A Summary of Game Progress – Characters and Portraits

This blog exists because of our RPG Maker VX Ace Project, The Lotus War, but besides for posting some images of recent artwork, the game itself has kind of taken a backseat in the blog. Not because work has halted, but because so much has been covered in past posts. For example, older posts might’ve covered product reviews or character introductions – you might notice, though, that the products that we use in game creation are limited, and the main cast has pretty much been introduced. Similarly, custom scripts that we’ve utilized have been addressed in past posts, as well as some of the custom tilesets that will appear. But with a goal of having a demo available by next month (we’ll see how that goes), perhaps it’s time to recap some of our development progress. Today, I’ll start with something already familiar: the art. Expect, though, to see samples of cut scenes, the opening credits, and new views of our map coming soon.

Of course, we have the main cast fully assembled. You may remember from earlier posts that the artwork hasn’t always been up to snuff. Fortunately, with practice, I was able to create a team of which I’m proud:

wpid-1149067_588924531160537_1382445057_n.pngTaya-BlushArinnel-Normal

Axel-NormalAuhn-Normal elf guy normalbron

 

We also have several of the secondary cast fleshed out:

Axel3-NormalAnders-NormalSteff-NormalKai2-Normal

 

And you might notice that the armor is a little more unified these days – although still varying from character to character. This was done to give it more of a military feel.

Some of the major bosses were also completed:

Galen-NormalshaneThe Bird-NormalThe Chief - Normal

 

Battlers have also been important, which we’ve been fortunate enough to obtain for customization through Holder:

ren-battler auhn-battler kai-battler galen-attack bron-battler taya-shot

 

This is all a big deal to me because it has truly come a long way. Some past examples were rough:

wpid-hero-template.png kai jealousimagewpid-taya.png

 

taya-old-shotwpid-arinnel.pngwpid-portrait_taya.png

In the past, you might notice, the characters looked a bit flat.There was little dimension due to my lack of comfort with MangaStudio. My skill has vastly improved – and I also discovered new nifty tricks (the most revolutionary being “export in dimensions” rather than “export in pixels” – for Photoshop, it makes such a huge difference!). I’ve also grown in comfort using Photoshop, and discovered a nifty tool in GraphicsGale for pixel art. Not to mention my ability with the Wacom Bamboo Splash has increased dramatically.

In addition to that, I’ve created what will become the basis of at least part of the opening cinematic:

opening 1

Of course, given that the characters are my area and I’ve been updating the blog since month 3 or so, any frequent readers are well aware of the advancements in this area. For a game development blog, the greater interest might light in world creation, coding, scripting, and the like. Fortunately, J also has some great progress to report. Unfortunately, we’re spreading this recap out so that each aspect of our game has a moment to shine.

Check back soon for progress in our game music, our opening credits, our opening “cinematic,” and out in-game cut scenes. All of this will hopefully be leading up to a playable demo some time in August.

And please, feel free to leave feedback. Feedback is what we need to fulfill our ultimate goal: creating a great game.

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Manga Review: Dawn of the Arcana (Volumes 1-12)

I used to spend every Saturday afternoon – or any evening/afternoon/day I had free, really – hanging out at Borders, sipping on some milk tea, and reading manga. It started with Sailor Moon, and other classics like Ranma 1/2, Rurouni Kenshin, Neon Genesis Evangelion, of course Dragon Ball Z, Trigun and loads of magic girl stories, like Ceres and Yu Watase’s other gem, Fushigi Yugi. It followed with the boon of manga that came later: several CLAMP works, Nana, and later, some sillier girly ones: Love Com, Monkey High, Otomen (hilarious!), and Skip Beat. But of late – and especially since Borders closed – I’ve felt like truly engaging manga were few and far between. It could be that I’m getting older. Or it could be that the American manga market is getting flooded with Twilight clones like Black Bird. Whatever the case, I turned to DC and Marvel to fill my animated reading needs though on a much sparser basis.

I picked up Toma Rei’s Dawn of the Arcana months ago – probably over a year ago – with low expectations. But I’ve just read volume twelve, and I have to say: it’s reminding me of the feelings – the anticipation and excitement – I had when I was a kid begging my parents to take my to Borders, where I was reading four-five different series at a time. Probably the last manga I felt this way about was Red River.

The Story

Centered on Princess Nakaba of Senan, she was born of an ignoble complexion for her land: red hair. True royalty in the region is viewed as having black hair. But her black-haired mother had run off with a commoner and thus she was born with a look that was not only disrespected, but relentlessly mocked and disgraced – to the point that she was hidden away from the land’s subjects for most of her life. Her only friend, Loki, is a member of another maligned group: the ajin, who are humanoids with animal traits that are enslaved and mistreated by humans.

Senan and its rival kingdom, Belquat, are nearly always in a state of war. To ease tensions, Nakaba is offered in marriage to Prince Caesar. In a classic tsundere style, Caesar initially is immature and taunts her, but the two soon fall in love. His father, the king of Belquat, though, fears the Arcana of Time – and it’s for that very reason that he wiped out her race, leaving her the lone survivor. Tension rises when he discovers her heritage.

Initially, it felt like standard fair to me. Girl marries jerk, eventually falls in love, but her best friends loves her and has always been kinder… she’s a princess… she’s super special because she’s just the most special person in the world… conflict, yadda yadda… obstacles to overcome………… you know the schtick. But Dawn of the Arcana has pushed expectations for me.

For example, Caesar and Nakaba, at this point, are only a prince and princess in Belquat – still under the rule of his antagonistic parents. Senan, on the other hand, is controlled by Nakaba’s cold and uncaring grandfather, and seems destined to be ruled by her spoiled bully of a cousin. Peace looks like a distant dream. But with each kingdom destroying villages of ajin and threatening destruction of the other, time is running short. The two become uncertain of whether they can wait for time to run its course. So they hatch a plan.

In a twist I never expected, Nakaba leaves Belquat – and by effect, Caesar – and returns home to Senan, where she remarries her cousin, the heir apparent, in a grab for power and with hopes of one day reuniting with Caesar. This was impressive to me because shojo manga so rarely has a girl that displays the strength needed to leave her love, by her own choice, indefinitely. And because of the limits of her power, she doesn’t know exactly when they will reunite. In many ways, it is Nakaba who leads Caesar along, hatching plans and somewhat dubious ones for a young girl, like a political (but of course it’s chaste) marriage, at that.

The story, to me, rates at a fair 5/5 – not in terms of this simplistic overview, but in the details Toma infuses.

The Characters

The protagonists are, of course: Nakaba, her eventual love Caesar, and her best friend/loyal protector/long-time admirer, the ajin Loki. The antagonists would be Caesar’s parents and a majority of Nakaba’s remaining family. The cast is also filled out by some fairly standard shojo characters: the willowy, princess-y girl who despite being everything Nakaba was expected to be is utterly sweet and her best friend; the jealous brother who wants to take the protagonist from her love interest due to spite more than love; the boy lolita; loyal-to-unnatural degrees servants.

What sets apart the cast, for me, are Nakaba’s true strength of mind, her willingness to step into moral grays, and her ability to deny her own wants in pursuit of her ideals. Her longing for true peace is such that she’s willing to sacrifice all else that is important to her. She’s willing to threaten lives to advance her goals. She’s willing to tread in the gray area that shoji manga all too often side-steps. And Toma really makes us see how gray her choices are, as opposed to some lesser manga who try to make minor offenses seems like major moral dilemmas.

The characters, weighed down by some pretty standard archetypes, are saved by the likability of Nakaba, and the balance made between the rest of the cast. I’ll give it a 4/5.

The Art

A bit simplistic, I do find it refreshingly nostalgic – a bit of a callback to the 90s style I grew up with. The people themselves are not superbly drawn, but Toma – or at least one of her assistants – is very good with clothing and scenery. Again, for a mainstream manga that I know probably has some serious deadlines to meet, I’ll give it a 4/5.

Overall

All in all, I’m hooked. It was slow going at first, and I mostly picked it up because the costumes were worth examining. But the story has really progressed in an engaging – even addicting arc. Overall, I’ll give it a solid 4.5/5 stars as a superb shojo manga.

Have you read this series? How do you feel?

Nerd Blasphemy: Why I Don’t Like Firefly

There are some things that nerds just enjoy. Robots, space ships, blasters that go “Pew pew!”, smart people talking over the heads of the “cool” and attractive – or better yet, being the cool and attractive – winning the girl/guy and saving the day. These are things that we just want to see in TV shows. Put all of them together and we will literally give you all of the money (but not literally because that would be just crazy). Firefly, Joss Whedon’s brain baby (yes, that Firefly, just to be sure), gives us a good portion of these. And I just. Don’t. Like it. I tried. And I can’t.

Disclaimer: I know that Firefly is over 10 years old, and the anime listed even older, so this argument has probably been dumped back and forth, but as another friend of mine just proclaimed his deep and abiding affection for this show, I want to lay out exactly why it strikes me as stale.

It’s not a terrible show, granted. The characters are good and the world is built nicely. But let’s put this all into perspective from my point of view. I’ve been watching anime since I was in… 2nd grade, when Dragon Ball Z was airing early Saturday morning. I’ve been watching giant robotic ships blast each other into oblivion near since I can remember. My 90s were filled with scenes like these:

vash spikemelfina

Now look at the scenes below. Any of them seem a little familiar?

Simon_Tam_Glasses

Notice the round, orange sunglasses.

mal-reynolds

The callback to the signature pose of our favorite anime space cowboy/ship captain/bounty hunter/does anything for a meal bad-ass with a mysterious and haunted back story.

river tam

…does this need any explaining?

So the homages to anime are obvious. What about the plot points?

-Several anime are more or less “episodic” like Firefly. Most of the series doesn’t cover a specific arc, but the arc is divided sparsely between episodes before coming to a dramatic conclusion. See: Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star.

-Features anti-heroes with a history as part of some kind of organized violence; men that are soulful and damaged who don’t trust easily but wouldn’t betray a crew mate. Clever in combat and tricky in dealings, even if not part of intelligentsia. Smugglers and bounty hunters with rascally charms just trying to get by. See: Spike Spiegel, Gene Starwind, Lupin III, Vash the Stampede.

-Shepherd Book – a minister formerly of a deadly profession. See: Nicholas D. Wolfwood.

-The “special”/”gifted” girl – usually one that has undergone some kind of experimentation – and an ongoing investigation into her background, i.e. what caused her to be special and pursued by enemies. River Tam was abducted for being so fantastically special that the government just had to have her as their uber special super-soldier. Melfina from Outlaw Star, the character whose pose River Tam borrowed in the picture above, is a special biosynthetic android created by scientists to find the Galactic Leyline. Both girls are hunted by various organizations but are protected by their ragtag crew mates because, as you might’ve guessed, they’re just so damned special. (An even even features River “becoming one with the ship.” While a prank, was this a purposeful allusion to her influences?).

Obviously, it’s not a carbon copy of any particular anime. The plot specifics differ completely and the characters themselves unique. Indeed, the settings differ: where Japanese media depict crime syndicates ruling the roost and weak governments unable to protect their citizens, American media like Firefly often depict a heavy-handed, oppressive government keeping the masses suppressed while “the little guy” squeaks by on petty crime, just trying to get by. Clearly cultural viewpoints have somewhat reversed the respective roles of government/organized crime, and the series reflect that.

I’m just saying that the elements are definitely there. Firefly feels inspired by the anime/manga mediums but is unable to fully convey the essence due to the constraints of its own medium. And considering what a nerd Joss Whedon is – what, a comic book writer and all – and the fact that he makes it a point to include Asian-inspired motifs – I would not be surprised at all if he’d watched anime or read manga himself. Or at least was aware of the space cowboy subgenre at the time of creating Firefly and used that as a launch point to create something that Western audiences haven’t given much of a chance.

In fact, his later project Dollhouse shares a lot of similarity with the fantastic and iconic Ghost in the ShellBuffy The Vampire Slayer, likewise treads in the magical girl genre (and though entirely different series, there’s something to be said for the immature, boy-crazed, popularity-seeking, blond Usagi/Sailor Moon growing into a butt-kicking, sacrifice-making heroine and the basically-fits-the-same-description Buffy Summers. Oh and the appearances of Dawn/Chibiusa. And exploring alternative sexualities through secondary characters).

It’s completely possible that Joss Whedon simply had all these good ideas on his own, independent of the boom of stories that happened to manga in Japan in the 90s. In fact, from what I’ve read, he lamented that the show was viewed merely as a “live-action anime.” But then damn: why would you make it so close?

Honestly, all the shots, the angles, the costume design, set aesthetic – all of it from the pilot onward just reminded me of my well-loved anime. Except that anime is drawn, so it doesn’t need to worry about budgetary constraints or technological limitations. If you want to show a pants-crappingly scary monster, draw one. If you want to show incredible maneuvering by a space ship, animate it. If you want your hero to have super-human fighting ability, well, ok! And so all the callbacks to anime that I noticed in this otherwise original series simply reminded me of all the things it was missing: action, visible and creative enemies, cool visuals. Instead we got Reevers, which until the movie were boring, faceless crews of ships with blood spattered on them – and dry-as-can-be Alliance military (although I enjoyed the plot linking the two).

It’s not that I can’t enjoy Firefly because I think it’s bad or anything. It’s just all-too-familiar when I had a decade of watching action-packed anime before Firefly ever made it on TV. As for fans’ claims that Firefly was… like… the most creative, original sci-fi basically in the history of ever, a lot of them don’t watch anime – because if they did, the themes would be instantly recognizable and familiar. In fact, by the time I got around to watching it, everything Western audiences felt was incredibly original to me felt tired and used. I don’t think anyone born and bred on manga/anime would find Firefly particularly groundbreaking – maybe just cool because it’s live action and Whedon-esque. And to fans that did watch Cowboy Bebop and like to claim that Firefly was “done better”, well – geez: I guess it’s just like how I like Chipotle better than Moe’s and probably always will. Chipotle introduced me to this style of food and set the standard for me. Chipotle also came first. And has better-seasoned chicken. Moe’s will therefore always play second fiddle, despite their provision of wonderful sweet tea and a salsa bar. I’m sure that people who tried Moe’s first might have a similar feeling, just like people who prefer Firefly and think that Cowboy Bebop‘s plot is “simplistic” can be excused for their poor taste due to a lack of proper culturing.

What do you think? Am I being fair to Firefly? Which side of the debate do you take?

Why a Reboot of Sailor Moon is Needed

Many people remember Sailor Moon as unwaveringly and unapologetically ridiculous and girly. And many people would be right.

In the name of the moon, and not S&M- definitely, certainly… I mean… S&M… Sailor Moon… holy cow! did I stumble onto a secret code?!, anyways- I WILL PUNISH YOU!

If, that is, they’re thinking about the anime. See, like many works the anime and the manga differ immensely.

This really terrific manga, which basically on its own revitalized and recreated the magic girl genre, had been reduced from basically a coming-of-age story for girls with a character who progressively matures and tackles difficult, literally world-changing decisions to kind of a platform for goofiness. Yes, while still unabashedly a girly fantasy, the manga also had more dramatic undertones, coupled with plenty of mythological allusions and mature themes. For example, in the later books Mamoru (aka Darien aka Tuxedo Mask) was even wiped from existence by the latest foe and Usagi, stricken with PTSD, couldn’t remember it as anything other than a dream (as he had been traveling to America for college at the time of the incident). Later, she struggled with the idea that staying with him in what was basically the afterlife could endanger the rest of the universe – literally a would-you-save-one-despite-the-many ordeal. Michiru and Haruka, in the manga, had a more complex relationship, too, than even what was presented in the Japanese anime – and were certainly not cousins. Feminine empowerment is highlighted, and so Usagi’s transformation from a careless teen to a responsible leader even more pronounced. Oh, also, Darien/Mamoru is a high-schooler, too, when we first meet him. So that’s way less creepy. (It was always pretty ambiguous in the anime),

One time, after my friends told me that Pokemon was now on Netflix and it was almost embarrassing to watch, I looked up clips of the anime that I so used to enjoy. One of the only ones I could find were of a kiss between Serena and Darien. And it. Was. Awful. “HMMMM… MUWAH MUWAH MUWAH, mmm MMM MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmMMMmmmmMMMMmMMM.” SERIOUSLY?! I WATCHED THAT?!!!! THEY GOT STUCK ON HER BUBBLE GUM?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSI-

Ok. Cool it. It was just a show. A show for kids.

*Deep breath*

Anyways… all this to say, basically, that an anime based on Naoko Takeuchi’s coming-of-age legend of a manga is certainly welcomed.

What do you think?

Character Outfits

Since times immemorial, iconic video game characters have had an outfit – one outfit – you identify them with. Mario and Luigi have blue overalls with oversized hats of red and green, respectively. Donkey Kong has a really phat fur coat and red tie. Link has a green tunic and slouchy, pointed cap.  But the video game, as a medium, has grown. Suddenly, not only can you design and select the gender for Revan in KOTOR (is it still too early for that spoiler?), but find a new robe with better Force conduction (or something) and boom. Your character looks completely different. Countless games allow you to modify the avatar you see onscreen.

Yet even in an age where customization exists, you still have your recognizable icons: Titus and his ridiculous belly-shirt, Yu Narukami in his black and white school boy get-up, Snake with his… eyepatch (although his outfits change).  Even cartoon characters that for generations did not have the same restrictions that video game tech of old have that: Race Bannon with his red, collared shirt; Sailor Moon, Goku, Kenshin, Mugen, Spike, Faye – despite fleeting occurrences when a new outfit plays into a particular point, having a look definitely helps with branding and identification. Also, it gives the fans a basis for cosplay (really, that was a concern of Hideo Kojima that prompted him to say a character’s costume needed to be “more erotic”). For big, branded adventures, being iconic certainly has advantages.

But here’s a problem I’ve been grappling with: our characters go through extreme weather. Ren/Taya/Axel’s hometown is a little desert town with the fortune of being near one of the region’s few oases. It is a dusty, dead, “wild west” kind of place. It’s hot. So Taya’s low-cut, sleeveless, skirted outfit makes sense – even the scarf, as many desert areas include cottony, breezy scarves and shawls so that a person may hide under its shade during the more brutal parts of a day. However, they travel north to Ever Winter – the human population’s wintery capital – for military training at the Academy… and then travel again to the spring-like mild temperature of the elves’ forest home. So should Ren & company keep their short sleeves for the entire trek? Maybe I should throw a jacket on ‘em – though that would, cover some of Taya’s… um… assets.

taya2

Sorry, Otaku Judge.

I think we should. Although Justin rightly points out that keeping them in one outfit follows the tradition of iconic RPGs since the conception of the genre.

What do you think?

Throw Back Thursdays: An Ode to Toonami

Cartoon Network’s Toonami block of action cartoons and anime was by no means my first exposure to anime, but it definitely had the biggest impression. Before that, I’d really only seen Dragon Ball Z on Saturday mornings on a different station, but I didn’t wake up early enough to see any others.

In fact, because Dragon Ball Z was placed so late in Toonami’s two-hour run, it meant I sat through other shows that I’m not sure I would’ve given a shot (like Sailor Moon. Which I came to love. But at first, it was way too girly – too big a risk factor for my brothers to make fun of me. Good thing it was on between Robotech and Dragon Ball Z).

Yes, Toonami steered me wrong with some shows: Beast Wars was a little too… er… young for me at that point. Not to mention, I’ve never really cared for cartoons done in CGI. ReBoot definitely wasn’t my cup of tea (though I know some people, like Justin, really enjoyed the second season), and they tried to parlay Power Puff Girls and Samurai Jack into the mix (perfectly fine cartoons, but I wanted anime, dammit!). Honestly, though, half the cool stuff I know is largely because of Toonami’s influence: Robotech, Ronin Warriors, basicalled all Gundam series, Tenchi Muyo!, Outlaw Star, Big O, Ruroni Kenshin – heck, even Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell – all of them reached me first through Toonami. The ones that didn’t (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Trigun) were introduced to me by people whose first exposure to anime was Toonami.

In fact, if I’d never watched Sailor Moon on Toonami, I never would’ve stumbled upon the manga at my local Barnes & Noble. I never would’ve sat in Borders (remember Borders?) for hours, reading Sailor Moon, then filling my time reading anything else I could get my hands on. I discovered some real gems waiting for the latest releases of whatever manga I was currently hooked on (Ranma ½, Crimson Hero, Clover, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Alice 19th, Fushigi Yuugi…basically, everything else I’ve ever read until I learned to start searching), all because I was waiting for Sailor Moon or Saint Tail or something similarly innocuous (hey! I was 12!).

I’d always liked to draw, but Toonami opened up a whole new world of style to me, and I can’t deny: it has really, heavily influenced how I draw and what I create even down to this day.

So here’s to you, Toonami. Here’s to you, Moltar and Zordak and T.O.M. and eventually, Adult Swim. Without you, I’d still be a nerd. But not the kind that would eventually become ironically cool.

Playing Around with a New Style

kazue

I’ve been thinking of styling future games a bit more raw-feeling – a little less in a clear-cut, house anime style, and a bit more in my own.

A pencil artist at heart, I have never really tried drawing using the tones I intend to color with as outlines. I’m not completely sure about the finished product, but there’s a lot of time for changing styles for the next game. Of course I couldn’t change mid-project.

What do you think of the above sample?

Re-Drawn

We’ve been away for a while, but that doesn’t meant that work on the game has ceased (it does mean that we’ve joined a gym, though -___-). I’ve mentioned before that I thought that some of our early characters needed a re-working. The first to receive such treatment was our own MC Ren, if you recall.

Player1-Normalwpid-1149067_588924531160537_1382445057_n.png

 

I mean, he’s just immensely better – though I tried to keep the spirit of him the same. But my experience with MangaStudio and my greater practice drawing certainly helped.

Taya was similarly redesigned.

wpid-taya.png Taya-Normal

 

And we won’t even get into Arinnel.

The next candidates, though, were certainly Axel and Kai. Let’s take a look at them as you currently know them:

Axel-Normal kai normal

 

Now, even between the two of them you can start to notice a difference of quality. I don’t think I had a standard pen nib size selected yet, so Axel’s lines are a lot thicker than Kai’s. I didn’t have the color blend too down as well when I drew Axel. I overall just wasn’t as practiced – though I gotta say, that’s a killer scarf that Kai is sporting.

A few other things is that I did really individualize each character’s clothing. But I thought more about it, and as soldiers in a military organization, there needs to be some continuity.

Anders-Normal

 

I mean, Rinnek’s armor is somewhat similar to Ren’s, and Anders’ is a pretty standard style I intend to use as a template for future designs.

In addition to that, when I first built my idea of this game while talking to Justin, I had in mind that many of the humans would be from the desert, so would have darker complexions (see Taya and Rinnek). While Kai could be from the cold mountainy areas, so a pale complexion makes sense, Axel was supposed to be from the same desert town. He didn’t really fit that aesthetic, though. You see, Justin started creating sprites before I was drawing these characters, and, being blond himself and having grown up around a lot of blonds, he just started – without really thinking about it – inserting a bunch of blondies. Probably also because that would make Ren stand out all the more. So anyways, after some thought and conversation, we agreed to try and have more definite looks for each regional group.

I thus bring to you, the revised Kai and Axel:

redraw

 

Granted, you can still see a bit of a line-size difference, but these are not official, resized and edited copies yet. In fact, the new Axel has not even been completed highlighted/shaded yet (only his skin thus far), but I think a more unified work among the soldiers is a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, there will be armored humans, not part of the military, that may have different armor styles, including leather armor (which we’ve decided to reserve for elves or non-military humans).

danielle justinian

For example, mine and Justin’s little cameo avatars are part of a little human civilization on the outskirts of Genos, and have split from the main human government. Therefore, they, while still fighters, do not fight for the government and are therefore not issued solider’s armor.

What do you think of the New Axel and Kai? How do you like Axel’s rather complete re-design? How do you feel about trying to have more of a standard in armor?

 

Merits of Manga Art

I’ve never really thought of manga art as a specific subset of style, probably because it’s so varied in style itself. From girly romance manga to butt-kicking shonen to underground comics, in terms of scope and availability in Japan, the world of manga is less like its American counter-part and more like the variety of written novels we have around us. One of my (non-manga-reading) friends, however, recently told me about a conversation she had with another (manga-reading) friend. While one (who reads shojo manga like Ouran High Host Club) believes that manga can be truly beautiful, the other claimed she couldn’t imagine manga art that would take her breath away – although she’s seen American comics that can.

I mean, honestly, we have some true greats in the mainstream American medium, I’ll be the first to admit:

http://latimesherocomplex.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/trinitywar_triple_cover_colorfinal-1.jpg

I can see how the mainstream manga selection may compare poorly (ok, I know the below is anime, but I couldn’t find a comparable color manga image):

Not to pick on the Host Club or anything…

Not to pick on the Host Club or anything….

But judging all manga by Kitchen Princess or Tokyo Mew Mew is like judging all American novels by Twilight or Hunger Games (yes, I said it: Hunger Games. I mean, premise=well and good. Writing=NOT Hemingway, clearly).

One of the problems with the current mode of mainstream manga art that my friend had is that they all look alike. I can’t really disagree on that.

https://i0.wp.com/fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/f/2013/281/2/3/kitchen_princess_by_dreamlandcastle-d6ppd1o.jpg

And they’re all pretty simple:

https://i1.wp.com/a.mpcdn.net/manga/p/13449/324079/21.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/i20.mangareader.net/ranma-12/2/ranma-12-2312193.jpg

Yes, for fairness’ sake, I’ll even list my beloved Ranma 1/2

Notice the lack of shading, lighting, texture, etc. Now, that’s not to say that the selections I’ve highlighted never feature detailed illustrations – but why spend time detailing pictures when that’s just not what the kids are into these days? All they really want are drawings that illustrate their fantasies, be it saving the world while scoring that girl of your dreams, becoming an actress while scoring that boy of your dreams, or being a master martial artist while being the boy AND girl of everyone’s dreams.

For example:

I really like how this scene from Crimson Hero illustrates the character’s clothing. The trees and buildings are detailed and look good (and are actually depicted in the background). Prince of Tennis, similarly, has some shading and really excellent detail for such simple work. But, though well drawn, the hands, faces, and even the hair in Crimson Hero lack interesting shading and texture.

So I do see my friend’s point that it seems as though all manga art is simplistic, quickly drawn, and churned out quicker than a McDonald’s hamburger for the pleasure of the masses. It doesn’t help that really, a person doesn’t even need to draw all that well to become a published manga author. Passable is fine. Anatomical impossibilities are accepted – after all, they have DEADLINES to meet! They can’t be bothered to draw joints in place!

I love you, Sailor Moon, and you’re basically what taught me to draw. But come on! With a head that big and that downwardly-tilted, she would not be standing!

But that’s overlooking a vast array of manga that either A) We don’t receive here in America, B) We receive but that haven’t entered the mainstream, or C) Have read and you’re predicting, right now, some of the works I will point out.

Vagabond:

Claymore:

Saiyuki:

Shamo:

Homunculus (which is a totally freaky manga, by the way):

Battle Angel Alita:

Really, anything by Ryoichi Ikegami:

 

But I admit, I read (or have read) regularly approximately none of the ones that I know have fantastic art as listed above. One reason I find is that the art often overshadows the story. Perhaps more so for me and others who, like me, draw and therefore like to examine art – but the detail is overwhelming. I come to view the manga more as art books past a certain point.

With manga depicting simple figures in basic backgrounds, or even artists whose styles I really enjoy (such as CLAMP or Yuu Watase) despite them not being the most detailed/realistic, I feel overall more immersed in the world. I begin to skim the images and focus on the basics: the dialog, emotions (helpful due to the exaggerated expressions) and story – the goal of most youth-aimed manga. This is the same benefit Barefoot Gen reaped with its clear, direct images.

While the American Maus dealt with similar issues, and has been noted for its “simple style,” I feel that overall it’s more cluttered and therefore less easy to digest.

Simple art, in this case, thus serves a two-fold purpose: it is quicker to produce – a great benefit for serials – and it is easier to identify with – a great benefit for stories appealing to youthful fantasies or capturing imagination to immerse people in a really personal tale. Less detailed images seem to allow our imaginations to fill in more gaps, thus enabling us to interact more personally with those stories than others. It’s similar to how Young Adult novels use a sparse narrative voice and have blank-slate protagonists. It’s really a more developed reader that appreciates a strong narrator such as Nick Caraway – and a great story helps, too. Manga with more striking art, therefore, needs a more striking story… or it would be just too easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of the piece and not really think about what is said.

In my own works, I try to have a balance. Part of that is because I’m simply not an Ikegami – I don’t have the skill, or patience, to be too detailed.

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On the other hand, I hope that it will not be too simplistic.

What do you think? Do you prefer manga for the art? Do you like a balance? Who are some of your favorite manga-ka?