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Mito Ikumi, Food Wars! Character

Within the first few minutes of the Food Wars!:  Shokugeki no Soma anime, viewers are made well aware of the extent of its fanservice. If the flavor of peanut butter squid being visually likened to being violated by a large squid wasn’t enough, as the episode progresses characters basically have reactions that are downright orgasmic. It’s the kind of reaction that can really turn people away, but I also am aware of how the seeming need to fully animate a manga can lead to a rather different (and more gratuitous) experience, even when faithfulness to the source material is considered important. This is what I believe happened with another series, Mysterious Girlfriend X, and so when I got the chance to read the manga for Food Wars, I went in curious about two things: the depiction of competition in the Yakitate!! Japan “food battle” sense, and how the fanservice compares to the anime.

Food Wars! portrays both the act of master chefs locked in fierce cooking combat and the sexually charged tasting reactions with equal care and attention to detail. The manga is certainly not a cleaner alternative to the anime, but there are a couple of points I noticed about it. First, the manga’s imagery is a noticeably different experience due to the lack of need to fully animate all of the more gratuitous scenes. Second, Food Wars! actually takes a kind of multi-level approach to its fanservice.

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Shinkon Gattai Godannar!!

I think it’s fair to judge a series by the most extreme examples of fanservice found in it, and so this isn’t really a defense of Food Wars! as sticking it to the prudes or anything. However, when it comes to anime and manga, they tend to maintain to a fairly consistent level of the kind of fanservice they want to use. Love Hina and Chobits go for mildly risque bath scenes, Aim for the Top! goes for the subdued-by-today’s-standards jiggle and “creative” camera angles, and Godannar!! and Ikkitousen are all about in-your-face shots and revealing clothing (or lack thereof). Food Wars!, in contrast to all of those, encompasses virtually the entire spectrum.

At the far end, you have the scenes described above: images that, in and out of context, look like something you’d find in a naughty magazine. However, there are also plenty of food reaction moments that are more about showing off the girls’ (and in some cases even guys’) bodies in the buff, without that added layer of sexual innuendo. There are images of girls spilling out of their outfits, but there are also relatively more conservative examples. So, while you have a character like Mito Ikumi (pictured at the beginning of this post), who wears bikinis and is based around a rather blatant “meat” theme, you also have characters like Tadakoro Megumi and Mizuhara Fuyumi, who are less voluptuous but are still involved in their own fanservice scenes relative to their designs. In those instances, the manga will decide to show for one panel the way that Megumi’s pants hug against her hips, or that Fuyumi has subtle but noticeable curves.

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Tadokoro Megumi

In terms of how men are portrayed (their clothes burst off as they salivate over a five-star meal just as much as the girls do), but I’d actually like an opinion from any readers interested in men as to whether Food Wars! hits any of their buttons in the right way. I get the feeling Takumi Aldini is popular, but I haven’t looked into it extensively.

Given all this talk of gratuitous imagery, I find it all the more interesting that the more I read Food Wars!, the less I think of it as a fanservice series, even though it can be so elaborate and perverted in its character depictions. It certainly is still that sort of manga and anime, but the cooking really takes center stage, and in certain ways the ever-present fanservice is actually subordinate to the food. There’s just something about the intensity and the amount of attention that goes into presenting the culinary masterpieces of the manga’s characters that shines the spotlight on their cooking above all else.

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Comic artist Rob Liefeld has carried two reputations throughout his career, both of which can be considered two sides of the same coin. To many, Liefeld is the 90s comics artist, with his creation of various “extreme” characters, a move away from simple, minimalist superhero designs to ones loaded with details and accoutrements. At the same time, he has also become the poster child for “bad comic art,” mostly because those same qualities that exemplify both 90s comics and Liefeld himself are viewed as a move away from technical skill, visual clarity, and overall good character design. In looking at Liefeld’s work, though, I recently began to ask myself if he might be considered what is known in Japanese as heta-uma, literally “bad-good.”

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Last year at Otakon, I debuted a new panel called “Great Ugly Manga.” The purpose of the panel was to show how bad artwork in manga wasn’t necessarily a demerit against that manga, but that “ugliness” could be utilized in interesting ways. Ugly manga can play with expectations, carry a kind of strong emotional energy, and even change the meaning of moments compared to if they were rendered beautifully. This idea is not new, and in fact at the panel we mentioned the essential philosophy behind heta-uma. The idea, originating from Japanese artist King Terry, is that art has a technical aspect and a kind of “soulful” aspect, and that while being good in both categories is the ideal, it’s better to be bad at the technique and good at the soul, rather than good at technique at the expense of expressiveness. In fact, it was while we were gathering images for Great Ugly Manga that my co-panelist I briefly discussed the idea that Rob Liefeld might be heta-uma.

Both the notion of bad-good and good art in general are highly subjective, and the line between technical expertise and expert expressiveness is actually pretty nebulous. When I talk about Liefeld’s art being “bad,” I’m more using the idea of bad that has been presented online across various forums and articles, that his tendency to use the same poses, to ignore feet, and that his overall frenetic line work is less impressive than artists with similar yet more highly refined artists such as Jim Lee.

What I find is that Rob Liefeld’s work can’t be called bad-good in the common sense of the term, nor can it be called any of the others: it’s not good-bad, good-good, or even bad-bad. I would argue that bad-good is perhaps the closest category to fit Liefeld, but doesn’t quite fully describe his art.

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There are two characteristics of heta-uma that I think is vitally important under normal circumstances. First is the idea that the ugliness of the art has to be eminently obvious. When looking at an image from an ugly manga, there is an immediate realization that something is “wrong.” Second is the idea that this ugliness in term gives power to the page, that it creates a strong sense of energy or awkwardness that draws the reader in. Take the page above from the manga 81 Diver, which is one of the series we mentioned in “Great Ugly Manga,” where the mishmash of large word balloons, bizarrely drawn characters, and unusual situation make the scene stand out. What’s also notable about its artists, Shibata Yokusaru, is that he falls outside of the category of artists who can draw beautifully but choose not to. He has a lack of technique, but more importantly he doesn’t let that flaw get in the way of his attempts to draw complex scenes. By challenging himself, the ugliness of his art stands out even more, which is his charm.

I think that Rob Liefeld’s artwork is definitely expressive, and that its energy comes out of the particular manner in which Liefeld draws. What keeps me from calling it clearly heta-uma, however, is that often times his art seemingly masks its own ugliness. At first glance, there’s often nothing especially strange about Liefeld’s drawings, and it’s only after you start to examine them in detail that they tend to “fall apart.” While a more discerning eye can catch these aspects from the beginning, I believe that for the average reader it is not so obvious. Liefeld’s artwork is not “clearly ugly.”

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And yet, once one gets past that point, and after getting over just how awkward his drawings can be, I find that Liefeld is not so different from Shibata, in the sense that he does a lot of things around his particular style that lend it a significant impact. While in some cases Liefeld is known for “playing it safe,” using the same poses repeatedly for example, he also pushes himself to draw elaborate situations designed for readers to in fact examine and re-examine them, such as large fight scenes. It’s in drawings such as those that the heta-uma of his work really shows itself, as while one can criticize the lack of realism in his characters’ musculature, or the fact that perspective doesn’t work that way, ultimately the intensity of the fight shines through. While a more skilled artist could perhaps do a better job and even keep a similar level of intensity, what I find interesting about Liefeld is that the very flaws in his work contribute to the image’s impression of strength and fury.

Overall, I think Rob Liefeld is loosely in the category of bad-good, but that he doesn’t quite fit the mold created by other heta-uma artists. However, because the term doesn’t have a rigid definition of qualifying characteristics, and because the idea of good and bad art are so personal, calling him bad-good less a solid criticism or praise of his works and more trying to get into the realm of what Liefeld art is. What I find in the end is that his style creates flimsy yet powerful illusions, and that this is definitely a place where heta-uma can thrive.

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In the past, I’ve written about “OEL manga,” English-language comics inspired by the manga style, in an attempt to find out why OEL manga often end up looking not quite like what typically comes out of Japan. I’ve brought up ideas such as screentone usage and how it often looks like artists try to draw “anime” comics instead of “manga” comics. It’s not a bad feature, and there are plenty of good comics that are inspired by manga without looking like it, but it’s just fun to try and figure out why things don’t look “right,” so to speak.

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Recently, however, I’ve come across a manga called Shoujo Fight by Nihonbashi Yoko, and even though it’s drawn by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience, to me it looks very similar to OEL manga. It’s to the extent that, if you had given me a page from Shoujo Fight translated and told me someone from Kansas drew it, I might very well have believed you.

Shoujo Fight is a volleyball manga published in the magazine Evening (sister to Genshiken‘s Monthly Afternoon and the popular Weekly Morning). Its story follows a girl named Ooishi Neri, who holds back a fiery passion for volleyball due to a traumatic event in her past. Beginning from 2012 it ran for 12 volumes, and it’s overall just a solid sports manga with a large variety of interesting female characters with equally diverse body types.

Now, I want to emphasize that, when I compare it to OEL manga that I do not mean that as an insult, and in fact I really enjoy Shoujo Fight‘s art style. Nevertheless, it does leave me wondering… why does Shoujo Fight look to me like OEL manga? I think there are a number of interrelated reasons.

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First, the creator, Nihonbashi Yoko, has a very design-oriented and graphic style that’s conducive to posters, symbols, and logos. When looking at her official blog, there’s a lot of work along those lines, and I think she’s very good at it.

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Second, Shoujo Fight is clearly drawn digitally, and I think (whether it’s accurate or not) that I associate “western” renditions of anime and manga with the rise of tablets and digital comics in general. The line work is very smooth and sleek, completely devoid of pen or pencil textures, and I find that a lot of Deviantart artists tend to work similarly.

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Third, the way Nihonbashi draws eyes often times feels closer to what I’d find in a North American or European comic. In fact, to me the way that the heroine Neri’s eyes are drawn reminds me strongly of the girls from the Italian comic (turned French animation) W.I.T.C.H. or even those of a Disney heroine. I think this becomes especially noticeable when a character has her eyes closed part-way, because the particular shape of the eyes and eyelids are not so common in manga.

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With Shoujo Fight and its art style is compared to the typical manga, it’s fascinating to me how the idea of “manga” continues to be challenged from both within its primary industry and from the outside. And if you want to see more of her work, follow the creator of Shoujo Fight on Twitter.

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Long gone are the days when Digimon tried to compete with Pokemon. Regardless of who won that war, fond memories exist for both. When a new Digimon anime that would feature the original cast but older was announced, I think it’s safe to say that many fans rejoiced at being able to see their favorite characters again. Anyone who’s seen the previews for Digimon Adventure tri., however, will notice that, even if the characters themselves are recognizable, their designs are significantly different compared to the original anime in a way that can’t just be explained by them being in high school.

Digimon had a typical yet still distinct enough style where characters had big heads, big eyes, and big hands that it carried through multiple series. In many ways it was unmistakably the way a kids’ anime was expected to look. Digimon Adventure Tri, in contrast, not only has characters with more realistic human proportions but also has a kind of looseness to the art that to an extent resembles Hosoda Mamoru’s famous Digimon films such as Our War Game. They could have easily mimicked the original style or even refined it to look more mature, so obviously this change is deliberate, but I think this change is particularly fueled by the fact that Digimon Adventure tri. is targeting the audience that watched the original Digimon Adventure all those years ago.

Essentially, I believe that the new character designs and general appearance of Digimon Adventure tri. are a way to show how the series itself has grown up just like the people who first watched Digimon Adventure. The audience has changed, the world has changed, and so too has Digimon evolved into something else. If anything, it’s grown up just a bit more slowly, as the kids who watched it then are probably in their 20s at this point, and they’re going to see Taichi, Yamato, and the rest stepping forward into adulthood.

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Viga is a long-time Genshiken ally; we even did a panel about Ogiue together at Otakon! Naturally, when requesting a drawing to commission, there was only one real choice.

If you’re interested in her work, check out her Tumblr and Twitter.

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Geno is quite a popular choice when it comes to character requests for the Super Smash Bros. series, and so there is plenty of fanart out there in support of his inclusion. While this makes my drawing a bit redundant (and the special moves are all pretty much what everyone else has for Geno’s attacks), I felt that the concept of Geno as a playable character could be taken an extra step beyond simply having his moves map 1:1 with his Super Mario RPG techniques.

In particular, I had this idea that Geno could utilize the “timing” system from Super Mario RPG where pressing or releasing a button at the right time makes the characters’ attacks stronger in some way. This is demonstrated not only in the depiction of Geno Beam and Geno Blast, but also in Geno’s smash attacks. As shown with Geno’s up-smash, the idea is that Geno’s smash attacks have an additional secondary component that Geno can chain into, similar to Kyo Kusanagi in the King of Fighters series or Fei Long in the Street Fighter series. Because it wouldn’t be terribly strategic to have the follow-up be automatically better every single time, the secondary part of every Smash Attack would have its own strengths and weaknesses (like leaving Geno vulnerable if the first part doesn’t connect properly, or not hitting at the desired angle at high percentages), so it would be an active choice at all times whether or not to use the timed attack system.

Other than that, Geno would have two other main features. The first would be his space control due to the fact that many of his attacks are ranged and come in at odd angles instead of straight-on (Geno Beam shoots diagonally upwards on the ground but diagonally downwards in the air, for example). The second would be that Geno’s normal moves emphasize the fact that his body is that of a doll, so it is extremely flexible, as demonstrated in that up-smash. This would give Geno a lot of unusual hitboxes on his attacks or allow him to slip past attacks by suddenly collapsing low to the ground, for example.

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Unlike the previous characters I drew movesets for (King K. Rool, Princess Daisy), Great Puma is much more obscure. He’s the final boss from Pro Wrestling for the NES, and notoriously difficult, if only because all the button mashing you had to do to defeat him would hurt your thumbs (unless you used a turbo controller).

The reason I decided to draw Great Puma over the other wrestlers is because he 1) is a villain/antagonist 2) represents a popular retro series 3) has that final boss characteristic of knowing all of other wrestlers’ moves, which allows him to represent the full repertoire of Pro Wrestling. Kirby is depicted as the victim because I wanted to get across how the moves would look on someone distinctly non-humanoid.

As a Smash character, Great Puma specializes in holds and throws. He not only has more throws than any other character in the game, but he has two special moves that also facilitate grabbing the opponent. His Rope Bounce is sort of like a pseudo-wavedash in that it allows him to quickly retreat and then spring forward into a grab animation. His Reversal works like Marth’s Counter but it activates only when the opponent tries to grab him, which causes Great Puma to grab the opponent instead. Even his Running Neckbreaker is considered a throw, which overall makes him a difficult opponent to shield against. His Flying Cross Chop is surprisingly powerful but is only mediocre in terms of stage recovery.

His Final Smash, Wild Roar, allows Great Puma to link up to three throws together. This isn’t quite the same thing as a chain grab, as that involves grabbing the opponent immediately after a throw and then repeating. Rather, this allows him to do things like Grab -> Pummel -> Backbreaker -> Piranha Bite -> Piledriver before the opponent goes flying. Also not pictured are most of his moves, such as his back-air being Fighter Hayabusa’s Back Brain Kick (Enzui Giri) and his forward smash being Giant Panther’s Iron Claw.

I changed his tights because I think they just look better this way.

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Following up the concept drawing I made for King K. Rool in Smash Bros., here’s Princess Daisy from the Mario series.

While Daisy’s most prominent appearance over the years has been in the multiplayer games, for the most part I thought it’d be cooler if her attacks referenced her debut game, Super Mario Land. Each special attack is based on one of the four worlds from Super Mario Land. One notable thing is that most of her attacks have a small added effect that gives them different properties if they hit close or mid-range. Birabuto Sand does solid damage if the actual kick connects, whereas the sand portion stuns the opponent. Muda Torrent works similarly, where the uppercut hits hard but the water has something of a FLUDD effect. Easton Ganchan can transition from recovery move to bouncing projectile. Her Chai Hop, based on the Pionpi enemies from World 4, is a fairly basic move but varies her recovery options alongside her Side-B.

Ideally, this means using her would involve deciding whether or not in any given situation to fight up close or at a slight distance, and what is the best way to transition back and forth between the two ranges.

Daisy’s Final Smash comes from the Super Mario Strikers series and grants her boosts to speed and offensive power. Additionally, many of her attacks will launch flurries of mechanized soccer balls.

While “clone” characters tend to look different but share similar moves with their base counterparts, Daisy is sort of the opposite, bearing obvious resemblance to Princess Peach but having significantly different attacks from top to bottom. Daisy is often described as being more of a tomboy than Peach, and so I thought it would be cool to have this come out in her attacks. Hence, she does things like throw hooks for Forward Smashes and kicks sand in opponents’ faces. Though not pictured, I see her small animations and jumps being more athletic as well. Of course, her taunt would be “Hi I’m Daisy!”

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This is how I imagine King K. Rool (from the Donkey Kong Country series) would be if he were in Super Smash Bros. I’ve got at least a couple more of these on the way, so if readers are interested then they’ll have more to look forward to.

For King K. Rool, I made it so that each of his special moves references a different game in the Donkey Kong games produced by Rare, so Krown Toss = DKC, Blunderbuss = DKC2, Helicopter Pack = DKC3, and Punch Flurry = DK64. I’ve seen lots of other people come up with similar ideas, but what can I say? It makes complete sense.

While King K. Rool is much larger than Donkey Kong in a lot of the games, I wanted to make them roughly equal in size so that it comes across as more of a rivalry between two powerhouses, as opposed to the David vs. Goliath feeling of Mario vs. DK or Mario vs. Bowser. K. Rool is not quite as strong or as quick as DK, and his movements are a bit awkward, but makes up for it with some nice ranged attacks.

Krown Toss is for space control and bits of damage, while the Blunderbuss is for KO power. The longer you charge the Blunderbuss, the more (randomized) projectiles it shoots out. Helicopter Pack is highly controllable but very slow and thus an easy target for edgeguarding, while Punch Flurry is good for clearing crowds but exhausts K. Rool afterwards. He doesn’t actually punch all that much in DK64 but I figured having yet another ground pound character would be overdoing it.

His Final Smash is based on the giant leaps he takes in DKC; I imagine it being fairly similar to PK Starstorm only that K. Rool himself is also a “projectile” in this case. Of course, he would have his running attack from the first DKC.

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