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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.


PlayStation Releases Lineup Video ft. Taku Takahashi, YUC'e, hy4_4yh, Kamura Micau

October 22, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

There's no denying it when I say that PlayStation Japan absolutely kills it with their lineup videos each and every time they're uploaded, regardless of what console you have your hands on. Consistently bringing on some of the biggest names in the Japanese music scene, we've seen anybody from banvox to tofubeats, with this latest four-person combo taking things to new heights. Bringing together the respective talents of Taku Takahashi, YUC'e, hy4_4yh, and Kamura Micau all together for a four-and-a-half-minute fever-dream, the video can be checked out below:

Filled to the brim with rave stabs and other high energy elements, we're sped through nineteen upcoming and currently available titles at lightspeed to the flow of rap duo hy4_4yh and Kamura Micau layered over Taku Takahashi and YUC'e's signature sounds. If you're familiar with these trailers, you likely already know what's going on, PlayStation Japan throws their most anticipated upcoming titles at you all at once while you're left bouncing around your room to whatever incredibly produced track they bring forward this time. It's a formula that's still yet to disappoint, though this certainly does raise the bar.

We're of course seeing a number of titles in the lineup that I can't wait to get my hands on, including SEGA's upcoming JUDGE EYES, as well as Square Enix's much-anticipated Dragon Quest Builders 2, so that ends up amplifying the hype by about a million. With such a flavorful mix of both veteran and up-and-coming musicians brought together for this video, it'll definitely be interesting to see how PlayStation Japan one-up's themselves next time. Now we just wait and see who's next.


Kindan no Tasuketsu Release 'Early Years 2012-2016' Compilation Album

October 22, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Alternative pop music group Kindan no Tasuketsu are a difficult group to digest, and an equally difficult group to understand. Their music is seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and it remains truly difficult to really describe their activities with any level of comprehensive understanding. I've attempted a few times in the past to share their music, most of which I listen to a whole lot, but I just genuinely couldn't put words together to describe the group. But here I am once again, giving it a shot, following the release of their latest compilation album "Early Years 2012-2016". 

For a band that's constantly evolving, four years is a massively expansive time to compile; yet across a tracklist spanning twenty-six tracks, Kindan no Tasuketsu piece together a semi-coherent image of their history through sound. I had most definitely not heard every single one of those aforementioned twenty-six tracks, which honestly made the whole listen-through all the more exciting. There are a few tracks that the group obviously want you to direct your attention to, including the fittingly dreamy single "nemui" which originally released in 2012, having received its own music video earlier this week.

It'd be slightly odd for a group to suddenly drop a compilation album like this, were they not teasing a "season 4" of Kindan no Tasuketsu via their various social media accounts. So with an entire "season" of new music on the way from the group, it's cozy being able to divulge in their history via the "Early Years 2012-2016" album. We're sure we'll be seeing more music in the coming months -- if not weeks -- so we'll be sure to keep you updated when it finally drops. Until then, you can check out even more information on the group via their official website.


Latest Pokémon: Let's Go! Trailer Reveals Post-Game Master Trainers

October 19, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It was just earlier this week that I was sharing some news about the release of a new trailer for Game Freak's upcoming Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! titles on Nintendo Switch, but it doesn't look like The Pokémon Company is ready to stop dropping teasers just yet. Uploaded to The Pokémon Company's official YouTube channel, the latest trailer gives us a look at some of the post-game content we'll be able to enjoy, namely the "Master Trainers" system that's being implemented.

I'm not really sure how cool I am with post-game content just being shown like this, I actually like a bit of surprise, but none-the-less it's pretty neat to see in action. The new "Master Trainers" system effectively introduces a master for each of the original 151 different Pokémon, a trainer that specializes in that Pokémon exclusively, who you can battle with that same Pokémon to earn the title of "Master Trainer". It's a really interesting system, though I really hope that the game doesn't provide you with the particular Pokémon for the battle and leaves trainers catching and training their own. 

Set to release exclusively on Nintendo Switch on November 16, further information on both ​Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! can be found via the games' official website. Those interested in getting their hands on the upcoming games, as well as a limited-edition Pokémon: Let's Go! Nintendo Switch, be sure to check out our ongoing giveaway, here.


NASA Announces Designated 'Godzilla' Constellation

October 19, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

One of the more interesting pieces of information to cap off the working week, NASA has officially announced an all-new constellation that you can spend your time looking for in the sky -- the King of Monsters itself, Godzilla. The pop cultural icon joins numerous other characters in the sky, bringing just a little more light to our night alongside Hulk, The Little Prince, Mt. Fuji, and mythological legends Hercules, Perseus, and more. I've never been too good with constellations, but a full visualization of the new Godzilla constellation can be seen below:

Made up of numerous likely blazar, a definite blazar, a starburst galaxy, a gamma-ray pulsar, and an unknown entity, the lining is much like other constellations in the fact that you'll definitely have much of your imagination do the work. NASA states on their official website to describe how the constellation came to be " Godzilla's trademark weapon is its "heat ray," a fiery jet. This bears at least a passing resemblance to gamma-ray jets associated with black holes and neutron stars."

Obviously there are a lot more technicalities to the Godzilla constellation that I'm not even going to bother trying to wrap my head around, but for those who are interested in checking it out, NASA has created a page to detail it all on their official website.


Funimation Annoucnes End of Licensing Agreement with Crunchyroll

October 19, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

In a somewhat shocking turn of events, it was announced today that Funimation will be ceasing operations with Crunchyroll beginning next month from November 9, 2018. The announcement comes just a year after the acquisition of the anime distributor by Sony Pictures Television, to which Funimation CEO Gen Fukunaga shared that the acquisition directly correlates with the decision to stop collaborative efforts between the two companies. Originally announced in 2016, the partnership brought together the catalogs of both anime giants and allowed customers to reap the rewards of both services in numerous ways.

While subscribers to both platforms are likely to feel a little bit of a hit, it was shared by Funimation's Gen Fukunaga that FunimationNow subscribers will have access to several hundred subbed series, but are going to be losing a handful of dubbed series. In addition to this, some content licensed during the partnership will remain on both platforms for now, with currently simulcasting series such as My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan remaining on both platforms. Both platforms have shared that they will disclose what content will be removed at a later date.

While this is quite a substantial loss for Crunchyroll, it's been reported that the breakup was executed on good terms between both companies. In addition to this, it's been detailed that Crunchyroll's sister company VRV will be replacing FunimationNow on their streaming platform with content from anime streaming service HIDIVE in the next few weeks. While the timing for this new HIDIVE partnership seems like far too much of a coincidence, Forbes reports that insiders have stated it was unrelated.

It'll be interesting to see over the next few months how Sony plans to proceed following their withdrawal of Funimation from the Crunchyroll/VRV partnership. It wouldn't surprise me if this withdrawal is Sony's way of showing that they mean serious business when it comes to taking Funimation to the top, and that is something that will certainly prove interesting from an industry standpoint. Until we find out, however, you'll be able to keep up with everything Funimation on Crunchyroll until ​November 9, 2018. We'll be sure to keep you updated as further information is revealed. 

Source: Forbes, Funimation


‘Kaiji’ VR Game Heads to Smartphones

October 18, 2018 2:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

While fearing for my life isn’t usually my idea of fun, when it comes to Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s gambling series Kaiji, I can just about stomach some immobilizing dread. Indeed, nothing allows you to do so more than the Kaiji VR game, which has been a constant staple in Japan’s many “VR attraction” venues in recent years. Now, that attraction is making it’s way to smartphones - giving even more people the chance to experience Kaiji’s dread first hand.

Titled Kaiji VR: The Nightmare Bridge, the game seeks to replicate Kaiji’s experience crossing a bridge suspended between two buildings, as was one of the ‘gambles’ featured in the second part of the series. Simply reading or watching the arc was nerve-wracking enough, and I can promise you that it’s even more terrifying in VR, having had the opportunity to test it out for myself last year.

It’s worth noting that the VR game has already seen two ports for PlayStation VR as well as Nintendo Switch last year, but the game’s port to smartphones means greater accessibility, especially for those who can’t simply go and experience it in the VR attraction venues. And what a perfect time to do so, with Kaiji spinoff Tonegawa currently airing, and the manga having just entered a new arc.

The difference between the various ports over the years are interesting, as although the PSVR version of the game was more or less exactly the same as the original version since the Switch doesn’t support VR, the version available on the console uses a third person camera in some instances as well as gyro controls. I sincerely doubt that the non-VR version on Switch can capture the same dread you’re able to feel when playing the game in VR, so it’s great to see that version available on smartphones is the VR version - for which you’ll, of course, need some sort of VR goggles/phone strap.

The recent activity in properties related to Kaiji is curious, with both spinoff manga Tonegawa and Hancho receiving an anime adaptation, and now with this surprise smartphone port of the VR game. I can only hope that this is to gauge interest for a third season, so if you haven’t checked out the VR game yet, then I’d recommend you do - if only to tell MADHOUSE that we want a third season already. Kaiji VR: The Nightmare Bridge is available now on the App Store and Google Play for 360 yen.


Akira Toriyama’s Original Character Designs for ‘Jump Force’ Revealed

October 18, 2018 1:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Things seem to be proceeding well with Weekly Shonen Jump's upcoming brawler Jump Force, which is scheduled for release next year in 2019. OTAQUEST already had a chance to sit down with the game at this year’s Tokyo Games Show, and while our gameplay impressions were mixed, the recent news of legendary mangaka Akira Toriyama’s involvement in the game was enough to get us excited again. While Toriyama’s original character designs were already previewed during Bandai Namco’s press conference, this month’s V Jump gives a better look at them, as well as some new information.

First up are two good guys who will be helping on your journey through the tumultuous world of Jump Force. The bald gentleman is named Grabber and is the leader of Anbras Base, where the player character finds themselves upon awakening. The robot next to him is named Navigator and will provide you with support on your journey - presumably related to character backstories, gameplay controls, and much more.

Next to them are two evil characters, who you and the various characters of Jump will find themselves clashing against. On the left, we have Cain, who is a leading figure of the evil organization ‘Venoms.’ The text also states that he is incredibly powerful, which is probably why he thinks that wearing a gold suit of armor is cool. To his right, we find Garena, an associate and member of the same organization of Cain. Interestingly, it is noted that underneath her beauty she hides a secret - perhaps one that could win her over to the good side?

One of my main questions surrounding Jump Force was the story’s antagonist since villains from Jump are being featured as playable characters. It’s not surprising that the villain has turned out to be an original character, but getting a veritable legend such as Toriyama to pen the designs was a great move - we’ve already seen how great his designs are in action, and especially in 3D thanks to his continued work on the Dragon Quest as a character designer. 

With the game’s antagonists revealed, all that really remains now is to see what other Jump characters are confirmed as playable - most recently we’ve had Seiya and Ryu from Saint Seiya confirmed, along with Yu-Gi-Oh!’s Dark Yugi/Pharaoh. I’m still holding out for some characters from Nisio Isin and Akira Akatsuki's excellent Jump series Medaka Box to be confirmed, but we’ll just have to wait and see.