Japan is a wonderful hub for all things pop culture and anime. Tourists flock to Japan yearly to visit its many shrines and landmarks. Now, however, visitors have a whole new series of landmarks to behold, and all they need to do is look down! Tokorozawa, in the Saitama Prefecture in Japan, has installed a series of illuminated manhole covers in the hopes it will spur tourists to visit the town.
Wonderfully colourful manhole covers are not a new concept for Japan. There are many painted and decorative manhole covers dotted across the country’s many streets. However, there are a few reasons why these new manhole covers stand apart from the others. Firstly, they light up between 6 pm and 2 am thanks to solar power, which in turn lights up the main street. Secondly, they feature iconic anime characters!
This means fans can get a glimpse of their favourite characters immortalised along the streets of Tokorozawa and also find their way around when sightseeing at night. This seems to be exactly what the city had in mind when the concept of illuminated manhole covers was originally drafted. According to Junichi Koike, a city official hailing from Tokorozawa, there are people called “Manholders” who enjoy discovering different kinds of manhole covers. By installing the new illuminated manhole covers, the city hopes to improve the “dirty and smelly image of manholes” by attracting said manholers and outside visitors. The illuminated covers are strategically placed as well, leading from the city’s main train station to a new cultural complex featuring an anime museum.
According to Sora News 24, there are 27 illuminated manhole covers in total, most of which run along the main route mentioned above. All covers feature iconic characters from popular anime and some anime even get more covers to show off their leading characters. Anime featured include Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-, and even Neon Genesis Evangelion. A full list, along with a map of all the manhole locations, can be viewed in a table at the end of this post.
Out of the 27, two illuminated covers diverge into a side street. The reason for this is still unknown. Regardless, 27 is a big number and all the anime featured are must-sees. Needless to say, if you are limited on time and not necessarily able to see a whole bunch of anime (some of which have multiple seasons or are continuous projects), you must at least view the incredible art that is their manhole covers. Out of all of them, there are five covers that I think are incredibly well designed. These are:
Illuminated Manhole Cover Nos. 3, 17, 22, 28
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
Okay fine, I must confess that this is somewhat of a cheat entry as there are four covers listed… but they are just so good! The Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin illuminated manhole covers are so abundant because the cast of characters is vast and incredibly diverse. The Gundam Suit itself, through to Gihren and Garma Zabi, Mirai Yashima, and even the unforgettable Sayla Mass and Bright Noa, among others, make an appearance. The anime itself is a recent adaptation of the Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin volumes V to VII. It is an Original Video Animation (OVA – made specifically for home video formats) and faithfully mimics the original Gundam anime aesthetic.
Illuminated Manhole Cover No. 4
The Five Star Stories
The Five Star Stories is an anime film I was only recently made aware of. It originally premiered in Japan in 1989 and received a DVD release in 2002. The English dub came much later when ADV Films released The Five Star Stories in March 2005. The film is a 66-minute-long adaptation of the first arc of the manga of the same name. The movie itself is not all-encompassing and truly only acts as a teaser for the rest of the manga series. While it perfectly explains what Fatimas (mandatory AI co-pilots of Mortar Headds), and other in-universe jargon is, the true beauty of The Five Star Stories lie within the artwork and perfect adaptation.
Illuminated Manhole Cover No. 7
Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!
I like silly comedies and stories that frankly go nowhere. The reason for this is because creators and producers steer so clear from the “slice of life” genre that we hardly ever see. While researching upcoming Funimation projects, I discovered Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, and I simply had to see what it was all about. Needless to say, I ended up watching all available episodes at the time (there were only four), and have decided to hold off until the series is finished – so I can binge the rest. If you are interested, the series follows second-year student Hana Uzaki as she tries her darndest to get third-year Shinichi Sakurai out of his shell. It is a cutesy story that goes in all sorts of wacky ways as soon as the rest of the cast becomes involved in their everyday plans. I particularly like how all the misunderstandings and assumptions heavily contradict the actual lessons the show tries to teach its viewers. The illuminated Manhole cover is that of Uzaki-chan herself.
Illuminated Manhole Cover No. 11
Slayers is by far the most underrated gem on this list… sort of. While it is technically regarded as one of the more popular anime of the 90s amongst anime forums and touted as the most popular 90s anime by The Anime Encyclopaedia, it is not a title you would usually read about or hear of whenever the subject of anime is broached. Those titles usually go to Neon Genesis, Akira, and the like. With that said, Slayers is nevertheless an incredible multiple-season spanning tale about a seemingly immortal sorceress named Lina Inverse; and her friends who travel the world. Along the way they fight bandits, triumph over evil wizards, and even take part in a few simple fetch quests. There are five Slayers series, each of which acts as both a continuation and also as a standalone. Lina starts her journey off in Slayers (1995) as a fifteen-year-old warrior princess who steals from bandits; and is seen throughout her adventures up until Slayers EVOLUTION-R (2009), where she goes up against her most powerful adversary yet as an 18-year-old renowned sorceress. It must be noted that only the first two series were ever translated fully.
Illuminated Manhole Cover No. 15
Sword Art Online
It is only natural to go on about a supposed “underrated gem” only to carry on and on about one of the most mainstream anime still in production today, but that is just how it is! Honestly though, Sword Art Online needs no introduction. It is a multiple-season, award-winning anime adaptation of a series of light novels of the same name, and is all about virtual worlds and epic sword and gunfights. The anime is currently in its third season with another spin-off series airing alongside it. Sword Art Online has English translations airing very close to its original Japanese air dates and also boasts multiple video games and specials. I am admittedly not as caught up with the series as I would like, but the first two seasons are spectacular in both Japanese and English. I also quite liked one of the games that were released a little while ago, although I would not base my opinion on the anime by looking at the game alone.
Whether you are one of the “Manholers” mentioned above or just a patron of the Japanese animated arts, chances are you will find these Illuminated manhole covers quite fascinating. I know I do! The added beauty of these is that they can be programmed to display pretty much anything, which essentially future proofs them. We have embedded a video for your convenience, which showcases all Illuminated manhole covers in clear detail.
Illuminated manhole covers & Map
1: A Certain Magical Index
2: Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-
3, 17, 22, 28: Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
4: The Five Star Stories
5, 13: Anime Tourism Association mascot Junrei-chan
6: Bungo Stray Dogs
7: Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out
8, 23: Yamato Takeru
9: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
10: Lucky Star
12: Date A Live
15: Sword Art Online
16: Full Metal Panic
18: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
19: Neon Genesis Evangelion
20: Record of Lodoss War
21: Sgt. Frog
24: Spice and Wolf
25: KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World
26: Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World-
27: The Hero Is Overpowered but Overly Cautious