Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Song

The latest trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain uses the song “Nuclear” by Mike Oldfield to GREAT effect!

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Just wanted to post some quick thoughts on the music choice behind the rad new trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain that was just unveiled at E3 2014.

Here’s the trailer:

The song used for the trailer is “Nuclear” by longtime British prog rocker Mike Oldfield.

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Oldfield is best known for his 1973 album Tubular Bells which was used as the theme of the classic horror film The Exorcist. This album also inspired a JoJo Stand.

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Tubular Bells is one of the WEIRDEST stands to ever grace JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (which is truly a feat if you’re familiar with the series)

“Nuclear” is a track from Oldfield’s 25th studio album Man on the Rocks which was released on March 3 2014, only a few months before the Metal Gear E3 2014 trailer. The song fits the trailer in an amazingly layered fashion. Aside from setting the perfect tone, the song’s lyrics very literally describe what’s happening on screen while also emphasizing the themes of MGS V: The Phantom Pain.

“Nuclear” is very clearly a song about war, which has always been one of the main themes of the Metal Gear series. The first stanza goes:

“Standing on the edge of the crater
Like the prophets once said
and the ashes are all cold now
No more bullets and the embers are dead
Whispers in the air tell the tales
Of the brothers gone
Desolation, devastation
What a mess we made, when it all went wrong”

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This perfectly describes Big Boss following the destruction of Mother Base in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. His life’s work has been destroyed. His comrades have been slain. Where he once fought for his ideals and the dream of a world where soldiers could determine their own fates, in The Phantom Pain he fights for revenge. The line “the ashes are cold now” has particular significance as it’s revealed that instead of giving his slain comrades a burial at sea (a time honored military tradition), Big Boss has their ashes compressed into diamond knives which are used in cold and violent fashion to avenge their deaths.

"This game will have more stabbings than a violent Korean Thriller" - Weigy Samakoen (follow him on Twitter! @Weigy)

“This game will have more stabbings than a violent Korean Thriller” – Weigy Samakoen (follow him on Twitter! @Weigy)

The song continues:

“Watching from the edge of the circus
For the games to begin
Gladiators draw their swords
form their ranks for armageddon”

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This is pretty straight forward. These lyrics describe the apocalyptic mood of The Phantom Pain, with Big Boss rallying his men to increasing heights of violence.

Then the chorus kicks in:

“I’m nuclear
I’m wild
I’m breaking up inside”

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The word “nuclear” is very significant since Metal Gear is a story that takes place after the Atomic Age. With the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in 1945, humanity achieved the ability to annihilate itself on a global scale. The title Metal Gear refers to the code name of a walking tank that functions as a mobile nuclear launch platform. Many of the Metal Gear games revolve around the hero attempting to stop the Metal Gear from falling into the wrong hands (they’re about MUCH MORE than this though!).

A shot of what appears to be a Metal Gear from the E3 2014 Phantom Pain trailer

A shot of what appears to be a Metal Gear from the E3 2014 Phantom Pain trailer

“A heart of broken glass
Defiled
Deep inside
The abandoned child”

These lyrics not only describe Big Boss, the protagonist of The Phantom Pain, they also describe every protagonist of a Metal Gear game.

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Big Boss was abandoned by his beloved mentor, the legendary soldier simply known as The Boss (her real name is never revealed) in the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. He inherits his esteemed title from her.

Solid Snake, the original hero of Metal Gear is a black ops soldier who specializes in solo missions that are so secret that the US will disavow any connection to him if he’s ever caught. Following the “Shadow Moses Incident” (the events of the original Metal Gear Solid for PSOne) Snake takes the fall for the disaster and is branded a terrorist. He is abandoned by his country, though he returns to save it (and the world) in subsequent games. Snake is a clone of Big Boss. He never knew his “father” until he was sent to kill him in the events of the original 8-bit Metal Gear game

Raiden, the surprise protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was a child soldier. His parents were murdered shortly after he was born and he was taken in and raised by the man who killed them.

The description of an “abandoned child” could also refer to any number of supporting characters in the Phantom Pain. For instance it’s very likely that a young Liquid Snake is in the game as well as a young Psycho Mantis, two characters with very strong parental abandonment issues.

The description also very aptly describes Kazuhira Miller, Big Boss’ second in command. Miller is the son of a US soldier and a Japanese prostitute struggling to get by in post World War 2 Japan. His father did not stick around. Miller grew up an outsider, abandoned by both cultures of his heritage. It was only until he met Big Boss on the battlefield that he found a place where he felt he truly belonged.

We’ve explored how the trailer reappropriates the lyrics of the song to fit the themes of Metal Gear. To add another layer to the mix, we can look into the original intention of the lyrics to “Nuclear”, which are about the author’s grandfather and his traumatic experiences with World War I. Here are Mike Oldman’s words on the subject:

“I never knew him,” he says, “So I hired a company to find out about him. It turned out he was a great character before the war but came home a very different man. My mum was one of ten or eleven kids and all the children born after the war had problems like hers. I wanted to see if I could spread my senses in the place he was. I travelled around Ypres and the battlefield museums and I saw the graves of his regiment: the Royal Munster Fusiliers. And I could feel it. Still there. It’s a blessing and a curse for those of us who have this extra sensitivity.”

source:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopfeatures/10676856/Pop.html

The song is about how the trauma of one life can reverberate across many generations. This has always been a core message of Metal Gear, which spans many generations from the past into the future. This is especially relevant to the themes of The Phantom Pain, which Hideo Kojima has described as “race and revenge.”

The opening message to the trailer reads:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured”

This quote is from Mark Twain, famed American novelist and in the age of social media, even more famous as a satirist, with many splashy quotes popping up in feeds across the world. Lesser known is Mark Twain, the member of the American Anti-Imperialist League, founded in 1898 to fight against America’s annexation of the Philippines. Twain abhorred Imperialism and its cruel exploitation of people across the globe, justified by a sense of racial and national superiority. The scars of this era still pock mark our world today. And in many places these wounds have are still open and have only gotten worse.

Metal Gear may just be a videogame to most people, but it touches on some of the most important topics of our times in a way that resonates very deeply with me. I can’t wait to see how the next chapter unfolds.

Bonus Musings:

“Nuclear” by Mike Oldfield sounds a whole lot like the classic King Crimson song “Epitaph”

Which is coincidentally also the name of another really rad stand from JoJo (the main guy is "King Crimson" while the little guy on his forehead is named "Epitaph")

Which is coincidentally also the name of another really rad stand from JoJo (the main guy is “King Crimson” while the little guy on his forehead is named “Epitaph”)

Epitaph is another classic song that ponders the concept of war and its aftermath. I think there’s a very good chance that “Nuclear” is based on “Epitaph” as you can practically overlay the songs on top of one another. Also the first line of Nuclear; “Standing on the edge of the crater, Like the prophets once said;” could be a reference to the first line of Epitaph; “The wall on which the prophets wrote Is cracking at the seams.”

Speaking of crimson things, the color red features prominently in this trailer. Obviously this is inevitable with so much bloodshed. But I think it also relates to the classic Japanese folk tale of the Red Ogre and the Blue Ogre.

The story goes that there once was a Red Ogre and a Blue Ogre who were friends. The Blue Ogre desperately wanted to befriend some human villagers, but they were terrified of him. The Red Ogre came up with a plan. He would pretend to attack the village and the Blue Ogre would fight him off and save the day. The plan works marvelously and the villagers accept the Blue Ogre as their friend and savior. Later the Blue Ogre receives a message from his friend. The Red Ogre tells him that he must say goodbye. They can never be seen together again as their plan might be found out, and the Blue Ogre would lose his new human friends. It’s a very bittersweet story.

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I believe this might be the basic plot outline to The Phantom Pain. The game was originally codenamed “Project Ogre.” The main characters are Big Boss (Red Ogre) and Kazuhira Miller (Blue Ogre). Big Boss (who now has a horn and a red prosthetic arm) is the longstanding antagonist of the Metal Gear series. Miller is his second in command, though in the events of Metal Gear Solid 1 (which takes place decades after Phantom Pain) Miller is clearly back in the employ of the United States, helping Solid Snake fight against his former comrade. At some point during The Phantom Pain, I believe that Big Boss and Miller will orchestrate some kind of falling out in order to plant Miller back into the good graces of the United States. I can’t wait to see how this plays out!

 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. Apologies for the slipshod nature of this post. I just wanted to get my thoughts out in a timely manner. I might update this post in the future to clean it up and punch it up with more visuals. Until then, take care!

Update; 06/10/2014:
One more clue about the ogre imagery was just pointed out to me by a friend. In the trailer Eli (who is likely Liquid Snake) is wearing a shirt that says “Never be Game Over.” Under that image is an ogre with an eyepatch!

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This is the strongest indication of the Ogre allegory yet!

Posted in Hideo Kojima, konami, Metal Gear, Movie Analysis, video games | 5 Comments

Happy 15th Birthday to Street Fighter III: Third Strike

May 12, 1999, 15 years ago to this day, the best game I’ve ever played was released into the world. That game is Street Fighter III: Third Strike, easily my favorite game of all time. I’ve spent countless hours on Third Strike over the last 2 decades and I’m still just scratching the surface of its depth. But beyond the entertainment value, this game has enriched my life in 2 immeasurable ways: it inspired me as an artist and it helped me make some of the best friends I’ve had in life.

The character art by Daigo Ikeno is masterful. The poses, the angles, the confident rendering, the way he simplifies forms, it’s all so ON POINT. So stylized and fun, and yet so subtle and subdued. And the sprite animation is just peerless.

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I could go on forever about Third Strike, but my words don’t really do it justice. So please enjoy this high resolution character art from Daigo Ikeno. If you have a copy of Third Strike, you should give it a spin. And if you’ve never tried it, well there’s no better time than now to start.

Here’s to you Third Strike.

Posted in artists, Daigo Ikeno (池野目高) | Leave a comment

Kill la Kill: The Sin of Clothing

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“What is clothing?”

SIN! MAN’S ORIGINAL SIN!”

“Indeed… clothing is sin. When man ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge he became ashamed of his nakedness and covered his nethers. From the time humanity first gained free will as human beings it has been his fate to cover his body in the clothing called sin. Because we alone know man’s sin and create clothing for clothing’s sake!”

As Kill la Kill advances the plot at break-neck speed, the lore of its world comes out at an equally break-neck pace! While the early episodes delve into historic imagery of clothes (such as fascism), later episodes delve into the religious side of things:

 

Orginal Sin

sin

Kill la Kill gives us the world-shattering revelation that it was not humanity which created clothes, it was clothing that chose the ancestor of humanity and spurred their evolution into a being that relies on clothing! This point is driven home with well known biblical imagery (Trigger is ex-Gainax after all!) but is there more to it?

chosen

There’s a sect of Christianity called Christian naturalism that believes man’s natural state is to be naked and wearing clothes is the result of sin. To them, Adam & Eve were created pure in their nakedness until the serpent caused them to sin, so they covered themselves in leaves to hide their shame from God. God gave Adam & Eve animal skins, not for them to hide, but to show them that sin requires a blood sacrifice. Christian naturalists cite this event as the first time that bloodshed is known (an animal has to die for one to wear its skin) and all subsequent blood sacrifices, from common lambs to the Lamb of God (aka Jesus) is the price paid for this original sin.

While most Christian sects regarded the nudity the naturalists embraced as vulgar, the naturalists counter that nudity was an original state of human purity, it was when the body was covered by clothing that society began to regard nudity as lewd. Only by becoming comfortable with one’s own natural body could society’s shame be overcome.

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Ryuko’s self consciousness holds her back

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Only by embracing the kamui can its full power be unlocked

Nudist Beach’s naked struggle against the cosmic evil that is Life Fibers takes on biblical porportions, but can humanity really stand up to its own creator? What role will the blood fueled kamui play in the end? I can only find out by following Kill la Kill to its conclusion!

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Nudists, Sin, Evolution, Sacrifice, Purity, Kill la Kill! 

 

BONUS:
Here’s a random historic event I found while researching this article that’s very loosely related to the themes of Christianity and nudity (I highly doubt it has anything to do with Kill la Kill but it’s too interesting not to share):

“THE NAKED WALKERS”- On 10-11 February 1535 a number of Anabaptists had a meeting in the Zoutsteeg at AmsterdamNetherlands. Suddenly their leader Henrick Henricxz Snyder threw his clothing into a fire and ordered his followers to also strip naked and do the same. They obeyed and together they walked out naked into the streets declaring their ‘naked truth’: “Woe, the wrath of God is coming over this city!” …they were later apprehended and executed for public indecency.

 naked walker Completely unrelated image of Nudist Beach in power-walkers

 

Posted in animation, Studio Trigger | 5 Comments

Happy Birthday Katsuya Terada!

Today, December 7, is the Rakugaking’s birthday. To celebrate, here is a small sampling of some of his pieces from his Hot Pot Girl’s exhibit (best show ever). Some of these original pieces are still available to purchase from Giant Robot here.

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More posts about this show to come in the future.

In the meantime check out this previous Art-Eater post on Terada’s 2011 show, Terra’s Black Marker:

Terra's Black Marker

Posted in artists, Katsuya Terada | Leave a comment

Kill la Kill: The Fashion of Fascism

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“Wow”

“WOW!!”

“WOWW!!THIS!!IS!!!Soooo!!!Goooooooooooood!!!!!!”

That was reaction to the first minute of watching Kill la Kill, the first fight of Kill la Kill, and the marathoning of every episode up to the latest (which you can watch online for free and legally here: http://www.killlakill.com/streaming/). Now I’m here to share with you my happy joyful feelings on this amazing show created by Studio Trigger (formed from ex-Gainax staff).

 

 

Dressed to Kill

Fashionism

When a show begins with a history lesson on fascism you wonder if it’s supopse to mean something. Luckily for us, the director of Kill la Kill, Hiroyuki Imaishi (of FLCL and Gurren Lagann fame) explains it outright: “When Japanese pronounce the english words ‘fashion’ and ‘fascism’, it sounds nearly the same.” and from there many more puns sprung forth and formed the key words to Kill la Kill’s plot.

English Japanese Pronounced
Fashion ファッション Fashhon
Fascism ファッショ Fassho
Kill/Cut キル Kiru
To wear (clothes) 着る Kiru
Sailor Uniform 制服 Seifuku
Conquest 征服 Seifuku

This is a story of fashion, fascism, and conquest through the power of blood soaked school uniforms.

Kill la Kill may be a fictional tale but it’s theme is one rooted in history. At the turn of the 20th century Japan was rapidly modernizing every fiber of its being, incluing its school uniforms and military. By 1932, their democracy ended in a bloody military coup (and attempted murder of Charlie Chaplin, but that’s another story…). Uniformed youth groups were a common tactic of fascist governments in molding the youth to be the soldiers of tomorrow. Today Japan is a pacifist nation that has disavowed war, but now there are talks of amending their peace constitution to rebuild the military, which has drawn criticism from prominent figures in animation such as Hayao Miyazaki. Could Kill la Kill also be commentary on contemporary Japanese politics? Am I reading too much into a pun? Who knows.

High school girls wave to a boy their own age, a kamikaze pilot on his first and final mission.

High school girls in seifuku wave to their classmate, a kamikaze pilot on his first and final mission.

 

 

 Coming of Age

Our protagonist Matoi Ryuuko is introduced with her taunting a kid who has just stolen the lemon she bit into. For long time Gainax fans this seem familiar; the 1st episode of FLCL ends with Naota being offered a sour lemon drink from a girl that had already drunk from it, sharing an indirect kiss with her as his lips touched where hers were. Considering the director of Kill la Kill also worked on FLCL, it seems like an homage to the shared theme of ’coming of age’. In FLCL, Naota’s rejection of sour things showed his childishness, only liking sweet things while avoiding anything challenging. With Ryuuko, she bites into a sour lemon without flinching, this is a girl who faces hardship head on.

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One of the most titilating (and controversial) aspects of Kill la Kill is the scanty outfits known as Kamui  (神衣, lit. “God Clothes”) that feed on the wearer’s blood. It would be easy to dismiss it as cheap fanservice but Kill la Kill integrates it into the theme of ‘coming of age’, just as FLCL had with Naota’s head-teleporter/boner.

Pure blood

Strong imagery of puberty surround the donning of Kamui. When Matoi Ryuuko first awakens her Kamui by bleeding on it, she is embarassed by how it exposes her body to gawking men and the shame she feels becomes a handicap in battle. But her rival, the noble born Kiryuin Satsuki who rules Honno-ji Academy, fully embraces wearing the Kamui. To her it is merely an object of power which she wields with such confidence that no man dares to gaze at her without respect. Ryuuko is in turn inspired by her rival to truly embrace what it means to be comfortable with the Kamui, to acknowledge it as a part of her own body.

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“This is the form in which a Kamui is able to unleash the most power! The fact that you are embarassed by the values of the masses only proves how small you are! If it means fulfilling her ambitions, Satsuki Kiryuin will show neither shame nor hesititation, even if she bares her breasts for all the world to see! My actions are utterly pure!
-Satsuki shows Ryuuko the true meaning of purity and power

 

 

The Red Thread of Fate

Red Thread of Fate

The Kamui are made from “life fibers”, a mystic red thread which greatly enhance the wearer’s powers. ‘Red threads’ (紅線) show up in East Asian mythology as a device of fate by the Matchmaker God (月下老人 lit. ‘Old Man Under the Moon’ ) who uses the red thread of fate to tie people together by the pinky, making them destined to cross paths, as lovers or some other way that changes their lives.

Satsuki’s Kamui (Junketsu, 純潔 lit. ”Purity”) was referred to as her ‘wedding dress’, and has its counterpart in Ryuuko’s Kamui (Senketsu, lit. 鮮血 ”Fresh Blood”). It’s unknown who created Junketsu, but Senketsu was created by Ryuuko’s father, Matoi Isshin. Their family name Matoi (纏) literally means ‘tangle’, like say, tangling a thread…

matchmaker

Destined

 

The Road of Lords

Kiryuin Satsuki in particular stands out and is surrounded with imagery of regal power. She is the one who sits at the top of the heiarchy that is Honnouji academy and her lordly calibur is also expressed with her use of ancient Chinese proverbs:

Ambition

The originator of that quote, Chen Sheng, was a child in a small village when he spoke of his ambitions to one day become powerful. When the villagers mocked him for his ambition, Chen Sheng responded: “Little sparrows cannot understand the ambition of a grand swan!”. He grew up to become a commander of the Qin dynasty, the first dynasty to unify China through military might, but his ambition continued to burn. Chen Sheng ultimately became the first man to rebel against the Qin, though it ended with his death. This lordly imagery surrounding Satsuki is also enhanced with a tie in to Japan’s most famous conqueror…

honnouji…in Satsuki’s ‘castle’, Honnouji academy. Honnouji is spelled with nearly the same kanji as Honno-ji temple, famous for being the lodgings of Oda Nobunaga as he planned his invasions. But Honno-ji is most famous as the site where Nobunaga was betrayed by a subordinate and killed. With references to warlords who ultimately failed in their ambitions, could this be foreshadowing Satsuki’s own fate? What role does the red thread that binds her with Ryuuko have in this? Whatever it is, I await every new episode of Kill la Kill with great anticipation!

 

 

BONUS:

Could Honnouji academy itself be some kind of gigantic Kamui robot? FLCL had its share of giant monster battling… we’ll have to watch and see!

 

 

 

Posted in animation, Studio Trigger | 30 Comments

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Analysis

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E3 has revealed to the world yet another stunning Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain trailer:

What speculation can we brew from this footage?

Eli- A youth who curses his fate

But the Lord spoke of Samuel’s sons: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7)

Eliab was described as a tall and handsome man who looked every bit the part to be king. However David, his younger brother, was chosen to be king because he had a good heart and superior character. In Metal Gear Solid, Liquid Snake and Solid Snake are the “Sons of Big Boss,” clones created to be the perfect soldiers like their legendary father. The clones were inexact, with Liquid receiving Big Boss’s dominant traits (including making him a few cm taller) and Solid receiving his recessive traits, though Liquid would grow up with the misconception he possessed the inferior genes as he cursed his fate.

 

Diamond Dogs

This wouldn’t be the first time Hideo Kojima makes a Bowie reference in Metal Gear, MGS3 had Major Zero going by the code name ‘Major Tom’, and Kojima wanted Space Oddity to be the end credits song.

Cunning insight or wild speculation? We’ll only know when the game comes out, but until then we’ll be wracking our brains in anticipation of Kojima’s next masterpiece.

*Special thanks to Weigy for his help on this post!
*Richmond, Weigy and I will continue to pool our heads together and update this post as we speculate and maybe discover more

Posted in Hideo Kojima, konami, Metal Gear, Uncategorized, video games | Tagged | 2 Comments

From Mickey Mouse to Jesus, This Dragon’s Crown Trailer is Full of Epic Homages

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Watching the latest Dragon’s Crown trailer I was delighted by the density of historical and pop cultural references they managed to sprinkle into every shot. Dragon’s Crown is the latest game from Vanillaware, best known for Odin Sphere and Oboro Muramasa. Vanillaware is staffed by many ex-Capcom employees who worked on some of the best arcade games from back in the day, including Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara (my favorite beat-em-up next to Capcom’s Aliens vs Predator). Dragon’s Crown is very much a spiritual successor to these games, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the vast array of influences at work in this title. Here’s the trailer.

Now let’s go through shot by shot …

Walt Disney Presents … The trailer opens up with a glowing fairy flying by the Atlus logo. This is an homage to the iconic Disney introduction where Tinkerbell flies by and sprinkles pixie dust on the Disney logo. This is the first of many Disney tributes to follow.

Atlus Logo vs Walt Disney Presents I believe this animation was originally made for Disney’s first regular TV series, Disneyland which premiered in 1954 (predating the unveiling of the theme park of the same name which opened in 1955).

Disney has been using new variations on this animation ever since.

The Landscapes of Pieter Bruegel
Next up the Vanillaware Logo is overlaid on top of a backdrop that recalls the landscapes of Flemish Renaissance painter, Pieter Bruegel.  The castle reminded me of Bruegel’s famous depictions of the Tower of Babel, which have provided inspiration to countless artists through the years.  It’s not a direct analog to Bruegel’s Babel, however there is another castle at the very end of the trailer that is.

A similar spiraling tower also appears in Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, a game which George Kamitani, director of Dragon’s Crown worked on.

While The Tower of Babel is very epic in scope, much of Bruegel’s work was very warm and focused on the mundane aspects of peasant life which was very unusual for a European painter of his time. This tendency was carried on by his eldest son who also became an accomplished painter. The work of the Bruegels provide a great launch pad for any artist aspiring to depict a medieval village. Much of Vanillaware’s background art is reminiscent of the paintings of the Bruegels.

Vanillaware art is always full of subtle authentic details

Greek Statuary
As the trailer continues the viewer is shown a dark corridor lined with Greek style statues of women. One of the figures recalls the statue of a wounded Amazon at The Met in New York.

The trailer continues with panning shots of more statues with strong Greek features.

Greek and Roman statues tend to have very strong nose bridges that go straight into the forehead

The shots of the crumbling corridor full of Greek style statues implies that parts of the game will involve exploring the ruins of even older civilizations.  Intriguing!

Renaissance Portraits of the Rich and Famous
The trailer continues with a shot of a wealthy couple opulently dressed in Renaissance style garb.  Each of them are brandishing a blue diamond, which could be an indication of royalty. The woman is holding a book, indicating a high level of education and refinement for the period. They look to be inside a castle overlooking a beautiful city. I am guessing that they will be your patrons on an important quest.

A good picture is worth a thousand words. There isn’t a single arbitrary design decision in this whole image; everything is in place to convey the emotional state, personality, culture, social status and worldliness of the subjects.

Medieval Knights and Longswords
Next up is one of my favorite images from the trailer, a ghostly knight brandishing a scroll.

Note: The Bottom Right photo belongs to Holly Hayes. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sacred_destinations/2076001419/sizes/o/in/photostream/

He has been run through with a longsword wrapped in parchment with the message: HONESTA MORS TURPI VITA POTIOR. Translated from Latin, this means: An Honorable Death Is Better Than A Vile Life. His cape pin has a spade insignia (the strongest suite) and his helmet has a crown, both indicating royalty. As with almost everything in Dragon’s Crown, the ghostly knight’s proportions are hyper stylized, but the execution and details are very authentic. The style of longsword depicted here was first developed in England in the 1300s and primarily used by knights during the early days of the 100 Years War.  By the 1500s it had fallen out of use on the battlefield, but continued to be popular as a weapon of sport and knightly duels. Perhaps this is the spirit of a great knight or even a king felled during a time of war.

Angels, Pomegranates and The Sacred Heart of Jesus
The supernatural imagery continues with a putto (a babyish angel or Cupid often mistakenly referred to as a “cherub” in modern times) holding a heart descending upon a desiccated corpse laid upon an altar draped in a funerary shroud.


The supine figure strongly recalls the beautiful Rococo sculpture The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino after a design by Antonio Corradini (who was initially commissioned for the piece but did not live to see its completion). This is one of the great works of western art and depicts the lifeless body of Jesus detailed with incredible sensitivity. The angel is holding a heart, perhaps recalling the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic devotion that originated in the middle ages.  My friend and scholar Melvin originally mistook the heart for a pomegranate, a Christian symbol of resurrection. There are many classical paintings of The Christ Child holding pomegranates, symbolizing his future resurrection and the promise of eternal life.  I’m willing to bet that this imagery is not lost on the folks at Vanillaware and this image will somehow tie into how you resurrect your characters in Dragon’s Crown should they die.

Franciscan Friars
Continuing with the Christian imagery, the next character introduced is a man who is dressed very similarly to a Franciscan Friar, an order of monks founded in the 13th century.  He looks to be holding a bible and has a statue of a figure that strongly resembles the Virgin Mary tied around his neck.

The Crusades
The Christian references continue with the next character, a hulking knight dressed like a medieval Christian Crusader. His chest is emblazoned with a lion in the “rampant” pose, the most aggressive posture of the traditional European heraldry signs. I wonder if he was based off of the knight at the end of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade? Their faces are very similar.

Conan The Barbarian
If you love Fantasy books and movies, then this next character needs no introduction. This mountain of a man is the spitting image of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his breakout role as Conan The Barbarian!

Trivia: the original script for the film Conan The Barbarian had Conan fighting mutant animal human hybrids, not unlike the classic pig-faced orcs lying defeated in the background of this image.

Conan the Barbarian put Arnold on the map and kicked off the Sword and Sorcery craze of the 80s leaving an incredibly deep impression on the young medium of videogames.  The first Conan film is legitimately great. Penned and directed by John Milius (who also wrote the “all time great” film Apocalypse Now), it is one of the most iconic films out there–one of my absolute favorites. It was based on a series of short stories by Robert E Howard.  The books are awesome and I enthusiastically recommend them to any fan of Fantasy or Literature (with a capital L!) in general.  They may surprise you.  Conan is one of the smartest characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Frazetta Style Sorceress
You can’t have Swords and Sorcery without a buxom sorceress! This next character looks very much like a classic Frank Frazetta vixen.

*** Update: 5/13/2013 ***
Thanks to Hayato for pointing out that Frank Frazetta’s Sorceress was painted in 1994

She is dressed very similarly to Princess Teegra from the 1983 film, Fire and Ice, a collaboration between Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi, a luminary of alternative American animation.  Her pose and demeanor are much more fierce though, and recall Frazetta’s paintings of femme fatale sorceresses.

Mickey Mouse!
This is flat out one of my favorite homages in anything I’ve ever seen.  This enthusiastic little fellow is a tribute to Mickey Mouse from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Disney’s Fantasia.

They’re both wearing the same iconic, pointy wizard’s cap and the warmly lit stairwell in the back is an especially nice touch.

Nike of Samothrace
Next we’re treated to another great icon of Western Art, The Nike of Samothrace (also called “The Winged Victory).

It’s speculated that this statue was originally made to commemorate a great naval victory.

The Films of Ray Harryhausen
The trailer continues with a collage of monsters straight out of the films of Ray Harryhausen, a titan in the world of special effects.  As a child, Harryhausen saw King Kong (1933) and instantly fell in love with the “model animation” techniques used to bring its fantastic creatures to life.  From that point on, Harryhausen dedicated his life to creating stop motion films that brought creatures and worlds only that only previously existed in imagination into the material world of film.

Harryhausen was very inspired by the burgeoning field of Science Fiction literature and was actually a close lifelong friend of another cultural titan, Ray Bradbury.  Try to imagine a time when the terms “Visual Effects,” “Stop Motion” and “Sci-Fi” where not part of the vernacular. The work of Ray Harryhausen was crucial in bringing those concepts to a wide audience. From the 1940s through the 1990s Ray Harryhausen was responsible for some of the most fantastic and iconic creatures ever to grace a silver screen. These monsters left an indelible mark on film and surely inspired generations of game artists and developers as well.  Mr Harryhausen, Vanillaware salutes you!

Skeleton Warriors

First up is that most humble of videogame foes, the killer skeleton.  It’s absolutely ubiquitous today, but in 1958 when The 7th Voyage of Sinbad hit theaters in the US it was a totally novel concept.

Sinbad would go on to become a sleeper hit (it’s score by famous Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Herman, is considered one of the best in film history and also undoubtedly influenced many early videogame sound tracks), but the skeleton warrior would make a huge splash several years later when it reappeared (and multiplied!) in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), one of Harryhausen’s more critically and commercially successful films and his personal favorite of the bunch.

The scene where Jason fights the group of skeletons, with its intricate, near seamless interaction of live action and animation elements, is considered a defining moment in the history of VFX.


(this clip does not contain the original audio track, but it sure is cool)

Talos, the Bronze Giant
The next Harryhausen creature to appear is Talos, a giant animated bronze statue that also appears in Jason and the Argonauts.

Dragons Crown homage to Talos the greek bronze statue from Ray Harryhausen's 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts

In Greek mythology, Talos was a giant man made out of bronze who was created by Zeus to protect Europa, the first Queen of Crete (and his lover who he had stolen away while disguised as a white bull). Europe takes its name after her.

Harryhausen’s version of Talos was inspired by classical depictions of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

Engraving by Marten van Heemskerck (1498-1574)

Medussa
Medussa is another iconic monster that Ray Harryhausen helped to define in the global consciousness with his 1981 film Clash of the Titans.

Vanillaware Dragon's Crown homage to Ray Harryhausen's Medusa from his 1981 film Clash of the Titans

In Greek mythology, Medussa was a Gorgon, a monstrous female creature often depicted with sharp fangs and snakes for hair who could turn men to stone with her fierce gaze.

The earliest depictions of gorgons show them as women with scary faces, often adorning temples in order to protect them from harm.

Ancient Greeks depicted Gorgons and Medusa as women with fierce frightening faces that could turn people to stone

In AD 8, the Roman poet Ovid completed the epic, The Metamorphosis, which introduced the idea that Medusa had once been an incredibly beautiful maiden before being cursed and transformed into a horrible monster.  However artists had already been depicting Medusa with a classically beautiful face as early as the 4th or 5th Century BC.

The Medusa Rondanini. This is a roman copy of a Greek statue dating from either the 4th of 5th century that is considered to be the oldest known "beautiful gorgoneion."

By the Renaissance onward this became the new norm for Medusa.

Ray Harryhausen returned Medusa to her roots depicting her as grotesque monster. As far as I know, it was Ray Harryhausen who first designed her with the lower body of a snake and other heightened reptilian features such as scaly skin and a rattler. Vanillaware plays off of this convention and even adds a striped pattern to her scales similar to that of a timber rattlesnake, though they’ve chosen to maintain the attractive face preferred by most classical painters.

The monsters called out in this trailer represent just a small fraction of Ray Harryhausen’s oeuvre.  Ray Harryhausen is one of the most important fantasy artists of the last century and his visual legacy lives on in countless films and videogames. To learn more about Ray Harryhausen please visit his official website here:

http://www.rayharryhausen.com/index.php

The Rosetta Stone
Amidst the montage of Harryhausen creatures, we get a brief glimpse at an ancient looking black tablet that recalls The Rosetta Stone, a fragment of an ancient Egyptian stele (an upright stone slab inscribed with important information) of incredible historical importance.  The Rosetta Stone was uncovered in 1799 by soldiers in Napoleon’s army who were digging the foundation for a fort in the port city of Rashid, Egypt, also known as Rosetta. The stone provided the key for researchers to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, a language which at the time had been dead for over a millenium.

The Rosetta Stone was unique because it was inscribed with a decree from King Ptolemy V in 3 separate scripts: Hieroglyphics (the language of the priests), Demotic (the language of every day life) and Greek (the language of government). Over a period of 2 decades, by comparing the hieroglyphics to the other scripts, which were better understood, researchers were finally able to crack the code of the ancient Egyptian script which adorned so many cultural treasures, but had been out of use since the fourth century AD.

The appearance of the Rosetta Stone look-alike in Dragon’s Crown is intriguing.  Although the game is set in the past, the arcane tablet looks to be some kind of relic of an even older mega civilization that’s long gone.  Much of the game will involve adventuring through ancient ruins looking for treasure.

Greater Demons and the Legacy of Princess Crown
Later in the trailer, the characters are shown battling a gigantic demon that looks like a buffed up version of the Greater Demon from Princess Crown, the progenitor of all Vanillaware games.

Princess Crown was directed by George Kamitani and was released for the Sega Saturn in 1997. The title of Dragon’s Crown is an homage to Princess Crown, a fantastic game that was much ahead of its time.

Princess Crown featured the lush puppet style animation pioneered by Vanillaware and currently popular in many indie games and Flash based games, yet it was made years before Adobe Flash even existed.  Princess Crown was ported to PSP in 2005, but unfortunately neither version of the game has ever received an official release outside of Japan.

The game had an incredibly progressive story, starring a young Queen named Gradriel who takes up the sword to protect her kingdom from supernatural evil, just as her mother, the legendary hero, had done years before.  The game (much like Odin Sphere) actually plays out as a series of books within the game. In this case it is being read by a grandmother to her granddaughter.

Recently there has been an outcry among gamers for a Zelda game starring Zelda. George Kamitani essentially made that game 16 years ago! This was the first story he ever penned when he was at the helm! But more on that in a future post!

Back to the Demon!


As you can see, the Greater Demon in Dragon’s Crown shares the same basic design as the one in Princess Crown.  Both have bleached bone skull heads on top of muscular, fleshy blue bodies with proportionally small wings and a bony tail.  The newer Greater Demon has a significantly more muscular build perhaps taking cues from another boss from Princess Crown, Evil Leon. He also has long horns and more pronounced tusks, much like the final boss of Princess Crown, the Dark God Larva.

*** Update: 5/13/2013 ***
My internet buddy Hayato has pointed out that this demon also makes an appearance in Grand Knights History, Vanillaware’s strategy RPG for PSP which also never saw an official release outside of Asia.

As you can see this version of the Greater Demon is much closer to the one found in Dragon’s Crown.  I guess this is a recurring character!

All these demons were also very likely influenced by the Dark Warrior, a boss character from Capcom’s 1993 arcade brawler Dungeon’s and Dragons: Tower of Doom, a game on which George Kamitani was a main designer.

The Greater Demon in both Dragon’s Crown and Princess Crown emerges from a summoning circle, also known as a pentacle.

This is a reference to The Lesser Key of Solomon, a 17th Century textbook of magic (also known as a grimoire) written from the perspective of King Solomon, which gave instructions on how to summon spirits through seals, incantations and other rituals.

Vanillaware built an entire game around this subject in their 2007 RTS game, Grimgrimoire.

That’s all for today, but there’s still much to cover in this trailer.  Keep your eyes peeled on for more updates from Art-Eater on Facebook and Twitter as we look deeper into the world of Dragon’s Crown.  Thanks for reading!

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The World We Must Defend: War, Peace and Pokemon

 

 

by Andy Lee

So the trailer the next generation of Pokemon is out!

I still remember the joy of getting Pokemon Blue on my birthday… and then I realize that was nearly 16 years ago. Pokemon has persisted since then, each generation bringing another 100 critters to collect (and more multimedia tie-ins), adding new gameplay elements, and also building upon its incredible lore. So let’s talk about that lore.

Every Pokemon generation has carried a core theme that shapes the story, setting, and legendary Pokemon to catch. But it’s the antagonists of each generation that really define what the game is about, and their theme builds upon the generation before them.

TEAM ROCKET
art-eater, ken sugimori, pokemon, team rocket drawing concept art illustration

 

Pokemon Red/Blue and Gold/Silver is about coming into conflict to attain powerful WEAPONS. The pokedex is full of colorful quips about the violent power of Pokemon able to melt steel with their breath or reduce buildings to rubble with a swing of their tail. From the Koga ninjas to Lt. Surge, we’re shown that Pokemon have fought alongside humans in conflicts ancient and recent, though there is peace in the present day. The image of Pokemon is softened through a trainer program where young kids are given Pokemon to treat as their friends and companions.

Enter Team Rocket, an underground organization that holds on to the archaic view that Pokemon are weapons to be wielded, and use them against their fellow man. When scientists obtain the genes of the phantom Pokemon Mew, they use its immense genetic potential to craft the ultimate weapon, Mewtwo. But its immense power proves uncontrollable, and the scientists are destroyed by their own creation.

pokemon the first movie ewtwo giovanni art-eater

 


TEAM AQUA/MAGMA
ken sugimori pokemon official concept art illustrations team aqua magma art-eater

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire is about coming into conflict to attain TERRITORY. The towns you visit are dotted among islands (some even manmade), past vibrant rainforests, through parched deserts, and even inside dormant volcanoes. The unique properties of each environment are cherished by its human occupants, for land is a finite resource and they respect what they have

Enter Team Aqua and Team Magma. Magma seeks the legendary Groudon, who can make land rise from the ocean depth. Team Aqua seek the legendary Kyogre, who can send landmasses sinking beneath the waves. Team Aqua and Magma battle to control them for they give their wielder the power to create new land by raising the earth, or making existing land scarce by raising the seas, power that would fundamentally change the human view of territory as set and finite.

Emerald adds a 3rd being, Rayquaza who dwells in the stratosphere, and the extraterrestrial Pokemon Deoxys. This generation’s movie centers around Deoxys arriving on earth as a meteor, which Rayquaza considers a violation of his territory. Conflict for territory is also within the realm of Pokemon.


TEAM GALACTIC
ken sugimori pokemon concept art official illustration team galactic art-eater

Pokemon Pearl/Diamond is about coming into conflict to attain ENERGY. Towns in the game are themed after different energy resource such as wind power, solar power, and even coal mining, which is presented in a matter-of-fact way to show how humans harness energy.

Enter Team Galactic, an organization that is studying the energy released when a Pokemon evolves and find that it disregards the law of conservation of energy, there is more energy being created than expended. They then investigate this phenomenon as a potential new energy source. Team Galactic’s research leads them to seek the legendary Dialga, creator of time, and Palkia, creator of space. To be able to create energy from nothing is the power of creating a new world.


TEAM PLASMA
Ken Sugimori Pokemon official concept art illustration team plasma art-eater


 

Pokemon Black/White is about coming into conflict for IDEAOLOGY. Team Plasma believes catching pokemon is cruel, and will forcibly ‘liberate’ Pokemon from their trainers. Unlike previous antagonist teams, Team Plasma is actively preaching their message, and will even go to such measures as using Pokemon to enter people’s dreams to incept their ideology among the masses. Team Plasma is driven by intense righteousness and view the world in Black and White terms.

Their uniforms are based off the real-world Christian crusaders, who warred to spread their beliefs. The symbol of Team Plasma also bears resemblance to the “Chi-Rho”, a symbol used by the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constatine. When Constantine was in a war of succession for control of Rome, the Chi Ro appeared to him in a dream. He put the mark upon the shields of his men and the next day they were victorious in battle.

Left: The historical Chi-Rho Right: The symbol of Team Plasma

The ideology of Team Plasma attracts philosophers from around the world, known collectively as the Seven Sages.

Their in-game dialog uses lines from classic Chinese philosophical works.

Gorm

“I say… Know your enemies, know yourself, and know you need not fear the result of a hundred battles… “

-Sun Tzu, Art of War

“If you make a mistake and do not correct it, that is a second mistake”
-Confucius


Bronius

“When the Way is forgotten, duty and justice appear.”
-Dao De Jing

Is the line Bronius speaks when you confront him at Plasma’s castle, but the complete verse reads as follows:

When the Way is forgotten, duty and justice appear. Then knowledge and wisdom are born, along with hypocrisy.


Rood

“Superior men understand what is right. Inferior men understand what will sell.”
-Confucius


Zinzolin

“There are not two suns in the sky, nor two sovereigns over the people.”
-Attributed to Confucius by Mencius

“It is the way of the universe to take from excess and fill emptiness.
-Dao De Jing


Giallo

“Those in accord with Fate are preserved, and those who rebel against Fate perish.”
-Mencius


Ryoku

“We can only do our best and leave the rest to fate”
-Hu Yin, Song Dynasty philosopher

Despite this trend, their ‘leader’ Ghetsis never speaks any line from Chinese philosophy. It is ultimately revealed that the goal of Ghetsis was to seize all the Pokemon and rule the region unopposed. Ghetsis seeks the power of the Tao Dragons to fulfill his goal.

The lore of Black/White speaks that in the distant past, twin heroes created the Unova region with the aid of a mighty Dragon Pokemon. But the two brothers held different values in high esteem, the older believed in Truth, the younger in Ideals, and so they began to fight one another. The ideological war between the brothers split the Dragon thus split into two halves, the Yang Dragon Reshiram and the Yin Dragon Zekrom. The war of the brothers was inherited by their descendants, and their battles ruined the land until the dragons disappeared. But it had gone unnoticed that a third dragon also formed, one that embodied Wuji, the absence of Yin and Yang, Kyurem.

What is a ‘Hero’? The one who knows he is ‘right’! What is a ‘villain’? Anyone who stands in the way of your beliefs!

But… maybe lofty ideals are just an excuse for seizing power. Maybe the Ideals preached by your leaders aren’t actually the Truth. Maybe the world shouldn’t be viewed in Black and White terms.That is what Pokemon Black & White is about.

Power, Territory, Energy, Ideology, these are all things humans have used violence to attain.

Pokemon Training is taking force of violence, and transforming it into a sport which brings people and Pokemon, together in friendship.

That is what Pokemon is about. And we will see how Pokemon X/Y builds upon the lore.

Andy Lee is a historian and game designer working in Beijing China.  Andy does much of the research that goes into Art-Eater articles.  I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter, Tumblr and Quora.

If you enjoyed this article, check out the interview that Andy conducted with Wolf Smoke Studio, creators of Batman of Shanghai!

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Wolfsmoke Studio! The dynamic duo behind Batman of Shanghai and Kungfu Food Girls.

 

Posted in Art History, video games | 8 Comments

Wolf Smoke Studio: The Dynamic Duo Behind Batman of Shanghai

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The following is an interview with Wolf Smoke Studio, one of the most exciting young animation studios in the world today.  Wolf Smoke Studio animated the highly acclaimed Batman of Shanghai shorts for Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block:

DC Nation: Bat Man of Shanghai: Catwoman

DC Nation: Bat Man of Shanghai: Bane

DC Nation: Bat Man of Shanghai: Batman

You may also recognize them as the creators of the wildly fun and imaginative short film Kung Fu Cooking Girls:

Kung Fu Cooking Girls

Art-Eater contributor Andy Lee recently caught up with the duo behind Wolf Smoke Studio at their home base in Shanghai.  As far as I know, this is their very first English language interview!  Thanks for the scoop Andy!

When I first saw Batman of Shanghai I was blown away. ‘This is amazing! Wow that Catwoman’s really cute! Who did this? Is this a Chinese Studio!?’ I had to know, and so I cast a bottle into the ocean of youtube comments. As fate would have it, the animators themselves responded! So we set a date to meet in Shanghai!

Introducing the dynamic duo behind the works:

Wu Yan: Writer, Character Designer, Color Designer; the stories spring fourth from her imagination!

Jin Roh: Director, Lead Animator; he hand draws the keyframes that bring it all to life!

When the two teamed up to form a studio they combined their names; ‘Roh’ means wolf and ‘Yan’ is a homophone for smoke so Wolf Smoke was born! Two people pursuing their dreams and raising the bar of animation in China, and the world. They took the time out of their busy schedule to sit down with me and have a chat.

First, the important stuff. What is your favorite food?

Jin Roh (Wolf): Anything spicy.

Wu Yan (Smoke): And meat, seafood… Too many!

What is your goal at Wolf Smoke Studio?

Jin Roh (Wolf): Make awesome animation and tell great stories.

Wu Yan (Smoke): Let other people see the beautiful scenes in our minds.


What are some of your favorite animated works?

Jin Roh (Wolf): Jin-Roh of course (laughs)! And the one with the white haired protagonist, Mushishi.

Who are your favorite animators?

Wolf: Nishio Tetsuya, Hiroyuki Imaishi, and Yoshihiko Umakoshi etc. Too many. We can use a whole night talking about it. Haha.

For reference:

Tetsuya Nishio (西尾 鉄也): Ace animator on too many great shows and movies to name here. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen his work before.
Tetsuya Nishio MAD

Hiroyuki Imaishi (今石 洋之): Heir apparent to the legendary Yoshinori Kanada and director of Gurren Lagann, Dead Leaves and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt):
Hiroyuki Imaishi MAD

Yoshihiko Umakoshi(馬越 嘉彦): character designer and animation director on Casshern Sins, Saint Seiya Omega, Precure and much more.
Toonami – Casshern Sins Promo

How did you two, the founding members of Wolf Smoke Studio, first meet each other?

Smoke: A JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Chatroom, we both thought Jotaro was the coolest (laughs)

Awesome! So which is your favorite stand?

Wolf: Hmmm…King Crimson!

[Editor’s Note: there was a nice discussion about King Crimson in the comments section of this post about King of Fighters]

What kind of music do you like?

Oh, anther question which we need one hour to answer, lol. We love different style of music, heavy metal, new ages, Goth metal, old kungfu movie music, etc.

What is your favorite game?

Wolf: Street Fighter III [Andy: Hey that’s mine too!], Final Fantasy VII and XII. Other Capcom’s excellent games are also an inspiration to us. We’re fans of Capcom.

Did you always want to go into animation/How did you get into animation?

Wolf: I initially didn’t think I was any good at animation, so I studied traditional Chinese paper cuts (laughs)

Smoke: I wanted to be a Manga writer and put my manga online. After we met we thought, why not try making an animation? Wolf has a great sense of motion that he conveys in his animation, but he felt like his coloring skills were weak. I have experience with colors through doing manga, so we combined our strengths!

Is it hard finding talent in China?

Smoke: Most people that want to join us are students. They have passions and dreams, but are lacking in experience.

What are the animation schools like in China?

Smoke: Animation schools in china is bullshit, I can say that because I graduated from one! I totally understand what they teach, and they teach you nothing. When they join our studio we have to train them from scratch. Our skills are basically self-taught.   This one [Little Big War] was made by two students of ours:

Little Big War

We trained them for about a year.  Yes, hard to find talent, hard to hold on to people, people move to videogames cos it pays more. Talent is rare globally, even tried going to Japan to find people. We thought, with China’s huge population, that we’d be able to find enough talented people but we’ve looked for years. We’ve looked in Japan, but the quality of animation today is not as good as they’re in 90’s.

What kind of work do you do for Chinese clients?

Smoke: Companies approach us for animation sample. The (Chinese) Government gives incentives to open/fund studios, so through the high quality samples, the companies can get money from Government. 5:00pm – 8:00pm no foreign shows can play. [Editor's note: this gives home grown shows a competitive edge] But this means many people only want to make very cheap products to get the government funds and that’s it.

What are differences between animation in China, Japan and America?

Smoke: Pixar, Dreamworks animators lead good lives because their movies make money so they can produce good work.   Opposite of Japan; in Japan everyone works like a dog, but they produce good animation and are happy with it.   But in China, you can get neither money or opportunity to making good animations. Haha. So we have to create the chance by ourselves.

Do you have a message for your American fans?

Smoke: We can animate more than just fight scenes [Andy: which they do incredibly well already!]. We want to do all kinds of styles of animations. We always want to try new things because if you stop running, you die.

As our meeting came to a close, they were also kind enough to leave me a hand drawn sample of their work!

Wu Yan (Smoke) draws a Kung Fu Food Girl!

Andy Lee is a historian and game designer working in Beijing China.  Andy does much of the research that goes into Art-Eater articles.  I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter, Tumblr and Quora.

If you enjoy animation, check out this other Art-Eater article on Darkstalkers and the 12 Principles of Animation:

And please follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – The Mighty Vajra

 

 

By Richmond Lee
With additional help from Andy Lee (thanks bro!)

Previous Entries:
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1 – Buddhist Cyborgs and the story of the Asura
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts

Vajra (金剛)
In the earliest concept art released for the game, Asura is depicted standing ragged with his body pierced by various weapons adorned with Vajras.

asura's wrath, ashura, art-eater, concept art, vajras, vajra, buddhist, buddhism, weapons

The Vajra is an iconic symbol of Buddism, but not as well known in the West.

asura's wrath, ashura, art-eater, concept art, vajras, vajra, buddhist, buddhism, weapons

In Sanskrit it means both thunderbolt and diamond and bears their symbolic properties as an unbreakable weapon that slices through any substance with irresistible force.

The Vajra is first mentioned in Indian Vedic texts (originating from 1700 BCE, predating Buddhism!), where it was wielded by Indra, king of the devas, to fight against the Asura, Vritra (often described as a dragon or serpent) who had swallowed up all the life giving waters of the world.

A Tibetan representation of Vritra. As you can see, he is strongly associated with Dragons.

This Asura had a specific boon (a wish granted by a god) where he could not be killed by any weapon forged of metal or wood, making him impervious to all known weapons and allowing him to take over Indra’s kingdom. In the quest to defeat Vritra, the great sage Dadhichi willingly gave up his life so that the devas could craft the ultimate weapons from his bones. Thus Tvashtar, smith of the devas created the first Vajra from Dadhichi’s spine (some sources say his thigh bone or skull).  Wielding the Vajra, Indra struck down Vritra and restored water to the world.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, vajra, indra, defeats, vritra, first vajra, rigveda

Awesome Hindu painting of Indra striking down Vritra with the Vajra (depicted here as a sword)

The Vajra is one of the most wide spread Buddhist symbols.  It appears regularly in Mahayana Buddhist art and is especially ubiquitous in Tibetan Buddhism, which falls under the Vajrayana School, which takes its name directly from the Vajra (“Vajrayana” literally means “The Thunderbolt Way”). Lightning strikes more frequently in the Himalayas than almost anywhere else on earth (second only to central Africa), so it makes sense that the Vajra would spring up as such an important symbol in this region of the world. The Vajra has become an important symbol in Buddhist and Hindu art the world over.

asuras wrath, art-eater, tibetan vajra meteor, meteorite iron

Tibetan's have an awesome custom of forging Vajras out of iron from meteorites!

In Vedic and Hindu art, the Vajra is depicted in many different ways including as a club, a sword or even a discus with a hole in the center.  In Buddhist art (including that of India), the Vajra is very most often depicted as a hand held weapon that consists of a single handle with a trident on each side.  The trident tips are usually curved inward, representing the Buddha symbolically bending the prongs of this ultimate weapon to turn it into a peaceful scepter.

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In Tibetan art, the Vajra prongs can be closed or open, representing peace and wrath alternatively.

Open and closed prong Vajras

An excerpt from The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols by Robert Beer. You can purchase this wonderful book here: http://goo.gl/M5MHm

There are countless depictions of Buddhist deities brandishing Vajras from every school of Buddhism.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, vajra, early indian sculpture

An early Indian Buddhist stone sculpture

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, vajra,

A 12th Century Japanese Esoteric Buddhist scroll painting of Brahma (right) and Indra (left) by Takuma Shoga. Brahma is holding a trident with the tips bent inward (closed Vajra tip). Indra is depicted brandishing a single-pointed Vajra.

Bonus Info – Siddham Scriptart-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, siddham, script, sanskrit, characters, buddhist, buddhism, esoteric buddhism

 

Weituo, Kūkai (空海)

A beautiful modern oil painting of Weituo, a Buddhist Deity dressed in Chinese armor who guards the grave of the historical Buddha. Weituo's Vajra is usually depicted as a giant spike, not unlike the spears sticking out of Asura in the concept art. If anyone knows the name of the artist that painted this, please let me know!

**update**
The above painting is by Beijing based artist, Zhang Kan (张瞰) from the Nepal and China Collection (尼泊尔中华寺收藏).  It stands at 2 meters tall and is selling for 230,000 yuan ($36,415.44)! I’m glad this artist is doing well!

Nio Guardians (classic temple guardians) often brandish a single-pronged Vajra.

 

Vajras aren’t exclusively for demigods, some historical figures are also popularly portrayed holding Vajras.

Kūkai (空海), founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan is often portrayed brandishing a Vajra

 

Tying It All Back To The Game – The Eight Guardian Generals vs Vlitra
The very first boss in the game is a gargantuan serpentine monster named Vlitra, a reference to Vritra, the aforementioned serpent of Vedic mythology that the Vajra was originally created to defeat.

The Eight Guardian Generals are almost defeated by this terrible monster that destroys entire armadas of space ships with just a breath.  However, when all seems lost, Asura is revived and empowered by his daughter, the priestess Mithra.  In his charged up state, Asura sprouts extra arms and becomes…

art-eater, asura's wrath, vajra, buddhist, buddhism

SIX-ARMED VAJRA ASURA!!!

… and handily defeats the unkillable beast Vlitra!

As soon as I saw this moment in the game (and in the first episode no less) I knew the creators of the game were really doing their homework and I wasn’t crazy for reading so much into it!

My hat’s off to Capcom and Cyberconnect2 for putting together such a rich, well researched, immaculately executed narrative!

Thanks for reading this latest installment of A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath.  Tune in next Wednesday for another installment!

Posted in Art History, Asura's Wrath, Buddhism, capcom, video games | 24 Comments

A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – Weapons – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts

 

 

By Richmond Lee
With additional help from Andy Lee

All Entries:
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 1 – Buddhist Cyborgs and the story of the Asura
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 2 – The Bishop’s Staff and Hungry Ghosts
A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – The Mighty Vajra!


Welcome to the second installment of A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath.  First off, I want to thank everyone who read and shared Part 1.  Because of your positive feedback and support, the article got the attention of Capcom and Cyberconnect 2 who reposted it on their website and Facebook page respectively.  It feels pretty great to get such positive reception from the creators of the game!

VALIDATION

The article then went on to be featured on Kotaku.

This has been very life affirming for me, so thanks for reading! Now on with the tour! Lets talk about Weapons!

Buddhist Weapons
The characters in Asura’s Wrath wage war using a mix of ancient and modern weapons. You could say the characters are quite … well armed (haha that was terrible!). Many of the weapons depicted in the game have special significance in Buddhism.

Shakujo (錫杖) – The Bishop’s Staff
The debut video for Asura’s Wrath opens with Asura being struck by a rain of spears:

The shape at the head of these projectiles indicates that they’re shakujos.

shakujo, khakkhara, monk's stick, staff, asura's wrath, pretas, weapons, buddhism, buddhist

Shakujos, also known as bishop’s staffs, monk sticks, xīzhàng (Mandarin) and khakkharas (Sanskrit) were originally walking sticks used by travelling monks originating in India.  The sticks were sometimes adorned with jangling rings that were used in prayer and telegraphed the approach of a holy man.  The sound of the rings could also be used to ward of dangerous animals and the stick could be used in self defense.  Over time the shakujo was incorporated into various religious rituals with the number of rings corresponding to the rank of the wielder.

In the hands of Shaolin monks, the Shakujo was developed into a ritual weapon.

shakujo, khakkhara, monk's stick, bishop's staff, shaolin, asura's wrath, pretas, weapons, buddhism, buddhist
In China, the Shakujo has long been romanticized as the weapon of choice of warrior monks through hundreds of years of Wuxia novels and more recently movies, tv shows, comics and games. This practice lives on in Japan (Zen Buddhism is the Japanese form of Chan Buddhism, the sect of Buddhism practiced in Shaolin) where people still train in fighting with Shakujos to this day.

shakujo, khakkhara, monk's stick, staff, asura's wrath, zen buddhists, training, japan, japanese, weapons, buddhism, buddhist
The Shakujo continues to enjoy popularity as a weapon in many manga, anime and videogames.

shakujo, khakkhara, monk's stick, staff, asura's wrath, pretas, weapons, buddhism, buddhist

Left to Right: Miroku from InuYasha, Sakuyamon from Digimon, Caffeine Nicotine from Samurai Shodown; Senna from Bleach.

And now for your viewing pleasure, here is a real life, badass, one armed, Zen Buddhist monk shakujo master:

Pretas (餓鬼) – Hungry Ghosts
The enemies shown attacking Asura with shakujos are Pretas, also known as hungry ghosts (called “Gaki” in Japanese).

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

Pretas were greedy people in past lives, now reborn as disfigured monsters who roam the world filled with an unquenchable thirst (usually for something gross like poop).

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

Pretas are characterized by their thin limbs, distended bellies and pitiful expressions.  Pretas inhabit the land of hungry ghosts, one of the 6 realms of rebirth, located just below the Asura Realm.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

Their world sometimes overlaps with ours, though they’re invisible to the human eye and generally have no effect on mortal life.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

In cultures that observe the Chinese calendar, there’s even a special holiday for Pretas called The Hungry Ghost Festival where people leave out offerings of food to relieve the constant suffering of Pretas and help them along to their next life.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, hungry ghost festival, holiday

Offerings left out for Pretas during the Hungry Ghost festival. Photo by Worldtripper from Webshots. http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1088295135042464673JfAlxQ

Pretas make very good enemy grunts as they’re pitiable low ranking spirits.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

They even get beat up by birds.

All the scroll paintings of Pretas in this post are from the Gaki Zoshi, a 12the Century Japanese narrative hand scroll that details the Buddhist story of the Preta.  For a detailed look at this amazing piece of narrative art, visit the Kyoto National Museum website: http://www.kyohaku.go.jp/eng/syuzou/meihin/kaiga/emaki/item03b.html

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, pretas, capcom, cyberconnect2, buddhism, buddhist, japanese, scroll of hungry ghosts, gaki

The idea that the Pretas in Asura’s Wrath are being commanded by a higher deity is also consistent with Buddhist tradition.  Many Buddhist deities (particularly the fierce looking ones) command armies of reformed demons.  These deities are often depicted standing proud, stepping on a vanquished demon as a base.

art-eater, asura's wrath, ashura, lokapala standing on vanquished demon base

And just for good measure, here’s an old painting of a Yokai (not a Preta, but a Japanese goblin) dutifully carrying a shakujo.

asura's wrath, ashura, art-eater, capcom, cyberconnect2, yokai carrying shakujo

That’s it for part 2 of A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath.  Here’s a link to part 1 in case you missed it!

art-eater, asura's wrath, Buddhist God of War, Buddhism art, violence

Illustration by my good buddy Weigy; http://blog.weigy.com/

That’s all for today.  Tune in again this Wednesday as we continue our look at the historically Buddhist weapons employed in Asura’s Wrath.

Link to A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath Part 3 – The Mighty Vajra

For more information and updates, follow me on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Art-Eater/130135027031682

And Twitter: Follow @Richmond_Lee

If you enjoyed this article, you should check out some of my other posts:

Terra's Black Marker

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Thanks!

 

Posted in Art History, Asura's Wrath, Buddhism, capcom, video games | 11 Comments

Hannibal is so Bishounen

art-eater_hannibal_will_bishounen_bishi_bishonen_animated_gif

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Happy Birthday Bruce Lee

 

 

 

 

Lightning fast strikes, flying kicks, incomparable lattisimi dorsi muscles, and the piercing warcry of “WATAAAAAH!”, few men have made as huge an impact on the very fabric of modern badassery as Bruce Lee.

Here is but a few of the many video game and manga characters we have thanks to The Dragon. What characters are your favorite Bruce Lee tributes? Tell us in the comment’s section!

hnk

 

 

streetfighter

 

 

 

 

tekken

 

 

 

chinaheroes

 

 

 

 

 

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Dragon’s Crown x Golden Axe

 

Sega has bought Atlus. Now lets make this happen folks!

If you love the art of Dragon’s Crown, check out our in depth look at some of its influences:

From Mickey Mouse to Jesus, This Dragon’s Crown Trailer is Full of Epic Homages

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The 2020 Olympics Are About to Explode!

Congratulations to Tokyo for winning the bid to host the Olympics in 2020!

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Drunk Fairies? It’s Dragon’s Crown Akihabara Gallery!

 

 

On July 20th to the 21st a Dragon’s Crown art exhibit was held in Akihabara, and our pal in Japan known by the codename ‘The Professor’ (of the legendary Madman’s Cafe) was there to catch it! Here are his photos from the event:
Dragon's Crown artwork

Scenes of Adventure and Danger from the world of Dragon’s Crown

 

Cup fairy and shaggy dogThe Fairy gets deep in the cups… but who is dog?

 

Sorceress and Wizard outfits, for sale?

 

If you could have only one, which would you choose? (The answer is “all of them”)

 

And special prints of the Dragon’s Crown cast!

Posted in Dragon's Crown, Uncategorized, video games | 1 Comment

The Great Goblin Goiter

Just saw The Hobbit last night. Fun movie! There was one character design choice that I thought was really interesting.

Did you notice that thing dangling from the Goblin King’s neck? My friend called it a “neck scrotum”, but in medical terminology it’s a Goiter (also spelled Goitre).

goblin king goitre

Goiters are a swelling of the neck that result from a swollen thyroid gland. The most common cause of goitres is lack of iodine in your diet. Goiters are traditionally an affliction of mountain people (and goblins) world wide, as mountains tend to have very little iodine in the soil. Conversely the ocean is rich in iodine, so the further you get away from the coast, the more likely goiters are to occur in the population.

Have you ever noticed that most table salt is iodized? That means they’ve added iodine in order to prevent iodine deficiency (and goiters!) in the population of your nation. After you watch The Hobbit, make sure to eat some seafood so you don’t end up like The Great Goblin!

art eater toro sushi yum

Sushi is good for your thyroid glands

Posted in character design, Movie Analysis | 1 Comment