Sho Nuff Himself Would Be Scared

When I think of western anime fanart, the first thing that pops into my mind is something I call the “Deviantart style.” Characters are usually drawn fairly realistically, their bodies becoming canvases for a psuedo-airbrushed look, every shadow and every highlight blended so softly that characters can probably be best described as “glowing.”


Artist: Yanimator

Artist: Ramy


Artist: REIQ (NSFW)

Now I am fully aware that Deviantart is home to an incredible variety of artists, and that even among the anime-style artists this is not anywhere close to the sole artistic style present. Nor am I even saying that this style is bad. However, as far as I can tell, this glowing style tends to be the most popular and ubiquitous, especially at anime conventions.

So my questions are: Why is this style so popular, and how did people learn it?

When I look at the most popular manga artists, none of them actually color their images in this manner, not Kishimoto (Naruto) nor Kubo (Bleach), and especially not Oda (One Piece). Branching out, I can only think of a handful of artists who get anywhere close to that Deviantart style, and most of them cut their teeth in the world of adult doujinshi, such as Satou (High School of the Dead), so their styles end up being closer to visual novel CG than anything else.


Artist: Satou Shouji (aka Inazuma)

One major difference is that the aforementioned Shounen Jump artists all color using real tools, and when I think about it, the Deviantart style seems born out of an almost purely digital environment, where textures can be finely tuned to almost microscopic levels, and stroke lines can be edited down with the utmost precision. It is, perhaps, a style resulting from the ability to hit ctrl-z in Photoshop and Illustrator. Of course, I’m not saying that it’s an impossible thing to overcome, but that perhaps artists who have experience with traditional media may be better at transcending limitations and making that style their own.

When it comes to anime artwork among western fans, I feel like there is an obsession with “realism.” In OEL manga for instance, a great amount of attention is put on screentones for smooth shading and for perspective in building backgrounds. With fan artists, perhaps this manifests itself into a hyper-realism where vibrant gradients rule the land. Not to pick on him again or anything, but it feels like the “five-tone shading” concept taken to the extreme, where the number of tones approaches infinity and the whole thing turns into a calculus metaphor. In a way, it reminds me of superhero comics, where musculature is emphasized greatly because they similarly harken to reality through exaggeration.

The closest artist I can think of which combines all of these elements is probably Terasawa (Space Adventure Cobra), but I get the impression that not very many artists on Deviantart take their inspiration from Terasawa.

Artist: Terasawa Buichi

But this is all speculation on my part. What do you think of the Deviantart style? Like it? Hate it? Do you use it? If so, what are you influences?

I just want to figure out how it came to be.

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6 thoughts on “Sho Nuff Himself Would Be Scared

  1. Well, this is sort of like what fans do with anime wallpapers. You take original art from whatever source, add a ton of glowy Photoshop stuff to it, and you’ve got an anime wallpaper!

    I think asking “why do people like shiny things” may be attempting to explain the primal.

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  2. I’m reminded of an illustrator friend of mine who once pointed out all the critical problems with a manga image. Perspective’s off here, the face is like a flounder here… But in light of the recent discussion about western geometric perspectivism and how Japanese art at times flaunts it completely, I’m inclined to think it makes western artists suffer when they try to mimic their manga idols.

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    • I think that often when a person says “I’m going to draw manga-style!” they take in mainly what is identifiably “manga” on the surface and fill in the gaps using their own sense of art reasoning. For people who have taken art lessons or are trained in art, this often means use of perspective, certain ideas of rendering, etc. which makes sense of course. However, by making those assumptions they create something which doesn’t look quite “right.”

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  3. The short answer is that simplicity is amazingly difficult.

    The long answer is that broad stylistic patterns emerge from a larger cultural canon than just what someone is consciously into, and the overwhelming body of Western art (especially Western art that is near-universally admired, taught, and studied in a way that is accessible to laymen) emphasizes detail and verisimilitude. We admire painting that resembles photography. Western art is in love with a culture of complexity and craftsmanship.

    The Japanese visual tradition, on the other hand, derives from the Chinese, where calligraphy is considered a higher art than painting and paintings are frequently found with poems and owner’s marks stamped and written and printed all over them – often directly on top of pictorial elements. And in calligraphy, you work with simple, abstracted forms which you then apply a personal touch to – but your focus is on the idea, not the execution. Calligraphy is about conveying an idea and then moving on, and so you’re always striving to cut out nonessentials to make your work more readable.

    That answer your question? I have a nastier, more cynical version if you don’t mind me laying some hate on nerd culture.

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  4. “Why is it popular ?”

    I think you can simply stick to the obvious for the answer. It looks good. It’s visually impressive. The capability to make artwork look like this with less mess and less difficulty is what attracts people to the digital medium. It’s a fabulous illustration style. The three examples you posted all apply this in a slightly different way. What makes them look ‘glowing’ is the fine-tuned application of colors and effects that only the digital medium can produce with ease. That exact selection of strong contrasting colors and saturations that make things pop out more in a full color illustration.

    Most popular manga artists don’t produce this kind of artwork because they spend time honing skills that instead apply to their mostly traditionally made black and white manga. They don’t spend as much time to fine-tune their color illustrations, which are usually done through traditional media.

    If we go several years back, I might agree that this digital style is something that came from western comics and illustrations. I distinctly remember back when I first saw Liquid! Graphics work from reading X-Men comics in the late 90s, and thinking how it looked new and awesome, especially when coupled with Joe Madureira’s manga influenced style. But now when the digital art medium has advanced far in japan and asia, it’s something that’s adopted together with the digital medium. Popular manga is something that still stays rooted in its traditional medium, but if you look at places that are faster at adopting the digital medium like hobby magazines illustrations, games and the japanese online fanartists(many of which now you can browse off pixiv), you can see more of this kind of style airbrushed style being adapted to their own preferences. (although the ‘glowing’ contrast is normally restricted to when the atmosphere calls for it)

    I cannot say the same about realistically drawn characters though, as that is a matter of overall style and preferences as an artist. I can however, understand that while many want to mimic the manga style, they also have a desire to inject their own unique touch to it. I believe this kind of desires are what actually drives many fanartists. As a child, I’d read Doraemon and then think of my own plots and gadgets, wanting to make these things I thought of as part of Doraemon, I desired the ability to draw just as well as the creator of the manga does. A person with no desire to make their favourite manga their own would be satisfied at simply reading and admiring the art. A fanartist or doujinshi artist desires things to add into the original creator’s work, no matter how little, be it simply his own style, character wardrobe or story. The realistic adaptation and heavily illustrated style is something that’s absent from popular manga and thus is a prime choice among elements that fanartists would think of adding. If you are a western fanartist, this might include elements that aren’t present in japanese manga.

    While this might be blamed for how western fanartists end with styles that as you say, don’t look quite “right”, I don’t think it’s a particularly bad thing. In the end, it’s merely a difference produced because this person who wants to draw manga happens to live across continents. Though whether the end result can be called ‘manga’ is highly subjective, and I would rather refer to things as simply ‘artwork’, ‘illustrations’ and ‘comics’ myself.

    Speaking of Terasawa Buichi, he truly was way ahead of his time. I had newfound respect for him after watching the Dejie no Bunpou special on him.

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