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Sonya Blade is No Longer a Terrible Character

Several years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Sonya Blade is a Terrible Character,” specifically referring to problems in her visual design. Since then, I feel that Netherrealm Studios, the people behind Mortal Kombat, have made significant and positive changes to her look. I no longer think my previous complaints quite apply.

sonyablades2In my original post, I had two criticisms. First, her overall look wasn’t that great in the first place from an aesthetic and character design perspective. Second, her features haven’t been visually or thematically consistent enough. This wasn’t a problem with Mortal Kombat in general, as Scorpion and Liu Kang for example have iconic elements that make you instantly think of them as Scorpion and Liu Kang, and it wasn’t a problem of appealing to horny teenagers because that hasn’t prevented other games from establishing their characters’ signature looks that make them memorable and recognizable. Even Street Fighter V, which heavily revised many popular characters’ designs to no shortage of controversy, still kept the general feel of the characters intact. That wasn’t the case with Sonya Blade.


In the years since, Mortal Kombat X has come out and now Mortal Kombat 11 is set for release this year, and it’s clear that they’ve worked to establish a more consistent default look for Sonya. Instead of a vague gesture of “blond, big-boobed soldier” that permeated most of her recent designs and outfits, the current Sonya sports a form-fitting yet functional jumpsuit that effectively communicates her military special forces background. What I especially like about her current look is that it doesn’t deny her sex appeal, but at the same time doesn’t let it take over her entire design.

Not only does she look cooler overall, but now, whenever I see her, I instantly think “Sonya Blade!” without necessarily needing to be told in advance who it is. That alone is a major improvement that I hope the developers of Mortal Kombat keep for a long time.


Pokemon Sun & Moon: Why Ash Ketchum’s Design Was Updated…Again

In 2010, the Pokemon anime decided to spice things up a bit by modifying its character designs. More than a simple change of wardrobe, the denizens of the Pokemon TV world had changes to their faces and hair, and the result was an Ash with green eyes. With the release of Pokemon Sun & Moon, the characters have transformed once more, and this time it’s even more drastic than before. While it’s not like Ash is seven feet tall with a goatee now, it looks noticeably different compared to his adventures in the Kalos region. With such a major change, the inevitable question is “why?”


Fortunately, I just so happen to have answered this question the last time around, and it turns out that the answer applies just as well, if not better.

At the time when green-eyed Ash was revealed, I wrote a post explaining how this was a clear attempt at making the characters in the Pokemon anime match more closely with the character designs of the games. The main artist for Pokemon has always been Ken Sugimori, and while the designs of the anime characters were based on his work back in the mid to late 90s, he’s continued to refine his art style over the years. If you look at Ash and other characters in Sun & Moon, they veer even closer to Sugimori’s current aesthetic. Characters appear rounder and softer, and the way their eyes are drawn have that distinct Sugimori look. This is probably most evident in the new Alola region characters, such as Lillie.


Anime Character Design


Game Character Design

That explains a good chunk of why Ash’s adventures in Not-Hawaii look so far-removed from past generations of the anime, but another significant one is that a simpler art style means being easier to animate. That’s not to say that the old Pokemon anime styles were especially complex, but being softer and more simplified in this way means the animators can put more effort into making things move well instead of making sure each character has all of their necessary details.

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Digimon Adventure Tri’s Mature Look

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.

Manga Artists and Their Stylistic Progression: A Video Demonstration

A while ago, I found a series of videos on Nico Nico Douga wherein manga characters from the first volume of their respective titles are compared to their later incarnations in the same series. In most instances, this is done to show some kind of great contrast, either by a marked improvement in drawing ability or an unusually large shift in style. I think it’d be to everyone’s benefit to take a look, and because I understand that not everyone has a Nico account or wants to fumble with the Japanese language registration, I’ve taken the liberty of uploading all three videos to Youtube. You can find them at the bottom of this post.

Regardless of how exactly the change comes about, the shift or transformation in art style seems to most often come from increasing familiarity. Speaking somewhat from personal experience, when you first start to draw a character, even if you’ve planned them out extensively, there’s still a period of struggle where the character’s design and by extension their personality and physical language are not yet ingrained in your psyche. The more you draw the characters, the more natural they feel to you, possibly eventually reaching a point where you’re so comfortable with them that your aesthetic sense and personality start to shine through the characters, almost subconsciously. It’s like your body and mind start to prioritize what’s really important to you, and I think you will definitely see this happening for at least a good number of your favorite artists.

So take a look, be amazed, and lay down your own thoughts and feelings about art in manga. If you’d all prefer, I can even compile a list of all of the artists and titles mentioned here.

Why Are They Making Ash Ketchum’s Eyes So Huge? I’ll Tell You!

In anticipation of the latest Pokemon Black & White games, the anime of Pokemon is undergoing a revamp, and with this newest iteration comes a great amount of aesthetic change for a series which has up to this point remained fairly static in that regard (or at the very least has experienced change so gradual as to be unnoticeable). Many long-time characters are undergoing design changes, but perhaps the most prominent is that of main character Satoshi, possibly better known as Ash Ketchum, whose irises appear to have doubled in size.

Around the internet, people have been wondering what could possibly be the catalyst for this change. The truth lies with the character designer for the Pokemon games, Sugimori Ken.

Sugimori was the original Pokemon artist, drawing up all 151 of the originals as well as all of the character artwork. Even now he remains in that position, with his works being the official depictions of all humans and Pokemon in the franchise. Essentially, this means that Sugimori has been drawing for Pokemon for 15 years now, and his artistic sense and style have grown accordingly. Whereas the designs for the anime originally drew inspiration largely from Sugimori’s original designs for the first generation of Pokemon games and have remained fairly constant since, Sugimori’s own artwork has gone through a one and a half decade process of refinement.

Left: 1995-1998, Right: 2010

When you look at the anime’s new character designs, you can see that they are simply re-aligning themselves with Sugimori’s work.

So in a way, the artwork for the Pokemon anime is pretty much ending up where it should be.


For those of you who’ve been watching the Pokemon anime for years now, you may recall the female character May (Japanese name Haruka), who was the main heroine for the entirety of the Game Boy Advance era of Pokemon games.

What you may not have noticed however is that her character design, well, changed throughout the course of the series. See if you can spot the difference below:

Thanks to kransom for finding this.

What in the world could be responsible for Haruka’s, shall we say, simplification? The easy knee-jerk reaction would be pressure from foreign countries to reduce the amount of eye candy in their internationally famous Japanese franchise cartoon, but something tells me that it has a little more to do with someone realizing that the girl is supposed to be ten years old.

The Many Faces of the Bionic Commando

Bionic Commando, originally an arcade game from 1987, found its way onto the Famicom/NES, where a new plot involving Nazis Badds and an improvement on gameplay features made it a hit, particularly in the United States. Since then, while not a super popular franchise, Bionic Commando has gotten a number of remakes, most notably the HD 3-D retooling of the original game, Bionic Commando: Rearmed and the 2009 Bionic Commando sequel.

In each game, you control a man with a gun and a bionic arm, whose goal it is to climb and swing through levels while eliminating enemy soldiers and reach the end of the level. While the gist of gameplay has remained fairly consistent, the art direction has not, resulting in a very different face for our cyborg hero over the years.

Our hero from left to right: Bionic Commando (Arcade, 1987), Bionic Commando (NES, 1988), Bionic Commando (Game Boy, 1992), Bionic Commando: Elite Forces (Game Boy Color, 1999), Bionic Commando: Rearmed (PS3 and 360, 2008), Bionic Commando (PS3 and 360, 2009)

Here you can see the Bionic Commando go from a simple blue-haired arcade hero to different degrees of fantastic and realistic, producing about as wide a range of portraits as a franchise can get. Note that portraits two, five, and six are all supposed to be the same character, i.e. Radd Spencer, bane of mustached fascists. What is immediately evident is that the NES Bionic Commando was originally made for a Japanese audience with his vaguely manga-style 80’s looks, while the newest Bionic Commandos are both conscious of the fact that the NES version built a sizable American audience, and are attempting to appeal to a childhood image of the NES game being a fairly gritty and serious affair. Square jaws are the name of the game here.

Now, compare the Game Boy version to the Game Boy Color version. Can you guess which was done by a Japanese development team and which was done by an American one? Yeah, pretty hard I know.

What I find so interesting about the GB and GBC incarnations of Bionic Commando relative to each other is that they are both trying to achieve the same aesthetic goal: a far-flung whiz-bang high-tech laser future setting for the game that appeals to the audiences in their native countries. The GB Bionic Commando is a full-on early 90s anime bishounen hero with big eyes, small mouth, and hair reminiscent of Cyborg 009 or Soldier Blue from Towards the Terra. The GBC Bionic Commando meanwhile is a rough and gruff 90s X-Treme superhero akin to Marvel’s Cable or DC’s Lobo. “Yes! This is exactly what kids want!” both development teams must have thought as they approved the designs.

If Bionic Commando gets remade again in a few years, I look forward to how the cultural fashions of the time influence our hero yet again. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be some kind of strange amalgam of realistic muscley dude, superhero, and anime protagonist.

It’s Fresh Precure, and it Finally Has Character Designs

The fine folks over at Toei Animation have recently revealed that their newest Precure series, Fresh Precure, is more than just Very Orange as its official website used to indicate.

We’ve got some main characters now. Momozono Love is Cure Peach. She’s a dancer! Aono Miki is Cure Berry. She’s athletic and wants to be a fashion model. Yamabuki Inori is Cure Pine. She loves animals! All of them are 14 years old, in their second year of Junior High where almost all Precure girls start.

If you’ve ever wondered why I take an interest in Precure, it partly has to do with the way it’s alchemically fused girls’ anime and boys’ anime and otaku anime into a golem of profit and merchandising, all while still being reasonably enjoyable. What steps has Toei taken to continue to ensure profitability? Well, the new costumes seem to have a sort of maid theme, and I have to wonder if that delicate balance of fanbases is leaning ever-so-slightly towards the “otaku” side. The girls are leggier, look older than previous Cures despite being roughly the same age, and even appear to be bustier.

It might not be easy to notice the disparity off-hand, so I’ve provided a comparison image below.

The Precure girls post-transformation have always had more athletic builds, so the disparity between regular Nagisa and regular Love is even more pronounced.

Is it a new character designer or is it the same character designer with some modifications to her art style? Is this a reflection of the increasing average height of Japanese people? Or is it just part of a greater strategy to target people who have a thing for legs?

We’ll find out February 1st, 2009.

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