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OTAQUEST Japanese Pop Culture Staff Picks of 2017

January 5, 2018 8:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston


With 2017 finally at its end, and the year 2018 launching off in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, we here at OTAQUEST have been reflecting on the year that was, analyzing the trends and happenings in the world of Japanese pop culture that made it so special. There was a whole lot of great that happened in 2017, even if it's sometimes shrouded by everything else going on in the world.

When we first put pen to paper with the idea of a year in review piece, we sketched out the idea of each staff writer covering the topics of 'Anime, 'Games,' and 'Music,' but it didn't take too long to realize how secular that would be -- after all, the world of Japanese pop culture doesn't simply revolve around those aforementioned topics. Our end result came out a little less uniform, but all the more accurate, especially given there's not too much 'uniformity' about the world of pop culture.

Divided into the answers of each individual writer, we're going to be sharing three things in particular that stood out to us in 2017, that we maybe feel deserve to be known. You can find all of our answers below:


Lachlan Johnston (@xrenazuka)

1. Within the world of fashion, 2017 has been a seriously wild ride over here in Japan. It doesn't feel like all that long ago that I first caught wind of a first collaborative fashion line between both my personal favorite graphic designer, GraphersRock, and the long-established branding of PUMA. It again surfaced in the past month that the designer would be collaborating once more, and what a collection it served to be. Combining internet-age design with flashy colors and solid sneakers, GraphersRock blew me away with what he achieved in just 12 short months.


2. It'd be impossible for me to write anything about 2017 without mentioning the Nintendo Switch. Having absolutely struck all the right chords with me, it's easily been one of my year-long favorites. I wrote earlier that it had just become the fastest selling console of all time in North America, and that's with good reason. Between the stellar library of games, the ease of use while out and about or at home -- it truly feels like a console made for my lifestyle. Nintendo hit it out of the ballpark with this one, and I can't wait to see what 2018 brings.


3. For the staff over at humble lil' PARK Harajuku, the year 2017 couldn't have been any bigger. Between the release of their first anime series, URAHARA, and the announcement of their second, CO;RYU, the tucked away melting pot of cultural relevance has been going nowhere but up as of late. Even with all that took place in 2017, the staff has all just been going about their everyday lives, working harder than ever before to continue introducing the streets of Harajuku to new and exciting creators. I've got nothing but respect for PARK, and can't wait to see what comes next.


Mike Tamburelli (@Janny_Nash)

1.  2017 was the year that the mainstream gaming public finally started to hold Japanese games on a level of esteem not seen since the decade pre-2010. It was refreshing to see The Game Awards ‘Game of the Year’ category awash with nominees developed by a studio other than Nintendo. I’m not sure what it was specifically about Persona 5 that finally convinced people that JRPGs aren’t bad simply for employing JRPG mechanics, but I’m happy anyway. I’m stoked that a hack‘n slash action RPG featuring an android female-male duo delving into robotic philosophy was able to stand out in an industry full of gun-toting bearded dudes with wise-cracking sidekicks.

Some may argue that Japanese game development has finally “caught-up” with techniques in the west, but I remain ever-skeptical of that thought. The industry seems like it’s finally moving on from the rough and gruff FPS phase it’s been in, and realizing once more that some of the strongest bastions of game development creativity have been flourishing in Japan.


2.  Chunithm is a Japanese rhythm-arcade game that, while not technically being a product of the year 2017, was certainly enough of a reason to keep me coming back to arcades weekend after weekend this year to spend my hard-earned 100 yen coins. When one thinks of rhythm games, the mind tends to drift towards Konami’s Bemani titles, like Beatmania IIDX, Dance Dance Revolution, and Sound Voltex. Chunithm, on the other hand, was not developed by Konami, but is instead a product of the minds over at SEGA. It seems like game centers never have enough Chunithm machines, as they are always packed and it is not uncommon to have to wait in a line. Other games, however, are usually quite available.

The game has kept up some insane momentum by constantly collaborating with popular anime, so you’ll always be able to trace your fingers and wave your hands to some of your favorite tunes. Dare I say that this game has been enough to encourage a huge wave of players to visit their arcades week after week like I have? Is it any coincidence that operators like Round 1 and Taito are seeing improved returns? I think not -- keep your eye on some crazy arcade gaming innovations coming from Japan in the near future. I hear that VR is especially popular recently.


3.  In recent times, it has become ever more apparent that animators in Japan’s anime industry have it rough. Standards for animator pay in Japan are quite low, which is a problem when the need to pay the always costly Tokyo rent looms. There are now a few options available to industry outsiders in helping, and even changing the lives of the next generation of creatives --  the least of which is the Non-Profit Organization known as Animator Supporters. Their yearly "Animator Dormitory Projects" aim to raise money for affordable dorm-style housing for animators. Paying no more than 30,000 yen a month including utility costs, animators can skirt Tokyo's rent prices and live in an environment where they can not only survive, but thrive.

An additional goal with the dormitory project is to allow an environment where new animators can learn from the more experienced hands as they come to visit. Jun Sugawara has made a splash with his campaign this year, and Animator Supporters raised more money than ever before this year at $25,428 USD -- 170% of the original $10,000 goal. Generous souls have taken notice, and I only hope that this leads to even more meaningful change within the industry we love.


Isaac Wong (@lil_yusha)

1.  Pokémon illustrator and overall prolific artist Tokiya’s new project has been one of the most exciting things I’ve had the privilege of seeing the beginnings of. Around the middle of 2017, Tokiya reached out to me to do some cursory translations for a new clothing brand he was starting up called None Faith. This collaboration between him and Chloma owner/designer Suzuki Junya is producing some of the coolest illustrations and concepts he has ever created. I can tell you guys without revealing anything that there are more amazing collaborations to come, so keep an eye out!
2. To Your Eternity is Ōima Yoshitoki’s new manga coming off of her 2013 hit A Silent Voice, and this comic bangs like no other. It’s an adventure/road trip comic about a deathless being who slowly finds their humanity over the course of meeting and parting with the people and animals he encounters along the way. Its imaginative fantasy setting is naturalistic and believable while still being fresh, and it has a slight SF tinge to it which makes the coming issues unpredictable and exciting.


3.  Lastly, the back half of 2017 has been a JP youtube renaissance. Virtual YouTubers such as Kizuna Ai has made such an impression that imitators have been popping up nonstop for the last six months. One of which is Kaguya Luna, a noisy, boisterous virtual YouTuber whose character is a mix of Crayon Shin-chan and Annoying Orange. I love her.


Eddie Lehecka (@collectiphile)

1. Those who know me will tell you that I’m a sucker for old anime, and I also love off the wall/slapstick humor. That being the case, it would go without saying that the announcement of Season 2 of Osomatsu-san was one of the biggest moments for me this year. The new season hasn’t let me down at all either, with my personal favorite Matsuno brother, Jyushimatsu, seeing plenty of screen time and a few episodes dedicated to his wacky nature. It’s also been great to see all of the additional love the supporting characters have gotten this season so far. I can’t wait to see where they go with the 2nd half of the season in 2018!


2.  For someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to sit down and play console games, having a full-fledged console Mario game at my fingertips was easily one of the pure joys of my 2017 travel experience. Not only is Super Mario Odyssey an incredibly well designed game, but the amount of crazy stuff you can do thanks to the new movement options & physics paired with what can only be described as a love letter to Mario’s history make this very close to the top of my personal ranking for every game in the franchise. The soundtrack for the game is one of my favorites for the year as well, with "Jump Up! Super Star" still frequently stuck in my head leaving my toe tapping. It might still be a while before I hit 100% in the game due to my schedule, but the game is so fun to play that I’m going to savor every minute of the journey.


3.  There have been a lot of really great anime fashion collaborations to come out this year, but New York-based Supreme knocked it out of the park with this line. While the brand has a tendency to be pretty hard to access, I made sure to pick up several pieces from this collection for myself as a massive fan of both Akira and Supreme. Aside from Akira's notoriety worldwide being a huge selling point, what really got me on this was the use of original art from the manga rather than the anime for these pieces. The striking image of the explosion in Neo Tokyo used on several of the pieces has to be my favorite of the scenes they chose, and the subtle Supreme branding on the other shirts is a perfect way to make sure the collaboration doesn’t come off as too heavy-handed or detract from Otomo’s original art. My only complaint is that I wasn’t able to buy everything in this collection.


What do you think, was there anything in particular that you fell in love with throughout 2017? Looking back on it all, while the year was filled with high-points and very much stands on its own merit, I can't help but feel that the year was simply laying down the foundations for what's to come. If that does happen to be true, of course, then we'll only be going up from here.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

AMUNOA
Batsu
BUDDHAHOUSE
Cola Splash
Chordal Poem Secrets (Redcompass/Hercelot)
DJ DJ機器
DJ WILDPARTY
D-YAMA(MOGRA)
Genick
imai
isagen
JABBA DA FOOTBALL CLUB
KAN TAKAHIKO
Keita Kawakami
Kick a Show
KO3&Relect 
KOTONOHOUSE B2B Ujico*
国士無双
HyperJuice
has
長谷川白紙
Masayoshi Iimori B2B Maru
 feat. ONJUICY
マザーファッ子
三毛猫ホームレス feat. lulu
Miii
melo B2B Oblongar
okadada
Pa's Lam System
pavilion xool feat.ノレ
PARKGOLF
パソコン音楽クラブ
Seimei & Taimei (LOUNGE NEO Special Set)
SIRUP
TENG GANG STARR
tomad
Tomggg feat. ボンジュール鈴木
TORIENA
TREKKIE TRAX CREW
UNSQ
WATARU
ゆnovation
YONEDA
YonYon
YUC'e
yuigot / Applekid
Yunomi feat. アンテナガール, ローラーガール, 桃箱 with きあと

Amps
栄免建設株式会社
gu^2
hype
K8
LADY’S ONLY
monolith slip
テクの幸太朗
VIBES MAFIA
XYLÖZ
Ryuki Miyamoto
YOCO ORGAN
HAKA GANG VS なーどーぷクルー VS v.o.c crew
103i
BREADSHOP
JunyaUtsunomiya
kyo
Miyabi
NES
ryuzk
skmt
shucream
SUNOKO
taros
Yackle


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.

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