There's something eerily compelling about the way Lain looks. It's the characters-- whether they stare glassily, like Lain herself, or glare menacingly, like Karl the MIB, or snigger and sneer, like Lain's online persona, they have a certain hyperrealistic look that makes Serial Experiments Lain a unique visual experience. The man responsible for that is Yoshitoshi ABe, a relatively unproved talent who's now working on NieA_7. Anime Jump took some time at Otakon to ask him about his artwork.
Anime Jump: You got involved the production of Lain because Mr. Ueda saw your work online. How did that come about?
Yoshitoshi ABe: I had a homepage, and he happened to contact me while I was still in school. I was about to go to grad school, and was only a couple of months away from the exam, so it was decided that I'd work on the project after I took exams for grad school.
AJ: When you came aboard Lain, was the look of the characters already set in stone, or were you able to make up the visual style as you went along?
YA: No, not at all. Well, as I said at the panel, I just made sketches and brought them to the production team. Lain herself was pretty cemented in terms of how the character was supposed to look, but the other characters were a bit more open-ended.
AJ: One thing impresses me about your work. In most anime, characters look like people, but they're usually exaggerated, cartoony. In your work, the characters look very real, photorealistic, almost hyper-realistic. How did you develop this style?
YA: Originally, I wasn't even allowed to read manga as a child! It was off limits. Coming out of high school, I didn't quite make the cut for college, so there were a couple of years for me to practice there. I wandered around not doing much. While I was doing that, I had a friend who was a manga artist, and he kind of pushed me into this position of being an assistant. I couldn't really draw at that point, so when that happened, I got to learn how to create art. But because I didn't have any preconcieved notion of how manga was supposed to look, I developed my own style as I worked.
AJ: I visited your homepage, and according to it you've been on the net for a long time, since 1995?
YA: Actually, since the beginning of '96.
AJ: What drew you to display your work online?
YA: Well, in early '96, I was at art school and studying. But on the side, I was doing all sorts of illustrations. Right around that time, the net was just beginning to appear in Japan-- there were a couple of service providers. One of my friends was really into it, and getting my work online seemed like kind of a neat idea. So, I decided to display my work, particularly because I was dabbling in CG (computer graphics) for computer effects in 2D illustrations. It just seemed like the right idea.
AJ: What kind of tools do you use to work? What kind of CG programs?
YA: Photoshop and Painter.
AJ: Do you see these programs as great leaps forward in creating art?
YA: I think CG effects are still in the process of "leaping forward". Especially in Japan, where they're using digital effects, analog artwork (paint, sketches) and CG artwork still kind of clash, they don't often really match. Until we get to the point where that clash isn't noticeable, it's not really a step forward.
AJ: There's a noted SF author named Harlan Ellison. He refuses to use any technology newer than a manual typewriter for his work, because he believes that technology separates the artist from his work. He regards dependence on stuff like word processing and CG as an Enemy of Art. Would you agree with that?
YA: I can understand that perception, because I was trained using analog tools like paint. But at the same time, I think it's still possible that, as long as you still put the same feelings into your work as you do when working with analog tools, you can bring that out, even in a digital environment. The thing that you're trying to transmit still comes through your hands.
AJ: Do you think that, in 10 years, that you might be creating art using only digital tools?
YA: Well, I spent a lot of time in the classical arts. So I have a love for the feeling of a pencil in my hand. But even now, all I do is a simple sketch, clean it up, scan it in, and create the rest digitally. I don't think that's going to change in the future.
AJ: Anything further to say to your fans in America?
YA: I'm just glad that my artwork is so well accepted over here! It's regarded as being very different and unusual, even in Japan.
Extra-special thanks to Chad Kime and Hiroe Tsukamoto of Pioneer and Otakon staff translator Robert John, without whom this interview would not have been possible.