Welcome to this week’s review of notable instances of public transit use and urban design, as well as discussion of place identity and culture, through anime currently broadcast or screening in Japan and simulcast internationally via the web. This review also documents seichijunrei (聖地巡礼 holy land pilgrimage) and butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting), which are pop culture tourism and place-based engagement induced by the use of real locations in show settings.
2017 Spring Season Overview
Welcome to a new season of anime settings and background art. I’m really excited about this one. I plan to include four shows for detailed review, two new location-dense works and two returning favorites.
This is the first time that studio P.A. Works has produced two broadcast television series in the same season. The original work Sakura Quest has a setting that is partially synthetic, but draws on many places in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, the location of the studio’s headquarters. It looks at efforts by local municipalities to address rural decline in Japan. Uchōten Kazoku 2 returns us to its wonderful storytelling and luscious Kyoto setting just short of four years since the broadcast of the first season.
Tsuki ga Kirei (feel.) is an adolescent drama set explicitly in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. It features detail-rich backgrounds of both the city’s preserved historic district and modern downtown.
Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata Flat (A-1 Pictures) returns to its old haunts in Tokyo and Wakō, Saitama Prefecture. In the first season, there were excursions to Nagano and Kyoto, while the opening credits for the new season seem to hint at some international locations.
Beyond the review shows, there are many other works that may be of interest:
Sagrada Reset (David Production) Ōtaru, Hokkaidō Prefecture
Natsume Yūjin-chō Roku (Shuka) Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture
Fukumenkei Noise (Brain’s Base) Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
Alice to Zōroku (J.C.Staff) Tokyo inner wards
Re:CREATORS (Troyca) Tokyo inner wards
Eromanga Sensei (A-1 Pictures) Tokyo inner wards
Hinako Note (Passione) Mitaka, Tokyo Metropolis
Frame Arms Girl (Zexcs, Studio A-Cat) Tachikawa, Tokyo Metropolis
In addition to continuing emphasis on seichijunrei-butaitanbou subculture, beginning this season I also plan to look into individual contributors and subcontractor studios that work on anime background art. Even Kyoto Animation/Animation Do, unique among the industry for keeping almost all work in-house, occasionally outsource parts of background art. For all other studios, this is common practice. An art directors may be a staff member of the producing studio, but he or she can also be a freelancer, or a staff member of the subcontractor studio. Some of these studios are in Japan, but much work is also done in China, South Korea and elsewhere. I hope to get a sense for who is actually doing the location hunting, and whether the people creating the backgrounds have access to or familiarity with the places they are modeling, among other things.
(小林さんちのメイドラゴン Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon)
Fan Pilgrimage Update
For various reasons, Shin is often the target of good-natured needling from his peers in the Butaitanbou Community (BTC). His most recent infraction was arriving in Ōgaki, the setting of Koe no Katachi, to take photos of its well-known cherry blossoms, but passing through about 48 hours before the bloom, some of the most splendid flowers of this spring. I thought it fitting that not only was he able to photograph some very lovely sakura on his Episode 13 investigation, but that this article caps off a series of posts in which he has taken the leading role in creating butaitanbou content for this series.
The final episode of Maidragon is a hangover from the previous season. In the midst of all the excitement of the new shows, I want to give it a proper sendoff for what was a fun last installment of an interesting series.
Koshigaya (越谷), Saitama Prefecture
Kanna and Saikawa, who are elementary school age, meet for play in a public park, unaccompanied by guardians.
Higashi-Koshigaya Peony Park (東越谷ボタン公園)
Tōru spends the last moments before her father comes to retrieve her in the shōtengai. Her routine shopping visits and close relationships with the vendors in the arcade are indicative of how much she has integrated into the human world, despite her father’s disbelief that such a thing is possible.
Rattled by Tōru’s sudden disappearance, Kobayashi and Kanna try to resume their routines. For Kanna, this is illustrated with scenes of school life. For Kobayashi, her routine is a constant loop of piling onto trains with other commuters, office work, then a reverse trip home.
Koshigaya Station (越谷駅)
With the crisis resolved, Kobayashi is inspired to return to her childhood home with her new family in tow. The three set out from Koshigaya Station.
I’ve enjoyed little moments like this throughout the series. Despite their immense power, the dragons stop in wide-eyed wonder at commonplace human technology and devices, like the automatic ticket wicket here.
The Tōbu Skytree Line (東武スカイツリーライン) and Tōbu Isesaki Line (東武伊勢崎線) run mutual through service on each other’s lines, so it is possible to pickup either from Koshigaya Station. In this scene they board an Isesaki Line service using a Tōkyū 8500 series (東急8500系) train. Tōkyū is a group of companies that includes many industry verticals, including retail, land development and rail. The The Tōkyū Car Corporation was once part of this group and manufactured cars for Tōkyū rail and other operators, including Tōbu. The Tōkyū rail operating company has a history of reselling used 8500 series trains to other operators in Japan and abroad after withdrawal from service, so they pop up in interesting places.
At this point, we know we’re going on a real adventure. Butaitanbou practitioners live for this sort of thing. A few people recognized the platform at Kuki immediately. This is a well-known anime pilgrimage destination for Lucky Star. The remainder of the journey required some serious sleuthing. The lines and stations depicted follow an actual route you can take, and quite a few fans have already done so.
Oyama Station (小山駅)
Mito Line (水戸線)
Kasama Station (笠間駅) in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture
Chikamori Inari Jinja (近森稲荷神社)
The last residential street is much deeper into the city, toward the northwest.
I’m a little sad to say goodbye, but what a fun ride it has been.
(サクラクエスト Sakura Kuesuto)
A key theme that will run through this series is machi okoshi (町おこし town revitalization), which can include tourism promotion, but also improvements to public spaces, commercial districts and other resources used by local residents. Recently, rising awareness of potential benefits to regional cities and towns stemming from anime-induced tourism has led to seichijunrei often being included in these discussions.
This isn’t the first time P.A.Works has based a setting on Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, where the studio (both the original location and the new one) is located. True Tears, the studio’s first work as the primary producer, modeled parts of its setting on Jōhana, a former town that had been absorbed into the city, and where the studio had rented space for many years before building and moving into its own facility about a year ago. Nanto is large in terms of area, but much of it is undeveloped. There are several isolated nodes of commercial activity. There are a few bus routes, though frequency is much lower compared with urban services. Traveling around generally requires a car. So far, Sakura Quest incorporates bits of Jōhana, Fukumitsu, Inami, and Tatenohara-Higashi where the new studio is located.
The Japan Times published an article by Roland Kelts that includes many comments by P.A.Works president Horikawa Kenji on why he chose to eschew the anime industry cluster in Tokyo and follow a different path. I get the feeling that Sakura Quest wants to comment on the over-concentration of resources in and talent drain to Tokyo, perhaps suggesting that, like P.A.Works has shown, it’s not only possible but meaningful to create opportunities elsewhere.
Art Director Satō Ayumi (佐藤 歩) has previously served as art director for Haruchika, Eureka Seven AO and Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai.
Beijing Golden Pinasters Animation Company (北京金松林動画公司) in Beijing, China has previously worked on background art for Charlotte, Haruchika, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru. Zoku, and is working on this season’s Tsuki ga Kirei.
GREEN in Suginami Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan has previously worked on background art for Angel Beats!, Charlotte, Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no Tobira, Haruchika, Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, and is working on this season’s Re:CREATORS.
GREEN Chichiharu (GREENチチハル) in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province, China (a branch of the previous studio) has previously worked on background art for Charlotte, Haruchika, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru. Zoku, and is working on this season’s Tsuki ga Kirei.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
A subpage of the official website for the show is a mock tourism site for the city of Manoyama. The kicker is that this page is actually far more polished than much of the web-based promotional assets put out by real towns in Japan.
Yoshino is from a rural area, but like many, she is drawn to Tokyo by the prevailing idea that with all of the resources concentrated here, this is the only place to be to pursue a serious career in Japan.
Like many, she also finds herself up against intense competition for limited opportunities.
A chance modeling job brings her back to the countryside for what she incorrectly thinks is a one day engagement. The landscape in the above frame hasn’t been identified, but the train is the Jōhana Line (城端線), which runs between Takaoka and Jōhana.
Jōhana Station (城端駅)
Inside joke: Yuwaku Onsen Tourism Association (湯涌温泉観光協会) office in Yuwaku, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. Yuwaku was used as the setting of P.A.Works’ Hanasaku Iroha.
Yoshino is led through a shutter shōtengai (シャッター商店街)—a term used to describe a business district in such a state of decline that you literally walk past walls of permanently closed shop shutters.
It’s not an exact match, but the shōtengai appears to have a similar feeling as the Higashimachi Shōtenkai (東町商店会), which brands itself as Humming Road Higashimachi (ハミングロード東町) in Fukumitsu.
Chupacabra Kingdom is obviously not a real thing, but someone exploring Nanto did find signage that appears to have been used as a reference:
— なち＠サクラクエスト桜咲け (@y_n_erobia) April 8, 2017
Sakuragaike (桜ヶ池)—the one in the show is called Sakuraike (桜池), close enough—is a reservoir surrounded by park land, across the road from the new P.A.Works studio in Tatenohara-Higashi.
One of the tourism board staff explains to Yoshino how the Chupacabra Kingdom came about through a government program that distributed tax revenues to regional cities for revitalization and promotion projects. However, despite early success in drawing tourists to Manoyama, interest was not sustainable. This phenomenon, in which money distributed to regional cities creates a one-time boost, but not lasting effects, is a well-documented and discussed problem with this approach. Cities take these funds, hire consultants, build websites, clean up public commons, create special facilities, hold events and take various other steps that create employment and interest in the short-term. But they frequently fail to address the fundamental issues of uncovering what unique assets a place has to offer, and training decision makers on how to best utilize those assets.
When Yoshino tries to escape Manoyama, the shuttle bus she finds is modeled on the Jōhana Sakura Line (城端さくら線). This is what you take if you want to make a pilgrimage to the P.A.Works studio and you don’t have a car.
This is a fun detail. Yoshino is horrified to find the last train leaving Manoyama Station in the evening departs at only 21:40. In real life, Jōhana Station currently has a 21:41, but also 22:27 Jōhana Line departure on both weekdays and weekends.
(有頂天家族2 Uchōten Kazoku 2)
I once described Uchōten Kazoku as a love letter to the city of Kyoto. The adventures and misadventures of the Shimogamo tanuki brothers allow us to enjoy a playful romp from one end of the city to the other, then back and around again. Though it has been almost four years, seeing this series return is a bit like reconnecting with an old friend—you just pick up where you left off like it was yesterday.
The two art directors from the first season return for this second installment of Uchōten Kazoku:
Takeda Yusuke (竹田 悠介) has previously served as art director for a long list of highly regarded and popular works including Eden of the East (all), Ghost in the Shell (everything but the first two films), Shirobako and Sword Art Online (all).
Okamoto Harumi (岡本 春美) has previously served as art director for Dimension W and Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season, and worked on background art for Anohana, Bakemonogatari, Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako and Steins;Gate.
The two studios from the first season also return:
Bamboo (バンブー) in Kokubunji, Tokyo Metropolis has previously worked on background art for Anohana, Bakemonogatari, Eden of the East (all), Hanasaku Iroha, Kuromukuro, Love Live! Sunshine!!, Nagi no Asukara, Shirobako and Steins;Gate.
Jūmonji (十文字) in Mitaka, Tokyo Metropolis has previously worked on background art for Girls und Panzer (film), though the studio primarily does key animation work.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Ebisu is once again creating butaitanbou articles for this series, which require an extensive area of Kyoto to be covered each week. Returning to Uchōten Kazoku is in some ways a full circle for both Ebisu and me. He is a Kyoto native, so covering this work has been a special point of pride for him. Four years ago, he burst into the butaitanbou scene with his extensive investigations of each episode that include key details and background from the anime and novel source material. This kinetic debut led to the selection of Ebisu as the Butaitanbou Community (BTC) rookie of 2013 as voted by his peers, and the BTC grand prize in the two subsequent years, in recognition of his presence and hard work to create references for and advance fan engagement with works based on locations in Kansai and Tōhoku.
Four years ago, I was also at the beginning of not just my understanding of anime-induced tourism, but also getting a handle on basic geography and features of cities in Japan, as well as learning rudimentary Japanese. It was only through the detailed guidance in Ebisu’s posts that I was able to identify as many Kyoto locations and provide as much explanation of Uchōten Kazoku as I did. At the time, we were essentially strangers, but are now good friends. Many things have changed and good things happened for both of us over the intervening time. However it’s now 2017 and Ebisu is still running around Kyoto after Uchōten Kazoku broadcasts, and I’m still chasing after him and translating all of his image captions each week. Some things are fine just the way they are.
Shimogamo Jinja (@kamomioyajinja) has hosted marketing events in advance of this second season. Shines and temples getting involved in pop culture media collaborations isn’t new, however this instance is notable in that Shimogamo is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and this was the first time anime-related events had been held on its grounds. The official twitter account is run by a miko working at the shrine. She generally shares updates on daily life at Shimogamo, but there has been quite a bit of Uchōten Kazoku news as the series premiere arrived.
Eizan Electric Railway is again involved in marketing collaboration with the show. There are currently stand up panels of characters in Eiden stations and a stamp rally.
— 叡山電鉄株式会社【公式】 (@eizandensha) April 7, 2017
— 叡山電鉄株式会社【公式】 (@eizandensha) April 7, 2017
Tanukidanisan Fudō-in (狸谷山不動院)
Shimogamo Jinja (下鴨神社)
Nyoigatake (如意ヶ岳) is commonly referred to as Daimonjiyama (大文字山). This is the location of the first of the two huge ‘dai’ (大) spelled out with bonfires on the mountains surrounding Kyoto during Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火). Yasaburō is shown lying in the grass next to a few of the brick bases used for the points of fire.
Near the intersection of Shijō-dōri (四条通) and Hanami-kōji (花見小路)
Yajirō still lives in the well at Rokudō Chin’nō-ji (六道珍皇寺).
Shimogamo Jinja is home to the Shimogamo family, so this is an anchor location in the work.
The shrine thought it amusing that a visitor had come by to draw a tsuchinoko in the gravel where Yasaburō had done so in Episode 1.
Akadama still lives in the apartment behind the Demachi Shōtengai (出町商店街), the commercial district on the left bank of the Kamo River near the delta. Demachi Masugata Shōtengai (出町桝形商店街), the shopping arcade used extensively in the setting of Tamako Market, is a part of this district.
Takano River (高野川), near Demachi-bashi (出町橋)
The maps return as well. I always appreciated the way these are done in this work. There are just enough landmarks identified to give a sense for how much the tanuki move around the city in a given day, but they don’t feel like tourism promotion.
Near the intersection of Shijō-dōri and Hanami-kōji
Just south of the Gion Tatsumi-hashi (祇園巽橋) in Gion (祇園)
Just south of the Gion Tatsumi-hashi (same location as earlier)
Kyoto Hotel Okura (京都ホテルオークラ)
The first season ending credits had Benten posed at various locations around Kyoto. Now we see her abroad as well. This is the Hampstead Heath southwest entrance at South End Road and South Hill Park Road in London, England.
South Hill Mansions viewed from across the Hampstead No. 1 Pond in Hampstead Heath
Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond in Hampstead Heath
Akadama carries Benton out of the Takano River
Iebe-Tokeiten Building (家邊徳時計店ビル), originally a clock shop on Sanjō-dōri that dates to 1890 and a registered cultural property. The clock tower had been removed in 1955. In recent years it has been used as a clothing boutique. Subsequent to the first season broadcast the space was closed for renovation, but has since reopened.
Kawagoe (川越), Saitama Prefecture is the backdrop for this original adolescent romance drama. With Dagashi Kashi, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru. Zoku, and Futsū no Joshikōsei ga Locodol Yattemita, studio feel. has increasingly been on the radar for anime pilgrims. Kawagoe has an historic district, which is a popular tourism day trip from Tokyo, as well as a modern downtown core around the rail stations, and residential areas further out. We see some of everything in Episode 1, and I’m curious to see what the series will emphasize.
Art Director Yasuda Yukari (安田 ゆかり) has previously served as art director for Komori-san wa Kotowarenai!, and worked on background art for Gatchaman Crowds, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Samurai Champloo and Wolf’s Rain.
Beijing Golden Pinasters Animation Company (北京金松林動画公司) in Beijing, China has previously worked on background art for Charlotte, Haruchika, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru. Zoku, and is working on this season’s Sakura Quest.
GREEN Chichiharu (GREENチチハル) in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province, China has previously worked on background art for Charlotte, Haruchika, Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru. Zoku, and is working on this season’s Sakura Quest.
GREEN Oita (GREEN大分) in Ōita City, Ōita Prefecture, Japan has previously worked on background art for Mashiroiro Symphony.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
@Surwill compiled a combined Street View tour and on-location archive images of locations in Kawagoe for Episode 1. He has included substantial background detail on many of the locations, and I highly recommend reading his article in addition to my notes below.
@Surwill has also created a Google Map of locations for the series, and plans to do so for others. This is immensely helpful for anyone planning to make their own anime pilgrimage. Butaitanbou practitioners often include these in their articles, but maps with English and rōmaji pins are hard to come by:
There are some rapid-fire images of locations around the city in the opening credits, all of which also appear in the episode. This is Kawagoe Kumano Jinja (川越熊野神社).
Shingashi River (新河岸川)
Taishō Roman Yume-dōri (大正浪漫夢通り)—Taishō Roman Dream Street
Inokashira Park (井の頭恩賜公園)
However the most interesting portion of the OP is what appears to be processed video footage from a past Kawagoe Matsuri (川越祭り).
Kurazukuri no Machinami (蔵造りの町並み), warehouse district
Grade level railroad crossing on the Kawagoe Line (川越線) in Kaminodamachi (上野田町), Kawagoe
Kawagoe Kumano Jinja
As the episode aired, cherry blossoms in Kawagoe were passing through their peak and the city was inundated with visitors, including at this location.
Motomachi Mutsuzuka Inari Jinja (元町六塚稲荷神社) in the background
Myōjō Gakuen Elementary School (明星学園小学校) in Inokashira 5-chome, Mitaka, Tokyo Metropolis.
The model for the school and park are the only locations thus far that are not in Kawagoe.
Suehirochō 3-chōme (末広町3丁目), Kawagoe
Tsukiyoshi Overpass (月吉陸橋) in Tsukiyoshimachi (月吉町), Kawagoe
Alleyway just north of Hon-Kawagoe Station
Commerical district surrounding Hon-Kawagoe Station (本川越駅)
Gusto Hon-Kawagoe shop (ガスト 本川越店)
On-grounds bicycle parking at school
Kawagoe Matsuechō Post Office (川越松江町郵便局)
Kawagoe Kumano Jinja
Taishō Roman Yume-dōri
In his article, @Surwill points out the strange break in the roof line of a building that appears to mirror an image deformation from Google Street View. This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this sort of coincidence. With the background art for Tsuki ga Kirei being done by studios in China and Ōita Prefecture, Japan, it wouldn’t be too surprising if artists are drawing from the Street View image database for some of these backgrounds.
(冴えない彼女の育てかた♭[フラット] Saenai Hiroin no Sodatekata Furatto)
No pretensions for Saekano, just some good fun and plenty of fanservice. I’m talking about the Toden Arakawa Line, Toshima Ward and Wakō settings from the first season, of course. What were you thinking of?
Art Setting: Narita Iho (成田 偉保) is new to Saekano, and has previously worked on art setting for Eden of the East (TV) and Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil, and set design for Read or Die (OVA).
Kusanagi (草薙) in Nerima Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan also worked on background art for the first season of Saekano, has previously worked on background art for Sora no Method, Flying Witch, Shōjotachi wa Kōya o Mezasu, Hanayamata, Love Live! (all), Non Non Biyori (all), Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai (all), Tamako Market and Ano Natsu de Matteru, and is working on this season’s Sagrada Reset.
Nam Hai Art Company, a sub-studio of Kusanagi in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, also worked on background art for the first season of Saekano, has previously worked on background art for Sora no Method, Flying Witch, Golden Time, Love Live! (all), Orange, and is working on this season’s Sagrada Reset.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Fuji Television (フジテレビジョン) headquarters in Daiba (台場), Minato Ward
Odaiba (お台場) may have lost its life-sized Gundam, but it still has a miniature Statue of Liberty.
Daiba Station (台場駅)
Media and General Interest
The Butaitanbou Community celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding on April 12:
— 舞台探訪者コミュニティ(BTC) (@BTC_infor) April 12, 2017
nippon.com published an article tracing broadly the arc of seichijunrei as it grew out of increasingly complex settings created for animation targeting adults in Japan. The article discusses many key examples of popular works that have spurred intense and sustained anime-induced tourism and outlines common pilgrim practices.
Shin Kōmin Renkei Saizensen published an interview with Hida, Gifu Prefecture mayor Tsuzuku Junya on how the city first learned of its use in the setting of Kimi no Na wa., and what steps it took to respond to intense fan interest in the city. Tsuzuku shows awareness that intervening in fans’ intrinsic interest in anime pilgrimage can have a detrimental effect, explaining that official guidance offered by the city has intentionally been kept to a minimum.
ITmedia published an article about lessons learned from the approach taken by Hida to embrace tourism induced by Kimi no Na wa., and the role of pop culture in the broader landscape of inbound tourism to Japan.
Sanyo Shimbun published an article about pop culture tourism to Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture for Hirune Hime ~Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari~. The article discusses the role of visitors images’ of locations in Kurashiki disseminated via social media in driving interest.
Otakuma Keizai Shimbun published an article about the marketing and tourism collaboration between Yūri!!! on ICE and Karatsu, Saga Prefecture.
Future Season Pilgrimage
Other Current Season Pilgrimage
Past Season Pilgrimage
@anime_pq published an extensive series of articles covering a three-day pilgrimage (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5, post 6, post 7, post 8) and detailed route guide (post 9) to Takehara, Mihara and Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture for the Tamayura OVA, TV series and films.