The first impression about Blades is that it is more "professional" compared to ID1 and that it has also been realized as a sort of reference manual of Shirow's works. In fact it begins (page 000) showing the thumbnails of all the 112 pages (dimensions 245x330 mm, larger than ID1; price 2800 yen + taxes) and, combining them with the interesting table printed on the cover (the real one, under the dust jacket) and the detailed commentary (in both Japanese and English), you can get a lot of information about Shirow's fantasy-themed (not science-fiction) production 1992~1998. That table lists the identification number, date of creation, page and original subject of every image reprinted inside Blades. So you can see how Shirow's works have developed through the time.
The design of the thumbnails page shows immediately which is the second subject (besides the fantasy theme) of this book: computer graphics.
Before beginning, few words about the dust jacket. It has been printed using the "five colors" technique. This is a special method to print more gaudy colors. On the inner side, there are different versions of four illustrations printed inside the book.
Below I haven't described every pages, but only those I think were more interesting. All the text inside quotation marks are copyrighted by Shirow/Seishinsha.
Pages 001 and 002 are introductory. Shirow welcomes and explains the data blocks structure (they contains information about the images they are next and explain the techniques used to produce each piece). Shirow: "Blades is an attempt to collect my color work with a "blade theme," mainly of a fantasy sort, done between March, 1992 and May, 1998. The art work in there are a total of 211 pieces. I plan to collect mecha and SF related images in another book, so they're omitted here; so, too, is material from the Orion NRPG. Had I included material from Demon Hunter - produced in the 1997-1998 time frame - it would have skewed the content of this book in a much more erotic direction, so it' not included, either." "In looking at the images, you'll see everything from works created in a completely analog manner to those which are almost entirely digital."
If you need his crazy comments, they start immediately since the first page: [about a beautiful and quite exposed girl] "Normally she would have been covered in armor, and as you can see I've omitted drawing the calluses that would have resulted from wearing it." [... ; about another girl] "she looks almost exactly like some of the images in Intron Depot 1. This makes me wonder - am I achieving some sort of stability in my drawings, or am I merely not making any progress?"
Trinea (003 and 004). Two illustrations for the Trinea videogame. Shirow (about commissioned works): "It's hard to draw an illustration for a product that isn't out yet, so I'm always worried whether the art will match the product or not, but I do my best."
Landlock (005 to 007). Two color covers and some unused rough designs for the Landlock OAV. Shirow: "The only work I did for Landlock is the design on page 007 and these two vertically-oriented package illustrations."
Winds of Thunder (008). Only the cover of this videogame.
Griffon Magazine (009, 011 to 016, 046 to 048, 059). Many images and rough designs created for the Griffon magazine (it prints serializations of novels). Many of these pictures were already reprinted inside the Gemcat 1998 Calendar. The direction given to Shirow was about drawing a girl involved with the mythical griffon, so all the images of this section show a girl, as the center figure, surrounded by different kinds of griffons.
Shirow: "The analog look has it charms, and after I started using a personal computer I tried hard not to show off the fact that I had gone digital." "One of the challenges I have for the future is to make my backgrounds match the characters a little better ..."
Shirow (about the Griffon pictures): "I actually decided to make the Blades collection focus on fantasy images mainly because of this series of drawings."
Shirow (about the illustration at page 048): "There are other version of this illustration, with and without tiger patterns, red clothes, and gold letters on pink. Only one version's shown here, but the other will probably be used somewhere eventually." At least one has been used as a poster; anyway some versions have been reprinted inside the Comickers magazine, October 1998 issue.
Shirow: "One of the best things about working digitally is that you can create as many different variations of illustration as you want with different colors, making revisions and addictions. There are obviously some problems with digital art, but for artists like me it's a lot of fun." "It would have been nice to include all the versions in this collection, but most readers would become bored with so many similar pictures (differing only in colors), so I discarded that idea. Of course, this decreases the value of this collection as an archive of my work, but it makes for a more enjoyable reading experience!"
Auction (017 and 018). About the duplicate Auction illustrations (already reprinted inside Gemcat and Appleseed Hypernotes).
Morning Star (019 and 020). The ID2 original picture called Morning Star and some explanations about the colors and the creation of the full 3D background.
Shirow: "I don't consider myself a computer graphics artist, so I don't even try to develop realistic 3D computer art. The images I create with computer graphics are usually limited to the backgrounds, so the important thing is that they coexist harmoniously with the characters themselves. As a result, unless I'm depicting trees or backgrounds that are extremely difficult to model, I usually try to not work from photographs. Of course, for textures and other elements that only demand 2D, I use my copy machine and my scanner whenever possible .... But that stated, there are enormous advances being made in the pursuit of realism with 3D computer graphics applications, so it's harder and harder to maintain the harmony I need in my characters."
Asura Fantasy (021 to 026, 029 and 030). Shirow: "In addition to the griffon characters the other concept that triggered the creation of this book was my Asura Fantasy line."
Asura Fantasy is a table talk RPG which seems to take place during the Middle Ages (both European and Japanese), also introducing magic and fantasy beasts.
Shirow: "The surrounding walls and ground effects were created by copying the skins of dried fruit."
The main characters of one of these images are the same of the picture at page 043 (Cosmo Complete table talk RPG package) but I don't known which connections there are between the two games.
There is a data block for each illustration. The techniques used are indicated with eleven little icons (four sub-categories) next to the "TYPE" heading. Line: mechanical pencil, alcohol markers, pen & ink. Texture: color copier, Umax Mirage2se image scanner. Color: Mac 9600/350 (2D: Photoshop; 3D: Bryce 2, Light Wave 3D), color pencil, acrylic paint. Media: Mac RGB, paper 135 Kg, illustration board. The Media category indicates the format in which the illustrations first appeared.
ID2 Cover (027 and 028). The creation of the ID2 cover image and the Blades logo.
Monster Collection (031 to 034). Four images drawn for the Monster Collection Trading Card Game in which a variety of comics artists and illustrators participated.
Suraimu Siyou! (035 to 040). Many pictures for Suraimu Siyou! PlayStation game. Shirow: "This is a game for the Sony PlayStation that involves "raising" characters. The characters themselves are of the "slime" type omnipresent in role-playing games."
Ultra Jump Magazine (049 to 052). Two posters for the Ultra Jump magazine (issue #12, 1997.10.25).
Comic Gum Magazine (053 and 054). Comic Gum posters and cover.
Orion (057). The image for an Orion telephone card. This is the only Blades picture about one of Shirow's manga. Shirow: "As the number 2001 indicates, this was the first color job I did after finishing Intron Depot 1. The Orion paperback collection was first published on December 24, 1991, so it was probably used somewhere in conjunction with that. Since I did some Orion NRPG work in 1997-1998, it's not that nostalgic for me yet."
New Year's Card (058). 1995 New Year's Card. Shirow: "The second page here was created as a New Year's card in 1995 - not for sale, but for my own personal use. I almost never draw my on New Year's cards, but in 1995 I had developed some odd new relationships with people, and felt the need to create them (I'm not saying that I felt forced to draw them!). This was partly due, I imagine, to the fact that Mr. Mamoru Oshii's movie version of Ghost in the Shell was such a success and I suddenly had a lot more work. It was probably the first step in my becoming not just a manga artist, but a "manga art illustrator" ...."
Arms (059 and 060). Shirow: "The character in the center later appeared in a Sonorama paperback as the princess-daughter of a general in the period of warring states, and in November, 1997, she also appeared as a woman fighter exorcising a sword-demon in Kodansha's Young Magazine Extra. In reality, this character had occupied part of my sketchbook since the eighties, and was just waiting to appear in a variety of short works with themes such as "Celts," "steel," and "demons," as well as some erotic works."
So it's possible to find this girl inside some different works. In particular she has been represented in one picture for the Griffon magazine and in the Arms manga (of the Exon Depot series). Obviously she is also in the 1999 ARMS Calendar created as a spin-off from Arms.
Pages from 061 to 066 contain various illustrations: a female version of the famous boy Kintaro (who subdued a bear), lighting gods, Comic Gum 09 cover, ... Two pictures were also used for Gemcat.
Shirow: "I was amazed to see how close the printed green and the green on my computer monitor matched. This means that if readers are dissatisfied with the colors in my work, there's a higher-than-ever probability that the cause lies not with the printing, but with my original selection of colors!"
Yamato Takeru (067 to 070). This is a mail talk RPG created by Cosmo Engineering (the same of Asura Fantasy). It is set in a school environment and is a part of the "warding-off-evil" series. "Yamato Takerunomikoto Vocational High School (affiliated with the Agency to Ward Off Demons)."
Shin Taimasenki (071 and 072). Few illustrations for a table talk RPG (still by Cosmo Engineering). Shirow: "As September 1998, this "warding-off-evil" series was still continuing, and it's tad unfortunate that I couldn't include all the illustrations in the series in this collection. Still, waiting until the story is completed would have diminished the value of this collection that claim to be complete records of everything an artist does in a particular category have to wait until the artist dies ...."
Taima Keisatsu (073 to 083). In this section there are all the images drawn to illustrate the Taima Keisatsu novel by Cosmo Engineering. Shirow: "If you place the illustrations at the logical place in the book, with the right timing in the story, they're effective, but this isn't always easy." Just to prove this assertion, inside ID2 the pictures have been published according to their creation dates, but their order is different in the book, so these pages confuse. Go to my Taima Keisatsu section to know the real sequence. Shirow: "Say ... looking closely at the background, I see plants where the leaves are separated from the branches ... (gack!)." "I originally created the background behind the female character in the insert for use in a mecha-oriented video game, and I was able to appropriate it for this. It saved me a lot of time and made me realize that I should start maintaining a library of reusable illustrations!" I think that the game was Horned Owl.
Shirow: "I like to do full color illustrations for novels because I regard such illustrations as laying the groundwork for full color manga in Japan some day. Of course, for this to happen, there first of all has to be a demand for full color manga ...."
Sword Hard character (084). A single image about what was supposed to be the female main character of Sword Hard (Shirow was thinking about it when he was working on Hide Hard). She had to be an aristocratic figure from the world of demons, but this project hasn't been realized. Shirow: "I've been involved in several [projects] that have cost me a great deal of time and amounted to nothing. As a result, I recently accept a lot more work on commission."
Pages from 085 to 088 are about some versions of an unused Griffon Magazine cover and some spin-off images. One was used as the cover for the Gemcat Calendar and 2171 as a poster for the Newtype Magazine. In Blades its name is "Sleeping Fairy", instead the Newtype poster is called "Sleeping Pretty". Shirow: "Since I began using a computer I've seen a major improvement in my backgrounds, textures, and lusters, but ultimately I'm the one who has to do the basic drawing, and the computer hasn't really helped much in that regard. I need to work on my powers of observation and do a bit more sketching ...."
|Creation of a 3D object
Shirow uses an application that takes the gray values in a 2D grayscale image and converts them to heights on a 3D polygon mesh. Then he pastes it up as a 2D texture.
E-Oppers (089 to 092). These are the more erotic pages: two illustrations used as posters for the Uppers Magazine (issues 1998 5.6 No.2, 4.15 No.1). People, who don't like this sort of stuff, can watch the interesting sequence showing how Shirow has created the 3D particulars. Shirow: "Right after doing Demon Hunter, which placed a lot of emphasis on bare breasts, I was commissioned to do this piece, with one of the top requirements that "the character's breasts be visible." "
Ein Requiem Für Menschen (095 and 106). This is the largest section of this book. It's about the pictures that Shirow drawn to illustrate a series of classical music CDs by Toshiba EMI (yes, you have read right: classical music). There are different kind of images; most have a sacred-style theme and a pair are probably the best of the entire collection. Shirow'll never stop to surprise me!
Shirow: "In putting together this collection I realized that a lot of the costumes I draw are white, black, or red. Maybe it's because using the computer, and being able to change colors so easily, the colors that are ultimately selected tend to be the ones with the strongest impact. Bad news ..."
110 is the Afterword page. Shirow says that the illustrations inside Blades are about one third of the color work he did between 1992 and 1998. But I think that two other comments are more important: "[...] I've extended my tentacles out into such diverse fields as animation, games, novels, and music related work. I've always tried to do my best, but rarely been satisfied with what I achieve. I may have gotten a little carried away on occasion, and perhaps it's a good time for me to reevaluate what I am doing." "[...] I hope to create artwork with even more drama and entertainment value, artwork that can stand on its own. To do so, I also know I have to create more manga."
By Toren Smith (Studio Proteus): "Intron Depot 2: Blades. It's out, and doubtless many of you already have it. Despite our exhaustive efforts to avoid errors, I'll bet they're in there. If you find an error, let me know. If you've found one that no one has noticed before, and you're the first to let us know, you'll get a free, signed copy of the corrected printing (whenever that happens...)."
So the hunting season is open!
BUY IT! Well, now that I have told you the real important thing, I'd like to make few critics.
First: computer graphics.
I cannot know what you think about, but I don't like so much the way Shirow is using his computer. Many time the 3D parts of the images don't fit with the rest. Colors are too much uniform and often something was wrong about the hair and the skin of the characters. Anyway also Shirow has many doubts about his digital work, probably he has to get more experience, but I'm sure he wants to use his computer even more (and I'm sorry about it).
Yes, computer graphics is fascinating, but I like so much the original Shirow's hand drawing ability.
The second critic is about the library of reusable illustrations (look at the Taima Keisatsu section). I know it's an useful tool for Shirow, but I have found the same 3D particulars inside different illustrations. For example the five tips magic star. It has been used at least in 2208, 2209, 2204 (Blades cover), 2210, Blades back cover, Jashin Hunter (logo, covers, a pair of illustrations), in one of the Ultra Graphics pictures ("The Mermaid") and to retouch the January picture of the Angel Star 2001 calendar. Or a strange 3D decoration. It was used in the similar images 2145, 2171, 2145.2 and in the first pages of Dual Device 6 (one of the GitS2 MMI episodes). Another example is the menu of 2157. The same image appear many time in MMI (during Motoko's virtual trips). This could not disturb you, but I don't like that Shirow is using more times the same objects to save time.
I'm sorry for these critics, but we wait too much time for every new Shirow's work, so I want it perfect (at least for my taste)! Please, Mail me to tell what you think.
- BLADES CD-Rom
Thanks to Lucas and John Pope.
The Intron Depot D2 - BLADES CD-Rom it's a Mac/Windows hybrid (it has been created in HTML format, so it can be watched using a normal internet browser); the price is 5,800 yen (year 1999; code ISBN4-09-906564-2) and it includes 2 CD-Roms and a mousepad.
Shirow has modified the original Blades cover to make the new one and has written a new intro (look below).
The first CD contains ID 2 as an HTML document. You can see two pages of the book at one time and, just clicking, watch enlargement of images and text (which appear in a new frame and it's both Japanese and English). The only problem is that the pictures split on two pages, are shown in two pieces!
I enjoy much the possibility to watch high quality uncut versions of the rough drawings and pencil sketches (I think they are too small in the book), whereas the fans of computer graphic have the possibility to examine better the original photos and drawings used to create 3D effects and textures. Note that many pictures (most show the various phases and particulars for the creation of Shirow's illustrations) are accessible only from the text frames.
The second CD is just a picture archive and contains the best Blades illustrations in ultra-high resolution and some retouched versions not printed inside the book, plus a simple Shirow clock program for your PC.
If you are undecided between ID D and ID D2, I think that this one is much more interesting and certainly easier to find.
Comment for the CD-Rom version
|Total Size||Images Size||Images Num.
|CD 1||329 MB||315 MB||465
|CD 2||478 MB||473 MB||170
Thanks much to those who sent postcards and letters. I haven't been able to answer them all, but I hope you'll understand, as I'm putting the time and energy for that into my next work. The second collection of my art work had some difficult aspects to it in terms of size and price, so I'm both thankful and relieved to see that it appears to have been quite well received. Many people have said they prefer my analog work over my digital work, but I'm personally convinced that going digital is unavoidable. It's the only way to avoid the risk of having my art work degraded as it goes through the publisher-printer-distribution/transportation stages. One thing I do intend to work on, however, is to ensure that I can create digital imagery that is just as high in quality as analog art. And in that regard, I hope, dear readers, that you will understand that I am by no means ignoring your wishes. Many of you, quite understandably, have expressed the opinion that "Hey, Shirow, you ought to use the time and energy invested in this stuff to create more manga!" Well, rest assured, this year I will. And I'll draw the manga with good old fashioned ink. As far as my work in other media is concerned, it's frankly been terribly disappointing for me, so I don't intend to do anything in that area for some time.
Masamune Shirow, March 20, 1999