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.

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Virtual-On Historical: Operation Moongate

Virtual-On is one of Sega’s hallmark game franchises, developed by Sega’s AM3 department. It had everything the arcades required in 1996; 3D graphics that you wouldn’t see at home, unique controls, flashy graphics and fast paced gameplay. When most of the 3D mecha combat games on the market aimed for slow and emphasized on realistic simulation, like Shattered Metal or Mech Warrior 2, Virtual-On hit the arcades with sharp, colourful 3D models in fast paced third-person action with (relatively) easy controls. This is perhaps the best example of East VS. West mentality when it comes to giant robots. Even in arcades, among other blooming 3D games, Virtual-On stood apart with its excellent presentation and unrelenting game play.

 

Continue reading “Virtual-On Historical: Operation Moongate”

Monthly Three; WAR-ER ONE

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, Arain 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.

I have discussed his original Iczer-1 to some degree previously, so in this entry I’ll be concentrating on Aran himself rather than retreading old ground.

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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Monthly Three: Arcade Game

If computer games are about the complexity of things, then the arcade was pretty much the opposite. Flashy graphics, tight action, fast gameplay, intoxicating sounds, and most importantly, the audience and the social aspect it brought to the table. Another aspect that they had is that they were made to be picked up and dropped. They would grasp into the game the very moment you drop a coin in. Computer games demand longer periods to be spent with them due to their complex nature, which is pretty much the opposite to arcade games. Arcades were designed to munch your coins down, which doesn’t mean difficult gameplay, just design that puts up a challenge. The best and most famous arcade games were not hard like how the hardcore crowd thinks.

There should be no surprises on this list, you most likely already know the games I’ve picked to represent what an arcade game is.

Pac-Man

I’m not sure if I can say anything profound about Pac-Man that isn’t repetition. Essentially, everything it in is iconic, from the waka waka sound to the idea of Power pellets. It’s fast and can get hectic, very easy to learn but mastering the point gain requires time and practice.

But most importantly, it was colourful and abstract. It was this sophisticated kind of abstract approach that allowed games in general to branch off into wide variety of different directions. After this, there is almost an explosion of games that would become more fantastical, as well as huge amounts of Pac-Man clones.

People flocked arcades to play Pac-Man, as it had universal appeal. It had a cartoon, comic series, serials and huge loads of merchandise. For a game about a yellow ball eating pellets and running from ghosts, the Pac-Man is a phenomenal game that embodies arcade games’ nature of appealing to everyone the best.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders is few years older than Pac-Man, but it’s just one of the three elements that created the Golden Age of video games alongside the aforementioned and Atari. Pac-Man was popular had a wide appeal, and so did Space Invaders. After Taito had launched Space Invaders in Japan, arcades that had nothing but it began to pop up and the game raked in profits like no other. Something about Space Invaders simply attracted customers, and that something was pure, distilled gameplay.

Seemingly a simple game, Space Invaders speeds up with each destroyed alien. This is a quirk of the hardware, as originally it couldn’t handle all the materials on-screen. Combine the relentless beating from the cabinet and the experience is perfect. Strategy is not only recommended, but required to beat the game, as the shields the player have can be show through. The shots take time to travel through the screen as well, meaning you had to time and aim your shot almost far better than expected. It birthed a genre, and clones like Galaga would pop up very soon after. Just like Pac-Man, Space Invaders is still a phenomenal game that veterans of the industry, like Miyamoto and Kojima, refer as the game that got them interested in games.

Space Invaders attracted people to play it.

Defender

Space Invaders and Pac-Man may have been hectic, but their one-screen nature didn’t really lend to feeling of speed. A scrolling screen would be required for that.

There are some conflicting reports whether or not Defender was the first horizontally scrolling game, but it’s popularity gets the spot here. Defender‘s fast, colourful and relentless. Compared to Space Invaders, it is very complex with game with positioning, destroying enemy UFOs and saving civilians. For a game of its time, it was intimidating, and at first its success wasn’t evident. However, much like how Atari’s Missile Command gathered people around it, Defender was a very much like a spectator’s game. If you got good at it, you could play the game longs times on just credit, a feat that people wanted to behold.

Defender is still one of the harder games that came from the arcades that wasn’t designed solely to eat your coins. Much like other great arcade games, players throughout the years have created strategies and methods to play the game as long as possible. Defender didn’t simply require split moment decision-making and eye-hand coordination, also forming the aforementioned strategies and applying them.

Both Space Invaders and Defender have roots in Asteroids and Computer Space, and while those are historical games, Asteroids is the only one that people remember and for a good reason. Computer Space may have been the first modern arcade game released to the public in 1971, but it was a failure. Both of them are largely first steps towards what defined the arcades.

Space Panic and Donkey Kong

I feel that it is necessary to say that Donkey Kong, while the most popular early platformer-type game, Space Panic predates it by one year.

Developed by Chris Crawford of Universal Entertainment Corporation, Space Panic has all the elements that would later appear in both Donkey Kong, Pitfall!! and Lode Runner. While Space Panic is largely forgotten in the annals of game history, it sets up the groundwork for a the whole genre.

To be fair, discussing Donkey Kong would be to echo many of the previous points already mentioned, but it’s a game where you can see how much games could evolve at the time in on year’s time. The Golden Age of video games is not defined one game, but by this evolution Donkey Kong was part of that constant evolution where arcade game developers and manufacturers would be inspired by each other and try to create a more popular product.

Street Fighter II

The 1980’s was the era for arcade games to flourish, and the beginning of the end for arcades began in the early 1990’s when computing technology had advanced to the point where everybody could begin to afford a home computer. Arcades used to be the place were you went to see the latest and most advanced graphics and gameplay compared to consoles, while computers had their own thing going on. While games like International Karate, Yie Ar Kung Fu and other fighting games predated Street Fighter, they all had their own conventions and no real standard was set. SEGA’s Heavyweight Champ from 1976 is probably the first fighting game, but even with that position it is very much a forgotten game

The reason why Street Fighter II, despite being almost two decades younger than its predecessors, gets this spot is due to it essentially taking all that and blowing the whole genre wide open, waking waves of clones in its wake and being copied to some extent by essentially every single 2D fighting game since. Just like Missile Command, Defender and the like Street Fighter II was a spectators’ game, but unlike with its predecessor, now you could challenge the master of the machine with your choice of character.

Street Fighter II embodies all that an arcade game still is; attractive to look at, easy to get into and hard to master, requires forming strategies and split second decision. It’s not slow and methodical like a computer game, and could say it lacks the sophistication of Ultima and Wizardry. However, arcades and computer games were two different kind of beasts, meant to strike completely different nerve, and their catchy style of gameplay is still used to this day despite the death of arcades themselves.

Monthly Three: Computer game

This Monthly Three (imaginative name, I know) will most likely consist less content than usual, as the theme will be System X defining games, in this case What games define computer games? In this way I hope to showcase the core differences that stand between computer/PC gaming, arcade gaming and console gaming. As all three systems have differences in their core, the selection here are largely picked to present the definitive elements that a platform excels at.

We start with computer games, because they are the first to stem from the general field of electronic games. That’s a whole another can-o-worms we might open one day after discussing how computer and video games are simply continuation if child play culture.

But onwards, games that defined computer gaming as we know it nowadays. These are not in any particular order, so there’s no reason to look into that. The amount of games will be kept under ten for the sake of removing excess fat.

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A matter of being an adult, or matter of being taken seriously?

All-Ages or Adult only? Larger customer group or aimed at a niche? Of course, you can aim at both with different products from the same provider, and thus keep a wider appeal. However, what then when you change the product to only suit the other?

Comics have a bad rap nowadays and for a damn good reason. Since the 80’s American comics have become less and less entertainment for everyone and more aimed towards the adult collectors. With the recent Marvel soft-reboot, Peter Parker becomes a businessman of sorts rather than staying a teenager. ‘Staying’ is the keyword here. Readers who have spent some thirty years with these comics already know ins and outs of these characters, and it is apparent how both Marvel and DC have people working for the who want to take these characters further. The question is; do they have the right?

These characters are not theirs, they are the audience’s, the customers. The reason why Spider-Man became so popular was because he was young and had the same problems its readers had. Despite this, the stories themselves were fit for older audience as well, where the web they spun was extremely well made and has stood the test of time. Spider-Man was a character who had magazines that everybody could enjoy because of its quality writing. When the Dark Age of Comics hit, it left an impression on Spider-Man, and both the comic and character lost their soul. Comics became brooding and less about ideal to read. Ultraviolence and depictions of highly mature material in a very immature form became more or less a standard, something that modern comics still suffer from. Cheap drama is formed through needles gore and sexual acts, as the fence is at its lowest at these points. It takes a skilled writer and editor combined with a great illustrator to breathe life into a story everybody could read without it being patronising or going over the top. A lot of those skills have been lost, and the old guard who made these comics are literally dying away. With time we’re only left with the 90’s superstar comic creators, and I’m absolutely sure nobody will remember Liefeld as a great creator who brought high quality products. He is no Jack Kirby.

Why am I talking about this again? Because a local convention about Japanese pop-culture, Desucon (yes, the name is that cringeworthy) released a statement that their conventions from now all will all be R-18. Their reasoning why this is something that had to be implemented is that they want to cater to their niche better. That’s all good and proper, but these people already had a convention for Adults only. Why two? Clearly before this they did not cater only for the adult niche, as the content in the convention never gave such indication. This is more an issue of convenience for the convention staff themselves, as the con has outsold itself in matter of minutes. Rather than limiting the amount of people who can attend the convention, clearly the convention should grow larger in order cater to its customers, but here they decided to turn it the other way around and make themselves smaller. To complain that you get too much customers shows their inability and unwillingness to grow.

One of their more childish reasoning is that they want to bring the hobby of being an otaku to more adult level, as they seem to think how cartoons and comics are seen something for kids only by the larger audience. They aren’t wrong, because most of Japanese cartoons are intended for kids and so are most of the comics. Well, not exactly; most have wider appeal and are for all to consume. Something like One-Piece and Dragon Ball are being enjoyed both children and adults alike.

If you are intending to gain a wider approval of your hobby on adult level, this is the worst thing you could do. The sad thing is, if it’s not the kids’ stuff, then it’s the terrible tentacle porn. That’s the two extremes. If you try to veto to the other adult oriented materials, you’ll most likely end up with huge bouncing tits and swaying asses from modern late night anime. Studio Ghibli could be something they could use, but in the end all of their movies are for all ages. If you check something like Top 100 Most Popular series from ANN, you see that the list is more or less governed by something that everybody can enjoy. Some titles are questionable of course, and some titles don’t have right to be in there, but this is only a sample from the fandom, and not from the larger population. As such, if fandom’s result yields something that, I just wonder what kind of results we would get if the larger customer group outside the niche could vote?

It’s juvenile to assume that closing doors from minors would promote positive adult view on the hobby, especially locally. What does this offer? To sum it from their official blog; it makes things easier. Now that all the visitors are adults, there’s less responsibility on the providers. This shows how much their service design sucks. It’s absolutely hilarious to think this gives the programme presenters any more free hands to work their shows as they like, as they’ve always had that. They just don’t need to check the IDs now. Then again, the programme has been absolutely horseshit for years, with the exact same topics repeating, sometimes twice or thrice in the same year. Then you got all the softcore and hard porn content that has always been deemed tasteless. Do we get an influx on these? Does anyone actually want to hear somebody discussing porn on stage with an analytic view? If you do, drop me an e-mail.

The decision to make the event Adults-only doesn’t ring a good bell. It’s an excuse to lessen the workload, and they admit to it. They want the convention to look like how the providers see it, but that’s impossible. It’s always the customers who colour how the product looks like. If you really want it to look like the way you want it to be, these people need to work harder. For example, the content needs to be renewed with a harsh hand and whoever is responsible for letting people to have programmes that are basically just one-night works over with copypaste from some Wiki, then they haven’t done their job. Hell, last time I went to the convention, they had goddamn airballoons everywhere, causing safety hazards. That sure is a good adult look.

This being Finland, we know there’s gonna be booze. We all know this. Being adult only convention now, I expect it be actually handle everything in a mature way. That’s another keyword, and that’s missing. The only indicative for the ages they have in the convention are inquiries they put up, and I know from experience 20-years old people are just as juvenile as 11-, 15- or 17-years old. A person doesn’t suddenly grow into a responsible adult when they hit 18. Just like the younger people, these 18+ people will be just as annoying and even more so when drunk. That’s what people outside will most likely see; booze and porn.

If the providers would really want their hobby to be seen in an adult light as a valid thing, the first thing would be to grow a pair and approach everything from a practical point of view. Allow as many costumers to come in as possible, build it larger and show what it’s all about. This is artificial and inefficient way to make a statement. The larger population won’t even notice this, even if YLE (Finnish national TV and Radio) made a small newspost. You cannot expect people to see things in your light if you are unwilling to go to them. These providers should get their message, in whatever way they see fit, to the general consumer and get them come to convention. Making it more limited is the exact opposite, and gives off a message of seclusion and elitism. I remember going to a convention and seeing few amazed parents how enthusiastic their child was all about that, and then saw deeper into the culture themselves. Sure, there was some comics about tentacles and little girls, but outside that they could find points of interest and stories that could be worth something. Of course, anime doesn’t sell in the West. Its visuals simply don’t attract the larger consumer eye, and that’s fine.

But that’s another issue; why does it matter what ignorant masses think? Sure, there is validity in taking in how people see you, but you are the one who determines how you are seen in the first place. You can always do the classical thing and don’t mind what others think. Be yourself.

If you are worried that your hobby is seen only as a kids’ stuff, it would better to start doing something about it outside your group of enthusiast. You need to go out there and manage to touch all these people who are not coming to your convention. Changing your convention to adults only won’t pull in any new visitors, it won’t affect how your hobby is seen. It only affects how these providers are seen in the hobby circles, and this move have pissed off every single potential customer they have under 18.

It won’t matter one damn bit what you’re doing, if you are not reaching to people you want to show what this all is about. It’s out there, not in here where you need to that work.