This post was written a while ago, but I didn’t publish it because I thought something was missing. I still don’t know what to add, but it’d been sitting around for too long, and I’ve put too much effort into it for me to just leave it, so here it is.
I’ve been planning to write a series of posts about various things that artists do for a while now, and I think that just can’t be done without first looking at the various ways that Japanese 2d art gets published, and how each method affects the styles.
For this post, I will feature a typical anime-based artist, manga-based artist, novel-based artist, magazine-based artist, visual novel-based artist, and internet-based artist. This will be focusing mostly on character.
There are 2 and only 2 sources of anime art. The first is a frame taken from the show itself, and the second is through promotional art (which is usually posed).To be anime art, the drawings must come directly from the animation studio (or at least one of its staff).
Making an anime is just like making anything else, really. Someone comes up with an idea, and the idea is broken down into smaller pieces with people who may or may not care about it doing the grunt work (which is the process of drawing the frames). Because so many people are drawing for a single series at any one time, there are often significant differences in quality from image to image. The person who designs the characters usually have little to none involvement with the actual production, though some animes (such as Sola) use artists successful in other mediums as a form of promotion. However, a person should never mistake the original character designer for the person who converts the design to something that can be easily drawn in the typical anime style.
Because an anime involves so much movement and such things, the typical animator will be pretty good good at drawing the human body in various ages and perspectives, especially when it comes to movement. The colors used are rarely complicated and the lines are usually very solid, with the purpose being to be able to create the most complete image with the least amount of work.
Usually, because of the lack of funds, affection, artistic beliefs, (or sometimes understanding), much of the style is lost in translation in anime adaptions. While that’s just fine in animes like Clannad, in most cases it pains me greatly. What’s even worse is when the animation studio releases promotional art with characters doing things that they wouldn’t possibly have done originally, it’s just…ugh.
When it comes to original anime, however, there is a trend for simpler (and more humane looking) people (animes like Code Geass with mangaka character designers do not count). I pay less attention to them because while they’re usually better in terms of animation in the video, I usually look at still images so they don’t help. Possible the sole exception is Makoto Shinkai’s work, where the backgrounds are pure eye candy. However, as I said, this is a post that focuses on characters, so I’ll leave that for another day.
In manga, the focus is on the story. Yes, there are occasions where a popular illustrator will draw manga (Tinkle did it, Aoi Nanase did it, Carnelian did it, etc etc etc), HOWEVER, when they do their own stories the manga usually don’t get anywhere. I say the cause is the fact that they draw because they can’t write in the first place, and that they can’t use the manga style properly (series like Hibiki no maou, where the artist is not writing the story, do not count).
The characteristics of manga art is the fact that it’s based on traditional tools: ink and tones. This gives the art a considerably different effect and saves it from what I call the blank line syndrome, where all the lines are the same thickness and has little to no effect. Because of the way that it is, the mangaka will try to get the most from every line, and will not put the focus on character faces, unlike all the rest of the artists within this post. Because the vast majority of manga is black and white, they will also often have a strong sense of light and shadow.There is often a great emphasis on background art (unless the artist is doing a gag manga or simply isn’t skilled enough, and I ignore them as artists in both cases).
The general feeling of colored manga pages and promotional anime art isn’t that different. They’re both there to showcase the characters and get attention. That said, mangaka tend to color (also) with traditional materials such as ink and markers (as opposed to anime, which is almost all digital now). Of course, the quality and the amount of love for the characters are on completely different levels, especially with the artists who do more than simply fill in the blank spaces with color and actually utilize the colors to their advantage.
The circles involved with magazine spreads and VNs (well, usually eroges) are closely related, so I’ll talk about them together. This connection starts from the distribution methods itself. Game art is distributed through the game itself and the promotional art (magazine spreads, posters, etc). What I call magazine art, on the other hand, are original characters by artists created for the sole purpose of showing up in the magazine. Almost always, they will feature cute girls (and from there we fall the trap of generic moe, something that isn’t exactly rare in other mediums either). There are also magazines that cater to girls, but I’ll leave that for another time. The brands that focus on magazine art and game promotion, such as Dengki hime and Dengki moeou, are closely related business wise and cater to the same audience, making it easy for artists to work on both sides. This is furthered by the fact that in both instances the artworks are completely 2d and completely digital. There are few successful eroge artists who have never done a magazine spread, and vice versa.
In VNs, the artist spends a LOT of their time drawing characters (girls) directly facing the reader/player (hmm…it feels kind of odd because neither titles feel correct, Reikon talked about this too). When event CGs appear, there is also an overwhelming focus on the character (girl’s) faces, and same goes for promotional art. Unlike anime, where there are plenty chances for the artists to draw various poses and angles, this face focus in eroge will often lead to an artist who can draw nothing else but young girls in certain static poses. There are usually many flaws even within that small category, as more often than not the artist will not have a firm grasp on physics and the effects of gravity, or even anatomy. They will instead add incredible amounts of detail, outlining each and every fold of the fabric and strand of hair (the above image is a prime example of that). Yes, it looks great, but I feel tired trying to comprehend just how many lines are in front of me. Some of them also have a hard time drawing movement and proper anatomy, which is kind of ironic.
Because they spend so much of their time drawing girls from the hips up, your average VN artist will have a hard time drawing the male half of the populations, back grounds, everyday objects, animals, special effects, etc, etc. And most of the time, that won’t matter because another artist will handle it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t eroge artists who can draw guys and backgrounds. There are quite a few, such as Ueda Ryou and Tony Taka (especially Ueda Ryou, who draws Makoto Shinkai level backgrounds). Although when it comes to overall skills in digital art, I’ll lean towards RPG artists (but those often involve 3d graphics, something which I won’t get into).
One thing that always bothers me about VN art is the fact that we don’t know exactly how much work an artist is putting in or who is drawing what. For instance, much of Takeuchi Takashi‘s art is colored by Koyama Hirokazu. Many people will know that Takeuchi Takashi was the one behind Tsukihime and Fate/Stay night, but Koyama Hirokazu was virtually unknown until it was announced that he would be doing the art for Type-Moon’s next game. There are other things, such as the fact that almost none of the art for the Ef series was drawn by Naru Nanao herself, despite her being the character designer. And many artists who work in the same company has artwork that looks exactly the same to me.
Can you tell that the left and right images are drawn by different artists? I can’t. Everything, from eye shape to body structure to coloring style is the same. This is good because a VN company want the same character to look the same all the time. This is bad because the art styles just are as generic as boiled water (and some companies insist on employing artists that I think are absolutely horrendous for reasons unknown to me, but I shouldn’t push my tastes on to other people). There is also sadly a trend for artists to deteriorate in quality over time, such as the case with yukiusagi (before and after), though that happens in all mediums and sometimes has to do with my changing tastes more than anything else.
For the curious, the artists are: (row1: Amane Sou, Yuki Usagi) (row2: Inagaki Miiko and Mitha) (row3: Muririn and Kobuichi) (row4: Nanao naru, Kokonobi)
Anyway, there are many who DO break away from the mold, such as Ueda Ryou, the artist of the above image. However, I’d say that he’s less of a VN artist and more of a light novel artist.
Light novels AKA short novels with pictures, contain some of the best artworks in Japan. Unlike any that I’ve mentioned before, people who start with and focus on light novels have close relationships with the writers while focusing on developing their own styles. They draw everything themselves and avoiding the generic feeling of many commercial products (stemming from having an entire group of artists drawing the same thing). The best are like manga artists, good with lines from monochrome insert art, and better at color with covers and color pages (at the beginning of many light novels there is a 2 page colored spread, and covers are almost always in color).
Another thing to note is that light novel artists use many different tools and styles for their creations. That ranges from Ueda Ryou’s solid colors on the computer, to Amano Tooko‘s soft water like colors. This is particularly refreshing when you’ve been looking at too many CGs and they all look alike.
However, the one group that I dislike with a passion are generic eroge artists turned to light novels. Case and point: Seitokai no Ichizon.
Ugly guy, bad anatomy, awful sense of fashion, absolute inability to draw backgrounds, cheap coloring style, static poses, line uniformity, etc etc etc. None of this would not affect an artist working on an eroge negatively, in fact, I thought Inugami Kira’s designs for Supreme Candy were adorable. However this style just isn’t fit for drawing for a light novel, no matter how ridiculous the story was (ridiculous in a good way, I thought that the anime was entertaining).
Last but no least, we have the internet/doujin based artist, which is my favorite group of all. They have no boundaries, and they draw just for the hell of it, because it’s what they love to do. They aren’t bound by contracts (with game or novel companies), and their work often isn’t as polished looking as the others in this post.
This is also the birthplace of fanart and the doujin culture, which subsequently strongly affects the production of original stories (some, like touhou, more than others). The modes of distribution are mostly through blogs and art sites such as Pixiv and Deviantart, with some artists being willing enough to release doujins on paper, and some lucky ones being popular enough to actually make money off of the doujins. This culture is also where the greatest variations of artists exist, with works coming from everyone from professional artists (such as Kagome, of the image above) to people with their everyday jobs drawing in their spare time (such as U10). Their differences can also be seen through their mediums and techniques. There is much more experimentation outside the confines of a writer, a director, a job, which can be seen in artists such as Itou Noizi.
There’s quite a difference in feeling, isn’t there?
Most of the internet artists that I like place less emphasis on completion, but hey, completion is overrated, and I value the atmosphere of the drawing over whether all the lines connect or not. Of course, that also means there’s more not-so-great art to sift through, but the rewards are great. I love just spending an afternoon going on pixiv, clicking on one link after another and seeing what interesting things pop up.
Each medium has their own benefits, and each has their own faults, but what doesn’t change is the fact that they all have extremely talented people contributing to this ever-growing culture. I hope that this post was of use to you (or maybe introduced you to an artist that you really liked?). If you feel like there’s an artist that you absolutely love and that everyone need to know about, feel free to share with the world! Of course, that also includes illustrations that you create yourself.