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.
2021 Winter Season Overview
Welcome back to a new season of anime settings and background art. There is a lot to like this winter. Hopefully, we’ll be able to enjoy all of it from the safety of home. Though parts of the anime industry have made efforts to adapt to remote work, we are not beyond the possibility of another Covid-19 surge that affects production. Should delays and postponements arise, let’s remember animators are people too and, like all of us, just trying to navigate a difficult situation as best they can.
With infections on the rise and expanding declarations of emergency in Japan, I think it’s both likely and understandable that location based anime tie-ups, such as the now modified Hibike! Euphonium events in Uji and planned Yuru Camp campaigns in Yamanashi and Shizuoka, will be shifted online, delayed or cancelled. If you’re in Japan and considering butaitanbou or seichijunrei, you’ll have to make a decision based on both the official guidance for travel in specific regions, as well as your general sense of whether the places you might visit would be receptive to non-local visitors during this time. Let’s do what we can to keep each other safe and think about what’s best for long-term healthy relationships between fans and locals.
Yuru Camp Season 2 (C-Station) is where most eyes will be focused this season, as our campers explore further afield in Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. I’ll do weekly screencap analysis for this season. A more detailed introduction is below.
Non Non Biyori Nonstop (Silver Link) is an old favorite that never gets old. I’ll do screencaps for this as well. Detailed introduction is below.
Wonder Egg Priority (CloverWorks) is a welcome change of pace with its surrealism, which flows through both its dream and real world settings, unflinching treatment of themes regarding bullying and suicide, and the townscape of Inzai, Chiba Prefecture. To my knowledge, Inzai has never been used in an anime series before. Notably, the setting comprises the Inzai portion of Chiba New Town which, unlike the new town developments in Tama, Tokyo Metropolis and Kōhoku Ward, Yokohama, has been hamstrung by seeming lack of consideration by government officials and affiliated urban redevelopment organizations of what actually makes a city a place that people want to live. As a result, the city never developed into the vision that was set for it. It was supposed to have suburban elements with convenient transit access to Tokyo, but also be a self-contained urban center. It didn’t quite get any of these and, if anything, feels borderline exurban with its large plots of undeveloped land. It’s worth quickly reading up on the history of Chiba New Town to understand how this happened. Perhaps there are parallels to themes from the series buried somewhere in there. Several butaitanbou-sha are following this series, but none have visited yet.
Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun (Project No.9) is all over Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. After two episodes, it already spans locations in Ōmiya, Iwatsuki, Minami and Chūō wards. Several butaitanbou-sha are keeping track of this one and @flyingbird1124 has already visited. One location, the commercial street and covered shōtengai on the east side of Ōmiya Station, it shares with Urasekai Picnic. The eye catches also include locations and have a distinctive style, created by series character designer and chief animation director Yano Akane. She also held these roles and created eye catches for Netoge no Yome wa Onna no Ko Janai to Omotta? Those Netoge no Yome scenes were how I met @q87dt :)
Urasekai Picnic (Liden Films, Felix Film) devotes significant amounts of screen time to its alternate dimension, the Otherside, which is mostly natural environments with a few crumbling traces of urban development. But the main characters move relatively freely between this world and the real one, where the use of real locations is interesting but not very coherent. The OP includes a vista from the Sophia Tower on the Sophia University Yotsuya campus, shots of a Seibu train, the east exit of Ikebukuro Station, and a handful of random street scenes. None of these, with the exception of Jinbōchō, have yet to play any role in the story even after three episodes. The Ichibangai shōtengai on the east side of Ōmiya Station in Saitama City, which also appears in Tomozaki-kun, hosts one entry point to the Otherside before it closes off. A bookstore in Jinbōchō is another entry point and brief walks through the neighborhood are the most grounded sense of place we get. The college where the main characters are enrolled is modeled on Saitama University, which is in Sakura Ward, also in Saitama City but quite far from Ōmiya Station. There are Tokyo one-off shots from Shibuya, Yūrakuchō and, my favorite, a shot of Shakujii-kōen Station in Nerima Ward that is clearly a tracing of Google Street View, navigation overlay included. None of these are fatal issues, but suffice it to say the real world locations are not a priority here.
Vlad Love (Drive) won’t officially premiere until February 14, but the special version of the first episode was released on YouTube in 2020 December and includes cuts from Akihabara (Soto-Kanda), the bus rotary outside Higashi-Kurume Station, and the interior of Kōchi Station.
Hori-san to Miyamura-kun (CloverWorks) includes brief scenes in the large hankagai surrounding Machida Station in Machida, Tokyo Metropolis. There is one shot of Yoyogi Park in the OP.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou (Passione) continues into its second cour. Look forward to more Shirakawa-gō and gratuitously gruesome murders. Really, what more could you ask for?
Uma Musume Pretty Derby (Studio Kai) returns for a second season with a new studio, though P.A.Works, which produced the first season, remains involved in production cooperation. As before, the primary setting is the Tokyo Racecourse and surrounding area in Fuchū, with periodic visits to other major racecourses in Japan. But the most interesting parts of the first season were the occasional visits to Hokkaidō for some of the horses’ back stories, and Kamo Jinja, the shrine dedicated to horses in Ōmihachiman, Shiga Prefecture, which has already returned in the new season.
Go-Tōbun no Hanayome ∬ (Bibury Animation Studios) returns for a second season with a new studio, new director, new art director, and background art now done in house. The manga and first season has a small but dedicated corps of butaitanbou-sha exploring the main setting in Tōkai, Aichi Prefecture. The new season incorporates Kyoto settings, as well.
Jujutsu Kaisen (MAPPA) continues into its second cour. I haven’t followed the series closely but my impression has been, after the selection of unusual locations teased in the OP, the episodes delivered little more than overused Tokyo area cityscapes.
Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu (Studio Bind) is isekai set in a medieval Europe-esque fantasy world, with brief flashbacks to the pre-reincarnation accident location at Shimizu 3-chōme intersection in Suginami Ward, Tokyo Metropolis. This is up the street from Studio Bind’s office.
Sōkō Musume Senki (Studio A-Cat) begins in present day Ikebukuro before dropping into isekai set in dystopian Tokyo beset by alien invasion and defended by cute girls in mecha exoskeletons and frilly skirts. It is another toy commercial, but without anywhere near the polish of Assault Lily Bouquet. You can avoid this.
Media and General Interest
Comic Treasure 37
Comic Treasure 37 (こみっくトレジャー 37) was held January 17 at INTEX Osaka in Nankokita, Suminoe Ward. Seki’s butaitanbou circle exhibited its works. Both attendees and exhibitors were sparse, many of the latter withdrawing due to concerns around the resurgence of Covid-19. I have a hunch many events scheduled for the winter and spring, even those with planned social distancing measures, may ultimately be postponed or cancelled as it becomes clearer we are not yet out of danger.
Uji Eupho event change
Part of the Uji City x Hibike! Euphonium Uji Winter Fest (宇治市×「響け！ユーフォニアム」 宇治ウィンターフェスタ), the Sound Festa (サウンドフェスタ) component—performances by junior and senior concert bands at multiple locations and talk by Eupho author Takeda Ayano at Ōbakusan Manpuku-ji—which had been planned for January 17, was cancelled due to the Covid-19 declaration of emergency expanding to include Kyoto Prefecture. Instead, the content will be recorded at a later time and distributed online. Media coverage: Uji City, Mainichi Shimbun, Crunchyroll News
Fuchū Chihayafuru exhibition
An exhibition of art from the Chihayafuru series will be held at the Fuchu Art Museum (府中市美術館) from January 19 to 31. Entry to the exhibit is free of charge. Hand disinfection, temperature check, use of a contact tracing app, mask wearing and social distancing will be required.
Takehara Tamayura online event
An online talk event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tamayura series and looking back at fan engagement in Takehara, Hiroshima Prefecture will be held January 30. The talk will feature director Satō Jun’ichi (佐藤順一) and Takehara mayor Imai Toshihiko (今榮敏彦). Though the event is free, attendance is restricted to those who have joined the Takehara Fan Club (たけはらファンクラブ) by January 24. Fan club application is available online, but requires a physical residence and only accepts addresses in Japan.
Shizuoka Yuru Camp exhibition
An exhibition of Yuru Camp character panels will be held at Mount Fuji Shizuoka Airport (富士山静岡空港) in Makinohara from January 22 to February 28, then move to Michi-no-Eki Fujikawa Rakuza (道の駅 富士川楽座) from March 3 to 28.
Kamo Garden temporary closing
Kamo Garden (加茂荘花鳥園), a seichi for Hyōka in Kakegawa, Shizuoka Prefecture, will close voluntarily from January 20 to February 28 to help prevent spread of Covid-19.
(ゆるキャン△ SEASON2 Yurukyan Season 2)
When the first season of Yuru Camp broadcast in 2018 Winter, I did not do weekly screencaps. This was not a slight on Yuru Camp. I had just come out of a stress-induced flameout, had to manage the last few months with my one-year-old at home before he entered daycare in the spring, and reviewing Yorimoi and Sangatsu no Lion was as much load as I could handle. I still barely survived. But I love Yuru Camp, so much that I went and read the manga, too. It’s a great series.
I do have concerns about the aggressiveness of some of the local anime tourism marketing tie-ups, especially the website subpage under the Yamanashi Tourism Promotion Organization that revealed the locations featured in each episode immediately after each broadcast. I wrote about this at the time. However, there are also countervailing factors that help balance the relationship between the multiple stakeholders, such as highly engaged local volunteers and community leaders that have been proactive in meeting and communicating with visitors, and seem to genuinely appreciate the work itself. This creates channels for feedback, in multiple directions, so that fans have the opportunity to explain what kind of experiences they are looking to have, and locals are able to highlight notable people, places and things they want visitors to learn about, which might have been missed by an explorer solely focused on the world of the fictional work.
Then there is the manga by Afro, in which promotion of many of these local attractions is explicitly built into the narrative. Rin and the others are explorers, and we are meant to learn about the places they investigate, both the natural wonders and tourist traps. Even food terror, the close up shots of delicious looking meals from real cafes and restaurants, is in the manga. The anime is merely building on top of the existing framework. If this is how the creator wanted things to be, it’s hard to argue with that.
I was saddened to hear that there have been incidents at some of the campgrounds, in which visitors entered the premises for the purpose of observing or taking photographs, but without the intention to actually camp. In many cases, campgrounds offer a day camp rate, so overnight stay isn’t necessary if that’s not your thing. Because the boundaries of a campground are often porous, it can be unclear what is public space and what is the campground, but it’s best to treat it as private land and go through the standard process for entry and usage. Visitors that have tried to flout these norms have made some campground staff understandably angry. This is really unfortunate and shouldn’t happen. Let’s do better.
The first season arcs focused on Yamanashi, Nagano, and some Shizuoka. The second season will include more Yamanashi and much more Shizuoka. Pour some boiling water into your curry cup ramen and enjoy the new adventure.
Art Director Umino Yoshimi (海野 よしみ) was the art director for the first season of Yuru Camp and Heya Camp, and returns in this role for the new season. Umino also previously served as art director for Dropout Idol Fruit Tart and worked on background art for Fafner. Umino is affiliated with Production Ai.
Production Ai (プロダクション･アイ) in Suginami Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan created background art for the first season of Yuru Camp and Heya Camp, and returns for the new season. The studio has also previously worked on background art for Banana Fish, Diamond Daydreams, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, Fafner, Fate/stay night, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Haganai, Love Hina, Maison Ikkoku, Natsume’s Book of Friends (Season 4), One Week Friends, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, Rail Wars!, Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki (OAV 3), and Wake Up, Girls!
Diamond Daydreams, Love Hina, Maison Ikkoku and Tenchi Muyo! are among the earliest anime that became popular seichijunrei works.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
Swen Hamamatsu (スウェン 浜松店) in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture
Lake Hamana (浜名湖) in Shizuoka Prefecture
Minobu (身延町), Yamanashi Prefecture
Kōan Campground (浩庵キャンプ場) in Minobu
Lake Motosu (本栖湖), bordered by Minobu and Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture
Hamamatsu (浜松市), Shizuoka Prefecture
Takayama (高山市), Gifu Prefecture
Lake Hamana (浜名湖) in Shizuoka Prefecture
Cape Mihama (御浜岬) in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture
Nishi-Izu Skyline (西伊豆スカイライン) in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture
Yanahime Jinja (矢奈比賣神社), colloquially Mitsuke Tenjin (見付天神) in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture
Nanbu (南部町), Yamanashi Prefecture
Omaezaki (御前崎市), Shizuoka Prefecture
Omaesaki Lighthouse (御前埼灯台)
Minobu (身延町), Yamanashi Prefecture
Yanahime Jinja (矢奈比賣神社), colloquially Mitsuke Tenjin (見付天神) in Iwata
Ryūyō Kaiyō Kōen Auto Campground (竜洋海洋公園オートキャンプ場) in Iwata
Kaketsuka Lighthouse (掛塚灯台)
Minobusan Ropeway (身延山ロープウェイ)
Okunoin Shishinkaku (奥之院思親閣) is affiliated with Minobusan Kuonji (身延山久遠寺), which also appears in the series.
Minobusan north observation deck (身延山北側展望台)
Kajikazawa (鰍沢), Fujikawa-chō, Yamanashi Prefecture
Takaori (高下), Fujikawa-chō
Tokiwa-bashi (常葉橋) in Minobu
Hadakajima Station (波高島駅) in Minobu
Nanbu-bashi (南部橋) in Nanbu
(のんのんびより のんすとっぷ Non Non Biyori Nonsutoppu)
Many now know that the school in Non Non Biyori is a real building in Saitama Prefecture. Fewer realize that the setting draws on a large pool of locations, some in clusters, scattered all over Japan. A quick glance at just the series index page on Butaitanbou Archive indicates locations in Niigata, Chiba, Tokyo, Saitama, Wakayama and Okayama prefectures. There are likely more. The film Non Non Biyori Vacation was explicitly set in Okinawa Prefecture and sits outside the main series. None of the locations in the main series is identified by name, rather they are all stitched together to create the fictional Asahigaoka. Statements by series staff communicated that the setting was not meant to recreate a real place one could visit. Butaitanbou-sha found all of these and visited anyway, sometimes traveling an entire day to essentially the middle of nowhere to take one photograph of a pile of rocks.
I can’t recall if there was any tourism marketing tie-in connected with Non Non Biyori Vacation, either during its original 2018 August run or return to theaters in 2020 June, when Japan was just coming out of its first Covid-19 wave. But with regard to the main series, to my knowledge, other than small scale local efforts to make the elementary school in Ogawa more amenable to visits by anime pilgrims, there have been no attempts to commodify seichijunrei to any of the locations that comprise Asahigaoka. Back in 2013, and even 2015, this was not remarkable. In 2021, it seems regressive—the good kind of regressive.
I’d originally thought Non Non Biyori would offer commentary on problems related to depopulation. It touches on that only at times and with a light touch. It mostly wants you to relax, enjoy the moments of stillness, laugh at the jokes (which are actually pretty funny), and marinate in the scenery porn. I’m on board with all that.
Art Director Yokoyama Atsushi (横山 淳史) previously served as assistant art director for Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil, and worked on background art for In This Corner of the World, Napping Princess, Non Non Biyori (S1), Steins;Gate (TV), Tamako Market, Uma Musume Pretty Derby (S1) and Weathering With You, all as staff at Kusanagi. The Non Non Biyori series has had several art directors, all affiliated with Kusanagi.
Kusanagi (草薙) in Nerima Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, Japan has been the sole or primary studio creating background art for all previous works in the Non Non Biyori series, and returns for the new season. The studio is also working on background art for this season’s Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU, Wonder Egg Priority and Uma Musume Pretty Derby (S2). The studio has previously worked on background art for Celestial Method, Durarara!!, Flying Witch, Girls Beyond the Wasteland, Girls und Panzer (film), Hanayamata, High Speed! -Free! Starting Days-, In This Corner of the World, Kakushigoto, Kuromukuro, Love Live! (all), Love Live! Sunshine!! (all), Napping Princess, Noein – to your other self, Oreimo (all), Penguin Highway, A Place Further Than the Universe, Please Teacher!, Please Twins!, Read or Die (OVA), Saekano (all), Steins;Gate, Tamako Market, Terror in Resonance, Tokyo Ghoul (all), Uma Musume Pretty Derby (S1), Waiting in the Summer and Zombie Land Saga.
Fan Pilgrimage Update
And they’re back. Kai’s buildings. Previous discussion here and here. The house on the right and its variants are from Katsuragi (かつらぎ町), Wakayama Prefecture. The others are of unknown origin. They’ve made the journey from Non Non Biyori to Sakura Quest to Uzaki-chan and back again. Welcome home, everyone. Many other locations in Katsuragi are incorporated into the setting.
The music room does have a real location model, but from a different school.
The end cards are one of the quirkier features of the series. They include a new photograph each week, not of a location used in the background art, but something thematically consistent with the show. I believe they are submitted by viewers. The credit is usually the photographer’s Twitter display name.
Former Kakinoki Station (旧柿ノ木駅) in Uonuma (魚沼市), Niigata Prefecture. The station was still in service during the first season broadcast in 2013, but then retired in 2015 March, before the second season. More than a few locations near the station are incorporated into the setting.
Genbor-No lives in Mie Prefecture, but perhaps you could do tomato seichijunrei in a garden near you.
Other Current Season Pilgrimage
@Roan_Inish made a pilgrimage to Kanda-Surugadai and Kanda-Jinbōchō, Chiyoda Ward; Shakujiimachi, Nerima Ward (preceding Tokyo Metropolis); Miyachō, Ōmiya Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture for Urasekai Picnic Episode 1.