Bocchi the Rock! ぼっち・ざ・ろっく!

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 Fall Season Overview

Welcome back to a new season of anime settings and background art.

Yama no Susume Next Summit (Eight Bit) returns for a fourth season of mountain climbing, though it will still be another week more before we get our first look at what’s in store. The first four episodes are compilations of selected scenes from the first three seasons, combined with a few new supplementary scenes to glue it all together. I’ve really enjoyed watching the series grow from five minute shorts, to half length episodes, and now full length, and diving into the details of the hikes as part of its butaitanbou-sha following. As always, home base is Hannō, Saitama Prefecture, where mangaka Shiro lives, while the climbs take our cast on journeys to mountains near and far. Background art is handled by Team Till Dawn.

I spent a day in Hannō, including Tenranzan and Tōnosuyama, with a group of butaitanbou-sha following one of our annual summits many years ago. Later, I took my then six-year-old daughter up Takaosan, though she was disappointed we couldn’t hike the harder trail due to snow. I promised a revenge attempt on some future visit. We’ve also done a bit of hiking in Hokkaidō and Tottori. I hope I can keep making mountains, from Yama no Susume and otherwise, part of my time in Japan.

Yama no Susume has many butaitanbou-sha fans, and there has already been much discussion and some travel based on previews and early episodes, but I anticipate the vanguard will most likely include @habusan, @teo_imperial, @fureshima2223, @hauyashi and @Deep_adultweet.

Bocchi the Rock! (CloverWorks) is set in Shimokitazawa, Suginami Ward, Tokyo Metropolis. The live house is a brick-for-brick recreation of Shimokitazawa Shelter. The background art is lovingly rendered with a high degree of fidelity. I’m loving all this because Shimokita is, without a doubt, my favorite place to go on a walk and get lost in Tokyo. The park where Hitori and Nijika meet is in Matsunoki, Suginami Ward. This is a compression of the spatial relationship; The park is far from Shimokita and even public transit between them is neither direct nor quick. The park is however very close to the CloverWorks studio—as in just down the street. Hitori commutes into Tokyo by train from Kanazawa-Hakkei (Seto), Kanazawa Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. This is noted in dialog and depicted visually. Background art is handled in house. The studio calls its art department the CloverWorks Bijutsu Room.

Early discussions about layout in this series have noted the use of wide angle shots that communicate how the the world feels imposing to the anxious protagonist. That may have been a creative choice, but it also represents an optical constraint. Like many contemporary works, this series simulates camera lens perspectives. In Shimokita, even the main streets are narrow. Side streets and alleys are narrower. Indoor spaces are even tighter. Without a fairly wide lens, 35mm or more full-frame equivalent, it’s often a challenge just to get all the things you can see with your eyes in the frame. The presence of foreground objects is also consistent. Because shop fronts have limited space, sandwich boards, merchandise, tables and other objects often spill out onto the street, especially during business hours. Few streets are straight or wide enough to get an unobstructed shot of a subject that isn’t right in front of the camera.

It’s not yet clear how much of a location range the series will have. I’d like to see as many of the streets as I can get, but my assumption is that they are here to provide community and context for the live house, not as the main sphere of activity. Time will tell. @ssslocation, @flyingbird1124, @ad_motsu, @Azuyan_yuratami, @kanrocider and @01hum are looking into locations for Bocchi the Rock!

Do It Yourself!! (Pine Jam) is an original anime set in Sanjō, Niigata Prefecture, which promotes itself as “Monozukuri no Machi” (ものづくりのまち town of manufacturing/craftsmanship). This theme is leveraged to great effect in the series, centered around a school DIY club and its quirky members. Even the equipment used by the characters is made by Takagi, a tool manufacturer headquartered in Sanjō. Though we haven’t seen much of the city yet, the background art, which is handled in house, has a warm and sketch-like quality that makes the environment inviting and pairs well with character designs. To my eye, it looks hand-drawn and painted, and I would be impressed if it turns out to have been created digitally.

As a work of fiction and art—and tools, I’m in love with this show. From a butaitanbou perspective, my interest is tempered by the knowledge that the work was created, in part at least, as a tourism advertisement. Sanjō City is credited as an “official supporter” in the end roll. Prior to the earliest terrestrial broadcast, Sanjō Navi, the city’s official tourism site, published a special page that reveals locations used in the anime, refers to the city as a “seichi,” and includes descriptions of and links to adjacent local tourism spots. The Sanjō City, DIY and Pine Jam social media accounts are also sharing this information. In media appearances, the city mayor and voice actor for the lead character have issued calls to action for visitors to come to Sanjō. A local foodstuffs manufacturer launched a group of tie-in products with Do It Yourself!! branding.

DIY is not unique in taking this approach. For many years now, it has become increasingly common for tourism promotion to be incorporated into anime when they are adapted from their source material. Series that begin life with an explicit tourism objective, such as Yaku nara Mug Cup mo, have also entered the mix. Be that as it may, for me neither of these approaches have the attractive power or authenticity of spontaneously arising seichijunrei. They are simply not the same thing.

@niceboathime, @igar_one, @hirosaka_boyaki, @Yuki_3249, @tesra1141, @mizpi and @koge2negi are looking into locations for DIY.

Isekai Ojisan (AtelierPontdarc) is set in Fukuoka City, Kasuga and Ōnojō, Fukuoka Prefecture. It was originally a 2022 summer series, but has been restarted as a fall series following production delays. Seven episodes have aired already, so we know quite a bit about the setting. Background art is handled by Bihou. @hamutane_ume, @finuko_gurashi and @kazupi are looking into locations for Isekai Ojisan.

Akiba Maid Sensō (P.A. Works) is set in Akihabara (Soto-Kanda), Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo Metropolis in 1999. I’m digging the dingy colors, grimy surfaces, and look back at when more of Denkigai was still intact. Background art is handled by Kusanagi and Nam Hai Art.

Uchi no Shishō wa Shippo ga Nai (Liden Films) is set in Osaka during the Taishō period (1912-1926). So far, most of what we’ve seen has been the areas around Naniwa-bashi and Shinsekai. Shunrai-tei is inspired by Tenma Tenjin Hanjō-tei, a real performance venue near Naniwa-bashi and one of the primary bases for kamigata style rakugo, the focus of the series. The market scene is Osaka Central Wholesale Market. The adaptation has fun with the eyecatches. In each break, the first eyecatch depicts a location as it would have looked during Taishō, and the characters are drawn in the style of the anime. The second catch depicts the same location as it looks at present, while the characters are drawn in the style of the manga. At the time of broadcast, there are modest marketing promotions underway at Tsutenkaku in Shinsekai, and in Tenjinbashisuji Ni-chōme Shōtengai, which is between Hanjō-tei and Naniwa-bashi. Background art is handled in-house. @Yamachan_Anime, @Minky_j and @tesra1141 are looking into locations for Shippona.

Shinobi no Ittoki (Troyca) begins in Iga, Mie Prefecture and Kōka, Shiga Prefecture, the modern day locations of what were bases for the storied Iga and Kōka ninja clans, before departing via the abandoned Hakubutsukan-Dōbutsuen Station in Ueno, Tokyo for what appears to be a fictional school setting. The school has multiple zones distributed across several islands, one of which is reminiscent of Gunkanjima in Nagasaki Prefecture. The idea of Iga and Kōka being at odds with each other appears to be more a conceit for making movies about them than a reflection of reality, where they were said to be on good terms. Kōka (こうか) is the correct pronunciation for both the location and clan, but is often mispronounced, including by Japanese, as Kōga (こうが). I hear both in the dialog, though mostly the latter. It is often transliterated as Kōga in English. Background art is handled by Studio Tulip. @flyingbird1124 and @heero_yuy2 are looking into locations for Shinobi no Ittoki.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! ω (ENGI) returns for a second season, still set in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Most of what we see is the Sendai Station ekimae area and a school campus that is very loosely modeled on Tōhoku University. Background art is handled by PEEC Animation. In the first season, a vista shot of Kōbe in the OP had observers thinking the setting might be a combination of locations from both cities, but ultimately the Kōbe usage turned out to be a one-off. The same vista returns in the Season 2 ED. There was also the matter of Season 1 Episode 10, a blatant tourism advertisement for Tottori City, Misasa, Kurayoshi and Iwami, Totori Prefecture. It later became apparent that the episode was part of a planned series of tie-in promotions, some of which involved the Anime Tourism Association. Kadokawa owns ENGI and leads the Association, and this appears to have been an early experiment in using the former to generate content to fill a pipeline flowing to the latter.

Spy × Family (Wit Studio, CloverWorks) returns for the second part of a split cour. As before, the setting is not-Germany during the Cold War. Eden Academy is modeled on Eton College in England. A few other Western Europe locations appear on occasion. As with the first part, there is a substantial amount of outsourcing on this production, art included. As of the time of writing, the list of studios contributing background art includes Atelier Makaria, CloverWorks Bijutsu Room, Creative Freaks, MAPPA, Moe, Studio Blue and Wit Studio.

Urusei Yatsura (2022) (David Production) is a remake of a classic Takahashi Rumiko manga series (1978-1987) and its anime adaptation (1981-1986). I had thought that some day I would get around to one or both of those original works, and the arrival of this new take, as well executed as it is, hasn’t changed my plan. One reason is that I would prefer to appreciate it as a product of its time. Another is that the series is among the earliest works with Japan locations, coming out around the time of Scrap Book, Ashita no Joe, Megazone 23, Karuizawa Syndrome and Maison Ikkoku. I’m much more interested in whatever went into the backgrounds of the Urusei Yatsura manga and original anime than in an update.

In the series, the fictional Tomobiki-chō is said to be in Nerima Ward, Tokyo Metropolis. The manga setting is understood to be based on Ōizumi-Gakuen, from text clues in the art. Takahashi lived in Nerima Ward at the time and Ranma ½ is also set there. The anime version includes locations that appear derived from Musashi-Koganei in Koganei City, Tokyo Metropolis. This is thought to have happened because studio Pierrot, which co-produced the first 106 episodes, had an office at that location, and used it as the basis for backgrounds in scenes that did not appear in the manga (source). Nara and Kyoto also appeared in both manga and anime (source). This was potentially the first “school trip to Nara and Kyoto” depiction in anime.

The 2022 remake has an updated OP, with smartphones and lots of Shibuya, while the actual episodes appear to have left the original setting and time period intact. Background art is handled by Studio Colorido in the OP, and Bihou for the episodes. It all looks good, but I’d rather go back to the source.

Golden Kamuy (Brain’s Base) returns for a fourth season. As always, lots of Hokkaidō. Background art is handled by Color & Smile and Studio Uni. Pilgrimage based on the anime has been minimal, but pilgrimage among manga readers has been comparatively active. Attempts to round up all, or at least a subset of locations will quickly reinforce one’s grasp of just how large the land area is compared with the rest of Japan.

Yowamushi Pedal Limit Break (TMS, Die4Studio) returns for a fifth season. Background art is handled by Bihou. As a series based around long distance road cycling, it spans many locations and doesn’t lend itself to comprehensive seichijunrei. Most pilgrims choose a few favorite points and travel to those. Only forces of nature like long rider and butaitanbou-sha @Bf109K1 actually cycle and photograph entire race courses.

KanColle: Itsuka Ano Umi de (ENGI) premieres November 4 as an eight episode second season, coming almost eight years after the first. Settings in the series generally feature naval port cities in Japan.

Fūfu Ijō, Koibito Miman. (Studio Mother) is set in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, though so far this is established entirely by the OP and ED. Background art is handled by Team Till Dawn and J.C.Staff. @ssslocation and @heero_yuy2 are looking into locations for Fūkoi.

Muv-Luv Alternative (Yumeta Company, Graphinica) returns for a second season. This installment includes a few scenes in Minami Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture when the protagonist is transported back to his home universe for a brief stay, but this is not the focus of the series. @flyingbird1124 is looking into locations for Muv-Luv Alternative.

Ren’ai Flops (Passione) is set in a futuristic and fluorescent version of Tokyo. So far, most of what we have seen is based on locations in Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku Ward, and near Tokyo Tower, though much of it is a very liberal interpretation that includes fictional elements. Background art is handled by Kusanagi, Nam Hai Art and Studio Acanthus. @ssslocation, @flyingbird1124 and @heero_yuy2 are looking into locations for Ren’ai Flops.

Chainsaw Man (MAPPA) does a lot of traveling. The main cast are based in Tokyo and a few scenes have been set explicitly in Nerima Ward, but there have already been multiple excursions to unidentified rural and seaside towns and cities. Ultimately, the settings are just backdrops for spectacle. The characters do not interact with them in meaningful ways. As of the time of writing, the list of studios contributing background art includes Bamboo, Eroom, MAPPA, MK Seoul, Studio Blue, Studio Bus, Studio Easter and Studio Touch.

Hoshi no Samidare (Naz) continues into its second cour. Background art is handled by Jumondō Seoul. There was an early use of a location in Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture, but there hasn’t been much interest in this series.

C Danchi (Akatsuki) is a hot mess. With this four episode short series, I don’t know if the cliffside danchi or harbor below are based on real locations, but I am quite certain I want my two hours back. Background art is handled by Studio Fūga and Studio Pilz.

Natsu e no Tunnel, Sayonara no Deguchi (CLAP) is a theatrical film that premiered September 9. The setting draws primarily from several locations on the western coast of the Bōsō Peninsula in Futtsu, Kyonan and Minamibōsō, Chiba Prefecture. It also includes scenes from the aquarium at Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Kanagawa Prefecture, and the platform at Shimonada Station in Iyo, Ehime Prefecture. Background art is handled by Kusanagi. @01hum, @unimaru_ and @ssslocation are looking into locations for Natsuton.

Yojōhan Time Machine Blues (Science Saru) is both a six episode ONA that launched September 14 and a theatrical compilation film that premiered September 30, both in Japan, and will begin streaming in other markets at later dates. As with other works based on related Morimi Tomohiko novels Yojōhan Shinwa Taikei and Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome, the setting is Kyoto. Background art is handled by Studio Who.

Ame o Tsugeru Hyōryū Danchi (Studio Colorido) is a theatrical film that premiered September 16. It is set in a fictional danchi based on extensive research of multiple housing complexes in Tokyo and Chiba, though it draws primarily on Hibarigaoka Danchi in Nishitōkyō and Higashikurume. Background art is handled both in house and by Studio Cocolo, Studio Recess, and Telecom Animation Film.

Boku ga Aishita Subete no Kimi e (Bakken Record) and Kimi o Aishita Hitori no Boku e (TMS Entertainment) are a linked pair of theatrical films that premiered October 7. Both are set in Ōita City, Ōita Prefecture. Tourism plans were established during the production phase, a vigorous public relations campaign was pushed out by Ōita in the months leading up to the premieres, and a marketing promotion was underway at the time of launch. @fragments_sue is looking into locations for Bokuaikimiai.

Watashi ni Tenshi ga Maiorita! Precious Friends (Doga Kobo) is a theatrical film that premiered October 14. The broadcast series that precedes it is set in Tama, Tokyo Metropolis. The film PV includes scenes in Nagatoro, Saitama Prefecture and aboard the Chichibu Railway. @ssslocation and @teo_imperial are looking into locations for Wataten.

Bokura no Yoake (Zero-G) is a theatrical film that premiered October 22. The setting includes Asagaya Jūtaku, a danchi in Narita-Higashi, Suginami Ward, Tokyo Metropolis. A modest marketing campaign at Asagaya Pearl Center Shōtengai in Asagaya-Minami is underway. According to the promotional material, many street scenes in Suginami Ward appear in the film.

Media and General Interest

Yuwaku Bonbori Matsuri
After a three year absence due to Covid-19, the 10th Yuwaku Bonbori Matsuri (第10回湯涌ぼんぼり祭り) was held on October 22 at Yuwaku Onsen in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. The festival began as a fictional event in P.A.Works series Hanasaku Iroha, was then recreated as a promotional event in Yuwaku, and was ultimately turned over to local organizers as part of the studio’s regional revitalization efforts.

To celebrate the holding of the tenth festival, P.A. Works president Horikawa Kenji (堀川憲司 @horiken2000), art director Higashiji Kazuki (東地和生 @Higashiji), and production manager Imagawa Takurō (今川拓郎) broadcast a live stream talk on October 14. They discussed the series’ production, with emphasis on background art and creation of the Yuwaku poster visuals.

On October 19, Hokuriku Broadcasting published a video segment and article looking back at the history of the event. Of particular note, Yamashita Shin’ichirō (山下新一郎), chairman of the Yuwaku Bonbori Matsuri executive committee, spoke about pushback from the Yuwaku community in the early days of the festival. Objections focused on the event having been derived from an anime series, as well as taking the form of a traditional festival. People felt this was at odds with both the older average age of the primary customers, and the image of Yuwaku as a quiet onsen town. Yamashita argued that the future of the town depended on cultivating new generations of patrons. He was able to overcome enough resistance to launch the first festival and found community opinion shifted positive after locals observed the polite behavior of fans and heard them express their affection for the town. From the beginning of the festival, Yamashita has been adamant that the event would be driven by local participation. The children that parade around the town and take on roles in the ceremony are all local elementary school students.

On the day of the festival, unlike past events there were strict admission restrictions due to ongoing concerns regarding the pandemic. The festival was open only to individual sponsors of the lanterns, holders of general admission tickets, and guests staying in Yuwaku Onsen on that day. Individual sponsorships were capped at 350 and general admission tickets at 500. Yamashita hopes this will be the first and last time the restrictions are necessary.

Before the main event, voice actors from the series broadcast two livestream talks (talk 1, talk 2), and the festival itself was captured and livestreamed by a roving camera crew. All are available for playback.

Media coverage: Yomiuri Shimbun, Crunchyroll News, NHK, Hokuriku Broadcasting

Photos: tweet 1, tweet 2, tweet 3, tweet 4, tweet 5, tweet 6, tweet 7, tweet 8, tweet 9, tweet 10, tweet 11, tweet 12, tweet 13, tweet 14, tweet 15

Video: tweet 1, tweet 2, tweet 3, tweet 4, tweet 5, tweet 6

Comment: I began following and writing about anime pilgrimage subculture in 2012, the year after the first Yuwaku Bonbori Matsuri was held. My Japanese language ability was minimal and I didn’t have great situation awareness, so most of what I’ve learned about the origin of the festival has been acquired in hindsight. The more I understand about it, the more I am impressed with how much care and consideration went into its creation and growth. Though it began with P.A.Works developing the concept during the anime production phase, the parties involved have been particular about framing this as a local festival, obtaining buy-in and participation by residents, and ultimately moderating the presence of Hanasaku Iroha (there’s still plenty, though!) as Yuwaku gradually makes Bonbori its own new tradition. I complain often about overt tourism promotion in recent anime, but I don’t dislike Bonbori at all. I think it’s a wonderful event. Perhaps it is not tourism promotion itself that bothers me, but that the vast majority of attempts are painfully shallow. There are many boom chasers, but regrettably few parties willing to put in the research, planning, communication and ongoing nourishment that make Bonbori what it is.

Anitamasai (アニ玉祭)—an event featuring anime, manga, other pop culture media, and contents tourism presentations—was held on October 22 in Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. This was the tenth convening of the event. Due to Covid-19, this was the first time in three years it was held with participants at a physical venue. In addition to seichijunrei-oriented talks and other components covered previously, the Lucky Star mikoshi (らき☆すた神輿) was displayed in one of the exhibition halls. This was the first time in ten years the mikoshi has traveled outside Kuki City. Media coverage: Animage Plus, Saitama Shimbun.

Photos: tweet 1, tweet 2, tweet 3, tweet 4, tweet 5, tweet 6, tweet 7, tweet 8, tweet 9, tweet 10, tweet 11, tweet 12, tweet 13, tweet 14, tweet 15

Kamakura Love Live building
The former Kachōnomiya Residence (旧華頂宮邸) is an historic building in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture and was used as the model for Ōsaka Shizuku’s family home in Love Live! Nijigasaki Gakuen School Idol Dōkōkai Season 2 Episode 10. It also appears in Yūki Yūna wa Yūsha de Aru: Washio Sumi no Shō Episode 3. Typically the gardens are open to the public year round, while the building itself is only open on limited special days. The building will open for the first time in three years on November 5 and 6. It has not held one of these openings since 2019 due to the pandemic.

SunFes! 18
SunFes! 18 (サンフェス!18), a Hibike! Euphonium dōjinshi sales event, will be held as part of joint dōjinshi event Sunrise Creation Kyoto 2023 Spring (サンライズクリエイション京都2023春) at Miyako Messe (みやこめっせ) in Kyoto on 2023 April 16. Circles can apply online to participate until 2023 February 13.

Nanjō Aquatope promotion
Nanjō, Okinawa Prefecture launched a Shiroi Suna no Aquatope marketing promotion that will run from 2022 November 21 to 2023 January 27. The campaign will include a free entry art exhibition at Nanjō City Local Products Center (南城市地域物産館), sales of goods featuring original illustrations, a free entry talk event featuring voice cast on event December 3, admission to which is selected by lottery and open only to donors who sent money through the Nanjō Aquatope furusato nōzei campaign in 2021, and a tour package, which is the Meitetsu Kankō Service monitor tour announced previously. Media coverage: WebNewtype, Oricon News

Current Season Pilgrimage

@ad_motsu made a pilgrimage to Shimokitazawa (Kitazawa), Suginami Ward, Tokyo Metropolis; Kanazawa-Hakkei (Seto), Kanazawa Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture for Bocchi the Rock! OP, Episode 1 through Episode 3.

@Deep_adultweet made a pilgrimage to (post 1) Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima Ward; Toranomon and Atago, Minato Ward; and (post 2) aboard the Yamanote Line (all Tokyo Metropolis) for Yama no Susume Next Summit Episode 3.

@fragments_sue made a pilgrimage to Ōita City, Ōita Prefecture for Boku ga Aishita Subete no Kimi e and Kimi o Aishita Hitori no Boku e.

Past Season Pilgrimage

@Deep_adultweet made a pilgrimage (updated post) to Kasumigaokamachi, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo Metropolis for Love Live! Superstar!! Season 2 Episode 11 and Episode 12.

@Deep_adultweet made a pilgrimage to Tokyo Tower in Shibakōen, Minato Ward, Tokyo Metropolis for Yama no Susume Season 1.