Yoshitaka Amano is probably best known in the west for his work on Final Fantasy, Vampire Hunter D, and Mamoru Oshii’s animated film Tenshi no Tamago. He’s also illustrated for Guin Saga and a variety of Japanese genre writers, to say nothing of his own original illustrations. These two interviews are from relatively early in his career, from 1987 and 1990 respectively.

The 1987 interview is from Beep! Magazine, an early Japanese video game publication. It doesn’t really go over his video game work (unless you count the Kimaira novels, on which a Famicom RPG was created). The 1990 interview is from the GSLA and is unsourced, but touches on his work with Square and Final Fantasy

Yoshitako Amano blog (jp)
Gallery of Amano artwork

1987 Yoshitaka Amano Interview

Featured in Beep Magazine #35

—My first question is fairly standard, but what artists and illustrators influenced your work?

Amano: There’s this American artist named Frank Frazetti. I didn’t recognize his name at first, but through my work I was very familiar with his paintings. It started when I was working on this funny American comic book style animation project. One day, without me being really aware of it, I decided I wanted to try drawing in his style.

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“Escape on Venus”
by Frank Frazetta.

—And why was that?

Amano: Probably, I was attracted to the lively musculature of his figures and wanted to try drawing something like that myself. Now that he’s famous you can refer to the “Frazetta style” and people will know what you mean.

—That’s true. There’s something amazing about Frazetta’s bodies, with muscles full to bursting. Another thing about Frazetta’s work is that the faces of his characters have eastern features.

Amano: Yeah, something in his faces does look eastern. (laughs) That’s because fantasy, I think, is something that thrives on exoticism. Perhaps to westerners the east can look like another world.

Naoyuki Kato, who illustrated Guin Saga before you, also had something of a Japanese-Frazetta style. How does it feel to be illustrating for Guin Saga?

Amano: With Guin Saga, I was strongly influenced by Kato’s work. I hadn’t read Guin Saga until I started illustrating it, so when I was asked about doing it I was like, “Oh, those are Kato’s illustrations?” So I’ve done my best with my work not to destroy the image he has built.

—I see. The character Guin has a leopard face, but did that give you any difficulties?

Amano: That, yeah… I thought a lot about that. I’d never drawn a character like Guin before. So I looked at pictures of leopards from the zoo and tried to expand my ideas. Also, it turns out that the head of a leopard and the human body actually match perfectly in their proportions. I started to feel like I had something here, and when I tried drawing him, it turned out ok, and so my Guin was born.

—By the way, you’ve done illustrations for many other works. Do you mind if I ask about some of the people you’ve worked with?

Amano: Sure, go ahead.

—Well, this is really one of my personal interests (laughs), but can you tell us about your work with science fiction writer Mariko Ohara?

Amano: She’s extremely skilled at creating unique worlds. There’s a feminine quality to her work, or rather, an aspect of her work that feels like it can only be understood by women.

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Two covers for Mariko Ohara’s novels. The piece on the left
is by Amano, and is reminiscent of his work for Mamoru Oshii’s
Tenshi no Tamago. The piece on the right is by Naoyuki Kato.

—She also creates these transparent worlds… there’s this crystal clarity you feel in them.

Amano: Yeah. And at the bottom of those worlds, there’s something dark and bloodstained lurking there. Perhaps therein lies the true terrible nature of woman.

—I’d like to ask about Baku Yumemakura and Hideyuki Kikuchi next. Can you tell me about your work with Hideyuki and Vampire Hunter D?

Amano: Well, regarding the character D, the image I had in my first illustrations of him were different from the image Kikuchi had, I believe.

—Wow, really?

Amano: He had imagined more of a spaghetti western image for D.

—My image of D was like a combination of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone and Corum characters. Cover illustrations and such are really important. Even after reading a story that I thought was really interesting, I’ll still tend to use the illustrations when I imagine it.

Amano: That’s why I have to be very careful when I illustrate stories. As much as possible, I try to preserve the image that the writer has. I’m reminded of the work I did for Baku on Kimaira. Until then, I had mainly done fantasy illustrations. But the Kimaira series was originally something closer to a school drama (though it’s since become more fantastic). On top of that, some intense imagery comes out, between the lines, of Baku’s writings. For example, in the novel “Taitei no Ken” (The Emperor’s Sword), there’s a description like “Peonies were scattered on her pure white dress, and at a glance it looked as if she had been sprayed with blood.” I feel an incredible violence from such lines. I think imagery like that provides all you need for amazing illustrations.

—And Baku also describes his characters in very precise detail.

Amano: Yeah. He goes on and on about the preternaturally beautiful young men in his books. (laughs) But, you know, I’m always so impressed by what writers do. They’re able to create, from nothing, an entire world. It’s much simpler for illustrators: all we do is add imagery to a world that already exists.

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One of Amano’s many
Vampire Hunter D illustrations.

—Oh? I would think your work would be just as difficult, in its own way. Well, I’d now like to ask you about your actual process when you sit down to draw.

Amano: When I do an illustration, I make a point of never asking for guidance nor divulging things like “See here, look at this, I drew it according to this image.” I believe that pictures have their own distinct energy, and if one tries to put it into words, I feel like it detracts from the energy of the picture.

So I prefer to stay silent, and let that energy build and build until I can release it all at once in an illustration. Drawing is enjoyable for me when I really love what I’m doing. On the other hand, if I draw something that I don’t feel has that energy, I always end up forgetting about it as time goes by.

—Of all the many illustrations and drawings you’ve done, what are some favorites?

Amano: Hmm, good question. Probably the work I did for “Karon no Kumo” (Spider of Charon) by Kaoru Kurimoto. Drawing the face of the protagonist Zefiru was a real milestone for me, and not just in terms of technique. Before I started drawing I was worrying up a storm, and my attitude as I was drawing was like, “Well, I guess this will have to do.”

Another memorable experience for me was the cover illustration for Maten. That really turned out great. At first I had no idea what to even draw for the cover. So I started off by looking at all the material I had, trying to make sense of it all in my head and figure out what picture it suggested. I hadn’t picked up my pen to draw at this point. I thought and thought and thought, until I had assimilated everything and gotten into a mental zone. It’s similar to mountain climbing… if you haven’t climbed to a certain height you can’t see the summit, you’re just groping in the dark.

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The cover of Maten.

It’s like a marathon runner on the last stretch, who wants nothing but to stop, who gives everything in a last burst… and there are pictures that are made in that state of mind too. In fact, if you don’t have that mentality, you won’t produce a really good picture. That zone-like state of mental clarity is its own high.

So although I can’t explain it very well here, those pictures I’ve drawn when I’m utterly exhausted and feel like I might die–those are the ones that end up surprising even me, their creator. With drawing, you’ve got to stay in that state continuously or the picture won’t get done. Accordingly I’ve often destroyed my health finishing just one good work. But if it results in a good drawing, I’m ok with that. And I’m sure every field of endeavor requires equally demanding things of its practitioners, anyway.

—That was very inspiring. Thank you for your time today!

1990 Yoshitaka Amano Interview

Original publication unknown

I’ve gone drinking with the Final Fantasy staff before. I don’t really like alcohol that much though, to be honest. When we went drinking it was your usual male-bonding stuff–we don’t talk about work-related things very much. Sakaguchi is one of those guys who’s always cracking jokes. Yeah, our nights out start out sober, but they gradually become more and more like your typical crazy drinking party. (laughs) Since the Final Fantasy staff are from the game industry, a different world from mine, it’s easy for us to get along. If you drink with people from your own professional sphere, you can’t get that wild. (laughs) Precisely because we’re from different worlds we can get along and respect each other.

My kid plays a lot of games. Actually, yesterday I accidentally deleted his saved game data that he’d been working on for a month. (laughs) He was crying about it. Even this morning he was still upset, muttering “damn! goddamnit!” under his breath… I can only imagine how frustrated he was. I was actually kind of shocked to find out he was that obsessed with this game. It’s kind of shameful… he’s in the 6th grade! If he were a 2nd or 3rd grader I’d understand.

From where I do my drawing, I can watch my kids. And I’ll say that while children often see things with a sharp, instinctual clarity, they still must submit to their parents’ authority. (laughs) I’ve seen the way kids can get completely sucked into games. It’s difficult for kids, trying to play games in a world of myriad obligations and restrictions. But from my perspective, I’m the one who has to give those restrictions, so. (laughs) I limit them to one hour each day.

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One of Amano’s favorite monster types, the Evil Eye.

The schedule for Final Fantasy 3 was really tight. If I had had the time just to focus on Final Fantasy it wouldn’t have been so bad, but naturally I had other work to finish at the same time. With my normal work I’m given a deadline, and it always requires a quick turn-around. But Final Fantasy is different: the development period takes about a year, and there’s numerous deadlines within that timeframe. The monsters have to be done by this date, then the concept illustrations need to be done then, and so on. So for the entire year I’ve got to have Final Fantasy in my head. But the monster illustrations I draw are not directly used as graphics, so it’s really interesting to me to see how they’re translated into the game.

As for my favorite Final Fantasy monsters… I like the really strange ones. There’s one guy with a round body and a single eyeball that I like. I had been doing realistic drawings for a long time, so I was really wanting to do some more sketchy and exaggerated drawings. You know, funny, gag stuff. So when I drew all that I was like a man possessed. I’ve always loved American comics and western drawings, so I’ve occasionally added western touches and a sketchier, unfinished style to my drawings.

For the previous Final Fantasy games, my monster illustrations were monochrome line drawings done in ink. But this time, for Final Fantasy III, I started not with line drawings but with color. They were very fun to draw. I tend to get more ideas when I start with color. Although whether the end result shows any difference, I’m not so sure…

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Amano’s cover illustration for Final Fantasy III.

Square told me they wanted someone wielding two blades for the cover illustration. For a time I had decided on a landscape style drawing with no human characters, actually. But since it was an illustration for a game, I finally changed it, and I’m glad I did. I think this image has more impact.

If you want to be an illustrator, you need personality and a wide outlook. It’s important that you always keep your mind fresh and be ready to work through whatever struggles come your way.