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Amano the World

by Bob Eggleton

I became captivated by the works of Yoshitaka Amano some years ago when I was struck by the freedom of his work.  It had sheer emotional content and... the fact his style and technique would change seemingly with each painting or drawing he would create.  It was refreshing and like a door opening.
photo of Bob Eggleton
Bob Eggleton

In the US, as far as Science Fiction fandom goes, Amano has been often considered "Doesn't he do comics and manga art??"  I find it amazing the misconception that Amano has had such an association with comics, when in fact he's done nothing like comic art!  Sure, he did The Dream Hunters with Neil Gaiman as an illustrated book for DC comics and he did an exploration of "Elecktra and Wolverine" characters for Marvel in another illustrated series of books.  I think in the US, fans tend to think inside "the box" with regard to styles of art.  I can tell you, they like art that seems to 'stay the course' and venture along one certain style or subject matter to the given artist.  While maybe it's a generalization, with a few people who do like change it seems to be true overall.  I suspect the problem could be a one of east-west perception.  In my many trips to Japan, I have discovered the Japanese use their imaginations as part of the experience of enjoying a film, a work of art or a play.  This goes back to the tradition of Kibuki Theater.  It's the reason a Hayao Miyazaki film can enjoy huge success in Japan, but sometimes barely get a Stateside release - the audience here doesn't know how to deal with something that isn't all explained to them.  I think this is what intrigues me about Amano's works - not everything is explained, it simply "is" and my imagination fills in the rest.  This strange dragon may appear surreal and shy, off in the corner, but we just accept that as it is, because Amano tells us it is.  Much is left up to the viewer.  His work is not airbrushed and overworked.  It is delicate and soft, manic and wild -- technique is beside the point, the issue here is the idea and the emotion contained in it.  Technique only gives it form.

Amano's history takes one across a pop culture voyage.  He worked from 1967 onward - at the young age of 15 (this feat alone is legendary in Japan) at Tatsunoko Productions in Tokyo, on various animated TV shows.  This anime studio created many, many shows, but one series that most of those of the "Growing up in the 1970s" U.S. generation will recognize is "Speed Racer", known in Japan as "Mach Go-Go-Go!" when originally made in 1967 (To this day,one of my very favorite animated shows!!), and "Gatchaman" (US title: "Battle of the Planets").  Amano helped create and develop many ideas and concepts at Tatsunoko.  He left this studio in l982 to set his own course in illustration and fine art.  At this time, he'd also begun his own production studio.

Before he'd even left Tatsunoko, in l981 he'd made his debut illustrating "Twilight Worlds," a kind of serialized picture/story for SF Magazine and also started illustrating many books, which was his big introduction to SF and Fantasy audiences.

An important landmark was achieved soon after, the Japanese editions of Michael Moorcock's fantasy series Corum (1982-1984), Erekose (1983-1988), Elric (1984-1994}, Hawkmoon (1988-1989) were published, and Amano was asked to do the illustrations for the cover and insides of these books which gained him great respect and recognition in Japan.  He envisioned Moorcock's work in a wholly different way.  Baku Yumemakura's "Chimera Kou" is also hutatabi published.  Baku Yumemakura is also the author of 'Onmyoji' (1988) which would later become a film distributed by Toho Studios (the studio who brought us the early Kurosawa films, and of course, Godzilla).

In 1983 the post apocalypic saga of Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D begins.  Amano is awarded the Seiun Award for Best Artist at the 14th annual awards.  His popularity would win this for four years running (1983-14th to 1986-17th).  Later, some of his character designs were included in the anime version of Vampire Hunter D in fact he has a dense but smaller sized slip-cased book "Yoshitaka Amano Art Book -Vampire Hunter 'D' which features all the works done for these books.  He was becoming the most important and popular fantasy artist in Japan because of these works had a newfound audience that grew.

In 1984 his first art book "Maten" was published and sold well.  This art book would be a huge step for him.  Amano is no longer only seen and appreciated only by science fiction fans.  He was truly breaking into the mainstream of culture and art.  This was a turning point all artists seek.

Around 1985, he did cover/inside illustration of Kaoru Kurimoto's epic fantasy series "Guin Saga" (volume 20 to 56).  (This series has recently started as English editions).  Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg is another film that Amano did a great deal of design and storyboard work for around this time.  Once again, he did a wealth of character and prop designs for this film and these are contained in yet another volume of his work.

In l986 he had another art book - Genmu-kyuu to showcase his talent.  Following this was the first visual design work for Final Fantasy (more on this in a moment) and the art book Imagine.

In 1989 his Art book Hiten was released.  It was around this time when I became aware of Amano.  He was also the Artist Guest of Honor at the l989 World Fantasy Convention in Seattle, Washington in October of that year.

In 1990 through l994, he did a great deal of theatrical design in Japan for the plays "Nayotake", "Youkihi" and in 1994 did theatrical design-and costume design for "Kaishin Bessou".  In these years he was also productive with several Art books: 1991 - Tenma no Yume, and Dawn, 1992 Rasen-ou, 1993 Mono, and in l994, Japan.  Art books in Japan are often stunningly produced with no expense spared, designed in unique formats and the printing is second to none.  It's very common as well that an Artist's book will sell extremely well in Japan.

Needless to say, Amano seems to be everywhere at once.  He is extremely prolific.  I have many volumes of his works(some mentioned above), though I have to admit I don't have all of them-he comes out with a new book of treasures just when I think I have them all.  His media and film design work includes conceptual art for Final Fantasy (the video game), and recently, the live-action films OnmyojiI 1 and ONMYOJI 2 (based on Baku Yumemakura books), Japanese period-piece fantasy films that have fantastic set, character and costume designs, all by Amano's deft hand.

The Final Fantasy work is presented in a lush, three volume boxed and limited edition that is presented like a carry-case for seemingly countless drawings and paintings.  Some are just ideas and some have made it to the final design (which is usually the case in all conceptual art).  There is even a smaller book with the set providing a rare glimpse into the artist's studio and life.  Photos reveal even his leather coat and shoes displayed as items essential to his day to day life.  We wind up feeling like we know Amano personally.  Even down to what he likes to eat "for creativity".  To see the amount of paintings and drawings contained in the book displays Amano's handling of all kinds of media in order to express himself.  Large watercolors are beside smaller sketches and seemingly quick ideas.  Monsters, strange biomechanical machines, siren-like women and other strange characters all take on a life of their own.  A yellow dragon.  A blue dragon.  Nothing is ever boring or predictable.  He includes flowers, graphic patterns, beautiful women and organic floating vessels made of dreams and colors.

It is very hard to pick out one or two Amano images as "the best" because the whole body of work, all of it adds up to moments of thinking as we look into his mind.

His media are as limitless as his imagination.  He uses inks - black and gold inparticular to wonderous effect.  Acrylics and colored inks over pencil and re-inked with black line.  The black inked lined is a statement in itself, wispy and with a life all it's own.  Delicate hand-made papers are used to create worlds and expressions.  Worlds within worlds.  He's not afraid to let the deckled edges of the watercolor paper he's using show - that's all part of the image to Amano.  One of his books, Symphony is particularly unique.  Amano is a fan of all kinds of music.  Be it Bruce Springsteen or Brahms.  In this book he collected a series of paintings and original prints that be based upon specific songs from specific artists.  They aren't 'illustrations' that are all spelled out, but perhaps ideas and thoughts that crossed his mind while listening to these songs.  He simply seemed to let his mind go with the song.  The result is a page-turning explosion of color, ideas and media.

Another amazing technique he uses is the unpredictable fun of original lithographs.  The way this is done is a drawing is done with a wax litho crayon, on a plate or a stone, and essentially printed in verso; and because each one is hand pulled, the resulting "artifact" is different, slightly, each time.  Then, through masks, colors can be overlaid onto each print in varying and subtle ways, which again makes each litho an original work in itself.  Amano used this technique greatly in his wonderful little book N.Y.Salad which was inspired by trips to buy groceries near his studio in New York City in the Soho area.  Think if you will, Fairies and Imps that live in the produce section of Dean and DeLuca.

Amano, at one point maintained three "Altiers" or, studios - one in Paris, one in New York City's Soho area and, one of course in Tokyo making him truly an international artist and citizen of the world.  A Man of The World - Amano The World.  He is the modern Klimt or even, Chagall, and answers to truly being a "Fine" artist.  His work is the only art I have ever seen where even one simple black ink line could make a statement within the context of what he is illustrating.  His works have been on display in many venues and he had a rather large installation a few years ago in New York City entitled "Think Like Amano".

Yoshitaka Amano makes any artist think differently about their own work and how they might perceive the world.  It is fortunate we have his talent in our midst, as with each new work, he continues to amaze and delight like no other artist today.

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