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How Acura Reached New Peaks with ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ Anime


Acura’s Meliza Humphrey on promoting the new Integra Type S with another series of turbocharged anime, racing at Pike’s Peak, an experiential activation at the Long Beach Grand Prix and manga-inspired OOH, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

How Acura Reached New Peaks with ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ Anime

After the success of its action-packed first season of ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ - which has just been recognised with a Gold Effie and Grand Effie Contender - Acura partnered again with MullenLowe LA and The Line Animation to launch the new Integra Type S with a second series of the anime. As well as the series, which is available to watch on YouTube, the campaign also involves some vibrant manga and anime-inspired OOH that is reminiscent of ‘80s and ‘90s animated favourites, like ‘Akira’, ‘Cowboy Bebop’ and others.

Not only that, but Acura and MullenLowe also created an experiential activation at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where Uncle Noboru’s garage from the series came to life (with some easter eggs to boot). And topping it all off, on June 25th, racing driver Loni Unser - a fourth-generation member of the legendary Unser family - will compete in the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb event in the Type S, replicating Chiaki’s story in the anime series.

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Acura Marketing’s senior manager Meliza Humphrey to discuss the success of the first season of ‘Chiaki’s Journey’, how this new series and campaign evolves from that, and how all the teams involved brought Acura’s ‘Precision Crafted Performance’ mantra to life.

LBB> So, Chiaki and Uncle Noboru are back for a second season! What was the reaction to series one and how does this campaign build from it?

Meliza> Chiaki is back! The first season of ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ celebrated the launch of Acura’s all-new Type S lineup of performance vehicles and features characters that represent the challenger spirit of the Acura brand and our unrelenting passion for performance. With Chiaki’s Journey, Acura has combined anime with racing to create a fun and adventurous story that connects with a new generation of buyers. The response from fans over season one was overwhelming, asking Acura for more episodes, and for Chiaki’s Journey to be made into a television series.

The only way to follow up the first season of our original anime series was to go bolder and more emotional. Season two is dedicated to introducing the 2024 Integra Type S and taking viewers on Chiaki’s cathartic journey up the treacherous Pike’s Peak summit. Season two tells a deeper story surrounding our hero, Chiaki, her Uncle Noboru, and how the racing legacy of Chiaki’s father inspired her challenging spirit.  

LBB> Do you have any data you can share about the first series?

Meliza> Since its launch, Chiaki’s Journey has been successful in connecting Acura with next-generation premium car buyers, becoming one of the brand’s most successful marketing campaigns ever. Racking up nearly 280 million views thus far, season one also has been successful in lifting brand consideration metrics and helping boost TLX Type S and MDX Type S sales. Season two is off to a great start and has been very well received. 

LBB> Are you manga/anime fans yourselves? What films, books or series inspired ‘Chiaki’s Journey’?

Meliza> As a premium Japanese automaker with challenger roots, we also have a cultural connection to anime as a storytelling technique and we are seeing the series resonate with young, new buyers who we want to bring into Acura. We are huge anime/manga fans and grew up with some of the most legendary titles, including ‘Initial D’, ‘Akira’, ‘Cowboy Bebop’ and ‘Redline’, with each of these inspiring ‘Chiaki’s Journey’. Creatively, we incorporated the hand-drawn illustration style these and other shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s utilised. We wanted ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ to have an authentic feel that would make it stand out from other animation styles, while staying as true to the tenets of anime as we possibly could. Our animated film was done in colour, but as with manga, any printed assets were done in black-and-white, in traditional fashion.

LBB> You worked with The Line Animation again on this series - what were your initial discussions like for these new episodes? How long was the animation process? 

Meliza> With animation, you can create just about anything, so you can imagine some of the outside-the-box ideas that were discussed when we began ideating season two. One important focus was ensuring that Chiaki wasn’t going to be challenging another physical opponent. We wanted to show her growth from season one, through a storyline where she was driven by her emotional struggle to ultimately finish what her father Ichiro started. To do so, we worked closely with The Line to strategically build the story of Ichiro and his racing legacy – specifically his Pike’s Peak endeavour with his RealTime Racing Integra Type R from the 1990s that pays homage to Integra’s strong racing history. We wanted to ensure a period-correct look here, with added film grain and colour grading that really takes you back to the ’90s. From start to finish, including initial script writing, character development, storyboards, animation, music design and sound mix, ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ season two was a full year in the making.

LBB> This year, the campaign is focused on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb - an event in which driver Loni Unser will be representing Acura. What went into choosing this event and Loni as the driver? 

Meliza> Acura has a deeply rooted connection to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and as motorsports are a critical expression of Acura’s commitment to ‘Precision Crafted Performance’, our Pikes Peak efforts are a pure expression of this ethos. 2023 will be Acura’s 13th consecutive year competing in the iconic hill climb, with our team amassing an impressive 12 first-place finishes, 26 podiums and multiple course records. 

We are thrilled for Loni Unser to challenge the Pikes Peak course in the 2023 Integra Type S. With Loni’s deep connections to Pikes Peak and Acura’s long-standing connection to this event, she was an obvious choice for us. Not only did Loni finish an impressive 2nd in her division at Pikes Peak in 2022, but she is also part of the first family to race in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a tradition that began in 1926 with Louis and Joe Unser. Through three generations of Unser racers, the overall crown, King of the Mountain, has been earned twenty-six times by the Unser family. 

LBB> The blue flower is a recurring image in the series - what does this symbolise? What other imagery was key to this campaign?

Meliza> Chiaki blows the petals off the nemophila flower, which symbolises her struggle with control of the vehicle. During the flashback in episode two of season two, Ichiro Chiaki’s father also blows the petals off, however, in the final episode, as Chiaki learns to ‘bend with the wind’, the flower stays intact, meaning that she succeeded where her father did not. The season concludes with the nemophila flower sitting in a vase next to a letter from her father as a suspicious silhouette appears in the background, meant to make us wonder... where has Ichiro been all this time? 

The name of the nemophila flower also has another significance, it’s also the name of the all-female Japanese band whose track, ‘Raitei’, is the soundtrack for both seasons of ‘Chiaki’s Journey’.

Also, in episode one of the second season, Chiaki is racing in an Integra 6MT and by showcasing her heel-toe shifting technique, we demonstrate that the car is a return to the manual transmission for Acura. 

LBB> Last year’s OOH content was in a black and white manga style - but this year, the OOH and print content uses bright colours. What inspired this new stylistic direction? Who did you work with to create these bold poster designs?

Meliza> Our overall mantra has been to stay as authentic to anime and manga as possible. So naturally, all the printed design work to promote season one of the series had to be done with black and white illustrations. This year, like the anime series itself, we wanted to build on what we had already created and take it to the next level. This meant pushing the design work by going in the exact opposite direction. We used bold vibrant colours, iconic silhouettes and red line art to bring the sophisticated new look to life. 

For season two, we also created our own bespoke katakana [a simplified Japanese writing system] typeface from scratch intended to have a sense of speed. With our animation partner, The Line, and a manga illustrator Ali, we created over 100 different black-and-white illustrations that were then inverted into our new graphic look for season two. At the end of the day, we produced over 100 unique out-of-home posters and billboards and an 80-page manga book that mirrors the full story from season two.  

LBB> You also had an experiential activation at the Long Beach Grand Prix – what could spectators interact with and see here? And what were some of the challenges you faced when organising this aspect of the campaign?

Meliza> At the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, we built an activation called the ‘Type S Garage’, where we brought Uncle Noboru’s garage from Chiaki’s Journey to life. Spectators could walk through the physical space, peeking inside the anime-wrapped Integra Type S from the series – the same Integra that will soon be making its motorsports debut at Pike’s Peak. Additionally, racegoers could see many of the backgrounds from the anime series brought to life, including Noboru’s Trophy Case and Chiaki’s Vision Board. 

The biggest challenge with the ‘Type S Garage’ experience was deciding which easter eggs from the series would make the biggest impact in a physical space - like the nemophila flower that’s a recurrent theme in season two, and Chiaki’s polaroid. We partnered with expert experiential designers and a film set designer to make the scene as true-to-the-series as possible, and so the space served as a working film set to create social media content featuring exact match-cuts from the anime series to reality.

LBB> You worked with MullenLowe on the creative for this campaign - how has your relationship with them developed during these Chiaki projects?

Meliza> This project has been so much fun to create and has brought all of those working together much joy, including our MullenLowe creative team who Acura has a strong relationship with. What we value in a creative partner is their continued passion for the brand, dedication and new thinking they bring to the table – something MullenLowe’s team brought to ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ in both seasons one and two. They have creatively integrated Acura’s ‘Precision Crafted Performance’ brand DNA into the campaign as the underlining messaging throughout both seasons and we are excited to see what comes next for the series. 

LBB> What was the most fulfilling part of creating this project for you? And equally, what posed the most significant challenge? How did you overcome it? 

Meliza> What has been most fulfilling about ‘Chiaki’s Journey’ is creating something truly authentic to the Acura brand with a storyline that came so naturally. The series highlights exactly who Acura is - independent thinkers, challengers, with a passion for driving and having fun behind the wheel. When we see the reaction by fans and viewers, and now our Effie Award, it solidifies this risk that we took in doing something completely unique to introduce our Type S lineup of vehicles.

With an animated campaign, it can be challenging to appeal to a mass audience. With ‘Chiaki’s Journey’, we wanted to introduce Acura to a new audience, one with an affinity for entertainment and pop culture and one that aligned with our target audience of next-gen premium buyers and the brand’s core values. We are thrilled with the result and can’t wait to see where Chiaki journeys to next! 

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LBB Editorial, Mon, 05 Jun 2023 15:22:00 GMT