Two new artbook reviews (and an announcement)

I went to an anime con recently and came back weighed down with a few new artbooks. These are my only real vice as far as buying things I don’t technically need to live. However, I would argue that having these increases the quality of my life in a real way — reading through them and seeing the art inside, alongside a cup of coffee or strong tea, makes me feel better and helps calm me down after a stressful day at work. I used to use whiskey for that instead. I’d say making that change was worth dropping some money on.

So I thought why not briefly review these books for the benefit of the interested reader? You might see something you like here. If you’ve been following my site for a while, the books I chose to buy will come as absolutely no surprise to you.  I do want to apologize for the shitty, awful-looking glare in a few of these photos though; I don’t have anything like a professional setup here, but I hope these give you an idea of what’s in the books anyway.

Finally, I’ve got a massively important (well, to me anyway) announcement to make that you can skip down to right away if you don’t care about the artbook stuff.

Shigenori Soejima Art Works 2004-2010

I’ve been looking for an affordable copy of this artbook for years now, and I finally have it. The Japanese version was originally published several years ago, but it must have gone out of print for a while because I never could track down a copy under 80 dollars or so, shipping included. Even after I managed to get Shigenori Soejima’s second artbook, 2010-2017, on Amazon for a deal, this one eluded me. Thankfully, both this and 2010-2017 have gotten full translations and are now being sold at cons and on Amazon and eBay for prices that won’t give you a stomachache thinking about how you’ll pay the electric bill this month. This book is full of great artwork by Soejima, character designer and chief artist of the modern Persona games. Most of the pieces here are of Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters — if you want Persona 5 or Catherine art, you’ll naturally have to spring for 2010-2017.  There’s also an interesting interview with Soejima in the back of the book dealing with his history, his general approach to art, and the unusually detailed cover art of Aigis. I wish more artbooks had interviews like this one.

Side-by-side comparison of the first volume English and second volume Japanese Soejima books.

The only real complaint I have about this book is that it lacks both the dust jacket and the additional protective clear cover that the Japanese version has. Above you can see the difference between the English version of the first volume and the Japanese version of the second, which is modeled after the first. Not sure why we get short-changed like this, but maybe such cost-cutting measures are necessary to sell these books in the West at a profit. At least I can read the interview in the English version, which is nice, but if you can read Japanese I’d consider buying that version unless there’s a big price difference between the two.

DISGAEArt!!! Disgaea Official Illustration Collection

I’ve seen this book around for a long time, but until finding it at the con and reading through it, I avoided it out of a fear that it would be duplicative of the two Takehito Harada Art Works volumes I already own. While there is some overlap — probably unavoidable considering how much material is in those books — there’s also work in this volume you won’t find in those. As the name suggests, DISGAEArt is full of promotional and character art from the series, covering Disgaea 1 through Disgaea 4. There is a separate artbook dedicated to Disgaea 5 that I want to get, but it will have to wait for a while.

A Mage being a real asshole to some Prinnies. What’s her problem, anyway?

This book is a bit smaller than most other artbooks, more the size of a typical doujin work, but it’s also priced a bit lower than those oversized artbooks — I got mine for less than 30 dollars. Not a bad deal for an import. And no, there’s no English version of DISGAEArt as far as I can tell, but there’s so little text in it that it doesn’t make much of a difference unless you really need to be able to read the index in the back listing the source of every illustration.

If you’re a fan of Harada or Disgaea in general, this is a good book to look out for.  I do still like the two separate, larger Harada Art Works books better, especially Vol. 1, which got an English translation a while back.  However, they’re long out of print, and even the newer English version of Vol. 1 is selling in very good/like new condition for around 75-85 dollars as of this writing, whereas you can get DISGAEArt for less than half that price.  An easy choice to make if you’re concerned with money, which most of us are.

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That’s it for the artbooks.  But I did promise an announcement, didn’t I?  It’s one of those good news/bad news deals.  I don’t know whether anyone will actually care enough about any of this to be that emotionally affected by it, but I’ll start with the bad news anyway: I’m dropping the Seasonal Anime Draft stuff I was working on.  I just don’t have the time to keep up with running series that may or may not turn out to be any good.  Sorry about that.  But if you want to follow bloggers who write great beat-by-beat reviews of currently airing shows and/or weekly review posts, check out Irina at I drink and watch anime, Cactus Matt at Anime QandA, Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews, and Jiraiyan at Otaku Orbit.

Now for the good news.  I’ve said for years that I need to learn Japanese, this language that’s in so much of the media I consume in some form or another.  Well, I’m doing it.  I recently learned that I can make a lot more in my current field if I qualify as fluent in Japanese, in part because so few American attorneys (or Americans in general, I guess) know the language.  And of course, if I learn to read Japanese fluently, I can play Japanese games without having to wait forever for ports or worry that we won’t even get a port.  I’ll also be able to read the text in all these god damn artbooks I own that aren’t translated.  I can be a king among weebs, most of whom don’t seem to know Japanese probably because it’s so damn different from English or their own native languages.

I might also be doing it to understand all those kanji-based jokes I’ve seen

Yeah, learning Japanese is a big project.  Thankfully, I already have some basic knowledge: I know my hiragana and katakana, about a hundred kanji, and some very basic vocabulary and grammar.  It will still take a hell of a long time, but I think of it this way: if I’d started studying Japanese the day I started this blog, I probably would have been fluent three years ago. Even the difference from English seems like more of an advantage than a disadvantage to me.  Over the years I’ve taken Spanish and German, and while I’ve kept bits of those languages, for all the classes I took in school I’m nowhere near fluent or even conversational.  I think part of the reason I had issues with those was that my brain didn’t easily separate them from English — after all, English is a Germanic language with Romance elements in it, and so it has some basic similarities with Spanish and a whole lot with German.  Japanese, however, is such an entirely different language system that my brain says “hey, this is different!” making it easier to set aside in its own compartment if that makes any sense.

So fuck it — I’m going for it.  I suppose this is what I’m doing now instead of watching currently airing anime, but I’m willing to make that change to learn the language.  However, I’ll still be posting here on a regular basis, so don’t worry about that.  The deep reads posts and the occasional reviews will still be coming along with whatever angry rants and caffeine-fueled late night legal analysis I happen to think up.  In fact, I might try to find a way to incorporate my Japanese-learning odyssey into the blog, especially if anyone’s interested in taking the plunge and learning along with me.

Six artbooks worth owning that won’t empty out your bank account

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.)

Takehito Harada Art Works I

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.

Gravity Daze Series Official Art Book

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.

Atelier: Artworks of Arland

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.

Senran Kagura: Official Design Works

“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.

Re:Futurhythm

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.

MOMENTARY: The Art of Ilya Kuvshinov

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.