On 2019 September 21, anime pilgrims from far and wide convened at Kyoto Bunkyō University in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture for the Twelfth Butaitanbou Summit (第12回舞台探訪サミットin宇治). This is the annual all-hands meeting for the Butaitanbou-sha Community (舞台探訪者コミュニティ), or BTC, the highly engaged core of manga and anime-induced travel in Japan. Prior to this, my fifth consecutive time participating at the event, I had noted the unqualified joy with which this gathering is imbued. To be sure, this year there were still all of the usual enthusiastic greetings, congratulations for life events experienced, gossip updates, and hijinks. In between all of these, there was also a gentle but pervasive quiet, something I had not observed before.
The decision to hold the summit in Uji, with its connections to Kyoto Animation series Hibike! Euphonium and Clannad After Story, as well as the studio headquarters, had been made one year prior, long before the 2019 July 18 arson attack on Studio 1, just over the border between Uji and Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, which ultimately took the lives of 36 studio staff. On the way to Uji, I stopped to take in the sight of the charred remains of the building, then took a walk around the other studio buildings and offices, which were all shuttered.
As everyone settled into the meeting space, my mind was preoccupied with what I had just seen, as well as mulling the entire sequence of events that began with the fire, and thinking about how the studio could move on from such a disaster. I suspect I was not alone in this. In addition, the BTC had also lost one of its own, our friend Yamagishi (山岸 @yamagishi), due to illness. A display of his dōjinshi collection, which he had asked to be made available for meeting participants to take freely, greeted us just beyond the registration table. It was not possible to suppress the knowledge that, positive developments notwithstanding, it had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. The meeting opens with a long moment of silence.
For those of us still present in this plane of existence, though grief, for those who experience it, is a necessary stage to pass through, we must ultimately resolve to keep moving forward. It is our duty to celebrate the accomplishments and gifts given to us by those who have departed.
With this thought, we take a collective deep breath and dive into this year’s agenda.
Taki-sensei, who looks a lot like Ebisu, conducts the flow of the meeting and keeps an eye on the schedule from the wings. With Hibike! Euphonium tightly woven into this year’s theme, reminders of the significance of Kyoto Animation works for the butaitanbou-sha community are ever-present.
Though no longer with us, Yamagishi, who had officially joined the BTC in the past year, received the third highest number of votes for the rookie award. I secretly had hoped that he could win the prize posthumously. He had made a strong impression on many with his scene hunting in Italy for Eiga Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai! Take On Me, a Kyoto Animation work, and Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie Over the Rainbow. I met Yamagishi at the summit in Kan’onji a year earlier. He was bubbly, with a big, broad smile. Both his enthusiasm for butaitanbou and eminently approachable personality were easy to discern even in brief conversations. That he passed away not just at the early stage of his butaitanbou journey, but also tragically young, is hard to process.
But in the midst of rumination on lives unfairly cut short, there are of course many bright lights too. Thank goodness for those.
Furabā (フラバー @flyingbird1124) is the winner of this year’s rookie award. Every year there is at least one person, sometimes a newcomer, sometimes a veteran, who is struck with such inspiration and propelled by such energy that the breadth and depth of his or her output is impossible not to notice. This year, that person is Furabā, who shows no signs of slowing down. It wouldn’t be a surprise to discover a year from now that he was just warming up.
Yoko (横 @touyoko_com), winning the grand prize for the third consecutive year, is clearly a force of nature. Year after year, he is on top of popular new works while also investigating his favorite old ones, traveling around Japan and overseas, contributing to a dōjinshi circle, all while doing his best to stay in contact with the community, online and off. Among his work from the past year, most notable was his travel to Europe in search of location models used in Violet Evergarden, yet another Kyoto Animation work. We nearly ended up exploring Shanghai together for Shikioriori, before a last minute snag disrupted his travel plan. It is really impressive that Yoko is able to throw himself into these activities wholeheartedly, but also manage his energy. Bursts of activity can ultimately be short-lived if one does not also take time for renewal and replenishment. Yoko is in this for the long game.
As winner of the previous year’s grand prize, Yoko is given the opportunity to recognize an individual BTC member’s efforts with a special award. He chooses Astral (アストラル @fragments_sue), recognizing his many years of contributions to the butaitanbou-sha community, particularly his lead role in exploring works set in Nagasaki.
Each year, we also vote for the new manga and anime releases that we feel precipitated the best butaitanbou and travel experiences. Here is the top ten ranking:
10th: (tie) Comic Girls / Tada-kun wa Koi o Shinai
9th: Zombie Land Saga
8th: Love Live! Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie Over the Rainbow
7th: Seishun Buta Yarō wa Bunny Girl-senpai no Yume o Minai
5th: Yama no Susume Third Season
4th: Saki (manga)
3rd: Sora to Umi no Aida
2nd: Shinohayu (manga)
1st: Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara
Moving to the evening portion of the summit at Kameishiro in the center of Uji brings a sense of relief. We’re physically a little farther away from Studio 1, and emotionally a little closer to past memories of Kyoto Animation inspired adventures (the ryokan appears in Clannad After Story). We’ve also got beer, and the prospect of sillier and sillier antics as the evening progresses. Those two things may be related, somehow.
As in the previous year, with only one proposal submitted, there is no vote but just an announcement of the venue for the next summit. Between now and the possibly zombie infested 2020 conclave in Saga and Nagasaki, it is my hope that each of us finds some way to accept the events of the past year, as bitter as some of them were, and begin the search for and creation of good things once again.
Of all the messages embedded in Kyoto Animation works, the one that stands out most to me and is one of the reasons why I think butaitanbou-sha are so attached to these works, is that there is wonder to be found in seemingly mundane places and everyday experiences, if you take the time to look for it. To honor those who are no longer able to join us in the hunt, let us renew our commitment to this quest.