Three approaches in designing a mecha

The three approaches to mecha design this blog uses is based on their role and function within fiction rather than in-fiction. The first archetype is the Protagonist, a mecha that functions or acts like any human character and is treated as such within the narrative.

The Protagonist mecha as a character serves an integral role within the narrative. Initially they may seem like simple machines, like the eponymous Mazinger Z, yet they exhibit clear-cut human characteristics in actions and behaviour. Mazinger Z sunbathing in the original series Mazinger Z-series is this exact human-like behaviour the mechas are written with.

Here, the symbolic action of shaking hands is not represent the pilots themselves per se, but the relationship and role of the mechas

These type of mecha can also be explicit characters unto themselves, as it is with the The Transformers and Brave-series. These mecha are only separated from their human co-characters is their nature as giant mechanical beings. In cases like Beast Wars, there is no distinction between characters as such, all of them simply are the characters, but share the main characteristics of being human equivalent in different form.

The Protagonist has a unique role within the story. Not necessarily the main protagonist in itself, often sharing that role with another human character or another mecha. The same categories of heroes and villains apply to these as much as they apply to human characters.

In visual design, Protagonists more often than not share a humanoid body with strikingly human face. Heroman, by all intentions, shared all the previously mentioned points; a human-shaped mecha with human face and sits in a prominent role within the fiction as one of the main characters next to the main human protagonist.

American made in Japan

However, there is extremely wide variety of Protagonist mechas which toy with the concepts and ways to realise the main role. GaoGaigar, for example, in itself has no characters outside as it is an extension of Guy Shishioh; it less piloted as it is a giant piece of armour for Guy.

It must be mentioned that most Protagonist mechas are found in media aimed at younger audiences with healthy amounts of toys, and tend to have connections to the Super Robot side of mecha. This is not to degrade from the fiction itself, only an observation.

Naturally, the opposite of human-like characters would be the lack of humanity, as it tends to be the with the second archetype, the Machines.

The utilitarian approach to mecha design has always been there, though it gained most of its popularity in the 1980’s. While Mobile Suit Gundam certainly paved the way for Real Robot as a sub-genre, shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and FLAG have taken the concept to its more natural direction due to lack of needing to sell toys as much.

FLAG‘s HAVWC, High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier, is equipment.

Unlike with the Protagonists, a Machine has no nature to speak of. To make a blunt comparison, they are toasters. Their use is largely utilitarian. The form is made and designed for a purpose first and foremost, following the necessities over flavour.

The mechanical design is far more industrial as opposed to organic contours, than anything else among the Machines. Take Heroman above for an example. Most of its shapes are round to further accommodate its humanoid visual. While at a first glace HAVWC would fit this as well, its shapes are equivalent that of a car, lines made to increase aerodynamics. Heroman is not exactly an aerodynamic character, and its not supposed to. That is a tertiary concern at best. In order for it to be more aerodynamic in its forward position, it would require some sort of wind-breaking apparatus around its chest to lessen drag.

However, FLAG is an example of the more more adhered end, similar to Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01, which has been described as equivalent of mechanical pornography due to its attention detailed opening.

The Machine comes in many varieties, all of which share multiple characteristics. Mass production is one, where the mecha can be or is mass produced. Scopedogs are a dime in a dozen in Votoms and are easily replaceable. Round Vernian Vifam is another example of a show, where mechas are tools, and the cast goes through numerous units during the course of the show.

Valkyries from Macross, despite often gaining a prominent role as a single unit or a customised main character vehicle, are all from a production line of similar units. While later entries in the series have made an effort to give most characters their own unique snowflake Valkyrie, in the end all of them are more or less faceless machines that showcase no human characteristics, outside the genre-defining four limbed humanoid shape.

Specialist roles are not exactly uncommon among Machines. Full Metal Panic!’s Arm Slaves, while mostly consisting of non-unique units, the units used by the protagonist Sousuke Sagara deviate from this mould in form of Lambda Driver, which allows the pilot to turn their willpower into physical force. This specialist position, be it due to extra equipment, prototype role or simply because the mecha is a protagonist’s unit, is a common trope. This position does not change them into Protagonists per se, unless human characteristics are applied. It is not uncommon for people, fictional or not, humanise their devices to a large degree and treat them accordingly.

Vehicles technically fulfill this spot,

However, it’s not uncommon to see the the aforementioned archetypes mixed either.

The Hybrid approach takes characteristics from both sides of the fence in a happy mid-ground. Perhaps the most well-known examples of this would be the Evangelion units of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While treated as equipment and something that can be mass-produced, each EVA-unit exhibits overt human-like characteristics from in-universe and in their role. EVA-01 is effectively one of the main characters while still serving the role of a toaster. Its design goes for utilitarian, but only in terms how the EVA-unit itself allows this in-fiction. The base design idea was, after all, a monster barely controlled by humanity.

A some sort of purple mom bot

Another method to give mecha character is by keeping the core mechanics itself intact in terms of its role though the use of Artificial Intelligence. Jehuty from Konami’s Zone of the Enders series of games is exactly this.

Jehuty in itself has no conscience or awareness within fiction, no character to speak of. Its actions and behaviour are determined by its pilot and support AI, A.D.A. In principle, A.D.A. could be embed into whatever Orbital Frame would support the addition.

These three approaches are more or less starting points, more or less. While at first it may seem arbitrary to make a category of three, one of which is effectively just combining the first two, they serve their role in setting the proper mindset for design work. That is, the nature of the mecha rather than the end-visual the designer ends up making. That is up to the designer’s own style and research into the subject materials.

For further reading on expanded subjects, such as combiners, basic design tips, controls and similar, please visit the Robot Related Materials section.

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Where are the video game movies?

Some years back, just before the Warcraft movie was announced, there was some slight buzz about how video game based movies would find a new place in the market now that comics have finally been successfully adapted for silver screen. That era never really came about. Both Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft movies were ultimately lumped with the Marvel and DC ones. While they’re not comic book movies, the terms has changed to encompass movies with extreme amount of CG, emphasize on action and essentially being a full genre movie.

This isn’t exactly the best science out there, but there is a certain kind approach thematically with comic book movies. To some extent, “comic book movie” is a degrading term and has been used as such. It’s the usual you used to hear from film snobs for them not being real films, just movies or flicks. Entertainment for the masses and such.

Despite video games having more money moving inside its industry nowadays that Hollywood, Hollywood has always had the position that they know the best when it comes to stories. After all, they’re the ones that realise dreams on the big screen, teller of stories and such nonsense. The stance Hollywood seems to take is that passive following of a story and being immersed in it is the higher route to take, it’s more classy or whatever you want to call. Story through play, i.e. player’s own actions, are seen lesser because of the connected connotations of “play” and “game”. Somehow it’s more childish to be an active part of a story rather than sitting still and have a story told to you.

Every time Hollywood has taken charge of a game and wish to bring their wealth of knowledge to this lesser field of entertainment, the results have been less than impressive. For example, Jurassic Park: Trespassers was supposedly co-developed with Spielberg and parts of Hollywood crew, but all they ended up bringing in was story elements. Trespasser, while a big budget title, ended up pretty damn terrible game with some interesting elements to it. I recommend checking out Research Indicates’ Let’s Play on the game, its full of information on development and history of this sad title.

Considering Hollywood doesn’t care about how a game could tell a story in its own media, something most game developers don’t seem to care either, it’s not surprising that they’d concentrate on the FMV sequences and pre-scripted scenes first and foremost. To them, this is where the artistry is. Hollywood’s takes on video game movies have been rather lacklustre overall, with Super Mario Bros. probably being the most blatant example of not giving a fuck about the source material. That said, the SMB movie is also one of the last great children’s adventure movies made, similar to The Goonies. Alternatively, House of the Dead movie or Alone in the Dark. Overall speaking, video game based movies haven’t been all that well-received or well produced, similar to comic book movies initially. Certainly there has been numerous good titles here and there, like Mortal Kombat (which is a great MK movie but lacklustre otherwise) and we can make an argument for Prince of Persia.

However, unlike with comic book movies, no company has really managed to make a game based movie work to the same extent. Whether or not it is because there’s a lack of respect for the source material, the source material being rather terrible, or simply because games’ stories don’t fit the silver screen without considerable changes for the adaptation, the end results speak for themselves. Something like a fighting game as in the aforementioned Mortal Kombat is relatively easy to adapt as a martial arts action movie, but something like Super Mario Bros., an abstract action game about a character jumping on platforms to defeat a big turtle doesn’t exactly turn itself into a movie easily. Well, Sony’s certainly aiming to do so.

How do you turn, for example, a mission of Warcraft into a scene in a movie? By having a massive fight scene, of course. While the scenes in the  movie are of pure fanservice and pretty nice to watch, nothing in the movie is impressive or new. Much like how the original game stood on the shoulders of fantasy giants before it, so does the movie. Lord of the Rings movies affected both aesthetics and directions how similar fantasy movies would be directed down the line, and Warcraft followed its lead in a very expected manner. I doubt there was ever a possibility for anyone in the project to aim change the paradigm fantasy movies are in at the moment, and that possibly lead to the movie’s lack of success outside China.

Perhaps its because games don’t have a need for a Hollywood-like “good” plot. Video and computer games require a reason to play, the end-goal that may change, and the story itself is the player’s actions. The overarching narrative in a game is more about the player than the readily set story. A comparable example of this would be in any tabletop RPG, like Dungeons and Dragons, where players play a readily made scenario. This narrative can be extremely hard to translate into a passive story. However, considering there are numerous franchises based on the author’s DnD games, like Slayers.

It would seem that the first thing that an adaptation from a video game to a movie needs first-hand experience, a play worth telling. All the story sequences, FMVs and such are meaningless as the meat is in the gameplay. All players have a story to tell when it comes to their greatest moments in a game and that moment is always within a game’s play. Hollywood is missing this and concentrating on the wrong parts of the games and consider playing as acts for children. While you can visually replicate some of the moments in a game visually, a film can never replicate the action of it. Why even try when the special effects heavy smashbin market is essentially controlled by Marvel?

Hasbro’s Rangers

Recently Hasbro, the same you company who is in charge of G.I. Joe and Transformers, announced that they have acquired Saban’s Power Rangers and other entertainment related assets. This was almost to be expected, considering Saban cut ties with Bandai a while back, Saban then announced extended broadcast partnership with Nickelodeon with a new season called Beast Morphers, then Hasbro being announced the master toy licensee for Saban’s IPs. The progression of things have been extremely steady, and nobody should be surprised. Hasbro probably will handle the IP better than Disney did, which Saban bought back some time ago.

Why did Hasbro purchase the Power Rangers? I wouldn’t really have a proper answer, I don’t exactly follow what’s going on in the toy industry. However, knowing Hasbro’s history, it’s easy to see them wanting something special from Power Rangers, that they have a niche to fulfill and this IP fits them. They have the more standard boy’s military toys covered with G.I. Joe, Transformers for shape shifting robot toys, Star Wars license for Star Wars… which might actually be the thing they want to cover. Star Wars toys supposedly were shelf warmers with the The Last Jedi, and the SW toys were partially responsible in killing Toys R Us, at least according to Bobby.

If we take this stance, Power Rangers would fit this slot rather nicely. It would allow relatively healthy amount of characters toys to be manufactured alongside different vehicles and role play toys. Hasbro wouldn’t need to pay hefty license payments to anyone, as they’d own the rights. Well, to a certain point. As a reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that Power Rangers is made from the footage of Japanese Super Sentai franchise. The out-of-suit scenes are filmed for the show, while most of the action footage is lifted from the Japanese original. However, with time both Hasbro and Disney increased the amount of original footage they filmed as well as have Toei shoot some footage for the American use only. As such, Hasbro would probably have to pay something for the likeness of the characters to Toei and Bandai at least. That is, unless after Beast Morphers Hasbro decides to go their own way, stop using Super Sentai footage and create completely original content.

Considering how television and streaming services are starting to be full of decent looking special effects live action shows, especially from Marvel and DC, it wouldn’t completely unimaginable for Hasbro to partner with Nick or some other company to produce Hasbro-original Power Rangers to cut license costs altogether. This purchase probably killed all chances for the recent Power Rangers movie to get a sequel, but Hasbro could always have a new one and belong in their shared universe with M.A.S.K., Transformers, G.I. Joe and Inhumanoids. Well possible shared movie universe as well, we’ll have to sit back and see what comes of it, if any.

If Hasbro wants to bring Power Rangers back to its glory days, they have lots of work ahead of them. When the series hit the scene in 1993, it was a massive success, a cultural phenomena and a multimedia behemoth. You could see its influence every which way and sort of brought martial arts back to popularity like it was the 70’s again. You saw its influence on the Old Continent as well, where it took root in certain places. South America already had Super Sentai on their television, so the impact was less impressive, if there was even any. I don’t know about Australia, but I’ve heard that it was moderately popular at least.

But times change, and Power Rangers settled into its role after first few seasons and kept going. We never got to see past the third season, but looking at what the Alien Rangers were, I don’t mind missing any of that. In few ways, Power Rangers is a mainstay in American television and few generations have already grown into adulthood with it.

It would be impossible for Hasbro to capture the thunder in a bottle again, mostly because how saturated the current entertainment media are of super powered heroes and their stories. Power Rangers does have a niche fulfilled there, being aimed at a younger audience overall and the emphasize at martial arts, something that’s been slowly being toned down like no other thanks to Japanese soccer moms wanting Super Sentai and Kamen Rider to be less violent. Hell, Kamen Rider Ghost toned its violence down to the point of the main character fighting enemies by eerily floating around them, but this was deemed to scary for the kids by their mothers and it got changed back to good ol’ punchan and kickan. There would need to be a proper paradigm shift in the franchise in order to lift it from the place it has sunken into.

Whatever the end aim is, money and toys are involved. Hasbro is, after all, a toy company and whatever they do aims to sell toys. If we get good stories out of the deal, like Beast Wars, that’s good. Considering Bandai’s toys with the Super Sentai have been less than stellar for number of years now, with Doubutsu Sentai Zyuogher having immobile cubes as the robot. They’ve become completely gimmick driven. Some of the suit designs have seen drop in overall quality as well in terms of used materials compared to other contemporary shows. It doesn’t help that giant robots is old men’s stuff in Japan, not something that would sell all that well.

Power Rangers has always had a need to produce Western toys anyway, as it is relatively uncommon for Japanese toylines to contain bad guys. This is the opposite to American model, where both sides of the story gets toys. The best examples of this would be Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toylines. MOTU at a point had almost 1:1 ratio between the heros and villains. All this is because of Star Wars, in that kids weren’t just buying toys for the sake of toys, but because the toys were representing the characters. Hasbro has a history of being able do multi-media franchises, as long as they don’t forget that kids and fans are in for the characters, and Power Rangers certainly has characters consumers can connect with.

Well, if nothing else comes from this, I bet your ass that we’ll see Power Rangers/ Transformers crossover toys with the Dinobots at some point.

Fight! Iczer-1 series celebration

These posts were originally posted as a Monthly Three, as well as Iczer-1’s 30th anniversary celebration series. They are now here collected for easier access. This post covers introduction to the history and the Original Video Animations the franchise has seen.


Rei Aran

If one doesn’t find much sources about Hariken Ryu in English (his career with Godzilla gives him a lot of leverage over other of his contemporaries, Aran Rei is barely recognized in any degree. While Aran is known as one of many people who made up the best era of Comic Lemon People, and thus one of those who influenced then-current Japanese popular culture, and to that extension modern Japanese pop-culture, his name is all but lost in the Western front. He was at his most active in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, having an influence over stylistic sensibilities as well as contributing to the OVA scene.

Born in 1960, Aran’s first published work was Fairies of the Star in Comic Lemon People #6, 1982. Whether or not he had released doujinshis before this is unknown. The one work he seemed to like the most and kept working on  between 1983 and 1993 is Galaxy Police Patrizer-3. If any of his works, it is this one that shows how Aran refined his self-taught skills within one decade to a whole new level.

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Greymon Design Development

Welcome back to guest-post hour, I’m your host, the digi-destined A9. Since we left off at Agumon, it makes sense to go to his most commonly known evolution: Greymon. So let’s not waste any time.

Greymon Prototype

Wait a minute”, I might hear you say. “That’s not Greymon! That’s Rhydon, or Nidoking!” And it’s true, all of those have a very similar shape. But consider this: it’s a rough dinosaur sketch, that’s all that was needed at the time since Greymon wasn’t exactly a poster boy for the Digimon Pendulum series. That spotlight went to Tyrannomon, the true and honest evolution of Agumon. Still, the most prominent features are there: fat belly, three horns and a tail. The only thing that’s missing is the skull that the other versions are wearing over their heads, so let’s take a look at those, shall we?

Continue reading “Greymon Design Development”

ADD – Agumon Design Development

Hello again, guest post writer A9 here again, bringing you more Digimon goodness. This is a followup on my previous post, Digimon Design Evolution, but it’s not required reading or anything. It’s a free country, man!

In an ever-changing franchise, a design is never final. No matter how iconic a character may be, it will change over the years for better or worse. Pikachu got slim, Batman tried on different suits and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got fucked up.

But this post is, as the title suggests, about Agumon. I already touched a bit upon his changing designs in my previous guest post on here, but now it´s time to take a more in-depth view of this yellow dinosaur over the years. In this post I’ll mainly look at video games, the anime series and the various movies with an other source now and then wedged in. Please note I won’t review the games and such, just the designs.

Agumon PrototypeDuring the production of the Digital Monster toy, sprites were drawn first, followed up with drawn artwork. Only the most basic shapes are recognisable, and they’re so-so as well. The sprite has a big head, but with what looks like a beak. It has quite small arms as well, and no tail can be seen. With the first prototype drawing his head and feet are already fairly similar to his final design, but he’s not as menacing. A friendly upright standing crocodile that lost its tail.

His official design enlarged the arms by adding forearms with large claws for hands (just like his feet in the prototype), giving the feet a little more bulk and giving the head the detail it deserves for it to become a dinosaur-like creature. The nose is raised a little above the rest of his jaw and the head itself is more thick. The eyes clearly have sockets, and has more room at the brow for that dinosaur look. Additionally he got very small ear holes which is always kind of amusing to me even though is makes perfect sense. Such a logical addition, but easily forgotten as most other Digimon don’t have clear defined ears. To finish the design off, add a very small tail (or more like a stub) and send the lad to the gym for some weight training. Huzzah, we got our official Bandai art version of Agumon.

This official art will keep in use over the years (especially merchandise such as the trading card game), but different artists create different Agumon. Imagine, that when his final design was being developed another artist had a crack at it? That’s what probably happened when the publisher of Weekly Shōnen Jump (Shueisha) made a small manga to teach kids how to take care of their Digital Monsters.

Agumon 1997 Manga

Forget dinosaur, welcome dragon. Way bigger, cuter eyes along with a more round face. Thanks to the shape of his head Agumon can still be recognized, but his body is totally different. His chest is white and his arms are miniature sized and on top of that he’s left with a three-fingered claw as hand. This Agumon also went to the gym however, but really seemed to like leg day, almost having rabbit-like features if it weren’t for the actual tail. All in all, I’d say this was a way more conventional design for dragon-like creatures instead of the western comic based one we got.

It was time for a new medium, however. So when the Digital Monster Ver. S got released on the Sega Saturn in 1998, they reused the pixel art from the tamagotchi release, but made a new drawing of Agumon to put on the cover.

This Agumon completely forgot to go to the Gym and looks way more like the prototype. No muscle, no veins, a cute smile and a round body. Perhaps even the only cute thing on the cover at all, as the rest of his fellow Digimon look a lot more like their final designs.

PS1 Digimon World

Welcome to the Playstation 1 era, welcome to Digimon World. This game brought the pet raising and the battles to the third dimension so here we have our first 3D model. The standard pose is relatively the same as the Bandai artwork, but there are some differences. First of, the most glaring one in my opinion, is his colour: a weird shade of yellow has taken over. The reason for this is unknown, it could either be hardware limitations or a design choice (as there have been other yellow Agumon. However, I’m inclined to think it’s hardware limitations since the Playstation uses 24-bit true color to render its colours, and that palette lacks a good shade of orange. Going with yellow is not a bad compromise in that case.

The other glaring difference is the slope of his nose towards the head. Before it was just a minor thing, but here it’s overdone in such a way that the whole skull looks different. He lost his thumb as well, and we won’t be seeing that again. Part of me feels they did away with it for simplicities sake, but one cannot be sure in these things. The earholes and teeth are also not visible anymore, also most likely due to hardware limitations. He is still a little jacked though and his arms are still buff.

Just a few months after his debut on the Playstation, Agumon appeared on TV in the movie Digimon Adventure and a day later in the series also called Digimon Adventure. Even though they were aired a day after each other they actually differ a bit because of the story and tone. As the movie was set mostly during the night and had to fill the role of introducing kids to the franchise on TV it was a bit more darker and mysterious. This was a dinosaur, no talking, just destructive fireballs. Very noticeable is his size though, as he’s almost twice the size of his series counterpart. If we compare this to his Bandai design, we can see he lost most of his muscle again and in exchange lost a little neck fat and received a toothy smile (in the series, at least).

TV Digivice

The anime was a big hit, and that means merchandise. A ‘real’ Digivice was released in which you had multiple Digimon to choose from to fight other Digimon. This toy had more screen space than the original Digital Monsters and along with the success of the anime came an updated pixel art design of Agumon. And really, what is there to say? They absolutely nailed the head, but in my opinion the arms are a bit weak. I don’t want to hammer in the gym references, but he wasn’t feeling it.

WC - Digital Monsters Ver Wonderswan

Enter the WonderSwan, Bandai’s own portable gaming device. Sadly never released in the west, because it’s filled with Digimon games. Digital Monsters Ver. WonderSwan was the pet raising experience ported to the WonderSwan with enhanced graphics. Clearly based off the Bandai art it’s nearly a replica with some very minor differences. Firstly, and I really need to address this: the eye. He’s either high as fuck, or he has seen some bad shit. Secondly his face seems to be a little less long. This could certainly be explained by the perspective, but it still feels a little different regardless. The last change are his veins yet again. His health is improving.

PS1 Digimon Card Battle

When I first laid eyes upon this monstrosity from Digimon World: Digital Card Battle, I felt severe disgust. Mostly because of the veins. Changing your medium really changes the look of things, since that’s all that has really happened, it’s almost precisely the Bandai design, except for the fact that he’s standing up a little more straight. Oh god, the veins.

WC - Digimon Anode - 2

Oh my God, what’s wrong with your face? In Digimon Adventure: Anode Tamer Agumon appears again, but I have to say that the art style in this game is a bit inconsistent. For some reason, his face is about twice the size that it should be in his introductory scene. This game is set in the same world as Digimon Adventure, so it’s no wonder the art style is the same. Besides that huge head.

Even after branching off into other media, the Tamagotchi line was not given up on. Why would they, since they were still successful? Meet Pendulum ZERO Virus Busters.

P Pendulum ZERO

An honest to goodness redesign of the Agumon sprite. Bigger and longer head plus longer arms. A very straightforward update and a lot more recognisable.

WC - Digimon Medley

Another WonderSwan game, Digimon Medley. I felt like this one was notable for featuring one very anime-like design (albeit very, very orange) and one squashed design. Most likely one is used for cutscenes and whatnot, while the other is used for gameplay. It’s still an odd choice however, since the head is actually taller than the full sized one on the left, but a little less wide. His arms and legs are both shorter, and his tail is also a little longer since it´s pointing upwards instead of to the side. In the end, most of these are probably due to gameplay mechanics and system limitations, but it´s still interesting to see.

Hello again, Playsation. Here we have a game with both 2D and 3D Agumon along with a cover appearance. The only reason I mention the cover is because for some reason Agumon’s eye is brown instead of green. Absolutely unbelievable. The 3D model is looking pretty good for the PS1 (if very yellow again and without veins), but the real highlight it the 2D sprite. So small and adorable (and in the right colours as well). Just comparing that to Digimon Medley, what a difference. And to think Digimon World 3 only got released one year later. I know it’s on different hardware and probably made by a different team. But still.

Agumon X

And now we arrive at the fabled X-Antibody Agumon. All X-Antibody Digimon are essentially redesigns with some sort of focus in mind. For our orange friend, it was the dinosaur route, not completely unlike the odd 1997 manga design. He has gotten elements of the Greymon line already: Bigger claws on hand and feet, still no thumbs, a tail and the blue stripes across his body. It also has more than 4 teeth, which should make eating easier.

The similarity with the manga are pretty interesting, as it too has three ‘fingers’, a longer tail and a different coloured chest. I can’t help but wonder if they took a look at that design when working on Agumon X.

Digimon World 4 (or Digimon World X in Japan), released on the PlayStation 2 is certainly an odd one. I have no idea if the weapons make sense in the game in some manner, but I used to see this game on the shelves and it left me very confused.

The left image is from the Japanese game cover having a shorter head than usual and quite big eyes. In contrast with that is the western Agumon (also on the cover) with a longer head. What is it with this weird contrast? Also, big surprise, the ingame model is yellow again. At this point you cannot blame hardware limitations anymore so I’m having trouble determining why they’d stick with yellow at this point. Well, that and why in hell they made this a weird action game with weapons?

Agumon 2006

Happy new year, this is 2006. The year this haunting image was created. I’ll be honest, I hate everything about the redesign. He face got wider and more flat, moving the nose downwards and redesigning them like a power socket. His body is way more round and gone are the muscles, as he got some noodle arms and legs instead. The feet look like balls of clay with some sharp Tic-tacs (the breath mints) shoved in. The whole hand design is gone, and got replaced by a three-pronged claw with some red leather bands strapped around them. Finally, yet again, he’s yellow. According to the lore, this Agumon is still growing and thus weaker than the normal Agumon.

The final detail that I noticed are his teeth. In his previous designs, even with his mouth open you could only see a couple. When his mouth is closed, the traditional design usually shows four teeth sticking out of his mouth. This time, we got a mouthful, just like the Agumon X design.

DS - Digimon World DS agumon

Now that’s a vast improvement since last time. From Digimon World DS, here is Agumon yet again. In these games, Agumon can digivolve into either Greymon or Geogreymon and there is no distinction between the ‘normal’ Agumon and the redesign. Maybe that’s why this sprite is kind of a blend as well. He got some muscle shapes back, longer feed and the nose isn’t a power socket anymore. One thing that does become apparent with this sprite is his longer tail which has been all over the place by now.

Now it´s time for some 3D models from over the years. The Agumon most to the left is from the Japan only PSP title Digimon Adventure (yes, a very original name) which follows the story of, you guessed it, Digimon Adventure. It raises the question why he has the power socket nose and the multiple teeth however. Another mix of the designs? Does Bandai even know anymore?

The following two models are from the PC MMO Digimon Masters Online, which does feature two Agumon designs. The 2006 design looks a lot more like its original design with its noodle arms and smaller feet, but surprisingly it does not have the larger amount of teeth like it should have. To finish it off it’s even a little bit more orange than the original one.

The last render (excuse the seam) is from a multitude of games by now, from the PlayStation 4 titles such as Cyber Sleuth till the mobile game Digimon Links. By far most resembling the original anime design and throwing everything about 2006 out of the window, except for the somewhat weak upper arm.

We´re done with the game models! ..so let´s look at the game covers. Ha ha, I tricked you.

PSV - Next Order

Digimon World Next Order features a fairly normal Agumon, except for his teeth. I swear I didn’t expect to spend so much time about Agumon’s teeth, but he got one extra tooth on each side, and they got bigger. Why, we will never know.

Digimon World Re:Digitize Decode features an Agumon that almost looks like a plushy toy in contrast to Veemon. All of his features are vastly deformed± a smaller, shorter head with a smile, bigger and mostly wider hand and feet but with way shorter claws. I´m not sure which one is cuter, this one or the overworld sprite of Digimon World 3. I´ll let you be the judge of that. All I know his in game mugshot is not a contender. Did he get jacked up too much? Did he inject his forearms? Is this the sloth version? Is this an Agumon with a disability?

Agumon Tri 2

Let’s wrap this thing up with some nostalgia pandering in a very nice way. As a continuation on Digimon Adventure (and Digimon Adventure 02) comes Digimon Tri with a much older original cast and new art style, and that includes the Digimon. Agumon is a bit slimmer, and has a more pointy tail to compliment this. His neck did get a tad longer to keep the size of the head consistent and not turn him into a midget, but that begs the question why he doesn’t just start leg day. Hit the gym, bro! Overall, this design reminds me a lot more of the Adventure movie, albeit much, much smaller.

If only he’d hit the gym.

Digimon Design Evolution

What’s this? No Aaltomies? No! A guest post by some random internet dweeb. The name is A9 and I sometimes work behind the shadows to read some posts over from Aaltomies before they are published. A while ago he asked me to write my own thing, and after postponing it for a long time (sorry Aalt!) I finally wrote this down. I have probably forgotten a few elements, so please bear with me.

So, how did the design of Digimon evolve over the years? For that, let’s look at the very first one created, the famous Agumon (and also a little at the often overshadowed Tryannomon).

As is often the case with any project: it changes over time. Kenji Watanabe, the longtime designer of the Digimon franchise revealed a lot about the series roots in a recent interview. Just like how Pokémon was more a dinosaur catching game called Capsule Monsters, the Digimon franchise started as a dinosaur themed tamagotchi aimed at younger boys (first named Otokotchi and then Capsule Zaurus). However, since these names would infringe on other companies’ products the name was changed to Digital Monster, which was then shortened to Digimon. This also marked the shift from just dinosaurs to the literal digital monsters, a real genre shift. There was a bit of a hurdle to overcome though: Pokémon had really kicked off and they would really have to differentiate themselves. A lot of designs, mainly of cute creatures with elemental colourings had to go due to this and this caused to have Watanabe free reign over the new designs. His inspiration: American comics such as Spawn.

Since these were the first designs, they were fully drawn, converted to pixel art, and then the drawings were tweaked again. In the future releases, the pixel art would come first.

As an example, let’s start with Agumon, since he’s undoubtedly one of the most famous of our Digital Pets. In essence, it’s a tiny dinosaur with oversized claws.

Quite the different look than we’re used to and very close to the pixel art look. This makes sense as the sprites were used on a very small screen, so making it too detailed would give you a pix elated mess. Something that was important though, was that even if some Digimon were cute, they had to have an element of fearsomeness to it. Otherwise it would just be cute critters beating each other up, which felt a bit sad to the development team.

The Virtual Pet proved to be quite successful, as they made five series of these between 1997 and 1998. Because of this, it sprouted two mangas and eventually an anime.

The series first had a one-shot in the 1997 summer issue of Akamaru Jump as C’mon Digimon: The capering monster BUN, featuring the still-popular Greymon, but also two Digimon who made their debuts. Now, even though these two haven’t been seen again since, they were both important building blocks for other Digimon.

Comparison Digimon
Design elements from Deathmon can be found in Evilmon and Gran Kuwagamon.

Let’s start with Deathmon, looking kind of different than the Agumon we’ve seen before. Deathmon, well, his design just screams ‘super evil’. In all honesty, it reminds me of a Super Sentai villain.  Deathmon can be seen back in Evilmon when you compare their mouths and general head structure, plus some nice spiky hair. The body, but mostly the arms and claws can be found back in Gran Kuwagamon. Obviously, it’s possible that this is a coincidence (since there are many, many different Digimon) but even if that is the case, it shows that some designs stick with the series.

Bun
Bun the special baby.

The other new Digimon is Bun, a small character with baby features (huge eyes and head), weird antennae and a weird dinosaur shaped torso with tail. According to its designer it was supposed to look a little bit like a very weird dog. But where does his design return? The serialisation of a manga.

That manga being Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01, a creation by the aforementioned Watanabe and the artist Tenya Yabuno. Although a lot of Digimon were already made for the Virtual Pet series, this manga introduced new Digimon as well through the joint effort of Watanabe and Yabuno. For example, the V-dramon line which stemmed from Bun.

Zeromaru
Zeromaru the V-dramon. The cutest fat fuck in the whole universe.

Now, I can’t lie, this manga made me appreciate V-dramon to such an extent it’s my personal favourite at this point. As its designer, Yabuno explains:

I did design [V-dramon] using C’mon Digimon as a base, so the keyword ‘pet dog’ still stuck with me. […] The Digimon Kenji-san (Watanabe) designs usually sport solid-looking legs, but I designed V-dramon with the image of a small, carnivorous dinosaur in mind. I had initially wanted to design it like a fluffy dog as well.

At the time, most Digimon could digivolve to quite different forms regardless of initial form (Agumon to Devimon for example). During the run of the manga, many more Digimon were created such as Angemon and HolyAngemon. This kind of changed how some forms would really resemble the Digimon from it’s previous level.

While the manga was being serialized, the anime got the OK sign (Digimon Adventure) and was starting preproduction, just like its first video game for the PlayStation 1 (Digimon World). These media really needed references, final designs to base itself on.

Three pretty different forms. Two new versions with their own sets of restrictions. Digimon World was a PlayStation 1 game, so the amount of polygons was severely limited. It’s still quite close to the official art, except for the colour which I’ve always found very strange. Now, for the anime there is obviously a lot less detail as is usually the case. This did cause this version to have less muscle and veins, so it appears a lot cuter than the original design: much smoother and more flat.

So when the game released on January 28 1999 and the anime started airing on March 7 of the same year, merch started to be pumped out. Figures, plushes, a trading card game, you name it.

The TCG and most of the toys are based on the official Bandai art. As a kid this always surprised me, as I got interested into the franchise thanks to the anime. Nevertheless, I have always thought that the cards especially were very striking.

At this point, there are already a ton of Digimon – but Bandai won’t stop, oh no. Even with its quite low budget, the anime was a good hit, and a sequel was made. I’m thankful I don’t have to discuss Digimon Adventure 02.

Let’s start with Veemon, the first critter above. He is in many ways a redesign of Bun from the one-shot manga and designed by working back from V-dramon and creating a more cute version. Heresy I say, V-dramon is cute enough.

One of the main themes of Digimon Adventure 02 was that Rookie Digimon could not digivolve thanks to the evil Digimon Emperor. Enter armor-digivolving, which give the Digimon.. armor. Usually very literally. Let’s not call it mecha, lets call it ‘tacking on random pieces on lengthened Digimon’. Wait, that’s the usual digivolve process now, isn’t it? Take a few pieces of the Rookie, put them on the adult, put it into the blender and presto.

All joking aside (mostly) the armor-digivolve process gave a different feel to the show, even if the show itself wasn’t all that great. Later in the show, everyone can normal digivovle again and Veemon can turn into.. oh, it’s XV-mon. No, no, that’s fine. Sure. Take away the stumpy legs and the big belly. Another redesign of sorts, more cool, more muscle. More importantly, more slim, no fatso’s allowed.

Moving over to the movies with unique visuals, the originally named Digimon Adventure (1999) and Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! (2000).

Both deviate from the main anime in their own way. As can be seen in these screenshots, the first Agumon is a bit bigger than in the anime (and for reference, that’s a baby so he’s not huge) and generally has a more scary, feral look by using more linework for detail in his arms, chest and neck. This is the case for all Rookie level or above Digimon in this movie. Our War Game takes a different approach, as they go for a lighter colour palette with an orange outline.

Now, a rather famous (or infamous) aspect of Digimon is born, the waifumon. Some would argue it would start with Renamon, but they’re a bunch of furries and I don’t want to talk about no damn furries.

Shutumon

Remember how Angemon and Angewoman were humanoids in Digimon Adventure? Yeah, now almost everyone is a pseudo-human. Thanks Digimon Frontier (2002)! Humans changing into Digimon! Bi-pedal, two arms, two legs, some very mild animal features and some element worked through in their design. Oh, and if its a woman, they have big tits. This trend will sadly continue for a while. I’m sure someone made a neat list of them, sorted by breast size.

Omegamon 3D

Another unique look, here is Digital Monster X-evolution released in 2005. Fully 3D, keeping true to designs but very, very far away from the American influence from where they were born. Not that I can blame them, it is more difficult to keep that style in a 3D environment. Also, I doubt that most people at Toei even like that style.

Talking about X-evolution also means talking about redesigns. In the extensive lore of the Digimon world, at one point there were too many Digimon so God decided to kill 99% of them with a virus. Certain Digimon managed to resist though, through the X-antibody, causing them to change appearance and power up significantly.

Take a look at these Metal Garurumon. The original design stems from 1999 and the redesign was made in 2003. And what a difference! It was important to really set the X-antibody line apart from the originals and give them a more unique look. In my opinion, they really succeeded with this one causing it to feel a bit more gritty. Overall, dinosaurs look more like dinosaurs, robots look more like robots, beasts look more like beasts. I don’t want to call it more realistic, but they are definitely set apart from the rest.

Shoutmon X3

Honest acknowledgement: I never watched this series, I just really didn’t feel like it looked like Digimon. Did someone mentioned Gundam yet? No? Good, cause Xros Wars (2010) looks like Gundam. Whole lotta robots, man-shaped machines, bug-shaped machines, but Digimon. Look, I like me some Gundam as much as the next guy, but I’ve lost the Digimon aspect here.

Agumon had many forms, in many games. Usually they look like.. well, a normal Agumon. Either more styled towards the anime, or the Bandai design. But sometimes.. sometimes it just goes wrong. Enter the PSP title Digimon Re:Digitised (2012).

Agumon (Re:Digitize)
“Please kill me.”

I like the shading and it looks like the original design. But why, do tell me, WHY is he slouching like this? Bad posture! Bad! Dragging his claws across the floor. He poses no danger at all, he’s a slouch. A sloth. Sloth Agumon to the rescue. Good thing the game is pretty decent.

Agumon Tri

Did someone say another redesign? Because Digimon Tri (2015) brought us another redesign and a very welcome one I have to say. More faded colours than the original Adventure, more scrawny arms but bigger claws. Not quite as bulky as the original Bandai design, but closer than before. A faithful remake, but I wouldn’t mind him looking a bit less friendly. Still, I cannot deny that I just love that cute little dinosaur.

Updated on 20-01-2018 to add the Gran Kuwagamon similarity to Deathmon (thanks Casp) and a small bit about the X-antibody Digimon that I forgot.