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I’m not much of a fan of Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, the moe-fied Cthulhu mythos-themed comedy anime, but I find that the main character Nyaruko has a really appealing character design. While she doesn’t look that different from other cute anime girls, Nyaruko draws the eye and leaves a memorable impression to the extent that it makes me want to maybe, just maybe, give her show a second chance. In looking at her more closely, the element that visually differentiates her from other similar character designs, the lynchpin which transformers her into something more distinct and complete, is her checker-patterned dress.
My reasoning has relatively little to do with personal preference (at least as far as I can tell about myself), but is based on the amount of contrast that the checkered pattern provides on Nyaruko’s overall design. Nyaruko does wear other outfits in her series, namely her school uniform, and if you compare the two outfits the checkered dress simply stands out more. There’s the inherent contrast of dark and light that a checkered pattern already has, but there’s also the fact that the pattern stands out against the broad swathes of flat color that make up Nyaruko’s hair, skin, and the rest of her clothing.
You could get a similar effect with stripes, but a checker pattern is like a stripe pattern taken to the next level, and I think that the way the checker pattern is only a small part of her dress instead of the dominant pattern as you might imagine a striped dress to be keeps it from overpowering the rest of Nyaruko’s design. It’s also somewhat of an uncommon clothing pattern among anime characters, which makes it easier to associate the checker pattern with her character before others. What you’re left with then is a visual design which not only pops out but causes others (including other characters in Nyaruko-san) to recede.
Back when I was watching the Chihayafuru anime, I began to associate the show in my head with the American cartoon franchise Ben 10. Even though their respective subject matters are worlds apart, both featured fiery tomboys of elementary school age whose later appearances would involve a time skip to high school where their hair is longer and their personality a little more mature. But where the transition for Chihaya felt right for me in the sense that she seems like the same character only older (and thus different in some ways but similar in others), Gwen’s change inBen 10: Alien Forcewound up seeming like an entirely different character to me. Not only her personality but even her character design turned out to be significantly different.
Of course I know why this is the case: Chihaya was planned from the start to have this age jump, as the episodes involving her childhood are mainly flashbacks and setup for the story proper where Chihaya starts her own karuta club, while there was clearly no original intention to have a time-skip sequel to Ben 10. When Alien Force did come around, it streamlined some of the elements of the previous series and in the process wound up as something of a break from its predecessor. At the same time, however, the fact that Chihaya is in many ways a similar character to Gwen just made me more aware of how this sort of transition can be done well.
By the way, Chihayafuru season 2 was just announced today, but I swear that my posting this is merely coincidence. If I had that sort of power I’d use it for better things, like a Fujoshissu! anime.
With the recent release of Mortal Kombat 9, a lot of beloved figures in the Mortal Kombat franchise have been re-designed to look both modern and reminiscent of their very 90s character designs in an effort to bring the series back to its old school roots. Remembering that Sonya Blade’s design was absolutely awful in the previous game, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, sporting the most ridiculous shirt ever, I wondered how they would portray her in this iteration. While the new design is an improvement, it makes me realize that Sonya is actually just a terribly-designed character.
Here is Sonya throughout her 3-D fighting game history, away from the live actor portrayals that characterized Mortal Kombats 1 through 3. If you did not tell me that they were all supposed to be the same character, I simply would not be able to tell. Nothing is consistent about her, short of the fact that she’s blonde, has big tits, and shows an exposed midriff. Sonya Blade is a terrible design because she is a non-design.
While she could be criticized for having an over-sized, unrealistic chest and ridiculously skimpy outfits, that’s not really the point here, as the scantily clad and jiggling girls of Dead or Alive share those properties in spades and yet are still distinctive even when they’re wearing 1 cm-thick bikinis and taken out of a relative comparison with each other. Nor is the problem that her design is too generic, as the Virtua Fighter series is all about cookie-cutter characters, and yet whether it’s the blocky and outdated graphics of Virtua Fighter 1 or the more recent Virtua Fighter 5, Sarah Bryant, a fellow fighting blonde, is still recognizable. Chun-Li can appear in Street Fighter Alpha younger and sporting a different outfit and still look like Chun-Li, and she also successfully made the transition to 3-D with her very iconic look and style.
On a broader scale, video game characters rely on a certain degree of iconic visualization, and though this is more easily done with a mascot like Mario or Sonic, it’s still possible with a more realistic figure. Sub-Zero and Scorpion show this, despite the fact that they both started out literally as the same character design with different colors. it’s clear that Sonya simply never had anything beyond her rack and her belly button to distinguish her. Back in Mortal Kombat 1, when she was the only female character, this arguably could have been sufficient, but as more and more girls have appeared in the franchise over time, also with large breasts and bare midsections, it really makes it obvious that she wasn’t thought through thoroughly.
For a further comparison, take a look at this image Sophitia Alexandra from the Soul Calibur series which I conveniently obtained from elsewhere. Although her design has gone off the deep-end in recent games, it’s very clear that all of the above figures are supposed to be the same person, even when drawn by different artists. If I were to make an educated guess as to what makes Sophitia work but not Sonya, I’d say that it has to do with the fact that Sophitia was designed in the first place with certain key visual elements like her sword and shield, skirt, and gentle demeanor, and even when next to her somewhat similar sister Cassandra, you can still tell the two apart by how their designs convey their personalities. It can be as simple as that, so that when they’re given makeovers in later games, a person can take one look without being told specifically who it is and say, “Aha, that’s her! …She looks terrible!”
I’ve written a post concerning Final Fantasy: Advent Children as part of our “multi-vistas” category at the Vistas blog, where everyone on the blog takes a look at the same work and writes a response. Mine is about the character-centric visuals of Advent Children as well as some personal elements, while my colleagues have written about Advent Children as Fantasy vs. Science Fiction and the lack of discrete visibility in its action scenes and its possibilities.