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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.


Kevin Penkin to Return to Anime with ‘The Rising of the Shield Hero’

August 14, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

I've had a keen eye on London-born composer Kevin Penkin for quite some time now, with his work originally coming onto my radar following his incredible work on the Kickstarter-funded Under the Dog, with his later work on the critically acclaimed Made in Abyss only adding to his repertoire. It's only natural then that I'd be excited to see announcements that he's fresh off the press for the upcoming Made in Abyss films, and already getting on Twitter to announce his involvement as a composer on the upcoming The Rising of the Shield Hero animated series.

Kevin Penkin’s contributions to the Made in Abyss anime adaptation were instrumental in elevating the most poignant scenes and filling the world with a mystical wonder that wasn’t present in the original manga, and his soundtrack for Under the Dog was easily the best part of the project, so no matter the source material, I’d always be excited to hear new music from him.

But even more than that, Penkin’s rare position as a foreigner working in anime makes him worth keeping an eye on. After all, limiting anime staff to only those living and working in Japan denies future anime of talented individuals that would greatly improve the project. Another name that springs to mind is Austrian animator Bahi JD, who’s animation cuts have always stood out and improved the overall project, whether it be his first job on Kids on the Slope or his latest work on FLCL: Progressive. In this sense, Penkin and others’ efforts are helping to improve anime in the long term, so I couldn’t be happier that he is continuing to work in the industry.

Only adding to this, Penkin’s genius towards dark and somber soundtracks seems like a perfect fit when it comes to the dark tone of the Shield Hero series, which is often praised as a dark isekai story in the same vein as Re;Zero. While I can’t say that that particular subgenre is my cup of tea, if it allows Penkin to continue to do what he does best, then I can’t complain. I’ll just be waiting to see what kind of magic he can work this time.

Penkin joins director Takao Abo and others at Kinema Citrus for The Rising of the Shield Hero, which is set to premiere it’s first episode at Crunchyroll Expo this September.


Puniden Shares Powerful New Single 'Kimi wa Queen'

August 14, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Whether its the charming allure of a slow jazz jam or the high-paced burst of energy that is funkot, there's no denying that Tokyo-based vocalist Punipunidenki, otherwise known as Puniden, is a master of all genres. With a dynamic range capable of blowing me away every single time, it comes as no surprise that her latest single "Kimi wa Queen" strikes hot as a powerful masterpiece; a release that deserves every bit of attention it receives and an extra layer on top of that.

Featuring production, lyrics, and vocals entirely handled by Puniden, "Kimi wa Queen" is a self-described rooftop grove capable of redefining the mood of any moment. There's no denying the track's undeniable charm, with Puniden's signature flare shining in every corner of the song. It's simple, but the complimentary music video does a lot to build upon the atmosphere created by the song through its simple themes and city skyline.

Available now for streaming via Puniden's official SoundCloud and YouTube channel, further information on the latest release can be found here.


lulu & Mikeneko Homeless Announce 'Umi ni Ikitai' Vinyl Release

August 14, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Tokyo-based electronic duo Mikeneko Homeless have long been praised as masters of their genre, flawlessly crafting hit single after hit single that always seems to find their way into my yearly favorites. That's why when announcements were made regarding the release of an all-new joint 10-inch vinyl alongside vocalist lulu for their upcoming summer single "Umi ni Ikitai", I jumped onto it immediately. It's not often you see physical releases from Mikeneko Homeless, so it's important to cherish it when there are some -- and "Umi ni Ikitai" is jam-packed with incredible sounds that have long defined the summertime vibe.

Spread out across four tracks, including summertime anthems "Asagao" and "Watermelon", Mikeneko Homeless and lulu are going all out on the latest release, and I couldn't be gladder. Set to release during October 2018, the upcoming release is currently priced around 2,300 yen, though it's unknown just how much inventory is being produced. The tracklist for "Umi ni Ikitai" can be found below:

lulu + Mikeneko Homeless - Umi ni Ikitai


1. 海に行きたい (lulu + Mikeniko Homeless + Shin Sakiura)
2. Asagao
1. Watermelon
2. ここ

Those interested in checking out further information about the upcoming release, or those who are interested in picking up a copy for themselves, the official store can be found here.


Anime NYC to Host 'Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] Special Event featuring Aimer'

August 14, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

With the much-anticipated Anime NYC inching closer and closer, we've been seeing announcements made left and right to drum up excitement for New York's premiere anime convention. Announced over the weekend, the anime convention is working alongside Aniplex of America and Sony Music Entertainment Japan to bring a slice of worldwide phenomenon Fate/stay night [Heaven's Feel] to New York in the "Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] Special Event featuring Aimer" event on November 17.

Taking place over two hours, the upcoming event will see numerous members of the English-language voice cast take to the stage, including Kari Wahlgren (Voice of Saber), Cristina Vee (Voice of Sakura Matou), Bryce Papenbrook (Voice of Shirou Emiya), and Tony Oliver (English ADR Director and Voice of Lancer); followed up by unseen previews of the upcoming Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] II.lost butterfly film ahead of its theatrical release. Finally, the event will conclude with a massive performance from musician Aimer live at Anime NYC. 

Taking place on November 17 at the Javits Center in Manhattan, Anime NYC is truly shaping up to be an event not to be missed for those both on the East Coast and beyond. Further information can be found via the anime convention's official website.


Weekly Shonen Jump Begins Streaming Classic Anime for Free in Japan

August 13, 2018 6:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

While the manga of Weekly Shonen Jump is plenty legendary by itself, it’s the anime adaptations of that manga that ha always fared best in the West and have introduced many to the magazine itself as a result. With that being said, no 50th-anniversary celebration of Weekly Shonen Jump would be complete without a celebration of the anime it has spawned - many of which are now available to watch, for free and legally, on YouTube if you live in Japan.

Weekly Shonen Jump launched their official 50th-anniversary channel on August 10 with the intent of allowing fans to watch classic anime of their properties for free. By navigating to the “playlists” tab, you can see that, as of the time of writing, episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho, Slam Dunk, Fist of the North Star, and Kinnikuman are available for streaming - provided you access it from a Japanese IP address. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Weekly Shonen Jump also plans to add new episodes every weekday, not only allowing fans to watch the above four series in full, for free, but also many other amazing Jump shows, including One Piece, Naruto, Dr. Slump, to name but a few. When certain shows will be added will be conveyed using the channel’s official Twitter account, so keep your eye on that for more.

You’ll be able to watch these shows on the channel until March 31 next year, so you’ll have plenty of time to sit back, relax, and take in some good old Jump anime goodness - whether it’s for reveling in nostalgia or discovering something new. I’d definitely recommend checking out Yu Yu Hakusho if you haven’t had a chance to see it already.


Production I.G. to Helm Original Anime Based on the Infamous ‘Kabukicho’

August 13, 2018 5:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Production I.G., the studio behind numerous anime such as Psycho-Pass, Haikyuu!, and a number of other titles, have announced a new, original anime project titled Shinjuku-ku Kabukicho. The original project has been in development since 2014, As the title suggests, the story will take place in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku-ward, which is known for its vibrant nightlife as well as for it’s more unsavory elements. If you played any of the Yakuza games, then it is Kabukicho upon which Kamurocho is based, which should help you understand what kind of place it is if you haven’t had the opportunity to visit it yet.

Using this setting, the original anime series will tell the story of a “bizarre murder case,” and from the looks of the Sherlock Holmes-esque character in the key visual released alongside the announcement, it seems that the characters will be trying to solve that case: 

Other than the above key visual, we don’t have much more information as to the story or characters, but what we do know is that a lot of the key staff positions have already been filled - suggesting that it may air sooner than we think. Directing the series is Ai Yoshimura (Cheer Boys, Dance With Devils), handling the series composition is Kishimoto Taku (91 Days, Usagi Drop), and penning the character designs will be Yabaki Toshiyuki (Persona 5, Joker Game)

Production I.G. has had a good history with producing original anime, with Psycho-Pass being a keen critical favorite to this day. Combine this with the already interesting setting of Kabukicho, and it’s safe to say that I’m keen to see how this project will turn out.


Classic ‘Dragon Ball’ Movies to Receive HD Blu-ray Releases

August 13, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

We haven’t got long to wait for the next installment in the beloved Dragon Ball franchise in this December’s movie Dragon Ball Super: Broly, but I wouldn’t blame you if you’re already desperate for some more Super Saiyan goodness. Many of you will have seen the original series, so how about checking the theatrical entries for some new ground? 

Luckily for us, Toei Animatiohasve recently unveiled their plans to release previous Dragon Ball movies on Blu-ray for the first time ever. While not all of the movies will be getting a Blu-ray release, the most important (and best) will be - from the first Dragon Ball Z movie, Dead Zone, all the way up to the first movie featuring Broly, Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan. Even some classic movies from the pre-Z days will be seeing the light of day with Curse of the Blood Rubies, Sleeping Princess in the Devil’s Castle and Mystical Adventure all getting a Blu-ray release.

These new Blu-ray's will be based on a rescan of the original cels, allowing the movies to be upscaled to 1080p HD without affecting the quality of the picture. The technology allowing this to be performed has advanced considerably in recent years, and I can confirm for myself that these new rescans look absolutely incredibly from my experience watching the 4K-remaster of Ashita no Joe 2.

Toei plans to release eight Blu-ray's collecting 17 movies from 1986 to 1996 as of the time of writing, but they may decide to do more if sales are good. The first wave is available from November 2, so if you’re hankering for more Dragon Ball, definitely consider picking them up.