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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.


Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time International Release Date Announced

March 16, 2018 4:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Studio TRIGGER's incredible Little Witch Academia was a series that stole our hearts all the way back when the first movie released in 2013. After a second film would go on to be crowdfunded entirely by fans across the globe, and a massively-successful anime series would be produced in 2017, it was finally teased that Little Witch Academia would be receiving its own video game on both PlayStation 4 and Steam.

Well, you're not going to need to wait much longer to get your hands on the game, with Bandai Namco Entertainment announcing audiences in the United States and Europe would be able to begin playing the game from May 15. In celebration of this announcement, Bandai Namco Entertainment began streaming the game's opening movie:

Having launched in the latter half of 2017 in Japan, it's exciting to see that English-speaking audiences will finally be able to have their hand at the game. Described as a "3D Action Beat Em' Up" by the team at Bandai Namco Entertainment, you can check out the game's original story below:

Having been inspired by a famous witch named Shiny Chariot, an ordinary girl named Atsuko (Akko) Kagari enrolls at Luna Nova Magical Academy, a prestigious school for young girls training to become witches. Before starting summer vacation, Akko and her new classmates find out about an inexplicable phenomenon at Luna Nova caused by the Seven Wonders, which has been passed down for several centuries. Now it's up to Akko as she takes on the adventure to unravel the mystery surrounding the Seven Wonders.

With just a couple of short months until fans can get their hands on the game, we want to know what you're hoping to see. You can find further information about Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time on the official website.


FLCL 2 & 3 Get a New Visual From Character Designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

March 16, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

There's a lot of hype building for the upcoming FLCL 2 & 3 anime all around me, and it's not without good reason. Produced by Production I.G. and set to release at an undisclosed time in 2018, the series builds off the original Gainax & Production I.G. anime from early 2000. We've got a feeling we'll be seeing a bit about the series announced during the upcoming Anime Japan, but before that, we've been given a new visual from character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. 

There's a bit to take in from this image, most notably of which probably includes Haruko Haruhara in the background, as well as the classic Vespa SS 180 that kicked the whole series off almost 18 years ago. Additionally, we see new character Hidomi front and center who you may recognize from the trailer that released some time ago. Also yes, they feature those same Axent Wear look-alike headphones that caused all the controversy when the trailer first released.

Set to air as to six-episode series in the United States, FLCL 2 & 3 acts as both a tribute and continuation of the adventures of Haruko Haruhara and Naoto Nandaba. We're excited to see the directions the new season of the series takes us, and hope it leaves the same impact it did all those years ago. You can find the official website for FLCL here.


SKY-HI Shares Latest Single 'Nani Sama' w/ Music Video ft. Moga Mogami

March 16, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It's been about five years now since I first heard the lyrical-stylings of Tokyo-based rapper SKY-HI when he collaborated with Japanese trackmaker Tofubeats on the mind-melting "Fresh Salad" from his Lost Decade album. Ove those five years, we've seen the growth and progression of SKY-HI in his solo career outside of his usual work with Japanese pop unit AAA. Today we see the next step in that progression with the release of "Nani Sama feat. Boku no Ririkku no Bouyomi," a hard-hitting track featuring incredible production value and lyrics. 

Released ahead of his upcoming "Best Catalyst" album which is set to release digitally on March 21, the track was shared alongside an extraordinary Atsunori Toushi-directed music video. Those watching the music video might be surprised to spot Moga Mogami in there, playing the focus character in this unbelievably gorgeous music video. I'm not quite sure whether it's a crime to write about, or in this case affiliated artists three days in a row, but I'm doing it anyway.

If you're interested in checking out SKY-HI's upcoming album, you can pick it up for digital pre-order here.


Galaxxxy Is About to Present Their Latest Time Sale to the World Live

March 15, 2018 6:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Testing, testing... is this thing on? HAI DOMO, Tokyo-based fashion brand Galaxxxy desu!

If you're not in the know about Tokyo-based fashion brand Galaxxxy, that needs to change. They're a model example of Tokyo's vibrant and colorful street fashion scene, and you've absolutely seen us talk about them plenty. Well, they're about to go digital in the most literal use of the word, broadcasting themselves live as they share their latest time sale. Taking place on March 19 from their Shibuya flagship store, viewers from around the globe will be able to tune in and get their hands on some seriously good sales.

Hosting the stream will be Galaxxxy store staff member @yaaaaaneee and guest @mio.the_newperformer. Those of you interested in tuning in listen close; the live stream will be taking place at 9:00 pm (PST) and at 1:00 pm (JST) and will run for a total of an hour. If you're looking for where to go, look no further. Galaxxxy will be hosting the stream on their official website, which is accessible here. I'll definitely be in the stream checking out everything that's shared and maybe even picking up a few new pieces myself.

Image: Galaxxxy


MyAnimeList Has Opened Their Own Online Manga Store

March 15, 2018 4:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

MyAnimeList has announced their latest venture, kicking off their digital manga store as part of a partnership with both Viz Media and Kodansha Comics earlier this month. It's an interesting move for the indexing website, with the store currently available in a handful of countries across the globe. 

As of the time of writing this piece, there are currently roughly 200 titles from both publishers, with more being added in the near future. Taking a look through the website, and you'll find prices ranging from $6.00 to $12.00 and above.The store integrates the now 12-year-old database's extensive index into the store and vice-versa, allowing for individuals to discover and learn more about any given manga series before diving into it. 

Those of you interested in checking out the new digital manga store can head over to MyAnimeList and get reading!


Kyoto Animation's 'Violet Evergarden' is Coming to Netflix in the US in April

March 15, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It's been a long wait for fans of Kyoto Animation in the United States when it came to watching the Netflix-exclusive Violet Evergarden, but it seems that wait is finally coming to a close. While much of the rest of the world was logging into the online streaming service weekly to view episodes simulcasted alongside their airing in Japan, the United States had been exempt until the full series finished airing for "binge-viewing" purposes, as Netflix likes to put it. Listed for an April 5 premiere date in the United States, it's time to catch up on the series' first season.

Originally airing in Japan on January 10, and becoming available in select regions internationally on January 11, it's taken almost four months for the US to get their hands on the visually spectacular series. Originally catching the eyes of the anime fandom at large following the release of the first CM which utilized some of the most complex animations in a very long time, it immediately hit the must-watch list for many including myself. For those of you unfamiliar, you can find the series' full synopsis below:

The Great War finally came to an end after four long years of conflict; fractured in two, the continent of Telesis slowly began to flourish once again. Caught up in the bloodshed was Violet Evergarden, a young girl raised for the sole purpose of decimating enemy lines. Hospitalized and maimed in a bloody skirmish during the War's final leg, she was left with only words from the person she held dearest, but with no understanding of their meaning.

Recovering from her wounds, Violet starts a new life working at CH Postal Services after a falling out with her new intended guardian family. There, she witnesses by pure chance the work of an "Auto Memory Doll," amanuenses that transcribe people's thoughts and feelings into words on paper. Moved by the notion, Violet begins work as an Auto Memory Doll, a trade that will take her on an adventure, one that will reshape the lives of her clients and hopefully lead to self-discovery.

If you're curious to check it out, or have been waiting an entire four months to get your Violet Evergarden itch scratched, you can find the series on Netflix, here


Moe Shop Releases Latest EP 'Moe Moe'

March 15, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

After much waiting, France-based producer Moe Shop's latest EP "Moe Moe" is finally available in digital format. The EP, which calls on the talents of some of Japan's greatest female artists, went live at 12:00 pm (JST) and has seemingly been making waves both in Japan and around the globe since. We originally broke the news that the EP was in the works just a few months ago, and after all that waiting, we couldn't be happier with the end result.

Looking at the first half of the EP, we open with the shimmering sounds of "Magic (w/ MYLK)," instantly tearing listeners away from the moment and throwing them into a funk-driven groove, straying away from anything the artist has ever put out before. Following that up is the sensual collaboration with Puniden, "Virtual," a tongue-in-cheek story of love that blows me away every time. One of the most requested collaborations in recent memory, both Moe Shop, and YUC'e go above and beyond in "Baby Pink," and I can only hope to see the duo team up again in the future.

Jumping to the second half of the EP, we're thrust into the hard-hitting flow of newcomer maisou in "Lovesick," a first-time collaboration for the duo. Breaking through after this is "Notice (w/ TORIENA)," one of the earliest pieces from the EP. Putting down the Gameboy for just a moment to demand "Senpai" to notice her, TORIENA absolutely kills it here. Wrapping the whole EP up is one of my absolute favorites, "Fantasy (w/ MONICO)," a whispy slow-paced track that makes for the perfect end to the EP. Its down tempo leads combined with MONICO's de-tuned vocals send shivers down my spine every time.

If you're interested in checking out more of Moe Shop's works, you can find them on both Spotify and Bandcamp. Moe Shop's latest EP "Moe Moe" is available for purchase here.