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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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maisou Releases Chillout New 'Fuyukan' EP

July 16, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Tokyo-based musician maisou has been making some serious waves this year, kickstarting her musical career with her self-titled heater at the end of last year, then working together with France-born Moe Shop to create "lovesick". Now we're finally getting another taste of her sound, working together once more with T5UMUT5UMU to craft her debut five-track EP, "Fuyukan". Released via Japanese netlabel OMOIDE LABEL, you can check out "Fuyukan" below:
 


From start to finish the EP embodies the exact chillout vibes necessary for these excessively hot summer days. There's no doubt that the EP is a departure from maisou's usual hard-hitting flow, but it's exciting to see a more slowed-down side of her music as well. There's an extremely raw energy to the EP, an honesty to it that feels lacking elsewhere, maisou isn't just saying words without depth. Spread out across five tracks, maisou's latest "Fuyukan" is every bit worth the listen.

Available now via OMOIDE LABEL's official Bandcamp, you can get maisou's "Fuyukan" EP as a free download, here.

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2ToneDisco and Happy Kuru Kuru Release 'Napoleon' Music Video

July 16, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Los Angeles-based trackmakers 2ToneDisco recently saw their entry into the idol world via their synth-heavy collaborative single with Tokyo's own Happy Kuru Kuru, "Napoleon," just a short while ago. The single was a departure from the group's typical high-speed sounds, yet it was still one that offered their usual sugar sweet lyrics. Over the weekend we saw the release of the official music video for the single, crossing between both Tokyo and Los Angeles with stitched footage of both groups.
 


We wrote up about "Napoleon" in the past when it first released, and not much in regards to my thoughts have changed. It's still a gorgeous utilization of Happy Kuru Kuru's vocal dynamics layered over 2ToneDisco's signature sounds, that much is certain. It's certainly cool seeing both Tokyo and Los Angeles interwoven in the music videos footage, looking through both the similarities and contrasts in the eyes of both 2ToneDisco and Happy Kuru Kuru.

Released via Los Angeles-based netlabel Attack the Music, "Napoleon" is available for free download and streaming via all major platforms, here.

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American Comics Legend Jim Lee Shows Love for My Hero Academia's All Might

July 16, 2018 8:00am
by Eddie Lehecka

American comic book legend, Jim Lee, has shown off his otaku pride with a recent sketch he shared on social media.

Lee is best known for his work in the 90's as the penciler behind Marvel Comics' X-Men #1 (still the highest selling issue of a comic ever printed), as well as a co-founder of the industry shaking Image Comics. Now he is the COO of DC Comics and keeps a very active streak on twitch doing live drawings as well as sharing new artwork regularly on Instagram and Twitter. If you're familiar with his work at all it should not be much of a surprise that he's a fan of anime & video games, showing off sketches of characters like Dragonball Z's Son Goku, and Overwatch's D-Va in the past.

Today he took to Instagram and Twitter to show off a sketch he drew of My Hero Academia's All Might, a character who in his muscle form seems ripped directly from an American comic book made in the 1990's. While this clash of a Japanese character with one of America's most prolific comic artists seems like a no-brainer when you consider the facts, we can't ignore how absolutely perfect this pairing is.

Those who know me well know that I am a massive American comic book fan in addition to Japanese manga, and Jim Lee is definitely someone who has had a lot of significance in my appreciation of the artform. The overlap between anime/manga personalities and American comic creators is something I'm an avid purveyor of, often making sure friends in my circles know about American comics & variants that are featuring art by Japanese illustrators (I might just have to do some kind of piece about that down the line), so I couldn't help but jump at the chance to get the word out about this as well.

I would love to see what series creator Kohei Horikoshi thinks about the work, maybe we'll have our answer later this week since the two comic giants will be appearing at San Diego Comic Con! In the meantime you can follow Jim Lee on Twitter, Instagram, and twitch.

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Aqours Welcomed with Dazzling Rainbow at Anime Expo

July 13, 2018 1:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

For a long time, it seemed like having a virtual idol concert outside of Japan was merely a pipe dream - after all, there was a whole world between it and the fans. But Anime Expo has proven consistently that lives can be a success overseas, and the welcome that the members of Aqours from the Love Live! franchise received at this year’s AX showcases the dazzling potential that these lives could have.

The members of Aqours were welcomed by a huge crowd of enthusiastic overseas fans this weekend at the Microsoft Theatre. Much like their Japanese counterparts, they came armed with penlights and happis, showing their dedication and love for the franchise. But they didn’t just come with enthusiasm. They came with a plan - to wow the performers with a rainbow of penlights. In precise timing with the song, fans would change the color of their penlights and raise them to create a rainbow that stretched all the way to the very back of the venue. It was truly a sight to be sold, and the performers were moved to tears.
 


Such a sight didn’t come from nothing, however, it was thanks to months of hard work and dedication by the team over at the Aqourainbow Project. Leading up to AX they tirelessly worked to raise awareness about the plan, producing a very detailed video about how the rainbow would work in the Microsoft Theatre and even handing out flyers to raise awareness about the plan outside the venue on the day of the live itself. Seeing their hard work pay off must’ve been a great feeling, and they deserve to be applauded.
 

Further projects surrounding penlight performance at the live included the Yousoroad and Kananrail Project, which while unfortunately didn’t gain as much traction as the Aqourainbow Project and therefore didn’t happen, showcased a similar level of dedication and love for the franchise.
 

And that’s what this live should be telling those who organize them - they can and do work overseas. Overseas fans are just as passionate, just as engaged, and just as willing a customer as a Japanese fan. In fact, the number of obstacles overseas fans have to climb over are more numerous, making them often even more engaged with the franchise - not only the language barrier but also sheer distance, with many Love Live! fans traveling across the country to be in with a chance to see Aquors. Multiple city dates in the US wouldn’t be unprofitable, nor would the welcome be lukewarm. It would be as warm as they get back home.

Even Japanese fans were impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of overseas fans, with some exclaiming “They really did a rainbow” and others commenting “The organization of overseas fans is really amazing!”. Furthermore, it seems like the idea for the rainbow is spreading to Japan, with attendees of the Fukuoka live taking place this weekend attempting to organise a repeat of the AX spectacle. It’s worth noting that a fair number of the Fukuoka attendees are actually overseas fans, many of whom choose to enter the ticket lottery for the Fukuoka live because there is a higher chance of winning, but pulling off the rainbow in Fukuoka will definitely inspire Japanese fans to do the same as well.

Fans are cooperating and showing their passion in other ways as well. UK-based group Aqours Tea Party are currently lobbying to get a delayed live viewing organised in the UK, the success of which could spell a new dawn for lives in the west. But as it stands, overseas fans have clearly demonstrated their passion and willingness to support lives overseas. What remains to be seen is if that passion will be rewarded. Aqours Tea Party is currently running a general interest survey in a delayed live viewing. You don’t have to be a UK resident to fill it out, so please show your support if that’s something you’d like to see become a reality.

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TiMEMAXERAS Release Debut EP 'SUGAR C and THA FRESH!'

July 13, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

There's been an undeniable resurgence in appreciation towards 80s Japanese pop music over the past few years, with many international fans looking back to the past for what they would consider a fresh new sound. It's not without good reason either, that timeframe birthed an entire generation of sounds that to this day hold their own as timeless classics. This is where Tokyo-based musical duo TiMEMAXERAS comes into play -- bringing a modern twist to the sounds of the past through their debut EP "SUGAR C and THA FRESH! " released via Attack the Music.
 


Delivering an authentic 80s Japanese sound direct to your feed, TiMEMAXERAS is fronted by both sound designer SUGAR C and image designer moji8fresh. Their debut EP, "SUGAR C and THA FRESH!", is filled to the brim with masterpiece after masterpiece, with a remix by French trackmaker Moe Shop tying the whole package together. Released today via Japan-focused netlabel Attack the Music, TiMEMAXERAS is coming in hot, and we're sure they won't be slowing down any time soon.

TiMEMAXERAS - SUGAR C and THE FRESH!

Tracklist: 

  1. MAKE IT LAST FOREVER
  2. Runaway
  3. TONiGHT
  4. Tokyo Night Flyght
  5. TiME MACHINE
  6. Tokyo Night Flyght (Moe Shop Remix)
Available now for free download via Attack the Music, further information on TiMEMAXERAS can be found via their official website.

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Neko Hacker Release New EP 'SUMMER', New Music Video

July 12, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

For a group that was quite literally formed this year, self-described "Kawaii Future Rock" band Neko Hacker most definitely have a lot going for them. This week marked the release of the duo's second EP, the fittingly-titled "SUMMER!", as well as the release of an all-new music video for the track "Night Sky (feat. Mashilo & ichika)". It's not too often that an artist can burst onto the scene and leave me clinging on the edge of my seat for their next release, so I'm definitely excited to see how much I can listen to this new EP too.
 


There really is one question on my mind, and that's how long is it going to take before Neko Hacker are picked up to start working on anime OP/EDs? There's an undisputed energy to everything they've released to date that makes for the perfect match, and I can only hope that one day it gets applied fittingly. As a little bonus, you might note featured artist Mashilo as a particularly familiar face, especially if you're familiar with the always incredible CY8ER idol group that she is a member of. 

Available now for streaming via both Apple Music and Spotify, you can find further information via their official website.

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The Original 151 Pokémon are Getting New Plush Toys

July 12, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

With the upcoming Pokémon Let's Go! games set to bring trainers back to the Kanto region -- the setting of the original Pokémon titles -- there's certainly a lot of reasons to be excited as we inch closer to the game's release. Even if the idea of the new game isn't quite hitting that same sense of nostalgia brought forward when thinking about trying to catch them all during your childhood years, maybe this will tickle your desire to collect them all. The Pokémon Company have this week announced their upcoming "Pokémon Fit" line of plush toys, offering all 151 original Pokémon in an adorable new form.


Launching across Japan at numerous Pokémon Center locations, fans will be able to pick up the initial lineup of 30 Pokémon from July 13 and then the remaining 121 Pokémon from November 2018. Priced at roughly $10 a piece, the plush toys are described by The Pokémon Company as palm-sized toys. At that price, it would cost buyers over $1,500 USD to catch them all, if you're able to get your hands on them fast enough. The first run of 30 Pokémon contains a mostly oddball collection of various creatures, while of course containing both Pikachu and Eevee.

Available from today at Pokémon Center locations across Japan, you can find further information on the Pokémon Fit toy plush collection via its official website.

Source: IGN

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