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 Spring Season Overview
Welcome back to a new season of anime settings and background art. This spring looks really fun. We have continuations of favorite series, several of which are refreshingly irreverent. There are also new shows set in locations not previously featured in anime.
Despite the selection, I’m not planning any screencap reviews this season. I considered front runner Zombie Land Saga Revenge as well as Super Cub, and will still be watching both along with several others, but ultimately decided what I need most at the moment is to rest and re-focus. The 2021 Winter season was rewarding in many ways, but also taxing. I really enjoyed reviewing Yuru Camp Season 2, especially since I wasn’t able to do the first season, but it was also more intense than I had anticipated. I also accelerated the site wide cleanup and optimization that I started back in 2020 May, in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic, because although it was necessary and helpful to do this, I kind of wanted it to be finished sooner than later so I can move on to creative work. All of this meant a lot of time sitting in front of a monitor, hunched over a keyboard. It was productive, but not sustainable.
Besides the physical toll on the body, the thing that makes overwork most problematic for me is that it leaves no time for reflection. I want to be able to stew on topics, investigate tangents, and most of all savor the process. I want to be well-rested and clear-minded when 2021 Summer rolls around, when we’ll have a P.A.Works and Kyoto Animation series going at the same time, the latter’s first broadcast series since the arson attack. Time for clearing out more of the media analysis backlog and and re-calibrating to a more sane workload will help me get there.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of what’s on offer this spring.
Zombie Land Saga Revenge (MAPPA)
Even if seichijunrei is dead, we want to make our dreams come true…
No, even if seichijunrei is dead, we will make them come true!
Is that despair? Or is it hope?
We’ll overcome aggressive promotion, and even if we can’t stop commodification of subculture, we’ll press on!
Because that is our saga!
Recently, I’ve stopped trying to hide my unease at the trend of tourism promotion that co-opts seichijunrei, embedded in new series as early as the pre-production stage. It’s a complex topic that requires deep background knowledge to contextualize. I’m still just getting my head around it. I briefly mentioned the issues earlier this year, and plan to do more of this going forward. In general, I see this aggressive promotion of tourism through anime as crowding out spontaneous butaitanbou and seichijunrei. This will frequently lead to intense but shallow engagement during the active promotion period, then a rapid cooling and drop in interest after the marketing budget runs out. Spontaneously occuring anime pilgrimage will almost always begin slower, but may seed opportunities for more genuine relationship building and long-term engagement between fans and locals. But for all the cases of heavy-handed marketing collaborations that demonstrate sub-optimal outcomes, every so often there are counterexamples where active promotion really isn’t a problem, and may even be a net positive. Zombie Land Saga is one of them.
Zonsaga still hasn’t revealed what Saga is being saved from, but if I had to guess, it might be the same as every other place in Japan not named Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, which is slowly but inexorably fading away, the result of depopulation of regions and resource concentration in the largest urban centers. Many of the promotional activities Franchouchou undertakes are from the same playbook as typical regional revitalization campaigns, so in a sense the real life Zonsaga marketing collaborations taking place all over Saga Prefecture are lampshaded by the entire narrative. The series knows that we know it’s capitalizing on anime tourism trends, and with self-deprecating humor, it lets us know that it knows we know. Or something. For me, the humor takes the sting out of the aggressive promotion, even if I still flinch at the sight of branded goods in slick packaging available at the real life locations the day after the broadcast.
Another key element is the involvement and endorsement of Saga locals, not just the government tourism divisions and film commissions, but small business owners and regular folks too. I think they were brilliant touches to have the owner of Drive-in Tori play himself, and Saga native celebrity Hakuryū voice the role of White Ryū. Many of the businesses, institutions and individuals depicted or referenced have engaged with Zonsaga fans in meaningful ways, whether that be through social media or in how they receive on-site visitors. Zonsaga makes fun of Saga Prefecture at every opportunity, mercilessly and to great effect. But it’s not mean spirited. Reading and listening to interviews with local representatives, and the chatter on social media from fans who were raised or currently reside somewhere in Saga, I get the sense Saga locals feel they are in on the joke.
Aggressive commodification and monetization of seichijunrei can be very off-putting when it’s just a cash grab. When local communities are enthusiastically engaging with fans through these promotions, it takes on a different, more positive and festive tone. Though it still supplants spontaneous butaitanbou and seichijunrei, it can lead to a new kind of long-term recurring engagement.
If you’re playing Saga Prefecture bingo at home, so far this season we’ve seen locations in Karatsu, Saga City, Imari, Tosu, Kanzaki and Kashima. But ultimately what matters most in this series is not individual scenes but our zombie idols’ all encompassing undead love for the whole of Saga.
Super Cub (Studio Kai) is set explicitly in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture, which is actively promoting tourism to the city through this work. Prior to the premiere, there was a significant amount of interest in this series among butaitanbou-sha, including me. Though I knew that Honda was providing supervisory assistance, based on the manga pilgrimages published by @sky_dj_ I didn’t have the impression that the product advertising component would be so overt. I had expected something along the lines of Just Because!, in which Canon assisted with depiction of camera gear but the presence of branding remained subtle. Getting swept up in the atmosphere of the work is difficult when you are constantly reminded Super Cub is a Honda commercial, with lingering shots of logos, and clock-like repetition of the product name. The painted background art is lovely, though I’ve noticed it repeats a fair amount. Some shots become clunky when foreground elements, such as bridges, vehicles and even people are animated as 3DCG. Still, I want to like this series, and hope it has some nice surprises saved for later. I’d be totally cool with it if they just replaced all of the incidental music with Debussy pieces. It already has the Première Arabesque, Clair de Lune, and La fille aux cheveux de lin. A few more won’t hurt.
SSSS.Dynazenon (Trigger) is a direct follow-up to SSSS.Gridman. At first glance, it seems to want to show that, despite existing in the Gridman universe, Dynazenon is a separate and distinct entity, with its own narrative, cast of characters, and main location at the the river embankments and floodgates along the Arakawa River in Horikiri, Katsushika Ward. It also includes an extended scene at Nagisabashi in Shibaura, periodically cuts to a static shot of Tennōzu Fureai-bashi viewed from Kōnan, Minato Ward, and has a shot of Hamura Station in the ED. But then it calls back to a host of Gridman locations, including Igusa High School in Kamishakujii and Shakujii Park, Nerima Ward; Kamiigusa Station in Kamiigusa, Suginami Ward; Yanagihara, Adachi Ward; and Mitake Station and Mitakebashi in Mitakehonchō, Ōme. Maybe Akane is closer than we think? All locations are Tokyo Metropolis. As with Gridman, butaitanbou-sha are hunting for locations, particularly on the lookout for new ones. For me, the main draws to Gridman and Dynazenon are Trigger’s unabashedly ebullient tribute to tokusatsu and giant robot anime, and self-referential humor. That there are real locations to search for is a welcome bonus.
Osananajimi ga Zettai ni Makenai Love Comedy (Doga Kobo) is set in Hannō, Saitama Prefecture, so far limited to a small group of locations between Hannō Minami High School and the Iruma River. Production value, including background art, is just middling. There seems to be some interest among butaitanbou-sha. I’ll give this one a few more episodes to see how things evolve.
Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san (Telecom Animation Film) includes multiple scenes of streets, parks, residential areas and coastline in Hayama, and a business in neighboring Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture. The setting looks interesting, voice actor Uesaka Sumire’s performance is fantastic, but Nagatoro-san isn’t for me. If you’re following this one, feel free to let us know how it goes in the comments.
Mashiro no Oto (Shin-Ei Animation) follows the musical and geographical journey of Sawamura Setsu, who after leaving his hometown in Aomori Prefecture for Tokyo, eventually lands at an apartment above Yanaka Ginza Shōtengai in Yanaka, Taitō Ward, after stumbling through Roppongi and a brief stay in Tamagawa. The shamisen performances are excellent. Yanaka is photogenic. I plan to watch this show. @wombatarama should also watch this show.
Yakunara Mug Cup mo (Nippon Animation) is set explicitly in Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture. The series is based on a free manga by Kashiwara Osamu, published four times a year as tourism promotion for the city’s traditional ceramics industry. Kashiwara also wrote the story for the adaptation. Each episode consists of an animated A-part and live-action B-part called Yakumo no Hōkago. In the latter, voice actors introduce local tourism sites. It helps to think of Yakumo as a really nice commercial, rather than an anime series with heavy tourism promotion component. I’m interested to watch this not as engaging narrative but because it is the first high-profile example of a work that blurs the distinction between promotional anime, which is generally small budget and not broadcast on television, and broadcast anime that happens to have promotion. For me, Yakumo just had to not make me roll my eyes, and it passes that low bar. I’m even starting to think those mugs look kind of attractive and I wouldn’t mind having one as my dedicated coffee cup. Mug marketing is too good.
Fruits Basket: The Final (TMS/8PAN) is the long-awaited faithful adaptation of the ending of the manga, which didn’t yet exist when the first anime adaptation was created in 2001. As always, the main setting is modeled on Denenchōfu, Ōta Ward, Tokyo Metropolis, reconfirmed with one shot in the new OP, which is comprised of filtered live action footage with characters superimposed. The OP also includes multiple shots from Nanzen-ji, Kennin-ji and Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto, suggesting these are among the locations used as models in depicting the Sōma estate.
Bakuten!! (Zexcs) is one of three anime works under Zutto Ouen. Project 2011+10… (ずっとおうえん。プロジェクト 2011+10…), itself part of broader efforts by Fuji TV to support disaster recovery in the Tōhoku region following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Though pre-release media noted the explicit use of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture as the setting, in the first two episodes we see more of Sendai than anything else outside of school campuses. Iwanuma gets a fleeting vista shot in the OP, a few streets and fields in Episode 2, and a handful of postcard shots in the ED. So far, the setting feels tacked on. A sports story can be set anywhere with access to an appropriate training facility, so it needs to show that the location contributes something to the identity of the work to keep me interested. Just riding on the coattails of Haikyū!! isn’t enough.
Sayonara Watashi no Cramer (Liden Films) is set explicitly in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture. As with Bakuten!!, so far the series doesn’t make much effort to pull the location into the story, which is strange considering that the mayor and one of the voice actors have already held a press conference announcing plans for events to be held in the city. Pilgrimages for the manga indicate some use of river embankments and rail infrastructure, but based on the first three episodes of the anime, it might as well be set anywhere. Absent additional compelling elements, sports anime aren’t really my thing, so I probably won’t stick around to find out how either of these turns out.
Gokushufudō (J.C.Staff) includes scenes at the Kitanaka Avenue shōtengai in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, and the Animate branch in Machida, Tokyo Metropolis.
Maiko-san Chi no Makanai-san (J.C.Staff) is set in Kyoto.
Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. (Project No.9) has glimpses of Kabukichō, the Shibuya scramble crossing, several other hankagai, and a JR station in the OP. In the episodes, there are several locations unidentified as of the time of writing that include neighborhood streets, shōtengai, a park, and generic looking restaurant, izakaya and shopping mall.
Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui (Nomad) includes scenes at Ebisu Station and Yebisu Garden Place in Ebisu, Shibuya Ward; streets and businesses in Sakurashinmachi, and Yōga Station (latter both Setagaya Ward, all Tokyo Metropolis). As far as the content of the show—yeah, no comment. If you’d like something more progressive and also set in Sakurashinmachi, Sazae-san is always waiting for you. I was all set to drop Koikimo, then the end card announcing Episode 5 will be titled “Seichijunrei” appeared. I will demonstrate my devotion to research and completely platonic, not at all creepy love for you, dear reader, by watching one more episode of Koikimo.
Media and General Interest
Koumi Shinkai exhibition
Koumimachi Kōgen Art Museum (小海町高原美術館) is holding an exhibition of art from Shinkai Makoto films Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho and Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo from April 10 to June 6. Media coverage: Comix Wave Films
Anime Regional Development School
“Seichijunrei producer” Kakizaki Shundō (柿崎俊道) will be one of two speakers giving a report on preparations for the Anime Regional Development School (アニメ地域おこし学校), streamed live on April 26 at 19:30 JST. The school is currently recruiting students for a series of seminars to be held between May 23 and July 26
Zonsaga radio show
In Zombie Land Saga Episode 2, the singer and radio host character White Ryū is played by actual musician and actor Hakuryū (白竜), who is from Imari, Saga Prefecture. In the anime, Saki and Sakura barge in on White Ryū’s radio program during a live broadcast, during which he announces he will turn the show over to Saki. In real life, Saga FM broadcast an unannounced special on April 11 (ホワイト竜の佐賀がサガであるために) based on the White Ryū content, under the guise of a normal radio show, as part of Zonsaga‘s promotional media mix. The station then launched an actual radio program (フランシュシュ２号の佐賀がサガであるために Ｆｒｏｍゾンビランドサガ リベンジ) featuring Saki Nikaido’s voice actress Tano Asami (田野アサミ), which will air every Sunday at 22:00. The first broadcast on April 18 featured a conversation between Tano and Hakuryū. Media coverage: Saga Shimbun, Animate Times
Miyagi Bakuten!! locations
S-Style published an introduction to Bakuten!!, noting the use of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture as the main setting, and mentioning the appearing of shōtengai and other Sendai street scenes in Episode 1. Media coverage: S-Style
Hamamatsu Evangelion popup
Tenryū-Futamata Station (天竜二俣駅) in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where Evangelion fans are making pilgrimages to see the historic train turntable and roundhouse used as a setting in the film, has opened a popup Eva Store (エヴァストア) selling anime collaboration goods. Media coverage: Hamamatsu Keizai Shimbun
Hisatsu Orange Railway Teibo collaboration
There was additional reporting on the Hisatsu Orange Railway (肥薩おれんじ鉄道) marketing collaboration with Hōkago Teibō Nisshi. The local rail operator in Ashikita, Kumamoto Prefecture began offering commemorative tickets featuring characters from the series on April 9. Media coverage: Mainichi Shimbun
Current Season Pilgrimage
@flyingbird1124 previously made a pilgrimage to Horikiri, Katsushika Ward for the SSSS.Dynazenon PV, which is now updated to include more scenes from Horikiri, as well as Hamura Station in Hamura; Nagisabashi in Shibaura, Minato Ward. The update also includes archive images taken at the time of butaitanbou for SSSS.Gridman in Kamishakujii and Shakujii Park, Nerima Ward; Yanagihara, Adachi Ward; Mitake Station and Mitakebashi in Mitakehonchō, Ōme; Kamiigusa Station in Kamiigusa, Suginami Ward. All locations are in Tokyo Metropolis. This update brings coverage up through Episode 3.
Past Season Pilgrimage
@hiro_senritu made a pilgrimage (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4) to Aomi, Ariake and Shinonome, Kōtō Ward; Daiba, Minato Ward (all Tokyo Metropolis) for Love Live! Nijigasaki Gakuen School Idol Dōkōkai.