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.
2022 Winter Season Overview
Welcome back to a new season of anime settings and background art. It’s a comparatively light season, but there are several you may want to consider for your watch list. I won’t be doing weekly screen capture analysis for any series, but I’ll be following quite a few of these.
Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san 3 (Shin-Ei Animation) is the third season of a now well loved series. As before, all of the locations come from Shōdoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea that is administratively part of Kagawa Prefecture. Most of these are in the town of Tonoshō-chō, though there are a few in Shōdoshima-chō. One aspect that is different this season is a noticeable increase in the detail and quality of background art. The residential streets and coastal zones feel more like real places with their new level of texture.
There is a great cut of Angel Road in the opening credits that includes an animated depiction of Ōhara Yuiko, whose music has been featured throughout the series, but also the seasonal beach vendors and Tae-chan, the homeless cat who used to visit the local tourism kiosk for food and would charm visitors to the sandbar. Somewhere out there, a Japanese tourist has a photo he took of me sitting on the bench at the base of the observation platform with Tae-chan nuzzled up against me. She passed away last fall, so it was nice to see this tribute.
Many butaitanbou-sha and seichijunrei-sha have visited in the past and will continue to travel to Shōdoshima for Takagi-san. There is a notable amount of collaboration promotion, however the majority of it is smartly designed to be complimentary to spontaneously arising anime pilgrimage, not an attempt to engineer it. There’s a large exhibit of visual materials and goods at the port in Tonoshō, character wrappings on local taxis and the Olive Line ferry, and smaller promotions and goods sales points distributed around the area.
Slow Loop (Connect) is a highly anticipated adaptation of a manga about step-siblings bonding through fly fishing, and uses Yokosuka, Kangawa Prefecture as its home base, with the addition of a cafe and fishing tackle shop from Misakichō, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo Metropolis. The Misakichō connection isn’t much of a mystery, it’s on the opposite side of the Kanda River from the head office of Hōbunsha, which publishes the manga. There are also fishing and camping excursions farther afield. In Episode 2 we visited the stocked fishing pond Berry Park in Fish On!—no really, that’s what it’s named—in Ōzenji, Asao Ward, Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. In Episode 3 everyone goes camping at Lake Marunuma in Katashina, Gunma Prefecture.
@mayasama_merci has previously done extensive exploration with the manga, and more butaitanbou-sha are studying and visiting locations now that the anime is here. There is extensive collaboration promotion in Yokosuka, however despite being centrally coordinated, the offerings are distributed far across the city and allow visitors to mix-and-match experiences, giving it a decentralized feel in its execution. This sounds counterintuitive, but I’ll explain with more detail later in the Media and General Interest section.
Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi o Suru (CloverWorks) is the most pleasant surprise for me, this season. It feels grounded in places, subculture and craft in a way that I really like. Gojō’s home neighborhood is Honchō and Atagochō, a primarily residential area in Iwatsuki Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. The shop is based on Kōjin Ningyō, an actual hina doll maker. The school comes from Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture. But where the show really shines is its depiction of otaku and cosplay subculture zones in Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward, Tokyo Metropolis. All of the shops depicted are real places people go to source materials for costume making in Higashi-Ikebukuro. In other series, we frequently see the busy Ikebukuro Station east and west ekimae areas, and the layers of traffic ramps, rail viaducts, and pedestrian bridges on the north side. The choice to have Gojō and Kitagawa wander through the quiet, meandering streets of Minami-Ikebukuro is a welcome departure. Several butaitanbou-sha have already traveled to and reported on all of these locations.
Akebi-chan no Sailor-fuku (CloverWorks) features a rural setting that appears to be a composite of a limited number of real locations and a large amount of fictitious material. There are two confirmed locations in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, both in Episode 1. The intersection is drawn faithfully, while the fabric store is a fictional building superimposed on a real location. There is conjecture that the fields, streams and mountains that provide the backdrop for Akebi’s home are based on Azumino, Nagano Prefecture, but there are no confirmed matches for any of these. The house itself doesn’t look like it even came from Japan. Germany, perhaps? Iai Women’s Junior and Senior High School in Hakodate, Hokkaidō Prefecture is listed for production assistance in the credits. While the main gate, and general look of the interior hallways and classroom are recognizable in Roubai Academy, the art is not a direct recreation of the school. The school exterior is a Franken-building that incorporates multiple architectural styles, many of which are not found in any of the existing buildings on the Iai campus. A few butaitanbou-sha have been tentatively looking into these leads, but my sense is that there isn’t a large appetite for deep study given all the indications that many of these places may not exist.
Cue! (Yumeta Company, Graphinica) is based on a mobile game with a large cast (essentially Idolmaster, but with voice actors instead of idols). The game also included a large number of real location backgrounds, most of them in Tokyo. @yukansen published a roundup of these locations last year. Akihabara was a primary anchor and there is one case of fans developing an ongoing relationship with a small business owner there, a ramen shop included in one of the backgrounds.
I had hoped the anime adaptation would both pare down the cast to a core group, to keep things from becoming unwieldy, and similarly choose a subset of locations that could plausibly relate to each other in the context of a narrative. Well, they in fact brought the entire roster, all sixteen of them! (We’ve only met fifteen so far, but there are sixteen in the game version. Presumably, the final actor will arrive at some point, because she appears in the ending credits, though you could be forgiven for not noticing.) Unless you are really into seiyū—actually, even if you are—24 episodes of this may be a bit much to bear. At least Akihabara is here, as well as bits of Kanda-Surugadai, Kanda-Awajichō and Kanda-Sudachō, on the opposite side of the Kanda River. There’s also one shot of a building in Jinnan, Shibuya Ward, and a handful of other locations not yet identified. So far, most of the activity has been inside offices and recording studios.
Kaijin Kaihatsubu no Kuroitsu-san (Quad) is a love letter to tokusatsu series. The backgrounds are relatively simple, though they get the job done, and the focus is appropriately on the hapless monster-of-the-week, anyway. In the primary narrative so far, Higashi-Murayama Station is identified by name, while Tokyo Station and parts of Shinjuku are easily recognizable. But there are also frequent cut scenes introducing various real life local heroes, usually in front of a representative location from the region or city in which they are based. These are toku-style promotional characters performed by actors, an alternative to the ubiquitous kigurumi yuru-chara. Each hero has its own lore and often a theme song. At the end of each episode, there are photographs and additional details about each, in case you want to look into them further.
Tokyo 24-ku (CloverWorks) is a fictional location comprised of multiple islands linked by bridges in Tokyo Bay. However there are some clear references to elements of locations in Tokyo, including the gates, banners and street surfaces of the Togoshi Ginza Shōtengai in Shinagawa Ward, and the Tama Toshi Monorail Line, which links Higashiyamato, Tachikawa and Tama. There may be other locations used as references.
Hakozume: Kōban Joshi no Gyakushū (Madhouse) has a generic suburban setting that may or may not have any basis in real locations, but in any event there appears to be little interest among butaitanbou-sha.
Vanitas no Carte (Bones) returns for the second half of its split cour. The primary setting of steampunk inflected late 19th century Paris, France is unchanged, though the first few episodes include an excursion to Gévaudan.
Mahōka Kōkō no Rettōsei: Tsuioku-hen (Eight Bit) is an extended length TV special episode set in Okinawa Prefecture that aired December 31.
Eien no 831 (Craftar) is a TV special episode from director Kamiyama Kenji, set in Tokyo. The 60 second PV includes scenes in Shinjuku, Takadanobaba, and Minato Mirai 21 in Yokohama, among others. We’ll know more once it airs on January 30.
Media and General Interest
Takayama Yonezawa Honobu celebration
Yonezawa Honobu (米澤穂信) received the 2022 Naoki Prize, a Japanese literary award presented biannually since 1935, for his most recent novel, Kokurōjō. To mark the occasion, the city library Kanshōkan (煥章館) in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture setup a special corner introducing Yonezawa’s books, including his debut novel Hyōka, on which the Kyoto Animation series is based, and included Hyōka location maps in the display. The corner will be setup from January 23 to February 20. At San’yōdō Shoten, a bookstore in Takayama where Yonezawa worked part-time for two years after graduating college while he was writing Hyoka, fans of the author have been visiting it as a “Naoki Prize seichi.” Media coverage: Gifu Shimbun. Photo: tweet 1
Yokosuka Slow Loop collaboration
The marketing promotions being offered through the collaboration of Slow Loop, the Yokosuka Tourism Association (横須賀市観光協会) and Yokosuka Subculture Promotion and Utilization Committee (横須賀サブカル推進活用委員会) are extensive, far more than the average tie-up. The thinking behind this strategy appears to be to create a diverse group of products and experiences, so that visitors can choose from among them a subset that most interests them, but this could also be frustrating for someone who wants to see and do everything. Almost all the information can be found in a set of information pages on the Yokosuka Tourism Association website, as follows:
A general page that outlines the scope of the collaboration is here. Altogether 31 stores and three shōtengai will participate, offering various products and services as part of the promotion. Collaboration posters will be on display in these locations. The products and services have varying periods of availability and schedules, so you’ll need to look into the specific details for each one.
Most of the participating stores are restaurants or food producers of some kind, all of which will offer a collaboration menu or item as listed here, which will include a collaboration place mat. In particular, the Yokosuka Navy Curry Honpo (横須賀海軍カレー本舗), which has a retail shop on the first floor and restaurant on the second, appears in the manga. Note that there many be changes to business hours or temporary closures due to the developing Covid-19 situation. Photos: tweet 1, tweet 2
Completing augmented reality game Finding Sea-nyan between January 7 and March 31 will enter participants into a prize lottery, details here.
Finally, there will be an assortment of tie-up goods available at multiple stores around the city, details here. Many of these goods are typical low-cost daily use items and foodstuffs branded with IP from the series, but one particularly unique offering is canned fish products made by students at Kangawa Prefectural Marine Science High School in Yokosuka. The canned fish was so popular it sold out almost immediately.
Beyond the city’s anime tourism push, Animate Yokosuka is also collaborating with Slow Loop. In the store they have setup a display that include a handmade map of locations from the series, and a signboard autographed by the voice actors. Photos: tweet 1
Motsu (post) and Shira (tweet thread) each spent a day moving around Yokosuka in the week after the premiere. Motsu notes that a day is really just enough to scratch the surface of all that’s available. Visitors will need to consider what part of the city they want to see, particularly if combining with seichijunrei, and choose several participating locations accordingly. To see everything would require concerted effort and at least a few days in the city.
Comment: After seeing all of the arrangements laid out, I’m really impressed with how this was done. The sheer size of the promotion is tempered by the fact that it’s essentially a bazaar, in which you choose as much or as little as you like. This is very different from typical recent collaboration promotions, which often funnel everyone into a one-size-fits-all stamp rally. Those are designed to route everyone to the same narrow set of places, particularly locations intended to be monetization capture points. Receipt of prize goods is contingent on completion, with few alternatives offered. I think those are uncreative, and homogenize what should be an individually unique experience. Yokosuka is letting visitors choose their own adventure.
My only gripe about this collaboration goes back to how the Yokosuka Tourism Association has been referring to the city as a seichi since the collaboration was first announced a half year before the premiere. I mentioned this previously. In time, with continued mutual interest and engagement beyond the boom of this promotion, it is certainly possible fans may come to regard Yokosuka as a Slow Loop seichi. But by proclaiming itself a seichi, the tourism association is attempting to present this designation as a fait accompli, confusing promoted tourism and commercial activities for subculture originating self-initiated practices. It’s a good promotion, really. They should call it what it is, though.
Karatsu Zonsaga bikeshare
Bikeshare service PiPPA and Anime Tourism Association launched Zombie Land Saga itachari for rental use in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, available at three locations, beginning 2021 December 20. Media coverage: Anime News Network
Current Season Pilgrimage
@flyingbird1124 made a pilgrimage to Higashi-Ikebukuro and Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward, Tokyo Metropolis; Honchō and Atagochō, Iwatsuki Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture; Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture for Sono Bisque Doll wa Koi o Suru OP, Episode 1 through Episode 3.
Past Season Pilgrimage
@niceboathime made a pilgrimage to Namba Ryūkishin Rize in Nanbanaka, Naniwa Ward; Sekai Ichi Hima na Ramen-ya in Nakanoshima, Kita Ward; Kinryū Ramen Midōsuji shop in Nanba, Chūō Ward (all Osaka City) for Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san.