Annotation: Amano

After my annotation of The Dream Hunters, it should be abundantly obvious that I am a huge fan of Yoshitaka Amano’s work. To say that he is my favorite living artist goes without saying, and could possibly be compared to saying the sky is blue, or that Bush is an idiot: all of these statements can be found to be true with only the barest hint of research. Of course, that is neither here nor there, and really only serves as a way to justify just how much I’m going rave about Amano in this annotation.

The biggest irony to me, however, is that no matter how much this paper raves, the essay written by Hiroshi Unno in this book still surpasses it in extremity. He quite literally declares Amano’s work the ultimate blending of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, American and European comics, and traditional japanese manga and ukiyo-e. This is roughly akin to saying that Amano makes the best Amano-esque works, since he’s really the only one currently blending all of those styles. I don’t really understand why Unno bothered. The essay is at the end of a rather large compendium of Amano’s work from the past twenty years: by the point we reach the essay, we already know Amano is fantastic, so why is it necessary to write such a pandering follow-up? Perhaps it’s a cultural difference, but it really did feel like an unneeded ego-stroke to me.

The bright side, of course, is that it is just one essay, and really has no impact on the actual work in the book. The rest of the book is remarkably lacking in anything written — there are titles and basic print information, but even that is in Japanese most of the time (makes it hard for those of us who don’t understand kanji to glean anything more than the date). Of course, this doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of the artwork in any way. Short of trying to be ironic in his titles, it doesn’t really matter what the actual title is, so much as the content of the picture.

All of the works in this book are pieces that he has turned into prints (the subtitle of the book, in fact, is “The Complete Prints of Yoshitaka Amano”). In 1991, he began getting into the field of printmaking, and has been using it as his medium of choice for over a decade. It is interesting to get to see works from different points in his career compared side by side, and really get to see first hand how much his abilities as a printmaker have grown. His earlier works (circa 1991, 1992) are far simpler, using more solid colors and direct lines, while the majority of his 1993-1997 work gets significantly more complex and active, creating more robust worlds and detailed costumes and characters. His latest work (1997-2003) is extremely complex, utilizing gradients and subtle nuances of color and line to create works that are arguably TOO busy to fully appreciate.

I will be the first to admit, my favorites are the ones from the 1993-1997 era. They are in my opinion the perfect balance between form, color, and complexity. This is the period that he did most of his character design work for the anime Vampire Hunter D as well as his work on Final Fantasy 3 (6 in Japan). Some great examples of this period are prints 451 and 452 (the actual names are in Japanese kanji). These are conceptual artwork he did for Final Fantasy 3. 451 shows an image of a girl in a red outfit perched atop a giant, gargoyle-ish robot, looking out over a vast technological city. The robot, and all parts of technology are monotone, greys, blacks, and occasionally perhaps a tinge of sepia for highlight. The girl is colorful (green-blonde hair, and a flamboyantly red costume complete with arm length gloves), as are the almost festive hot air balloons floating in the sky. This combination itself is rather pleasing on its own, but becomes all the more relevant when you are aware of the background of that world: it is a world with fairly advanced steam technology, as well as long-dormant magic that is being re-awakened and harnessed to create something called “magitek” (a hybrid of magic and technology). The aspects of the technological world that have a magical aspect are the same aspects that have color within the picture.

Print 452 is a one-off of the girl and robot specifically. It also uses this monochrome-technology/color-magic concept, but focuses more on providing detail to the robot. It is in 3/4 view (looking at the machine from slightly above and in front of it), and allows you to see both the legwork on the bottom half of the robot as well as the cockpit on the top. Overall, the machine is remarkably well thought out, without getting into too much technical detail. The legs are splayed and stable, with the body resting firmly on them, while the cockpit is small yet functional, with a few humanistic touches, such as small fins rising up on either side of the body, and a windshield to help deflect wind and debris when traveling. All in all, it is very utilitarian, and suits the “Imperial/militaristic” theme of its in-game creator (the Empire). What really makes it a great image is that it succeeds in actually creating the sense of something that would actually be used, something that makes sense for the given world, regardless of whether it’s physically possible in our own reality. This is the sign of good concept art: it doesn’t have to be real, but it does have to be reasonable, which is an important distinction to have.

Another series of prints that succeed in being reasonable without necessarily being real would be his sequence of angels or angel-like beings (once again, the titles are in Japanese). The angels are beautiful and ethereal, with flowing bodies that seem suited to the notion of angels. What really sets these apart from most depictions of angels that I see is how he does the wings. Most arts that bother showing the body-wing connection really seem to just graft them to the shoulder blades and call it done. As can be seen in print 61, the wings of Amano’s angels seem much more connected, more natural, more believable (as far as wings on a human body can be believed at any rate, which returns us to the real vs reasonable argument). They slope down the body in much the same way that our arms do, which makes eminently more sense for allowing them to fold up against the back when at rest. While the more common “grafted” method is more akin to a bird’s folded wing, that choice does not really make as much sense for an upright being (bird wings fold onto the back of the bird… if the bird’s back was upright, that method would not allow the wings to truly rest). Amano’s choice seems a far more functional one for the type of being he is drawing.

Something I’ve noticed in Amano’s most recent works (circa 2001) is that he’s started to work in a lot more concrete, saturated color. Prior works tend to have a more wispy, almost sketchy style, with colors that are bit more watered down. That is one thing I actually liked from Unno’s essay: he points out this style and finally puts into words what I’ve been feeling about it: he creates worlds as if they were underwater. It perfectly explains the melding of solid and fluid lines. The majority of Amano’s work is in this fashion. It is not until his more recent works that an entirely more saturated and concrete style begins to appear, a good example of which is print 900 (2001), which is an image of a geisha-like woman (it is also the cover of the book). Her hair is far more saturated than most, as are the flowers and ribbons in it. Her lips are a vivid red, her eyes demure and rimmed with eyeliner. Her robes are a light pink with a golden floral pattern, and feels more concrete than earlier works in a way that I can’t really put a finger on. I suspect it has something to do with the clear lines to the flowers in the robe.

Something that Amano has done for each Final Fantasy game is develop a silhouette image used as the logo on the title screen. Unfortunately, none of these images are in this book. That said, there is some work he did in a similar style that are really quite appealing. Prints 323 through 329 are done in this style, starring Kingyohime (Princess Goldfish) from another series he did. They are a single shade of vivid red, and are the epitome of his “water woman” motif. The upper portion of the woman is vivid, and white like the background, with just a faint edge giving her form. Her hair and her dress are what is colored, her hair floating around her, and her dress flowing down to an amorphous form that is sometimes like an ornate fish tail, other times billowing clouds or waves. They are prints that I would love to have hanging in my house.

This is a fantastic collection of artwork, and well worth the money to pick up. There are some images I wish they had printed a bit larger, as I feel that some detail was lost because of it, but on the whole I am very impressed with the quality of this book. The paper is high quality, and the printing top-notch. I would definitely recommend it to any art lover, especially to anyone who enjoys Amano’s style. I may be a bit of a fanboy when it comes to his work, but that is because it genuinely deserves that level of appreciation. I sincerely feel that in the future his work will be counted as some of the finest of this era, much in the same way that we laud Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo now.

Amano, Yoshitaka. Amano. New York: Harper Design International, 2003.

Annotation: The Dream Hunters

Everyone has someone that they look up to. Someone who so excels in a given field that you can’t help but wish there was a machine that could transfer talent like an infusion of blood. As far as I’m concerned, in the field of drawing and illustration, that person would be Yoshitaka Amano. He has an ethereal yet detailed way of drawing that I envy, creating some of my favorite images. I first became aware of his work from his character design work for Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy 3 in the US), which was incorporated into the manual. It immediately drew me in and influenced my perception of the world created within the game in a way that I had not experienced with other games or illustrations. For lack of better description, Amano’s work is like looking through the eyes of an Efreet, Djinn, or Genie: a magical overlay to a very real world. A recent collaboration between Amano and author Neil Gaiman continues this trend, in the most delightful way possible.

The Dream Hunters is a supplementary story that takes place under the aegis of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of comics and graphic novels. While considered a graphic novel, it is not done in the traditional “comic” style, but rather is written as a prose story, with a full page illustration for each page of text. The story itself is a retelling of an old Japanese myth about a monk and a fox, and the relationship that develops between them. Amano manages to capture the mood and magical, dreamlike nature of the story in a fashion that seems exactly and absolutely the correct way, and the very notion of it being illustrated in any other way would be intrinsically inaccurate and wrong.

That’s not to say that Amano’s style is the answer to everything. Other styles have their own merit of their own accord; it just so happens that in these circumstance, his style works well with the piece. It is a style that is most suited to the fantastic, the mystical, and the spiritual (really, aren’t these the same thing?), which is very much the nature of The Dream Hunters. I suppose what I am trying to say by this is that I am not claiming that Amano is the greatest artist of all time, that I would not elevate him above other masters (such as Da Vinci), but I WOULD place him in that same master category, and his particular style is one that I would like to adopt in my own work. I’m not sure if that notion is in some way silly or hypocritical to my belief that an individuals particular artistic style is at least partially developed through their personality, but I would certainly like to believe that it is not contradictory to include the desire to incorporate a particular style into your own work as well. (There is some credence to this, in my opinion, based on my observation of artists such as Fred Gallagher, who blends japanese manga style with american animation influences to create a style that is uniquely his own. You can see what I mean in his online manga comic,

While I enjoyed the entire book, there were some pieces that particularly leapt out at me. One that immediately comes to mind is the cover itself. The particular edition I have (there are several variations) is a metallic gold background, with the Sandman (very pale skin, black hair, black clothing, wrapped in a cloak) in the center of the image with a full moon in the background. Flowers are growing out of his cloak, and a raven is perched on his shoulder. Various creatures (a serpent, a fox, and several baku — dream eaters from japanese mythology) are faint in the background. Immediately in front of the Sandman is a beautiful woman, prone, floating/falling in the air (her clothing is draped downward as if she were floating or being carried, but her hair is pulled forward as if she were falling from a great height… the physics of a dream world is a marvelous thing). The overall composition is very direct and appealing.

Another piece I particularly enjoyed was about two thirds of the way through the book, when the monk travels to the King of Dreams (the Sandman), and is stopped at the door by an itsumade, which is a mythical beast loosely akin to a gryphon: “a monstrous bird, with a head like a lion’s, sharp teeth, a snake’s tail, and huge wings.” (90) Amano’s depiction of this creature was remarkable, both in the size and scope of the creature compared to the dimunitive monk, and in the blending of its traits into a believable creature. It literally fills the page with swirling color and shape, evoking wonderment at getting to see such a beast.

The final image I’d like to point out in particular is also somewhat epic in scope. It is when the fox meets the King of Dreams for the first time, where the Sandman takes the form of a giant black fox, who speaks to her from the top of a mountain. The image is very dark, yet still detailed, and does a masterful job at depicting just how much the fox is dwarfed by her surroundings.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, and would happily recommend it to anyone, both for the art and for the story. Neil and Yoshitaka put together a fantastic piece of work, and I look forward to seeing more (in the afterword, Amano mentions that this is just the beginning of his plans with Gaiman… the notion of another collaboration is more than enough to make me giddy with anticipation). I intend to continue to examine Yoshitaka Amano’s work during this semester, in the hopes of learning a bit about how he achieves what he does in his work.

Gaiman, Neil; Amano, Yoshitaka. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: DC Comics, 1999.