentioned there, you said you would often look back at your old journals and read over everything you wrote in them. Writing seems to have always been a big part of your life; from a way to convey emotions to a way to express desires. My next questions leads into that a little bit -- It’s not often that a creative comes forward with such a troubling yet powerful life story and is capable of applying both themes from their past - and themes absent - to their works. Can you share how your upbringing affects the stories you create, especially looking at your most recent works such as Maquia - When the Promised Flower Blooms?

MO: In my autobiography I wrote that when I was staying home during my high school years, there wasn’t any way to communicate with the outside world. I was completely indoors. Since the internet and that kind of technology didn’t exist there was no way to communicate with the outside world. In that situation my imagination really blew up, leaving me to fantasize about everything and anything. That really came in handy in writing stories like Anohana, something that draws inspiration from my own life so heavily. Though, I have a special place for other stories that are based on things I haven’t experience myself too.

OQ: While straying away from school life, it’s noted that you had one teacher in particular who would work with you to submit your works for local newspaper prizes due to your skilled writing abilities. During that time, was the idea of joining the anime industry ever something that crossed your mind?

MO: At the time I didn’t want to write scripts for animation, actually. First of all, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to graduate from school. I was worried daily, and I think what I was writing was very dark at that time too.

OQ: That’s interesting. So you didn’t want to be in the anime industry at that time, was there anything else you had as a goal before you ended up becoming a scriptwriter?

MO: I didn’t really have a goal. So when I read through my old journals and saw that I had no goal, I realized that I really must have looked down on myself. I didn’t like myself during those times. I’m not really sure if it’s this way in foreign countries too, but in Japan, if you don’t have a clear goal or a big dream you’re seen by society as being “no good”, essentially a failure. That was kind of how I viewed myself at the time of writing in my journal. Interestingly, not knowing then and just kind of putting the feelers out there to absorb things, a lot of those materials would end up shaping the person who I am today.

OQ: You mention that you didn’t really have anything that you wanted to do. But even now, outside of your work as a scriptwriter and a director, it’s clear that you do so much more. You write novels, are dabbling in manga creation -- you do so much outside of the realm of anime that it’s truly impressive. When looking at your work in novel writing and manga creation, are these fields you would ever wish to pursue at a professional level, especially with where you are now as a person?

MO: When I was young there was no movement in my life -- I could see that everyone else was moving around me but, yet I remained stationary. I didn’t know how to interface with that moving world outside. When I finally left the safety of my home, I really wanted to move. I found myself wanting more because when I wasn’t moving it was like I was imagining all of these things that people must be experiencing. 

Once I actually got out into the world, however, there wasn’t as much as I thought there would be though. Because of this I kind of started to do more things on my own. It’s a weird way of saying it, but I kind of wanted to bring back that time. I really consider anime to be my savior, and being an anime writer feels great, its what continues to feel best. Because of that I think I’ll continue on this path.

-- Break --

OQ: Sorry, I’m getting a little emotional. I was really touched when reading your autobiography, so vocally discussing the subjects is a lot of feelings pouring out.

MO: Honestly I’m really impressed here [Referring to Anime Expo]. Seeing so many people expressing what they like at a young age, talking about their favorite things, making friends. That was something I couldn’t do when I was younger, so I think that’s really cool.

OQ: I think that within the anime community in the West, the story of not knowing what you’re doing can often resonate quite strongly. So having someone who made it through those unknown times, seeing someone doing what they truly love can be especially inspiring. 

Winding it back a little, this question has to do with the anime industry as a whole. As one of the most promising female talents in the entire anime industry, scratch that, one of the most promising anime talents period, I want to ask you about being a female in what is still such a male dominated industry?

MO: Over at PA Works there are actually more female animators than men, I actually get this question a lot when going overseas. Right now I actually feel like there are a lot more women doing this work, at least around me. When I joined there weren’t a lot of women, something that came with a fair share of challenges for sure.

OQ: What do you believe sparked the change?

MO: People who love anime started speaking out, that was a big part of it. When I was young if I said I liked anime, people would say “Oh really? You like anime?”. I wasn’t going to school, so that was another additional factor, but when I did I couldn’t share my interest with anyone so I enjoyed everything alone. Probably the biggest part of it now is that people are now confidently able to say “I love anime” without any hesitation.

OQ: I think that’s a trend that’s also changing over in the West as well. For example at this convention [Anime Expo] there are over 100,000 attendees. Even just a few years ago you wouldn’t see even half of that number in attendance. More people are speaking up about what they really enjoy, regardless of gender, and I feel like that also ties into why you hear that question often from foreign outlets. 

Moving onto the next question, with this one being more about your work on Maquia. Your work on Maquia - When the Promised Flower Blooms would prove to be your first time helming the directorial role of an animated film; did you find the creative freedom enabled you to tell a more specifically Mari Okada story than previous works such as Anohana and The Anthem of the Heart? Did you prefer being in control over the project entirely instead of working under another director?

MO: To begin with, the process of scriptwriting involves getting notes, and going back & forth with people. It’s a group activity, and you really have to listen to other people’s opinions. In this situation, the producer said “Write what you really want to write, you can do whatever you want”. With those words I quickly became my own worst critic. So there were things I would end up hesitating or struggling with and have to work through them. 

Writers work alone at home, and I thought I liked that solitary aspect and didn’t like interacting. I had a mindset that I needed to protect myself, and that I would get exhausted if I interacted with lots of people. But being a director, I was in a situation where I had to be with people all day long, every single day; the first year was really tough. Little by little it became really enjoyable, however. I became very close with all of the staff involved. It got to the point where we would have arguments about the story every day, it kind of felt like me hitting puberty again and becoming an adult or something *laughs*.

OQ: So looking back at those moments from the first year of production and everything after, was there any particular point in time that really stood out?

MO: Toward the end there was a point where no one was sleeping much because it was so close to the deadline. There was a christmas party, or some sort of party, where we ordered some cheap pizza and we were underground at this place having a really fun time together. That really left a mark on me. I remember one of the production members yelling like he was a comedian on TV and jumping up & down. It was a really tense production environment but thanks to the break the work that we continued afterwards went really well. I realized that things like that can really benefit the end product.

OQ: I believe that’s all we have time for today, but it was an absolute honor sitting down and taking with you Ms. Okada. 

MO: Thank you for your time.

With an incredible legacy and journey to her name, Mari Okada deserves every piece of recognition she’s received in recent times. Those interested in seeing her debut directorial film, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, can head over to Eleven Arts’ official website for screening locations and further details, here.


Hunter x Hunter Editor Teases ‘God-like Chapter’ for Series’ Return

September 21, 2018 2:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Another year, another hiatus for Hunter x Hunter. At this point, there’s not much that creator Yoshihiro Togashi can do to alleviate the ennui of long-time fans who have been disappointed with the slow pacing and intermittent publishing schedule ever since the series moved onto it’s latest ‘Dark Continent’ arc all the way back in 2012. Or at least, that's how it seemed, with recent comments from the editor of the series would have us believe that things are really going to start heating up.

Hunter x Hunter series editor Moji’s comments come from the NHK series 100 Cameras, which sees one hundred cameras placed in the Weekly Shonen Jump office to chart the activities of the editorial staff as they struggle with the various problems that come from the hectic environment of weekly publication. Moji was featured in a short scene from last Monday’s show, where the following exchange happened between him and a cameraman.

Moji: “I’ve just gotten my hands on something seriously crazy.”
Cameraman: “What?
Moji: “A God-like chapter?”
Cameraman: “...what god-like chapter?”
Moji: “It’s been a long time since I received a manuscript that brought me to tears.”

The manuscript that Moji clutches in the scene is of course none other than the latest chapter for Hunter x Hunter, which has come out of hiatus for the second time this year to resume in next week’s issue (September 24).

It’s easy to get excited at comments such as these, especially since fans have been waiting so long for the newest arc of the series to pick up and show us it’s full potential, but it is important to take these comments with a fairly large pinch of salt. It’s in Moji’s best interests to get fans excited about the new chapter so that the magazine’s sales can be boosted, so it’s possible that he may be overexaggerating for publicity purposes.

That being said, Hunter x Hunter is penned by the mad genius Yoshihiro Togashi, and he’s done some pretty crazy stuff in the past. But with the current arc still in the midst of heavy exposition in order to set up the new breed of Nen powers, the only shocking thing I can really think of is a major character death - and there’s certainly a fair few candidates. Obviously, Kurapika himself would be the most devastating death, but since he has effectively become the main character at this point, it’s unlikely that Togashi would shoot himself in the foot in such a way. If anyone’s going to die, then I’d argue it to be Leorio - he’s never served much of a purpose anyway and would be a good way to add some stakes to the current arc for Kurapika.

Either way, we don’t have long to wait to see what the true nature of Moji’s comments was, with the latest chapter of the series releasing next Monday. I certainly can’t wait to get my hands on it.


‘Karakuri Circus’ to Get Hardcover Reprint in Preparation for Upcoming Anime

September 21, 2018 1:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

The announcement of an anime adaptation of Kazuhiro Fujita’s Karakuri Circus earlier this year came as a surprise to everyone and brought a lot of attention to a series which had previously enjoyed a fairly small cult following. So to prepare for the anime’s premiere next month, publisher Shogakukan will be releasing a new edition of the series, featuring never-seen-before material in an all-new format -- perfect for long-time fans and newcomers alike.

Titled “Complete Edition,” this new reprint of Karakuri Circus will be A5 sized, making it slightly bigger than original takonbon releases but slightly smaller than the original magazine print. Still, the bigger size will let you appreciate Fujita’s excellent artwork all the better, and will come in handy when it comes to some of the Complete Edition extra features, which include never-seen-before production notes, illustrations, and character sheets, along with all of the original color pages from its initial run in Weekly Shonen Sunday.

For longtime fans of the series, this is a fantastic opportunity to dive back into Fujita’s masterpiece in an all-new fashion, and for newcomers to the series, it’s a fantastic opportunity to read the manga before the anime begins airing. Even though the anime begins in merely a month from now, since two volumes will be released each month from now on, it’ll keep a good pace with the anime adaptation, and will perhaps tide over those viewers who’d prefer to wait for the Blu-rays to release.

Furthermore, with VIZ recently announcing their English release of Naoki Urasawa’s similar cult hit 20th Century Boy’s Japanese hardcover, deluxe edition under the name The Perfect Edition, it definitely wouldn’t surprise me if another publisher follows suit by licensing this deluxe edition of Karakuri Circus, especially when considering the hype for the upcoming anime. Nevertheless,  both volumes one and two of the Complete Edition are now available in Japanese stores. They are priced at 1400 yen each, and you can check them out via Shogakukan’s official website.


Taito Brings The True Space Invaders Experience Home In Japan With Arcade1Up

September 20, 2018 4:00pm
by Eddie Lehecka

Arcade pioneer Taito has announced this week at Tokyo Game Show that they're teaming up with US home arcade startup Arcade1Up to bring their 3/4th sized cabinets to Japan starting in December. 

Priced at 58,000¥, the newly designed and manufactured cabinets are made to provide as close to an authentic gameplay experience as possible to the original machines released back in the late 1970s. Arcade1Up announced their products for the US market earlier this year, featuring an array of influential and popular classic arcade titles to be released in an affordable and size-efficient manner for anyone who has dreamed of owning an arcade machine with their favorite game. What makes the Tokyo Game Show announcement so exciting (aside from the release in Japan) is that two new offerings, Space Invaders & Pac-Man, are being shown off on the show floor.

These arcade replicas are actually a brilliant solution for the Japanese market as space is often very limited in the average building. These smaller form factor cabinets are perfect for any office or homeowner looking to add some fun to their surroundings. They even use the original artwork and design of the classic cabinets, making them an eye-catching decorative piece as well!

The first 3 cabinets are going to be released in December of this year, with pre-orders for Japanese buyers currently available on Amazon. If you're in Japan and want more details on how to buy, check out the official Taito website for the product. If you're in America and want to see Arcade1Up's other offerings, check out their official website for more information.


Rhythm Game Legend Naoki Maeda Announces New Game, SEVEN's CODE

September 20, 2018 3:00pm
by Eddie Lehecka

Longtime rhythm game producer Naoki Maeda announced the first title from his newly founded venture, Unlimited Studio, in collaboration with developer Applibot at Tokyo Game Show. After his departure from Capcom last year many fans were wondering what was next for the man who helped define the rhythm game genre. The announcement that he was creating his own studio prompted a lot of speculation as to what direction he was moving in, and it seems that he's sticking with familiar territory.

Being billed as a music game that's "not a music game", the concept actually seems pretty novel. A deep story is being woven in the title, with episodic content being released over the course of the title's first year of release. General gameplay hasn't been described in detail yet, but in game battles/action are going to incorporate a rhythm game element of some kind. The story of the game involves solving a series of mysteries that may save humanity from extinction. Depending on how players perform in the game, results will change globally in-game for all players as the story progresses. Maeda has long been concerned with accessibility for players worldwide and of all skill levels, and that seems to definitely still be the case. His initial announcement stresses that the focus on the game is fun, while still offering a challenge for skilled players.

In addition, an audition event for illustrators and musicians is being planned, allowing for even more interaction with the game for all types of people. Longtime rhythm game fans will be pleased to see some familiar faces popping up in the title as well. Rhythm game veterans such as cranky, t+pazolite, REDALiCE, and newcomer KSUKE have been announced as participating with the title. The four of them appeared during a special announcement & talk event at Tokyo Game Show today to discuss the upcoming game.

There's still a lot more information to come, and we're definitely going to be keeping an eye on this title. Maeda's last creation, the short-lived CROSSxBEATS, was a blast to play and featured an excellent array music. His determination to create the next evolution of music games is something that should excite fans of all kinds, and it'll be really interesting to see the development of this new project. In the meantime, you can check out more details at the official website, or follow SEVEN's CODE on twitter for more information.


Hiroshi Fujiwara & Pokemon Team Up For Thunderbolt Project

September 20, 2018 2:00pm
by Eddie Lehecka

The Pokémon company has officially announced that they're partnering up with streetwear legend Hiroshi Fujiwara for a new line of boldly designed & striking products featuring some of their most iconic characters. Originally teased on Fujiwara's Instagram a few weeks ago, the collaboration is titled THUNDERBOLT PROJECT and is being promised as an ongoing series of different pieces to be released through 2019 "and beyond". At first glance, this might seem like an odd pairing; but given Pokemon's long history with outside designers that have a unique style, this seems like a no-brainer for a brand that is loved by so many people worldwide.

There hasn't been much in the way of information about the project made available yet. We do know that the first item from the collection is slated to drop at the upcoming Hypefest event, taking place on October 6th & 7th in New York, at which Hiroshi Fujiwara is a member of the organizing committee. So far we've also caught a glimpse of a few minimal but amazing looking items from the collaboration including a black t-shirt with Pikachu's silhouette in white and a hoodie featuring a grey colored Mew on the back. Both items incorporate a thunderbolt shape that seems pulled directly from the logo of Fujiwara's Fragment Design label and are a stark contrast from the typically colorful designs seen in most Pokémon merchandise.

While Fujiwara is no stranger to collaborations with pop culture icons (we covered his recent Bikkuriman collaboration a few months back), it's always exciting to see two behemoths in their respective industries team up like this. Both parties are known for pushing boundaries and have years of significant experience in trying new and exciting things, meaning that the possibilities here are endless. For me personally being a massive fan of the Pokémon franchise and an avid streetwear enthusiast, I'll definitely be copping as much of this collaboration as possible.

You can find more information on the official THUNDERBOLT PROJECT Instagram account, and we'll be sure to report as more details become available!


Lupin the Third to Take Over Universal Studios Japan in 2019

September 20, 2018 12:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

With the likes of Detective Conan and Sailor Moon receiving themed attractions as part of Universal Studios Japan’s “Cool Japan” initiative, it will perhaps come as no surprise that Lupin the Third is next in line to be featured in the ever-changing line-up of Japanese popular culture-themed attractions. But with the franchise only recently emerging from a lengthy TV anime hiatus, it’s a sign that the series is back and better than ever.
Lupin’s entrance into Cool Japan comes during the initiative’s fifth year, and there’s perhaps some poetry in the fact that the Lupin franchise celebrated it’s own fiftieth anniversary last year, with the original manga launching in 1967. Perhaps due to this seniority, then, Lupin will be kicking the almost equally legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion off the XR Ride attraction (which was previously occupied by Final Fantasy) to deliver it’s own VR attraction. While the details on this attraction are few, having rode the Final Fantasy VR ride earlier this year, I’m sure that the surprisingly effective combination of a VR headset and moving carriage will be entertaining, to say the least.
Furthermore, there will be a new restaurant themed around the Lupin series, which will be both comedic and “hard-boiled” according to USJ’s official website - perhaps suggesting that the food served in the restaurant will be a little out of the ordinary, or perhaps that the diners will be treated to some kind of show during their meal, much like how the Detective Conan Mystery Restaurant had diners solving a mystery as they ate. Themed restaurants such as these are common at USJ, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it will most likely require reserving ahead of time, unlike the VR ride.
Finally, the official website teases an “original story” that can only be experienced at the park, through the attractions, which is sure to excite any fans of the Lupin series. Detective Conan did something very similar this year as it had attendees solving mysteries alongside Conan and the gang through the various park attractions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Lupin followed suit, perhaps letting us do some thievery with the gang, or perhaps putting us in the shoes of the hapless Inspector Zenigata as he attempts to bring the gang to justice.

Either way, the attractions are expected to launch sometime in 2019, so we have a while to wait for more concrete information. Keep your eyes on the official website for more details.


Lounge Neo Announces 家-Yeah- Anniversary Event Lineup

September 19, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

There are few events I look forward to more than Lounge Neo's legendary annual 家-Yeah- anniversary event, and today we finally got a look at what we can be expecting from this year's event. Calling on some of the greatest talents from Japan's massively diverse club and internet music scenes, I'd dare suggest that no amount of planning could prepare you for November 25 when the back streets of Dogenzaka are taken over. Just to give you a scope of the scale of this event, 家-Yeah- will be utilizing not only Lounge Neo, but also Club Asia, Vuenos, and Glad.

This year celebrates the fifth anniversary of the 家-Yeah- event, as well as the 16th anniversary of Lounge Neo itself. With an incredibly stacked lineup of talents, including regularly featured talents such as Ujico*/Snail's House, Yunomi, Tomggg, and more, this really is set to be the ultimate party. Possibly the wildest part of this all, however, is the fact that this is only the first wave of announcements, with more to come for the event in the near future. It's a long one, but the current lineup can be seen below:

Cola Splash
Chordal Poem Secrets (Redcompass/Hercelot)
Keita Kawakami
Kick a Show
Masayoshi Iimori B2B Maru
 feat. ONJUICY
三毛猫ホームレス feat. lulu
melo B2B Oblongar
Pa's Lam System
pavilion xool feat.ノレ
Seimei & Taimei (LOUNGE NEO Special Set)
Tomggg feat. ボンジュール鈴木
yuigot / Applekid
Yunomi feat. アンテナガール, ローラーガール, 桃箱 with きあと

monolith slip
Ryuki Miyamoto
HAKA GANG VS なーどーぷクルー VS v.o.c crew

Taking place on November 25 at Lounge Neo and surrounding venues, 家-Yeah-  is being priced at 3,500 yen + 1D for an advance ticket and 4,000 yen + 1D for door sales -- not a bad price for what's quite literally a club music festival with some of the greatest talents right now. Those interested in checking out further information on the event can hit up Lounge Neo's official website.