Happy New Year everyone and welcome to the debut of The OQ, the newly revamped OTAQUEST newsletter!
This new weekly publication aims to deliver interesting news & information related to Japanese pop culture straight to your inbox, curated by our dream geek team. Even if it’s something we haven’t covered on the website, if it’s worth knowing about, we’ll be sure to deliver it here, every Thursday!
OTAQUEST started in 2017 with the mission of connecting English speaking fans to the wider swath of the Japanese pop & sub-culture landscapes. In 2021 we’re focused on expanding this coverage and include a more balanced coverage of anime, manga, music, games, fashion, art, and more! We will also be surfacing independent creators & sharing content we think you’ll be interested in from Japan’s creative underground.
We’re kicking off this publication with our picks of the must-read articles we released throughout 2020. From next week, we’ll be sharing the latest & greatest. We hope you enjoy it, and we’re excited to have you along for the ride!
Slaying all the records.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba beating One Piece’s previous annual sales record was an early indication of the series’ success.
If there’s one series which has dominated the pop culture landscape and, indeed, the Japanese economy this year, then it’s Kimetsu no Yaiba. It has now long since surpassed 100 million copies in circulation, but back in April, we were still surprised by 38 million.
‘While the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Japan will no doubt change things a bit… we can probably expect Kimetsu no Yaiba to keep on breaking sales figures for the rest of the year,’ Jacob Parker-Dalton wrote. ‘And with a conclusion (supposedly) coming very soon, that final volume will also no doubt be a massive hit.’
He was right, but no prizes for guessing!
Gundam in my Olympics? It’s more likely than you think.
With the Olympics postponed, we recommended G Gundam back in April as a worthy substitute.
Think about it: it has different Gundams from each country, competing in one-on-one battles to solve disputes instead of going to war. If that isn’t the spirit behind the Olympics, then what is? Plus, we argued that it was more likely to lift your spirits in self-isolation and quarantine than normal Gundam series, which focus on the complexities of war and space politics.
‘With the Olympics postponed a whole darn year and most of you reading this cooped up in your rooms, we can’t think of a more inspired substitute for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games than this cavalcade of cartoony mechs and their spirited pilots… Drop your preconceived notions, stay inside where it’s safe, and buckle up for one of the wildest and zaniest rides anime has to offer.’ (Chris Cimi)
YOASOBI broke out by falling down.
Japan’s biggest pop hit halfway through 2020 said a lot about the state of the industry and consumers at the time.
Since then, the group has performed on Kohaku, penned songs for both BEASTARS and Blue Period, and cemented themselves as a truly mainstream musical act. All without a single album or EP under their belts!
Back in June, Patrick St. Michel explained why: ‘the downer lyrics reflect a shift towards more sad pop music in the country… “Racing Into The Night” [also] centers the artist and the artist’s actual abilities at the forefront.’ We look forward to seeing how YOASOBI continues to develop in the future.
60 years a SEGA.
In June, we interviewed several key SEGA figures to mark the company’s 60th anniversary. Toshihiro Nagoshi was probably our favorite.
We’ve already interviewed Nagoshi several times in the past, but this interview (translated by Takuya Takeuchi) revealed several surprising things. From the fact that he never wanted to make simulation games to his frustration surrounding the discontinuation of the Dreamcast, Nagoshi is one creator who never fails to inspire us.
His advice to young creators was also particularly salient: ‘while it’s good to challenge yourself and try new things, it’s not good to just try your hand at things randomly. If you’re working on something right now, the first thing you need to do is to produce results. And at the same time, you also need to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Then, move onto trying the next thing.’
A sports-shaped hole.
Haikyu!! came to an end in July after eight and a half years of serialization, but even more interesting than that was how it left Weekly Shonen Jump without any sports series.
Jump has always enjoyed a strong relationship with sports, from such classics as Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa to modern hits like Kuroko’s Basketball and, of course, Haikyu!!. Never, however, has the magazine ever been without a sports series in its roster since its creation in 1968: Haikyu!!’s departure was, in this sense, truly historic.
This spoke to the editorial team’s failure to get an interesting sports series off the ground. Not for lack of trying: ‘Weekly Shonen Jump’s ultimate problem following Haikyu’s ending is that none of the recent series that they have launched have been interesting… The creation of an interesting sports manga is now the top priority for the editorial team, who are no doubt scrambling to do so as we speak.’ (Jacob Parker-Dalton)
That hole has yet to be filled.
The best anime of 2020 was a music video.
Back in September, Studio BONES teamed up with Pokémon to deliver unto us possibly the greatest piece of media related to the series yet.
Seriously, even watching it now, the quality of the animation and the visual direction of ‘Gotcha!’ is overwhelming. I’m not even a lifelong Pokémon fan, and even I feel a little emotional seeing all of the different trainers through the years brought to life with such love and attention. Ironically, this might have even been better received than the latest game!
Considering my lack of experience, I give the last word to Alicia Haddick: ‘Other than being another catchy beat from BUMP OF CHICKEN, this Pokémon music video really captures what the series means to a lot of people without leaning too heavily into nostalgia. Classic characters feature, but it doesn’t attempt to remake past scenes fans may remember, instead deciding to create something new using these memories.’
Couldn’t have put it any better myself.
Tapes? TSUTAYA got ‘em.
Part of our mission here at OTAQUEST is to cover elements of Japanese pop culture that would otherwise get overlooked. As a result, you won’t have heard about the Shibuya TSUTAYA store renewal anywhere else.
Two floors filled with over 200,000 titles available for rental, including rare and international titles; among these, curiously, is a selection of about 6000 VHS tapes. While none of us particularly wants such an imperfect format to make a comeback, these are titles that either haven’t made their way to DVD or are out of print.
‘It’s a treasure trove of classic media and an archivist’s paradise, and anyone with an interest in classic media now has an easily-accessible place from which to dive in.’ (Alicia Haddick)
Here’s hoping we can go check it out once the world is back to normal.
Connecting you with Yoko Kanno.
This August, we also held our first online convention, which feels like an eternity ago now. Across two days, we interviewed many creators, but Yoko Kanno was perhaps our favorite.
Part of this is because the Cowboy Bebop and Macross composer rarely does interviews, and she did not reveal her face in this one. Still, that didn’t take away from the quality of the insights: led by ☆Taku Takahashi, she talked about how she learned instruments by ear, never listened to popular music, and drew inspiration from buskers in New Orleans to create the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack. That’s pretty wild.
‘With Macross Frontier, I imagined myself in that world, and that’s how I came up with the music,’ she said, her genius making everything look easy. ‘It has nothing to do with genre from the start. I try to put myself in the shoes of someone living in that world, one hundred percent. Maybe it will sound like jazz, maybe it will sound like something else, who knows?’
Thank you, Shiro Usazaki.
One month after Act-Age’s sudden cancellation, we attempted to put into words the enormous amount of gratitude felt for the series’ artist, Shiro Usazaki.
This young artist’s promising career was sabotaged by the selfish actions of her closest collaborator, and it wouldn’t have been right if Shueisha simply left her by the wayside. Looking closely at Act-Age’s development, we also discovered that her role was instrumental, constituting the hidden X factor that finally brought Tatsuya Matsuki’s story to fruition.
‘it must be said that Tatsuki Matsuya was a fantastic writer whose talents would quickly be revealed once Act-Age landed in Weekly Shonen Jump… but, then again, many of the series’ best moments would be nowhere near as iconic without Shiro Usazaki’s art.’ (Jacob Parker-Dalton)
She’s since come back, which is good.
Chainsaw Man, Chainsaw Man, Chainsaw Chainsaw Chainsaw Man…
In many ways, the recent announcement that Studio MAPPA would be producing a Chainsaw Man anime is a dream come true.
We’ve been raving about Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Weekly Shonen Jump series since it began, but it’s really blown up this year: the closer and closer it drew to a conclusion, the more fans it seemed to draw in. Life’s funny like that, sometimes.
MAPPA taking on Chainsaw Man is good news as they’ve already proven themselves to be very competent with such similar series as Dorohedoro and Jujutsu Kaisen, which Fujimoto himself mentions in his comment. It’ll also be yet another project to look forward to from the studio that dominated 2020, alongside Zombie Land Saga Revenge and Yasuke.
‘For now, let’s hope that Studio MAPPA is aware of the huge amount of anticipation among fans and doesn’t buckle to the pressure weighing down on their shoulders. We want the Chainsaw Man anime to be the best it can possibly be.’ (Jacob Parker-Dalton)
See you next week!
The OTAQUEST team.
P.S. If you have any suggestions, ideas, tips, tricks, or you just want to talk otaku with our awesome community, join us on Discord!
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