Bradcat’s Anime Focus… Studio Ghibli Shutting Down? No!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know all about Studio Ghibli. In Japan, the studio is often compared to Disney for it’s cute characters and fantastic storytelling. They’ve been creating beloved cartoons for over two decades, and smashed Japanese box office records for years.

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Despite this success, it’s been no secret that the studio has been struggling financially for a couple of years now, with their recent movies failing to make a decent profit for the studio. One particular movie released in 2013 grossed over 2.3 billion yen (roughly £13.3 Million) however it was still considered a failure due to the high production costs (close to 5 billion yen! Owch!)

Last year, Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, retired and handed responsibilities over to Toshio Suzuki. Suzuki became Studio Ghibli’s general manager, however gave up producing films at the same time.

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However this is where things become complicated. Toshio Suzuki recently took to Japanese television to announce the studio’s closure. While he said that one option would be to shut down the production department, the key focus was that Studio Ghibli is looking into streamlining the company.

This means that the studio will make cuts, but will it close? Absolutely not. They will focus on managing trademarks and copyrights to secure a steady income. This also means that options are there for the company to branch out into freelance and work on any viable projects.

However, this is bad news for the production team. As the studio has no plans to produce it’s own films, they will undoubtedly be let go.

A lot of the articles you will see on the Internet are casting a very dark gloomy shadow over the future of the company, but let’s keep an eye on the fact that no major Japanese outlet has run a “Studio Ghibli Shuts Down!” story. So until that time, things seem a little cloudy, but just sit tight!

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Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Olympics 2020

It was announced over the weekend that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics. But what does this mean for Japan exactly? 

Firstly, it’s the perfect way for Japan to show the world that it’s bouncing back from the 2011 tsunami and it’s on going economic crisis. The games will no doubt have the same effect as London 2012 and give the nation a great sense of confidence and an “all eyes are on us” attitude.

Secondly, this announcement will see the Japanese government spending over ¥1 trillion (roughly £6.4bn) on new buildings and facilities to aid the 2020 Olympics, including transport and obviously the stadium. Not to mention the huge influx of tourists to the country which will only further it’s economy.

On a slightly different note, those anime fans amongst my followers may be aware of an anime called AKIRA which was made in 1988. The cyberpunk film is set in “Neo-Tokyo” in 2019 as Japan prepares for… The 2020 Olympics!

That’s right, this manga (originally penned in 1982) and anime correctly predicted that Japan would be the host of the 2020 Olympics. Scary stuff eh? The movie also outlines the events which lead to World War 3, so let’s hope that part of the prediction also doesn’t follow.

You can check out the trailer for AKIRA below. It’s regarded as one of the greatest animes of all time in terms of animation and cult following.

What are your thoughts on Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics? How about AKIRA’s prediction? Coincidence or something more? Leave me a comment below!

Bradcat’s Anime Focus… Anohana

“Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day” is an eleven part anime originally aired in 2011. It follows a group of six childhood friends in their teenage years, after they drifted apart over ten years ago. The group separated after losing their friend Menma in an accident by local river. The story begins when a few members of the group decide to tease the main character (and self proclaimed leader of the group) Jintan, in their hand-built den in the woods, by insisting he is in love with Menma. He outright denies this claim regardless of it being true and storms out of the den, little does he realise this begins a chain of events which leads to Menma’s death. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, it’s revealed in the first episode)

We rejoin the group ten years later, and Jintan is now a recluse living at home and refusing to go to school. He often blames himself for Menma’s death, as do the other members of the group. The story is an incredible insight into how people cope with the death of a loved one at a young age in their own way. It explores the group’s friendship ties, and their true feelings towards each other and their feelings ultimately, towards Menma.

Jintan is haunted by the ghost of Menma, whom only he can see. She explains that she can’t pass over to the other side until her wish has been granted. Though the story begins when Menma can’t recall her wish, so it becomes Jintan’s responsibility to discover and fulfil it. Will Jintan be able to convince the others that he can see Menma? Will he be able to fulfil her wish and help her pass over? Will the rest of the group forgive Jintan?

While the anime is incredible, it is only enhanced further by it’s soundtrack. The opening title is “Aoi Shiori” (青い栞 Blue Bookmark) by Galileo Galilei, while the closing track (above) is one I’ve featured on my blog in the past (Which can be found here) called Secret Base (~君がくれたもの~) by Zone. My favourite Japanese rock band SCANDAL have also covered this track which you can listen to below.

Now for those that know me, you will know I’m about as emotionless as Chandler Bing from Friends, when it comes to things that should upset me. Apparently the last thing I cried at was when Bambi’s mother was shot, however I was 4 years old at the time, so this doesn’t count. However this anime, my word, upsetting doesn’t cover it. I’ll tell you now, I was a blubbering mess by the final episode, and I challenge anyone to watch it and hold back the tears. Check out the preview below to give you a rough idea of what to expect. 

Please give this anime a try, after all it is only eleven episodes long. Let me know in the comments what you thought too!

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Cultural Care Package

When I started learning Japanese in November last year, I signed up for a lot of language exchange websites. This was mainly to help my own learning, but found myself inundated with messages from Japanese people wanting to learn English on a causal basis. I only really stayed in contact with those who were willing to help me if I helped them. I needed someone who had a decent grasp on the English language, but also wouldn’t mind taking the time to explain the things I was learning.

This is how I met Mami! She was incredibly helpful in explaining phrases and defining key words for me. We’d also chat about cultural differences between England and Japan, such as education, food, and music. Whilst chatting one day, I suggested that I’d like to send her a “British care package” as a thank you for taking the time to help me out. This is what I sent to her…

Included in my package:

– Bone china tea cup and saucer
– Lots of Earl Grey tea
– Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Buttons
– Robinson’s jam
– Selection of sweets (Yes, I know Maoam aren’t British, but they’re very popular)
– A two pence coin from the 1930’s
– A CD of British musicians spanning 1970’s – present

Luckily the package made it to Mami chan in one piece. I was particularly worried about the tea cup! A week later I received a message from Mami on LINE to say she’d received her goodies and would like to send me a care package too. Incredibly flattered by her generosity I obliged, and she designed a package based around things I love. Sure enough, a week later, this arrived…

Inside the box I found a small note letting me know which songs Mami enjoyed the most from the CD I’d put together, along with an contents list:

– Instant ramen noodles
– Chocolate koala snacks
– Crisps
– A Steins;Gate plastic art sheet (You can read about Steins;Gate here)
– A bottle of Ramune (Because I’d mentioned I’d seen them in a YouTube video)
– Scandal’s latest single “Kagen no Tsuki” (Which I featured on my blog a few weeks ago) which came with a Haruna (my favourite member) art card

Hopefully there will be more of these packages in the future! Mami chan, hontou ni arigatou gozaimasu! (本当にありがとうございます)

Bradcat’s Anime Focus… Steins;Gate

It’s going to be very difficult for me to talk about Steins;Gate without; A.) Giving too much away and spoiling the plot in some way, or B.) Not knowing when to shut up about how great it is.

The story follows self proclaimed mad scientist Rintarou Okabe who goes by his alias of Hououin Kyouma or “Okarin” to his friends (a nickname which he dislikes) and his struggle against the mysterious organisation known as… “The Organisation”. According to Okabe The Organisation are everywhere, they tap our phones, use our personal information for their own gains, and of course, are trying to steal his inventions. It’s safe to say Okabe is not only a “mad scientist” but also a conspiracy theory nut.

Okabe is joined by his two friends, the rotund computer hacker Itaru Hashida, and the lovable Mayuri Shiina (or Mayushii), who introduces herself, with a vocal fanfare of “Tuturu”. Confused? Watch this clip…

As the series progresses, he is joined by other characters who join his fight against “The Organisation” the main character who joins him in episode one is a red haired scientist called Kurisu Makise, whom Okabe takes great pleasure in referring to her as “Lab assistant number 2” or “Christina” in an attempt to make her feel slightly inferior despite her possibly being a better scientist than Okabe. It often leads to humorous confrontations like this…

The story really gets underway when Okabe realises in episode one, that he has potentially invented a time travel device by mistake. A large portion of the episodes after that, focus around him trying to understand how to control the time machine device; while the later episodes focus on the consequences of time travel itself.

The series also focuses on the story of John Titor. For those of you that don’t know this famous story, around 2001 a man appeared on a public forum claiming to be sent from the year 2036. His mission was to find an IBM computer which was made in the 1970’s, but was crucial to deciphering a piece of code in his time. When people questioned him about time travel, he was able to provide detailed information on how the machine worked, and even included diagrams. He then mysteriously vanished from the forums and no record of him was ever found. Obviously many people claim it to be a total hoax, while others still believe it to be true. You can read more about this story by clicking here.

I already feel I may have given too much of the plot away, so I’ll try to wrap up by saying that this anime is an incredible story about time travel and the lengths people will go for their friends and loved ones. With the series only being 25 episodes long (along with a film which was released this summer) it’s very easy to get into the story very quickly. Though I will warn you now, give this anime your full attention as the plot contains time travel, a concept of which people can lose track of very easily. Ask anyone that saw the movie “Looper”.

I’ll shut up about how great this show is now…

Bradcat’s Anime Focus… Sword Art Online

I’ve always been a fan of animes which have a finite end. You see them dotted around, usually lasting 12 episodes or 24-25 episodes. Sword Art Online falls into the latter category, however (without spoiling the series too much) half way through, there is a slight change up, which keeps the anime fresh.

Set in the not too distant future, Sword Art Online tells the tale of a young boy, named Kirigaya Kazuto (AKA Kirito) who is obsessed with video games. So much so, he was selected to be a part of a closed-Beta test for a new title “Sword Art Online”, a game in which the player can fight monsters, level up, and acquire new weapons and armour. The game utilises a piece of hardware , called NerveGear, which the user places over their head, to fully immerse themselves into the RPG world (very similar to the movie “The Matrix”)

The game is launched world wide and sure enough Kirito knows the best tactics and weapons to use as he was a part of the Beta test. However, his life is changed forever, when the GameMaster reveals himself, and removes the “Log Out” feature from the game. Similar to “The Matrix” if the user is forcibly removed from the game, their mind won’t cope with the trauma and the user will die. The only way to escape the game is to reach the maximum level. From here, Kirito is taken on an amazing quest in which he meets new friends and learns a lot about what is important in life.

If you’re a fan of video games, you will love this anime. I was captivated from start to finish, and was a little sad that it came to and end. The manga actually continues a lot further than the anime, so hopefully we will see a new series soon. Especially with this image which appeared recently advertising a TV special. Could we see a second series? Or something else entirely?

You can watch Sword Art Online online at Crunchyroll, here. Let me know if you decide to watch it, and what your thoughts are!

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… "Sean, what is it with you and Japan?"

It may be hard to believe if I told you that my love for Japan started from the day I was born. Obviously, I had no idea what Japan was at this point, the notion that I had a full understanding of countries and their governing boundaries from birth, would be ridiculous. However I was given a cuddly toy, which I loved more than anything. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it now, but I held onto this toy until the age of nine. It was only recently though that I discovered this toy’s origins, it is a “sekiguchi monchichi” toy from the 1970’s which was hugely popular in Japan.

Growing up, I moved around the country a lot, and didn’t have much time to make friends with other children my age. I spent a lot of time indoors, watching cartoons and playing computer games.  One cartoon which I loved more than any was “Samurai Pizza Cats” which, again at a young age (around five years-old), I had no idea had Japanese origins. As I grew older, I discovered more and more TV shows and animations which were either influenced, or were made in Japan. These included shows such as “Super Human Samurai Syber Squad” and “Power Rangers” and the incredible anime “Akira“. These TV shows would shape my taste in movies, animation and computer games for the future to come.
“Samurai Pizza Cats”
“Super Human Samurai Syber Squad”

Back in 2007 a friend from university (Charlie) and myself visited Thailand on a whim. We’d been set an assignment title of “Travel” by our lecturer, so we went the whole nine yards (or the whole 5,280,000 yards to be exact) and flew to Bangkok. While there, we ventured deep into Thailand’s less populated areas and experienced how the “other side of the world” live. While on an excursion to the heart of one of these rain-forests, I met my first Japanese person! Her name was Sayako and she was from Tokyo. She taught me some of my first Japanese phrases and helped with my pronunciation. I didn’t want to feel like I was pestering her, so I didn’t bombard her with questions, even though they were numerous. 
Sayako on an elephant ride.
Myself, on quite possibly the most unsafe bridge over the river Kwai.
The whole experience really changed my perception of other cultures, and took many of my assumptions and expectations to task. I encountered a lot of challenges during my stay: even the simple things such as asking for directions. However, overcoming these challenges only enhanced my experience further. Indeed, one of the wonderful things about being abroad is that even the most mundane of everyday tasks have an air of mystery about them.

I have always known Japanese culture was something I would love to experience. One of the only countries in the world which offers the height of modern technology yet at the same time, years of rich history, from tea ceremonies to the ancient Samurai. For the past few years I have looked into the various ways of experiencing all of this for myself. My original plan was to spend time with a host family in 2011, however the country was devastated by the tsunami and was in no state to be catering to tourists. I helped the only way I could, by donating money to the relief aid. However I would’ve happily jumped on the next flight over to donate my labour. I tried again in 2012 by applying to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program. In this program, the Japanese embassy selects roughly 300-400 people from the UK to fly to Japan and become an assistant language teacher. The application process was painstaking, including medical wellness forms, letters of reference from university lecturers, on top of the standard paper work required when requesting to live in a foreign country. Waiting to hear back from the application was nerve racking, but I was finally put out of my misery in February 2013 when they’d declined my application.
In the past year I have begun learning spoken Japanese on a casual basis and reading more into Japan’s rich history and culture. I have learnt a lot about the key moments in the country’s development, from when the feudal era ended, to the Meji period. Reading books such as “Culture Shock: Japan, by Rex Shelley” have helped me to understand where Japan’s famous work ethic may have originated from, and also helped to expand my knowledge of what to expect when I eventually visit.

I have always been interested in the Japanese language, not least since it appears in a lot of the media I enjoy: music, and movies especially. I have only learnt basic phrases so far, but I have a keen interest in learning much more. I have completed level one unit one of Japanese using Rosetta Stone, and plan on continuing my learning by using a lot of books and podcasts, which are all very helpful. However I can’t think of anything more beneficial for my linguistic and cultural development than living in the country whose language and culture I want to learn and experience. I am well aware that learning a language is about much more than memorising grammar and vocabulary; a language is a way of life, and by being there in Japan I can immerse myself fully.
So yeah, that’s what’s with me, and Japan…