Monster Design Talk Starring the Hiruken Emperor

When it comes to monster designs, I follow a philosophy of more disturbing = better monster, and I have specific ideas about what is the most effectively disturbing. The key is not to make something grotesque or to show off the monster’s capacity for violence and destruction but instead to take what is  familiar and twist it into something unsettling. The goal is for the monster to exist on just the other side of the uncanny. As an example, let’s look at the Hiruken Emperor from Xam’d: Lost Memories.

Something familiar to all humans is the anatomy of the human body and the Hiruken Emperor’s is close to that of a human being. It has two legs, two arms, head and torso with organic musculature, but the stiff, unnatural movements combined with its expression-less face make it difficult to discern its intentions. When it’s a machine, this only makes sense. When it’s a living breathing creature, it becomes uncanny.

The Hiruken Emperor also takes the comforting idea of symmetry and distorts it into something jarring. Symmetry is a recurring theme in nature. Most things on this planet have some degree of symmetry, but in the case of the Hiruken Emperor the symmetry is too perfect, and the viewer is made painfully aware of that fact. With such perfect symmetry on such an organic creature, the comfort of natural symmetry is replaced by a fear of the alien.

Taking organs and placing them in unusual areas can further enhance the unsettling appearance of a monster. In the case of the Hiruken Emperor, the eyes are utilized in unusual ways. The Hiruken Emperor has four eyes, and none of them are where they should be. Two large ones are placed roughly at the shoulders, one equally large is above the head, and there is also a smaller one inside the head behind the white mask. It’s this unusual placement of the Hiruken Emperor’s eyes that really make it disturbing. Eyes are also an especially effective part of the body to move and rearrange because of how important they can be in human interaction. Human beings easily reveal their emotions through their eyes. However, the Hiruken Emperor’s eyes fail to exhibit emotion, and the blank, all-consuming stare of the Hiruken Emperor eats into your expectations.

A monster doesn’t have to resemble a human being or living creature in order to be a successful design. Manipulating how much the viewer relates to the monster will also influence the effectiveness of the monster. Making the viewer unsure of whether or not they can relate to the monster will make it even better.

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7 thoughts on “Monster Design Talk Starring the Hiruken Emperor

  1. I think the feeling that a monster design is meant to solicit from those who see it is the driving point behind any monster design. For Xam’d in general, they want to convey a more humane perspective, so they tend to go with human-like designs I thought.

    But all of Xam’d featured designs that were just borderline uncanny, so that’s a good point.

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  2. I wonder if “take what is familiar and twist it into something unsettling” isn’t a meant to be a running theme in Xam’d. It happens all over the show, at all levels, in many different ways.

    The most basic is Sentan Island: It is obviously modern-day Japan, but it’s stuck in a very unfamiliar world. It is completely out of place.

    Also, there’s no denying that Xam’d is borrowing heavily from other works. Nausicaä is an obvious inspiration, but there are many others. Last Exile, perhaps, and even the 45-degree elevator from Akira shows up (as it does in Half-life). And to move beyond jut anime, isn’t Lady Sannova just Mary Poppins? I wonder if this isn’t also an entirely intentional attempt to make the show jarring by being both familiar and alien.

    The guy who guides Akiyuki and Haru even uses completely out-of-place language – at one point he exclaims “kuuki yome yo!”, which is modern 2ch-inspired slang, and really has no place in a serious fantasy setting like Xam’d’s.

    Of course, none of this is blatant enough to be SURE it is intentional, so it all just leaves me confused. Which once again might be intentional. You can’t really tell with this show.

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  3. Pingback: Omonomono » Xam’d Episode 25 - Everyone Cries

  4. Pingback: Omonomono » Xam Xam’d: Bounen Xamdou the Lost Memories Round-up, no?

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