It’s no secret from my close friends who know my weeb tendencies (but not from my relations) that I love game and to a lesser extent anime-related artbooks. Artbooks on relevant subjects used to be extremely expensive because they were all imports, but times have changed. Even the imports are more affordable than they used to be. Since I’m a value-minded guy who wants to help you the reader, I’ve put together a list of five artbooks that are well worth owning and that won’t cause you pain at the end of the month before payday (and one that might, depending on what kind of deal you can find.)
The chief artist of the long-running Disgaea series by Nippon Ichi, Takehito Harada has a highly distinctive style that I love. His work is a big part of why people enjoy the series so much. A Disgaea game without at least a cameo by the Harada-designed Etna or Flonne, the demon/angel comedy duo from the first Disgaea, is unimaginable. In fact, the header to my site is a cropped bit of promotional art by Harada from one of the Disgaea games. I don’t know if that counts as fair use, but in any case he has not contacted me about it yet.
This artbook contains character sheets, promotional art and scenery from the first four Disgaea games as well as a few of the spinoffs like Phantom Brave. Vol. 1 is translated, but Vol. 2, which I also own, is not. They’re both worth a buy for the hardcore NIS fan or for the general artbook collector, though Vol. 2 is less essential for the latter.
The Gravity Rush series (Gravity Daze in Japan) has a unique visual style. The games are based around protagonist Kat’s power to bend gravity to her will. This artbook depicts Kat, other characters, and their surroundings in great detail. Kat is a beautifully designed character and the artbook is worth getting for her alone, but I’ve always loved the game’s city designs as well – they feel like living, breathing places, and it’s fun to simply fly around then without any particular object in mind. This is well worth buying for the fan who wants something new on the bookshelf relevant to his interests.
Artist Mel Kishida is a strange cat. A self-professed hentai dude, he is best known for his work on the Arland trilogy subset of Atelier games that include Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori, and Atelier Meruru. He also likes to dress up in cosplay, at least one time as a maid, when he personally served fans at a cafe. Where else can you get that kind of dedication?
All that aside, Kishida’s art is really great. His style is very much in that cute bishoujo fashion, which I favor a lot. Probably one of the reasons I like the Arland games, along with their insanely complicated alchemy crafting systems (especially recommended if you have a Vita, since you get extras in those Plus versions.) This artbook covers character designs and scenery from all three games and is translated.
“TITS ARE LIFE, ASS IS HOMETOWN.” So proclaims one of the front pages of the official artbook for Senran Kagura, a fighting game series known for its busty female ninja characters with conveniently flimsy costumes that somehow get torn off while they pummel each other. The series knows exactly what it is, and so does character artist Nan Yaegashi. This artbook contains illustrations and promotional work for several games in the Senran Kagura series, and much of the content in the book is NSFW or very borderline, which is of course the whole point. I couldn’t even really find a suitable image to post here other than the cover of the book, which is fairly tame. The book itself is translated and contains an interesting interview with the series director and artist.
Range Murata’s work is quite bizarre. Mr. Murata seems to have a fixation with future technology and girls using or wearing future technology. His work on the anime series Last Exile showcases a bit of that, but the compilation artbook Re:Futurhythm really brings it all out. There are a ton of illustrations in here, mostly of girls… using or wearing future technology. A few of the illustrations are a little racy, but in a weird way, not a pornographic one. Murata’s style is sort of “flat” feeling, if that makes sense, giving his characters an otherworldly feel.
I don’t know quite why Murata’s work connects with me. I really like the 40s/50s sci-fi look, and Murata’s art seems to draw a lot from that style. Or maybe I’m just fuckin weird. Probably. I have to admit that is the reason.
This particular artbook is a little hard to find. In fact, it’s a lie to say it won’t break the bank, because it is a bit expensive as well. For some reason only the front of each page is used, and the paper is as thick as cardstock. Just like its artist, it is an unusual work.
Out of all the artists featured in this list, Ilya Kuvshinov might be my favorite. His book Momentary is printed purposely in a square format and features many stunning pieces of artwork, most of which are portraits of some kind. Mr. Kuvshinov has worked on some games, none of which I’ve played, but I can say that if I were ever working on a game, I would try to recruit him as a character designer. A Russian transplant in Japan, Kuvshinov captures real beauty in his works, most of which are illustrations of cute girls (do you see a pattern here? To be fair to me, you would be hard pressed to find an anime/game-related artbook that doesn’t have this focus.) The book is well-made but cheap and contains a ton of great art.
There are plenty of artists I love like Kazuma Kaneko and Shigenori Soejima who didn’t make this list, but I’m always on the hunt for new artbooks, especially if they’re not obscenely expensive imports. Drop a comment if you find something interesting.