We gotta talk about Netflix and Lesean Thomas' newly released original anime, "Yasuke". Unfortunately, that's where my first qualms for the series lay, in the word "original". Some aspects of the show are certainly unique, and thus qualifying it as "original", but 2 episodes into a 6 episode series and I couldn't help but notice how derivative the plot and characters seemed to be. By the end of the show, I was convinced; Yasuke is a contrived mediocre show at best. But before I really get into it, I'd like to give Studio Mappa a shoutout for the great animation and Flying Lotus for his artistry on the soundtrack.
While I won't spoil any plot details in this review, I will critique the exact points in which Yasuke fell flat for me. First, the story is too simple for the level of sophistication that the source material deserves. For those unaware, Yasuke was an African man brought to Japan whom would eventually become a retainer to then daimyo, Oda Nobunaga in the late 1500s.
Watching this show, you wouldn't know how this plays into our hero's central narrative at all. This intrinsic element acts as a mere primer for the inevitable escort mission Yasuke finds himself on for the duration of the show, which by-the-way, has the faintest of relationships to Yasuke's personal connections to the world the showrunners have established. Which brings me to the second problem, "surrogate father escorts young girl across a dangerous land" trope. Maybe the sheer amount of content created over the past decade has skewed my views a bit, but this particular trope is so tired. SO many IPs from various industries have used this time and again with much better results i.e., Logan, The Last of Us, Lone Wolf and Cub, etc.(that's just the L's!"). But sure, lets approach this from an objective perspective and greenlight this plot device. As you can imagine, these two characters are intended to be polar opposites that should eventually compliment each other by the end of the show. They progress the story in a way that allows their hijinks to develop a kinship capable of spawning some sort of epic team-up by the end of the finale.
Unfortunately a lot of the time spent between these two characters is wasted, since Yasuke is a brooding and pensive character that I wouldn't call "one dimensional", but flat nonetheless. I would like to give Lakeith Stanfield and Jun Soejima credit for lending their voices to the role. Their contribution certainly made Yasuke a more likeable character(even more so in Japanese), so I honestly think this might be a script issue. For the sake of argument, I think Afro Samurai has more personality than Yasuke, which is pretty impressive considering Afro doesn't say much of anything. However, its the characters that surround Afro that do much of this heavy lifting since they are reacting to Afro's beats. Yasuke lacks this type of supporting cast in certain areas of the show, so it made it difficult to really sympathize with his struggles vicariously through others or even personally as a black man.
Finally, my last gripe would be "consistency and focus". Yasuke is all over the place. From story to art direction, Yasuke lacks focus. Occasionally, the audience is treated to flashback sequences that explore the mystery of Yasuke's history and intrapersonal relationships, which I personally found to be some of the highlights of the show, but there vague connections to the current timeline leave much to be desired. I often found myself wanting to know more Yasuke's time under Nobunaga opposed to the fetch quest we inevitably return to. Lastly, I understand the creative desire to mix high fantasy and technology elements into a historical setting, but I think this decision ultimately diminishes the significance of what it means to be Yasuke, i.e. black in this ancient time period and foreign land.
If there are 10 meter tall robots and half bear people walking around, who really cares if our protagonist is black. At this point Yasuke's complexion is most useful as a conversation starter at best. This is probably the anime's most egregious offense, the complete overshadowing of historical reference for mass appeal? Accessibility? He could literally be any other color and it wouldn't have changed much of the story at all, so it feels quite clear that we are riding the diversity wagon for this. Which, to be clear, diversity and representation are noble goals to strive towards, but this can easily be considered pandering in unskilled hands. Considering that a lot of the producers for this series are black I'm quite disappointed at how badly they fumbled this project. I was originally quite excited for Yasuke, but it seems the importance of his story got lost in the shuffle of trying to make it stand amongst the great anime that inspired it. In the end, we received a tepid story that missed its mark in highlighting one of history's forgotten legends.
Have you watched Yasuke? What did you think? What would you have done to improve the show? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, don't forget to like and share this post. Keep it locked for more, peace!
Whats up guys,
Its been a while since my last post, but I've been extraordinarily busy with a surprising increase in commissions these last few months. I've done so much between a logo for honey-infused water, Beelieve, album covers for DinoJr., and my marathon run of podcast thumbnails for the Musicks. Expanding the breadth of my services comes a commission that desired branding for a growing Twitch channel.
At first, the client only required a banner that featured the channel name, subtitle, and watermelons(seen above). It wasn't a fussy project so I looked into ways that could describe the goofy but mature personalities of my clients. I started by sketching a pattern that could be stamped seamlessly. This naturally became the background element of the banner. And since Cindy and Jay have a warm, home-bodied nature, I felt it was appropriate to reinforce that idea by mimicking the texture of wallpaper with a soft overlay of noise and box blurring.
Next was the icon design. We knew we wanted caricatures of the two, so I collected their photos and went to work sketching. There weren't many iterations of face shape and technique, but I did play with different hairstyles for Cindy's caricature. Developing the sketches would later help me design various expressions for their emotes seen below. As for the application of color, I used a brush within the Krita suite that recreated the effect of pastel chalk. Again, I wanted to involve those previous ideas of a friendly and inviting nature at all levels of the design process, "painting" included.
Finally, subscribers to the channel are awarded emotes to be used during live streams across the Twitch platform. Using the above icon as a base, I designed various expressions based off of the most common emotions. Since there was an upload limit of just 8 emotes, I provided some extra options just in case an image failed to communicate or otherwise be appealing to my clients.
Final Emote Selection
Taking care to maintain consistency between the channel icon and the provided emotes, I elected to simply copy and paste the base painting, altering color and shape accordingly. What do you guys think? Which emote is the strongest? Weakest? What troubles do you have when drawing expressions? I occasionally have trouble staying on model, but I think I've improved since college. Leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, don't forget to like and share this post!
Until next time,
There was no clear plan for what this post was going to be about, but for the sake of the blog I managed to rummage something interesting together. If you've been following my commission journey for the Musicks in Japan, you would be aware that I've been deep in the trenches finessing my typography skills. To expand my practice even further, I often extrapolate ideas from paths that are often unusable for a particular project, but still manage to be interesting enough to warrant development for other purposes. That so happened to be the case for the image below.
As I was trying to resolve organization and typesetting issues for the Musicks in Japan logo, specifically for the word "Japan", I came across a neat idea. By pushing the vowels back in space, outlining them through the shadows of the consonants, I could make the abbreviation of JPN clearly legible with my own unique font. However, aside from being a cool design, there wasn't much purpose behind this idea, so I left it sit in the recesses of my mind until I finished my commission. Thankfully, I like to be as resourceful and intuitive as possible with all my designs to maximize the potential from the tiniest of sketches. I figured whatever the end goal would be for this idea, it would have to be timely in its content and execution.
Over the past few years, talks about the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games have been the center of conversation, an inescapable fact of life here. Unfortunately, a lot of people have become quite disillusioned by the whole idea and aren't really looking forward to the event, despite what the media publishes. Therefore, I decided to do the opposite and look back at the 1964 games. For whatever reason, people don't seem to acknowledge the history the Olympics has in Japan, preferring to focus exlusively on next years games. With that in mind, I continued developing my sketches in a way that could incorporate these ideas but kept a strong focus on type.
I think the first inclination some novice designers have when implementing their designs onto products would be to use a t-shirt or a mug. However, not all designs are suitable for all products and vice-versa. I felt this route would cheapen my design, so it didn't take me very long to move away from this idea and consider more sophisticated options. Considering the refined and elegant nature of my wordmark, I figured mocking-up a commemorative postage stamp would be the most ideal option.
Keeping with the time period represented, I chose a retro color scheme and a vintage finish that would allow the graphic to pay homage to that era's design sensibilities. Simultaneously, I think the final product still has an air of modernity considering the color vibrancy, economy of space, and font choice. What do you guys think? What other sporting events should I explore in the future? FIFA? Rugby? Baseball? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, don't forget to like and share this post~
Until next time,
Whats up yall,
At some point during the Golden Week holiday, Yui and I came across the Mascots for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which is to be hosted at various cities all across the country. Since she loves the design of these characters, naturally, we snapped a picture, but the occassion got me thinking about Japan's affinity for mascots.
Since I am from America, the situations in which I may encounter a mascot are few and far between. Aside from sporting events or outside the storefront of a business, I can't imagine seeing them anywhere else and somehow thinking its normal. However, Japan takes the idea of mascots above and beyond. From prefectures to polic departments, these characters are literally everywhere. Just to prove that I'm not exaggerting, I'm going to show you all the mascots I encounter on my daily commute from home to work.
First of all, I live in a totally different prefecture just north of Tokyo called Saitama. There are 47 prefectures in Japan, so there are at least 47 different mascots. Saitama's mascots are "Kobaton and Satamachi"; two purple Eurasian doves. Why? I don't know.
Obviously, prefecture mascots use commonly found elements from the area they are intended to represent, but I can't recall ever seeing one of these birds in the 3 years I've lived here.
Scaling down our geographical scope even further, my tiny town of Warabi also has a mascot; a Wallaby named "Wallaby". Why? Because the pronunciation of the town name in Japanese is practically the same in English. I guess the town officials thought they were being clever.
I, like everyone and their grandma, ride trains to work and everywhere in-between. Therefore its obviously necessary to have a mascot branded to your train pass. Suica is a rechargeable IC card that can be used at a variety of locations to pay for a wide range of products and services. These business will usually display the suica penguin to encourage use of the payment system within their establishment.
In any case, most people use suica to ride the train in eastern Japan. Other regions have similar IC cards with totally different mascots. I think Japan is just bored at this point.
Anyway, since there are literally hundreds of thousands of people riding the train at any given time, its the best opportunity for businesses to advertise. So, what better way to do that, then to have a mascot? Of course real estate companies like Suumo need a big green ball of fur to tell you where the cheapest and most accessbile real estate in the city is.
But perhaps, the furball isn't trustworthy. Don't worry, maybe "Homes-kun" is more your pace. Homes-kun can find you a great home just as well as Sherlock Holmes himself.
Ok, so after riding the train for 45min to an hour, I reach my station; one of the largest and busiest in the city. If I hadn't seen them before I would definitely see Tokyo's mascots for the 2020 Olympics, Miraitowa and Someity, by now. These two are everywhere, and Yui hates them. The two designs were selected via a competition in which elementary schools across the nation voted for their favorites among 3 pairs of finalist. I'm not entirely sure what Miraitowa is supposed to be, but Someity's design is definitely inspired by cherry blossoms(you can see the petals adorning her head).
Lastly, every station has a few a police boxes near or/on the premises. Naturally, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has its own mascot, Pipo-kun, on display somewhere advising you to call the police at "110" should you see any suspicious activity. I'm not sure what animal Pipo-kun is supposed to be, maybe its an elf; but "pipo" is the sound sirens on patrol cars make.
Hopefully you guys found this post interesting. It was certainly fun to write and think about considering how fleeting these images can be in my daily life. Its certainly a use of character design that unqustionably goes overlooked at times. If you are interested in learning more about Japanese mascots, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight did a really funny piece a few months ago that I've linked below.
What do you think? Are mascots commonplace where you are from? What is the strangest mascot you've ever encountered? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, don't forget to like and share this post.
Until next time,
I'm back again with another design trend that you should be aware of for 2019. Compared to the last one, this trend is even more direct and probably more obvious. I'm referring to the trend known as color-blocking.
What is "color-blocking"?
Color-blocking essentially takes two contrasting colors, usually complimentary colors, and sets them in juxtposition to one-another. The pairing of the color combination is intended to be striking, vivid, and crisp. Piet Mondrian is famously attributed to be the originator of this design style, commonly referred to as "Neoplasticism". There is some controversy regarding the accuracy of that assertment, but his work is likely to be more familiar with the public than his contemporaries.
However, outside the realm of painting and modern popart, the greater world of graphic design and advertising has revitalized this trend for contemporary audiences in a marketable way. I believe Japan, specifically, has been on board with the color-blocking trend for many years due to their minimalist attitudes toward economical design. This is especially true when it comes to interior design.
On my daily commutes, I notice many types of advertisements adopting aspects of color-blocking in unique ways. As I mentioned in the definition above, traditional color-blocking uses complimentary colors; i.e, red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow, etc. The two advertisements below are each for a cram school. The one on the left uses "color-blocking" in a fresh and inviting way, challenging the audience's predisposition to the typical cram school advertisment seen right.
Other advertisements take an analogus approach by utilizing different hues within the same color spectrum. Take a look at this Pixar exhibtion advertisement. Each character is juxtaposed with a solid background color that works harmoniously with the overall design, creating separate cells or "blocks" of color at a distance.
We can also see color-blocking in ads for products and consumer goods as well. Pocari Sweat is a sports water brand here in Japan that notoriously utilizes bold blocks of blue in their advertising. This is a clear example in how the strength of color-blocking can be used to reinforce brand identity.
In other ads, the vibrancy of the color- block is greatly reduced to more muted tones that work well along side more natural elements, such as the sky. If you read my first entry about visual design trends, then you will notice that combination of the nature and color-blocking is incredibly effective at targeting consumers.
Finally, I can't talk much about color-blocking without mentioning its prolific use in fashion design and photography. The photograph below comes from a campaign organized by Lumine, a department store chain based here in Japan. Notice how the color-blocking is repeated beyond the clothing to encompass the background as well? This makes the image as a whole more graphical and visually striking; forcing the viewer to rest their eyes on the model's face, the only neutral space ib the composition.
Hopefully, through the given examples, you can be aware of what to look for over the year. The effectiveness of graphic design and advertising is largely psychological by nature, so it is important to know what techniques brands and agency are using to attract your attention. Having a bold, vivdly colorful block of advertising is more likely to grab you for those precious brief moments during your commute than a wall of text. Have you noticed any color-blocked ads recently? Is this particular trend appealing to you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, don't forget to like and share this post~
Until next time,
In today's post we are gonna get started talking about the most common and highly anticipated design trends of the year. The year started 4 months ago, but in Japan, Spring is technically the start of the year so I thought this topic is still timely. This is also a more passive look at how design is implemented in our daily lives; meant to encourage you all to think more critically about how things are marketed toward you and why certain artistic decision are made within the graphic design space. There are quite a few design trends to discuss, but in order to make all this information manageable, I will be going over one a week throughout the month. Some of my readers are not artist or designers so I don't want to be to heavy handed in disseminating the knowledge. Lets get started!
As technology continues to advance and become more integrated into our daily lives, a conscious or unconscious desire to find more balance is very noticeable. Since we are constantly assaulted with so much digital content and new media through our personal devices, the urge to see images of nature becomes more desirable. Yes, something as simple as a picture of a forest is very appealing and plays into our psychology.
However, images of people working with natural ingredients can just as easily solicit the same response. Over the past few years many people have become more socially conscious of where their food is sourced, its affect on our bodies, and where on the synthetic-to-organic range certain products and services sit. We, as consumers, are drawn to a wide variety of products and services incorporating organic ingredients offered by all types of businesses. You don't need to look any further than how the Trader Joes and Whole Foods of the world have rapidly expanded their market share among other traditional grocery store chains. Even those that don't have budgets or access, to these chains are more likely to buy locally and organically. Again, consumers are attempting to be more aware of the individual impact they have on their environment and communities.
Outside of food, people are incredibly drawn to natural experiences. We have seen an uptick in imagery that pertains to wellness and health as a means to find that balance with technology mentioned above. If you take a glance at social media or the environment around you, how many advertisements for spas, yoga, nature tourism, etc. do you see on a daily basis? I feel like Japan is especially representative of these trends. Unlike in America, the train stations are constantly advertising these types of natural experiences in adjacent prefectures. Take a look at some of the advertisements incorporate nature to sell the appeal of the destination.
In a sense, these images aren't just connecting the audience to nature, but to what is natural; connecting a person to themselves. Its almost as if they are selling spirituality. You could call it "marketing beyond materialism", because Millenials and Generation Z are now the targeted demographics for brands around the world. We are incredibly money conscious and are more prone to buy into products and services that are largely within our best interest. Fundamentally, that starts with the heart, body, and mind. So, its no surprise that nature is the number 1 visual design trend this year.
What do you think? Have you noticed more advertisements centered around nature? Are you finding it difficult to maintain a balance in your daily life between technology and your surroundings? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, don't forget to like and share this post~
Until next time,
It’s time for our weekly Freeday post. Today’s theme is, again, a bit different as I try to get into a groove doling out these topics. I think I will do some sort of artist highlight once a month. I follow some really interesting people that are working on fascinating projects that I believe deserve more eyes on them. If you’d be interested in that, leave a comment below. Anyway, without further ado...
Artist Spotlight | Shawna Mills
Shawna is an animator and storyboard artist with an impressive body of work and experience. She has contributed to projects at Lucas Films(Star Wars Rebels season 3-4), Nickelodeon(Invader Zim, 2017 & Rise of TMNT), Disney/Marvel Animation(Guardians of the Galaxy), Sony, Dreamworks and many more. What’s even more extraordinary, Shawna is currently the Showrunner/Director and Founder of her very own media development company, Soda Monkey Entertainment.
And this where we get to the meat and potatoes. For the past few years I’ve been watching Shawna develop her own original animated pilot for a series called “Boom Tag X”. Instead of me describing the contents of the project, take a look at the full trailer she released a few weeks ago.
As you can see, the premise shares a likeness to cult classics like The Running Man(1987) and Battle Royale(2000). However, Boom Tag makes some nods to hip hop culture, with Shawna at the helm developing her own unique story and dynamic drawing style. Those familiar with cartoons/anime in the vein of Invader Zim/FLCL may recognize the influence of those expressive motions in her work above. At the same time, I think she has some of the most creative and unique looking characters for a project I’ve seen in recent years. Since I consider myself to be a character designer as well, I hold her skill in high regard. Shawna Mills and Soda Monkey Entertainment should be on your watch list for 2019. Stay up to date by following her Instagram and subscribing to the Boom Tag X YouTube channel.
Who is an artist you think I’d be interested in? Would you like to receive more recommendations in the future? Leave your comments below and don’t forget to like and share this post~
Until next time,
It’s Friday, time for a free-for-all post about some interesting things I saw this week. (P.S. I do have a TBT and MCM post I plan to share when I get home. Look out for those to be published sometime on Monday.) Moving on~
Like most people, I consume the majority of my entertainment online; typically via YouTube or Netflix. Recently, out of necessity to curate content for the blog, I’ve been watching a ton of videos related to art and design. Of which, I would like to share a few with you today!
Obviously Netflix naturally has the upper hand in long form series or documentary formatted video, but since the service does require a subscription, I will abstain from recommending their content in this post. However, Youtube is much better in delivering a significant quantity and diversity to art and design oriented videos than Netflix anyway. The quality really depends on the individual channel, but I find the short form video edits much more beneficial in absorbing the information presented. For example,
I don’t recall reading vanity fair to any extensive depths, but if their magazines are anything like their YouTube channel, I may have to re-evaluate my life decisions. I’ve become obsessed with their movie centric breakdown videos lately. None more so than the movie poster design critiques. If you’ve ever wanted to understand the formulaic and psychological decisions designers establish to create movie posters, then look no further.
I think many people are familiar with vox videos by scrolling through their newsfeed on Facebook. Though the company often publishes videos political in nature, they actually have a wonderful playlist of videos entitled “Behind the Design”. This playlist introduces viewers to how design is incorporated in infrastructure, architecture, society, art, and everything else that contributes to the human experience. Check out how designers use nature to elevate and improve technology with the bullet train. I thought it was especially personal since I see these trains daily. Still impressive.
Among the three on this list, cheddar is by far the most recent addition. However, it’s familiar editing format(like genius or seeker) is ideal for delivering some really intriguing content largely related to social science and technology. This video about the effects of low-fi hip hop on study patterns came across my feed earlier in the week. I think it was especially interesting because myself and many others are subscribed to the 24hr streaming low-fi hip hop channel, often listening along as we create our art.
Hopefully you find some great gems as you dig around on YouTube! What kind of videos do you watch on the platform? Do you have any recommendations? Leave a comment and share this post!
Until next time,
Today’s Freeday post is a bit late as I was feeling a bit under the weather this weekend. However, I’m back with a new topic to discuss.
You may have noticed in my Throwback Thursday post, I made significant changes to a character I created several years ago. This got me thinking about the character design process in general and why certain characters in popular media look the way they do. So today’s theme is the character design process, simplified.
Cool...Where do you start?
Well, each artist has there own approach to design in general, so mine is no exception. I tend to start with a generalized theme or mood based on a few questions.
Shapes, the building blocks of all characters
All characters are created from 3 basic shapes consisting of a square, circle, or triangle. Each of these shapes reflect a general idea of a characters personality or traits; square=strong, uniform, unyielding, circle=soft, appealing, kind, triangle=dangerous, intellectual, active, etc.
By extrapolating these shapes and/or combining them, a clear and unique silhouette is created.
What’s a silhouette and why is it important?
Silhouette- a two-dimensional representation of the outline of an object, as a cutout or configurational drawing, uniformly filled in with black.
The more visually striking the silhouette is, the easier it is to read a character on screen. Take a look at the silhouettes below, can you identify which basic shapes were likely used to create these iconic characters? Do you recognize any of them?
Now that we have our silhouette or perhaps, multiple silhouettes, what’s next?
You might recall my Pinterest post from the other day regarding fashion. Which is indeed an important factor in character design, but there are many other things to consider as well.
Usually, an original character will undergo several concept passes that explore different costume and prop combinations. However, since my goal was only to redesign, I decided to skip that step. Instead, I took the opportunity to use a more anime-esque design language that is characterized by thin line weight, elongated proportions, voluminous hair, vivid colors, and glamorous eyes. To be fair, anime has its own classic tropes unique to Japanese character design. If you ever wondered why a lot of those characters use recycled hairstyles and such, take a look at the video below.
Capitalizing on all of this knowledge, I managed to convey a spunky, eccentric, perhaps even magical, pirate captain with a wee bit of elegance.
Since this post has run quite long already, I’ll save some info for another time. What do you think of my redesign? What should I draw next? Leave your comments below.
Whats up guys!
Welcome to Freeday.
First, Why am I using this ridiculous name?(you may ask)
Well, I’m not that clever and I only wanted to talk about cool things I saw or did this week so...Freeday (?)
Just bear with me, maybe it will grow on you!
Anyway, today’s topic is Grease Pencil!
Grease Pencil seems to be the design product of my dreams, but let’s start at the beginning.
What is GreasePencil?
Grease Pencil is a component in the Blender software suite that allows artists to draw in a 3D space to create 2.5D animation. Ermahgerd~
Why is this important?
If you have ever had issues with drawing in perspective, a lot of those problems are alleviated by simply moving the camera. That. Is. Amazing! (You should definitely know how to draw in perspective anyway though).
How can I see it in action?
You can watch the test movie here. Be sure to watch through the credits for a behind the scenes look at the software!
I’m sure many folks may be comfortable using ToonBoom, Flash, Harmony, or OpenToonz, but since the software is open source, it’s free! I downloaded it the other day have been learning ever since. I highly recommend it!