Title: Yoshitaka Amano: Illustrations
Author: Yoshitaka Amano
Publisher: VIZ Media
A survey of sketches, paintings, illustrations, and interviews highlights the career of renowned artist Yoshitaka Amano.
Yoshitaka Amano is perhaps best known for his distinctive designs that have shaped the imagery of “Final Fantasy” since the very first installment of Square-Enix’s iconic video game series. It’s a testament to Amano’s unparalleled artistry that none of his work appears directly within the games themselves, yet his visionary influence is inextricably linked to the “Final Fantasy” look and his name is synonymous with the franchise.
With its retrospective survey of the fuller breadth and depth of Amano’s storied career, VIZ Media’s “Yoshitaka Amano: Illustrations” aims to highlight that there is indeed much more to the man than just “Final Fantasy.” 128 pages spanning several decades of sketches, paintings, and multimedia pieces introduce both longtime admirers and newfound fans to a well-rounded look at the master’s full talent. Supplemented by several brief interviews, the softcover book additionally offers insight into Amano’s creative mindset, illustration techniques, even a quick tour of his Tokyo studio Atelier.
Getting the obvious out of the way early, “Yoshitaka Amano: Illustrations” opens on a selection of “Final Fantasy”-related pieces. With the curious exceptions of “Final Fantasy VIII” and “Final Fantasy X,” every installment from the 1987 original to 2010’s “Final Fantasy XIV” has at least one illustration represented. It’s a brief taste certain to leave some thirsting for more moogles, chocobos, and gypsy-robed rogues, although with Amano’s “Final Fantasy” art already extensively covered in the illustrative volumes comprising “The Sky,” more than this small sample would be redundant.
On the more unusual end of artwork representing Amano’s range is a collection of cuter concepts for “N.Y. Salad.” Initially an exercise in conceiving anthropomorphic vegetables to pass the time while cooking, Amano’s sketchbook opens to show designs originally unintended for public consumption. The cartoony garden oddities complement a section on Amano’s early work for Tatsunoko Production studio on anime properties such as Gatchaman (“Battle of the Planets”). By this point in the book, the scope of Amano’s imagination is showcased as seemingly operating within limitless boundaries.
Less enlightening sections of “Yoshitaka Amano: Illustrations” include chapters such as “Sketches of Leaves” or “Sketches of Flowers.” Unlike the majority of featured pieces, you might not recognize plain flora and fauna as coming from Amano’s pencil or paintbrush. That’s because these images are too simple to warrant much mulling, but at least such segments are over and done with quickly at just four pages each.
The only other outstanding criticism of this collection is curious editing of some text and its accompanying layout. “Amano Meets Aquirax” documents a personal conversation between Amano and acclaimed graphic artist Akira Uno. Their discussion begins with Uno commenting on the blue color of a lithograph that doesn’t actually appear on the page. Amano responds by chronicling the piece’s creation, but without ever seeing the illustration, the reader is left to wonder what in the world they are talking about.
Footnotes start appearing as Amano and Uno’s exchange rolls onward, annotating their talking points with illustrated inserts so we can start feeling like we are in on the discussion. Yet when the men cover visual intricacies of a piece that measures two meters long in actuality, and the included reference picture is only one inch tall, it is still difficult to follow along.
The strange thing about this particular example is the piece in question appears later in the book in high detail across a two-page spread. A note to simply flip ahead a few pages would be far preferable to the eyestrain of squinting at a thumbnail in the meantime.
Regarding the book itself, not all illustrations occupy full-size pages and some of the printing feels dark, making it difficult to discern details in certain places. Hearing Amano discuss some of his preferences however, the darkness may be intentional to achieving his desired fantasy art look of dense blacks and sepia-toned settings. Otherwise, illustrations pop off high quality paper, particularly in the “Fine Art” section of vividly colored, Warhol-esque pop art.
“Yoshitaka Amano: Illustrations” may not be essential to hardcore Amano enthusiasts, but its attractive presentation and affordable price point make it a highly desirable primer for highlighting the broad stokes of Amano’s varied works. From his stunning covers for the “Vampire Hunter D” books to his ongoing creator-owned project “Hero,” Amano is unrivalled in his abilities and accomplishments. “Yoshitaka Amano: Illustrations” ensures that anyone can be immersed in his unique worlds while being set on a road toward understanding how important his vision is to fantasy art and to popular culture as a whole.