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 sacred site pilgrimage) and butaitanbou (舞台探訪 scene hunting)—on this website referred to collectively as anime pilgrimage—which are forms of place-based engagement induced by the use of real locations in show settings.
2020 Fall Season Overview
Welcome back to a new season of anime settings and background art.
Kamisama ni Natta Hi (P.A.Works) is set in Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, and is the front runner favorite among butaitanbou-sha this season. When you throw together P.A.Works, Maeda Jun and a location that isn’t Tokyo but is easily accessed from the Kantō region and generally navigable on foot, anime pilgrimage popularity is all but a foregone conclusion. This season, I will do weekly screencap analysis for this and only this series. A full introduction and notes on background art staff are included below.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou (Passione) had us all fooled that it was merely a remake of the original anime adaption from 2006 in this expansive media mix franchise. This was great for me, because I had planned to watch the original for many years but never got around to it. Then the second episode landed and we all found out the truth. Oh well. I’ll be going into this one mostly blind, but Higurashi is a very important case study for butaitanbou and seichijunrei, so I don’t want to skip it.
The prevailing story is that the local community in Shirakawa-gō, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gifu Prefecture, was vigorously opposed to any kind of engagement of anime fans when visitors began exploring the historic village, beginning with the game released in 2002 and accelerating with the anime adaptation. Thus, a cynical interpretation of the fact that the Shirakawa village tourism promotion association is collaborating with this new production is that, with tourism depressed across Japan and the world due to Covid-19, the otaku tourism dollars suddenly became too hard to turn down.
A more complete picture reveals additional details and a more nuanced story. For starters, the general environment in 2006 was very different from now. Lucky Star had not yet happened, so while seichijunrei was certainly happening in many places, there was still no precedent for officially sanctioned and supported engagement of fans by rights holders. Furthermore, though Higurashi is praised for its inventive storytelling, the grisly subject matter does not make it the most accessible work for even casual anime watchers, to say nothing of a general audience. While there were certainly people in Shirakawa who opposed engagement and asserted this stance loudly, there were also others who thought it was worth considering how to deal with all of the unexpected visitors, and whether responding to this media induced interest might actually be a useful platform for activating the area. Over the years, there have gradually been more attempts to facilitate positive engagement with Higurashi pilgrims, both informal gatherings originating with local residents who are also fans of the series, as well as official campaigns, such as stamp rallies.
I think we can say that, at the time the first game and anime series were released, Shirakawa just wasn’t quite ready for something like Higurashi, more than harboring a deliberate antipathy for its new fans. Things look very different now, which will hopefully lead to fruitful developments for all stakeholders.
Ochikobore Fruit Tart (Feel.) opens with a brief scene at Okayama Station and shinkansen journey before moving to its main setting in Koganei, Tokyo Metropolis. In Koganei, there is a low key promotional campaign that includes character panels at local businesses, some of which have already appeared in the work. Several butaitanbou-sha have already explored both locations and published reports. Both the series and the promotional campaign feel light, fresh and uncomplicated. I’m looking forward to this one.
Adachi to Shimamura (Tezuka Productions) cobbles together locations in Tanashichō (plazas and sidewalks), Nishitōkyō, Tokyo Metropolis; with Motosu (school), Kakamigahara (fishing pond), Gifu Station (shopping center) and Shimoshikke (post office) in Gifu City (all Gifu Prefecture). We’ll most likely see more Gifu locations and supposedly Nagoya, too, before we’re through. I think they could have just written the alien out of this adaptation, and the male gaze framing on some of the shots really isn’t appropriate nor helpful for the story, but I’m enjoying the rest of it.
Love Live! Nijigasaki Gakuen School Idol Dōkōkai (Sunrise) is the latest installment in the now sprawling Love Live! media mix franchise. Everything about the show, including the background art, is more detailed and more polished than ever, and I’m even digging the slightly edgier tunes a bit more. It’s too bad that the vast concrete expanses of Odaiba and Tokyo Big Sight are perhaps the least atmospheric locations in the entire city. Some explorers are heading out to the reclaimed islands to have a look, but the excitement level is much lower than with even the original Love Live! School Idol Project anime series, to say nothing of Love Live! Sunshine!!
Taisō Zamurai (MAPPA) has a lot going on, between the comeback story of its gymnast protagonist, his intention to be a more present single father to his daughter, the idea that Ikebukuro is a progressive, or at least pragmatically accepting haven for marginalized groups and people who are different, and how all the quirky characters assembled are going to learn from and support each other. I like Britney, the trans acupuncturist to the sports world stars.
Maesetsu! (Studio Gokumi, AXsiZ) got many people rather excited with the billing of spiritual successor of Lucky Star. Those are big shoes to fill. I was pretty disappointed with the lack of cohesion in the first episode, even before we get into whether or not manzai style humor translates across cultural borders. The second episode wasn’t much better. I hope it’s just a late bloomer. Thus far, we’ve seen locations in Kawagoe and Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture; and Udagawachō, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo Metropolis.
Tonikaku Kawaii (Seven Arcs) has unremarkable art which draws on a handful of places in Musashino, Tokyo Metropolis, including the Don Quijote Kichijōji Ekimae shop. There is supposedly a Nara connection, and an official collaboration is scheduled to begin there on November 1.
Assault Lily Bouquet (Shaft) is a commercial for figures masquerading as a mahō shōjo Class S yuri action drama, with haphazard world building and difficult to discern plot. Lots of frilly dresses and thighs, though. In what feels a little like bait-and-switch, detailed scenes of Fujisawa and the Enoshima Electric Railway in Kanagawa Prefecture are used in Episode 1, but haven’t been seen since.
Gochūmon wa Usagi Desu ka? Bloom (Encourage Films) is the third installment of this fluffy and endearing escapist series that has sent more than a few butaitanbou-sha and seichijunrei-sha on intercontinental journeys to Colmar, France.
Jujutsu Kaisen (MAPPA) seemed to promise something quirky, with an OP stuffed with offbeat locations in Tokyo and one from Miyoshi, Tokushima Prefecture. After collecting the protagonist from the countryside, it pivots to bumpkins seeing stars at cliche Tokyo tourist attractions. We do get what I think is the first anime depiction of the new Harajuku Station building. I hope the search for cursed objects takes them someplace interesting before long.
Hypnosis Mic: Division Rap Battle: Rhyme Anima (A-1 Pictures) is completely bonkers, but good on it for committing to its—whatever it is. Women have taken over government and banned all guns. Gangs represent different locations in Tokyo and Yokohama—so far we’ve seen Shibuya, Kabukichō and other spots in Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, a token shot of Rainbow Bridge, and Minato Mirai—and challenge each other for dominance, wielding microphones that translate rap lyrics into some kind of kinetic force.
Mahōka Kōkō no Rettōsei: Raihōsha-hen (Eight Bit) has thus far included scenes at Hiei Jinja in Nagatachō, Chiyoda Ward; and Udagawachō, Shibuya Ward (both Tokyo Metropolis). There are a handful of confrontations in multiple park-like areas that may perhaps be Yoyogi Park or Inokashira Park, but no one seems to be in a rush to find out.
100-Man no Inochi no Ue ni Ore wa Tatteiru (Maho Film) is trapped in a game, but only periodically, after which the characters return to the real world, in this case Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, which the protagonist hates.
Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Doga Kobo) is a media mix franchise that began with novels and live action TV drama, and while it may predate Durarara!!, as an anime adaptation the latter was a far more interesting interpretation of Ikebukuro and its imagined seedy underbelly. The first episode of IWGP feels like a corny, War on Drugs after school special from the 90s. The second and third tackle labor abuses by large corporations and shallowness of social media influencers, but are still too hokey to take seriously.
Sen’yoku no Sigrdrifa (A-1 Pictures) is a military themed fantasy set in Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture, the location of JMSDF Tateyama Air Base. The second and third episodes includes scenes at the Umi Hotaru Parking Area in Kisarazu, also Chiba Prefecture. The ED includes a cut of a street in Jonchery-sur-Vesle, France, as it would have appeared in the early 1900s.
Strike Witches: Road to Berlin (David Production) is, like its predecessor installments, defined by military themes and fanservice, though does include some real locations. In between the trademark gratuitous pantsu shots, we get scenes of Berlin and Antwerp under alien attack.
Iwakakeru! Sport Climbing Girls (Blade) includes a scene at Mitakehonchō, Ōme, Tokyo Metropolis.
Rail Romanesque (Saetta) is a short form series based on Maitetsu, an adult oriented PC game that had its explicit elements removed when it was ported to consoles, and has something to do with trains and depopulation in Japan—so I have read. It is set in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, though the location has appeared only seldomly in the first three episodes. Maybe it gets better, but thus far there is very little content here.
One Room Third Season (Zero-G) is the latest installment in a short form first person narrative series that has in the past used locations from Nerima Ward and Nishitōkyō (both Tokyo Metropolis). As of the third episode, other than a residential street adjacent to a school, we’ve not seen any public space.
Media and General Interest
LuckyFes dōjinshi applications
Circle participation applications are now being accepted for Lucky Star & Maesetsu! Dōjinshi Sokubaikai (らき☆すた＆まえせつ！同人誌即売会)—commonly referred to as LuckyFes (らき☆ふぇす)—which will be held November 22 at three venues in Washinomiya, Kuki, Saitama Prefecture. This is a dōjinshi event specifically targeting Lucky Star and (as of this year) Maesetsu! derived contents. The first cutoff date for applications is October 25, the final deadline is November 1.
Minobu Yuru Camp event
Gojōgaoka Activation Promotion Council (五条ヶ丘活性化推進協議会) will host an overnight camping meetup for Yuru Camp fans at former Shimobe elementary and junior high schools in Minobu, Yamanashi Prefecture on November 7 and 8. This coincides with the launch of a broader Yuru Camp collaboration campaign that will run from November 7 to 2021 January 31, which will include a stamp rally, original goods, and QR code enabled on-location audio drama.
The NHK Saitama affiliate station will broadcast a three hour live radio program on the theme of anime seichijunrei on November 7, beginning 2:00pm JST. For listeners not in Saitama Prefecture, the broadcast can be streamed live over the web and played back at a later time.
(神様になった日 Kamisama ni Natta Hi)
A smarmy pink-haired girl dressed as a nun declares she is the incarnation of god Odin, and that the world will end in 30 days. But not before she has a little fun teasing protagonist Yōta. Hijinks and hilarity ensue, for now. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is. Read on.
If you are a fan of the Key/VisualArt’s and Maeda Jun visual novel and anime oeuvre, Kamisami ni Natta Hi will feel like getting back together with an old friend for one more adventure. If not, it may drive you up a wall. Maeda does many things in the productions he works on, but is know primarily for his contributions as scenario and script writer, composer and lyricist, most or all of these happening concurrently. As a result, though he does not control every aspect of production to the extent of someone like Shinkai Makoto, his works have very recognizable “Maeda flavor”.
I watched the Kyoto Animation adaptations of Air, Kanon and Clannad many years after their initial broadcasts, then P.A.Works anime original Charlotte when it aired. I’ll get to Angel Beats! one of these days. I would not say I dislike the Maeda flavor, but I find the overuse of gags and melodrama limits the impact of both, and I have a hard time engaging with the stories on their frequent flights of overwrought plot points and overacted dialog. But I’ll still watch it because Maeda is, at this point, an institution. It’s kind of like feeling compelled to watch the complete Rocky films, just so you can say you’ve seen it all. Time also has a way of making things grow on us, even if we find we are still occasionally reaching for the volume knob to tone it down.
It can’t be overlooked that the Maeda works loomed large for active otaku in the first decade of this century. The original themes composed by Maeda were like anthems. These works were also a crucible of activity in which butaitanbou and seichijunrei subculture was forged. The visual novels, and the anime adaptations that expanded their settings, were not the earliest works of visual media to induce fan pilgrimages, but spurred growth of many practices associated with it that we now consider commonplace, and are still remembered fondly by those who were there doing it long before it was cool. With Kamisami ni Natta Hi, we are gearing up for a new expedition to Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, but in terms of emotional associations, it is a walk down memory lane.
Art Director Suzuki Kurumi (鈴木 くるみ) has previous served as art director for Iroduku: The World in Colors and Love Live! Sunshine!! (S2), and has worked on background art for Fruits Basket (2019), Kuromukuro, Love Live! School idol project, Napping Princess and Red Data Girl.
Art Setting Fujii Yūta (藤井 裕太) has previously worked on background art for Charlotte, Fruits Basket (2019), Is the order a rabbit?, Kuromukuro and Sing “Yesterday” for Me.
Studio Easter (スタジオイースター) in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan has previously worked on background art for Angel Beats!, Aria the Origination, Flip Flappers, Fruits Basket (2019), Genshiken series, Hanasaku Iroha (TV series and film), Iroduku: The World in Colors, Is the order a rabbit?, Kuromukuro, Love Live! School idol project (TV series and film), Love Live! Sunshine!! (TV series and film), A Lull in the Sea, March comes in like a lion, Napping Princess, Noragami, Oreimo, Red Data Girl, Saki series, Silver Spoon (S2), Sing “Yesterday” for Me, Steins;Gate (TV series and film) and Tari Tari.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Beyond these organized reports, the detective work that led to the early breakthroughs identifying Yamanashi City as the primary setting was really a butaitanbou-sha group effort, which also included @tesra1141, @ssslocation, @lidges, @unimaru_ and others. It’s good to see the band back together again.
With one exception for a suspected but not conclusively identified spot, all locations are in Yamanashi City (山梨市), Yamanashi Prefecture.
This is a bird’s eye view of the city, thus not possible to recreate without a drone, but butaitanbou-sha have found a close enough vantage point at so-called Unnamed Observation Deck (名前のない展望台), near Fuefukigawa Fruit Park (笛吹川フルーツ公園).
This path and benches, the basketball court and water fountain have not been found in Yamanashi City, though this sequence would place them in Manriki Park, which we’ll get to later. Candidates for possible models have been found at Kose Sports Park (山梨県小瀬スポーツ公園) in Kōfu, Yamanashi Prefecture. [Credit: @tesra1141, Twitter]
Once we get to this cut, we are definitively in Manriki Park (万力公園), where a significant amount of this episode takes place.
What is depicted as a clock in the background is actually a lamp.
Approaching the convenience store via residential street, still near the park
As always, when traveling through residential areas, stay on public roads and remember to be respectful of privacy. Be ready to give a friendly greeting, introduce yourself and explain your intention if asked.
Back side of the Daily Yamazaki convenience store
Daily Yamazaki Yamanashi Manriki Park shop (デイリーヤマザキ山梨万力公園前店)
National Route 140 (国道140号)
Manriki-ōhashi Nishi intersection (万力大橋西交差点)
Yamanashi Kōtsū (山梨交通) bus
Fuefuki River (笛吹川)
The baseball diamond and confession scene on adjacent embankment have been the topic of much discussion. The prevailing interpretation at the moment is that the diamond doesn’t actually exist, this location is just another part of the riverbed.
If you’ve seen Angel Beats or Charlotte, you know Maeda loves him some baseball.
The bridge in the background is Shintoku-bashi (神徳橋).
This cut appeared in the PV and, because the art differs somewhat from the real location, in the absence of a unique landmark it wasn’t determined before the episode broadcast if this was even the correct location.
The factory belonging to electronics manufacturer I-PEX in the background of subsequent cuts cleared this up. I-PEX social media staff were amused to discover that the building had become part of the seichi.
Manriki Park (万力公園)
Back side of Kanoiwa General Hospital (加納岩総合病院)
Fuefukigawa Fruit Park (笛吹川フルーツ公園)
Chūō Main Line (中央本線). This isn’t the same service that operates inside Tokyo, but it is the same trunk railway line. This is near the Fuefukigawa Guard (笛吹川ガード), the rail viaduct that crosses the river.
Yamanashi High School (山梨県立山梨高等学校). As always, remember to not enter school grounds unless given explicit permission to do so. Also, it is advisable to not publish photos with visible faces of students or staff.
Yamanashi High School
Yōta’s neighborhood and nearby vacant lot (which now has a small solar array installed) are accessible by public streets, however because it is relatively secluded, as a courtesy to residents it is advisable to not share an address or pinpoint directions on any openly accessible website or social media platform. The home itself doesn’t exist.
Unnamed slope road in Manriki (万力)
Other Current Season Pilgrimage
@flyingbird1124 made a pilgrimage to The Eye of Shinjuku sculpture at the Subaru Building in Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku Ward; Roppongi, Minato Ward; Sendagaya Tunnel in Jingūmae, Shibuya Ward; Ogikubo Station and Otaguro Park in Ogikubo, Suginami Ward; Kichijōji Park Road in Musashino (all Tokyo Metropolis) for Jujutsu Kaisen OP.
Past Season Pilgrimage
The Ashikita High School official blog published multiple entries (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5, post 6, post 7, post 8) about use of the school as a setting in Hōkago Teibō Nisshi, including side-by-side comparisons with photography on school grounds and inside classrooms.
@kimamanidance made a pilgrimage to (post 6) Kamakura, (post 9) Fujisawa and (post 7) Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture; (post 8) Shimbashi Station in Minato Ward, Tokyo Metropolis for Seishun Buta Yarō wa Bunny Girl-senpai no Yume o Minai.